Sunday, September 11, 2011

Genesis One



In six days God created the universe, complete with everything any god would ever need including his first two worshipers, Adam and Eve. Why would God go to the trouble? The Bible doesn't tell us, at least not overtly. But since he created everything, he owned everything, and like any being of property, God had his favorite possession called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He didn't want anybody messing with this tree, especially not those upstarts, Adam and Eve.

God says to Adam, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." There we have it. God reveals his purpose. Maybe he had been itching to do this for eons: Create law. Without law, one cannot have obedience, and for this god we should learn that from the beginning, obedience is key.

This first and only law seemed simple enough and it looked like the perfect solution, except for one little hitch. There was this second god in the neighborhood, a really despicable thing, aptly disguised as a serpent. One day Eve struck up a conversation with this lowly god, and to her surprise, she discovered it had its own story to tell, a story quite different from God's story. She became exposed to that ingredient that keeps stories moving along -- conflict. The serpent tells Eve to go ahead and eat of the forbidden fruit, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." In case you missed it, the serpent is calling God a liar. This was a question that simply had to be answered. Was that one and only law really meant for Eve's good? Why does God get to decide? Isn't "good" a matter properly decided by all four residents? Why not put it to a vote? Can one solitary god be trusted to decide for the group?

What's a girl to do?

The serpent's temptation is hard to resist. After all, who doesn't want to be wise? Eve succumbs, then tempts Adam. Of course he succumbs. They are thrown out of favor and out of the garden forever.

Note that neither Adam nor Eve die on the day they eat of the forbidden fruit as God had warned. The serpent was right. In fact, Adam goes on to live 930 years, and Eve bears three children. Perhaps God misspoke.

The unavoidable fact is, God did lie -- at least if this story is taken literally. Literalists would deny this, claiming some silly thing like their spirits died to God, or their countdown to death began. But is God incapable of expressing himself with clarity? If God had meant their spirits would "die," then why didn't he just say so, precisely? If he had meant the countdown to death would start on that day, why didn't he just make that clear? It seems simple enough. Either one cannot take God's words literally, or God is a liar, or he is not competent of accurately expressing his thoughts, or he changed his mind. It is perfectly reasonable to assume God is a liar, especially in light of the remainder of Genesis. After all, he has absolutely no problem with supporting liars, deceivers, and murderers, and he himself is a murderer-holic, so why would he have any compunction about lying to Adam? The only way the literalist can explain away God's sticky moral problem is to add non-literalism to God's words. They must impose their special, metaphorical interpretation of "death."

The Gnostics had a better solution. They admitted that the creator god was immoral. For them, God was the demiurge. He was not the moral force of the universe. The fact that he created the universe gave him a big ego. He denied the existence of the true God who gave him all his power.

There is an obvious question we must ask. Why doesn't God want Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge? Is it, as literalists think, to keep evil from entering the universe, as if Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit changed the essence of God's perfect plan with one swallow? But God says that now Adam and Eve are "like one of us" -- knowing good from evil. Notice it's the tree of Good and Evil, not the tree of Evil. It's not that evil didn't exist before the big swallow, it's that Adam and Eve didn't know it existed. It follows that neither did they know that Good existed either -- this despite the fact that God was a regular drop-in. What kind of conclusion are we forced to draw from that? Adam knew God but didn't know Good? Surely literalists would deny this. After all, how could God not be Good? We could rather say that Adam and Eve didn't know right from wrong. But why wouldn't God want mankind to know right from wrong? Maybe because now man has the ability to decide these things for himself? He is no longer a slave to God's moral pronouncements? He has a moral sense of his own? Perhaps he can judge God as well?

If this Genesis God had his way we would be like infants, comfortably nursing while across the street our neighbors are being devoured, we not knowing or caring. But with our knowledge of good and evil we become outraged. Adam and Eve lost their innocence. Their eyes opened to the evil around them, including God's. Their moral sense caused their suffering. At the same time they rejected God's autocratic rule.

This was Eve's sin. She judged for herself. The knowledge of good and evil was not spoon fed to her, not portioned out at God's whim. It was no longer imposed through divine proclamation. She took it. She becomes an equal partner in her own moral system, asserting her right to recognize evil for herself.

