Saturday, March 19, 2011

Adam and Eve: What's the Meaning of the Myth? (Update)

Adam and Eve: What's the Meaning of the Myth?

            On the sixth day God created all living things, and among them he created man and woman, from which he fashioned out of the red clay of the Earth herself, and breathed life into his creation. He then placed them in a paradise garden, and he grew a tree, a very special tree, as it has magic fruit containing all the knowledge in the world. And then he made the serpent—and he made sure the serpent was more cunning than all the other beasts. This Hebrew myth, or more specifically fable (since it involves a talking animal and a moral), is familiar to many because it is one of the best known and most beloved of Bible stories. The thing is, however, most people don’t actually know the story all that well. Most were taught it in Sunday school, but outside of church not very many people stop to re-examine the story and what it’s really about. In other words, they take it for granted, and they simply believe what they are told about it. The goal of this essay is to correct several misconceptions regarding the first three chapters of Genesis—specifically that of the story of Adam and Eve.
            Here I’m going to focus on why the Adam and Eve story in Genesis cannot be considered history and why it is just a myth. Also, I will discuss what the underlying meaning of the story is, pinpoint the core moral of the fable (minus any additional theological dressing), and explain why Christians are misreading it, and have been misreading the Garden of Eden story since the beginning.

Adam and Eve: Six Interpretations
            Alice C. Linsley, a Christian scholar, has written about the various views of the Adam and Eve story. Is it fable? Myth perhaps? Linsley outlines six possible ways to read the Garden of Eden story. We can interpret the story of Adam and Eve as 1) literal interpretation, 2) allegory, 3) federal headship, 4) typology, 5) myth, and finally 6) archetype.[1]
           Personally, however, I would submit that myth contains both allegory and archetype, since that's usually what a myth is, but Linsley seems to separate them for the reason that, as with the example of allegory, like most Christians she presumes the concept of sin is a real phenomenon. As the Christian view holds it, the story may be alluding to the supernatural phenomenon of sin, something humans aren't fully capable of grasping, but because of the simple allegory found within the story we can see that sin is quite real—even while admitting the story is not literal. This is not her view personally, just one of the Christian views, which is probably why she separates it. Linsley seems to subscribe to the Archetype position that Adam and Eve are Archetypal ancestors of Christ, as St. Paul also believed. The Biblical scholar Randel Helms details, “For Paul, the story of Adam was not merely the history of past things; Adam was a “type [typos] of him who was to come”—Christ (Rom. 5:14).[2]
            Such a Pauline consideration is made explicit in Linsley’s comment thatGenesis is first and foremost about Christ and the Edenic Promise (Gen. 3:15). The rulers listed in the Genesis genealogies are Jesus Christs historical ancestors, the people to whom God gave the promise that the Woman's Seed would crush the head of the serpent and restore paradise. Perhaps Linsley would be better off just combining typology and archetype since it appears as if she is merely using archetypal ancestry to buttress Paul’s theory of typos. As such, we are only dealing with two practical categories, Myth proper and Christian hermeneutics. It is within Christian hermeneutics in which various theological considerations, interpretations, or readings can be had—but all of them are distinctly variant Christian formulations of the same myth.
            Case in point: when one reader asked: “What is the point of the Adam and Eve story if it is only a myth?Linsley's replied, The point is that God made us in the Divine Image to enjoy His fellowship and He is restoring that Image through the Divine Person Jesus Christ.
            While this may sum up Christian orthodox conviction regarding the meaning of the allegory they find contained within the myth, it is strong misreading of the text. Linsley's answer, however, reveals a common mistake Christians make in their reasoning regarding ancient Hebrew texts. To put it plainly, such an interpretation relies on both the literal belief that the story contains reliable elements of history, that there is implied typology relating Adam (the archetypal man) to Jesus Christ (the perfected man), that the allegory all points toward and defines Jesus ultimate destiny—the Edenic Promise—the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the salvation belief in him brings—his atonement freeing us from the curse of the serpent. This Christian reading is rather contrived, convoluted, and strained. Forcing to myth to mean all this requires lots of theological tap dancing, and pulling meanings out of thin air, all of which may dazzle those in the pew with illusions of deeper hidden meanings and profound truths just beneath the surface of the myth, when in actuality all of this is blatant theological fabrication.
            Myths are typically rudimentary—they are stories with morals—but they do not contain advanced theology or even Christology of the type alluded to in Linsley’s answer. The thing I have always found disturbing about this interpretation of the Adam and Eve fable is how easily contemporary Christians make an ancient Hebrew fable into a story about the Christian savior. Jesus would not have read the Adam and Eve myth the way Paul did, and so it seems strange to assume he did. Forcing the Hebrew meaning of the story into the straight-jacket of Christian faith does not help to elucidate the unadulterated meaning of the potent fable.

