in the dawn of memory
when I knew my name
though not what they called me,
I lost my innocence
and joined the odyssey
Loss of Innocence
What is your problem? What is mine? The answer to this question is, I think, the first
event in our common human odyssey. On the surface our difficulties may appear to be
different. Some need more money, education, or better housing; others have trouble with
friends, understanding themselves, or getting along with their spouses. Some are confused
in their thinking; others are emotionally disturbed. One lady assured me recently that she
would be happy if she could only move back to California. What would it take to make you
Our problems do all seem to be unique. If, however, we distinguish between symptoms and
underlying cause--the fever and the disease--we may see that we all share a common
spiritual malady. Though the symptoms are different, the disease is the same. We all get
sick of heart in a similar way.
Acquiring this spiritual disease with its seemingly infinite variety of manifestations
is the initial happening on the human odyssey. In the beginning we all go wrong. We all
"like sheep," wrote Isaiah in the Old Testament, "have gone astray"'
(53:6). Paul called it sin: "For all have sinned," he wrote," and come
short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
I call the event loss of innocence. Somewhere in the dawn of the pilgrimage we
lose our innocence and go astray. Our later diversity of symptoms springs from this common
spiritual event. The childlike innocence with which we are born is lost in the course of
our growing up. Although we may not remember where or when, the results, like those of
aging, are undeniable. Somehow, somewhere, it happens. One day we wake up and are innocent
no more. We have "fallen short of the glory of God."
But how can we understand such an event which appears to occur even before the dawn of
our memories? The biblical account of creation seems a good place to begin. Although the
story is often taken as a history of the origin of mankind, let us assume that it is the
story of every person's spiritual life. Assume that Adam and Eve are you and I. Instead of
ancient history, imagine that it tells the tale of your life, beginning at birth.
I recount the salient facts: "So God created man in his own image. . . male and
female created he them. And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden and there he
put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree
that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of
the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. . . And they were both naked, the
man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 1:27; 2: 8-9; 25).
Eden means delight. We Adams and Eves are all born naked in this garden of delights
which we will later learn to call the planet earth. Before us are all the pleasant sights,
sounds, and smells, plus good things to eat. And in the midst of the garden, symbolically,
is the tree of life. We have centrally before us the possibility of partaking freely of
the fruits of living. And then the final crucial phrase: And they "were not
We are born naked and "not ashamed." Innocent. Every child is born guiltless,
with nothing to hide. Nudity brings no embarrassment because in the beginning we have
nothing to be ashamed of. When you see a newborn child you see him as he is, without
The innocent child responds to reality as he finds it. Though his perceptions are
limited, he meets the world truthfully with what he is. He hears, feels, and tastes things
as they are to him, instead of as they are to others or as he has been told they are.
There are no shoulds, oughts, or supposed-to's in his world. Things are pleasing if they
please him, not because they are supposed to. In the garden of delights he stands
openhearted--honestly himself-before the tree of life.
But also in the garden is the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God's message is:
"Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge
of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou
shalt surely die. . . But the serpent said, ye shall not surely die: For God doth know
that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods,
knowing good and evil" (Genesis 2:16-16; 3:4-5). So all is not delightful in the
garden of delights. Some fruit is denied. And there is the serpent who tempts us to
"be as gods."
If we imagine this to be our own story, how can we understand the second tree and the
tempting snake? First, let us confirm that apparently none of our gardens are just a bed
of roses. The private corners of the world into which we are born have thorns tucked away
among the roses. In many ways our parents are good to us; but we must face the fact that
none of them are perfect. Sometimes they come when we need them, but sometimes they do
not. They are often warm, but sometimes cold. And eventually they spank. And worse.
It is difficult living with these gods who hold all the powers of life and death--the
keys to the kingdoms of food and love. Even more difficult is coping with their
godliness--their pretending to have all the answers, to deserve honor and respect, to
actually know what is good and bad, and to have the right to demand obedience "just
because I say so." To remain innocent and human in the kingdom of the guilty and
godly is indeed a challenge. What shall we do?
Back to the story. At this point of challenge the serpent comes to us all with his
tempting solution: Join them; "be as gods" yourself. Or as we might say today,
"If you can't lick 'em, join 'em." Obviously a child cannot beat his godly
parents, so joining them must seem a feasible option. Assuming godhood, as they have
already done, is a logical solution.
