Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Fall of Man (A work in progress...)

In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Thesis to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg. In doing so, Luther courageously fought back against the abuses of the priest hood. He condemned the Pope for falsely claiming dominion over men and abusing the practice of indulgences. But, within nine short years, Dr. Christian Beyer and a small group of princes of the Holy Roman Empire presented to Charles the V the Augsburg Confession. With the confession and the several other canonized works of Luther’s ‘new faith’, millions of innocent men and women were condemned to the fires of hell and then, only by the so called word of God, lifted to salvation in the name of the one Lord and Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ. With the Lutheran’s new conceptions of Original Sin and Free Will, the old corruptions of the Holy Roman Empire were replaced with a decree that branded all of mankind as inherently evil and incapable of good. The works of Mohandas Gandhi to free his fellow man from Britain’s imperial rule over India, Lincoln’s work to free blacks from the chains of slavery, and even the work of Mother Teresa would become meaningless and devoid of any “real” good in the eyes of the new Lutheran Church.

The inspired work of Augsburg Confession was claimed not as an attempt at starting a new church, but as a response to Charles the V’s call for unity. Luther may not have wanted to form a new church, but the actions of many of the German princes who would come under the sway of Luther’s revolution would betray his intentions. The looming threat of Ottoman invaders, the possibility of new alliances between the French and Ottoman rulers, and the occupation of Hungry by the Muslims caused the increasing militarization of civilian populations along the military frontier of Germany. This caused a great deal of financial strain on Charles’ Empire. Many electors and princes began to see weakness within Charles’ rule and began to take advantage of their new found military power. The protestant reformation became a means to reorganize political power away from the Old Church and into the hands of secular agents. The presentation of the Augsburg confession was made by princess from mostly the northern and southern cities which made up these new militarized areas.

Author Thomas Höft explains, “The people having religious not political sovereignty: this conception of society rooted in Protestantism extends far beyond the medieval order of estates.” Where the renaissance had placed ‘Free-Will’ as the corner stone of humanism, Luther spoke of ‘Bounded Will,’ that without the word of God man could not act of any will which was not inherently evil. This, Luther claimed, was due to the Original Sin inherited from Adam. Luther scorned the lower classes for seeking out political freedom. Höft further points out, “Protestantism, much more than Catholicism, subjects its followers to worldly authority, depriving the individual of all rights of self-determination.” Luther’s ideas led the princes presenting the Augsburg Confession to view the Church in Rome, the Muslim hordes in the west, and even the people of Moses as external enemies.[1] The sovereign states of Charles’ empire were soon to undergo transformation, as the new Lutheran doctrine created religious freedom and national spirit through Luther’s translations of scripture from Latin to German; it would also shut the door on all forms of political freedom. The Augsburg Confession accomplished all of this with its new conception of Original Sin and man’s Free Will.

Lutheran’s profess that Sin ‘is a terminal disease.’ Concupiscence or the inborn inclination to sin is sin, as opposed to Roman Catholic View. It is declared as such in the following passage:

“Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam (Romans 5:12), all who are naturally born are born with sin (Psalm 51:5), that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence.”

Paul’s letter to the Romans focuses on finding unity between the new faith of the Christian churches and older Jewish communities. It is one of the first calls for a community of all believers making it an ironic place for the Luther’s followers, with there anti-semantic origins, to turn. This becomes especially clear in the following passage which in no way indicates that sin is a form of disease or that baptism is the only for of absolution.

Romans 5:12-15 – “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”

The book Romans is also very much a declaration of the classic Roman Catholic view of original sin as a story concerning the origin of sin not the condition of men but of the spiritual world at large. Even where the Augsburg Confessions references Psalms (Psalm 51:5 – “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”) sin is stated as a condition of birth not of life everlasting. We can see as pointed out by the Lutheran Confession’s there is but on cure for sin which is water and spirit.

John 3:5 – “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

It must be of the most obvious of declarations and without any argumentation that no matter what religion, class, creed, or race that as part of the human condition we are all born of water and spirit. No matter our chosen prophet we are all deeply spiritual beings dependent upon the life giving waters of the earth. Each and every one of us contains the tools and the power of will to over come sin. Or so it would seem to a student like my self, one of a post modern world consumed by the science of the atom and the philosophy of Ginsberg and Wittgenstein. As such it would seem that our lives are not determined by our own idle hands but by the evils which we confront in the world around us whether they be of the Father or the Atom.

What then can be said of the word, verse, and chapter which Lutherans present us with. What meaning could they or any of the countless Protestants which would follow derive from them. As it stands a great deal can be derived from the story of man’s fall, as much as can be derived from any myth. Yes as the Dean of St. Paul once proclaimed the ascension of Jesus as myth, I to would proclaim the fall of Adam and the conception of original sin a myth. But in doing so we must be clear what a myth is and how it can or can not be the bases of such a definitive conception of the spirituality of mankind.

G.K. Chesterton gives one of the most well conceived conceptions of myth to date. “It seems strangely forgotten nowadays that a myth is a work of imagination and therefore a work of art (Chesterton 1925, 101).” When the bible asserts that Jesus has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the lord we should careful not to imply a scientific understanding of the statement. Instead we should consider as Chesterton points out that:

“Every true artist dose feels, consciously or unconsciously, that he is touching transcendental truths; that his images are shadows of things seen through the veil. In other words, the natural mystic dose know that there is something there; something behind the clouds or within the trees; but he believes that the pursuit of beauty is the way to find it; that imagination is a sort of inclination that can call it up.”

As such Jesus was risen up in spirit and his position at the right hand of the lord is not one of geographical positioning in a heavenly realm but a indication of the glory and honor of his divinity. Lets take a moment and examine this religious language which comprises the idea of a a myth. In the case on the ancients the stories they told where clearly in one form or another myth, but what about the scriptures of today. They act as the source of stories such as the ascension of Christ and the assumption of Mary. The stories of the bible, or of the scripture, could be said to be of many styles such as legends, tales, allegories, poetry, or even metaphors. All these styles though including the 'myth' of the Ascension are all told in human language physically manifested in this world. As the modern Catholic Church states God speaks but one word a single utterance and the scriptures act as translation of that which could not be understood other wise; the word of God. God is of a nature which prevents our direct understanding of him or of his thinking. The scripture is in this way the same as myth, because a myth holds for us some truth independent of the story it self which we can appeal to directly with out literally accepting every brush stroke of the artists creation.

What of the psychological implications of a myth. Freud with his picture of the unconscious and the conscious, the Id pushing out in the form of desires, and the many ways which these repressed desires which emerge into the conscious realm. For Freud myths in a sense could be written off as merely the artistic out pouring of our human desire to come to terms with the nature of the world we live. This would be in line with Young who also approach’s myth from the Freudian paradigm. Similarities in the style and form of myths across cultures for young represent a collective unconscious that all humans share. Still even for Young and Freud myths are not mere analogies, they still represent something transcendentally true about the human psych. There is still more to be said of the myth which is the fall of Adam and the dependency of sin onto man.

[1] Höft is quoted pointing out that, “Luther proposes driving all Jews, who refuse to convert, into a city and “igniting the four corners of the town.”

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