The Apocrypha of Genesis: Part 1 REDUX: Is God who we think he is? Or is he a perv?

OK. I have to go back to something touched upon here.

Specifically Gen 2:18-20. Not only does God say “ooops”, but in order to fix it he creates… the animals?

Just picture it…

Adam is lounging around paradise, naked. Alone for like half an eternity and he’s all like “Daaaaaaaa’d! I’m so bored! Make me a companion.”

And God comes in, “what?! what?! you don’t like the things I get for you?!”

“Please. Dad. I’m going to go eat some fruit. You can’t stop me.”

And so God creates all manner of fowl and beast and parades them in front of Adam, trying to placate his son. “See this one?” He does that annoying thing with his eyebrows.

And finally after so many animals have come before him, Adam says… “For the last time Dad! I don’t want to fuck another sheep!”

And thank God right! Cuz then God made woman (Gen 2:21-25). Whew. Thanks Bro!

The Apocrypha of Genesis: Part 2: What is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

You know the basic premise, boy meets girl, girl meets snake, apples are eaten… yadda yadda yadda, boom, original sin. There’s just one problem; “original sin” is not in Genesis. What does the book actually say and what lessons, if any, does this story actually teach? Welcome to the hidden meaning of Genesis. See Part 1: Is God who we think he is?

Tree Of Knowledge

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

Gen 2:16-17

So, lets talk about the tree, because if anything in this story is going to make sense, we’re going to need a good explanation for what it is. Here are four ideas. But before we get into them here is something to consider. Why does God want to keep this knowledge from man? Is this knowledge bad for mankind or bad for God?

1) Christians typically argue that the tree itself is not evil or sinful, but that because man (well Eve actually) wanted wisdom, wanted to be like God, the act of eating the fruit brought sin. In other words, it was the disobience not the tree itself that brought about the fall of man. The interesting thing about this explanation is that humanity is forever cursed because their ancestors broke an arbitrary rule. And since it is arbitrary, not based on a moral truth or utilitarian necessity, this takes on the shape of a game. In other words, there’s no reason for why this should be a big deal other than the fact that God says so. Either that, or else the knowledge of the tree is actually significant.

2) Some argue that the knowledge gained was sexual knowledge since it appears that Adam and Eve don’t have sex or concieve children until after they eat. This seems to be true. Before chapter 4, there is no hint of sex. Starting with chapter 4, cue the raunchy bassline because the Adam and Eve are getting busy. This theory is tempting, but doesn’t make complete sense given everything else.

3) Another idea is that it symbolizes moral knowledge, literally knowledge of good and evil. This ties into the act of disobedience, since the process of indoctrinating our children with ideas of good and evil is one of punishing incorrect behavior, and rewarding good behavoir. However, are Adam and Eve actually punished? And why would God want to keep this knowledge from them? What does it mean to be unaware of good and evil, to be “naked” and “not ashamed”? Does this mean a natural state unburdened by social convention or does this mean a state of animal-like consciousness? Or does this mean that anything is permitted and there are no real consequences (outside the one tree, of course)?

4) A newer scholarly idea claims that the Hebrew words that name the tree literally mean “Tree of Knowledge, both Good and Evil” and that “both good and evil” is a figure of speach that should be interpreted as “everything”. This also makes sense and is a safe bet to make since it naturally includes knowledge of morality.

What does the book say? In truth, it’s actually fairly ambiguous, hence why we have so many theories.

Instead of taking a line by line reading, I’ve decided to summarize the significant changes that appear to happen. In other words, there is no real explanation for what the tree is or why it is forbidden (more on this in the next essay). Therefore, we can try to understand it by it’s effect.

Here’s everything that appears to have changed.

– they suddently know they’re naked, they know shame
– Eve now has the power to bear children
– man must toil for sustenance
– Begining the next chapter, they now have sex
– they are now mortal or at least revealed to be
– God gives them some “skins” (suggestion of animal sacrifice?)
– They are forced out “lest they eat of the tree of life.”

If we put aside for the moment the meaning of the mysterious Tree of Life, this list begins to look very recognizable. I would think that anyone older than 12 can begin to grasp what is happening here. They become sexually active, they are kicked out of the house, they’re forced to work for food, and they have to abide by the rules of society.

You know, once your parents have taught you everything you need to know, “both good and evil,” they throw you a party (sacrifice some lambs), give you some skins (new clothes, new adult identity, the graduation gift, etc), kick you out the door and say “get a job, you hippy” and “don’t get pregnant (cuz it’s going to hurt)!” These changes of Adam and Eve are the clearly the markings of children growing up.

