The Three Phases of the Fall of Man

Human beings and their nature are born free and innocent. The innocence to which I allude has, in my interpretation of things, nothing to do with what today and long throughout the history of human circumstance and action relates it to—namely, guilt. This innocence relates primarily to the freedom with which I pair it above. Human beings are free from the point of their physical birth to the point where they develop their self-consciousness; their awareness of their self in relation to and in contrast to people, places, objects, and ideas external to them. This freedom, this innocence, therefore presupposes a lack that will be lost. Yet, again, the lack lost does not leave behind it a sense of guilt or shame: There is no sense of sin. Once human beings attain to that level of consciousness wherein they realize their literal, physical separation from that which is exterior to them is when this freedom, this innocence, is fully lost.

Although this movement toward an individual consciousness is highly Freudian, and should develop throughout early childhood in the oral, anal, and genital phases of psychological growth into adulthood, the evolving of consciousness of which I speak, which in my eyes is itself inseparable from a degeneration or de-evolving into individual self-consciousness, is attained in three phases as well. Before I explicate these phases, I will explore the development of individual consciousness in relation to my latter statement that coincides with the Biblical reference of my title. To develop a true “human” consciousness differentiated from a child’s consciousness is ultimately to “fall” into consciousness. This “fall” is a narrowing, a contracting, of the infinite consciousness of childhood. This “infinite” consciousness of childhood is akin to the nature of the Transcendent or God. The consciousness of God is one of pure awareness that knows of no distinction between any person, place, object, or idea; in other words, it is a unity, and the framework for this unification is Eternity. It is this consciousness that is lost through growth and change from birth into adulthood. This “infinite” consciousness is what Freud claims religious people, particularly of the mystic type, perceive as the higher reality (God) when for him it is actually the “oceanic principle” aligning itself with the oral phase of infant growth that he believes in. For Freud, this perception of the “oceanic principle” is the infant’s ego mistaking all things outside of it as being one with, and thus orally incorporated with it; essentially, the ego feels possessive of all objects outside of itself. For him then, this is a temporary phase leading to the anal and genital phases of infant development.

Although theoretically Freud’s concept of the “oceanic principle” and its relation to the oral phase of infant growth sounds coherent, I do not believe religious and/or mystic people mistakenly perceive this condition as an experience of God. In my eyes, although logic and reason provide a means to developing a belief in a higher reality or God, it is faith in such a reality and such a belief that seals one’s relation to the cosmos and the Transcendent. But, to return to my main argument: Earlier I stated that the framework for the unification of the pure awareness or infinite consciousness of God is Eternity. This belief aligns itself with the first phase of the fall of man or human freedom and innocence into self-consciousness. As we grow from infant into child into a pre-pubescent child, the first major disintegration of our “infinite” consciousness, in spite of psychoanalytic precepts, is in relation to Time. We learn the concept of Time; through our parents and in early schooling we learn how to “tell time”. The ability to tell time begins the ruin of our pure awareness throwing it into finitude, and as the infinite is ultimately shapeless, our conscious union with Time begins to give shape to our emerging “human” consciousness. What is more, our relationship to Time, through our knowledge of its existence as an indestructible force ruling over all things in the cosmos, brings a deeper knowledge with it: the fact of mutability or the changing nature of all things, and that this constant change brings all things from birth through life (growth and change) into death. Time creates mutability, which creates desire for permanence and fulfillment, a longing that will forever go unfulfilled because all things change, and implied in this change, is death. Our bonding with Time as a fundamental reality within Nature and the cosmos begins the contracting of our pure consciousness. We begin to live by and through Time: all our thoughts and actions, our relations with objects and other people, happen in and through Time, and our unfortunate enslavement to the knowledge of its existence and how it ultimately shapes all things, including ourselves, affects our thoughts and actions. We are bound to Time, and this truth, this knowledge, ushers in the gradual ascent/decline into self-consciousness.

The second phase of the fall of human innocence into a contracted, bounded human consciousness that furthers our understanding of a self-conscious relation to all things occurs in the form of sex/sexuality. Once we discover the biologically sexual nature of our bodies in puberty and that these undergo a change or growth from childhood into adult maturity, we discover that we are human, that we are going to die. Further, this sexual self-discovery leads to the final phase of the fall of human freedom into the limited consciousness that becomes full-blown self-consciousness—the awareness of death in general and of our own inevitable personal death. Discovery of the sexual self creates desire that is yearning gone unfulfilled which changes in and through Time toward death. Once we discover our sexual natures, we ultimately discover by implication that one of the reasons why we possess sex organs is for procreation, for the continuance of the human race in general and of our own personal identity into perpetuity. Through sex and sexuality, we discover death and that to desire leads to death, for as Shakespeare says in Sonnet 137, “desire is death.”

Desire is ultimately death because it is impossible to have one’s desires fulfilled or satisfied because the object of that fulfillment, as well as the desire itself, suffers from change and dies, thus desire is death.[1] Desire can never leave a permanent trace on the lover or the beloved because it too is impermanent. In a true, but strange way, we desire death; we want to die, which relates to, if it is not a simplified statement of, Freud’s death instinct. We suffer because we desire; we suffer because we desire the impermanent and seek out the lasting to make us whole. If we desire this means we lack, we are incomplete and are not whole, unified, or one. We are searching for something to make us whole, but if it is not in that which changes and dies, and has no permanence, then its only place is in love/death and in God. Thus, our whole life is a journey, a return to God, our true home, as the mystics believe. As I explain elsewhere,[2] Love and Death are the same reality and they are ultimately God. If one thinks about it there are two ways which is really one way that the Transcendent manifests itself in the world—through Love and Death, and these are the only ways, or the only way, through which one returns to the Transcendent. What is unfortunate but true is that within the cosmos, under the aegis of Time within the natural and human world we are ultimately seeking after nothing, because nothing of a material nature is eternal beneath the sweeping sickle of Time. The only thing that is constant besides Time and Mutability is Death, which is also Love and God, as stated above.

Time creates the metamorphoses of the human body and mind, altering it from a level of freedom and innocence on an infinite plane into a contracted consciousness that never lets it forget through the knowledge of sex, desire, and death that all things are ultimately lost to desire. All things are lost to desire because they suffer from a mutable nature and must ultimately die. Through Time, sex and desire, and Death, we attain to a complex state of knowledge not only about the world but also about the self and its relationship to the world. Thus, it is true knowledge—knowledge of the absolute, incontrovertible truths of existence—that causes the infinite, pure awareness of childhood to develop/degenerate into a finite, human consciousness of self, within and outside of the world. In the end, one sees that all three realities that commence and complete the fall of man from infinite awareness into consciousness of the limited nature of the self and its individuality are inextricable from one another. However, they do not have to be, or even are for that matter, experienced together, at least not fully on the conscious level.

[1] I owe much of my discussion here on desire and death, and our ultimate desire to die, for death, to Jonathan Dollimore’s Death, Desire and Loss in Western Culture.

[2] See my essay “On Love and Death, and the Crucifix as a Work of Art”.

Originally published on PerceptionEngine.com, October 2006.

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