Yahweh, too, eats from the Tree of Knowledge. Like sharks and seals, we and this god are natural enemies.

As punishment, God says to Eve, "I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Many literalists take this to mean Eve, and all of her female descendants, are to suffer this same punishment. Because of Eve, all women suffer in childbirth, and they all must submit to their husband's rule. Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, says:

"Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children." (1 Tim 2:11-13)


Eve's so-called first transgression condemns all women to suffer equally, and defines woman's place in the scheme of things. This barbaric theme of indirect responsibility -- that an individual is to be punished or blessed, not because of her actions, but because of another's actions (her mother's mother's mother's...mother), is the major theme of Christianity, and is wholeheartedly embraced by many Christians. How moral is such a system?

In fact, should Adam and Eve be punished at all? Is it deserved? What was their great sin? Not a hint can be found of any major felony. Eve did not steal Adam's food or cut off his head. She did not offend Adam in any way. She offended the great Creator of the Universe. She hurt his feelings. We should remember this. Sins are crimes against God, not crimes against humanity. This is why the very concept of sin is suspect.

Basically it was curiosity and a hunger for knowledge that got the first couple. The serpent said, "God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." God, not the serpent, was the true prince of darkness, wanting Man to remain ignorant, a trapped child, unlearned, unwise, and inferior. Why do Christians call Satan the prince of darkness? It was Satan who opened their eyes. God wanted them permanently shut. Damn them! Now they've spoiled everything! So God throws the rebels out on their ears before they can consume the tree of life, and possibly live forever, wise and immortal, like God. Later Yahweh admits he is a jealous god, and here is the first sign.

This creation story fails even on the metaphoric level. It is not a moral tale. It does not show us a moral God. Would you want this hothead as your neighbor? Yet Christians twist this tale into the foundation of their "moral" universe. To literalists, sin entered through Adam and exits through Jesus. They need a literal Adam as a precursor for a literal Jesus. Everything in this story must be literal. For grins, let's look at Eden from a literal point of view.

First, where is Eden, anyway? We know it is between four rivers, two of which we know by the same names today. We have satellites highly interested in what goes on there. Literal Eden has to be there because there is no literal record that God ever destroyed it. In fact, he protected it. How have we managed to miss that flaming sword at the entrance?

Ever wonder what the literal Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil looks like? Or the Tree of Life? Since it bore forbidden fruit, surely there is a forest by now. It's likely teeming with old growth. How does it taste to eat knowledge? Does the literalst take this literally? Maybe orally? Or intravenously?

After Eve was created from Adam's rib, verse 24 says: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." But this "therefore" is prior to the fall, prior to any real fathers and mothers, and certainly prior to any "cleaving," or thoughts of "cleaving." This is justifying the effect prior to the subsequent cause. It's a literal absurdity.

And what is "one flesh?" I shudder to think of that literally.

When the serpent tempts Eve, it says "For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened..." Were their eyes closed before then? Where else does the Bible tell us this is a metaphor? The only way one could jump to the correct, obvious, non-literal conclusion is to draw on "worldly" knowledge -- extra-biblical humanistic experience.

When Eve blames the serpent for convincing her to eat of the fruit, God says to the serpent: "dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life." Do snakes eat dust? Where in the Bible is the diet of snakes appended? Or is God lying here too?

Is the serpent evil at all? If this is a literal story -- of good vs. evil -- why does Jesus tell his disciples: "be ye therefore wise as serpents?" (Matt 10:16) The truth is, the serpent is a mythological symbol for knowledge. It's also, incidentally, the symbol of many ancient goddess religions. This is no accident.

