Thursday, May 03, 2007

Another Theodicy: Genesis 3:6-15

Obviously Cervantes is a much more prolific writer than I am.

Time to catch up a little. In addressing your points I have to mention once again the idea of context. No one writes for an audience thousands of years into the future; we're only now piecing together what that culture was like. However, since Jesus used parables, allegories, and similes, we can consider that maybe the people who preceded him would have understood the subtlety of using an animal in a story. When Jesus said, "Feed my sheep," we all pretty much understand that he meant, "give spiritual nourishment to the people who follow me." So maybe the original readers of this story didn't take it literally.

It seems that in ancient times matters of morality and ethics were often addressed in this way. A little research into Aesop's Fables shows the original date they were written down to be 800 to 1000 years before Aesop lived, which would make them contemporary with the first books of the Bible. I'm going to maintain people knew that animals didn't talk and they largely understood that an animal in a story could be a stand in or agent for a person. Modern individuals who want to take the creation stories of the Bible literally are misguided and largely appear less sophisticated and less spiritually mature than their counterparts 3500 years ago.

What this story is pointing out to us is that there was a time in pre-history when people began to form the concept of good and evil and the idea of choosing between the two. The focus seems very much on obedience as "good" and the concept of clothing in the garden has more to do with modesty than protection.

Cervantes asks why God would not want Adam and Eve to know good from evil in the first place. When you look at this knowledge of good and evil from the perspective of free will there is a glimmer of an answer.

If a child gets too close to a dog's dish, the dog may bite the child. This is bad. Yet we don't hold the dog morally responsible, the dog is just doing what dog's do. Following doggy nature. The dog wants to protect it's food; it doesn't know biting is "bad." I kind of look at it that way. Before people had a concept of right and wrong they were more like the dog. Always acting out of personal interest and human nature. So God is shown here like the parent who wants to protect their child from knowledge. Like the dog owner who understands the pet needs restraint, not punishment. Once people began to "know" good from evil, we became morally responsible for the choices we made. In an era that knew heirarchy, reward, and punishment, we pictured God as the judge who will reward and punish. More like a king than a spirit. But that is where we were developmentally.

Another observation is the fact that God is described anthropomorphically present. God strolls in the garden, and is limited in time and space. God is just another character in the story. Perhaps because they knew of no other way to describe the person hood of God. This is a puzzle to me as well, but I take it to have more to do with the writer than the true nature of God. These earliest stories are a struggle to explain God. Our concept of God has changed over time; from strolling around with Adam and Abraham to a burning bush for Moses to a dove and a flame in the New Testament. Our attitudes, our ideas change, evolve and mature. History has shown us that obedience isn't always good. And modesty can be taken a burqa too far. We need to look at old stories with the light of modern understanding.

As for NeoLotus' point about sexuality being the greatest factor of this new knowledge; that's something that needs maturing as well. I suppose this ancient society would have put a lot of emphasis on controlling women and their sexuality as they were seen largely as chattel at this time. Again, our ideas of good and bad should evolve as our understanding about people and the world evolves.

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