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rethinking original sin and the fall (March 2007)

 (I've included some of the ritual today since it reiterates the reflection)



We acknowledge the Kuarna, the most recent descendents of the first humans, living here long before Jesus, or even Abraham, was born.


We acknowledge their ongoing connection with the land, and we too have felt the cool mornings begin, which signals the beginning of the season they call Parnatti.


Gathering reflection

Close your eyes.

You are a lizard.  Your great great great… grandparent.  Running on instinct.  Seeking safety, sustenance, sex.  Fight, or flight, or freeze.  That’s it.  Because you survive, your descendents will be able to throw a ball or ride a bike without thinking.  They will be attuned to danger before they even see it coming.


You are a mammal, one of the earliest.  You live on the legacy of your reptile ancestors.  But your brain also lets you feel.  It lets you dream at night.  No reptile ever did that, all mammals do.  Every urge, grief, joy, sense of bonding and love begins with you.  Because feelings helped you survive, your descendents will feel too.


You are a human child.  Like other primates, your brain lets you think ahead.  You can think, “If I do this, that might happen,” rather than having to try it.  The more stable your environment, the more likely you are to be right.  In a changed environment, thinking turns to worrying.  Something lizards don’t do.


You can choose between desires.  You are a social being: you love others.  Love them enough to want them to love you.  Want it bad enough to lie to them so they don’t stop loving you.  Lizards don’t lie, but you do.


You are you.  You at 20 or 30.  Your brain is super connected, and your prefrontal areas matured.  Self awareness, planning, the ability to have a vision, a long term desire and purpose which (at least often) overshadows the power of other areas of the brain.  The ability to plot and plan and strive for great good or great evil is yours.  To see that a fear is misplaced, or an emotion unnecessary.  From here on the possibilities for integration are immense.  What a pity you didn’t wait until now to hit puberty!


Take a moment to thank and celebrate your ancestors, the survivors.  Every one of your ancestors survived, and lives in you.


Take a moment to celebrate you.  This ambiguous mix of instinct, emotion and thought.


Directions prayer and Body Prayer 2


TURN EAST:  Confessing the past.  You did what you could do.  Given the development of your instinct, emotions and rationality, you did what you did, what you had to do.  You did do it. 


TURN NORTH: Now, you will do what you can do.  Given the development of your instinct, emotions and rationality, if something threatens you, you will react as you must.


TURN WEST:  But in the future, you might do things differently.  Instinct responds to practice.  Emotions can be soothed in advance of threats.  Rational thought can be ready to intervene quicker.  The mammal can moderate the reptile.  The primate can reflect on the mammal.  The human can hold all things in balance.  Purpose, vision, goals can call upon and work with instinct and emotion and thought.  You did do thing.  You needn’t do them again.  You will not be what you were. 



When your time on earth has ended, how will you have achieved your higher purpose?  What legacy will you have left?  What is your part in the call to revere life and participate in its evolution?

INPUT Original Sin

(blue is basically a recap of what I said in 2005, which is a sumary of part of my thesis.)

Are we inherently corrupt or violent?

Most Christians have thought so, but by no means all.  The notion of original sin and a fall is not part of the Jewish tradition, though Christians have derived their creation stories from the same source.

Eg Wesley: “[are we] by nature filled with all manner of evil? [are we] void of all good? [Are we] wholly fallen? [Is our] soul totally corrupted? … is "every imagination of the thoughts of [our] heart only evil continually?" Deny this and you are but a Heathen”

Scientists seemed to validate this view at first (maybe because they grew up with it?)

People have thought so- but then they have been, mostly, studying humans living in industrial societies- so all they have really proved is that in industrial, high density societies, violence is common. They may have proved, not that we are inherently violent, but that nuclear family, industrial style living is inherently dysfunctional. Me and Toni with kids.

bonobos vs chimps.
Chimps were studied first- primates are violent
Then bonobos discovered, not violent. Sex based.
Environment. Bono plenty of food, women stick together and gather food. Chimps food is scattered and women are isolated.

Mary Clark- we are not inherently violent, but have inherent needs
we inherently seek:
bondedness, autonomy, meaning

NOT inherently evil or corrupt, Wesley was wrong.

But also, its not that we are inherently all good, and only society teaches us to be bad and evil.  Kids aren’t born angels.

