Original  Sin  is  Not  Original,   But  Goodness  is    

by  Jane  Gilgun  



Summary     Original  sin  is  not  original,  but  goodness  is.  In  this  article,  I  suggest  that  original  sin  is  a   word  that  stands  for  beliefs  about  the  self,  whether  it’s  feeling  like  a  wretch  or  believing  the   self  to  be  entitled  to  take  what  you  want  regardless  of  consequences  for  others.  Goodness   exists  before  we  do  and  will  exist  after  we  are  gone.  Original  sin  dies  with  us.  It  dies  with  us   because  it  is  a  personal  construction  that  begins  after  we  are  born  in  response  to  our   misinterpretations  of  the  meanings  of  the  behaviors  of  others  and  the  implications  of  our   misinterpretations  for  our  own  self-­‐worth.  Seeing  the  good  in  others  is  easy.  Seeing  the   good  in  ourselves  is  hard.  Seeing  the  good  in  ourselves  may  be  as  harrowing  as  dealing   with  and  letting  go  of  the  false  beliefs  about  ourselves  that  drag  us  down.  Most  religions   deal  with  issues  of  good  and  evil.  It’s  time  to  re-­‐examine  the  notion  of  original  sin  and   entertain  new  ideas  about  it.  If  we  do,  we  may  develop  ideas  about  what  to  do  about  its   effects  on  the  quality  of  our  collective  lives  and  on  each  of  our  individual  lives.     About  the  Author     Jane  Gilgun  is  a  writer  and  professor.  See  Professor  Gilgun’s  other  articles,  children’s   stories,  and  books  on  scribd.com,  Amazon  Kindle,  and  iBooks  for  a  variety  of  e-­‐readers  and   mobile  devices.    

Original  Sin  is  Not  Original,   But  Goodness  is    
Original  sin  is  not  original,  but  goodness  is.  Goodness  exists  before  we  do  and  it  exists   after  we  die.  Original  sin  is  a  human  construction  meant  to  explain  our  self-­‐loathing,  our   senses  of  entitlement,  and  the  evil  we  do.  The  belief  systems  that  some  call  original  sin   begin  from  early  in  our  lives.  We  are  not  born  with  them.       Freud  had  a  name  for  what  some  call  original  sin.  That  name  is  the  subconscious.  I  don’t   know  if  Freud  said  that  our  experiences  of  goodness  are  also  part  of  the  subconscious,  but  I   believe  they  are.  The  components  of  our  subconscious—the  goodness,  the  self-­‐loathing,   and  the  entitlements—are  difficult  to  understand.  I  don’t  know  if  anyone  has  ever   completed  that  project.       Few  unravel  their  own  subconscious  because  the  content  of  our  subconscious  is  outside  of   our  awareness,  hence  the  root  meaning  of  the  word:  below  awareness  or  below   consciousness.  As  human  beings,  we  construct  hard  shells  around  the  painful  parts  of  our   subconscious.  Those  shells  are  almost  impossible  to  break  through.  Even  if  we  try,  it’s  as  if   we  require  a  chisel  and  hammer.  It  seems  that  experience  provides  the  hammer  and  chisel;   usually  without  our  asking  or  even  knowing  we  could  use  a  hammer  and  chisel.  The   cracking  of  the  shell  seems  to  happen  when  we  put  ourselves  in  situations  where  this  is  a   possibility.       Human  beings  may  have  needed  the  concept  of  original  sin  to  explain  the  terrible  things   that  we  do  in  reaction  to  self-­‐loathing  and  entitlement.  When  self-­‐loathing  stirs,  we  may   experience  agony.  Who  wants  to  experience  that?  We  do  a  lot  of  things  to  relieve  our  hurt,   including  good  deeds  and  talking  to  someone,  but  we  may  also  kick  the  dog  or  do  other   hurtful  things.  We  may  do  things  that  hurt  ourselves.  Of  course,  many  of  our  good  deeds   and  kindnesses  and  enjoyment  of  life  have  nothing  to  do  with  relieving  hurt,  but  simply   have  value  in  themselves.       When  entitlements  stir,  we  may  be  tempted  to  gratify  ourselves  without  regard  for  the   welfare  of  others.  All  that  counts  is  our  own  satisfaction.  I  want  what  they  have.  I  will  do   whatever  it  takes  to  get  it,  regardless  of  the  consequences  for  them.  When  we  act  out  self-­‐ loathing  or  entitlement  or  both,  we  eventually  return  to  ourselves  in  our  wholeness;  that  is,   to  our  goodness.  We  then  may  have  regrets  and  want  to  build  bridges.  We  make  amends   and  change  our  ways.    They  will  have  plenty  of  opportunities  for  further  hurtful  acts  down   the  road,  only  to  repeat  the  process  of  sorrow  and  reconnection.  They  may  even  deepen   connections  to  goodness  in  the  process  of  realizing  what  they  have  done  and  making  up  for   unkind  deeds.     Some  people  are  so  imbued  with  entitlements  and  sometimes  also  with  self-­‐loathing  that   they  regret  nothing.    

