One of the most destructive memes ever to reach my brain, was that I was born into sin.
From as young as I can remember, I was taught that God was watching me, ever evaluating everything I did, filling in a meritorious scorecard of good and evil and using it to judge me either as one of His loyal adherents or as a supporter of the Devil. I was taught that the original Hebrew and Greek words for sin both meant "to miss," in the sense of missing a target or not reaching a goal, especially a moral one. I was further taught that sin was introduced first in the spirit plane before it found its way to earth. For unknown ages, full harmony with God prevailed until a spirit creature, referred to simply as the Resister or Adversary (in Hebrew, the word used is Satan), disrupted everything God had achieved. The Bible does not name him but refers to him by title alone, Satan or the Devil. Satan is God's chief adversary. He was the first to challenge God and he turned a perfect universe into a dualistic one containing both good and evil. So why does God, this supposed almighty, omnipotent, omnipresent being allow him to continue? Why not just squish him as we might do with an ant at our picnic? Simply wipe him out if he is causing so much disruption. No, God leaves Satan unhindered for ages to wreak havoc here on earth and, I presume, elsewhere in the universe too. Satan certainly succeeded to undermine goodness with rampant corruption, widespread suffering, poverty, death and disease. Remember the perfect paradise, Eden, that was home to God's most prized creation, mankind? Well, it was Satan, talking through the snake in the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, that tempted Eve to pick and eat the forbidden fruit which lead to the demise of all of Adam and Eve's offspring. That's supposedly why we are the way we are today, fallen creatures struggling to find our way back to paradise. Had I have been God, I would have acted decisively and quickly and would have rooted out evil forces long before they infected all of my creation. Even if Eve had disobeyed God, why not quickly press the reboot button and start again with a fresh couple in the garden? After all, once having fallen from grace, Adam and Eve were doomed to die anyway, so why not do it quickly to nip this infectious attitude in the bud before any children were born to them? In fact, if God was truly so wise, why in the first place, create beings, like Satan, that have the propensity to rebel and challenge. It's like a bug in the firmware. I was taught that God let it be so to test our loyalty by giving us the binary choice of either following Him (to be saved) or to follow the Devil (and face annihilation.) If you think about it, it's the bleakest and most miserable story ever told.
Belief in this religious mythology led me into years of self-doubt and self-loathing with no apparent way out of the mess. I grew up in the Jehovah's Witness faith. It wasn't by choice but as a consequence of having had a Jehovah's Witness mother. The organisation taught us that disloyalty to it (God's chosen representation on earth) was the same as being disloyal to God Himself. Since Satan was God's first adversary, if we became adversaries to the organisation, we'd mimic Satan. So any disobedience, disrespect or wanting to leave the organisation is tantamount to joining forces with the Devil. This set of beliefs isn't unique to the Witnesses but is core to many other religions too. The ploy usually works and acts as a herding force, keeping devotees loyal to the cause. Many followers are simply too frightened to challenge the status quo or to jump ship to join another religion. Most stay more or less in the centre of the full set of teachings, navigating a precarious course through life. But here is a big problem that really won't go away: What if you are naturally different and can't help doing some things you are not allowed to do? A good example of this (and one which trapped me) is being gay. What do you do then? Do you completely deny the way nature turned you out or do you continue doing what your neurology drives you to do? This poses a huge conundrum that many people in most religions have to face. This idea of sin and its consequences is rather mean. Firstly, I had no choice about my birthrights so why keep punishing me for something Eve did? Why am I subjected to this ongoing feud between God and the Devil, like some failed relationship where parents cannot find consensus and where children suffer intolerably? I almost feel like saying to God, "Don't you dare punish me for something I didn't do and don't make our relationship (one of father and son) so insanely difficult." I may be completely wrong and I'm okay if you are ready to challenge me on this but, as far back as I can remember, this is the kind of dialogue I had had with God. Surely, some key part of my understanding was missing. Either religion is a hugely conspired myth to keep society in check and the religions in power or I'd misunderstood something and saw something that really wasn't there.