How can this be done? How can a child who is human become godly? Obviously the move is
not real--nobody truly becomes a god. And yet we may take on the stance of god by assuming
the attributes of divinity. We may give up the traits of humanity and begin to exist as
though we were godly. Specifically, the primary earmarks of godhood are omniscience,
omnipotence, and immortality--ultimate knowledge, superhuman powers, and perpetual
existence. To be human is, in contrast, to have limited understanding, to be relatively
weak, and to have circumscribed tenure.
This first spiritual event, loss of innocence, occurs as we abandon our real human
qualities and begin to live as though we possess these elements of divinity. We examine
each in greater detail:
In the biblical story this trait is symbolized by the tree of knowledge of good and
evil. I understand it to mean the absolute knowledge of what is right and wrong, knowing
for sure what is good and bad--as one's parents seem to. Since they have already eaten the
fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil--that is, taken unto themselves this
ultimate information of what is inherently right and wrong, it must seem reasonable to
join them by eating the apple ourselves.
So we do. We too eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We attempt to
"be as gods" by joining them directly, by taking their godly answers as our own,
or indirectly, by rebelling and assuming our own ultimate knowledge, different from
For example, when we were innocent we only heard words as they were in reality--sounds
made in the air. When we join the gods, we presume to know which words are good and which
are evil. "This is a good word. That is a bad word." Or we may rebel against
their godly brand of ultimate knowledge and accept the alternative. "No," we may
say with equal but opposite godliness, "that word is not bad; it is good." In
either case we leave innocence and join the godly.
Or if the gods say, "Crying is bad. Big boys don't cry," we can leave the
state of innocence in which crying is a natural emotion. We can assume they are correct,
that it truly is bad to cry. We may hear, "Jump up, it didn't hurt," when we
fall down. "Spinach tastes good." "It's bad to play with yourself."
"This is good music." "They are bad people." We may hear endless godly
pronouncements. We can desert innocence by concurring with the gods' "right"
answers, or by assuming them wrong and establishing our own variety of "truth."
After we eat the symbolic fruit we live as though we too know what is good and evil--as
though for instance, obeying parents is good and crying is bad--as though words, feelings,
thoughts, and deeds are inherently good or evil. We move from seeing and hearing things as
they actually are, to seeing and hearing only our assumed knowledge of their goodness or
badness. The child who once responded, for instance, to a real person, now reacts to the
color of the skin (his judgment). He moves from the human realm of discriminating to the
godly domain of judging.
This difference between discriminating and judging is crucial. Newborn children, still
innocent begin to discriminate and to draw distinctions in the reality they discern. This
is not that. This is hot; that is cold. This is light; that is dark. The
sound is here, not there. As sensations increase, so do discriminations. Later on, this is
a mommy; that is a daddy. And so on. All these discriminations are, however, a direct
response to reality as discerned by the child. No judgment is yet involved. "This is
a white person; that is a black person," is a simple discrimination based on
discerned color. Still no judgment has occurred.
In like manner, the responses of the child are realistic; that is, based on the
actuality of what is perceived. The child responds positively to what feels good and
negatively to that which hurts. He moves toward warmth and away from cold; toward cool and
away from hot. All of these are relative discriminations, in accord with reality as it is
in relation to the child as he is. There is no judgment of good or evil, only the
discrimination between the pleasurable and unpleasurable. The child responds favorably to
a warm, accepting person, and unfavorably to a cold, rejecting person. In each instance,
the discrimination is between real factors, but without judgment of the persons. One is
warm, the other cold; but one is not "good" and the other "bad."
For the innocent child there is no good and evil--only the this and that or
the pleasurable and unpleasurable. As his capacities expand, so will his discriminations.
Learning to do things, the child will learn to discriminate between the practical and the
impractical. This works; that does not. Crawling around the table is practical; trying to
crawl through it is impractical. Smiling for mommy works; crying does not (or vice versa
with some parents). Among all the things he can choose to do, some are feasible; some are
not. Still no judgment. Crawling through the table does not work, but the table is not yet
bad. Crying may be less effective than smiling, but tears are not bad--yet.
But sooner or later the serpent comes with the temptation to join the gods, to move
from finite discernments to infinite judgments. The temptation arises to take the giant
step from "It works" to "It s good," from "I dislike it" to
"It is bad." Discriminating is human; judging is godly. Discernments are
personal: "This is how I find it to be." Judgments are impersonal: "This is
how it is." Discernments, like all human observations, are temporal: "This is
the way I see it now; tomorrow may be different." Judgments, like all godly
pronouncements, are forever: "This is how it always is." Discernments consider
the circumstances: "That may get you in trouble if your mother hears you."
