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Raw Material and Original Sin

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby carryanation » 26 Mar 2010, 22:12

It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man's psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us : all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises. -- Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis


This passage seems revolutionary to me, very different from the usual attitudes of Christians. I want to be a Christian but the biggest obstacle for me is this traditional attitude, the one that says I am to feel guilt and self-loathing for being born with sinful nature I didn’t ask for and don’t want.

"Men are not gentle, friendly creatures wishing for love, who simply defend themselves if they are attacked, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment. The result is that their neighbour is to them not only a possible helper or sexual object, but also a temptation to them to gratify their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without recompense, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus; who has the courage to dispute it in the face of all the evidence in his own life and in history? This aggressive cruelty usually lies in wait for some provocation, or else it steps into the service of some other purpose, the aim of which might as well have been achieved by milder measures. In circumstances that favour it, when those forces in the mind which ordinarily inhibit it cease to operate, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals men as savage beasts to whom the thought of sparing their own kind is alien. Anyone who calls to mind the atrocities of the early migrations, of the invasion by the Huns or by the so-called Mongols under Jenghiz Khan and Tamurlane, of the sack of Jerusalem by the pious Crusaders, even indeed the horrors of the last world-war, will have to bow his head humbly before the truth of this view of man." -- Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents


All this is true of course. And most of a men's wicked desires are the result of their bodies, the part-animal bodies they are born into and the mammalian and reptilian brains over which the reasoning neo-cortex is but a thin veneer. Propensity to sin is instinctual and inborn and to be good a man must fight his own nature. This has been the traditional Christian view, but C. S. Lewis is the first I’ve read who seems to say that we are not to blamed for our “raw material,” meaning our inherited sinful natures. Are there other Christian who think this?

I can’t listen to believers who point to Christ on the Cross and scream “Your fault!” Maybe. But’s it not my fault it was my fault. The ancient Hebrews sacrificed bulls and rams for sin and guilt offerings to purify themselves even if the sin was unintentional, such as being touched by an unclean person or unknowingly being fed unclean meat. Even natural, unavoidable but unclean bodily processes and emissions required atonement. Can we look at the Crucifixion this way? If we are born unclean, blood-purification is still necessary whether it’s our fault or not. But I can be grateful without being eaten up with guilt over it can't I?
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby Matthew Whaley » 27 Mar 2010, 06:40

Yes. Welcome, carryanation! :smile: Jesus offered Himself, so no one is to blame for His death. If you have a Bible, read Romans to start with.
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby narnia56 » 30 Mar 2010, 01:32

Yes,Jesus offered his life to us and he died for as at the cross, If you have a Bible read Matthew and Romans to start with so you can understand more this is just a comment for your question, and or maybe you can start at the beggining fron Genesis-Revelation if you want. :)

PS...I love reading the Bible
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby cyranorox » 31 Mar 2010, 15:28

The Lewis quote is utterly traditional and consistent with the views of most of the ancient Church, but not most Americans and a few British 'low-church' [low as in not-liturgical] denominations. If you respond to that, you are on the right track and in line with the mind of Christianity. I'm not saying you should seek another church, but if the ideas in the quote seem new or revloutionary, remember that the Good News and the Revolution are really news and really revolutionary.

Involuntary sin, the participation in the system and the fraud and falsity of the world, business, politics, or whatever, and the upwelling of base thoughts and motives, is built into us, but not quite a guilt. We ask for forgiveness of sins, voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown, in word and deed and thought. Most of the social transgressions and crimes we cite as sins strike me as the most superficial sin; it's common for the Fathers to say that to see one's own sin is a great gift, but only for those who have developed great strength to bear it. But it's all a kind of disease, ugly enough, but to be bared for the sake of cure.

While you should read the Gospel, and the Epistles, you should also consult with or read some reliable expositors, ie, some of those who accept and understand the ideas expressed in the quote. The Gospel is a "book of riddles", said Chesterton; too often returning truth plentifully adulterated by the reader's preconceptions; you need a guide.
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby archenland_knight » 31 Mar 2010, 15:51

Cyranorox:

As the planets fall from the heavens :wink: I find myself agreeing with most of what you are saying here.

