Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Fall

The Fall has been a sticking point for me in Christian thought. I never really got it. How the fall was explained to me growing up, is that we are all punished for the disobedience shown by Adam and Eve in the garden of eden from eating the fruit (usually depicted as an apple) from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I rejected this outright saying that it was, bluntly, stupid and of no use.

however, during seminary i had an existential crisis around spring semester. how it happened is not important, but what it showed me was my painful transition from how i used to think to how i think now. i used to think people were fundamentally good and if we just gave them the right tools, the right education, they would improve and the world would be a better place. i no longer believe that. i think people are mixed bag (best articulated in my elevator version post).

then in August, i wrote A Fallen Letter which came from reading Irenaeus of Lyons writing on the subject. that was helpful. Now i'm reading "Moral Man and Immoral Society" by Reinhold Niebuhr and I like his take. It lines up with my own.

To Reinhold Niebuhr, the myth of the Fall expresses or discloses this situation of ourselves and of all other humans: in each the fault of all, in all the fault of each. Thus this story is “true” but not “literally true.” as it’s not an actual historical event. it discloses, but it does not explain, our situation.

I’m on board with this after much struggling to understand the doctrine of the fall. i denied it, i hated it, but after 3 years of seminary, i’ve lived it. you think if anyone could get it right and live in community, it’d be seminarians. that’s not the case, we’re just as bad as everyone else and subject to the same faults. 

so i now view humanity a little differently than i did 3 years ago. i think we're largely an unfinished as a species. we have poor instincts and we have to be taught a great deal more than other animal species. also, unlike other species, we have great imaginations that can create worlds unto themselves even while dying. we have the capacity for great good as well as great evil. it is my hope, and the hope of all Christians, that we all become more Christ-like: radically welcoming the outsider, conscious and humble of our own sins, living to serve others. 

that's where i'm at now.


Anonymous said...

I agree that it's not necessarily a matter of education. This is a matter of willful ignorance and/or stupidity. They choose to believe arguments placed in front of them solely because it coincides with their worldview. Anything - facts, statistics, arguments - contrary to that narrow worldview is cast aside as rubbish. Intellectual laziness, if you will.

I'm talking about people who are bright enough to learn, grow and change, but for whatever personal reason, deliberately choose not to think outside the box, even for a nanosecond.

No amount of education can inform them. It's like shoving facts into the face of a brick wall.

Sometimes, ignorance can be fixed. As the saying goes, you can't fix stupid. You can't fix willful ignorance either.

Anonymous said...

The standard Christian interpretation that somehow by eating the fruit Adam's likeness to the image of God was marred or his nature fell or whatever is totally contradicted by the text, since the text makes God say in Genesis 3:22 "Behold, the man has become like one of Us..." That makes it clear that the serpent was correct in saying that by eating it they would become like God. So then, what's the point of the story? The exact opposite of the Christian interpretation it would seem, because on a reading of the story that truly reads it for what it says, it turns out that God lied and the snake told the truth. Man did NOT die in the day that he ate the fruit although God said he would. Man DID become more like God even though they would have it that the snake lied.

So, if the story has any point its that Yahweh is a wicked liar and even snakes deal more honestly with mankind than he does. Perhaps to the ancient Hebrews having a liar for a god was some kind of badge of honor, just like having a schitzophrenic who tried to murder his own son for a progenitor was considered an honor and just like having a god who commanded genocide was an honor in their antimoral and twisted worldview. But how is any of that relevant for us except as something to reject as dishonorable?

Maybe the myth of the fall is a lot like the myth of Jupiter taking on the form of a swan and knocking up some chick. Maybe these religious traditions all come from blasphemers not truly religious men. Maybe we are misinterpreting the sources of the myths. Maybe what we are reading is from an ancient Dawkins not a Billy Graham. It certainly reads that way sometimes.

Of course we can also remember that only nobility was literate in ancient times, and nobles generally are hostile to religion except when it supports their abuses. Perhaps, then, the wicked tyrants of old invented a god after their own likeness, a liar who was against morality (in the story god doesn't want Adam and Eve to eat the fruit that would make them know morality) and punish teachers of morality (like the snake in the story). And as the god in the story seeks to make the woman's pain in childbearing much worse, so rulers like to make pain in earning a living much worse (through taxes). So maybe rulers invented a god after their own hearts. Or maybe political refugees invented an allegory about rulers. But the Christian interpretation of the story is absolutely impossible.

Anglican Boy said...