Why  Connect  to  Goodness?     The  desire  to  stay  in  contact  with  goodness  is  important  because  it  is  a  counterforce  to  self-­‐ loathing  and  entitlement  and  cruel  actions  that  result  from  them.  Furthermore,  contact   with  goodness  is  important  because  it  gives  meaning  to  lives  even  when  self-­‐loathing  and   entitlements  are  dormant.  Contact  with  goodness  brings  joy  and  peace  that  passes   understanding.     I  don’t  think  we  can  escape  self-­‐loathing  and  entitlement  because  no  experiences  of  infancy,   early  childhood,  and  beyond  are  perfectly  balanced.  No  set  of  parents  and  no  other  persons   can  respond  to  us  appropriately  and  sensitively  every  time  we  want  them  or  need  them.  I   talk  about  parents  here  because  of  my  belief  that  what  we  think  is  original  sin  begins  to   form  in  infancy  in  response  to  our  relationships  with  our  parents  and  others  and  how  we   interpret  these  relationships.       We  misinterpret  the  times  others  are  not  there  for  us  and  conclude  we  are  bad,  deserve  to   be  overlooked,  and  our  burning  hurts  deserve  to  go  unheeded.  We  build  expectations  that   others  will  be  unresponsive,  even  as  we  are  unaware  of  these  expectations.  We  fit  our   subsequent  experiences  into  these  expectations  and  so  the  expectations  grow  stronger.     Some  interactions  with  others  are  actively  abusive  and  neglectful.  Many  people  experience   trauma  at  the  hands  of  their  parents  or  others  who  are  supposed  to  care  for  them.  It’s   particularly  difficult  not  to  make  negative  judgments  about  personal  worth  and  entitlement   with  such  treatment,  if  there  is  no  one  to  help  us  unravel  the  meanings  of  these  events.       Entitlements  are  beliefs  that  our  parents  are  supposed  to  nurture  us  as  soon  as  we  want   them.  Entitlements  may  arise  when  we  have  not  learned  that  parents  sometimes  require  a   break,  even  from  us,  their  precious  darlings.  The  break  means  the  parents  are  replenishing   themselves  or  engaged  in  other  tasks.  The  lesson  of  waiting  for  what  we  want  is  an   ingredient  of  empathy,  of  staying  connected  to  goodness,  and  to  lowering  the  risk  of   allowing  ourselves  to  act  in  hurtful  ways  because  we  want  what  we  want  when  we  want  it.   We  are  not  in  command  of  other  people.  What  they  give  us  is  of  value  when  what  they  offer   is  freely  offered.       Fortunately,  our  parents  and  others  are  there  for  us  most  of  the  time.  So,  side-­‐by-­‐side  with   our  self-­‐loathing  and  entitlements,  we  grow  expectations  that  others  care  about  us  and  we   care  about  them.  We  can  wait.  In  addition,  the  spirit  of  goodness  is  all  around  us.  This   cheers  us  up  even  as  others  are  not  available.  Many  of  us  experience  this  with  little   awareness  or  reflection,  and  we  seek  to  stay  in  contact  with  this  goodness.  This  desire  for   connection  is  like  a  compass  that  guides  us  away  from  doing  harm.  When  we  do  harm,  we   break  the  connection  with  goodness.     Desire  to  stay  connected  with  goodness,  therefore,  is  yet  another  safeguard  against  hurtful   actions.  Desire  to  stay  connected  with  goodness  is  also  a  counterforce  to  continually   experiencing  self-­‐loathing  and  the  agitations  connected  to  entitlements.    