It was only in my mid-forties when I started reading up about alternative views regarding these matters. There was a long stretch of time between my excommunication from the Witnesses (at the age of 27) and the resurgence of my spiritual interest. Materialism, ambition, mild promiscuity and an all-too-frequent use of drugs were the hallmarks of this period. My attitude then was, "I'm so fucked up, so why bother. Since I'm destined to go to hell, I might as well get the most out of life now." One of the first set of books I read was Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch. Walsch transcribed his conversation with God in these books. Here are a few passages taken from these books, all pertaining to the concept of sin.
Walsh asked God, "…isn't there some less painful way [other than the calamities that befall us] — less painful to ourselves and to others — to create opportunities for us to experience ourselves?"
God replied, "Judgement is often based upon previous experience. Your idea about a thing derives from a prior idea about the thing. Your prior idea results from a still prior idea — and that idea from another, and so forth, like building blocks, until you get all the way back in the hall of mirrors to what I call first thought.
All thought is creative, and no thought is more powerful than original thought. That is why this is sometimes also called original sin.
Original sin is when your first thought about a thing is in error. That error is compounded many times over when you have a second or third thought about a thing. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to inspire you to new understandings, which can free you from your mistakes."
This is refreshingly different from the fire and damnation that I'd been taught as a boy. What was God saying to Walsch? He's inferring that we have a mistaken perception that has been compounded time and again until it became the myth about sin that we have today. God seems to be saying to Walsch that we made a mistake about our purpose and our role in the universe. That erroneous thought occurred very, very long ago and each of us has bought into it and thus carried it forward in the form of this illusion of how things are. To be free of sin, we'd need to come to new understandings about ourselves — but how?
A little further on in the book, God went on to say, "Very few of the value judgements you have incorporated into your truth are judgements you, yourself, have made based on your own experience. Yet experience is what you came here for — and out of your experience were you to create yourself. You have created yourself out of the experience of others.
If there were such a thing as sin, this would be it: to allow yourself to become what you are because of the experience of others. This is the 'sin' you have committed. All of you."
Here, God is saying that we should learn about ourselves from our own experiences and that we cannot, and should not, try to learn from the experiences of others — but what experiences is God referring to because we have an infinite spectrum of many different experiences to choose from, ranging from good to bad. Must we choose between these experiences and if so, how? Flick a page or two and we find Walsch and God talking about the purpose of the human soul. God said, "The purpose of the human soul is to experience all of it — so that it can be all of it. Walsch then challenges God by asking, "You seem to be saying for instance, that we should love the 'wrong' so that we can know the 'right.' Are you saying we must embrace the devil, so to speak?"
God replied, "How else do you heal him [the Devil]? Of course, a real devil does not exist — but I reply to you in the idiom you choose.
Healing is the process of accepting all, then choosing best. Do you understand that? You cannot choose to be God if there is nothing else to choose from. […] You have even created religions that tell you that you are born in sin — that you are sinners at birth — in order to convince yourself of your own evil. Yet if I told you you are born of God — you are pure Gods and Goddesses at birth — pure love — you would reject me?
All your life you have spent convincing yourself that you are bad. Not only that you are bad, but that the things you want are bad. Sex is bad, money is bad, joy is bad, power is bad, having a lot is bad — a lot of anything. Some of your religions have even got you believing that dancing is bad, music is bad, celebrating life is bad. Soon you'll agree that smiling his bad, laughing is bad, loving is bad.
No, no, my friend, you may not be very clear about many things, but about one thing you are clear: you, and most of what you desire, are bad having made this judgement about yourself, you have decided that your job is to get better.
Wow, this requires a huge recalibration from past beliefs. There are a few inspiring statements in this passage: (1) The Devil does not really exist; (2) The notion of sin is man-made because we misjudged our role in this universe. God never created us in sin but rather in perfection as Gods and Goddesses; (3) Because we chose to see ourselves as sinners, we had to create a path back to righteousness.
