Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Creation and the Fall of Mankind

Adult Confirmation Class Two (Part One)
April 21, 2012

I. The Existence and Nature of Man and the Meaning of Life (CCC 355-384)

If questions about God are unavoidable, so too are the questions:
Where does mankind come from and why do we exist?

Just as observation and reason allow us to come to the conclusion that the universe was made by a Creator, so also do observation and reason allow us to conclude that life on earth, especially human beings, were also the fruits of a Creator's thoughts and actions. But, as with the universe generally, written revelation and faith enlightens our reason to an even greater degree, so that we can know not only where man came from, but why he exists in the first place. For those who have no use for God, the meaning of man's existence has only confounded and confused, leaving them all too often in existential angst and nihilistic despair. For those who accept revelation and faith -- the truth has set them free.

Revelation informs us that, in Love and in Truth, God created “man,” male and female, in His image. Man is a created being; he is not self-actualizing, he did not create himself. He is not accidental, and he is not the product of spontaneous animation of matter. We were and are created by a thought of God; each of us is willed by Him as an act of love. Man exists, man lives, only because God the Ultimate Life has breathed into the body of man (Genesis 2:7), thereby giving him life by His own Holy Spirit. This also shows also that man was created not merely as a physical entity, like a stone, and not merely as a spiritual being, like the angels; rather, God created us with a unified soul-infused body, which comprises one nature of spirit and matter, transcendent and temporal. To be made in the image of God also means that we are persons with an inherent dignity, not things, and that we are possessed with sentience and free will, as well as the capacity for reason and for love.

The human person is naturally drawn toward God -- even if he does not realize it or argues against it -- because man is naturally drawn toward love and truth, and this love and truth that man seeks has a name, they are a person -- God. Now, although love is naturally fruitful, God did not have to create the universe or human beings. He was not forced or compelled to do so out of some narcissistic need to be worshiped. Rather, He chose to create the universe and humanity. God is complete in and of Himself, in need of nothing outside Himself. As the “I am,” the Logos, God is the only necessary being – we humans are entirely contingent upon Him.

Our bodies (male and female) reveal that God made us, like Him, to be social and relational beings who are equal and complementary, beings who are meant to need each other and exist both in general society and in a specific loving communion of persons. That is, “man” as an individual, is incomplete. We are in need of an “other” to complete and fulfill us.

This truth is further explained by scripture, which presents us with a “theology of the body.” Genesis (1:26-28) informs us that
“God created Man in his image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.”
To be made in God’s image means to be made in the image of truth and love. As demonstrated in the Trinity, this love is not merely relational, but spousal in nature, that is, a love that draws the individual toward a communion of persons. By the words, “He created him; male and female He created them,” we see that there was an original unity of male and female, man and woman; that they are designed to be complementary and intended for each other in equal dignity.

In Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, notice Eve being held under God's arm,
as she keeps her eyes on Adam

In another account of the same truth, Gen. 2:18-25 describes how God said
"It is not good for the man to be alone.”
To demonstrate this, God first had the man exist in an original solitude, so that we could see how much we are in need of other persons. Although the man had the company of plenty of animals, he saw that none of them were like him, he was alone. Having demonstrated by experience that it is not good for him to be alone, God then took a rib from the side of Adam and, from that rib, made Eve, leading Adam to exclaim joyfully, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

This describes how, as individuals, there is something missing in our very being. For both men and women, there is a gaping hole in our side, and we desperately need an “other” to fill that hole. Without that other, there is a void, an emptiness. We need to have that rib returned to our side to be whole again, to be fulfilled. We need the “other” to be one and complete, to be true to ourselves, and the other can fill the void only with and by love.

We cannot be fulfilled if we are left to ourselves in solitude. We can fill part of that hole with a spouse, as with the first spouses, Adam and Eve, but even then God needs to be part of the relationship to bind them together and to fill the remaining void. Indeed, we see that “man” manifests an image of the Trinity, a communion of three persons in one, when man (male) and woman (female) are joined together with God, as husband and wife, by the Love that is the Holy Spirit. Moreover, love in its fullest sense being not only unitive but naturally fruitful, we have the ability to share and participate in God’s procreative power of creating new life and have been explicitly commanded by Him to “be fruitful and multiply.”

For those who are permanently single, God is the only one who can fill the entirety of that void because He is the One who is Love, the One who is Completeness. Unless and until the heart is thusly filled, there is a restlessness and a hunger.

Indeed, we exist to love and to be loved in truth. That was, and is, God’s plan for humanity; that is the meaning and purpose of life -- to live in the truth and love and be loved. (Mt. 22:37-40; Jn 13:34)

After creating mankind, God did not simply withdraw into heaven, sit back, and do nothing. That would not be love. Rather, in Divine Providence, He continues to interact with His creation, sustaining and caring for it by His Love and Truth.

II. Man and Freedom

Man, male and female, was created in the image of God, who is Love and Truth. God loves each of us and seeks our love in return. Accordingly, as individual human persons, we are meant to exist in love and truth, that is, the meaning of human life is to love and be loved in truth.

At the same time, love is not truly love if it is not freely given and freely received, and love does not force itself or impose itself upon the other. That would not be love, but an act of falsehood and an act of violence. As such, God does not force Him¬self or His Love upon anyone. God is not a puppet master. Thus, we are also created with a capacity for free choice of the will. This free will, an ability to choose, includes the ability to freely choose to return God’s love, or the freedom to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him.

A. The Question of the Existence of Free Will

Does freedom of choice really exist or is it an illusion? Does an individual have the true ability to determine the course of his thoughts and volitions, to decide which motives shall prevail within his mind, and to modify his own character, or are his thoughts and volitions, his character and external actions, all merely the inevitable outcome of his circumstances? Is everything, including our choices, pre-determined by some prior cause, either some physical cause, or by God controlling everything? Are choices and actions all inexorably predetermined in every detail along rigid lines by events of the past, over which the individual himself has had no sort of control? Or do we have the autonomy to exercise authentic control over our decisions and actions?

Addressing the problem of the existence of free will requires understanding the relation between freedom and causation, and determining whether or not the laws of nature are causally deterministic. The issue of free will is especially important with respect to ethics and morality. Unless man is really free, he cannot be justly held responsible for his actions, any more than for the date of his birth or the color of his eyes.

For those who believe in God, the idea of the existence of free will is rather simple to believe in. We have the evidence of its existence in our daily experiences of making choices in thought and action. But the person who does not believe in God, or who rejects the idea of God altogether -- along with the idea that human persons possess a soul, a spirit from God -- both the agnostic and atheist have a dilemma to overcome with respect to the supposed existence of free will.

B. Determinism vs. Free Will

Determinism is the philosophical proposition that every event, including human cognition, decision and action, is causally determined by an unbroken chain of prior occurrences. Determinism may also be defined as the thesis that there is, at any instant, exactly one physically possible future.

If the agnostic or atheist persist in their unbelief, then many necessarily must logically conclude that "free will" and "self-determination" do not really exist, indeed, "thought" does not really exist, they are simply illusions that we think that we are experiencing. That is because the physical world is governed by certain fixed and uniform physical laws, as well as the law of cause and effect, and if God does not exist, that is, if a cause beyond and independent of the physical universe does not exist, then all future events or effects are necessarily caused, or determined, by some prior pre-existing physical event or condition operating under the laws of nature.

If there is no God, then the universe is purely materialistic, and the human being does not have a soul, but is merely a body, a biological entity whose apparent "independent thoughts" are nothing more than electro-chemical impulses interacting with chemical markers that have been laid down in brain tissue, and which we know as memory, with both those impulses and markers being themselves pre-determined by other purely physical causes. Thus, “free will” is merely an illusion, a mere feeling of independent agency. And if our thoughts and actions are all pre-determined and we have no personal power to think and do otherwise, then they are not really our own thoughts and actions, and we cannot justly be held morally responsible for them.

C. The Soul and Free Choice of the Will

“Free will” is the metaphysical truth of independent agency and elective power, including the ability to exercise autonomous and rational control over one’s decisions, thoughts, and actions. The existence of free will means that the actions of the body, including the brain and the mind, are not wholly determined by physical causality, that one’s thoughts somehow go beyond and transcend the physical body, suggesting the existence of an extra-corporeal aspect to the person, which we call the spirit or soul. It is because we are both body and spirit that we are able to transcend and overcome the mere biological electro-chemical reactions in the brain. It is because we are not purely biological, but have a spirit, that we are able to transcend what pure biology and environment dictate.

The human brain is like a computer. A computer operates strictly according to its software programming and the efficacy of its hardware. So long as there is no physical damage or defect, the computer will only do what its program dictates, without any deviation whatsoever. The actions of the computer are totally pre-determined by its programming. Likewise, the human brain operates according to its own hardware and software, by electro-chemical impulses along synapses, which interact with memory that has been created by certain chemical markers on the brain tissue. However, human persons are possessed with more than a body and computer-like brain.

