Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Message From the Garden

One of my favorite stories is the story of the garden of Eden. As a story it's got everything: sex, nudity, the loss of innocence, the quest for power, deceit and betrayal... It could have been written yesterday.

When God first made the world God made a garden and created a man and a woman to live there. God named the first humans Adam and Eve. Before there were any other people Adam and Eve didn't wear any clothes – not a stitch. They didn't need to work because everything they needed was ready at hand, in the garden. God told them that there was only one thing they couldn't have and that was to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge. God told them straight out: if they ate from that tree they would die.

In the garden lived a talking snake. And being innocent, Eve didn't realize that snakes are something to be afraid of. So she listened politely as the snake suggested to her that, in spite of what God said, she and Adam could really benefit from eating that forbidden fruit. “God is putting you on.” said the snake, “God knows that if you eat of that fruit you won't die. Instead you can use this knowledge to become as powerful as the Gods.”

So Eve talked it over with Adam. And being a man it's hard to argue with a naked woman. So they both ate of the fruit and their eyes were opened. And the first thing they realized was that they were naked. Ah knowledge – there goes innocence. So Adam and Eve made the first pair of bermuda shorts out of a bunch of fig leaves. Then they hid from God because, having knowledge, they knew they were in big trouble.

But God also knew what was going on and so God called out to them: “Why are you hiding?” At this point Eve knew that there was no sense in lying to God because God knew everything. So she confessed to their eating the forbidden fruit. Even though God knew everything, this still made God angry. “No more innocent fun for you two. Adam, from now on you will have to work by the sweat of your brow. Eve, you will have to suffer the pain of childbirth.” And God sent them out of the garden.

What do we get from this story? Even when we humans come to know things we still get it wrong. Knowledge is not certain knowledge. We can only make guesses and the longer we are around the better we are at guessing what is going on. But we can never be certain. Being human, we are guaranteed to screw up because we can't know everything. But we can learn from our mistakes and improve.

Christians call this “original sin”, but I call it being fallible. If we are fallible then we must be open to other points of view because we can never be certain that our point of view is the truth. This leads to Open Society. Since we always fall short of perfection we should always be open to improvement.

Fundamentalist Christians call the idea of Open Society “secular humanism” and “moral relativism”. They believe that there is only one standard of truth and it's in the Bible. When there is only one standard you don't need to ask questions, you simply follow what authority says. This is Closed Society. There is no room for improvement because we have certainty, no learning from mistakes because we don't make
mistakes, no listening to other points of view because every point of view but ours is wrong.

The problem is there are as many interpretations of the Bible as there are people. How can we know which interpretation is the “true” interpretation? If the story of the garden of Eden is anything to go on – even when we think we have certain knowledge, we still get it wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment