Our Fall from Paradise – Part 1

Paradise Lost

Let’s wax philosophic, shall we?

We’ve learned a bit about The Fall and our unfortunate condition of Original Sin. We’ve learned how the three temptations at the time of The Fall continue to haunt us through our lives. Let’s look at these three temptations again.

1. Power

2 "The scribes and the Pharisees… 4 …bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger... 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted... 23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Mt 23:2, 4, 11-12, 23)

One temptation is to power, to dominate another person. Why would we want to do that? Because if we don’t, then the other person may dominate us, and that’s what we really don’t want. Humans struggle with this in relationships – who dominates who. When two persons have conflicting wills, conflicting desires, then conflict between persons arise. How to resolve the conflict? If you are a secular type of person, then the answer is politics. Politics is, very fundamentally, a practical means of conflict resolution between persons. Social groups (nations) create governments to carry out these political acts of conflict resolution. Smaller social groups (businesses, organizations) create management and leaders to do the same. It’s the standard secular or natural human response to conflict between persons: assign a person or a few persons to resolve conflict and give them some means to enforce their decisions (police, etc.).

2. Greed

1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. 2 Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. (Jas 5:1-3)

Another temptation is to greed and wealth, that is, to own and control the things in our environment. Why would we want to do that? Because the environment is harsh and humans are weak; individually, we would have difficulty surviving the environment. We need certain, basic things: food, shelter, protection, medicine. In other words, humans experience conflict with nature, which may kill or harm us unless we modify nature to make useful things for our survival. Humans have an ancient tendency to modify our environment, growing food, making homes and clothes. In so doing we make things that nature doesn’t provide, we make valuable things we can use. We tend to coordinate our efforts together in making these valuable things, and the result is called an economy. The field of secular economics is, fundamentally, an attempt to discover the best way to coordinate these efforts and resolve this conflict with nature as a group.

3. Pleasure

4 "Woe to those who lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat lambs from the flock, and calves from the midst of the stall; 5 who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David invent for themselves instruments of music; 6 who drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! 7 Therefore they shall now be the first of those to go into exile, and the revelry of those who stretch themselves shall pass away." (Amos 6:4-7)

We see, then, that we experience conflict with other people, as well as with the world around us. These two are easy to understand. The third temptation is to pleasure and it’s a bit more abstract; but it is the root cause of the other two. Here we experience conflict within our own selves. Catholics who learned their catechism at least know that we are hybrid creatures, composed of a physical body and a spiritual soul. The body is that of an animal and is subject to animal tendencies and desires, which we lump together under the umbrella term “pleasure.” The soul has different desires, tending towards goodness. These two different natures with their different desires give way to an inner conflict, within each of us, between the animal desires to pleasure and the spiritual desires to goodness. St. Paul explains this as concupiscence – an inner conflict.

15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… 17 So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:15-24)

Furthermore, it is this third, inner conflict that leads to the first two. As we have all experienced, along with St. Paul, our physical desires normally win in contests with our spiritual side. If the spiritual side wins, then we tend towards goodness, which in turn leads to a desire to humbly help others rather than conquer them. It leads to an indifference to the difficulties of life, and all of the wealth we accumulate to fend off such difficulties. This conflict between our two natures is the source of all three conflicts, all three temptations. St. James ties these three together:

1 What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? 2 You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war. (Jas 4:1-2)

What is the meaning of all these conflicts we suffer day after day? It is simply a conflict of my will, of not getting what I want. When I get what I want, I call it happiness. When I don’t get what I want, I call it suffering. For example, I may suffer from a disease that is terrible and causes me pain. We say that is suffering and it is true. But it is only suffering because I do not want a terrible disease and endless pain. Suffering exists wherever there is a conflict of the will that cannot be resolved. The details of the conflict are almost irrelevant, contributing only to the degree of suffering.

Now, armed with this understanding, let’s look at The Fall again; specifically, let’s look at life before the Fall compared to after the Fall. What conflicts did Adam and Eve suffer before the Fall? None. They were in paradise and there was no suffering. They loved each other and there was no conflict of trying to dominate each other. Such relational conflict entered the world after the Fall, when Cain killed Abel. Likewise, before the Fall Adam and Eve were in harmony with nature; the garden provided all their needs and animals did them no harm. After the Fall they were removed from Paradise and had to work to grow food, work to achieve their needs in a new, cursed world. The first act of economics occurred when they made clothes out of fig leaves. And why did they make clothes? Because sin opened them up to lust - they felt concupiscence for the first time.

7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons. (Gn 3:7)

The inner conflict began. Before the Fall they were masters of their bodies and, as the theologians say, the faculties of their souls controlled the faculties of their bodies. That state of life where they had experienced no conflict with each other, with nature, or within themselves is called Original Integrity. The contrasting state of Original Sin is noted by frequent conflict in these areas, which is human life after the Fall.

Conflict and suffering – this is our lot in life. Since the beginning of time, humanity has yearned to return to that original state of Paradise in Eden. In all times and all places, various people invented schemes to get back to Eden. Some ideas were political, some philosophic, most religious. All failed because none considered the root cause: original sin.

Actually, that is not true. There is one that did not fail. One that addressed the root cause. One way to successfully get to Paradise. Its genius is that it does not seek a way back to the old Paradise of Eden, but to a new Paradise better than the old. It is the way of Christ.

Click HERE to read Part 2 of this essay.