Sins with a Lasting Legacy
As 2013 draws to a close, we reflect on the superlatives of the past year. Everyone is busy writing up their own “Best of 2013” lists and “Year in Review” articles. Amidst all of the reflection on our high points, we cannot escape recollections of our lows. In the opening of Sin, Gary Anderson describes the legacy of sins as an almost physical “thing” left in the cultural consciousness. We use the words stain, burden, and debt to describe the lingering effects of our sins. Anderson highlights the division of the Middle East after the close of the Second World War and the slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries in the first pages of the book as sins whose effects are still playing out. We spoke with Anderson this December to reflect on the sins in history whose effects continue to this day. See below for his 2013 list of sins that linger in our collective conscience.
1. Christian tradition says that all of human kind continues to bear the results of the sins of Adam and Eve, the so-called doctrine of original sin.
2. In Judaism the veneration of the Golden Calf after Moses had just received the Ten Commandments is equally thought to be catastrophic. The Talmud states: No retribution whatsoever comes upon the world which does not contain a light fraction of the sin of that calf.”
3. The sins of King Manasseh (II Kings 21) lead to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the dispersion (Diaspora) of the Jewish people to the ends of the known world. The Jewish people still await the moment of ingathering.
4. The Christian tradition has claimed that the death of Jesus led to the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD; the legacy of this tradition has been the source of considerable tension between church and synagogue and immeasurable tragedies.
Sins with the potential to rival the Biblical Sin’s lasting effects:
1. The onset of the industrial age has liberated many persons from terrible physical labor but it has also resulted in terrible environmental degradation which could have catastrophic effects that linger for centuries.
2. Digital technology has linked person from across the globe but could also lead to the permanent loss of invaluable civil liberties.
3. The division of the Middle East after the close of the Second World War, leading to the collapse of Lebanon and the wars in Iraq and Syria.
4. The slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries, which left racial tensions yet to be resolved. During his candidacy, Barack Obama once said that the “stain of slavery” lingers to this day.
Gary A. Anderson is professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. He has authored two books with Yale University Press, Sin: A History and Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition.