Reflections by Jerry Webber

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Own Brand of Original Sin

Some folks think the Church makes too much of original sin. I hear from people quite a lot who have walked away from the Church at some point because they felt the Church pointed a condemning finger at them -- and everyone else -- through teaching about "original sin." The Church communicated -- or they heard -- that "original sin" is "original badness" and the teaching itself became a heaper of guilt and shame. Who needs more of that?

Maybe the Church does make too much of original sin in some sense, in a dualistic or moralistic way that tries to enforce behavior or mandate a particular code of conduct. The Church speaks the language of grace, but too often acts in ways that seem intended to legislate and manage the behavior of its adherents.

There is another level, though, at which I know the truth of this teaching. And I suspect you do, too.

[I prefer the language of "original wounding" or "primal wounding" to "original sin" anyway. Those terms speak more accurately to me of my skewed disposition toward that which does not make me or the world whole.]

This is my current context: In recent days I've engaged some interior work that invites me to consider personal issues that feel very weighty. It's not work that feels good. It is slow going, tedious and sometimes maddening. I see things in me that I don't like . . . and a few that I do like.

As I get to the harder work, or the more tedious work, or the work that reveals my darker shadows, I'm tempted to write off the work and jettison the growth. Or I'm tempted to excuse the shadows away because it holds me to a standard I can never attain. I can talk it away as overly psychological or without merit for me.

I can find any number of really good reasons to excuse myself from the demands of growth, from the work of becoming fully human. "I'm not all that bad just as I am," I think. "So maybe I'll just sit this one out."

Original sin then, or primal wounding, refers to my capacity for self-deception. It speaks to how polluted my motives can be. I can talk myself out of transformation if it seems too demanding or asks for discipline I do not have yet.

It doesn't stop there. I know how self-serving are my actions. I know how manipulative can be my conversations.

I know that I live underneath huge illusions . . . illusions that for my own comfort and ease I'd just as soon perpetuate uncritically, unthinkingly. For me, this is my own brand of original sin. This is my participation in the original wound. This self-deception is my soul wound . . . or at least part of it. It doesn't mean that I am bad or immoral or a failure. It means that I have a bent toward myself, toward my comfort and ease, toward my own self-preservation, especially if given the choice between you and me. It means that I'm willing to lie to myself -- and to the world -- if it makes me more comfortable and makes my life more pleasant.

A poem by D. H. Lawrence found me many years ago. It speaks to the great long time I've lived with illusions for life-patterns, and how they get hardwired into my being. Further, it speaks to the long, tedious, and difficult road to healing, something like swimming upstream in a society that blesses the illusions.

I still find the poem spot-on for my own brand of self-deception and for the long road to healing I am invited to walk.


I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of the wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

[D. H. Lawrence, Poems, selected and introduced by Keith Sagar, p. 216-17.]

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