Beo, like Luke said, it's not factual in the least. You're right that it does raise all sorts of ethical questions as well as who was God talking to when he said "Let us make man in our image."? Those questions are good to ask, but they will never be answered to satisfaction. Maybe that is the point, that we are to struggle with all that stuff. Maybe we can disregard it as you are intent on doing. For me, it helps explain that we're all the same fundamentally. Sure we could have evolved and all that stuff instead of being "created" like creationists want to point out; the fact remains, there is something up with humanity.

I also notice that there are two trees in the center of the garden. The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We always want to eat from the wrong tree. Even in these posts we're intent on determining what is good and what is bad. Maybe living is the answer? What would life look like then, if we choose to eat from the tree of life?

Sabio Lantz said...

I am reading yet another book by the Dalai Lama (one of my favorite). He believes in the essential goodness of people. He offers arguments. But you know, both those who believe in essential goodness or essential fallenness, have caveats around their theory to allow for the exceptions. So that two people, on this issue and many others, can state fundamentally contradictory distilled philosophical statements but the way the ideas are tied into their lives with all their caveats and nuances can make those two people almost identical in their deep held stances.

My guess, the Dalai Lama and Luke, concerning human nature at a deep level feel the same and try to act the same but their distilled ideologic language is incontrovertibly contradictory.

Such is human nature !
SMILE ! (but serious)

My opinions on politics changed after working as a health provider in a maximum security prison one year -- this included my understanding of "human nature". I came out with not neat philosophical ways of stating it, but I knew I had changed. It sounds, ironically, similar to your seminary experience.

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Anonymous said...

I'm toning down what I said when I was thinking out loud a minute ago. Basically my position is that as long as we revere the myth for some nonexistent allegorical value we play into the hands of the fundamentalists who will require it to be literally believed and will build some immoral and evil system on top of it, such as Calvinism. It is better to prove it false, show it to be absurd and take the tools of tyranny away from these fools than to pretend it has some value it doesn't have. I don't need a story about a lying God and a talking snake to teach me that human beings have the capacity to do both good and evil--that's just obvious.

Anglican Boy said...

Beo: "I don't need a story about a lying God and a talking snake to teach me that human beings have the capacity to do both good and evil--that's just obvious."

You also do not need the Old Testament, so I guess that's also obvious. I do not think it plays into the hands of the fundamentalists at all, in fact, your objections quite counter any literal interpretive stance. Allegorically understood however, it is a very rich story.

Our pastor just did a Bible study on this and stated that Eve was driven by a good motive. She desired to become more like someone whom she loved, namely God. So eating the fruit, she reasoned, would bring her closer, not further away from God. But it didn't, it caused a death of the relationship and that's why we do not have direct contact with God anymore. Well, that's a neat and tidy explanation, and I really enjoy that interpretation.

Luke said...

Beo: your comment about liberal christianity wondering in Alice in Wonderland shows your true views. interesting how even though you're Marcion, your fundamentalist roots aren't far behind. i am happy you decided to tone it down and post as you did.

speaking of Marcion, he's just as dependent on the OT as we are. if it weren't for this creation story, he'd have nothing to go on. every religion has a creation story, a doctrine of humanity and what's wrong with life, and the way to fix it. that's the basic things ya need according to those who study the world religions... more specifically Damien Keown. i would like to know more about Marcion's view of these three categories please.

AB: i too have heard that interp, and i like it. i never really noticed the second tree in the story, and i too wonder what the consequences from eating from that would be... maybe turning everyone into existentialists! awesome!

Sabio: i too like the Dali Lama and his view of humanity. i think it's very positive and cool, considering his history. i used to hold that view, but i feel i can't any longer. it is my hope i carry around for people, but i also hold the other view in balance as well. i would love to hear the story behind you prison health provider stint.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ Luke

You replied to my comment, but I am not sure if you understood my point about completely different refined abstract notions (such as "human nature")being buffered with enough caveats such that the real outcomes are the same for people with two different fundamentally different stances.

Was that part clear?

Maybe I will post the Prison experience.

Anonymous said...

"speaking of Marcion, he's just as dependent on the OT as we are."

That's absolutely true. And his dependence on it is not offensive in the way that 'orthodox' dependence is. Viewed from an 'orthodox' perspective I find no point or value to the story of the fall. Viewed from a Marcionite perspective I see the point and admit it has value.

"every religion has a creation story, a doctrine of humanity and what's wrong with life, and the way to fix it...i would like to know more about Marcion's view of these three categories please."

creation. From everything we know he accepted the story in Genesis as is but rather than viewing what 'orhtodox' Christianity calls "the fall" as really a fall, seeing it more as an improvement, man receiving the ability to assess the creator from a moral perspective. This obviously would explain why Yahweh didn't want man to know the difference between good and evil, because then they would know which he was and would judge him for it.

doctrine of humanity. In Ephesians 2:3 Paul makes reference to us being "by nature the children of Wrath," which of course 'orthodox' Christianity interprets as meaning that we are born condemned and with the wrath of God hanging over us because of Adam eating a fruit. Marcion seems to have understood Wrath to be a reference to the OT god himself, thus children of Wrath = children of Yahweh. (If I recall correctly Tertullian mentions this interpretation.) This sets up the need for adoption by the better God and it explains humanity's capacity for and propensity towards evil not as having fallen from its original creation in the image of Yahweh but as being a chip off the old block.

what's wrong with life. People tend to be cruel and wicked because Yahweh who is cruel and wicked created them after his own image. And then on top of that after we die Yahweh intends to burn us all in hell for not being perfect even though its essentially his fault.

the way to fix it. We need to become creations as Paul talks about and become children of the better God via adoption by faith. Then we become his workmanship created for good works. Then we put off the "old man" (Eph 4:22) which was created by Yahweh after his image and "put on the new man which was created after [the image of the better] God in righteousness and true holiness." (Ephesians 4:24) And of course Jesus dying to purchase us from Yahweh ensures that we will not be judged by Yahweh. As I don't buy the argument that Marcion totally rejected judgment I think he did believe Paul's statements about a judgment seat of Christ (i.e. Chrestos).

"interesting how even though you're Marcion, your fundamentalist roots aren't far behind."

Really what it is, is that I have a disdain for attempting to stick with the 'orthodox' and tying to appease them and get along with them by accepting all their doctrine while yourself not believing that the Bible is inerrant and so on. Its like enabling an alcoholic. Just like someone abused by an alcoholic (or someone who was an alcoholic and had to fight hard to overcome it) would be very upset to see someone enabling one, it upsets me to see fundamentalism being enabled by liberals who know better.

Anglican Boy said...

So if we're supposed to decry the fundamentalists, what about the heretics? That interpretation is WAY outside of anything you could make with it using the critical methods.

You have no evidence and no direct writings of Marcion, so in a sense, you can make him into being whatever you want him to be. Being Anglican, I have the writings from the foundation of my tradition as well as those who preceded it in the evil and dreaded orthodox tradition (which I assume means Roman Catholic and not Greek Orthodox).

All this sounds like is someone burned by religion, specifically a fundamentalist religion, and is reacting to it by stepping outside it yet wanting to remain "Christian" in some sense of the word. Is that the case? How old are you, and what is your story? I'm trying to be open here, but my directness does not serve me here online, so please take this as me trying to be open and consider things, not as a personal attack.

Sabio Lantz said...

@ AB

I would encourage you with the following advice. When coming upon a new belief, seek to understand with questions.

I think in a previous post Beowulf supplied us with link to a Marcion compiled version of Luke, no?

Further, we don't really have evidence that any of the NT stuff is written by anyone who knew Jesus first hand, do we?

And why don't you tell us your age and intellectual background before asking beowulf. Actually, AB, it might be nice for you to start a simple blog and share some of yourself.

Anonymous said...

Everything I said in that last comment can be found somewhere in Tertullian's Against Marcion. My indecision in saying things like "apparently" and such like is because I don't completely trust Tertullian. He is a shady character at times. You say you have the writings from those of the 'orthodox' tradition. So do I. And ironically it is from the writings against Marcion by those of the 'orthodox' tradition that I know whatever I know about him. God works in mysterious ways. How wonderful of him to use Marcion's greatest enemies to preserve enough of his doctrine to piece together a coherent system, even if some elements may be missing. I'm only burned by religion in the sense that I have finally realized that the Bible is not inerrant. You know that also yet choose to pretend that 'orthodoxy' is somehow true anyway. That is very sad. Anyway I didn't intend to even discuss all this on this post. I just wanted to make my first comment about how the fall story isn't really about a fall. I only mentioned these points of Marcion's interpretation as they can be reconstructed from Tertullian's writings because I was asked.

Anglican Boy said...

I had a long reply and blogger ate it, which is probably for the better. All I can say is that I am a recovering literalist. I like how orthodoxy causes me to adjust my own thinking and assumptions instead of making up my own version of Christianity. I have to struggle. I see this now, with Luke's help. I do not view you doing the same thing, Beowulf. Maybe you are. I can only say that I do not agree with you and my experience is much different from yours. Take care.