I've been working on a short story inspired by Genesis. It's gotten me thinking about Biblical stories that have gotten a bad rap or been misinterpreted throughout the years. I thought I'd post about a few of them, and I'm starting with the most obvious one. After all, you might as well begin at the beginning. Adam and Eve, specifically, the eating of the apple.
I can't tell you how many times when I was in college I heard people reference this story as a demonstration that Christianity and the Bible was, at heart, anti-intellectual. Now, if you're a thinking person, that struggle between the intellectual and the spiritual is a pretty big struggle, and this story is often at the heart of it, this idea that God is so anti-intellectual that he doesn't want Adam and Eve to eat of the tree of knowledge.
The thing is, it's not the tree of knowledge. It's the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And that's a whole different thing. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Think about it for a minute. It's the awareness of morality. That's what gets Adam and Eve kicked out of paradise. That's what makes them ashamed of being naked. That's where all the trouble begins. The development of morality.
But there's more. The reason Eve eats the fruit. Eve gets the biggest bad rap of all in this story, but the reason she eats that apple isn't because she's stupid or easily tricked. It's not because she's evil (she doesn't even know what that is yet, remember?). She thinks she's doing the right thing. She eats it because she sees that it is "good for food, pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom." Gaining wisdom. She's making the best decision she can with the information available to her. And remember, she doesn't know about good and evil.
It makes you wonder. If Adam and Eve don't have a sense of right and wrong yet, then why are they punished? They're punished just for disobeying. But if they don't know good and evil, then they don't truly know disobedience as a wrong. To me, this is the part that makes the story troubling.
Still, it's troubling to me in a good way. It forces me to meditate on the ethical questions of our decisions and choices. What weight should be given to obedience as opposed to wisdom or nourishment? What would be involved in decision-making if you had no notion of good and evil? Why would a loving God want to protect us from the knowledge of good and evil? Was it an effort to protect the kind of childlike innocence we see in a newborn child? And why, through the ages, has Eve been given such a bad rap when she was seeking wisdom? The Bible has many, many other passages that indicate that the search for wisdom is a good thing.
I don't have answers, but I do believe these questions are worth contemplating. Like Eve, I am seeking wisdom, I guess. That quest may mean losing innocence, being cast out of a paradise of contentment. The questions ruffle the smooth waters of the mind. So be it. After all, that's how the journey of humanity begins.