The Moral of the Story
            If we read the Adam and Eve story, and look for the moral, the moral cannot be a “Christian” moral, because the story is not (and never was) intended to be just a Christian story. It was a Hebrew fable, and one which may have originated in other cultures, so it may have simply been borrowed and adapted to fit Jewish culture and tradition. Only to be borrowed and adapted, again, to fit Christian culture. My point is, however, the moral of the Adam and Eve story, if we are to assume it’s no more that a myth, is not that God made us in the divine image of Jesus Christ—that’s the Christian rendition in which Christian salvation theology is superimposed onto a familiar story but these theological considerations aren’t in play in the narrative itself.
            Yet why is it so crucial for Christians to believe in the Garden of Eden story? Because it is where the concept of “original sin” comes from. If this story wasn’t told, then Jesus wouldn’t have had to die for humanity, and that would have meant his life and death were ultimately meaningless (from a theological perspective). If there is no “fall from Grace” it would imply Jesus needn’t have died for us in the first place. So it’s better for a Christian to believe in a talking snake than to admit that. After all, a sinless Christian wouldn’t need saving (i.e., redemption) from sin. So the emphasis of the Christology is on the salvation aspect of the story.
           This overlay of Christian salivation theology onto the Adam and Eve myth, however, is extremely complicated for reasons Rabbi Harold Kushner has observed. If Adam and Eve did not yet possess the knowledge of “good and evil” this means they had no inkling of rebellion or mischievousness, since to disobey God requires, first and foremost, a certain prerequisite of naughtiness. The rabbi points out that Jewish and Christian religions reinforce feelings of guilt and inadequacy by using the story of the “Fall” of Adam and Eve to teach that humankind’s spiritual inadequacies are inherent, but Kushner believes the Adam and Eve story to be about a primeval couple coming to terms with their imperfections as they learn to face the world head on.  I agree with Kushner’s assessment that the story is a coming of age fable, not a tale about corruption, when he affirms, “I would to suggest that the story of the Garden of Eden is a tale, not of Paradise Lost but of Paradise Outgrown, not of Original Sin but of the Birth of Conscience.” [3] 
            Adam and Evel clearly did not know that eating the forbidden fruit would be “wrong.” All they knew was that God warned them not to eat it—but God never said anything about whether it would be “wrong” to ignore his command or, equally, whether an honest bout of forgetfulness is somehow “wrong.” In either case, not knowing any better Adam and Eve cannot be held accountable for any perceived wrongs incurred—they simply did not have the ability to discern from right or wrong. Only by the coercion of a magical talking snake could Adam and Eve be compelled to do wrong. In which case they, having no knowledge of what constitutes right from wrong, would still be guiltless because they would not be aware they were actually doing anything wrong. Simply put, Adam and Eve were the victims of having been deceived (by God mind you, not the snake). Besides this, wouldn’t gaining knowledge be a good thing unto itself? As the philosopher Dan Dennett has pondered, “But what good to us is the gods’ knowledge if we can‘t get it from them?”[4]
            From a theological perspective God’s denying Adam and Eve the knowledge required to tell whether or not the snake’s advice was in itself a transgression against God’s law seems to suggest God had the means to educate Adam and Eve according to his will but chose not to. This begs the question of whether or not they had any choice at all in the matter, since even if Adam and Eve had free will they still would require the knowledge of good and evil prior to making their decision to “rebel” in order for God to say they breached his law. Not having the knowledge required, there is no transgression, because they simply didn’t know any better. Free will is beside the point however, since there is nothing intrinsic to having free will that would suggest Adam and Eve enact an immoral action over a moral one—it seems having free will the probability of one performing a moral action is equal to performing an immoral action. Therefore the onus is on the Christian to explain why Adam and Eve necessarily chose to perform the immoral action.
            This brings us back to the talking snake, of course. But why did God create a talking snake in the first place? What was the purpose of that, we might ask, seeing as Genesis 3:1 explicitly claims the serpent in question was one of the beasts which the Lord God had made (Gen 3:1-2). From a theological perspective such story elements are problematic at best, but from a myth based reading having a serpent in the Garden of Eden makes perfect sense.