And remember the previous post regarding the nature of “God” in Genesis. Clearly he is not acting the part of an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good godhead. Things don’t match up that way, but as a parental figure, well, he’s suddenly very understandable. Of course parents want to protect their children and keep them in a state of innocense, even though doing so is impossible. and Yes, parents must discipline their kids to teach them the rules of society. If you do wrong, society will punish you. “God” is really a symbol that stands for the highest power, and when you’re a child, the highest power is your mother or father.

The Fall is clearly an allegory for becoming a socially “corrected” adult, the indoctrination of social convention, an explanation of the process of socializing the youth so they may become responsible civilians. At the very least, this meaning appears contained in the text (unlike original sin) and it is a common understanding that reverberates culturally. The next time you see a movie or book which contains a special tree or garden, in most cases, it’s a not so subtle reference to this aspect of the Fall.

The Apocrypha of Genesis: Part 1: Is God who we think he is?

Genesis is a funny story. Or should I say stories. Did you ever notice there are two creation stories? Yes, god created man and woman in chapter one, then later on in chapter two he creates them again. Weird. But that’s not the weirdest thing about Genesis. The weirdest part it is what we call “The Fall”. This is the point at which man rejects the perfect life of union with God, loses his innocence and becomes mortal. This is the moment man opens Pandora’s box, lets evil and corruption lose upon the world, and becomes a rebel, a deviant! Thunder cracks and sinister laughing echoes over the mountains…

The Temptation and Fall of Eve by William Blake

You know the basic premise, boy meets girl, girl meets snake, apples are eaten… yadda yadda yadda, boom, original sin. There’s just one problem; “original sin” is not in Genesis, its just an interpretation, and not a very good one either.

The Fall is, culturally speaking, a very important story, but the problem is that we’ve been told what it means, before we’ve had a chance to read it for ourselves. What would happen if you just read it without all that extra crap that everyone else is telling you? What does the book actually say and what lessons, if any, does this story actually teach? Welcome to the hidden meaning of Genesis. It’s actually quite ironic, because in telling you this, I must play the role of the serpent.

Part 1 – Is God who we think he is?

All the monotheisms (I’m assuming) believe that God is all-poweful, all-knowing and all-good. This idea however, is problematic [see the Epicurean paradox]. However, we can put those philosophical questions aside for in Genesis the very first book of the Bible there is quite a bit of scripture to challenge this conception.

Exhibit 1: Gen 2:18

And the LORD God said, It is NOT GOOD that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Did you see that there? Did you see those words “not good?” God himself admitted it. He made a mistake. Not only that, but he proceeds to make all the animals and birds and he gives them to the dirtman, but the dirtman is still not satisfied, “there was not found an help meet for him.”

Exhibit 2: The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil

Remeber how God says that “in the day you eat it, you will die”? Why would God do this? Eden is supposed to be perfect. And it is, except for that tree, which is just another way of saying that Eden is not perfect. For if it were perfect, then there would not be one iota of danger. Surely if he wanted to remove it or destroy it or put a giant fence around it, he could’ve. So why doesn’t he?

You may be thinking, this is because he wants to test Adam, but why test man if He is all-knowing? Doesn’t He know what man will do? If He knows, then why test man? Is this all an elaborate ruse, a trick?

Exhibit 3: The serpent

Similarly, why create the talking serpent who “seduces” Eve to eat? Surely God know this creature was up to no good, right?

Exhibit 4: Gen 3:9-12

So God comes tromping through the garden after the two naughty monkeys have eaten and says… “Where art thou?… Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?… What is this that thou hast done?” So what is happening here? God sounds outraged, incredulous, but how could he not know what happened? Why ask these questions?

Exhibit 5: Original Sin

If The Fall, as many Christian’s claim, is the story of original sin. Then we have a problem. Either God made a mistake and is not perfect, or he wanted this to happen, he designed it to happen this way. In either case, we have to ask… is he really who we think he is?

Ancient of Days by William Blake

It appears reasonable to argue that God is too complex to understand by reason and logic. However, surely He knows that about us and expects (some of) us to try. And if our intelligence were so limited, wouldn’t you expect God to provide us with unequivical evidence or would you expect him to taunt us? Therefore his behavior in Genesis (supposing that it really is God) should be intelligible in some way. Right? And if not, what are we to make of someone who is not intelligible?

In Genesis it say that man was created in God’s image (Gen 1:26-27). But when I read these OT stories like The Fall, I can’t help but feel that God was made in man’s image. Of course, what these contradictions show is that this story cannot be read as historical fact. As an allegory, they are much less problematic.

If you have another explanation, lets here it. And stay tuned for Part 2: What is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil?

Heaven and Hell: obedience or morality?

