The Sins of the Fathers

Posted on May 9, 2015


There are some contradictory passages in the Bible about whether sons inherit the sins of their fathers, or are born free of them. This question is aside the basic one of all humankind inheriting the sins of Adam. But we are not in a school of theology here and I’ll leave those answers to more knowledgeable students of Scripture.

What piqued my interest, and tickled my funny bone, was a cartoon Monday April 20 in our newspaper, The Tuscaloosa News. It showed a caricature of President Obama chatting with Raul Castro, the prime minister of Cuba and Fidel Castro’s brother. Obama was telling Castro that he represents a great relationship opportunity, and Castro answered, “aw, you say that to all pariahs.”

Of course, it got me to thinking, especially about Raul Castro since there are plenty of opinions circulating in public about the President. I’ll not add to that cacophony today.

On the other hand, what do you know about Raul Castro? And, if you knew some of his background, would that prejudice you one way or another? And, perhaps even more significant, does our past inform, haunt, or edify our present? Or, more to point, make it personal. Can we held to account today, or responsible, for things we did in our past? Not just yesterday, but months, years, decades ago? Not just for the sins of our fathers, but for our own sins of omission or commission?

Let’s look at Raul Castro. During the Cuban Revolution, roughly spanning the years 1956-1963, led by his older brother Fidel, Raul was in charge of suppressing those who fought the Revolution after it became apparent that Fidel had turned it to Communism and folded in his country’s destiny with the Soviet Union.

Hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands fled Fidel’s growing Communist tyranny, many coming to the U. S., others going to anywhere in Latin America they could get to.

Those who remained in Cuba went underground to subvert the Revolution, and Raul smoked them out and then lined up hundreds against walls and had them executed. These paredones, named after the Spanish word for wall, pared, helped suppress dissidents and ensure the security, and success, of the Revolution.

So, I see the avuncular Raul in public these days, dressed like a normal businessman, smiling and courting the U. S. It is strangely disconcerting. Is this the same man who hounded, persecuted, and ensured the success of a brutal dictatorship of his brother that lasted more than half a century?

And, perhaps even more to the point, can we hold him responsible for what he did as a younger man? Many in the Cuban-American community today, over a million Cuban-Americans and their children, such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, find it hard to forgive, or forget, such a man and what he did.

On the other hand, over 1500 years ago, April 25, 387, to be exact, another relatively young man, Augustine of Hippo (North Africa) finally accepted the call of Jesus to join him and wrote: “And we were baptized and all anxiety for our past life vanished away.”

Augustine became a bishop in his own land and went on to write some of the greatest Christian literature in all of history. Can we be forgiven all past sins? And for you purists, sorry to throw St. Augustine into the same breath with Raúl Castro, mixing the sublime with the very crude and ordinary, not to speak of Marxist, but that in fact is a reflection of the human condition.

If you don’t think where you came from is important in determining your present and future state, think of any presidential contender today. While some like Mitt Romney were born with a silver spoon in their mouths, most want to interrogate their past and see simple, preferably hard working, but poor antecedents who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and “lived the American dream.”

These values, let me remind you, are in some instances “created” to get your past to harmonize with future expectations or desires. Perhaps the biggest whopper in this category is Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts who claimed to be a minority, Native American faculty member on the Harvard Law Faculty in the 1990s. She’s as much Cherokee as I am, according to Cherokee genealogists and historians, and my English-German-Spanish ancestors would all be laughing in their graves at that whopper.

So, the past can carry a lot of good baggage, as well as detrimental luggage. Are we bound by it? To invoke another adage, can a leopard change its spots? If you are a born-again Christian, you can answer, convinced by Scripture, that the answer is yes.

I would also amend the title of this little essay. Not only can the sins of the fathers be visited on the children, but the goodness of the parents can also be imparted to one’s progeny and descendants. It works both ways.

What you do with what came down from parents and family and ancestors is, of course, your responsibility.

And, last finally, has Raúl changed from his days at the paredones? I’m sure there has been some dissembling and softening, but he’s still a leopard. I would be nice to it, but never turn my back.

Published as “Can We Be Held Accountable for Past Sins” in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday April 26, 2015