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Posts Tagged ‘Original Sin’

I must confess to not being well versed in George Tillman, Jr.’s filmography.  Up until just a couple weeks ago I had seen only one of his films, and I remember being, at best, mildly impressed.

The Hate U Give, Tillman’s adaptation of Angie Thomas’ 2017 Young Adult novel, has managed to generate some decent buzz — even if, like many worthy films, it enjoyed little or no presence at the awards ceremonies.

The film appears, at first glance, to follow two parallel story lines linked only (more…)

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For parts one through four, click here

Well I guess our subject is both timely and apropos, given the recent sexual abuse allegations against various high profile media and entertainment figures.

Sadly, this problem is very much like the Halloween franchise’s Michael Myers: It can be neutralized in individual circumstances, but it never really dies (not, at any rate, on this side of life).

But we’re talking about Wind River, so let us proceed along our course. (more…)

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I hope John Milton will forgive me for titling my post with a variation on the name of his magnum opus.

What I mean by the phrase is this: When we try to build something lasting and perfect in this world, we are building on what are either the ruins of a toppled paradise or the pieces of an incomplete project (in which case, our construction is premature), with dust and darkness — the “shadows” of part two, if you want — in the in-between spaces.

So it’s obvious why we can’t be successful: We are making our home in a destructive atmosphere with insufficient defenses.

Adam_Eve

Unfortunately, we have been doing it on and off ever since our First Parents.  They thought they could have their freedom and happiness apart from God, which is intrinsically impossible.

Things are as they are because as a species, we tried to build on the wrong foundation to begin with.  Ever subsequent attempt to build the perfect society by our own powers — starting with the Tower of Babel and going all the way up to the totalitarian regimes of the 20th century — ends in disaster.

Such attempts not only echo the Original Sin, they build on an even worse foundation, since death entered into human existence and the world over which we were meant to be stewards became subject to futility and decay.

A.I.Still from “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” (DreamWorks/Warner Brothers, 2001)

The dystopian future as a science fiction sub-genre warns us about our technological dream, our temptation to build a perfect world through technology.  Any “Babel” project will divide, not unite; confuse, not uplift; dehumanize, not perfect humanity.

As much as we may (indeed, should) appreciate the healing, innovation, and other gains afforded by technological progress, we all have a sense that it has to be approached with humility, not hubris.  Otherwise, what happens?

I look forward to finding out in August, when the movie “Elysium” comes out.

Top image from Wikipedia; “A.I.” image obtained through a Google image search.

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Annunciation

For part 1, click here: http://www.intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/the-praises-of-mary-the-new-eve-part-1/

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a second-century Bishop, spoke of the Virgin Mary as having untied the “knot of Eve’s disobedience” with her own supreme act of obedience to the Divine Will.

Whereas Eve (like Adam) wanted to go her own way rather than trust in her Maker, Mary responded to the angel Gabriel’s annunciation of her virginal conception of Jesus with total humility:

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

St_Justin_Martyr

St. Justin Martyr, a second-century Apostolic Father, contrasted the Virgin Mary with the virgin Eve in his “Dialogue with Trypho,” stating that just as Eve in her disobedience had “conceived the word of the serpent,” bringing sin and death into the world, St. Mary in her obedience conceived the Word of God, bringing redemption and life.

Christ became man by the Virgin in order that the disobedience that proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. (Italics mine)*

Finally, we must take a brief look at the correspondence between Genesis chapters 1-2 and John chapters 1-2:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  God saw how good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness. (Genesis 1: 1-4)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)

All right, so far the connection is pretty clear.  St. John is evoking the Genesis account of creation, and proceeds to imitate the structure of Genesis chapter 1 in the progression of days (“and the next day,” “and the next day,” etc).  In doing so, he shows us that Jesus Christ, God’s own Creative Word, came to restore the first creation, which Adam’s sin plunged into ruin.

But what about the second chapter of these two Books?  We’ll get to that in part 3.  But until then, read Genesis 2 and John 2 for yourself, and see if you can spot a connection.

Photos from Wikipedia

* As quoted by Dr. Scott Hahn here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgeU6d8Bxlo (9:00-9:11)

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The_Madonna_in_SorrowIf you haven’t read it already, here is a link to the first post in this series on the Virgin Mary, which focused on Mary as the new “Ark of the Covenant”: http://www.intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/the-praises-of-mary-the-new-ark/

2. Mary is the New Eve

Since the earliest centuries of Christianity, Mary has also been called the “New Eve.”  In order to understand this, we have to take a look at Jesus first.