Judgments ignore circumstances: "That is a bad word regardless."
The move from discriminating to judging is experiential, not merely grammatical. The
issue is a real event, not a word matter only. The words good and bad do
not circumscribe the happening. One can say either of them without judging, or judge
without attaching these words. I may say chocolate ice cream is good, meaning only that I
discern its taste as pleasant, or that licorice is bad (I don't happen to like it)--each
without any ultimate judgment. On the other hand, I may judge something to be bad, even
though I say it is good. Insofar as this odyssey event is concerned, the issue is the
spiritual move from merely discriminating (necessary human procedure) to ultimate judging
(a godly act). The words can mean either one or the other. The event is what counts.
After assuming omniscience--infinite rather than finite knowledge--we live as though we
know for sure. We act as if we have ultimate answers instead of temporary observations.
For example, if one presumes to know for sure that there is an afterlife (or that
democracy is better than communism, religion better than atheism, monogamy better than
polygamy, vanilla better than chocolate ice cream)--or that there is no afterlife--then he
has assumed omniscience. Instead of living with uncertainty (finite human knowledge), he
has escaped into the realm of godhood (absolute knowledge). To assume that one knows
anything for sure is to have taken on this attribute of god. One who pretends to know for
sure has become godly.
And what happens? The assumption is that being "as gods" will be better than
being innocent as humans. We must apparently make this giant step from humanity to godhood
assuming that this will be a better way to live. The serpent had said, "in the day ye
eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5).
It sounds reasonable enough: to join the gods who know good and evil must certainly be
easier than coping as an innocent child.
But what really happens? The Bible says that after eating the apple "the eyes of
them both were opened, and they knew they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together
and made things to gird themselves about" (Genesis 3:7). In other words, they began
to feel guilty. Before, "they were both naked and were not ashamed" (2:25).
After eating the fruit, they had to hide themselves in the new shame of their nakedness.
How can we understand the imagery of sewing fig leaves in terms of our personal
experience? Like this: before we join the gods by assuming that nudity is bad, we can have
our diapers changed by anybody without feeling ashamed. We literally have nothing to hide.
After the apple, however, we live as though nudity is bad (we assume this particular
knowledge of evil). Since being exposed is bad, we "sew fig leaves together"
(keep our clothes on). We do not take the chance of "getting caught with our pants
down." (Note the judgment of "caught," as though nudity is evil.)
So it is with all other judgments of good and evil. Once we make them, we must do the
good and hide the evil. Whenever there is any conflict, we must move away from the real
and natural, choosing instead the domain of our godly judgments of good and evil. We must
leave the realm of things as they are in favor of things as we see them (judge them to
be). We move into the dimensions of should, ought, and supposed-to. "You shouldn't
feel angry at your mother; you're not supposed to,"--that is, we abandon the emotions
as they are, in favor of as they are supposed-to-be. "That's a bad word. You
shouldn't say it"--we cease honest expressions in favor of supposed-to statements.
Note again that these moves are existential rather than merely intellectual. The issue
is more than consciously thinking something is good or bad; it is living as though it is.
One doesn't necessarily conclude rationally that nudity is evil; in fact, he may
consciously think that it is good. The point is that he comes to live as though nakedness
is bad. He feels "caught" if discovered with his pants down.
Note also that the knowledge of good and evil is not merely a religious issue, having
to do with ethics or morality. The point is being as god through assuming
ultimate knowledge of any nature. One may be ashamed of his body (feelings or thoughts)
when no religious morality is involved. Whenever I judge, for instance, a particular
thought as bad, I must "sew fig leaves" around my mind. I must hide because of
the thought "I shouldn't be having." The issue is my godly judgment, not the
morality of the arena in which it is made.
The fable of the emperor's clothes illustrates this event. The emperor had bought
clothes that were supposed to be woven of such fine gold that only the pure of heart could
see them. Actually he had been conned by shysters. However, neither he nor his subjects
would admit to not seeing the clothes, lest they confess their own impurity. So the
emperor paraded nude while everyone complimented his fine apparel, until an innocent child
exclaimed aloud, "But the emperor is naked!"