It  is  almost  impossible  to  crack  the  hard  shell  that  we  grow  around  our  self-­‐loathing  and   entitlements.  Ironically,  as  we  crack  it,  we  find  that  we  are  not  who  we  fear  we  are.  We  are   not  bad,  evil,  terrible,  pieces  of  crap,  or  deserving  of  instant  gratification  and  status.  Who   we  really  are  is  a  long  journey  of  self-­‐discovery  and  discovery  of  ourselves  in  others  whom   we  may  always  have  loved,  and  in  art,  in  flowers  or  anything  else  that  stirs  us.  The  snake  pit   that  some  call  the  subconscious  becomes  a  site  of  incredible  self-­‐knowledge  and  of  our  own   brand  of  creativity.  I  just  started  to  think  of  the  subconscious  as  a  site  of  rotting  seaweed.   We  have  to  move  the  seaweed  out  of  us  and  use  it  as  the  incredible  fertilizer  that  it  is.     We  require  a  connection  to  goodness  as  we  dare  to  wade  into  the  treachery  of  our  hidden   fears,  self-­‐loathing,  and  entitlements.  It  might  even  take  more  courage  to  accept  ourselves   as  good  than  to  explore  our  dark  sides.     A  Personal  Story     I  did  wade  into  my  hidden  fears,  self-­‐loathing,  and  entitlements.  I  did  not  do  it  on  purpose.   Who  would?  It’s  too  hard.  It  hurts  too  much.  We  risk  becoming  unmoored.  As  a  qualitative   social  work  researcher,  I  chose  to  do  in-­‐depth  interviews  of  perpetrators  and  survivors  of   interpersonal  violence.  I  wanted  to  do  this  on  behalf  of  others  who  are  hurt  by  violence.  I   knew  the  hurt  of  violence,  not  so  much  because  I  had  experienced  it  myself,  but  because  I   know  the  hurt  that  most  people  probably  feel,  the  hurt  of  exclusion  and  of  being   discounted.       I  wanted  to  do  something  that  soothed  the  hurt  I  saw  in  so  many  eyes,  especially  the   children  with  whom  I  had  worked  as  a  social  worker,  girls  and  boys  who  had  experienced   abuse  and  neglect.  I  also  did  the  work  on  behalf  of  other  women.  Those  who  especially   inspired  me  had  survived  incredible  hurt  and  still  trucked  along,  with  some  hope  and  faith.   Men,  too,  inspired  my  research,  some  because  they  had  experienced  hurt  and  worked  at   staying  connected  to  goodness.  Hope  of  understanding  and  of  contributing  to  the   transformation  of  men  and  women  who  harm  others  also  inspired  my  work.       Furthermore,  I  believed  I  could  handle  the  effect  of  the  violence  on  me.  As  soon  as  I  started   to  become  burned  by  the  intensity  of  my  responses,  I  backed  away,  somewhat  like  a   bullfighter,  until  I  felt  safe  again.  Then  I  returned.  I  do  not  want  to  kill  the  bull,  however,  but   transform  it.  Not  bulls  literally—bulls  are  just  fine  as  they  are.  Sometimes  the  intensity  of   my  responses  was  horrific.  I  would  think  of  quitting,  but  I  never  did.  The  eyes  and  faces  of   hurt  children  and  women  and  men  pulled  me  back,  or  I  allowed  that  to  happen.     I  wanted  to  transform  the  bullies,  those  who  believe  they  have  the  right  to  take  what  they   want  and  use  who  they  want  for  their  own  gains,  which  could  be  sexual  and  emotional   gratification,  status,  power,  and  money,  or  anything  else  that  grab  their  fancy.  Some  of  them   were  abused  and  neglected  themselves  as  children  and  full  of  self-­‐loathing  and  emotional   pain,  but  that  was  no  reason  to  hurt  other  people.  I  simply  wanted  to  contribute  to  forces   that  could  lead  to  no  more  hurting  one  another.    