So, Conversations with God, teaches us that: (1) The Devil does not really exist; (2) That the notion of sin is man-made because we misjudged our role in this universe. God never created us in sin but rather in perfection as Gods and Goddesses; (3) Because we chose to see ourselves as sinners, we had to create a path back to righteousness. This however is a redundant belief if you choose to accept yourself as a perfect entity in all aspects of your being. The belief we create about our own reality is not one of sin but in truth, we are made in His likeness and image as the perfect sons and daughters of this greater Godhead. Much further on in Conversations with God, God makes this statement, "This alleged state of imperfection in which you are said to have come into this world is what your religionists have the gall to call original sin. And it is original — but not yours. It is the first sin to be perpetrated upon you by a world which knows nothing of God if it thinks that God would — or could — create anything imperfect." That's a mighty powerful statement.
I'm also in deep awe of what the disembodied being, Emmanuel, said, almost in poetic verse, about these matters. He is a wise being who has no body and who spoke through the mediumship of Pat Rodegast. Here, Emmanuel spoke of our purpose and how we should live our lives to the fullest:
To love yourself is the final hurdle, the definitive frontier of humanity. Illusion delights in embellishing its own importance. "I must earn the right to enlightenment," you say, "by doing ten thousand prostrations, by sitting for long periods of time in great discomfort, by fasting until I am almost dead, by devoting at least seven lives to the unselfish service of the poor. Then perhaps…" […]
Some of you fear that when you die there will be an awesome tribunal sitting in judgement upon you. The truth of the matter is that the first thing you see when you leave your body is Light, the first thing you hear is laughter, and the first thing you feel is Love. […]
The moment you are fully present in your self-love, you will recognise wisdom where it has always been. […]
You did not choose to become human to then escape your lives. You came to live them, and live them you will. Some of you may choose to remain distanced. You have all felt the pain of such distancing after moments of love, of glory, when you feel alienate from the feast of life, still hungry and perhaps more empty than before the feast began.
As I read these passages many years ago, this new twist on life surprised me. These writings were all saying something in heavy opposition to the traditional thinking I had been taught as a youth. These conversations were saying that life is simply an experience — one that we should strive to experience to the fullest — and that we should do it without judging ourselves. To experience all of life, we will have to experience both 'good' and 'bad.' Only then are we able to choose between them. There is no choice if there is only one thing to choose from. Most refreshing of all is the idea that we were never born into sin, we were born into love and perfection.
So, if we say that sin and the Devil do not exist and that we, these perfect Gods and Goddesses, are here to experience ourselves to the fullest, then what about morals and ethics? Were does this new idea leave us with regard these things?
There's another fine book which is a must-read in this alternative spiritual genre. It is, A Course in Miracles. Now this text has a fascinating history. Helen Schucman was an American clinical and research psychologist from New York City. She was a professor of medical psychology at Columbia University in New York from 1958 until her retirement in 1976. She, with the help of her colleague, William Thetford, compiled the book from the dictation of which she claimed was given to her by an inner voice she identified as Jesus. However, according to her request, her role as its 'writer' was not revealed to the general public until after her death. The first edition of A Course in Miracles was published in 1975. Many people believe that these were Jesus' private teachings to his inner circle of disciples in contrast to his teachings to the masses as we find recorded in the Bible. If this is true, we'd expect to find congruent themes between A Course in Miracles and Biblical epistles. If there were any discrepancies between the two then we'd first have to ensure that they weren't due to our misunderstanding and not contradictory errors in the teachings.
Lesson 259 introduces us to the teachings about sin. It has this to say:
Sin is the only thought that makes the goal of God seem unobtainable." This is an interesting statement and it makes sense when we unpick it and tease its elements apart: Sin is not described as a reality, a thing, a situation or a condition but is instead referred to as, "the only thought that makes the goal of God seem unobtainable.
It suggests that sin is an illusion, the consequences of a judgement we made about what we call 'good' and 'bad.' It's the one thought that separates us from God and leaves us in doubt about our own divinity. But there is another subtle twist in the phraseology of statement, "[it is the] only thought that makes the goal of God seem unobtainable." What is meant by the clause, 'the goal of God?' We could read it as, 'God's goal' for us or we could read it as 'our goal of trying to be Godlike.' Let me give you my longhand interpretation of this passage, "Sin is an illusory thought, a myth, of how we see ourselves with respect to God and it is the only thought that prevents us from being God." That last part sounds a little blasphemous at first — it prevents us from being God — but is it? We find consistent teachings in the Bible and in these 'alternative' spiritual views that keep telling us that we are made in God's likeness and image — not as human beings in physical bodies but as perfect spiritual beings having this earthly, physical experience as humans. The idea of sin is then merely our forgetfulness of who we truly are (divine, perfect beings) in favour of an mythical belief of who we think we are (mortal sinners.)