After our judgments of how things are supposed to be, we then see things as we imagine
them to be. Only the innocent see them as they actually are. This early event in our
common odyssey is our sin, our loss of innocence. Somehow, all the people I have known
well have lost or are losing their innocence. We leave the state where we were "naked
and not ashamed" and enter the realm of having to hide ourselves. We sew symbolic fig
leaves not only around our bodies, but also around our minds and hearts.
The Genesis story, taken as a symbolic account of everyone's beginning, beautifully
describes the essential nature of our common history. We all seem to cop-out on humanity
in favor of "being as gods." We ignore the "tree of life" and choose
instead the fruit from "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."
The second attribute of godhood is omnipotence--literally, all power. Being innocent
and human, one is finite; one's power is limited. On the negative side it is bounded by
what one cannot do (fly, or jump over the moon}. On the positive side it is bounded by
what he can do (run, and jump over a candlestick). When one assumes godhood, he abandons
this actual range of powers, assuming a stance which is beyond the real--either more or
less. He may become superior, acting as though he can do more than he actually can, or
inferior, pretending not to have capabilities he really does. In either case an
unrealistic sense of power--omnipotence, is assumed.
Exaggerations on the positive side are easier to see. Superiority, revealed in
haughtiness, pride, or being "stuck on oneself," is often abundantly evident.
Such a person "thinks he is somebody." He may assume that he can do whatever he
wants to. He lives as though he has inherent rights over other people as well as things.
On the other hand, the omnipotence, the superhuman power, wielded by those who take a
stance of inferiority, is often more difficult to see. Outwardly they may appear weak and
less than human. They may look downtrodden, humble, and function in a self-effacing way.
Like slaves they may look up to others, or as door-mats, be constantly stepped on. Careful
observation, however, may often reveal the exaggerated powers assumed by those who act
inferior, as in the expectation of being taken care of by those to whom they are slaves.
In either case, godhood is the assumption of unrealistic power, above or below one's
Let us return to Eden and childhood and try to reconstruct the beginnings of this form
of the loss of innocency. Perhaps the first temptation arrives when the child observes
that tears or laughter "work"--that he can elicit certain desired responses by
crying or smiling. When he cries, mother comes to his bed; when he laughs, she talks
lovingly. He has the power to act in ways which often bring certain responses.
So far, so good. This is a natural human power. Omnipotence occurs, however, when the
child makes the spiritual move from "I can try to influence you" to "I have
power over you." From observing that "my smile is often followed by your
smile" to the belief that "I can make you smile."
Later, when words and behavior are added to tears and smiles, the child may note that
making certain sounds and acting in particular ways often brings other predictable
responses. Saying "ma-ma" brings love; wetting the bed brings anger. He has the
power to influence others by his words and actions. This too is a real human power. No
omnipotence is required to use it.
The move to exaggerated power is made when the child assumes that he can literally make
these responses occur, that his word or act actually controls the given response. For
instance, when he succumbs to the belief that his behavior "makes mother feel
bad," or that his saying a certain word actually upsets her, then he has assumed
exaggerated or unrealistic power. Noting that his act is often followed by her response is
human; believing that his act has the power to force her response is godly. The omnipotent
child, for example, believes he can make his mother happy.
An adult example: I can tell a joke, which in turn may be followed by your laughter. It
may appear that I have made you laugh. Not so. I can tell jokes, but I cannot make you
laugh. In reality the initiative for spiritual response always lies within the other
person. None of us can literally make another laugh or cry, or be happy or sad,
loving or angry.
Physical reactions can be originated externally; spiritual responses cannot. I can step
on your foot, causing you pain, but I cannot step on your heart or hurt your feelings. If
I am bigger or stronger I can force your behavior, but I cannot cause any move of spirit.
In a cartoon a child wearing a dunce cap is sitting in the corner and audibly mumbling.
The teacher demands, "What are you saying?" The child answers: "I'm sitting
down on the outside, but I'm standing up inside!" So it is in reality. External
behavior can be forced; spiritual response cannot.
We may play behavior games in which you act as though I make you feel a certain way. If
I compliment you, you can act like I make you feel good. To my criticism you may act hurt.
I may relate in ways which give you more or less permission to make particular responses,
but I can never, in reality, cause your spiritual moves. You may frown at my best jokes,
be upset by my compliments, laugh at my criticism, or ignore all of them. This is the
nature of spiritual reality.
Just as I can't hurt you spiritually, neither can I help you. In reality I possess no
power to make you feel better, be happy, or save your soul to any extent.
