Original Sin II

September 21, 2014 | By | 6 Replies More

When I was young, I was given a thorough Catholic education that included the proclamation that I was cursed with “original sin” from the moment I was born. What did I do to deserve such a harsh condemnation? Nothing. It’s a very strange concept that you were “bad,” but not because of anything you did.  In this way, “original sin” is much like bigotry.  But not really, because I was taught that everyone else is bad too.  Every human being is inherently tainted and impure. My version of original sin is one for which no magic being will appear to make it all go away.

Recently, I’ve become a believer in a different form of original sin.  In my version, the context is that we are destroying the entire planet.  You had no responsibility for the fact that you were born, of course. But then you stayed around, grew up and increasingly consumed the planet’s resources.   You are a mobile digestive tract, stomping on the delicate Earth and chomping on anything edible. You and 7 billion others. All of us stomping and chomping, exploiting and exhausting the planet’s resources in the process.

You might be thinking, “But I use high efficiency light bulbs and I drive the kids to select soccer practice 30 miles away in a hybrid SUV.   Maybe you do those things and a whole lot more, but you are still using up the planet’s resources. You and me and everybody else. Typical Americans use up and destroy far more resources than the average resident of the Earth, burning substantial amounts fossil fuel, much of it hidden in the manufacture of products we use up and in the long distance food we buy.


We are all part of this society that dumps poisons into our depleting resources of fresh water, as well as into our oceans. OK, you don’t do it yourself, but you use natural gas and coal-fired electricity, and it is highly unlikely that you’ve ever taken a strong stand to eliminate fossil fuel.

In fact, even liberals who claim to be the most concerned about fossil fuels are quite willing to burn huge amounts of it to travel for amusements and vacations. We compartmentalize this “need” for travel and fun, as though these things can be considered to be off-budget.   We are a clever species that can rationalize anything we want to do, and that is proving dangerous.

Although some of us are better than others at conserving resources, we are all guilty, and it’s not because we are doing anything much different than anyone else in our community.   We look around and see that we are trashng and burning the planet much like most other people we know. That we are like others serves as a “justification,” which is dangerous.  By our actions, we are essentially looking into the eyes of our children and telling them:  “Good luck cleaning up all this crap when you become an adult.”

When will we get around to substantially reducing our impact on the planet? We figure we can deal with our problems in the future, which is also dangerous. Because our behavior seems so absolutely normal, often so thoughtless, it is a classic example of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil.”

What are our options?  We can simply assure each other that it’s not our fault that we were born, trashing the planet as usual. Or we can force ourselves to become conscious of the fact that we are ruining our planet and take steps to change how we are living.

It would take an enormous amount of work and courage to turn things around. I have absolutely no confidence that we are up to the task of changing our ways in order to live sustainably. I speak as a person who is failing in this task, just like you and virtually every person we know. I wish I could honestly come to a different conclusion, but I can’t. I’m reminded of the word’s to James Taylor’s song, “Gaia.”

Someone’s got to stop us now
Save us from us Gaia
No one’s gonna stop us now.



Category: Energy, Environment, greenwashing, Overpopulation, Risks and Dangers, Sustainable Living

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (6)

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  1. Andrew Wahl says:

    Your Global Environmentalism spin on “original sin” (Catholic version) is very interesting. I am using a re-interpretation of “original sin” as the financial basis for my new casino enterprise. Every gambler enters the casino $2,000 down – owing the house that amount simply for having entered. Each gambler can, however, purchase Relief (absolution) for the bargain price of $500 – then they are even, no debt. This must be done prior to any gambling. Please stay and enjoy the games!

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Andy: There is a way to make your experiment more vivid. Just figure out the average amount the average casino customer loses per visit at the casino and make that the “down” amount. The big problem is that no one wants to play without something at risk–that is the hit of adrenaline that makes it “fun,” I’m assuming.

  2. grumpypilgrim says:

    This post reminds me of a story I heard this week on public radio. The host and guest were discussing the problem of invasive species. I was tempted to call in and ask if scientists have ever found an invasive species more pernicious than humans.

    On the subject of original sin…I’ve always wondered why, on the one hand, Christians keep telling me that their god is “infinitely forgiving” while, on the other hand, telling me that their god has an eternal grudge against me for something I didn’t do. They then tell me it is up to *me* to change the prejudiced, unreasonable opinion that their “forgiving” god has of me. Even us lowly, unredeemed humans don’t hold grudges this way.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Grumpy: I do like the way you phrased your understanding of original sin. However, I’m increasingly not interested in engaging those who espouse religious oxymorons, because it seems like you can’t get anywhere without a common factual understanding. I’m not sure where that leaves me. I’m not apathetic, but only out of tools to use when most religious claims are made.

    • Edgar Montrose says:

      “I’m not apathetic, but only out of tools to use when most religious claims are made.”

      They literally play for a stalemate. Thus, while neither side can win, neither side can lose. As far as the religious are concerned, “not losing” a logical debate is the moral equivalent of winning it.

  3. grumpypilgrim says:

    Erich wrote, “…without a common factual understanding….”

    I have struggled with this, too. I have some relatives who are Fundies. One accused me of thinking her a “dummy” for her extreme religious beliefs (she is, among other things, a young earther). I thought about her accusation for a long time, taking into account the fact that my accuser has a master’s degree. I concluded she was not a dummy but, rather, a liar. The evidence for the true status of the natural world is overwhelming, but she consciously chooses to disregard all of it in favor of misrepresentations. Facts simply don’t matter to people whose “truth” explicitly rejects evidence — an odd thing, considering that one of the Ten Commandments is to not bear false witness. Which raises the question: where would Christianity be without people willing (even eager) to bear false witness?

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