Parallel Myths: Serpents and Trees of Knowledge
            Many types of ancient serpents, often being used interchangeably with dragons, dwelt in trees and spoke to humans.  All you need do it go online and Google “mythical snakes” to find out about these serpentine creatures’ tree hugging habits:
In many myths the chthonic serpent (sometimes a pair) lives in or is coiled around a Tree of Life situated in a divine garden. In the Genesis story of the Torah and Biblical Old Testament the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is situated in the Garden of Eden together with the tree of immortality. In Greek mythology Ladon is coiled around the tree in the garden of the Hesperides protecting the entheogenic golden apples.  Similarly Níðhöggr the dragon of Norse mythology gnaws the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree.  Under yet another Tree (the Bodhi tree of Enlightenment), the Buddha sat in ecstatic meditation. When a storm arose, the mighty serpent king Mucalinda rose up from his place beneath the earth and enveloped the Buddha in seven coils for seven days, not to break his ecstatic state.[5] 

            Undoubtedly these myths reveal themselves for what they are with a little exercise in common sense reason.  The absurdity in believing in talking, or for that matter flying, snakes should be all too obvious to anybody who has a firm grasp of myth, fable, and folklore.[6]
            Subsequently, most sophisticated theologians do not consider the Garden of Eden story about Adam and Eve (and a talking snake) historical. Rightly so, since there are no historical artifacts remaining to tether such a fabulous tale to reality. Yet some theologians, even while admitting the mythical elements of the story, still consider it rooted in history.
            On his blog Standing on My Head, Father Longenecker challenges us by asking:
Why does it matter if the first twelve chapters of Genesis are recounting historical events or not? It matters because the whole rest of the Old Testament record is clearly a presentation of God's interaction in history—God's interaction in the history of the Hebrew people, and this historical interaction lays the foundation for the ultimate historical interaction by God with his people—the incarnation of his Son.

He goes on to clarify:
What do I mean when I say that these stories 'act on us as myth does'? Myth connects with the deeper parts of our shared consciousness within our humanity. Great stories of mythical heroes who go on a quest, interactions with gods and goddesses, all the great stories of the world engage us at a deep level and we connect with the events and drama in a ceremonial and symbolic way using a language that is deeper than words and explications. The stories of the beginning of Genesis do as well, with the exception that these are not fanciful stories as the pagan myths are, but stories based in real events…. This prepares the way for the 'myth that really happened' in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of the Lord.[7]

