July 5, 2020


Blaming Adam : The origins of human things are flawed, no question, and inequalities remain. But should we not try to honor the principles of Washington or Jefferson and distinguish them from the prejudices of the day that they shared? (Glenn Arbery, July 4th, 2020, Imaginative Conservative)

History amply demonstrates that origins are always flawed. Rome, for example, began with Romulus's murder of his brother and with the rape of the Sabine women. The question to ask is whether the founding enterprise was worthwhile despite its flaws. Nowhere is this questioning more explicit than in Milton's Paradise Lost, which the Wyoming Catholic College juniors read in the same semester as texts of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

The extraordinary thing about the presentation of Adam in the poem is that in Book X he reflects explicitly on what it means to be the flawed origin, not just of a nation, but of the human race itself. After the Fall, Adam comes to a full recognition of the miseries he will bequeath upon his offspring:

O voice once heard
Delightfully, Increase and multiply, [730]
Now death to hear! for what can I increase
Or multiply, but curses on my head?
Who of all Ages to succeed, but feeling
The evil on him brought by me, will curse
My Head, Ill fare our Ancestor impure, [735]
For this we may thank Adam...

Adam's very first thought after perceiving how thoroughly he would be cursed by his own progeny is to blame his own origin:

Did I request thee, Maker, from my Clay
To mold me Man, did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me, or here place [745]
In this delicious Garden? as my Will
Concurred not to my being, it were but right
And equal to reduce me to my dust,
Desirous to resign, and render back
All I received, unable to perform [750]
Thy terms too hard, by which I was to hold
The good I sought not. To the loss of that,
Sufficient penalty, why hast thou added
The sense of endless woes? inexplicable
Thy Justice seems...

The passage seems altogether appropriate for the present day. To my mind, the real questions being raised in the current political climate are not political at all, but metaphysical and religious. Did I ask to exist? And, more than that, did I ask to exist in this way, burdened with this history, subject to these limitations?

Even He found the limitations too much, so how couldn't we.  But the important thing to realize is how religious this moment is; how completely dependent on our recognition of our natural sinfulness.

Posted by at July 5, 2020 7:07 AM