Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Fall from Grace: Garden of Eden Revisited

Adam and Eve depicted in the Garden of Eden surrounded by many animals
I have always found the biblical story of the Garden of Eden to be puzzling and confounding, to say the least. Questions have abounded regarding its moral lesson and utility. The story seems to suggest that original sin originally came into existence as the direct result of disobeying (admittedly blind and overbearing) power and authority; worse, since the act involved the dichotomy between ignorance and knowledge, the Bible seems to suggest that the former is preferable to the latter, hence delivering a primordial message of ignorance being bliss. Did God really want to us to live and be stuck in the shadowy realm of ignorance?

Add to that, the copious amount of misogyny thrown in as well as thrown at Eve, the mother of all living who is blamed for the ultimate form of temptation, i.e. knowledge and understanding, and one can only scratch or better shake one’s head in profound disbelief, if not utter astonishment at this biblical tale.

That is why until most recently the Gnostic reading and interpretation of Genesis seemed to be more reasonable and much more in line my acceptance and liking. It was the serpent that spoke with the voice of reason, whereas God’s (over)reaction spoke volumes about his fear of humans one day equaling (or even surpassing) him. This may be the main reason why he not only banishes Adam and Eve from his realm, but even puts a cherubim with a flaming sword to protect the tree of life lest humans become immortal too.

Yet when I stumbled upon Erich Fromm’s interpretation, it shone much needed light upon the hitherto dubious beginning of humanity. This all goes back to a concept of God that is overlooked and misunderstood in the Christian view. 

God is embodied as perfect and static. With it goes the mainly cerebral definition (might I say limitation) that everything that is perfect has already reached its full potential and cannot ipso facto improve in any discernible ways whatsoever.

In that sense, the most perfect state would be one that is utterly and completely dead, namely death seen from a strictly materialistic and nonspiritual angle designated and determined as the endpoint and cessation of any forms of consciousness. A stone would then be the most perfect of all beings having reached the stage of being perfectly static and immovable.

But if anything, the Bible shows us that God’s heart alongside his will are not made of stone. He is volatile and fluctuating; he is angry and forgiving; he is loving and cruel; he is at times merciless and at other times full of mercy. And if his very own statement and discovery to Moses were translated as “I am that I am” and taken at face value, it would entail that we are confronted with and praying to a rather intentionally and purposefully conflicting, contentious and confusing power and being.

Yet if we consider God not as statically and immovably outside of time but rather on a point on the plane of evolution, then God might lose his eternally fixed constant of always being or rather always remaining who he is, but he shall then become who he shall be, which could then continue and be prolonged eternally to time immemorial.

This might be a possible and closer translation to the actual meaning of his translated and interpreted comment. If seen as “I am who I shall be,” there is room for the possibility of change and improvement and a certain drive for perfection within divinity itself. If read in such a way, we see evolution and evolvement not only within humans but reflected within God himself as we were made in his image, the same way he is in ours.

If people object to praying to a god that is not already perfectly formed but like his creation strives for perfection on a higher plateau (a view not incompatible with the Buddhist concept of the universe), then one might ask oneself why it would be preferable to worship him as a seemingly emotionally unstable entity. Indeed there are countless moments of anger and fury, where he is controlling and impeding his creations; yet over time he begins to form a loving bond and relationship with humans and shows his greatest sign of love by offering and sacrificing the Son of Man or by making himself Flesh in order to sanctify all human beings and provide them with the necessary divine spark, not unlike the fire of Prometheus in Greek legend.

Such a reading of the Bible would explain why God is initially suspicious of his creatures, as there is a fundamental lack of trust and love and there is not a relationship per se between him and Adam and Eve; yet God manages to change and adjust his point of view.

In return, Adam and Eve did not have much rapport neither to God nor to themselves. Erich Fromm points out that both Adam and Eve did not know who they were and that they lived in a complete state of natural primordial harmony. Our earliest ancestors must have lived similarly as they were and saw themselves as an inseparable part of nature. Yet it all had to come to an end so that growth and evolution could manifest itself.

This could be symbolized with Adam and Eve eating from the tree of good and evil. Suddenly, they lost all touch and contact with nature and were left on their own. They became aware not only of their separate identities but more importantly of their loneliness. Suddenly they stopped seeing themselves as one with nature, and they saw each other as perfect strangers.

Unadulterated paradise existed no more and each had to survive on their own. There was no love yet between them, but only shame, embarrassment and guilt. Adam does not act out of love but out of spite when he blames Eve for the transgression. He tries to save and salvage himself. He has completely forgotten that Eve is part of him and his equal since both are part and parcel of nature and the harmony around them.

The fact that God created Eve out of his rib has given to erratic speculation and the faulty and irresponsible conclusion that therefore he must be superior and she inferior to him. This kind of conclusion is misguided and harmful and is too focused on a literal meaning of an unnecessary detail. What is more important here is the fact that she is created and taken out of him, his body and mind, and that Adam without Eve is incomplete, not unlike Plato’s androgynous being as described in the myth of Aristophanes.

The rib or rather rib cage is meant to protect and support two of our most vital organs, the heart, which is an evident symbol of and stand-in for love as well as the lungs, which regulates and controls respiration, the very breath of life. Furthermore, bones are indestructible life since they persist longer than the flesh. If we conceive of Adam as flesh, then Eve is the bone, the physical and spiritual support of the body. In such a manner, man and woman complement and complete each other.

The same idea is, in fact, expressed by Adam himself when he states that Eve is the “bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” It is thus that they shall be One flesh, and both continue to be like God as he created them in his image and likeness. To separate one from the other or to perceive one as essentially different from the other in terms of spirit, love or intellect would be a faulty and misguided interpretation then.

In addition, there might be also a case of mistranslation, since the word rib may possibly have meant “side.” That means that God did not take Adam’s rib but half of his side so that woman would be be-side man, not beneath nor above him; they would be side by side and perfectly equal.   

Before the supposed act of rebellion, Adam and Eve are indeed in a world of pure sensations or rather what Freud would term primary process. Eden is a paradise in which all beings and animals are one and communicate with each other and live in perfect harmony. This is akin to the world of the infant who would have had his needs met in the womb and who comes into the world blind to the outside world still feeling strongly connected and attached to his or her mother.

The moment that this idyllic situation experiences a rupture is the growing awareness of the outside world in terms of other people, objects, and food. This world is explored primarily through the mouth of the infant and through basic sensory experiences, including taste, smell and temperature and corresponding feelings and associations.

It comes as little surprise then that the outside world would be represented by a tree that contains fruit or apples. It is through the physical ingestion of that so-called forbidden fruit that knowledge is gained. Suddenly the perfect harmony is in disarray and Adam is disconnected from this and begins to feel separate and lonely from nature as well as from other beings.

In fact, what he feels for Eve is not nor can be love since the first thing he does is to justify himself before God by accusing her of having incited him. This is also connected to the sudden realization of not only physical nakedness but rather a feeling of shame that is associated and strongly tied with it. It is the budding of sexual instincts, not in the form of spiritual or romantic love union but merely as a primitive instinct or drive.

What stands out between them is their pronounced and visible difference. There is a selfishness or self obsession that drives and separates one from the other and it may be conceived as the growing pains of giving birth. Adam and Eve, God’s first children are not led by rules any more, by admonishments in the forms of don’ts, but they shall acquire moral insight in how to be and how to become, that arduous but eternally rewarding path towards morality and goodness. 

In that moment, in the very act of rebellion, humanity has taken its first stand, or rather it is the first time that humanity stands on its feet; now it needs to learn to walk, and, more importantly, love each other and its Creator. 

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