Lesson 259 continues:
What else could blind us to the obvious, and make the strange and the distorted seem more clear? What else but sin engenders our attacks? What else but sin could be the source of guilt, demanding punishment and suffering? And what but this could be the source of fear, obscuring God's creation; giving love the attributes of fear and of attack?" It is only because of our erroneous beliefs about this non-existent thing called sin that caused us to separate ourselves, not only from God, but from one another by dividing brother against brother, thus tainting the purity of love by giving it a meaning it never had.
Lesson 337 adds this encouragement:
My sinlessness ensures me perfect peace, eternal safety, everlasting love, freedom forever from all thought of loss; complete deliverance from suffering. And only happiness can be my state, for only happiness is given me. What must I do to know all this is mine? I must accept Atonement [at-one-ment] for myself, and nothing more. God has already done all things that need be done. And I must learn I need do nothing for myself, for I need but accept my Self, my sinlessness, created for me, now already mine, to feel God's Love protecting me from harm, to understand my Father loves His Son; to know I am the Son my Father loves. 'You who created me in sinlessness are not mistaken about what I am. I was mistaken when I thought I sinned, but I accept Atonement for myself. Father, my dream is ended now. Amen.'
How are we supposed to interpret this? If we are sinless in every aspect of life then we should be able to make some really fascinating statements like: Nothing I do could ever be wrong. If I can't do wrong then I can never offend God — I can never be in His bad books. Would cheating on my partner not be wrong? Would embezzling funds from my employer not be wrong? Would murdering my neighbour not be wrong?
In all of the vast workings of our universe, what happens here on earth is so very, very inconsequential. Our games upon this planet are like the games children play with each other in the sandpit. They're imaginary. We might think they're real and we may go running back to our Divine Mother (the feminine aspect of our Heavenly Father) with our stories of woe of what occurred in our games. "Mommy, he stole my car and crashed it into the little train." And the Divine Mother gives us a tender hug and reassures us, "There, there my little angel. All is okay. Go back to the sandpit tomorrow and play some more with your friends out there." If some perfect, divine spiritual being needed to experience being murdered in the game, could you oblige and play along as the murderer? It's a scenario that reminds me of the Shakespearian minstrels that journeyed from town to town, putting on their plays for the townsfolk to watch. If the play had a scene of murder, as good Shakespearean stories often do, it would be incumbent upon you as an actor to play your part with all your heart, leaving the audience drawing in gasps of breath as they watch this treachery unfold. But no harm actually occurs, the actors simply retreat to the dressing room, give each other a high-five and a hug, and say, "Wow, thank you for playing your part so well. For if you hadn't played your part so convincingly, I could not have played mine well either."
The Course puts it so well:
The opposite of illusions is not disillusionment, but truth. […] Every illusion carries pain and suffering in the dark folds of the heavy garments with which it hides its nothingness. […] Truth is the opposite of illusions, because it offers joy. What else but joy could be the opposite of misery? […] To change illusions is to make no change. […] Illusions carry only guilt and suffering, sickness and death, to their believers. […] Now must you choose between [your True self] and the ILLUSION of yourself. NOT both, but ONE.
Forgiveness is this world's equivalent of Heaven's justice. It translates the world of sin into a simple world, where justice can be reflected from BEYOND the gate behind which total lack of limits lies. Nothing in boundless love could NEED forgiveness. […but] Forgiveness turns the world of [illusory] sin into a world of glory, wonderful to see.
Rest assured, there is no sin in this universe. Understand that it is an illusion. You and I are forever perfect spirit beings in an ocean of love. We might play our games together — and they may seem so very real to us — but no harm can come us as we play. Our clothes might get scuffed and torn, our bodies dirty, but, when we return at the end of the day into the arms of the Divine Mother, she will be there to welcome us home.
Why not therefor, free yourself from this illusion today by realising who you really are, a divine everlasting perfect creation of immense and limitless possibility.