            Father Longenecker’s statement that “The stories of the beginning of Genesis… are not fanciful stories as the pagan myths are, but stories based in real events…” seems rather a ludicrious claim, especially when he has already affirmed it was mostly legend incorporating strong psychological language and symbols interacting with our consciousness.
            Personally, I find Father Longenecker’s claim that the Adam and Eve story is a legend rooted in historical truth a little farfetched. After all, the tale of King Arthur is a legend, Robin Hood is a legend, Jolly old St. Nicholas has been lengendized and mythologized, but Adam and Eve have never been proved to be anything other than mythical.
            Assuming the story did have an element of history to it, we might ask, part of the story is historically accurate exactly? Could it be the part about a man being made from clay? According to Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord god formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Well, sorry to say, but we know this is false. Mankind was not formed from a clump of clay, rather humans evolved from a common primate ancestor (a scientifically validated fact).
            Perhaps more importantly however, we know the claim that a deity forged mankind from clay is not at all uncommon to the realm of myth. The Greeks believed this same myth, most prominently detailed in the myth of Prometheus. Hesiod (c. 700 BCE) wrote that Prometheus shaped man out of mud, and Athena breathed life into his clay figure, meanwhile Pandora, the first mortal woman, was formed by Hephaestus on behest of almighty Zeus. Likewise, in the ancient Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, the goddess Ninhursag created humans from clay. Also, in Africa, the Yoruba culture holds that the god Obatala likewise created the human race out of clay. In Egyptian mythology, the ram-headed god Khnum made people from clay in the waters of the Nile. In Chinese myth, the goddess Nuwa created the first humans from mud and clay. A Mayan myth holds that Tepeu and Kukulkán (Quetzalcoatl) made the first humans from clay, along with the Māori people of New Zealand who believe that Tāne Mahuta, god of the forest, created the first woman out of clay and breathed life into her. The common themes of fashioning humans from clay and deities breathing life into them has been with us, in various forms, for centuries.
            What, other than special pleading, can Father Longenecker offer in the way of evidence that the first few chapters of Genesis are more historically accurate than these other myths? There is nothing that I am aware of. Moreover, why are we asked merely to agree that the fable of a talking snake is not any more fanciful than any other story or myth? Again, there is nothing to suggest it is. It is merely a case of special pleading—which is proved in the very next sentence when Longenecker claims these stories are based in real events. As we have seen, however, we can’t seem to find any “real” events which would demarcate this myth from a long history of equivalent myths.
            Maybe we have overlooked a specific element unique to the Adam and Eve story which would tie it to genuine history and make it historically sound. Are talking snakes, full of guile and charm, perhaps a historical reality? Nope. Maybe a tree of knowledge with magical fruit? No, I'm afraid not. Why not? Because this too is a common theme in various world religions, according to Wikipedia:
Similar trees appear in other religions. Stories with male, female, serpent, and tree can be found depicted on Mesopotamian cylinder seals dating as far back as 2200 B.C. But they are very unlikely to constitute a source for the author of Genesis because they do not connect very well with the Genesis account. According to Toledoth Hypothesis, sources probably did exist for the writing of Genesis that extend into history even earlier than 2200 B.C. but they would have belonged to someone in the genealogical line of Abraham. In the closest, most relevant comparison, the iconic image of the tree guarded by the Serpent appears on Sumerian seals; much later, it is the central feature of the Garden of the Hesperides in Greek mythology, where the guardian serpent receives the name Ladon.[8]

            The Greek serpent Ladon guards the magic golden apples which either connotes a borrowing or a shared influence regarding the tree in the Garden of Eden which, likewise, has magical fruit guarded by a serpent. The themes are just too congruent to discount: tree of knowledge, magic fruit, and guardian serpent. Meanwhile Buddhism mythology claims the king of the serpents Mucalinda rose up and coiled itself around the meditating Buddha who sat under the Bodhi tree of knowledge, aiding in his meditation allowing him to achieve a higher consciousness. Similarly, Adam and Eve gain a higher consciousness after eating of the fruit containing ‘the knowledge of good and evil’ which the serpent helped them to acquire.
            Nor is the tree of life (sometimes called the tree of knowledge) unique to Christianity. It’s an ancient motif found in: Ancient Egypt, Assyria, the Baha'i Faith, China, Germanic paganism and Norse mythology, Jewish sources, Christianity, India, the Turkish world, Urartu, Mesoamerica, and among other cultures.[9]
            So although I do not disagree with Longenecker's assessment about the profundity of symbolism and powerful language usage in literature, I must question his judgment when it comes to determining the difference between history and myth.
Myth forced into Literal Representations of History
            We understand human experience constitutes our basic makeup of history—but books of fable and myth which relate to the greater human experience are, in themselves, not valid substitutes for any specified history. It’s best to keep this in mind when claiming that certain myths are historically true rather than simply containing historically viable artifacts.
            After all, King Kong climbed the Empire State Building, but this doesn’t make the urban-jungle climbing antics of King Kong historically true. We all know it’s a fiction with historical elements and artifacts. Whereas, with the Adam and Eve fable, the only historical fact seems to be that men and women are known to exist. But this is not a strong enough basis to claim the overall story is based on history. After all, monkeys exist, but we don’t automatically assume that King Kong must have been real because monkeys are real. This is faulty reasoning, and it is a mistake religious believers frequently make when they want to gleam a literal meaning from a metaphor or myth.
            The Christian historian Thom Stark, in his book The Human Faces of God, clarifies this point when he talks about another Bible story habitually mistaken as a literal representation of history, which is the story of Jonah and his “whale.” Stark asserts, “Aspects of the story such as Jonah's being swallowed by a large fish, then spat out in one piece onto dry land several days later, are big clues that what we are dealing with is a fictional short story with a theological message.”
            I posit the same is true of the Garden of Eden story involving Adam and Eve, it involves a tree of knowledge with magical fruit, and a dubious talking serpent—all of it evidence that it is a fictional story with a moral message. As such, it shouldn’t need repeating, that there is nothing to distinguish the Adam and Eve story as anything other than myth, and I’m afraid it appears Father Longenecker is wrong to talk about any “historical” basis for the Adam and Eve myth.
            Finding a serpent in the garden makes more sense as a guardian of knowledge minus the superimposed Christian theology. Let’s not forget that Yahweh boasts to Job of taming the great serpent (Job 41:1-4) so it is no surprise that we find his pet in the garden, doing his biding. Yet Christians tend to need to believe in the talking snake, because without it, then there is no such thing as “original sin.” Therefore imputation would be erroneous—Christ’s righteousness would not have been imputed to us. New Testament scholar and theologian Robert M. Price informs us that the gospel author Matthew likely intended to use serpent imagery to foreshadow Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Not that in the old Testament, Egypt is sometimes connected with Rahab the sea monster, whose defeat at the dawn of time made Yahve king of all gods (Ps. 89:10, “You crushed Rahap like a carcass,” and cf. Ps. 74:13b-14a, “You crushed the heads of the Leviathan”). Isa. 52:9-10 makes the exodus from Egypt a kind of historical replay of the primordial victory over the dragon, equating Rahab and Egypt… The flight into Egypt has the child Jesus already going down into Rahab, the belly of the sea beast, Egypt.[10]

