What Is Original Sin?

The original sin is not knowledge, it is rape. When men, women, and children are rendered powerless in the face of violence, there should be no tolerance for that.
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One of the first creative writing exercises that I had in high school was to re-write a well-known story but narrate it from a different point of view. I chose the story of Adam and Eve. I re-wrote it from Eve's perspective. Though I no longer remember the details of what I wrote, what stuck with me was the liberation I felt. Striking at the heart of a sacred text, that was exciting! It was the late '70s and many of my teachers at Newark Academy believed in the '60s mantra "question authority." Nothing was sacred.

What an opportunity it was to refute the absurd idea that mankind was doomed because the first man listened to the voice of his wife. Why would I worship passages that cursed my very existence? Even as an allegory, this story seemed ridiculous to me. What an anti-truth, anti-scientific, anti-knowledge message. The Lord God uses fear like an abusive father. For acting on the impulses that God created, all of mankind is punished with lives of pain and servitude and women forever relegated to a lower caste. Clearly, that story was not written by a woman.

The Bible is a work of literature created by many men, and in many places refutes itself. The creation story in the first part of Genesis contradicts the Adam and Eve story, as man had already been made whole and perfect. Jesus brings back the idea of perfect man as recounted in the Gospels. In other books, like some of the Psalms, God is revealed as a loving parent watching over an innocent flock quite the contrast to the vengeful Jehovah in other places.

Why should knowledge cause us to lose our innocence, our goodness? The consequence of the Biblical story's loss of "innocence" is the feeling of shame about nakedness and sex. Through knowledge and science, we have learned how desire is natural; we should stop promoting shameful feelings about sex. And much of the poetry from the Bible is unashamedly sensuous: "My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him, I arose to open to my beloved." (Song of Solomon 5:4-5) In fact, some scholars have translated this part of the Bible as a an erotic poem about two unmarried teenagers celebrating the consummation of their love. The irony is that so many religions have institutionalized shame and guilt, making men and women, but especially women, feel that sex itself is the evil thing, like the snake in the story. Too many have spread the lie that sexual desire is bad, especially outside the confines of bearing children. This kind of repression based on fear does not end well. The Catholic church has been especially egregious in driving sex underground and then covering up when children, the true innocents, are sexually abused by the ones supposedly protecting them.

The original sin is not knowledge, it is rape. When men, women, and children are rendered powerless in the face of violence, there should be no tolerance for that. If I could re-write the commandments, "thou shalt not rape" would replace "thou shalt not commit adultery." What goes on between husbands and wives is their business until the use of force comes between them. Marriage is not permission to be physically assaulted. Rape is a crime of violence, unacceptable under any circumstances.

How is it possible in the 21st century that 1,400 children in Rotherham, England were raped, trafficked, terrified over a 16-year period while their community turned a blind eye to the mostly Pakistani men that committed these crimes? Did everyone look away because of the poverty of both these girls and the men that abused them? How was it that girls as young as 11 were considered "those kind of girls," with many of the local police believing they got whatever they deserved? Why didn't anyone listen when some of those children started to speak up? The police and city officials did not worry about appearing "racist" when they jailed some of those men on drug charges. What a brutally incorrect form of "political correctness" that allows children to be tortured in such a horrific way.

And it is happening here too. The sex trafficking trade thrives all around us, shrouded in silence. Rape has resurfaced as a problem on college campuses across America, including the most elite institutions. Women are slowly starting to speak out. Emma Sulkowicz of Columbia University is protesting the way the administration handled her complaint of being raped in her dorm room by a fellow student. She has created a performance piece now in its fifth week called "Carry That Weight." She is carrying a 50-pound mattress everywhere she goes on campus "to call attention to her plight and the plight of other women who feel university officials have failed to deter or adequately punish such assaults." (Roberta Smith, New York Times, September 21, 2014) Part of the rules of her engagement is that she can't ask for help with carrying the mattress, but that she can accept help if offered. I like how she is drawing attention to this important issue while literally making herself stronger. Then it is up to us to decide whether to help her "carry that weight."

I was talking to a friend recently about what happened to the feminism of our generation. Why does it seem like we dropped the weight? Sexual liberation came easily and spread fast, as it was welcomed by both men and women. Without true economic independence for women, sexual freedom came at a cost. At one end of the spectrum, many educated women gave up careers to stay home with children, but about half those marriages ended in divorce with many women punished economically. And at the other: "Women get paid less than men in almost all jobs, but when women in low-wage jobs need to take time off work, to care for children, they are at an even greater disadvantage." (Claire Cain Miller, New York Times, August 21, 2014)

If someone had paid Janay Palmer seven million dollars a year to raise Ray Rice's child without him, would she still be standing by her man, the one who cold-cocked her in an elevator and dragged her limp body like a slain deer hauled off after the hunt? That's a story I would like to re-write.

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