Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Original Sin and Traffic Patterns

I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes good things good, and bad things bad. Then along I come and go do something stupid that makes a little light or two go on inside my head.

A few weeks ago I was driving to work in a traffic jam. All the cars headed a certain direction (my direction) down this two lane road were backed up bumper to bumper for several blocks. I could see a street coming up ahead on the right hand side. I was about two cars away from that street, when suddenly in my rear view mirror I see a guy with this souped-up, bright yellow with all the extras SUV honking his horn and flashing his lights at people. I'm thinking: "What is wrong with this nut! Doesn't he see we have nowhere to go forward? Doesn't he realize we are all backed up in traffic. No reason to be blaring on the horn.

I look in my rear view mirror and I see that he is trying to pull around someone on the right hand side several cars back. What a nut, I think. But, I also get angry. I get angry that people like this nut drive in the bicycle lane, to try and pass cars so they can turn right at the next street and not wait in traffic. I can see that's clearly what he intends to do, and I hate it when people do that sort of thing. I ride a bicycle once in a while, not very often, but years ago I rode all the time and I figure nuts like that have no right to do such things.

So, in order to assist the world in law-abiding citizenship, I pull as far to the right as I can without crossing the line into the bicycle lane. I think to myself, there is no way this nut is going to drive past me.

I look in my mirror again, and he is driving up onto the sidewalk. Now he is passing several cars down the sidewalk. Now he is passing me, and I start yelling at him: every profanity I can think of. Or course, he can't hear me. Our windows are all up because it's cold and raining outside. But I feel I must have my say, and I shake my fist at the futility of my empty words (almost giving him the birdie.)

Really, people like that aught not to be allowed on the road.

About a week and a half later I am at a corner. It is a stupid corner designed by traffic engineers that were either drunk, or in a hurry to make it to the bathroom when they signed the dotted line for all the dimensions. What is particularly annoying about this intersection is that you come to a T, and you must turn either left or right. The problem is that "left" is the way that I am always going when I come to that intersection, and "right" is the way that 98% of the other people are going. And I have to wait sometimes for 20 minutes at this intersection merely because the traffic engineers did not make it two lanes wide.

And they are idiots too. They could have made it two lanes wide going our direction. There's plenty enough space between the buildings. There might even be enough paved street already sitting there, but the street is all marked out in yellow and white lines, and it is only one lane wide going our direction, and people park along both sides.

If they had made it two lanes wide, we people turning left would not have to wait 20 minutes for all the people turning right.


But I have a confession to make.

Usually, after about the first ten minutes of waiting, I get close enough to the stop light that I can SEE the end in sight. And the exciting thing about THE END is that right up there... right at the stop light itself. The road going our direction still is not marked out into two lanes, but it IS wide enough at last for the left-turning cars (few though they be) and the right-turning cars to sit side by side for a moment before they turn. And then I do it... The road is clear and nobody is coming the other direction... so I cross over the double yellow lines onto the wrong side of the road, pass about three cars, slide easily into the now-empty left turning lane, and am on my way. It is quick and dirty (and no doubt highly illegal) but it saves me 10 minutes on my sometimes hour-and-a-half drive to work.

Well, last time I did this, I took my little risk a little sooner than ordinary. Passed about 4 or 5 cars going down the wrong side of the road, and my thoughts for some reason went back to that guy that I hated so much who was driving down the sidewalk.

Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

This is the heart of the truths we hold about humanity: that we are all sinners. No man can look at another in anger or fear and see anything but himself mirrored there.

And as I thought about this... as I drove the rest of the way to work that day... I began to have a clearer picture of the Orthodox conception of "Original Sin". You see, we Orthodox DO believe in Original Sin. It is not the total depravity of the Calvinists (who actually adopted this from Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Equinas' jurridical sense of redemption). It is not some disease of sin contracted by all believers. No, infact, we believe so little in any such sense of Original Sin that we Orthodox do not even stomach the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Imaculate Conception. (There is no need for a miracle to have removed the Theotokos' Original Sin in order for her to give birth to a sinless child.)

But we do, in fact, believe in Original Sin. The sins of Adam and Eve are passed along to us, down through the epochs of history. But not in our genetic code, not in some sort of disease of the soul, not even through the onslaught of demons. No, it is passed down through history by the traffic engineers, who sit far removed from traffic, exhaust, and any sense of reality, and design the way our streets, freeways, stoplights, etc. all interact with one another to make the experience of the driver as hellish as possible.

Now, you may think I'm joking, but I'm absolutely serious. The Orthodox understanding of Original Sin is that we have difficulties and trials that influence us constantly toward making bad choices, choices that satisfy some inner sense of gratification, but are not the least bit Christian. And these difficulties are passed along to us through history by the consequences of other people's poor decisions in the same vein, all the way back to Adam and Eve (with the Traffic Engineers standing at the center.)