In case you are not familiar with the concept of original sin, it is the sin committed by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, when Eve allowed Satan, in the form of a serpent, to tempt her into eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and Adam in turn allowed Eve to tempt him into eating it as well. Exactly why this is was a "sin" act has been debated, with the general consensus seeming to be that they disobeyed the will of God, but that is a debate best left to theologians and has no bearing on what I'm saying. There were many consequences of this "original sin", some of which were Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden (enforced by an angel with a flaming sword), serpents lost their legs (they had legs up until then), humans had to till the earth in order to make it bear fruit and human women menstruate and experience pain during childbirth. According to christian dogma, all humans (descendants of Adam and Eve) were cursed by original sin. Then Jesus came along and died and as a result God forgave us the original sin of Adam and Eve. However, despite god's forgiveness, we cannot ever be fully cleansed of the taint of original sin. His forgiveness only extended as far as allowing human souls to enter heaven after they die.
There are many different takes on original sin, but they all amount to the same thing, which is that man is inherently sinful because of the taint of original sin. (A very pessimistic attitude, I might add.) Because of original sin, church patriarchs are justified in assuming that people are guilty and require them to prove their innocence. The most egregious example of this is the Inquisition, in which a mere accusation was considered justification for trying individuals, sometimes even torturing them until they confessed. Similar attitudes prevailed in the Salem witch trials. So I submit that the dogma of original sin is equivalent to the doctrine of guilty until proven innocent.
The story is fascinating, from my perspective, for two major reasons:
1) Some people believe it, literally.
We throw off the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus, but somehow cling on to these far more destructive notions. I would think the obvious things that are known (not even the disputed things—just the real definitive stuff) about the biological and geological history of this planet would be enough to dispel such wackiness.
2) Unlike many Biblical stories which, when taken metaphorically, provide some good moral concepts, this “anti-knowledge” stance is untenable.
The fact that it also provides the anti-sex basis for a lot of religious hoo-ha is further reason to scratch one’s head.
Maybe in the days of poor hygiene and sanitation, limited means, no (or highly unreliable) contraception, and male ownership of women and offspring there could be a defense of such positions.
In that vein, the hierarchy of the day certainly served itself well by claiming to hold all the cards, knowledge-wise. Encouraging ignorance was a great way to maintain control. Hey, just like nowadays!
Or, the Genesis story could be taken to be an insight written by a brilliant woman. (At least I think that current scholarship has a woman as the probable author of Genesis—sorry if I’m mistaken.)
The tree, taken as a metaphor (how else could it be taken?), represents pre-Darwin insight into evolution, for me at least. When our species evolved highly enough to be able to discern—and talk about—ethical considerations rather than simple morality, we were “created.” At that time, not necessarily in a specific generation, humanity was born.
Sorry if I’m reading too much into this, but it’s been on my mind for about 35 years. What’s your response, AA? I’m open to other suggestions.
How about that other forbidden tree, the one Eve didn’t pick a fruit from? That one would have granted immortality, wouldn’t it? And without the knowledge of good and evil? Ha! Along with everything else, Eve’s responsible for us not being immortal—and without that knowledge of good and evil we wouldn’t know sin from a hole in the wall.
The next step is to ask forgiveness for your sins and commit your life to Jesus Christ. God will pardon your sin and you will be born again. Behold, all things become new.
I understand this seems a little crazy to some of the folks on this board. But then again, the subject of faith has been debated for thousands of years. For some reason, it never dies or goes away. From generation to generation it remains. And this is the only proof I have to give you. The changed souls of the forgiven. Contemplate it for if you would. I would appreciate it.
[quote author=“MJ”]How about that other forbidden tree, the one Eve didn’t pick a fruit from? That one would have granted immortality, wouldn’t it? And without the knowledge of good and evil? Ha! Along with everything else, Eve’s responsible for us not being immortal—and without that knowledge of good and evil we wouldn’t know sin from a hole in the wall.
MJ, I’ll assume you’re being serious, or is that a sorry symptom of my naivete bordering on Asperger’s?
If you are—yes, “immortality” in the sense of never having any idea that the concept of death exists.
Otherwise, please continue with no hint of cynicism.
Certainly original sin renders all human beings guilty by default. I am less comfortable equating it with “guilty until proven innocent”, since that phrase is intended to refer to events which are shrouded in mystery, and from the Biblical perspective there is no mystery.