The Thinker sits atop the Gates of Hell

I have been thinking about Heaven and Hell. Its essentially a system of punishment and rewards, except that unlike most other systems of punishment and reward, there is no way you can get away with breaking the law. There is no amount of money, no lawyer good enough, no way to ice the eyewitness and no way the policeman wont nab you. Right?

Unfortunately this creates an unusual problem, a morality problem. If you truly believe in Heaven and Hell, can you actually do good? Can you be morally good?

This is actually a problem of free will. Since God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and if you believe in God and God’s law, then you don’t really have a choice, because there is no ambiguity or uncertainty about the consequences of breaking God’s law. Who is going to choose an eternity of unimaginable horror and pain?

Bosch is a Hell genius.

Therefore, fear of punishment and expectation of reward keep the believer within a narrowly defined range of appropriate behavior. While that behavior may appear to be moral from the outside, how is anyone to distinguish whether the believer does this for the sake of doing good or as a reaction to his predicament of constantly being judged by the eye in the sky? There is no way to really know. Heaven and Hell make a believer obedient, not moral.

Think of it like this. Suppose you did everything that your parents told you to do and they told you what to do all the time. And then one day you managed to cure world hunger. Except… did you really do it? or did your parents do it? And if God is telling you how to do good (or else suffer the consequences, for eternity), then are you really doing good?

Philosophically speaking, the only way to commit a truly moral act is when you are doing good AND when you are the author of your own actions. And in the monotheistic system, the only time you can be the author of your own actions is when you are violating God’s law. It’s a paradox, right?

Question to think about. (I promise, I’m leading up to Genesis.) What if we have it all wrong about the Fall? What if this is not original sin, but in fact, original morality? After all why is the tree called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

The Origins of Original Sin

Dear Michelangelo, what where those two naughty monkeys up to just before the serpent showed up?

Original Sin is well known concept among western societies. Although some denominations don’t consider it a big baddie, others basically say that humans are utterly depraved beings and are headed straight for hell because of it. In other words, the moment you are conceived, you are guilty. All because of Adam and Eve.

So… where did this truly amazing and momentous idea originate from? You know how it came about, right?

Are you thinking of Genesis, the apple, the snake and the Garden and all that? Well, then you would be wrong. I have just read the Book of Genesis, folks and there is no such thing as Original Sin in those pages, and furthermore, the Book of Genesis is also part of the Jewish faith and they don’t have the concept of Original Sin. Why is that?

So… where did it come from? God? No. Jesus? Nope. Paul?

Yes, Paul. Well, sort of anyway. Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22, however, it’s not really a full blown idea here. It’s more of a cute saying with poetic symmetry. It didn’t really become a full blown doctrinal idea until St. Augustine and Tertullian and other “church fathers” started building it up. And this occurred when? Several hundred years A.D.? For such an important concept, such a central teaching of the church, you’d think there was a more authoritative source. When you have such a rich body of teachings from the man himself, Jesus Christ, why go and garble it all up with something like this? There is a reason, I’m sure.

I don’t know, I guess I’m more of a Christ purist than the Christian church.

In the coming days I’ll be taking a closer look at the creation story of the Book of Genesis and really getting down to the heart of the matter. Somehow, the Christian religion has got this story all backwards and I’m going to walk you through it so we can set the record straight. Should be a good time.

In the meantime, consider this question: who lied to Adam and Eve? Did the snake lie or did God lie?

What do you know and what do you believe?

Despite the fact, that I don’t trust the Bible’s depiction of Jesus and I don’t really know what is meant by “God,” and I don’t have a religion of my own, I’m not completely anti-religious. In fact, I have had religious experiences, or perhaps a better term is “mystical experiences” since it was not an experience of religion, but an experience of the rationally inexplicable. I am sort of an agnostic with mythological syncretism. It could be said that my mystical experiences are merely the result of luck or fantasy or chemical imbalances, and that could be right, but the great thing about it is that they are purely subjective experiences and therefore, I get to be the ultimate decider.

I have the power!

What I especially dislike about monotheistic religions is the tendency to regulate human behavior. I believe that morality is a subject more aptly dealt with by philosophy. I just don’t like the idea that an all-powerful, all-knowing superbeing would say do this and you go to heaven, do that and you go to hell… forever. First of all, that’s not really a choice and second of all, it makes us out to be nothing but trained monkeys. In this system, you can’t really do anything good at all, since you are doing it to avoid eternal, unimaginably-awful punishment. Essentially it’s a bribe. Following this kind of system does not make you good, it makes you obedient. Does God have so little respect for us?

I am aware also that there is a certain tendency in modern society to look down on religious belief as something of a crutch used by those who are too weak to face the horrors of their own reality. I confess I’ve had that thought myself from time to time. This is an idea that has arisen, I believe, as part of the social upheaval of the industrial revolution, the age of the machine, wherein the old symbolic systems have been shattered. Man, machine and science have taken on a new authority at the center of our conceptual model where god once reigned supreme.

Chocolate Grinder by Duchamp

The rationalization of religion can be seen in these quotes by Freud.

“Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires.”
–Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, 1933

“Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. […] If one attempts to assign to religion its place in man’s evolution, it seems not so much to be a lasting acquisition, as a parallel to the neurosis which the civilized individual must pass through on his way from childhood to maturity.”
–Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, 1939

I’m not in total disagreement with Freud, but does he have to be so mean about it? (I certainly don’t think everything can be reduced to primitive, libidinal drives as Freud’s system seems to suggest.) I’m totally willing to admit that religion is a bunch of “fairy tales,” but I also think fairy tales are cool and perhaps helpful to the properly functioning psyche. If it’s the difference between you being a neurotic mess and you being happy, why not be happy? We tend to convince ourselves that the Truth really is out there and is attainable, but is it really?

Physicists have, for quite a long time now, questioned whether or not objective truth is actually possible. There is a limit to what we can see with the naked senses and then yet another limit by what we can see with the aid of technology. Will technology get better? Yes. But will there always be a limit? Can you make the speed of light go faster? In short, I don’t know. I’ve been on both sides of the argument. I’ve read accounts of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle used in justification of both sides of the question.

The Uncertainty Principle (Le Principe d'Incertitude), Magritte

In short, I don’t have a problem with someone believing in “fairy tales”, but I do think it’s unfortunate that people often confuse belief with fact. Most of the time when people say “I know…” what they really mean is “I believe.” For example, I’ve never ever actually seen that the earth is round, and I have not conducted my own experiments to answer that question. I personally don’t know this for a fact. I have good reason to assume it is a fact, but I’ve never actually seen it. The things that I actually know for a fact are very, very few.

I know that I’m smart. I’ve aced plenty of tests in college, and many of them without studying. In other words, I find that more often than not, I am right, but I am not right because I know, instead I am right because I made a good guess based on sound beliefs and reasonable assumptions. This is the case with most people, they just don’t know it. If you keep asking as a child sometimes does… “Well, how do you know that?” (answer) and “how do you know that?” (answer) and “how do you know that?” etc, etc, etc… eventually you realize that you don’t actually know very much of anything. If you allow yourself to really think about it you will see that what you have is a very reasonable model, an approximation of reality, and this model is fundamentally based on belief or assumptions. It is not based on facts that you know personally to be true. Or at least, it is not based on many facts.

This is perhaps why so many people have a problem with understanding how science works. Science has become very important to modern society and naturally so. Look at all we’ve gained from it, especially in areas like medicine. But science is not a system of fixed truths. It is designed to change, to adapt as new information is brought to light. So what we may consider to be “scientifically” verified truth today may turn out to be wrong tomorrow.

At any rate, it’s very important for everyone to realize that their conception of the world is just that. It’s a concept. It’s a map, a model, a system of symbols, a representation. We love our symbols, and they are useful, but we must be sure to break free from time to time and actually see the world for what it is. The problem with symbols is that we come to rely on them too much, even to the point that we refuse truth that contradicts our model of the world.

There on the table, my yellow mug, half full of lukewarm cocoa.

St. Augustine vs. the Fundamentalists

Augustine of Hippo also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed.

Saint Augustine by Philippe de Champaigne

Wicked picture, yeah? Augustine was born in 354 and lived to be 75! He is highly honored by The Catholic Church, The Assyrian Church of the East, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, The Anglican Communion, Lutheranism, and The Aglipayan Church. He was a very prolific writer and theologists.

Check this out… after a lifetime of living and writing about Christianity, he writes Retractationes (ca. 426-428) or reconsiderations . In this book, he reviews his entire body of written work… and makes corrections.

One of these is the remarkable statement…

“What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian”.

– St. Augustine (Retract., I, xiii, 3)

In other words, Christianity is but a style of the one true religion. It is a mask, a face, one of many secretaries to the president of real spirituality. Some people like to think that Christianity is somehow special, somehow superior than other religions, and this is unfortunate. This is a fundamentalist attitude that hurts Christianity in the long run. Christ never asked for the organization of the Church, instead he warned us to be wary of those seek to use religion in false ways. Have we been diligent in this task?

Christ is well known for being critical of the Pharisees; they focused too much on the rules and politics of the day, and so missed the message of Jesus. They weren’t evil, but they were blind. Therefore we should question dogma and hold fast to the spirit of His life and teachings.