Attempting to clarify Catholic doctrine back in the fifth century, St. Augustine wrote: "Insofar as human nature is concerned, there is nothing better than mind and reason." If he'd left it at that, we could applaud his insight at that early time. Unfortunately, he went on: "and yet the person who wants to live happily should not live in accordance with this. Our mind should not be self-contented but should be subjected to God."
The happiness St. Augustine prescribed is the contentment of not having to ask or answer questions. The belief that human beings should subdue their greatest asset to some outside power--that they should disown the quality that distinguishes them from other living things--is essentially a denial of humanity. If this belief had been rejected fifteen hundred years ago, and humans had instead accepted the mind's potential for ultimate responsibility, we might by now have attained a happiness of quite another dimension.
Avoidance of responsibility, linked to a desire for dependent innocence, is core to the Christian tradition and is shared by the other Abrahamic religions--Judaism and Islam--both also based on belief in one all-powerful, controlling deity. The originators of the Adam and Eve myth posited a creator who condemned the attainment of critical knowledge--the knowledge of good and evil--as the worst of sins. In reality, the human capacity for moral judgment is the pinnacle of evolution. Knowledge of the concepts of "good" and "evil" changed humanity's relationship to nature. Continuing to exist as constituents of the natural world in which they had evolved, humans now took on a role not attained by any other beings: they became responsible for their actions. What was to happen to them and to the world around them was no longer completely up to nature.
This attainment of rational, decision-making thought was essentially the birth of human potentiality, of freedom. To label it "the Fall" may be one of the great mistakes in all of human history.
Christianity has never accepted the existential fact that a return to irresponsible innocence is simply impossible, just as we cannot unlearn how to split the atom. Rather than responsibly facing the consequences of our choices between good and evil, Christianity and other religions focus on a need to somehow get right with an offended deity, which must provide salvation and restore innocence. This urge to escape responsibility has come to pervade what is accepted as...