Kobayashi Maru as Original Sin

Posing with the Captain

In Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, we learn of a test of character that Starfleet cadets are put through as part of their training. It is named the Kobayashi Maru after a fictional (even in the Trek universe) ship that sends a distress signal from within the neutral zone. Whenever the cadet commander responds to this simulated emergency she invariably discovers that it is a trap and that there is no escape. It is a no win scenario.

I would like to suggest that the concept of Original Sin should be regarded as like the Kobayashi Maru. It has nothing to do with Adam and Eve (fictional characters in the Bible), nothing to do with a fall, nothing to do with a damaged will or stained soul. In short, Original Sin is not an etiological theory meant to explain why human beings are damaged or in need of salvation. It is simply a theological way of describing the human condition and this description is not concerned with morality or evil or the things we call “sins.”

This Kobayashi Maru version of Original Sin states that because human beings inhabit a great interconnected network of relationships within the limitations of time, we cause unintended suffering to others despite our best efforts and noblest intentions. This suffering is not because we are flawed but because relationships impact one another in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways. In my book ZeroTheology, I give three conditions of human life that create the no win scenario of Original Sin. They are radical interconnectivity, butterfly effects, and opportunity costs. Within this reality, there is no decision or action that any individual can take (or not take) that does not participate in the creation or perpetuation of suffering for someone else in the web of human life. What this means is that Original Sin is a bigger concept than morality (something even Paul knew) and that anyone who inhabits this interconnected web participates in the Original Sin of suffering, and it does not matter how that individual enters into the web.

If someone were dropped into the human race from outer space, or introduced into it via a special kind of birth, that person would still participate in the same network of suffering as anyone else. Since Original Sin is not created by a moral flaw in human beings, it will not be overcome by the virtue of a pure moral champion. The social facts of Original Sin have implications that render much of traditional Christian theology meaningless unless there is a dramatic reinterpretation of what Christianity might be and the kind of significance Jesus might have. Unlike Captain Kirk, who was able to cheat in order to win the no win scenario, Jesus cannot cheat in order to escape the conditions of Original Sin and neither can we. However, even if there is no escape, there is the possibility of transcendence. This is what I write about in ZeroTheology: Escaping Belief Through Catch-22s.

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