Realizing, accepting, and living with these human limitations in the presence of others
who appear not to have them can be an immense challenge. To each of us the serpent
apparently comes with the option: "Be as the gods," he invites, "Assume
omnipotence. Join the godly. Take on yourself powers of control over others."
And we do, whenever we assume spiritual powers over other people.
The same is true when we assume exaggerated or supernatural powers over
things--non-human external reality. For example, I am godly when I ignore my obvious human
limitations and assume that I can do whatever I want to, if "I want to bad
enough." Human capacities do indeed allow reaching great heights, exercising vast
powers, but always with certain real limits. Just as my vision is limited to a certain
range of light waves, my hearing to a range of sound waves, and my smelling to a range of
odors, so my total capacities are also limited. I can do many things, but not
everything--not even all the things I can imagine doing. The external powers of the
physical and social world continually set limits for me. No matter how hard I try or how
much I desire it, some things are always beyond my abilities. Many things which I can do
sometimes or in particular circumstances are literally impossible at other times and
Before the loss of innocence, I live within these bounds; afterward I transgress them.
Such a move would be obvious if I tried to fly off a tall building. Though less obvious,
it would be equally real if I tried to make another person happy.
Exaggerated power is also evidenced in the assumption of rights over other people or
things. In reality we are related. We are responsible--can respond to others and objects
in positive and negative ways--but we never have inherent rights over them. We do not own
them. To assume literal possessions is to assume godhood, a stance of omnipotence.
For instance, a child may respond to mother positively. "I see you, mommy, and I
like you being near." This is realistic. But if he goes the next step and assumes
rights over mommy--that "I have you; you are my mommy"--then he has
moved into the realm of omnipotence. Conversely, a mother may respond favorably to a
child. "I love you. I enjoy playing with you." But if she proceeds to the
position of having rights--"You are my child. I have the right to make you as I
please"--then she has assumed omnipotence. Humans can be related to each other, but
never own one another. To assume the right to have someone--a parent, child, friend,
lover, or spouse--is to move into the realm of godhood.
So it is with things--objects, animals, plants, or land. Humans do exist in relation to
external reality, with the capacity for responsibility, but never with the option of
rights or ownership in a literal sense. For instance, I may live with a pet. In reality I
am responsible to and for the animal yet I cannot have him without assuming godhood.
Legally I may hold title to land. According to law I own it. This, however, is only a
social arrangement. Actually I am like a tenant farmer on property owned by a landlord. I
am responsible for it and reap certain benefits from it, but literally the land is not
mine. Only by assuming godhood can I truly have the land as my own.
The literal having of anything is impossible for humans. When we move from responsible
relation to actual possession, with inherent rights, then we have assumed godhood. We have
become omnipotent to the degree of our ownership.
Presuming to have a god is the ultimate act of omnipotence. Owning things or people is
godlike; owning god is most godly of all. Having a supernatural being subject to one's
knowledge or influence is like owning a magical genie in a bottle. One is naturally more
powerful than the genie he owns, even if the genie can do things the owner cannot.
Omnipotence is revealed in the final control over the supernatural being. If I can
influence my genie by rubbing the bottle or saying the magic word, or my god by proper
behavior or saying prayers, then my greater power is evidenced. One is naturally more
powerful than any thing one has.
The opposite shape of omnipotence--inferiority--is revealed in the reverse situation.
If, for instance, a child assumes that he has no power to influence his parents, that
"nothing works" (that he is entirely impotent), then he has also escaped the
true human situation. That he cannot make everything happen does not mean that he cannot
influence his environment. To live as though one can do less than he actually can is to
flee into a negative form of godhood.
To be less than responsive to one's environment--irresponsible for the things and
people to which one is related--is but the flip-side of the superiority coin. That I
cannot "have" my land, spouse, or children does not mean that I cannot stand
responsibly in relation to each of them. To play powerless (or act less potent than I
actually am) is but a cloaked way of treating my own life in an omnipotent fashion. Who
gives me the right to belittle myself? As a limited human I have neither the godly right
to put myself up or put myself down. My omnipotence is revealed in the putting, rather
than in its direction. Whether I place myself as better than or worse than, higher or
lower, superior or inferior, I am still doing the placing. Therein is my omnipotence
The move to godhood is also revealed in the assumption of immortality. Gods live
forever; finite humans are limited in time as well as space. We are born. We live awhile.
We die. Period. Perpetuity is evidently not inherent in humanity. The only way we imagine
possessing everlasting existence is to move from the realm of the finite to that of the
infinite. We commonly do this when we eat the apple and become "as gods."
In reality today seems to be all there is. Tomorrow is always a gift. Whenever a child
moves from anticipating tomorrow to expecting or presuming it will be, he has made the
quantum leap to godhood. Whenever an adult says, "See you later," meaning
anything more than hope, he reveals his immortality. Taking the future for granted,
pretending I may not die before I "see you later," evidences my godhood. The
child's prayer, ". . . if I should die before I wake. . .," is the only human
way to approach sleep.
But living now in Eden is an immense challenge. Presuming tomorrow is a constant
temptation. No one of us seems able to resist. Whether we execute the move by belief in an
immortal soul or perpetual reincarnation, or simply live as though we have forever, the
result is the same: escaping the human scene, joining the gods.
Summary: In religious language, loss of innocence occurs through the sin of assuming
godhood. The godly attributes are omniscience (certain knowledge), omnipotence
(exaggerated powers), and immortality (perpetual existence).
BECOMING A SELF
Loss of innocence may also be described in secular language as becoming a self. Without
biblical symbolism this initial odyssey event can be viewed as the move from being oneself
to having a self to be. Initially the child literally is himself; he has no
separate self which he owns. He and his self are the same. He does not simply act like
himself; he is himself. In time, as capacities develop he will acquire the ability to be
self-conscious, in the literal sense--he will be himself but also be aware of being
himself at the same time. This seems to be a natural ability of the enlarged human brain,
not possible for the lower animals. The human capacity is, I think, the door to the
blessing--and to the curse. To be innocent and consciously oneself is one thing--this is
the blessing. But to this threshold comes the serpent, tempting us all to go the next step
and become self-conscious--that is, a separate one who is conscious of himself.
Becoming a god (religious language) is becoming a self or "I" (secular
language). The "I" is the false god. The sinful act which costs our innocence is
the creation and identification with an imaginary self, the "I" one assumes to
exist apart from "myself."
Although the move itself is difficult to visualize, the results are more graphic. After
one has become a false self, he lives as though he truly exists in this separate
"I." He (the imaginary "I") may, for example, talk to himself. "I
gave myself a pep talk," he may say, or, "Before the game I psyched myself
up." He may carry on conversations, either aloud or in his head, with himself. A
child who has not yet sinned and became a separated self may speak himself aloud, but he
does not talk to himself. After this odyssey event he can speak to himself.
Once this split is accomplished the godly "I" may become the ruling dictator
of the subservient "myself." "I" may force myself to speak falsely to
others either to please them or to secure what "I" want. "I" make
myself say calculated words, rather than simply speaking myself honestly. As an innocent
one, before sin, I might voice my feelings to you. What I feel would be what you hear.
After the split my false "I" will be more likely to force me to tell you what it
thinks you would like for me to feel. "Yes, I love you too, Mother."
Once divided in this fashion, with my assumed separate existence, it seems that all
that is truly me in reality becomes a possession of the godly "I." Before sin,
for example, I am body. Body is a part of who I am. Afterward, "I" have a body.
The separate "I" presumes to be the owner of an objective body which he is free
to use as he pleases. He may tend and adorn this possessed body, using it to impress or
manipulate, or he may abuse it. Just as a prostitute uses her body to make money, so he
may use his physical possessions to secure the favors of the world.
The mind, another part of who-I-am, is also viewed as a possession of the godly
"I" following the act of sin. While yet innocent, one is mind even as one is
body. He does not have a mind--exist as a separate entity which owns a brain. He literally
is mind. When thinking, he is thinking; thinking is who he is just then. After sin, mind
becomes a possession to be used at the whims of the godly ''I." One then has a mind.
In like manner he possesses thoughts or ideas which he uses, even as body-abusers, to
secure things in the world. Instead of telling what he is thinking, he will display the
thoughts which best serve the purposes of the godly "I" just then.
Even emotions become possessions of the separated self. After this first odyssey event
one tries to exist as an "I" who has feelings, instead of one who is
feeling. The omnipotent self attempts to control and use emotions just as he does
thoughts. Instead of being his feelings--sincerely feeling what he actually does feel--he
tries to force himself to feel the emotions which will best serve the purposes of the
godly "I" of the moment. If "liking you" helps business, he will force
himself to "like you." If feeling jealous interferes with his goals, he will
rule out this undesired emotion. Before sin the innocent child feels the natural emotions
which arise within his breast; afterward he becomes their owner and user.
