The term "original sin" refers to the pre-historic tragedy whereby human nature was corrupted by abusing nature (taking the "forbidden fruit"), and is the root cause of the patriarchal culture, whence all forms of violence and injustice derive. This article explores the path pursuant to transcending the artificial patriarchal culture that has prevailed since the inception of history and building a more natural culture of communion. Since we are spirited bodies, the challenge is to evolve away from patriarchy in the subjective (psychological, spiritual) as well as objective (social, ecological) dimensions of human life. Such cultural evolution may not be sufficient to ensure a better future for the human species, but it is probably necessary.
Humanity is flawed. Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis is a mythical narrative on how and why human nature became corrupted. It had something to do with abusing nature. The result was a degradation of the original innocence of man and woman, a degradation of their original unity with each other and, not insignificantly now it seems, a degradation of the original harmony between humans and the human habitat.
Genesis 3:16 is the precise definition of the patriarchal order in all human relations, the artificial culture that emerged after original sin, whence all forms of violence and injustice derive. In the Christian tradition, the incarnation and the redemption enable us to recover the fullness of our human nature as body-persons, objectively and subjectively; but the rapacity of humanity is now exploding, in terms of numbers and consumption per capita, to the point of actually endangering the very existence of the human species.
Applying the thesis-antithesis-synthesis dialectical model of the progression of ideas, we might reasonably say that, in the overarching context of the Jewish-Christian tradition, the Old Testament is a thesis, the New Testament is an antithesis, and the ensuing Christian culture is a synthesis. The Old Testament describes the patriarchal culture, the New Testament dismantles the patriarchal culture from within, and the Christian culture, while painfully still "work in progress," is the new synthesis focused on the Beatitudes and the Golden Rule.
In other words, the modus operandi of the ancient patriarchs is the thesis, the modus operandi of the historical Jesus of Nazareth is the antithesis, and the communion of disciples he founded is the synthesis. Granted that, since we are all sinners, the church often deviates from the modus operandi of the founder, and is always in need of reform and repentance, it nevertheless constitutes a visible body struggling to become what we are after the incarnation and the redemption. A uniquely blessed prototype of who we are as a communion of disciples is Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus, who preceded the church by being "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" -- but not patriarchal!
Mary, Mother of God, Mother of the Eucharist, Inexhaustible Chalice
Mary's womb is the inexhaustible chalice where the original unity of man and woman is restored, in the flesh, in the incarnate Word. After original sin, patriarchy reduced the interpersonal relations between man and woman to mere functionality and male headship. After the incarnation and the redemption, the natural functionality remains -- but the hierarchy of male headship vanishes in the New Adam who came to us via the New Eve. Under the New Law, man and woman are no longer reduced to sexual functionality.
Fast forward to 2020 CE. As the 3rd decade of the 3rd millennium of the Common Era gets underway, human civilization is now faced with an unprecedented worldwide predicament, socially and ecologically. Social inequities, ranging from widening human development inequalities to the shameful scourge of human trafficking, are becoming extreme; and the degradation of the planetary ecology, due to overpopulation and overconsumption, is now becoming an existential threat to the survival of the human species. Why?
Seminal works such as this article, The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis (1967), and this book, The Creation of Patriarchy (1986), provided conclusive historical evidence that the patriarchal culture is the culprit; and an abundance of scholarly research has since confirmed that, while "original sin" is the ultimate root cause, the resulting patriarchal mindset of domination by brute force is the cultural framework that has driven human affairs since the inception of history. It has been so since the agricultural revolution, and the social and ecological impacts have become enormously more intense (possibly even influencing climate change) since the industrial revolution as humans have commanded the power of fossil fuels.
Why does patriarchy persist? Old habits die hard, and patriarchy has been around for a long time. Furthermore, patriarchy is not only an objective order of things but a subjective mindset deeply intertwined with religious traditions that influence about 80% of the world population. Religious patriarchy is arguably a remnant of primitive idolatry, a form of worshipping an ideological artifact of flawed humanity. Such idolatry subconsciously normalizes all forms of social and ecological oppression, ranging from condescending paternalism to violent disruption of human communities and their natural habitat. It must be added that the religious internalization of patriarchy is by no means restricted to men:
"Women have for millennia participated in the process of their own subordination because they have been psychologically shaped so as to internalize the idea of their own inferiority. The unawareness of their own history of struggle and achievement has been one of the major means of keeping women subordinate." The Creation of Patriarchy, 1986, page 218
St. Thomas Aquinas, influenced by the pagan philosophy of Aristotle, and limited as he was to the biological concepts of his time, failed to refute the notion that women are "defective and misbegotten" as human beings. But whether or not they were influenced by Greek misogyny, most religious traditions are deeply patriarchal because they all emerged after "original sin." Therefore, most current debates about issues of human ecology, let alone absurdities such as "clean coal," "soil-less agriculture," and "unlimited growth," utterly fail to recognize the real root cause of our now globalized social-ecological dysfunction.
Is it reasonable to pursue cultural evolution for integral human development, and an integral ecology, without dismantling religious patriarchy? Based on millennia of experience with religiously internalized patriarchy, not so. Needless to say, dismantling religious patriarchy may not be sufficient for evolving from artificial patriarchy to natural communion, but it is probably necessary. For this reason, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate in the Catholic Church (for which there are many good reasons and no dogmatic impediment), and similar actions in all the other religious traditions, should happen in order to foster a transition from fighting against nature to communing with nature.
The Body of Christ ~ Pursuing Integral Human Development and an Integral Ecology
Art by Luís Henrique Alves Pinto