God continues telling the serpent: "And I will put emnity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed..." Say what? Earlier God said, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so." There was no expressed exemption for serpents, so why did God have to add emnity between woman's seed and serpent's seed? Didn't the serpent already bring forth his own kind? Or are the serpent and woman already the same kind? Anyway, does a woman have seed? This passage does not make literal sense. It works only if it is not referring to a real woman, a real serpent, real seed. God continues telling the serpent: "it [the woman] shall bruise thy head, and thou shall bruise his [the woman's] heel." (KJV) How many women have heels bruised by a snake? Practically speaking, how big of a snake would it take to bruise a heel? Are snakes slithering around with bruised heads? And why is Eve referred to as "her," then "it" and then "his?" Why not "she" and "her?" Because Eve is not a normal female. Eve is not a person at all. If "it" was a real person, the "cleaving" of a few verses ago takes on new meaning. Maybe the gay agenda is not that unbiblical after all.

To Adam, God says: "cursed is the ground for thy sake..." What did the ground do to deserve this? Can this verse be taken literally? If so, why would a Christian own land? It seems this curse has mystical meaning, not literal. God adds: "Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee..." Do literalsts take this literally too? Do they have the thorns to back it up?

Verse 20 says: "And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living." (KJV) This is interesting. Eve is Mother Nature, not mother of three sons. This is the literal meaning. It is also its mythic meaning. This story is primarily a creation myth, not much different from hundreds of others. That's why it is Eve who must be tempted. She is the creative principle. She needs to create the physical world as we know it. She needs to force God's hand, to keep the ball rolling. Otherwise they'd be stuck in the pre-physical garden and we wouldn't be here.

Supposedly Adam was created in God's image. Yet if Adam is physical, then God is physical. Most Christians believe God is spirit. So how does one resolve this conflict? A literal reading, with a physical Adam, does not work. Therefore Adam was some sort of archetype, a mystical symbol. He was not a physical man at all, else God is physical.

In verse 22, God says: "Behold, the man is become as one of us..." Who is the "us?" How many other Gods were lounging around? Christianity is supposed to be monotheistic. Or is God so big, he's schizo? Earlier God said: "Let us make man..." There's that "us" again. How many creators are we to suppose there were?

The literalists say that if there was no literal Adam, then Jesus was not necessary. But there is the opposite problem. If Adam was literal, there was no need for Jesus. In Luke, the lineage of Jesus is traced backward. It ends with: "...the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God." But Jesus is also the son of God. That would make Adam and Jesus half brothers. Why did God have to use Jesus at all when he had a perfectly "good" (turned "bad") son in Adam? And better yet, Adam was the real sinner so he could legitimately pay for that original sin. It makes much more moral sense. Since God wanted the whole thing to be pretty gruesome, he could have had a T-Rex bite Adam's head off and, in the process, answer more than a few nagging questions.

The only reason God couldn't use Adam, is because Adam was never around to be used. There was no forbidden fruit. There was no first law. Why doesn't that fatal commandment against eating of the fruit show up later? Why isn't it in the Ten Commandments? Because is never existed. Anyone not blinded by the "light" of Jesus knows the tree of knowledge is a metaphor, and that Adam is a archetype. If this story is literally true then God changed the rules of the game somewhere between Adam and Moses. We would have to conclude, contrary to fundamentalist whining, God's laws are not absolutes.

If Genesis has any literal truth in it at all, it would be that God could have created the universe. If so, creation is God's real written record. Why would he give us mere words when words are so ambiguous? Surely a god could do better.

Many moderate Christians see the evidence of nature, discovered through science, and realize that a literal interpretation of Genesis is nonsense. If God left us the Bible, he left us other clues to interpret it - - very good clues, found in nature. Many faithful Christians throughout history have seen things this way. By studying nature they are indeed studying God's true written record. This record is irrefutable, it's not subject to errors in translation, or errors in transcription, or the limitations of language. It cannot be appended. And best of all, any errors in interpretation will eventually be resolved. The voice of God the ancients heard was nothing more than a whisper. Nature speaks forever the same. But we hear better today. That's why the Bible is becoming increasingly marginalized. It's not up to modern standards of evidence.

What literalists show us is that their criteria for evidence is seriously flawed. They have an unusually high tolerance for nonsense. They are unable to translate old mythological languages when listening through modern ears. They refuse to recognize absurdities. Since Biblical literalists reject the voice of Nature, they reject the creator god. They end up worshiping words because that's the only thing they have left. Many other Christians are not so ignorant.