Once the "I" is full-grown he may even assume the possession of a soul, an
intangible entity residing in the body. Such an imaginary thing is particularly functional
in the godly "I's" assumption of immortality. Even though his body dies, he can
easily rationalize that his possessed soul lives on forever.
It is this "I," this separate self, possessor of body, mind, heart, and
perhaps soul, which indulges in the previously described acts of godhood, exhibiting the
attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and immortality. This is the "I" who
pretends to know right and wrong, to have rights over others, and to possess perpetual
The particular shape of the godly "I" varies from person to person. No two of
us seem to have the same type self. From the wealth of our omniscient judgments, either
accepted from parents or our own imaginations, we seem immensely creative in the variety
of images we conjure up for ourselves. For example, picking up on parental judgments of
his brain power, a person may imagine himself to be smart. Thereafter, he goes around
acting smart, trying to live up to the image he holds of himself.
Or a person may imagine herself to be pretty, after hearing doting parents voice their
own judgments. Then, identifying herself thusly, she will try to present herself as a
pretty one. Using her body as a vehicle, she will try to use others to support her godly
perception of herself as a pretty person.
Or a person may imagine his self to be good, falling for his mother's judgment,
"He is a good boy." If this image of a good boy includes such elements as
obeying parents, being nice to others, and not getting angry, he will thereafter strive to
live up to his image. He will use his possessed body, mind, and heart as instruments to
maintain this ideal of who he is. He will, for example, try to mind his mother, smile at
people as though he likes them, and suppress any angry emotions. Instead of being who he
actually is, he strives to present himself as he has judged himself to be--namely, good.
Or conversely, one may make the opposite judgments, concluding that one is dumb, ugly,
or bad. Then, for example, instead of trying to make A's in school, he will live out his
image as a failure. If a girl has judged herself to be ugly she may hide her face and body
or present them in unfavorable ways which conform to her ugly self-image. The
self-conceived bad boy will misbehave in support of his own negative image of himself.
In reality, of course, most such self-images are far more complex, being comprised of
various elements of smart/dumb, pretty ugly, good/bad, and many other judgments. The point
here is merely to illustrate the manner in which the godly self shapes itself. The sin
lies in the formation of the "I," however it is conceived. Instead of remaining
oneself as one truly is--embodied, thinking, and feeling--one creates and tries to become
an imaginary self. The loss of innocence occurs in this act of fleeing one's true humanity
and trying to become what one in fact is not. Playing god costs innocence, whatever shape
the game may take.
For clarification, the sin lies in becoming a self or image, not in the mere use of an
image for such purposes as self-protection. In the land of the gods one must take care of
oneself. The use of an image as a wall against the abuse of harsh parental gods is a
reasonable, human move. For instance, a child may act as his parents judge good to be, in
order to protect himself from their wrath. If they insist on his wearing clothes when he
prefers to go bare, or that certain words be unspoken, or that he obey their commands,
then he may act accordingly for sake of his own well being--to keep the food and warmth
He can act, however, and yet remain innocent. He can pretend to be what his parents
wish him to be without falling for it himself. He can act nice because "they"
require it, without assuming he is nice He can avoid the words which bring punishment,
without judging them to be bad himself. He can do what they command without concluding the
actions to be inherently good. All this without the loss of innocence.
This odyssey event begins when the innocent child goes the next step--accepting
parental judgments or making judgments for himself. When he leaves the challenges of
remaining innocent in the land of the guilty in favor of joining the gods, then he sins.
He no longer uses the wall of acting as a reasonable protection; now he tries to actually
become the wall. Instead of using the image as a safe mask when the threatening gods are
around, he seeks to become the image, to be that way whether or not anyone is threatening
him. For instance, if his image is perfection-the summary of all his judgments of
good--then he literally strives to be perfect. He tries to be a perfect self. If his
perfection includes cleanliness and all things in order, he strives to be clean and
orderly, whether or not anyone with power over him requires it. His perfect image is no
longer a charade for practical purposes, an act he puts on to enhance his well being; it
now becomes the self he lives as though he is.
He leaves the self he is in order to become the image he has created--a self in reality
he is not. This move from his real self to his false self is the loss of innocency.
Thereafter he will devote the energies of life to building and maintaining this image,
this reputation. He will work to impress people, to make them think he is what he is not.
And in leaving himself he leaves innocency.
