There is an ancient expression, found in several books of the Old Testament, which implies that the sinful acts of fathers (ancestors) will continue to haunt their sons (descendants). In essence, this is the precept behind inherited guilt, a condition in which future generations continue to bear some feelings of responsibility for the actions of their predecessors. The practice of slavery and its humiliating effects on the slaves' progeny, for example, is often mentioned as a case of inherited guilt for white people.
In a religious context, Adam and Eve's forbidden consumption of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is believed to have caused a nearly irreparable rift between God and mankind, a curse known as "original sin." Because of the actions taken by mankind's original ancestors, future generations must assume an inherited guilt for betraying God's commands. According to some Judeo-Christian philosophies, mankind must live in a sinful world as penance for the Original Sin committed by Adam and Eve.
In the case of slavery or the unfair treatment of Native Americans, many whites have expressed a need to atone for the actions of their ancestors, while others view these events as an unfortunate but immutable part of a flawed history. While some descendants of slaves or Native Americans may seek an official apology or even financial reparations for the sins of the past, others feel it would be unfair to compel one generation to atone for the sins of their ancestors by exploiting a sense of inherited guilt.
There are also several different approaches to the concept of inherited guilt from the original Fall of Man. Some Christians believe that the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God manifested in human form, has mended the rift between God and Man completely and we are no longer burdened with inherited guilt. Others suggest that mankind is still burdened with a sinful nature and inherited guilt, but the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ created a new covenant between God and those who actively seek His forgiveness.
Some believe inherited guilt should be allowed to die a natural death over the course of generations. Modern Germans who live with the inherited guilt of Hitler's genocidal regime or Russians who lost ancestors in Stalin's purges should be given the opportunity to heal from the sins of their fathers rather than continue living in the shadows of inherited guilt.