I am neither a psychologist nor a theologian. But like you and everybody else throughout human history, I do my best to make sense of it all. Your best is all one can really ask for, since we are born without a clue and have less than a century to figure it all out before we die and take our findings to the grave.
Fortunately, we have thousands of years of history preceding us, testing the waters and letting us know which ideas are good and which are terrible. Surely some of our good ideas today will be terrible ideas tomorrow, but luckily for us, that’s next generation’s woe. As far as we know, this is the best of all possible worlds™.
We are not necessarily born at age zero. If you heed history, you may be born at around 10,000 years old. If you teach your children well, they will be born at 10,030 years old, and if you parented right, your grandchildren will be born at 10,060 years old or so and so on. Only those who do not heed history are born at age zero. That is why we learn history: so that we may be a part of its lineage as it bounces towards immortality.
As a child of Christianity born at age zero, it never made much sense to me that I am somehow responsible for the sins of Adam and Eve and that I must atone for their evildoings for their transgressions somehow reside inherent in my flawed soul. But as a child born at age 10,000 (timeline adjusted for the archaeological view of human history), it makes more sense to me that I may live in the shadow of these sins that I committed 10,000 years ago, not as myself, but as a part of human history.
Yet, probably like most, I question the nature of Original Sin on a literal level. It seems absurd that Original Sin, the forefather of all sin throughout existence, from envy to murder, would be as petty as eating a fruit that makes you smarter, or as the Bible puts it: allows you to know good and evil.
It’s almost as if sin were a self-fulfilling construct. Awareness of sin is sin itself, which in this context makes sin synonymous with knowledge (knowledge being the ability to categorize and label things to process and understand them, i.e. Category Good and Category Evil). In our own lexicon, a sin is a transgression against a moral code. Perhaps knowledge is also a transgression of a moral code, if knowledge is to be understood as Original Sin.
I will now share with you my poor understanding of the ideas of Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst of the 20th Century.
I emphasize: my understanding of Lacan is poor at best. Do not cite me. I credit Lacan with these ideas, although for all I know, he got them from someone else, for as we know, he died at roughly 9,950 years old. I tribute Lacan because that is from whom I’ve taken the following concepts.
The concepts I present to you are summarized as such:
There exists a “Real” and there exists a mutually exclusive “Reality.”
We interact with Reality through the “Symbolic Order,” which is language.
The Real exists as an unsymbolized truth.
Elements in the Real become Reality when they are symbolized by the Symbolic Order.
It is only through the Symbolic Order that we may interact with the universe.
As subjects of language, we cannot interact with the inherently non-linguistic Real. We can only interact with the symbolized Reality. The Real exists outside of language, and we are unable to conceive of things without the use of language.
But language is not truth, it is symbols. Language is alien to us and exists independently of us. We are born into it, and we die out of it. It has a vocabulary and a syntax we did not personally develop. It has developed demands and desires that are not ours. Our ascent into the state of language (from the Real, through the Symbolic Order, into Reality) establishes within us an internal split between language (exterior force that is internalized) and existence (the state of being) that results in desire and alienation.
Desire, alienation, and the psychological schisms therein are what make us bad people. They are what make us sin, as sin is known today.
I don’t believe Eden was a place. I believe it was a state of cognition, before we somehow developed symbols to process the world. Nothing was differentiated into groups. Nothing required meaning. There were no words. Hand was arm was body. Body was earth. Earth was tree, and yet wasn’t because we did not have the word “earth” or the word “tree” to group them together (a reaction to division), let alone divide them (a reaction to grouping together). Everything existed as it was, devoid of the need of symbolic representation, as a truth.
Original Sin was the acquisition of language: the codification our paradise so that it may be communicated to one another, so that things can be named and differentiated. Once our first ancestors developed the Symbolic Order, we were forever cast out of Eden psychologically, condemned to bear the the consequences of our linguistic schism generation after generation. The Real is our Eden, but the Symbolic Order prevents us from interacting with it as a raw truth. Once language exists, there is no going back. That is why we still live with the consequence of sin: because sin is knowledge, and knowledge necessitated language.
Remember: the Real is still all around us. We came from it. We just can’t interact with it. But it’s there. Kind of.