Cultural Differences in the Experience of the Fall

October 28, 2006

John Paul II, as part of his theology of the body, argues that men and women experience the fall of man differently.  Men experience the fall as a desire for sexual gratification at the expense of women.  Women experience the fall as a desire for emotional gratification at the expense of men. 

With this mind, the question comes to mind: just as men and women experience the fall diferently, might not different peoples of different cultures experience it differently?  Now men and women, we Christians believe, do have an ontological difference between them that, say, a Japanese and  Jew do not.  Yet history suggests, does it not, that cultural differences are real and that some virtues and vices or patterns of behavior have been more prevalent among some peoples and less prevalent among others? 

For example, it is probably right to associate (not in an exclusive manner) rugged individualism with the people of the Old American West, whereas it is also probably right to associate a high degree of politeness to many Japanese.  One might also associate negative qualities with certain cultures, but since it is not considered polite to do so and since there is no need to make my point, I will not.

Now God is the author of the Bible, but the sacred writer is also the author.  Moreover, the sacred writer is a member of a human culture, and in fact all of the sacred writers of the Bible were members of a Hebrew culture (as it evolved) based in the Holy Land.  Is it not possible that in the writing of Genesis, the sacred writer emphasized the experience of the fall that he and those he knew had themselves experienced?  Put another way: how could this not be the case?  How could he have written about the fall from the perspective of a culture other than his own, he himself being a member of his culture? 

Granted, we Catholic Christians (and many other Christians, too) believe that God, who is universal, saw to it, in a way that did not take away the human writer’s freedom, that the Bible recorded exactly what God wanted to be recorded.   Yet this does not mean, does it, that Genesis, for example, is the only true account of the fall of man?  Could not God have inspired another true interpretation of the fall to be recorded or developed over time by writers in a non-Hebrew culture, who would have drawn from their cultural experience of the fall? 


One Response to “Cultural Differences in the Experience of the Fall”

  1. K,

    you organize your thoghts well and it makes it easier on the reader. I followed you except at the very end. I think the claims made about Adam and Eve and mankind are intended as a picture of all mankind. Rene Girard has a very interesting discussion of the myths and religious beliefs and finds in the Bible a unique exposing of the scapegoating the tends to undermine many faith systems. He extends himself perhaps too far but makes a surprisingly clear argument when he argues that religious ritual in general is formed after the experience of destructive mimetic rivalry accomplishes a peace by scapegoating innocence and which averts the violence for a time. Then when a crisis occurs again this scapegoating peace is remembered and ritualized as a means of assuring peace and prosperity. In the Bible he sees a unique difference in that the victim is sided with beginning with Cain and Abel and murder is not enshrined in an unimpeachable glow but censured in its ugliness. I know this is not exactly on target of what you were referring to. But I am thinking that one might consider the acknowledged originary sources of various religions such as Buddhism and consider whether in their lives there is any exclusion or murder that is enshrined in elevating them to an ideal. If that is the case, then I think that such a religion would rightly be censurable for failing to censure sin but rather idealizing it. I am thinking of Jesus Christ and Buddha and wondering whether Buddhas exclusion of women and treatment of them does not deserve censure and therefore may rightly what sprang from him and enshrines him as ideal, if I understand it right, is rightly to be judged as not equal to Christ. I may be off in some of my statemets. Let me know. But even were this so, that does not exclude the practical expression of sin and absence of sin and virtue varying in different cultures including religious cultures and to the extent that the Buddha reached a noble level of understanding he is able to present something worthy of reflection and helpful to correction of those who have not assumed the virtues that he did.

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