Faith -- revelation and reason -- informs us that we are also possessed with a soul, and this spiritual component of our being is able to rise above and go beyond the merely physical, including the physical laws of cause and effect. As a result, we are able to make independent decisions with respect to actions taken. We lift our hand and move our fingers because we consciously choose to do so of our own volition, not because of some pre-programmed biological memory and electro-chemical reactions in the brain.

We are made in the image of God, and therefore possess to a certain degree that same power of the Logos, that is, we have a certain power of creative reason, which transcends and overrides the physical brain and permits independent thought and agency. But because humans do have free will, and their thoughts and actions are the result of their own willful choices, they can justly be held morally responsible for them. That is, it is right and just that we should experience the consequences of our choices.

III. The Fall of Man (Gen. 3:1-24) (CCC 385-421)

Free will, an ability to choose, includes the ability to freely choose to return God’s love, or the freedom to reject Him and live our lives apart from Him. Thus, the man and the woman of Creation were free to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, even though God had warned them not to:
"the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die."

The man and the woman thought that they could be like gods themselves, that they could then choose their own truth, their own reality, their own concepts of right and wrong. They thought that they could be self-fulfilling and self-sufficient, not needing God or other people. Even today, there are many people who still believe this. Indeed, we could easily say that we are, ourselves, both Adam and Eve, that the story of the Fall of Man is one that repeats itself on a daily basis.

However, the man and woman were wrong. In eating the fruit, in freely choosing to oppose God, believing that they did not need the one true God, but could be gods themselves, Adam and Eve did not become gods, but instead fell from truth into error. And error necessarily leads to more error, until ultimately you are so removed from Truth and Love, i.e. Life, that you are "doomed to die," and not merely bodily death, but eternal death, that is, Hell.

By opposing God, by turning against love and truth in this way, man necessarily severed the relationship between mankind and God, who is Love and Truth, and so corrupted human nature that our ability to love and to reason and discern good from evil is impaired. Before the loss of his “original innocence,” man could see – truly see. He could see God, truth, and love.

But after sin, which is an offense against truth and genuine love for God and neighbor, man’s sight is impaired, his hearing is distorted. While hiding in the bushes, vainly seeking to hide from God, instead of being able to see Him clearly, the man now saw only leaves and branches. His ability to see God, to know God, to know love and truth, was grievously impaired. Loss of original innocence necessarily means that man can no longer live in the Garden of innocence and truth.

Thus, we see that, as with this first “original sin,” our own individual sin, which is done by our own free choice of the will, carries its own intrinsic “punishment” -- error leads to more error, until, in your ignorance of the truth, you are in slavery to error and sin and death. By choosing to sin, choosing to set aside the Light and Truth of God, you are necessarily left to fend for yourself in ignorance and darkness, and you will find yourself inadequate to the challenge. And it is that first, original sin that is the root of every other sin.

By sin entering into the world, our entire human nature is wounded, corrupted, and compromised, our souls are tainted. Our judgment is clouded, our ability to reason is impaired, and the influences and temptations of the world overwhelm us, plunging us into darkness and error and slavery to further sin.

Some sin is so grave and deliberate that it destroys love in the heart and turns one away from God, thereby resulting in eternal death if forgiveness is not sought. We call these “mortal sins.” But what is such a serious and grave sin may not be so apparent to us, especially in our fallen state. For example, we might not think that merely eating a piece of fruit after being told not to is all that bad, but that seemingly innocuous act was the most mortal of all sins because by it, eternal death resulted.

There are also those sins that wound love in the heart and weaken grace, but are not so serious as to break the covenant with God, thereby still allowing for eternal life after the stain of such sin is purged from us. We call these “venial sins.” While such venial offenses may not result in eternal death, they do warrant temporal punishment, and they also impede us in the exercise of virtue and the pursuit of moral good, as well as the in the ability to fully love and discern truth. Ultimately, Jesus Christ is the judge who determines whether we are in a state of grace or whether the sins we may commit are mortal or merely venial.

The account of the Fall in Genesis not only shows how sin affects the sinner, it demonstrates how sin is intensely social. Indeed, this Original Sin did not affect merely Adam and Eve, but has affected and infected us all, it has left a stain on our being. All sin, both original and individual, affects and injures not only the sinner, but all of us. Sin severs and poisons all relations.

After eating the fruit of the Tree, Adam not only foolishly tries to hide from God, but the first thing he does when confronted is to blame Eve. What directly follows is Cain’s murder of Abel.


Inquiring Mind said...

What have you done with Flexo? No posts from him in a long time.

Bender said...

He ran off with Angleyne.