We may picture an innocent child as pure heart-like a valentine--and the self that is
constructed like a shell or box around the heart. At first the shell may be only an armor,
held up for protection. This odyssey event occurs when one's identity is shifted from the
heart to the shell which surrounds it, when one's armor becomes "I." If, for
example, his armor is niceness, if he protects himself from the wrath of the gods by
acting nice, this shift in identity occurs when he comes to identify with the niceness. He
thinks, "I am nice," rather than I act nice for practical reasons. Thereafter he
tries to be nice, to actually become the armor he has created. To the degree that he
succeeds in becoming nice--or any other such armor--he loses his innocency.
I summarize the various names given to the armor as "self." Instead of being
himself as he is, a person becomes a "self" of his own creation. This
"self" is also called image, ego, persona, mask, and facade, by others. The
issue is not what it is called, but the fact that a person comes to identify himself with
this creation of his own mind.
The shape and content of this image, this false-self, varies from person to person. No
two of us build our selves in the same way. For some the self we erect and identify with
is "good," for others it is "bad." For most it is a combination of the
two, with infinite variations on the theme. Furthermore, as though to confuse the issue,
many of us construct more than one false self, identifying first with one and then the
other of our images.
Whatever the shape of the self or selves may be, the structure or content is more
predictable. It includes our character traits or personality patterns (friendly, shy,
bold, superior, or inferior), the ingrained games we learn to play with others, the
relational patterns (one-upmanship, dependency, or being the boss), our philosophy of life
(the answers we believe in), and our religion (as an organized system). These established
structures become the fabric of the selves we create. They are the content of the images
of who we are.
Once we have become a self, the previously discussed activities--judging, having things
and other people, having infinite time available--may each be carried out. As a godly self
(of either the religious or secular variety) I may presume to judge the world as good or
bad, to possess objects and other humans, and to have all the time in the world.
In the Genesis account when God calls Adam to accountability--Where art thou?--, Adam
replies, "I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He makes a
half-hearted effort to blame his sin on Eve ("The woman. . . she gave me of the
tree."), but finally he says, "I did eat" (Genesis 3:10, 12).
Unfortunately we do not all view our loss of innocency so responsibly. Quite often we
blame it on the woman ("My mother made me like this."), or on bad circumstances
("My terrible home life caused me to go astray. If my parents had been better and my
environment had been more favorable I wouldn't have gone wrong.").
No matter how much or how cleverly we seek to evade responsibility, the facts seem to
be that each of us chooses to give up innocency. Certainly there are crazy parents and
horrible circumstances. Some of the gods in our early days do issue tempting invitations
to join them. The degrading nature of the environment may seem to require godhood for
survival. Conversely, maintaining innocency--staying human-requires massive faith.
Even so, it seems to me that each Adam and Eve personally chooses to heed the serpent
and eat the apple. I cannot legitimately blame my sin on any previous Adam or Eve. No one
made me assume godhood. They made it tempting and easy; they polished and presented the
apple. But no one made me eat it. I did it on my own.
So, I believe, it is with us all. No matter how godly our parents or deprived our
circumstances, it seems to me that we remain personally responsible. Our sin is our own.
In understanding sin (or formation of an unreal self), with the resulting loss of
innocence, it is essential to see the difference between the spiritual move and the
outward acts which may reveal or conceal it. The sin lies in the assumption of false
godhood (becoming a self) rather than in any accompanying activities in the physical
world. Sin can never be identified with any particular act, feeling, or thought, such as
lying, anger, or thinking of murder. Any one of these may or may not reveal the spiritual
act, yet none can contain it. One might do each of them and not sin, or make the spiritual
move without any such revealing acts.
Commonly, sin is identified with deeds, as in the idea: "It's a sin to tell a
lie," (or to break other religious commandments). While it is true that lying may
reveal sin (a false god might omnipotently play with truth), and that one who does not sin
is likely to speak truthfully, it does not necessarily follow that the spiritual act and
this verbal deed can be identified. Depending on the circumstances, one might lie without
sinning (as in telling a thief there is no money in the house), or one might sin mightily
and never tell an untruth.
The point is: this and every odyssey happening is a spiritual event, possibly revealed
in physical acts, but equally likely to be concealed by them. In either case, the
spiritual event is never to be assumed to be the physical act. Furthermore, the move can
be made unawarely, without conscious decision. One may assume godhood without ever
"thinking about it"; the most godly among us are often blind to the fact of our
(From: THE HUMAN ODYSSEY)