Therefore, just as through one person sin entered the world, and through sin, death, and thus death came to all, inasmuch as all sinned – for up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law.  But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam, who is the type of the one who was to come.  But the gift is not like the transgression. For if by that one person’s transgression the many died, how much more did the grace of God and the gracious gift of the one person Jesus Christ overflow for the many.  And the gift is not like the result of the one person’s sinning. For after one sin there was the judgment that brought condemnation; but the gift, after many transgressions, brought acquittal.  For if, by the transgression of one person, death came to reign through that one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of justification come to reign in life through the one person Jesus Christ.  In conclusion, just as through one transgression condemnation came upon all, so through one righteous act acquittal and life came to all.  For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5: 12-19)

So we can see the principle of typology at work here — that is, the recognition of types or prefigurations of the New Covenant revealed in Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.  St. Paul is clearly telling us that Jesus is the New Adam.  He has come to redeem the creation that the first Adam plunged into decay and death.

Adam and EveBut Adam did not act alone, did he?  Adam and his wife, Eve, ate the forbidden fruit together — Eve at the behest of the serpent (the devil), and then afterwards Adam at the behest of Eve.

Just so, Jesus did not act alone when He came to redeem the human race.  From all eternity, He chose Mary to be His New Eve, the woman who would participate in His salvific work in a unique way — and who would become the mother of a new, redeemed humanity.

The Church has always understood this to have been part of the prophecy contained within the Proto Evangelion (or “First Gospel”).  Addressing the serpent, God says this:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

The woman with whom the devil will be at enmity is, indeed, the Virgin Mary, and the offspring of whom God speaks is Jesus Christ.  In Christ’s suffering and death, the devil, the author of death, struck at His “heel,” killing Him.  But by the very action whereby the devil seemed triumphant, the Son of the Virgin crushed the devil’s “head” — that is, He took away his power over creation, disabling death and removing its power grip on mankind.

I will talk more about the specifics of Mary’s role in all this, as well as the Biblical support for Mary as the New Eve, in part 2.  Stay tuned.

Photos from Wikipedia

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One of my favorite 80s hits.

By the way, I am a little bit of an 80s music fanatic.  I find that 80s songs have a deep element of yearning and attempt to use beauty to explore the thorns and roses of life.

It seems to me that this song is, at bottom, a lamentation of the competitiveness and “grabby-ness” of a world scarred by Original Sin (the beginning of which we see in the hiding, self-defensiveness, accusations, and possessiveness of Adam and Eve right after the Fall).

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homealone

I’d like to return to my favorite holiday film, “Home Alone” — this time to unpack some of the things we can learn from it about the human condition.

To start, let me share something I learned from my good friend Captain Obvious: “Home Alone” is about family.

Yes, it is also about a clever and devious 8-year-old who outwits two bumbling burglars in a parade of hilarious booby traps.  But let’s be honest, isn’t that just a small slice of the movie?

For our purposes, the film could be divided into three major sections:

A. We meet Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) and his family, who have a falling out.
B. Kevin and his family are separated, and “absence makes the heart grow fonder” on both sides.
C. Kevin and his family are reunited on Christmas Day.

Here we see the familiar narrative pattern of original harmony, fall, and redemption.   And it’s all about the family.

Home Alone Redemption

I don’t think too many people would disagree about the paradoxical nature of family.  It is the fundamental unit of society, the seed of community, the place where we first become aware of ourselves as individuals, where we gain a sense of identity and responsibility, and from which we draw a sense of security that allows us to explore our world…however big or small that world might be.

But it can also be the place of greatest tension.  Of the number of “explosive” situations that occur among mankind, an appreciable percentage seem to occur within the household.

If we look at the last several decades in Western culture, we can’t help but notice that the institution of the family has taken some major hits, much to the detriment of the rest of society.  No doubt, this owes itself to external forces and in no way undermines the reality of the family’s importance.  Yet there are volatile elements within the family unit that these forces can use as “ammunition.”

kevinmad

“Home Alone” does a great job at portraying family tension and family redemption.  The tension builds up gradually at the beginning, culminating in an incident in the kitchen that gets Kevin sentenced to a night alone in the attic bedroom, sent on his way by the fiercely unfriendly stares of his siblings, cousins, aunt, and uncle… not to mention the un-sugarcoated chastisement of his parents.

