Through no choice of your own you’re born into this world a sinner (“original sin” doctrine), and if you are unfortunate enough to have been born into the 99%-plus portion of humanity who lived and died over earth’s long history without converting or even hearing about Christianity, your ultimate destiny is to spend eternity burning in hell.
Very nice, eh? We’re supposed to talk about a God of Love after that nonsense?
I covered ‘hell’ in an earlier post, here I’ll just reiterate that there is no such place. Hell represents endless suffering without hope of relief, which is the way all spiritual traditions describe a life without God. It is a powerful metaphor used even by Jesus himself in his parables (which were likewise metaphors and allegories), but when my fellow Christians take it as a literal, physical place they contradict and deny everything that Spirit’s incarnation onto this earth came here to teach us about God.
So regarding sin I’ll get straight to the point: evolution bred into us instincts that have been honed and perfected over millions of years. These instincts are about self-preservation and self-advancement within the tribe. They’re about fight or flight, food and sex. We’re a pack species, a social species, so cooperative instincts are also built in to us. These instincts are experienced as the twin drives to get ahead and to get along. To find your place within the hierarchy of the group, and as with everything else in evolution, to use the skills and attributes you were born with to rise in power and influence.
These instincts know nothing of Spirit. If there is an “original sin” it is being born into the ape family, with all the evolutionary drives and instincts we inherited as a result. Many passages in the New Testament discuss the differences between being “born of the flesh” and being born “of the Spirit”, and from this perspective its a perfect analogy. We’re born as apes, highly intelligent but embedded in ape instincts. By using our species’ capacity for intelligence and conscious awareness we can establish a bond with Spirit and be born again, reborn into union with Spirit, liberating ourselves from embeddedness in animal instinct, and begin living, working, and evolving toward something much higher.
Our ape instincts have a lineage that goes all the way back to that initial algae-like colony in long-ancient seas from which all life evolved. Instincts regarding the use of intelligence, on the other hand, originated with us and is in its earliest infancy.
Concepts like peace, justice, love, forgiveness, etc., these are unknown in the rest of the animal kingdom. Some of these are a transcendence of (with the inclusion of) instincts inherited from ape. When something is transcended it is not lost, it is simply put into a larger perspective. Ape instincts for bonding, for example, have evolved in humanity into concepts like justice, reciprocity, morality, etc. The instincts are animal; the transcended understanding of them is uniquely human.
So from this perspective “sin” represents embeddedness in our evolutionary drives as the apes that we are. Differentiation from sin, i.e. the transcendence of animal instinct, is emergence from evolutionary drives and a conscious reaching out toward union with the energies of Spirit. We’re still living lives as evolved apes, still in a “state of sin” and will continue to be as long as we inhabit ape bodies, but with our consciousness bonded with Spirit we can begin using the energy from that connection to transcend.
Throughout human history, anchors for understanding spiritual, moral and other inner values have been provided through stories, mythologies, and memorable accounts that both model behavior and provide humanity’s points of reference for understanding exactly how Spirit works in individual lives. For Christians it is the life of Spirit’s own incarnation on this earth that provides us with that anchor, that point of reference. The story of Jesus has been turned in all kinds of directions over the past 2000 years, but since the Enlightenment we have slowly but surely been returning to the root of Jesus’ central teaching, which is to love, and to believe in love, which the same as saying to believe in God as he really is.