The Original sin


Some of my Catholic friends might be surprised that a heathen like me believes in original sin. But it’s true. It is just that it is a little different form the original sin they are supposed to believe in.

When Europeans arrived in North America, (they did not discover it for it had been there a very long time) they came with that a lot of baggage. In particular they came with arrogance epitomized by that famous European attitude of superiority. They were better than everyone and more important than everything else. Everything was subordinate to them. I think this attitude was best exemplified by Cecil Rhodes that famous English colonialist from Africa. He said, “We happen to be the best people in the world. And the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for humanity.”These attitudes led to the genocide of indigenous people, barbarous enslavement of African-Americans, domination of women by men, the debasement of all religions except their own nasty versions of Christianity, and the subjugation of nature to the will and power of men.  This genocide Tzvetan Todorov in his book The Conquest of America called the “the greatest genocide in history.” Those attitudes were the original sin of the western hemisphere—the Americas.

The original inhabitants of North America had a very different attitude. Their attitude was more like this:

“Native America is alive. Its roots stretch back 13,000 years…to America’s original explorers. New people who create a new world. From North to  South America distant peoples share one common belief a deep connection to Earth, sky, water and all living things.”

The original explorers of the western hemisphere were not Europeans. They came here long before then. They came before the Egyptians built the pyramids. They came before Christ was born. They were different. They avoided the original sin. Fundamentally, they had a different attitude to nature and to people. They were the ancestors to the Indigenous people of today.

Teresa Ryan, in a recent PBS documentary series, Native America,  put it well, “We are part of this forest as much as the forest is part of us.” This is a fundamentally different attitude to nature and to all living things in it.

Beau Dick, n the same series,  added to that: “All of our ceremonies illustrate that one notion connectedness— not only with our fellow beings with animals and other creatures, but with all of creation.”

This attitude I have called Affinity. This is my word. I have applied it to this philosophy because I wanted a convenient handle. I considered the expression “being-in-the-world” invented by Martin Heidegger. But his philosophy is very difficult and  I am not sure I entirely understand it. He really uses it to apply just to humans, so it seems to me, but it does latch onto the very important basic notion that we are not separate and apart from nature. We are not alienated from it. We not apart from the world; we are a part of the world! We cannot hope to understand humans unless we take into consideration that they are part of the world. But, in my view, unlike Heidegger’s, this applies to all beings not just human beings.

From this fundamental principle, so different from the Europeans who later invaded their territory, a multitude of important consequences flow. As the PBS documentary Native America, said, “From this deep respect for nature, people create great nations.” That does not mean they were perfect. Not at all. But they were different in important respects. They had a lot they could contribute to the invaders, and they had a lot to learn from them. It is however very difficult, as the Europeans found after they invaded, to learn from the other whom you despise or at least do not respect. Feelings of supremacy are not a sound basis for learning. This does not mean they learned nothing from their hosts. It is just that they could have learned so much more had their feelings of superiority been blunted.

Many of the nations in the New World grappled with war and peace. They “develop governments from dictatorships to a democracy that will inspire the United States constitution.” Yet amazingly, here comes that powerful feeling of superiority again, that same constitution contained racist presumptions of superiority that helped to install the original sin as the basis of their society and has to this day prevented the United States from healing from that fundamental sin against at least 3 groups of people; Native Americans and African-Americans, and lets not forget, women. Of course, these white men also presumed to be superior to women.  That was also part of the fundamental sin of white male supremacy that still haunts the United States,  Canada, and frankly this entire western hemisphere. Not that the other hemisphere is much better. The other aspect of white male supremacy is supremacy over all animals, and even, all of nature. This last bias is still the least understood of these presumptions, but I believe eventually we will catch on that this too was a powerful illusion. It too has had a profound effect the west.

Sadly, the Europeans who arrived in the New World thought they were superior to the natives they found, to anyone who was not white, to women, and to all of nature. As a result they often failed to learn from their “inferiors.”

That deep sense of superiority drove the settlers in the New World and ultimately poisoned their relationship with indigenous peoples and African-American slaves.  The west is still suffering from that influence and non-Indigenous must recognized that ill influence or that relationship will never be whole.


2 thoughts on “The Original sin

  1. Mostly I agree with your post. There is one thing I believe needs to be said on behalf of European explorers, and I got this from Charles Mann in his book “1491”. What drove European exploration was not just greed, although it was that, it was also the idea that the world-social, economic and political relationships-need not be static and could be changed. It’s a dynamic idea that was very motivating.

  2. that is an interesting idea but seems a bit abstract. Do you think such ideas would motivate the grunts? Yet I am sure that many of the grunts saw the “new world” as their opportunity to change their lives. It sounds like an interesting book.

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