February 21, 2010

Original Sin vs. Original Perfection

Original Sin vs. Original Perfection – This is the choice we face between traditional Christianity and Buddhism. I’ll take original perfection for the win.

This came as a result of this recent article from Evergreen College, in The Daily Evergreen, in Washington State, which was subsequently pciked up by the Huffington Post.

From the article:

Pastor Doug Wilson affectionately called newborns “bundles of sin” during his guest appearance after the showing of “Collision” in the CUB last Wednesday.

* * *

The rationale Wilson used to justify calling infants “bundles of sin” was founded on his personal Christian belief that everyone is born as sinners due to Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. Blame for the mythical fall from grace should not rest on humanity. According to a logical interpretation of this story, the Creator should be responsible for allowing the fall in the first place.

Those who believe in this specific doctrine owe it to themselves to break free from this detrimental system of self-blame. A God worthy of worship would not knowingly create beings programmed to think and do things against God’s own moral system, and then blame the beings for their sin. This is not the act of a loving God, but of a sadistic dictator.

Granted, Wilson’s flavor of Christianity is more fundamental than most other denominations of the religion. However, any belief that claims humans are born as “bundles of sin” due to the uncontrollable variable of creation is a dreadful and unwarranted notion to have to accept.

Observance of this concept paints a picture of life as a constant battle to overcome human nature. It can only result in a confliction with our biologic and mental tendencies. No one deserves to have to believe this design or take it seriously.

The author does a nice job of pointing out the failures in this pastor’s positions. This is a very perspective than we get in Buddhism.

These are from the Basic Buddhism page at BuddhaNet:

17. The idea of sin or original sin has no place in Buddhism. Also, sin should not be equated to suffering.

8. Especially emphasized in Mahayana Buddhism, all sentient beings have Buddha Nature/ Essence. One can become a Buddha (a supreme enlightened being) in due course if one practises diligently and attains purity of mind (ie absolutely no delusions or afflictions).

5. The liberation of self is the responsibility of one’s own self. Buddhism does not call for an unquestionable blind faith by all Buddhist followers. It places heavy emphasis on self-reliance, self discipline and individual striving.

Taken in this order, these points stand as a polar opposite to the fundamentalist Christian view. And it is a view supported by modern neuroscience.

The following quotes comes from the Introduction to Brain and Culture, by Bruce Wexler:

Research in molecular genetics identified mechanisms through which maternal stimulation of infants creates lasting changes in the structure and configuration of DNA that then  influence the level of activity of specific genes throughout the individual’s life. Research on human parenting has documented the remarkable degree to which the mother and her infant become an integrated dyadic unit in which the infant develops. L. S. Vygotsky, writing from Russia as a developmental psychologist, and Sigmund Freud in Vienna as well as subsequent American psychoanalysts arrived at virtually identical conclusions about the role of social interaction in creating internal psychological structures. This wonderful expanse of neurobiological, psychological, and social-psychological knowledge all rests on the deep and extended sensitivity of the human brain to shaping by psychosocial and other sensory inputs.

Two important implications emerge when these bodies of work are considered together. The first is the great increase in functional variability among individuals that results from environmental influences on development of the brain. There is an evolutionary advantage for life forms that reproduce sexually because the mixing of genetic material from parents produces variety in their offspring. Thus, different individuals have different  characteristics, which increases the likelihood that some members of the group will be able to function and reproduce even when the environment in which the group lives changes. In an analogous manner, the distinctive postnatal shaping of each individual’s brain function through interaction with other people, and through his or her own mix of sensory inputs, creates an endless variety of individuals with different functional characteristics. This broadens the range of adaptive and problem-solving capabilities well beyond the variability achieved by sexual reproduction.

The second implication is even more important. In addition to having the longest period during which brain growth is shaped by the environment, human beings alter the environment that shapes their brains to a degree without precedent among animals.

We are not born a blank slate, as some have argued, but we are also not born preprogrammed as human beings. In large part (much larger than most of us would like to admit) we are shaped by our parenting, our physical environment, and our culture. More importantly, those who have preceded us have created much of the environment we experience as children – and some children are raised in fully human-made environments now.

If we equate sin with evil, as many Christians do, we are not evil so much as wounded by the dysfunctions we are exposed to as we develop. In Christianity, those dysfunctions are assumed to be inborn, but in Buddhism they are assumed to be the result of attachment and other cravings of the ego that develops to cope with the physical, emotional, and cultural climate. And if we follow the newest models of consciousness, which suggest even emotion is a culturally embedded experience, than we are always products of our total environment, not of our inborn nature.

Whereas Christianity offers Christ as a redemption of our sins (if we confess and turn our lives over to Him), in Buddhism we are given the tools to heal ourselves through the Buddha (the exemplar), the Dharma (the methods of freedom), and the Sangha (those with whom we can find support for the journey and confirm our progress). There is no blind belief in an external power, but rather the knowledge that we can be free of suffering and we can help others to be free of suffering.

Sounds good to me – which is why this former Catholic is a Buddhist.

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