But I would say that there may be more American Protestant churches, liturgical and non-liturgical alike, than you think which would completely agree with this idea. Not that it lets us off of coming to Christ (and I don't think anyone is suggesting that it does), but that it does mean we shouldn't beat ourselves up with guilt over our "bad material".

And I would say that the problem with saying you should read the Gospels and Epistles with "some reliable expositors" is that we will all disagree on what constitutes a "reliable expositor".
Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby cyranorox » 31 Mar 2010, 21:38

Well, yes; but to examine a particular idea, such as Lewis is presenting, it's a good bet to go to those who accept it; perhaps, also, some who are well and broadly educated, but hold other views.
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby carryanation » 01 Apr 2010, 22:51

Thank you all for your responses. I'm in the process of reading the Bible right now, but I have a learning disorder. I'm in the middle of Numbers right now.

It's going to take awhile.

cyranorox:
Who is the ancient church exactly? Is there a Catholic/Protestant split here? Are there any specific authors or books you would recommend on this issue?
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby JRosemary » 02 Apr 2010, 16:24

carryanation wrote:I can’t listen to believers who point to Christ on the Cross and scream “Your fault!” Maybe. But’s it not my fault it was my fault. The ancient Hebrews sacrificed bulls and rams for sin and guilt offerings to purify themselves even if the sin was unintentional, such as being touched by an unclean person or unknowingly being fed unclean meat. Even natural, unavoidable but unclean bodily processes and emissions required atonement. Can we look at the Crucifixion this way? If we are born unclean, blood-purification is still necessary whether it’s our fault or not. But I can be grateful without being eaten up with guilt over it can't I?


Be careful here, because in Judaism ritual impurity is not the same thing as a sin. For example, a wonderful mitzvah you can do is to prepare a body for burial--and yet that preparation makes you ritually impure. But there's certainly nothing sinful about it! It's a very good, positive thing. Menstruating is also a good, positive thing, since it's identified with the ability to give life--but, again, you are ritually impure while menstruating. But there's nothing sinful about it. So, again, ritual impurity is not the same thing as sinfulness and doesn't imply that any sin has been committed.
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby cyranorox » 02 Apr 2010, 16:45

CArry: The Orthodox Church [Greek, Russian, Serbian etc] considers itself the current expression of the full ancient Church. We think of it like this; everyone was Orthodox [except side growths, heretics etc]; then the Roman Catholics split off over politics, the 'filioque', etc; then the Protestants split from them, ad infinitum. Not everyone agrees with this! But we do focus on the ideas and ways of the first millenium, in the writings of thinkers and saints commonly spoken of as 'the Fathers' , we use Greek as a living connection to the writers of the Bible [who were part of us], we think of the Bible as arising from within the community - St Paul didn't go found St Paul Missionary Church! he joined up- and the Liturgy as the center of our lives.
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby Danny » 21 Apr 2010, 03:15

carryanation wrote, in part:
I want to be a Christian but the biggest obstacle for me is this traditional attitude, the one that says I am to feel guilt and self-loathing for being born with sinful nature I didn’t ask for and don’t want.


While I do not doubt I was born with a sinful nature, I cannot say I have ever "felt guilt and self-loathing" for same. I have known more than a little very real guilt over my own intentional sins - quite enough, in fact, to drive me to the cross. That was not done in a flash, or even in an hour, but closer to twenty-five years. It was only later I learned that my Substitute was also known as the Second Adam; and that whereas our first father passed down to us a rather defective nature - that you are a bit hung up on - the Second Adam offers a new nature. The point is, you needn't manufacture any particular feeling or understand all things. If you are like every other son of Adam - and you are - then you have your own intentional sins. It matters not whether you "feel" guilty. The fact is, you are guilty. If you have been blessed (graced, gifted, whatever the word) to see your own guilt, and to see your Guilt-bearer on that bloody tree, let no futher obstacle prevent your flight to Jesus. He makes all things new - and waits for you.
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby Nerd42 » 21 Apr 2010, 15:18

carryanation wrote:
It is as well to put this the other way round. Some of us who seem quite nice people may, in fact, have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we are really worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then with the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man's psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us : all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises. -- Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
This passage seems revolutionary to me, very different from the usual attitudes of Christians. I want to be a Christian but the biggest obstacle for me is this traditional attitude, the one that says I am to feel guilt and self-loathing for being born with sinful nature I didn’t ask for and don’t want.