            Matthew used the story to mold Jesus to the hero archetype—thus he fabricated an epic origin tale, with a virgin birth he lifted from Isaiah 7, all to enhance the narrative of the coming savior of all mankind. Thus, this theology get’s overlaid back onto the Adam and Eve myth, since it too involves the serpent, which no, conveniently enough, has taken on the dual meaning supplied by Matthew—the serpent is not only symbolic of Jesus destiny to overcome the darkness, but it now symbolizes his true foil—that which brought the darkness (i.e., the fall from grace) in the first place.
            Later on this contrived Christian mythology gets conflated with the Satan character, as Rev. 12:9 calls the Devil, Satan, that old serpent who was cast out into the earth. Theologians then latched onto this verse in order to support their hypothesis that the serpent in the Garden of Eden was actually Satan in disguise. So Christians posit that the talking snake was a serpentine Satan in disguise. Why? Because Satan is called the “serpentine” foe of Jesus Christ, that old serpent, the dragon in the book of Revelation, and it only makes theological sense that he would be around to set the playing field for Christ’s great final act of atonement—otherwise what use would be calling Satan a serpent?
            Imaginative speculation sure, but it is purely conjecture. Such a reading is taking far too many liberties with what the story might possibly mean if, and like the author Matthew lifting verses out of context, in a stunning display of selectivity Christians daisy-chains the “serpent” verses together (even though they aren’t technically related) thereby creating an entirely new Christian mythos, one revolving around “original sin” and involving serpents, but in actuality has absolutely nothing in common with the original Hebrew Garden of Eden myth. As Matthew Fox reminds us, the concept of original sin is not found in Jewish thought, but it wholly a Christian invention. Fox states, “Even thought the Jewish people knew Genesis for a thousand years before Christians, they do not read original sin into it. As … Elie Wiesel points out, ‘the concept of original sin is alien to Jewish tradition…”[11] Likewise, the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggeman mentions the third chapter of Genesis was not written to depict the fall of humanity from any state of perfection, informing, “This text is commonly treated as the account of ‘the fall.’ Nothing could be more remote from the narrative itself. In general, the Old Testament does not assume such a ‘fall.’ Deuteronomy 30:11-14 is more characteristic in its assumption that humankind can indeed obey the purposes of God.”[12]

Identifying the Universal Moral
            Instead, the moral to the Adam and Eve myth is nowhere as tortuous as the Christian rendition makes it. As we’ve seen, once you strip away the Christian theology you will discover a much more simplistic Hebrew myth underneath. Since myths must contain universal morals for us to find them universally meaningful, it stems to reason, the moral of the Adam and Eve story is not what Christians typically think it is (given that such a moral would be confined to Christian theology and apply only to Christians). Rather, I posit, the Garden of Eden story is a coming of age tale about growing up and becoming adults and rebelling against one’s parents—then taking on the consequences and burdens of adulthood without your father’s continued pampering.
            Contrary to what Christians typically think, God is not testing his Children’s love or loyalty, preparing them for the journey. God, as the archetypal Father, is preparing his children to make the transition into adulthood. Being a cunning father, he does what any wise parent would, uses reverse psychology, and tells his children not to do something he knows they can’t possibly resist the temptation to do—like sticking one’s hand in the cookie jar after explicitly being instructed not to.
            Thus they partake in eating the forbidden fruit. Meanwhile, the serpent never actually lies. He merely brings Eve the message that the tree contains knowledge, and that it can be used for food, and Even finds both things are true. This knowledge she shares with her husband Adam. The sin of disobedience is not the real offense—because as I have stated they simply did not have the capacity to tell right from wrong. Holding them accountable would be unjust not to mention unethical.
            Once they gain the knowledge of good and evil, we might say, is when they fully become adults, and the signs are obvious. First they become aware of their own nakedness, an obvious allegory for puberty. Next, having taken it upon themselves to clothe their bodies God discovers them, scolds them for disobeying his command (as if they ever had a choice), and gives them “punishments”—God curses Adam to toil the land and woman to suffer child labor. The snake gets off Scot-free (since his only punishment was to slither on his belly the rest of his days—but as a snake which already slithered on his belly, I’m not sure it was actually that much of a punishment). Obviously these curses are not meant to be taken literally, since it is a no-brainer that work is hard, giving child birth is even harder, and snakes slither on their abdomens. Even so, myths are designed to explain things, such as earthquakes, lightning and thunder, as well as why we suffer, and for this reason we find that the Adam and Eve myth reads splendidly as an allegory for the responsibly we must endure as able adults. Here is where the moral of the story is to be found.
            Indeed, such a coming of age story is commonplace among ancient fairytales and folklore. The folktale Little Red Riding Hood contains a similar message—that it’s important to listen to your mother lest you fall victim to the cruelties and darkness of the world. Anyone who has read the original versions of the Little Redcap maidenhood fable knows that it’s also a coming of age fable about womanhood. It’s not, however, a theological explication for why the Goddess Freya loves all those who worship her. The fact that both are pagan folklore, or the fact that there is a talking wolf in one (rather than a talking snake),[13] are not reasons enough to make the strange conflation that Christians do when they combine a fable of a snake with the unrelated salvation theology of a highly evolved Christian oriented Christology. Indeed, combining the fable of Little Red Riding Hood to Norse mythology is the same sort of weirdness Christian theologians are asking us to buy into when they say things like the Garden of Eden story is about “original sin” or a “fall from grace.”
            At any rate, to say the point of the Adam and Eve myth has anything to do with Jesus is simply incorrect. I’m sorry, but Jesus doesn’t even enter the equation, the fable just doesn’t have anything to do with a Jewish rabbi in first century Palestine, let alone anything to do with his destiny, and its a big give away that only Christians make this mistake. Adam and Eve have nothing to do with Jesus. Although, a fair critic may point out that Jews might go as far as to maintain that Adam was the original man—the archetypal ancestor of all Jews—as well as the whole of the human race, but that’s where the similarity ends. As such we can be sure that any introduction of Christology is merely a later theological concern of uncritical Christians.

