The Theosophical Forum – June 1945

IS MAN BORN IN SIN? — Henry T. Edge

Religions have had their origin in that Ancient Wisdom which Man in ages long gone by inherited from his Divine Ancestry. This explains at once the uniformity and the diversity of religious systems, for they are alike in essence but different in external form. In each religion the fundamental truths have become obscured by man-made dogmas, and dogmatic ecclesiastical systems have been engendered. The story of Christianity illustrates this, and there are movements today towards a reconstitution of Christianity. Theosophy rightly claims to be the champion of Christianity, inasmuch as Theosophy points out the ancient and sublime truths which underlie the superincumbent mass of dogmas.

Our endeavor has been to uncover the ruin-encumbered universal foundation of religion. . . . To rescue from degradation the archaic truths which are the basis of all religions. — H. P. Blavatsky

The most important of these archaic truths is that of the Divine origin of Man and his consequent ability to achieve his own salvation by invoking the Divine power which is incarnate in every man. This truth is taught in the Bible, for in Genesis we are told how Man was first created a living soul, and afterwards was created in the image of God; and in the Gospels Jesus exhorts his followers to become like unto himself. But in spite of this the truth has been perverted by a theological dogma that man was born in sin and can be saved only by a special intercession. It is supposed that Adam and Eve sinned by adopting physical procreation, and that every man born since has been under a curse in consequence. The effect of this teaching is to take away Man's confidence in his own Divinity and to render him dependent upon the services of ecclesiastical systems; and it has caused many intelligent and intuitive people to rebel against religion altogether. It is well to know that religion never taught anything of the sort, and that our own Bible lends no support to the idea.

To understand our own religion aright, we ought to study other religions, because in this way we can discover those fundamental tenets which are common to all. And one such common tenet will be found in the doctrine that mankind was at first an innocent creature, devoid of the power of self-knowledge and freewill; and that after that stage had been passed he became awakened by Divine power communicated to him, and he left his state of ignorant bliss to enter upon a career wherein he had freewill, the knowledge of good and evil, and responsibility for his own actions. This doctrine is to be found in allegorical form in all great religions and many philosophical systems; and we find a version of it in the early chapters of our Bible, which was derived immediately from Chaldaea. Man is found dwelling in a Garden, which stands for his state of primitive irresponsibility. But there comes to him a Serpent, the wisest of all created beings, who persuades him to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, whereby his latent faculties become awakened, he loses his paradisiacal ignorance, and becomes like unto a God having freewill and responsibility. This power is at first abused, so that Man brings upon himself woe; but ultimately it will be his salvation, as he gradually learns how to deal with all the forces in his nature and to subordinate the evil ones to the good.

This Serpent, Man's great teacher, has been turned by theology into the Devil, Man's enemy and the enemy of God.

One form of this universal allegory is the myth of Prometheus, and what here follows is based on a chapter in H. P. Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine, Vol. II, pp. 410 sqq. It is time, she says, to dispose of the pernicious dogma relating to the 'curse' under which mankind is alleged to have suffered since the supposed disobedience of Adam and Eve. The creative powers which Man acquired were the gift of Divine Wisdom, not the result of sin. There was nothing sinful in performing the functions of natural union; only a false hypocritical asceticism could make a sin out of that. It was not this natural act that brought any curse on mankind. The 'curse,' if we must call it so, consisted in the trouble which Man brings on himself by his wrong use of his new power of freewill. But, as said above, this curse is only temporary, and is moreover accompanied by the priceless boon of freewill.

According to the myth of Prometheus, and its analogs in other mythologies, a Divine Being took pity on nascent humanity, shut up in a Paradisiacal prison where there was no prospect of progress; and brought down the Fire and Light from heaven to inspire Man. This he did at great sacrifice to himself, willingly made through his compassion. The natural program for Man was to go through a long and slow process of evolution; but this act of the Divine Messenger hastened that evolution, by bringing the Divine Fire to Man before he was ready to receive it. And yet, as we are told, this act by Prometheus, though in one sense a rebellion and interference, was nevertheless preordained, foreseen. This is a teaching which we may find hard to understand; but it is not harder than many doctrines which theologies require us to accept; and it does what they do not do — explains actual facts of life.

The holy mystery of procreation was turned into animal gratification; thus the Serpent 'bruised man's heel,' as the Bible tells us; man's nature was changed mentally, morally, and physically. So that now, in this Fifth Race of humanity, we suffer from the abuse, and Prometheus's gift may in this sense be described as a 'curse.' The Divine Titan, who brought the boon to mankind, took upon himself the retribution consequent thereon, and so is shown in the allegory as being chained to a rock and tortured. But Prometheus stands for mankind in general, so that his tortures represent the woes of mankind. At last, however, appears his deliverer, Herakles, typifying the Divine saving power in Man himself.

In the Bible allegory Adam and Eve are shown as disobeying the Lord God; and similarly in the legend of Prometheus, Zeus is disobeyed. The clue to this is to be found in the ancient Grecian Mysteries, wherein Zeus represents no higher principle than the lower aspect of human intelligence. So this 'God,' against whom they rebelled, was not the omnipotent all-wise Deity, but simply the guardian of unawakened humanity. The rubric at the head of Genesis, iii, says, "The serpent deceives Eve"; which is a theological gloss, not warranted by the text. The Serpent tells Eve, "God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil."

The above will probably shock many Christians who cherish the familiar doctrines with deep-seated reverence; but others it may help over a difficulty. They will see that Christianity need not be thrown overboard; it only needs to be better understood. There has always been difficulty in reconciling the idea of a wise and beneficent Deity with the idea of anger and punishment and eternal damnation. This difficulty we have created for ourselves: the All-Wise never ordained
any such thing. The will of God need not be altogether inscrutable; we have our own God-given intelligence to guide us to an understanding. Time-worn dogmas are a misfit in this age; the ancient teachings may prove better adapted.

Theosophical University Press Online Edition