For a long time, I didn’t understand Original Sin. Adam and Eve ate an apple from the wrong tree. (Although, of course, it was clearly Eve’s fault. Women! And yes, the sarcasm meter is on.) So? How is that enough to cause God to oust them from Eden, saddle them with the burdens of humanity (again, women getting the brunt of it — another purported mark of guilt), and send them to scratch and scrape for the rest of eternity?

Sure, it was disobedient. Yet disobedience never seemed an adequate explanation to me. God created us with free will. He had to know what that entailed — if you give someone a choice, he or she is bound to choose incorrectly, at least sometimes. Why punish humankind for the gift that defines us? The punishment is simply not proportional to the crime.

So here’s what makes sense to me: The Original Sin was not disobedience; it was selfishness. It was that instinct in all of us that says, “You can’t tell me what to do. I know better. I’m going to do what I want to do and damn the consequences.” It is a shade darker than simple disobedience; it is the same itch that overwhelms a child who sees another child with a desirable new toy: I want that. I will take that. It doesn’t matter what he feels; it only matters what I feel. It’s the way sociopaths live their lives. It is the worst of us.

The opposite, of course, is unselfishness — the giving, altruistic spirit of sharing, of making sure everyone has a part and is cared for equally. Jesus embodied it, including everyone, rich and poor, male and female, equally into His circle of love. We have the chance to embody it too, when we decide whether to stretch out a hand to those in need or “stick to our own kind” and “take care of number one.”

I don’t believe that the stain of Original Sin washes away entirely with baptism. Its shadow remains. We can grow it or curtail it based on our openness and willingness to live our lives in the ways of love, mercy and justice. This means accepting all people, no matter what their race, creed, religion or sexual preference. It means an equitable allotment of goods and resources. It means getting over our petty grievances with one another and realizing that Original Sin is original to us all. We are forever connected. What we do with that knowledge is the ultimate test.

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