            In order for the myth to contain a universal moral it has to relate to human experience universally. Since the Christian version only relates to Christians, and no one else, it is a good bet that the Christian reading is heavily predisposed to the Christian worldview, and cannot contain the intended moral for a broader multicultural readership. Therefore I find Linsley’s reading of the Adam and Eve myth rather colored by an obvious Christian bias, by superimposing Jesus onto a story thats not actually about Jesus. Genesis is not about Christ and some Edenic Promise—Jesus is not the seed for which will crush the serpent—because as you will recall, this is Paul’s theological vision derived, most likely, from the serpent symbolism, a distinctive literary artifact, implanted into the Gospels by Matthew. At the same time Father Longenecker is mistaken when he claims that Adam and Eve had a basis in history or that it is more historically reliable than other myths. As we have seen, the first few chapters of Genesis, involving Eden, are entirely without historical support. Also, the serpent (the garden pet, more or less) is not entirely a bad figure. Contrary to his bad reputation he’s actually quite honest, loyal, and he doesn’t complain and these are all good virtues. At the same time, the serpent shares his own archetypal template with other guardian serpents which guard trees of life and knowledge.  The moral, as I have pinpointed it, is merely to prepare us the way to adulthood by explaining the responsibilities one will have to take on as they become independent individuals apart from paternal guidance. That’s the universal message contained within the fable—it’s the moral at the core—and it’s a message which constantly gets overwritten in favor of the Christian one—which is, in my opinion, wholly unfortunate. All the same, we now know that the Adam and Eve story is just like any other origin myth—nothing more and nothing less—and that’s a good revelation to share.

            [2] Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions, p. ***
            [3] Harold Kushner, How Good Do We Have to Be?, p. ***
            [4] Dan Dennett, Breaking the Spell, p. ***
[5] There’s no excuse to remain unenlightened on the matter of talking snakes and religious superstition, not with the powerful tool of the Internet at our finger tips. See: “Serpents (symbolism),”, available online:
Retrieved on: 9/20/2008
[6] I may have to retract this comment, since a recent Harris study which polled what people reasonably believe finds that 50% of Christians believe the ‘Adam and Eve’ story to be the direct cause of evil in the world, while another 55% believe that the snake and Satan were interchangeably the same figure responsible for the downfall of all mankind.  How is this thinking at all healthy?  For more startling statistics regarding what Christians in America believe refer to:
            [10] Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p.***
            [11] Quoted in: The Hell Jesus Never Intended by Keith Wright, p. ***
            [12] Ibid.
            [13] In the earliest versions of the Redcap fable there was no wolf—but rather a hairy and monstrous man who was described as wolf-life. See: Nortons Anthology of Children’s Literature, p. ***

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Synoptic Problem

I found a real great summary of the Synoptic problem HERE.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I Will NOT Take the Blasphemy Challenge. Why not?