The  cracking  open  of  the  shell  of  my  own  self-­‐hatred  and  entitlements  was  an  unexpected   bonus,  agonizing  as  it  was.  I  never  believed  I  am  good,  but  thought  I  was  a  piece  of  crap.  I   hoped  I  was  good.  I  wanted  to  be  good.  I  liked  being  in  contact  with  the  good  and  did  so  in   many  different  ways.  Deep  down,  where  I  think  the  subconscious  is,  I  always  thought  I  was   bad.  I  didn’t  do  many  bad  things  and  worked  hard  to  do  good  because  I  like  how  I  felt  when   I  do  the  good.  I  liked  going  to  church  and  listening  to  the  parables  and  stories  of  Jesus.       Cracking  open  the  shell  and  inspecting  what  was  there  took  years.  I  slowly  realized  who  I   thought  I  was  and  then  realized  that  I  had  a  distorted  sense  of  myself.  I  am  not  who  I   thought  I  was.  Slowly  for  years  and  then  suddenly,  I  realized  that  I  am  as  filled  with  a  spirit   of  goodness  that  I  saw  in  everyone  else  around  me  and    in  everything  else  practically—the   spirit  of  goodness  is  everywhere.  I  always  knew  the  spirit  of  goodness  was  there  for   everyone  else.  Goodness  was  even  beside  me,  but  not  in  me.  I  sought  the  presence  of   goodness.  I  am  in  the  process  of  experiencing  myself  as  good.  As  I  said  earlier,  this  process   has  been  so  difficult  I  hardly  have  words  for  it.       Organized  Religion  and  Faith     Organized  religion  was  a  help  and  hindrance.  My  own  religious  institution  provided  a   structure  for  me  to  experience  and  to  articulate  goodness,  but  my  religion  excluded  me  and   discounted  my  worth  including  my  right  to  reason  and  to  interpret  my  own  experiences  of   goodness  and  harm.  My  religion  didn’t  even  want  me  or  any  members  except  male  clergy  to   read  scripture.  The  men  priests  said  only  they  can  understand  and  interpret  scripture.   Since  only  men  could  be  clergy  or  have  any  leadership  role  in  my  childhood  religion,  this   religion  excluded  me,  except  as  a  supplicant.     I  didn’t  understand  many  things  about  religion  and  could  not  accept  some  of  them.  Some   religious  beliefs  make  no  sense.  They  did  not  early  in  my  life  and  they  still  do  not.  However,   today  I  experience  my  beliefs  as  based  on  faith.  Faith  itself  is  not  logical,  but  faith  is   something  felt  and  experienced  and  known  in  the  bones.       Religious  beliefs  are  fallible  because  those  who  constructed  the  beliefs  are  fallible.   Religious  beliefs  are  institutionalized  and  are  not  the  same  as  the  spiritual  beliefs  of   individuals,  especially  as  these  individual  beliefs  are  faithful  to  good  and  contribute  to  the   common  welfare.       Fallibility  and  Freedom     I’m  fallible  in  my  interpretations  of  my  spiritual  experiences.  They  are,  however,  my   experiences,  my  interpretations,  and  my  spirituality.  I  have  to  live  with  them.  I  claim  them   as  mine.  No  religion  can  tell  me  that  I  am  bad  because  I  do  not  believe  exactly  what  they   want  me  to  believe.  Religions  that  say  that  are  mistaken.  To  participate  in  goodness  means   freedom  to  be  who  we  are  in  concert  with  others  who  are  free  to  be  who  they  are.       My  freedom  stops  where  the  freedom  of  others  begins  and  so  does  yours—and  anyone   else’s,  including  the  heads  of  major  corporations  who  want  to  shape  governments  so  they  

get  what  they  want  regardless  of  consequences  for  others.  Elected  officials  are  bowing  to   sociopaths  who  have  callous  disregard  for  others.  As  supplicants  to  sociopaths,  these   politicians  become  sociopaths  themselves.  Evil  feels  good.  It  hurts  others.  In  the  long  run,  it   hurts  those  who  perpetrate  it,  even  those  who  act  as  if  they  are  doing  good.       Summary     In  summary,  original  sin  is  not  original,  but  goodness  is.  Original  sin  is  a  construction  that   begins  at  birth  or  earlier  and  grows  over  time.  The  spirit  of  goodness  is  original  and  is   always  there.  It’s  there  before  we  are  born  and  it  there  after  we  die.  To  be  part  of  goodness   we  have  to  see  it  in  others,  let  it  touch  us,  and  make  space  for  it  within  ourselves.  To  do  the   latter  may  not  be  easy.  For  some,  like  me,  it  sometimes  is  harder  to  see  ourselves  as  good   than  to  keep  on  believing  we  are  wretches.       References     Gilgun,  Jane  F.  (2010).  Evil  feels  good:  Think  before  you  act.   http://www.scribd.com/doc/38489251/Evil-­‐Feels-­‐Good-­‐Think-­‐Before-­‐You-­‐Act     Gilgun,  Jane  F.  (2010).  Fake  accountability  and  true:  Telling  the  difference.   http://www.scribd.com/doc/38241791/Fake-­‐Accountability-­‐True-­‐Telling-­‐the-­‐Difference     Gilgun,  Jane  F.  (2010).  Jesus  gets  depressed.   http://www.scribd.com/doc/40473935/Jesus-­‐Gets-­‐Depressed    

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