We have certain instinctual and emotional tools which can be expressed in positive or negative ways, and our environment has a large influence on which it is: over our lives and day to day.

The more we have bondedness (love), autonomy and meaning in our lives, the less likely we will be to act sinfully (inappropriately- violence, depression, bitchy thoughts etc).

BUT there will always be threats to our bondedness, autonomy and meaning, so we will often be challenged with how we choose to respond.

If we respond inappropriately, out of proportion to the offence or so on its useful to be able to think about why, and see if we can do differently next time.

Traditional answers (the devil, or inherent wickedness) may have been a good guess 2000 years ago, but we know now that they are incorrect and unhelpful.  Not least because they often imply that we cannot change.

Two things we know now that early Christians didn’t.

• For 99% of human evolution our basic needs were fulfilled in small, nomadic, stable, relatively isolated groups with scant property and NO LANGUAGE.

But the needs for BAM predate humans.  An embryonic need for meaning (group ‘rules’) exists in all social mammals; the need for bondedness exists in all mammals, and the need to be able to autonomously function in the world exists in all life forms: let’s go back to reptiles at least.  These reptiles and social mammals are our genetic ancestors, and even our anatomical ancestors.

DOWD (from Thank God for Evolution!, yet to be published, but visit in the meantime) : it is the juggling between the drives of the different parts of our brains, which evolved to meet different needs of our ancestors, which gives us the potential for incredibly dysfunctional behavior, but all of the brain had a role to play in getting us here, and keeping us alive now that we are here.

From an evolutionary perspective, original sin is the undeniable fact that our evolved human nature includes inner drives and urges that we never asked to have — and that many of us would rather not have in their full and unmodulated expression.  Although vital for the survival of our ancestors and the transmission of their genes, these inherited proclivities will damage us, and our loved ones, if followed indiscriminately within the cultural contexts in which we live today.


The main conundrum being that this brain, some of which is hundreds of millions of years “old” (ie the reptile part, the cerebellum and brain stem) and in which the “new” bits are hundreds of thousands of years old, is not trying to help us thrive in an environment which is changing rapidly. ( is a great site on the brain for a general audience)

So we are not utterly depraved, but we are often dysfunctional. That is, we have trouble functioning in our new environment.


We should celebrate and affirm every part of our brain!  It kept our ancestors alive, we need it all to keep us alive.  The lizard legacy keeps us breathing, and aware of immanent danger.  Without the limbic, early mammal parts, we would have no emotions at all.  The neocortex, which started to swell with primates and is huge in humans allows rational thought, culture, etc etc.

So we are not a case study in evil, nor noble savages.  We are a sum of ambivalences which need to be balanced. 

Awareness seems to be a key.  Practicing being aware of instinct, emotion and thought.  I’m crap at it but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.


So that’s the personal, existential challenge: affirming every bit of who we are and what our brain is (Jane’s “it is what it is.”) and also refusing to let any one part control the rest of unchecked.  Helping different parts practice working functionally in this new context.  Eg: each of our brains have probably, based on early experiences, decided to habitually go with fight or flight or freeze.  It worked when we were kids.  It might not be working now, but the only way we can reassure our brains of that is to practice the other two, so we can more readily choose between them when we need to unexpectedly.

When we wander, lets be aware of instinct, emotion, thought.  Lets try to identify one of each in our brains at this very moment.


The communal challenge involves the fact that for most versions of the Christian story, for most of the last 2000 years, we have been seen to be a case study in evil, trapped by the Fall or Satan.

And this has been the first plank in the story in which we fallen, helpless, inherently sinful humans which are not worth of a good God and justly deserve execution,  are eventually rescued by the loving God through the blood sacrifice of the God-man.  The bodily resurrection of this God-man being taken as evidence that the sacrifice was not in vain and we have been rescued, even if we still do things that deserve death.

The second Adam who saves us from the curse of the first Adam. Jesus who saves us.

If the actions we despise are the result of a juggling act between parts of our brain and our rapidly changing environment, If there was no first Adam, then what do we make of the second Adam?

Next Saturday I’m hoping to spell out the Fall/Original Sin issues in more detail, including some bits of video from Michael Dowd, reflecting on original sin and the fall in terms of what he calls the lizard legacy, furry little mammal, chatterbox, and higher porpoise parts of our brain. leading to a reflection next Sunday on the Jesus of evolution.