What I have always found questionable is the morality of having children after original sin. In a sense, after original sin, every child born increases the odds that another person will wind up in hell. If Adam and Eve truly understood the implications of what they had done, then the ethical thing for them to have done would have been to refuse to have children, thus forcing God to start over, or rescind the implicit curse placed on their children.
I have long thought that the Old Testament is permeated with the notion that people, women and children especially, are property, and largely interchangeable. The whole concept of Original Sin only makes sense when a mystical sense of ownership is applied to future generations. An even better example would be the story of Job. For those unfamilliar, Satan told God that Job would turn his back on God if God allowed Satan to mess with him. God took Satan up on his bet, with the one condition that Satan could not kill Job. So Satan took everything, including Job’s children (they were killed). Eventually, though, Job proved God right, and everything was restored to him. Note, though, that his children were not raised from the dead, no, he had new children. And not just a couple either, he originally had ten children, seven sons and three daughters! I don’t know about anybody else, but if I had kids, and they were killed for some sort of “Candid Camera” type show, but afterwords I was given “replacements” I would not consider it to be remotely ok.
Once again, I am forced to conclude that even if the God of the Bible existed (which I don’t believe), I would be forced to oppose him on moral and ethical grounds.
So I submit that the dogma of original sin is equivalent to the doctrine of guilty until proven innocent.
It’s actually a lot worse than you state. Not only is the accused found guilty, but is sentenced to eternal torment which is certaily more severe that just plain death or capital punishment. It is not possible to be “provent innocent”. The best you can hope for is to be pardoned (the act of baptism). You are enrolled into this predicament by just being born, an event that you did not request.
What I find even more provocative is the time before original sin, as some christians believe, in the garden of eden there were many more humans (in some form or another I guess). Here, there was no pain nor suffering, and man was perfect in gods image. Having this conversation once with a pastor, I mentioned the fact that they couldn’t have been human if they didn’t experience at least pain. He said no, “they did not experience pain”.
“Then they weren’t human”, I exclaimed. “If you pricked them, did they not bleed, or were there only blunt objects in eden. Just think about it, we have to feel pain in order to survive, I’m sure my hand wouldn’t last long placed on a glowing stove element”.
The pastor went on to explain that is is impossible for us as a fallen species to imagine. I told him it was also impossible for me to believe that fooey. no thanks
“MJ, I’ll assume you’re being serious, or is that a sorry symptom of my naivete bordering on Asperger’s?
If you are—yes, “immortality” in the sense of never having any idea that the concept of death exists.
Otherwise, please continue with no hint of cynicism.”
I’m not being cynical. I’ve always considered the Adam and Eve story a particularly sophisticated fable. The author of this fable was in no way naive, and this is not simply a just-so story. According to this fable, there were two trees in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were forbidden. If eaten, the fruit of one granted immortality and the other granted knowledge of good and evil, and they’d only have one chance to choose one tree. The god in this fable, having created human nature in the first place, knew perfectly well that sooner or later Adam or Eve would choose one or the other of the two trees. We are not told what god’s punishment would have been for choosing the other tree, but the author must have had something in mind. Adam and Eve are kicked out of Eden before they have a chance to eat the fruit that would make them immortal, because then they’d “become like gods” since they’d be immortal and have knowledge if they age both fruits.
This story is heavily influenced by the Greeks, who had their own versions of humans gradually falling away from a Golden Age, with plenty of myths to explain how this had happened. In Neoplatonism, the world was created by an inferior demiurge by emanation; no god would have created an imperfect world, and there were plenty of myths about exactly who and what this demiurge was, some of which blamed this on a female demiurge. In Neoplatonism it’s also by emanation from that higher god that we have souls—a little piece of god within us.
In the Adam and Eve story, it’s Eve’s fault we don’t live in a perfect world, the Garden of Eden. It’s also her fault that we’re not immortal. She chose to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The outcome of this story serves far too many psychological and political purposes for this story to not have been very deliberately constructed towards those all too human ends.
Thanks, MJ. I’d like to see the fable as you describe it. With so many Bible translations, it’s almost impossible to discuss one “Bible.”
For instance, the New International Version has, in Genesis 2:8-9:
Now the Lord had planted a garden in the east, in Eaden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Clearly, we have two special trees sitting in the middle of a garden that contains “all kinds of trees.” But God has not yet told Adam or Eve anything about the different trees.
Then in 2:16,
. . . the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, . . . “
God has not told Adam anything about the tree of life, or how Adam is supposed to know which tree is the one he should avoid.
