Monday, October 11, 2010

Original Sin. Also, the Simpsons

**After re-reading this, I realize how emotional it is. Sorry about that. I'll try to post something a little more rational next time**

There is so much misery in the world. There is so much suffering and cruelty, that I can hardly stand it. As I mentioned yesterday on Twitter, I stormed out of a Farmer's Market when I saw a booth playing a video of how they slaughter chickens. To be fair, the reason that they show this video is probably to demonstrate that their farm is humane and not a factory farm. Which is great, I guess, although I would still argue that it is morally indefensible to raise animals for the explicit purpose of harvesting their flesh. But that's a slightly different issue. The video shook me terribly and made me reflect on the horrible things in the world and what little I can do to stop or slow the parade of pain and suffering.

The scope of suffering in the world is so staggering and broad that someone would lose their mind trying to deal with it all. I am trying to be a good person. Not for any kind of bragging rights, but because I don't want to cause suffering. And yet it really doesn't matter what I do because I am still causing suffering. As I have said before, I find it nearly impossible to make a move without causing pain to someone or something. My laptop was likely built in Asia by underpaid workers - how else could I have bought it for $500 in 2006? My car, modest though it may be, runs on oil and spews carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I recycle where I can, I use an aluminum water bottle, I don't get disposable coffee cups, and yet I still produce waste, still pollute, still add to the burden of the earth and the misery of my fellow humans, not to mention animals.

I flatly reject the traditional religious idea of original sin. I you aren't familiar with that concept, it is that since the fall of man in the garden of Eden, all mankind, the entire earth, in fact, is cursed and evil. So simply being born is enough of an offense to warrant eternity in hell. The Catholic church developed the idea of Limbo around this doctrine, because it gave an out to the infants and children who died before having an opportunity to either reject or accept the salvation brought by the gospel message. Original sin casts a blanket and preemptive judgement on every single human. It is absolutely essential to the mechanism of religion - without sin there is no need for redemption.

It should come as no surprise that I find that idea repugnant and corrosive. And yet, as I think about the world that we live in and how deeply saturated it is with misery and suffering, I can't help but draw a parallel. I find it impossible to be good, no matter how hard I try. I can not eat animals and therefore benefit from their misery. But if I eat a sandwich, there are likely eggs involved. I can take public transportation which is better than driving my own car, but still uses fossil fuels, still pollutes. I can get a bicycle, but there was certainly petroleum burned in the construction, not to mention shipping it to my location. So what? Like my wife pointed out yesterday, there is literally no end to the suffering that I can find in the world, no end to the opportunities to feel guilty, no matter how good I try to be. 

This is what reminds me of original sin. It is inescapable. From the moment we are born, we are practically forced to participate in corporate machinery. This sounds like a conspiratorial hippie idea, and perhaps it is, but I think it's true. We have a choice to abstain, but if we want to participate in society then we have to consent to walking on the backs of the less fortunate. Unlike Christian original sin (I'm not familiar enough with other religions to comment) there is no redemption from this one. Our planet is burning, our animal cousins are dying, our human brothers and sisters are starving to death and, aside from completely abandoning the comforts of civilization there is always something more that we can do. The problem is just so overwhelming that it inspires many people to just give up in despair. And so the problems and evils of our modern society will continue to run largely unchallenged.

I can't think of a solution.

Instead, enjoy a dark, dark Simpson's couch gag. I haven't watched the Simpsons in years, but this was all over the internet this morning. I'm very impressed.


God Obscures Perception said...

The way I look at it, you can only do your best. You can only try to do the least amount of harm. As long as you make a conscious effort, you're already making an improvement upon your own actions and probably doing better than most. And maybe by doing your best, you'll influence someone else to change, thereby doubling your efforts.

I tell people all the time that with vegetarianism, it doesn't have to be an all or nothing thing. Maybe just strive for one meal a day, one day a week... just be AWARE. By simply cutting back on meat consumption, you're already doing the world a favor.

nathaniel wallace said...

You are right - every little bit helps. But at the same time, I feel like there is always one more thing to do, one more little step I can take. My problem is that I don't know when it is reasonable to stop caring or when I can say "I've done enough good today."