I am learning more about my faith all the time, but from what I know and have studied, the Catholic understanding of the human family cannot be looked at apart from two of its core doctrines: Imago Dei and Original Sin.

Michaelangelos-creation-of-Adam

The meaning of Imago Dei is clear enough:

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

The “image of God” is personal, but also communal, for God Himself is a family.  As St. John says:

God is love (1 John 4:8).

Holy Trinity

If “God is love,” this entails an eternal communion of Lover (the Father), Beloved (the Son), and the Love they share (the Holy Spirit), and there you have it — the eternal family of the Holy Trinity.

Since human beings are made in the image and likeness of God,

It is not good for … man to be alone (Genesis 2:18)

Adam and Eve

If we are made in the image and likeness of the Thrice-Holy God, then we are made for fellowship.  In Genesis, we read that marriage is mankind’s first covenantal relationship.  The husband and wife image their Creator by their love for one another, but in the begetting of children they share in two other Divine traits as well: creativity and parental care.

So we begin to see how the family becomes the fundamental unit of all community, and why it is in itself such a good thing.

Holy Family

This native goodness is elevated to a whole new level in the Holy Family — that is, St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the Child Jesus.  In the Holy Family, which we see depicted in many a nativity scene at this time of year, the world sees the human family confirmed in its God-given dignity and importance.

And then there’s Original Sin, which we are taught has tarnished God’s image in man.  This impacts not only the divine image each of us bears as a person, but also the divine image in its familial aspects.

We see the consequences of Original Sin for the human family immediately in the Bible:

…the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination (see Genesis 3:7-16) (CCC 400).

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him (Genesis 4:8).

Hence the tension families throughout history have experienced.

As we watch “Home Alone,” we see how good and important the family unit is by virtue of what happens when Kevin is removed from its midst.  All alone in a nearly deserted suburban neighborhood, he becomes vulnerable to the intrusion of the “wet bandits” (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), a pair of avaricious burglars determined to raid Kevin’s house…with or without him in it.

Wet Bandits

Indeed, the breakdown of the family opens the individual up to many dangers.  Whether these entail immediate threats to a child’s safety, bad influences, or otherwise, no one can deny that the burglars in “Home Alone” point to this fundamental truth.

Fans of “Home Alone” will recall the dramatic tension of the scene in which the wet bandits follow Kevin in their van.  Not one to take chances with strangers, Kevin runs…and we root for his safety.

Luckily, he finds a hiding spot in front of a nearby church and loses the burglars.  I confess that I may be reading too much into the scene in question, but I can’t help but raise an eyebrow when I reflect that Kevin takes refuge in a Nativity scene with…who?

That’s right: The Holy Family.

I will deal with the subject of family redemption as portrayed in “Home Alone” in a second post (and yes, there will only be two this time, rather than the five posts that my review of “The Grey” and “Big Miracle” ended up being).

All “Home Alone” images and image of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” obtained through a Google image search; remaining images obtained from http://www.wikipedia.org.

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There has been much speculation as to the motives of Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary.  More to the point, there has been much speculation about his mental health.

It is only natural for us to suppose that anyone who would do a thing like this must be psychologically or emotionally troubled — that is, exceptionally and diagnostically so.

In a recent interview with WGRZ (www.wgrz.com), University of Buffalo Department of Psychiatry Chair Steven L. Dubovsky, MD, stated that many perpetrators of these types of crimes do not have any psychiatric illnesses.  Rather, they tend to be “losers” and “cowards” who seek fame and notoriety and think that this is the only way they will be able to achieve it.

My reference to Dubovsky is introductory in nature.  It is not my intention in this post to argue that Adam Lanza did not have a psychiatric illness of some sort.  For all I know, he very well may or may not have.  But I do think we need to be careful about quickly jumping to the conclusion that anyone who commits a horrible crime such as this must necessarily be mentally ill.

Why do I say that?  Well, one word — scapegoating.

There are many kinds of mental illness.  All of them present great challenges to the people who have them, and the stigma that society has historically attached to them doesn’t help.