"Men are not gentle, friendly creatures wishing for love, who simply defend themselves if they are attacked, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment. The result is that their neighbour is to them not only a possible helper or sexual object, but also a temptation to them to gratify their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without recompense, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus; who has the courage to dispute it in the face of all the evidence in his own life and in history? This aggressive cruelty usually lies in wait for some provocation, or else it steps into the service of some other purpose, the aim of which might as well have been achieved by milder measures. In circumstances that favour it, when those forces in the mind which ordinarily inhibit it cease to operate, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals men as savage beasts to whom the thought of sparing their own kind is alien. Anyone who calls to mind the atrocities of the early migrations, of the invasion by the Huns or by the so-called Mongols under Jenghiz Khan and Tamurlane, of the sack of Jerusalem by the pious Crusaders, even indeed the horrors of the last world-war, will have to bow his head humbly before the truth of this view of man." -- Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents
All this is true of course. And most of a men's wicked desires are the result of their bodies, the part-animal bodies they are born into and the mammalian and reptilian brains over which the reasoning neo-cortex is but a thin veneer. Propensity to sin is instinctual and inborn and to be good a man must fight his own nature. This has been the traditional Christian view, but C. S. Lewis is the first I’ve read who seems to say that we are not to blamed for our “raw material,” meaning our inherited sinful natures. Are there other Christian who think this?

I can’t listen to believers who point to Christ on the Cross and scream “Your fault!” Maybe. But’s it not my fault it was my fault. The ancient Hebrews sacrificed bulls and rams for sin and guilt offerings to purify themselves even if the sin was unintentional, such as being touched by an unclean person or unknowingly being fed unclean meat. Even natural, unavoidable but unclean bodily processes and emissions required atonement. Can we look at the Crucifixion this way? If we are born unclean, blood-purification is still necessary whether it’s our fault or not. But I can be grateful without being eaten up with guilt over it can't I?
I think you have just described in a nutshell why I would be an atheist before I would become a Calvinist. Free will is absolutely essential for sin to exist at all. I think Lewis's view there is right and what you call the "mainstream" view is wrong.
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby Leslie » 22 Apr 2010, 21:37

carryanation wrote:Thank you all for your responses. I'm in the process of reading the Bible right now, but I have a learning disorder. I'm in the middle of Numbers right now.

It's going to take awhile.


Are you planning to read straight through the Old Testament and then the New? If you're reading the Bible for the first time, you'd be just as well to skip over mind-numbing books such as Numbers. In fact, I would suggest beginning with the New Testament, to get a sense of who Jesus was and how he and his early followers proclaimed the 'good news'. Then going back to the Old Testament (assuming you've already read Genesis to Leviticus), read Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Job, the Psalms, and then the prophets.
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby JRosemary » 25 Apr 2010, 01:57

Leslie wrote: If you're reading the Bible for the first time, you'd be just as well to skip over mind-numbing books such as Numbers.


Huh? Why do you find Numbers mind-numbing? :??:

Ok, I'm a Jew, not a Christian. Jews put much more emphasis on the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) than Christians do. In my experience, many Christians view the Torah merely as a prelude to skim through in their rush to the New Testament. But mind-numbing? I think Numbers has got a ton of exciting, controversial stuff.

In fact, Numbers contains one of the most challenging sections of the whole Bible: it tells us of the scouts whose job was to spy out Canaan in preparation for an Israelite invasion. The scouts report that many of the men of Canaan are like giants--there was no way the people Israel could conquer them. (Only Caleb and Joshua were convinced that they could win.)

The community panicks, forgetting all the miracles they had witnessed and cry out to be back in Egypt. Continued slavery would have been better than to die in a bloody, hopeless battle.

Moses and G-d argue in the wake of this: G-d wants to destroy the people Israel and start over with Moses. But Moses plays on G-d's pride: "What will the Egyptians think of You when they hear that You led this people out into the desert merely to destroy them?"

Moses's ploy works. G-d's anger abates--somewhat, at any rate. But this is why the Israelites will stay forty years in the desert. This generation are still slaves in their hearts. All of those born to slavery must die in the desert, even Moses and Aaron and Miriam. It will be a new generation--a lean, hungry generation born to both freedom and Torah---that will take up arms and cross the Jordan, undaunted by these supposed giants.

(There's more controversy regarding the eventual conquest, but that's another story . . .)

And Numbers contains so much more: it describes the fierce argument between Moses, on one hand, and his siblings Aaron and Miriam on the other. Aaron and Miriam challenged his authority--apparently because of something to do with Moses's wife. (As one guy in my synagogue's Torah study put it, "Well, look at that. Your sister doesn't like your wife. Whoever heard of that happening? :rolleyes:) It contains the daughters of Zelophehad, who challenge the justice of one part of the Law. Moses brings their case before G-d, who decides in their favor.

Numbers describes the nasty (though probably physically harmless) ordeal a woman suspected of adultery could be put through. That was a tough read in Torah study too---we couldn't imagine how it was relevant to us today. But one Southerner leaned back in his chair and said, "Well, that's how we handle it in Texas." :lol:

Numbers introduces the Nazarite vow; you need to understand what this is all about in order to be able to understand Samson, Sammuel and, in the New Testament, Paul. According to Acts, Paul took the vows of a Nazarite to appease James, the head of the church in Jerusalem and the brother--or cousin or step-brother, according to some interpretations--of Jesus.

Numbers tells us how Moses struck the rock--apparently losing his temper. This action is connected to the fact that he will have to stand down for Joshua to take over as leader. Moses won't live to enter the promised land. Why this one action cost Moses so much is the subject of countless fascinating commentaries and discussions.

There are still more disturbing, thought-provoking and controversial parts of Numbers: Korach's rebellion and the horrific aftermath. Phinehas's extreme, bloody actions, which many view as murder, despite whatever honors he may have received. (Was G-d trying to curb and channel his extemism with the reward?) This is deep, problematic stuff. It demands that you think and interact with the text. It practically screams at you to discuss it and review the centuries upon centuries of commentaries on it--commentaries that continue to this day.

And then there's the Balaam story . . .

Numbers is many things: bloody, disturbing, thought-provoking, sublime, sometimes earthy and humorous--but mind numbing? I'm sorry, Leslie, but I don't see where you're coming from. I don't understand why this stuff wouldn't engage your mind, demanding its full attention. And I think it'd be a shame for anyone to skip it. :sad:
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby Matthew Whaley » 25 Apr 2010, 16:30

"The Lord bless you and keep you: the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace." :smile:
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Re: Raw Material and Original Sin

Postby Leslie » 26 Apr 2010, 19:56

I didn't mean that Numbers should never be read. I meant that for someone reading the Bible for the first time, and trying to get a sense of the outline of the biblical narrative, it might be better to leave it till later. There is meaty stuff in there, for sure, but it's sandwiched among census returns, inventories, and detailed descriptions of offerings, which, frankly, can be dull reading.

Carryanation implied that he/she has trouble reading. I have some experience in designing reading materials for different levels of ability, and one thing that tends to derail and discourage slow readers is too much detail. It often helps to approach a text in layers, first getting a high-level outline of the subject matter, and then going back to pick up details.

Carryanation also seems to be approaching the scriptures from a Christian perspective, and it is common to begin Christian study with the person of Jesus. This in no way lessens the importance of the Hebrew scriptures -- it's just the starting point.
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