Someone once asked me to take the Blasphemy Challenge and prove the conviction for my new found atheism. To his shock, I flat out refused.

"Come on, what do you have to lose?" He jostled.

"Absolutely nothing," I replied snarkily, adding, "But that's sort of the point now, isn't it?"

A confused look ensued.

Not that I'd waste the time spelling it out for someone like that, but I did feel I ought to give my reasons as, perhaps, a way of compelling others not to make the mistake of doing so.

First off, taking the Blasphemy Challenge gives religion face-time it doesn't deserve. Believers will inevitably use the gimmick to their advantage, creating an equally absurd challenge, like, "Praise the Lord Challenge" and then turn it into a contest only to declare they win due to the sheer numbers of idiots who gladly took the challenge to counter a stupid challenge to counter their original position to the opposition of proposed challenge. 

Richard Dawkins, Dan Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have all publicly taken the test, and passed with flying colors. Well, good for them, I suppose. But I personally would not take it. I would simply refuse, or else, and probably better, give a vacant stare and reply, "Whatever could you mean?"

The whole idea behind the Blasphemy Challenge is poorly reasoned, and here's why. It's a bad idea for the same reason it would be entirely stupid of me to ask anyone to deny the existence of Santa Clause, or better still, swear against the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It is asking someone else to do something ridiculously stupid on your behalf just to gain brownie points, or look cool, be rebellious, or whatever. All it amounts to, however, is denying things which (obviously) do not exist. I don't know about you, but I am not in the habit of denying all the things which don't exist. It's a waste of my time. It's puerile. It's nonsensical.

Likewise, I see no reason to get de-baptized either. The entire ritual to counteract an obviously spurious ritual seems doubly nonsensical to me. It's literally inventing a new ritual to counter act an already admittedly contrived ritual--but isn't that in itself just as contrived? What, are we going to do next, start having de-prayer ceremonies to counter-act the imaginary effects of prayer? Should we face West when we do it just to spite all those who like to face East? I don't know about you, but I personally find the whole concept rather stupid.

It exhibits a stunted mentality, a inability to reason beyond the limits of, well, the same faith-based reasoning these people are so proud of saying nay to. It is sort of like those thirty year olds who still go out partying, and feel like it somehow makes them young and hip if they call "shot-gun" on the way to the car. Come on dude, your thirty. If your only chance of hooking up with a chick is at a bar, then so be it, but just blurting out "shot-gun" makes me feel sorry that I'm driving, because I'll be the one stuck in the front seat with a moronic teenager trapped in an adult's body.

So, no thanks, but I'm not going to take the Blasphemy Challenge, not only because it's unnecessary from a logical standpoint, but mainly because it is just as moronic as I described above.

Maybe some people find some sense of personal satisfaction in the triumph over their past religious upbringing, but I never resented my Christianity--I just had very specific problems with very specific areas--and mainly with the fact that none of it held up well to scrutiny. But I dealt with that and moved on. Taking the Blasphemy Challenge would merely give undue face-time to a religious concept that I no longer believe in, and it would come at the expense of my own foolishness--it's a votive done in vain. Indeed, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is completely imaginary... but if you're too dense to catch the irony of why it would be just as silly as to openly, with sincerity, make a public show of denying such a thing, then you probably wouldn't get why doing the same for God is any different.

Of course, in retrospect, there is one motive for taking the Blasphemy Challenge I have not mentioned, and that motive is vengeance. If your past faith was horribly traumatic and  stinting, and you just want to rip it to shreds, then by all means... have at it. I'm not saying a person doesn't have the right to make such declarations--I just want them to know that in so doing they play the role of the fool--they look ridiculous in the process--and that's the wrong sort of message we should be sending to the opposite team. Instead, we should just politely smile and then, just as quickly as it took us to forget what the question was, change the topic to something more relevant.

Advocatus Atheist

Advocatus Atheist