But the biggest problem with a literal reading of the Bible is the limitations it puts on their god. It's common knowledge among human beings that if one wants to tell a powerful moral story, one does not use fact, one uses fiction. "Moby Dick" is not fact, "The Great Gatsby" is not fact, "Hamlet" is not fact. Is there any truly great piece of the written word that is not, essentially, a fiction? Yet these fictions have great meaning to us. Literalists seem to be saying their god is unaware of the power of fiction. They severely limit his literary license. Picture it -- God sits in his shabby little office, hunched over the divine keyboard, knocking out his cheap little docu-dramas -- inspiration for the masses. No creative artist would stand for such a thing. Surely a god wouldn't either.

Strict, literal interpretation of the Bible cheapens the message, cheapens the story, cheapens the religion. It brings it down to the level of raw data, facts and figures, historical happenings. Trivia from the gods.

-- Don Jindra

4 comments:

passer-by said...

You were asking on Edward Feser's blog for "a recommendation for a book that explores the Christian experience from a deeply personal, non-political, non-evangelistic, and thoughtful way".

I've still to get my hands on any of her books, but from the excerpts I've seen and what I've read of her stuff, you could try Flannery O'Connor. Graham Greene varies, but his "The Power and the Glory" gave me much food for thought when I was about 20. Some of Sigrid Undset's books are in English (I don't know what languages you know). I've only read on thing by George Bernanos, Diary of a Country Priest - again, may be of interest to you. Of course, there is Evelyn Waugh, notably Brideshead Revisited (it is interesting to note people's reactions to it according as they are Catholic or atheist/fluffy liberal protestant), or the Sword of Honour trilogy. In film and telly versions Waugh is generally made to mean quite the opposite of what he actually said, with the exception of the old telly version of Brideshead. There's a lot of gloom in Waugh, he is always writing about the passing of a world he loved.

So much for fiction that I know.

A book that one either loves or hates is St Therese of Lisieux's autobiography. I read it having no idea who she was, and couldn't put it down. I was quite stunned by the sheer strength of her. Other people see only the worst of C19 French "internal emigre" kitschy hysterical piety. It's short, you could judge for yourself. An interesting comparison is the (also short) diary/letter of Jacques Fesch, written before his execution for manslaughter or murder (I think it's available in English). There is a biography of St Therese called "The Hidden Face", published in English by Ignatius, which, though it has a slightly dated slant, is interesting and you may find the autobiography makes more, or more extensive, sense after reading this.

The biography/anthology of Mother Teresa of Calcutta may or may not make sense to you. It's called "Come, be My light".


Anyway, that's off the top of my head. I find autobiographies and letters fascinating - from Ignatius of Antioch to St Patrick, to the Carthusian writings, to Abelard and Heloise, to the rules and letters of St Francis, the letters and Dialogue of Catherine of Siena ... A lot of this stuff is online. It's not quite, I suppose, what you had in mind, but these are Christians writing without worrying about whether someone thinks it's daft to be a Christian, so you get to see what they were really thinking. In some cases you can see how they struggle with a wonky personality that perhaps is never "cured" (Charles de Foucald), others seem to be perfectly balanced (Mere Cecile Bruyere).

Anonymous said...

Hi, I am from Australia.

Please find a completely different Understanding of the meaning of the Adam & Eve story and where the "Garden of Eden" is.

www.beezone.com/adidajesus/adamnervoussystemeveflesh.html

The Garden of Indestructible Light

www.dabase.org/tfrbkgil.htm

http://global.adidam.org/books/hridaya-rosary.html

The Purpose of "Creation" stories

www.dabase.org/creamyth.htm

The "Kingdom" of God

www.beezone.com/up/secretsofkingdomofgod.html

Reality & the Middle (profound metaphysics) via:

www.dabase.org/s-atruth.htm

01010101 said...

a troll djindra.

You never read a page of Flannery O Connor in yr life byro-passer by. Yr an atheist, remember? Or is it a occultist. Not a very talented one, either

djindra said...

Actually I have read some Flannery O Connor but it's been a few decades ago.