The Fall, the Transcendentals, and “Things” (Pt. 1)
October 20, 2014 richardstevenpark

The Fall, the Transcendentals, and “Things” (Pt. 1)

Posted in Forum Post

In my next three posts, I would like to look at several implications of the Christian doctrine of the Fall and (perhaps somewhat unexpectedly) the important sociological notion of reification and how it relates this teaching.

The Christian doctrine of the Fall of humanity tells us about the condition in which we find ourselves: as alienated from God and addicted to sin. Our guilt has separated, estranged, alienated us from our own good, our Creator; our corruption we are perverted in our minds, polluted in our hearts, and prone to choosing what is wrong, i.e., what is bad for us.[1]

What Christian thinkers call the polluting effect of the fall of humanity is seen clearly when one mixes into an event or relationship an element that simply doesn’t belong.  A helpful example here might be the dating relationship which often precedes marriage: When a couple is dating and this dating becomes very intimate elements of sexual intimacy may be introduced to such an extent and in such a manner which pollutes this otherwise pure relationship. Dating (especially in group settings) is good: it usually helps persons, preferably in the context of community as well as parental and pastoral counsel, have an insight into the person whom they’re considering for marriage. And sex is good: it is a part of God’s created order which he called good. But two good things, when added together in the wrong context or at the wrong time, can be bad. The good of relationship and the good of sexual intimacy have been polluted. Sin has this effect.

Another intriguing effect of the Fall of humanity is that there has resulted a condition which we could describe as punishment in the form of addiction to sin. This may seem an odd thing to say: that punishment is an effect of fallenness. Normally, we might want to think of punishment as the cause of fallenness: that is, because humanity chose to turn away from God, humanity was punished and therefore fell. But here when we speak of punishment as an effect of the Fall, we are talking about the way in which, given our having chosen not God, we have been given over to our perverted and polluted desires and ways (cf. Ro. 1.21-32) such that we now second-naturedly (against our original nature) continue to choose what is perverted and polluted: sin has a punishing effect in virtue of our being addicted to its corrupting character. A particularly poignant example of this idea of punishment as addiction comes from C. S. Lewis’ illustration in Mere Christianity:

“The Germans, perhaps, at first ill-treated the Jews because they hated them: afterwards they hated them much more because they had ill-treated them. The more cruel you are, the more you will hate; and the more you hate, the more cruel you will become – and so on in a vicious circle for ever” (Lewis, Mere Christianity, 131-132).

At first the Germans killed the Jews because they hated them; later they hated them because they killed them. Sin has a punishing effect which comes in the form of addition to itself; this vicious cycle is a result of the Fall.

Or as the Apostle Paul puts it:

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Ro. 7:19-20).

The guilt which distances us from our God and the corruption which destroys us within and with others are self-presenting realities that no rightly thinking person would deny. But the problem is that because of our fallen nature we are (all too) often not thinking rightly; that is, we do not see things as they really are, as God sees them. Self-deception is not just a psychological description of a mental disorder: it is a real problem for all of us to some extent or another (Jer. 17.9-10). In brief, we are alienated from good and addicted to evil.

In my next post, I shall look at another implication of the doctrine of the Fall by introducing another crucial doctrine: namely, the Doctrine of the Transcendentals.

[1] Some of what follows is adapted from Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God’s World, esp. Ch. 3, “The fall.”

Comment (1)

    TM 3 years ago

    Isn’t the first implication of the doctrine of the Fall the existence of a pre-fallen condition? I have a hard time wrapping my mind around what this might have been. Do you take the view that all of nature is fallen, or only humankind?

Leave a reply