Nor is societal stigma limited to mental illnesses.  To some extent, it still embraces any kind of documentable mental difference.  I work with people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities, and I have directly and indirectly encountered some of the misconceptions and impatience that are still out there.  After the recent tragedy and the quick search for a psychiatric “label” for the killer, I am afraid of how the stigma might yet grow.

Don’t get me wrong — the question of whether or not someone like Lanza has a diagnosable problem should be explored.  And to be sure, there are certain types of mental illness that make people more prone to committing violent acts, and the appropriate safeguards should be in place to make sure these people don’t harm themselves or others.

What concerns me is the simple assertion that I have heard people make in conversation: “This young man must have had something wrong with him (that is, psychiatrically).”

If we convince ourselves that only those who are exceptionally troubled have the capacity to commit horrible acts like the one at Sandy Hook, we do not automatically condemn all such people; but I think we do make a couple of mistakes:

1) We “acquit” ourselves and encourage a sort of complacent self-righteousness; and
2) By saying that brutal acts of carnage and violence are exclusive to those who are mentally “other,” we implicitly amplify the stigma attached to this “otherness.”

For me, as a Catholic, the tragedy at Sandy Hook brings home a reality confirmed by one of the Church’s most controversial doctrines: Original Sin.

Original Sin

Even if Lanza was mentally ill, Dubovsky’s words give us pause.  We have to face an unpleasant fact: There is evil in the human heart.  That does not mean that human beings are evil, per se.  On the contrary, my Catholic Faith tells me that all people are created in God’s image and are therefore essentially good.

However, the divine image in each of us is tarnished, and we all have a tendency towards things that we know are not right.

And you don’t have to be a Catholic to believe this.  I attended a seminar a little over two years ago that was conducted by Barry Gan, PhD, director of the Center for Nonviolence at St. Bonaventure University.  Gan is Jewish, and he talked about nonviolence from a non-denominational and very much secular perspective.  One of the things Gan stressed in one of his talks was that each and every one of us is capable of both great good and great evil (as an example of this paradox, he cited Osama bin Laden, who became something of a legend in Afghanistan for his great philanthropic work and kindness to children in hospitals long before the September 11th attacks).

But most of us would rather not face the darkness and guilt in our own hearts.  For most of us, it is too much.  So what we tend to do — even if subconsciously — is select a certain group of people, set them apart, and pile all of our guilt onto them.  We will stigmatize a certain “class” of individuals as being particularly bad, dangerous, or unwelcome (or even unredeemable sometimes) so that we can compare ourselves favorably against them.

Let’s face it: Most of us will not go out and kill people, and thank God for that.  And I’m not saying that we should be over-scrupulous about every little flaw we find in ourselves, as if an explosion of violence or other similar extremes are inevitable.  But big sins tend to have small beginnings, and we all experience those beginnings.

Furthermore, as my faith proclaims, each and every human being’s personal sins contribute, often in mysterious ways, to the overall moral disorder of the world.  So if we want to see things change, we must begin with ourselves…with our own hearts.

Gandhi

As Gandhi famously said, we must “be the change (we) wish to see in the world.”

While the doctrine of Original Sin seems, at the outset, bleak and anti-human, in conjunction with Christ’s redemptive death, resurrection, ascension into Heaven, and gift of the Holy Spirit it is ultimately a life-giving reality.  I see two reasons for this:

1) It gives us a degree of control in the midst of chaos.  While we cannot always control what other people do, we can choose, with the help of God’s grace, to grow in virtue ourselves.  By becoming better and more virtuous people, we become channels through which that divine grace that can renew the world may enter the world.

2) It stops us from looking down on others and inspires us to look up on their behalf.  When we look at those we might consider especially bad and consider that both they and we are capable both of great evil and great good, we realize — and may then act out of the realization — that no one is beyond hope.

That said, let me conclude by summarizing my initial point.  Yes, we should look at psychological issues that may have affected Adam Lanza’s actions.  But we also have to remember that the mentally ill and mentally “different” do not have a monopoly on evil or dangerous acts.  Nor, for that matter, should we encourage the idea that these kinds of differences necessarily imply dangerousness.

Now is not the time to encourage scapegoating or stereotypes.  Rather, it is a time to realize that each of us is called to be a light in the midst of this present darkness.

Images obtained through a Google image search.

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