Tuesday, December 11, 2012

In the theological attic

in my brain I occasionally find old boxes with notes in them, or pictures, etc. I suppose I shall be an amateur theologian as long as I live. To paraphrase a line in Boswell,   I have tried, too, in my time, to be an atheist; but I don’t know how, wonder was always breaking in.I recall that in the dedication page of my PhD thesis I described my vocation as "wondering". English nicely conflates two meanings in that single word: awe and curiosity. It's what has made me both a theologian and psychologist.

Anyhoo, since my ramble down the lane of Catholic esoterica about the Immaculate Conception yesterday, I was thinking about my unresolved question re: evolution and the appearance of "Adam and Eve", the first humans. And about what sinlessness could possibly mean.

Sinlessness. Well, since we are all sinners, we naturally equate being human with being sinful. So sin-less-ness seems not only angelic and inhuman but actually anti-human. But, I said in the other post, I think the hidden assumption in the Christian teaching is that it is not Christ (and the Virgin) who are inhuman, but we.

Funny how ambivalent that word is, human. We flatter ourselves in our best moments by praising someone for his humanity (and then ramp that up into the Liberal fetish called "humanitarian") but at the same time we know very well how common and horrific and utterly characteristic is "man's inhumanity to man", distilled in daily life by excusing ourselves for being "only human." Or if we are Nietzsche, "all too human." So the word is simultaneously our boast and our confession.

Keeping to the myth --meaning archetypal and sacred narrative, not falsehood--, the first and classical humans were Adam and Eve. Born from earth and a rib, respectively, and lacking both bellybuttons and distance from God.Or death. Or intellectual impairment or defect of will. Sinless.

Creaturely, finite, definite and limited, but free.

Without sin (alienation from God), they were yet capable of sin. And took full advantage. And here we are.
Unless we are sociopaths, we all know what feeling (and being) guilty is. And even worse, ashamed of ourselves.

Now when Mary comes along, conceived without sin, she is, as Catholics like to say, another Eve, a new start, Woman 2.0. Though she has a bellybutton now, she has a clear mind and a free heart, unclouded by all the dark stuff that we call both "inhuman" and "only human". And Catholicism says that she remained that way until her death. (Death, and suffering, were effects of The Fall that she was not exempted from. No surprise, even Christ wasn't. Escaping that would be really in-human.)

Was she impeccable, that is, incapable of sin? Could she have chosen to engage in the typically "human" passtimes of arrogance, envy, laziness, gluttony, lust, rage and greed? And if she was incapable of all those things, where's her freedom? She's just a holy robot. In-human. At least to other humans.

Well, I suppose that she had to be free to engage in those games. Just as much --and here's my thought-- as anyone who truly loves another person is free to smack their beloved in the mouth for no reason.

My thought is that there are some behaviors, desires, thoughts, so wildly out of character, so jaw-droppingly shocking for certain people, that even though they could do them, it would probably never even occur to them.Even for a virtuoso sinner like myself, there are some things that, theoretically, I am free to do but which have never occurred to me until now, as part of this thought-experiment. A simple example: when I spend time with my nephew, a smart and charming little fella with a sunny and loving disposition, of whom I am very fond, I am perfectly free to haul off and coldcock him. Any time I like. But it's a crazy idea. Repulsive. Freaky. Completely out of place because I am so fond of him. Possible, but would never even cross my mind.

So the teaching that Mary never sinned may really mean that stuff like that, while possible, is just not who she is.Not a cold distant absence of humanity and feeling, but a constant and reliable excess of warmth, appreciation, gratitude and affection. Unhandicapped by shame, unfearful of being seen for who she really is, and unafraid of the truth. Add to that a compassion born of knowing what it is like to suffer. In short, being human, in its best meaning, all the time. Now that I think of it, your best memories of your mother on her best day. Maybe her being sinless, and staying that way, is like that.


DrAndroSF said...

The post was already too long, so I add this here. St Irenaeus, arguably the first systematic theologian, in the 2nd century taught that Adam and Eve fell into disobedience because they were basically children, immature, and thus easily lead astray by the serpent. One way he looked at the subsequent history of Israel and Christ was as a long education into adulthood.

Then there's the "felix culpa" theme. But now the comment is getting too long!

Anonymous said...

Poor St Joseph. The only fallen sinful human in the family.

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