Monday, May 14, 2012

The Eden Dilemma

The garden of Eden. A place that is very well known among Christians, Catholics, Jews and Muslims alike. It's the place where God first created humans and it's also the place where humans first sinned which ultimately led to the sorry state we're in now, the state where if we do not choose to repent for the sins that our ancestors did, we will be forever doomed to an eternity of suffering. The place where it all started, at least from the Judaistic religion's point of view.

The garden of Eden, an artist's illustration

Having attended church for more than 20 years already, the story of Eden garden is no stranger to me. It tells the story of how Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command to not eat the tree of knowledge and as a consequence, came to realize that they were not clothed and ultimately had to be banished from the garden and away from God, away from the happy life that they once used to know.

I never gave a lot of thought to the story before, even though I must have heard it for a few thousand times already. To me, the moral of the story is like every other story you can find in the Bible, or at least in the Old Testament: Never disobey the instructions from God or else you would not like the punishment that would follow. Simple as that. That was before I went to university.

I heard the story again today during my church's sermon. Having gone through numerous social sciences writings by the likes of Karl Marx during my years in university, the story seemed to have taken a completely different meaning this time.

I don't know if you noticed or not, but from my perspective the whole story of the Garden of Eden is centered around one tree, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Except for that tree, Adam and Eve are allowed to eat any fruits from any trees in the garden. I don't know what other trees they have in the garden, maybe they have fancy names too like the Tree of Love or the Tree of Patience, but no matter what tree it is, Adam and Eve are allowed to eat its fruit. Only one tree is forbidden, and that tree is the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

As the name suggests, the fruit of the tree grants whoever who eats it the ability to distinguish between good and evil, what can and cannot and as we all know very well, after eating the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve immediately realized that they were not wearing any clothes, their eyes were opened and in a way, you could say that they came to 'know'. Which is to say that prior to eating the fruit, Adam and Eve were at best ignorant. They didn't know what was good and what was bad and because they didn't know, they did not question. Like the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. The less you know, the better.

While some of us might have no problem with that, I can't help but feel that there's something wrong with the message. Is the bible telling us indirectly through the story of Eden that knowledge is harmful? And if we want to live a happy life, we should not challenge what we are told? I don't know about you but after thinking about it, the words of Karl Marx of how religion is used as a tool of oppression came to my mind. 

After all, we all know that the key to keeping an entire population under your rule is to keep them stupid. That is how countries like North Korea and even Malaysia does it. By keeping the population ignorant, by not encouraging the population to think and by not giving them knowledge, the population would not question the authorities. They would not know of the concepts such as democracy nor human rights and would most likely in most cases to still support their government.

I can't help but feel troubled after giving that sermon a thought. Is this what God want? To keep us ignorant so we would not know about the dangers of the world? And what if some radical church leaders decide to use this story to manipulate the church. To justify his wrongdoings and discouraging people from questioning him by reminding them how Adam and Eve suffered from their actions because they disobeyed? Isn't it too convenient to put that story there to let people with ill intention manipulate it?

If I were an atheist, I would have stopped here already and draw my conclusions saying that your God is one cruel God because he discourages his children from gaining knowledge, believing that knowledge is harmful and that with knowledge, which is good in the first place, they would learn of the truth and rebel against him. History would prove that right time and time again. How the Protestants rise up against the the Church with their new found knowledge, thanks to the printing machines and how with knowledge, we were able to usher in a new era of scientific discovery that disproves of the old teachings of the church, for example the case of Darwin and evolution and Galileo and how the earth orbited around the sun.

I would go on to attack the story of the Garden of Eden, saying that it is nothing but a story disguised to keep people from challenging he legitimacy of the church and how it is evil in helping those with evil intentions to oppress the people, to keep them dumb.

But I'm not an atheist. Nor I want to be one. So I decided to go one step further.

Reading on, I discovered that another reason why God chose to banish Adam and Eve from Eden was because he was afraid that after the Tree of Knowledge, they would then proceed to eat the fruits of the Tree of Life, which would grant them immortality and godlike wisdom. Because they knew what was right and what was wrong already, because they have the knowledge already, the next logical or reasonable choice was to go one step higher and to challenge God himself by eating the fruit of Life.

Now you could ask what could go wrong with eating the fruit of Life. After all, if eating the fruit of Knowledge would grant you knowledge, what bad things could happen from eating the fruit of Life?

While that question do have some merit, the closest analogy that I can think of is the relationship between a parent and a child. Growing up, we all had our fair share of parents asking us not to do this, not to do that and a whole loads of other rules. When we're young, we thought that those rules are only there to control us and that we know better than our parents, so we chose to flaunt each and every rule set by our parents, only to find out that a few years later, what our parents said were actually right and we were wrong all along. 

The best example I could think of is boy-girl-relationship. Growing up, my parents always told me that I should focus on my studies first instead of focusing on finding a girlfriend and relationships from high school don't usually last. I never believed them, thinking that if I want it, the relationship will definitely last and that my parents were underestimating my relationship powers. Now that I've gone through that stage, I wished that I have listened to them years ago and focused instead on my studies (none of my high school flings lasted) and noticeably I have begun giving the same advice to my younger brother. Turns out my parents were right all along.

The same could be said for the Eden story I guess. Because God is on an entirely different level than us, because he's more like a parent rather than a peer, he knows what is good and what is bad for us. He knows the consequence should we decide to disobey him, a consequence that we could not comprehend because we're still like a child, and instead of trying to explain to us, he's asking us not to do it because even if he did, we would not understand, just like how a child would not understand the logic of his parents. The language, rationale and logic is on a totally different level.

So in the end, I don't think the story of the Garden of Eden is an entirely bad one. Like all stories in the bible, it is open to all sorts of interpretation. And to truly understand it, we need to understand the context of the story. Besides, if someone choose to use the story of Eden to discourage people from questioning his actions, we could easily refute it because he/she is a human whereas in the story, the one setting the rule is God, who is on a different level than us, not any pastor/priest who is also a human just like us.

Going by this logic, I think you could say that the score now is Bible-1 : Atheist-0. At least for me, internally. To be honest, I always engage in self-debates. Somehow I find it fun. Besides, if I'm not mistaken, Paul said something before going in a style like, "the unquestioned faith is not worth living", so I guess it's okay for me to do stuff like this once in a while. And it seems like I still have a long way before I fully become an atheist, which is a good news, I think.

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