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?

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.

How reliable is memory?

Troy Anthony Davis, a former sports coach from the U.S. state of Georgia, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991 for the August 19, 1989 murder of off-duty Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail solely on the basis of eyewitness testimonies. No physical evidence linked him to the murder, and the weapon used in the crime was never found.

AS it turns out, 7 out of 9 of those witnesses have recanted or contradicted their testimony. (on a side note, if you are interested you can go here to learn more and sign a petition about this. )

Is eyewitness testimony enough evidence to send someone to their death?

How good is your memory? (ok, this guy is a bit cheesy, but he makes a good point…) Watch this video and play the memory game they do. Play the game as you watch. You can’t play after you watch the video.

So, how prevalent are false memories? How often do they occur? Well ultimately it depends on the situation and whether or not you were lead into it. However…

On July 7, 2005, London experienced a series of bombings. A follow-up study found that 4 out of 10 people have false memories of the event because they claimed to have seen nonexistent television footage.

CLick here to see the research article about that study.

Also, here is an easy to read science article reviewing all the recent research findings on false memory.

It’s just too easy to delude yourself.

Don’t Worry (part II)

This is a follow up to a brief post Don’t Worry – Luke 12:22-34

Stress is a common fixture in the modern world, especially in times of economic uncertainty. In certain situations stress can be positive, however, usually it’s not. Stress can be a hindrance to your health and your mental clarity. In extreme cases, stress can result in serious, long-term health problems.

So… what’s a person to do? There are several strategies to dealing with stress. My personal favorite is meditation. Of course, meditation has much loftier goals of which stress reduction is merely a side affect. Exercise is also a great option with plenty of additional health benefits.

This article makes a good point about reducing your stress by evaluating the sources of your stress and your ability to influence those sources. In other words, if you cannot do anything to change the situation, perhaps you can change how you feel and react to the situation. What you stress about reveals some of the underlying assumptions about what you feel is important in the world. In a sense, you choose what to be stressed out by and how severe that stress it.

Take for a example, an exam for an important college (or even high school) class. You want to do well, and who knows, it may have a significant impact on your future. However, the more you stress out about it, the less likely you are to perform at your best. Stress can reduce your ability to focus via mental fatigue as well as by crowding your mind with negative thoughts. (See this list of common symptoms caused by stress.) At a certain point, you are better off caring a little less about the test, the class and your future, if only temporarily, for the sake of your performance. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

For a more spiritual approach to stress, see this article in which Jesus reveals that if your heart is in the right place, then you have nothing to stress about. This is particularly poignant, as, I’m willing to bet, the most common sources of great stress are imposed upon us through social factors. The desire for success, material possessions, power, or influence is prevalent in our society, and yet, is ultimately a futile goal, and not at all important in the context of Jesus’s message.

So do yourself a favor, think about what stresses you out, and ask yourself, is it really worth the suffering?

The truth doesn’t matter

Most people have enough self awareness to recognize and admit that they have an ideological perspective, that is, a particular viewpoint of the world around them, and in fact, believe that this viewpoint has been crafted and developed through their observations of the world. However, most people do not seem to realize that their viewpoint is, in actuality, influencing and obscuring their view of the world.

Two studies have shown that people tend to ignore facts when those facts challenge their ideological perspective and also that people tend to believe false information when it conforms to their position. See the ars technica article where I found these studies. You can find links to the studies as well. The studies limited their focus to political beliefs, but I think it’s not too much of a stretch to expand that and assume it applies to all beliefs.

The implications of these finds are incredible.

First of all, it means that some people really cannot be argued with. It does not matter how sensible the argument, some people will hold on to their viewpoint, regardless. I think we’ve all encountered people like that.

Second, essentially people believe what they want to believe, and therefore, they aren’t seeing reality. Reality is twisted to fit into their idea of what reality should be, or else, it is simply ignored.

Third, this explains, in part, why so many politicians are so shallow. If the public hears a false rumor that they want to believe, they will believe it. Therefore the politician really has no incentive to conform to reality. Truth and deception have no bearing on his livelihood, he only needs to be the proud owner a favorable perception.

In short, the truth doesn’t matter.

There are quite a few extreme examples that can found with a cursory glance. I think most of us can agree that the Earth is not flat, and yet there are still those that believe exactly that. See The Flat Earth Society. And of course, conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen, as are fundamentalist religions. There are the Holocaust deniers, and my new favorite, the global warming deniers.

So… why should this be? My hunch is that people cannot deal with uncertainty. If you must re-evaluate your position on the world every time you sit down to watch the news, you’d quickly see that you don’t know much at all and you’d quickly tire of your own flip-flops. And no one likes to feel stupid and ignorant. Oh, the irony!

It takes a lot of work to construct your position and once in place, it sort of functions as a short cut. Instead of thinking deeply about this issue or that, people refer back to their own biases and prejudices and come to the fastest, least boat-rocking conclusion possible.