Then in Chapter 3:1-7, A Serpent tries to confuse Eve by saying, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Eve’s response seems to indicate that the Serpent was indeed able to confuse her, because she restates what God had told Adam in a mistaken way—at least according to the NIV. She says, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, . . .’ “
One of the trees is suddenly being ignored. So either God is being cruelly unfair right from the beginning, or the fable is purposely leaving out parts of conversations. Or, as I mentioned earlier, it may be a translation problem. I suspect it’s the translation.
I haven’t got all that much in the way of Biblical translations at home. In an old officially Jewish version, as God kicks out Adam and Eve, it says, “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us*; to know good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” You’re right that God only tells Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, though. It says the same thing in the New Revised Standard Version. Maybe it would have been OK to become immortal if also ignorant. Or God didn’t want Adam to know about the tree of life as well as about the tree of good and evil because there would have been too much risk? If he and Eve had known, they could have made applesauce from the fruit of both trees. In any case, this is a pretty nasty god, tempting the poor innocents like that.
It’s confusing. There are clearly two trees together in the middle of the garden, at least in the New Revised Standard Version they’re named together as though they stand together in the “midst” of the garden, and Adam hasn’t been given any description, so far as we are told, of how to tell which tree is the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the New Revised Standard Version, Eve says to the serpent that they “may eat of any tree in the garden, but the one (singular) in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die”—but there seem to be two trees in the middle of the garden. Maybe it is a translation problem. I’ve never looked into the history of the writing of Genesis.
* And who is this “us?” Other gods, or the royal we being used?
just curious. why the fascination with a blatant fiction? do you think there are hidden truths there? if so, how might those ancients have understood the truth if not by devine revelation. sorry, i don’t get it.
For me at least, the Bible holds no more or less life-instruction potential than Homer’s works, which is quite a bit, really. I suspect that a lot of people who dwell in this forum either have somewhat of a religious bent they are trying to overcome or have already pretty much overcome it. Keep in mind that any child who has been thoroughly indoctrinated by a group as competent as, say, the Roman Catholic church retains an awful lot of that indoctrination no matter how hard they try to discard it. All you out there who were not so indoctrinated need to understand how difficult it can be. As anti-religious as I have gradually become over the years, my brain still protects certain areas and will probably never give them up. James Joyce said much the same thing, so I’m in good company in my opinion. The human brain is, indeed, a computer, and the mind its software.
MJ, thanks for the quick reply. Yes it is fun to ponder what the author of Genesis was trying to say. The problem with ancient texts will always be that we cannot possibly know what the author had intended. They can’t be translated with any assurance of reliability because even if one single word had been used in a colloquial way that only members of the author’s tribe could understand, the entire interpretation can easily be turned upside down. For instance, the “tree of life” might have been some crucially important fruit tree in the author’s home community. Maybe they grew olives and without their precious olive trees they starved. So all olive trees could have been known as “the tree of life.” Obviously such a context would drastically affect how one could properly interpret Genesis Chaper 2.
Of course I’m only speculating wildy for the sake of example, but you see the point, I’m sure. The entire Bible is filled with such problems of interpretation. And that’s where the frightfully named Holy Spirit (or even more fightening “Holy Ghost,” introduced to me when I was a first grader) comes into play. Even Champion would have to admit, if you could indeed corner him, that the holy Bible is so filled with conflicting potential moralities that a serious student needs to enlist the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to properly understand what it is that God is trying to tell us.
And that fact sums up the unreliability of Biblical texts. If it really had been inspired by almighty God, conflicts would have been ironed out before going to press, and no ghostly interpreter would be needed, in my opinion. But I realize that I’m preaching to the unconverted, so to speak.
Pleasant dreams -Dave
so i ask again. what is the purpose of this fascination with the bible. taken as literature - OK. thats fine. but looking for thruths? which truths will you decide to accept? face it. the bible is just a compendium of ancient meandering thoughts in a time of ignorance. beautiful prose or even poetry, at times. frieghtening insights into human depravity at others. but what can you learn from this that you can’t learn from studying psychology? or evolution?
To use the specific example of Genesis, I find it hauntingly beautiful to see evidence of an ancient thinker posing Darwin-style propositions, via metaphor. For instance, Adam and Eve realized they were naked once they had eaten from the tree of morality.
Homer, as well, as I hinted above, holds insights not available anywhere else in the world. Check out what Julian Jaynes says about Homer’s work in The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.