Catastrophe or Conspiracy
This is an excerpt from
our book “In The Beginning”
The full text is available in Mobile format
at Amazon’s Kindle
From a biblical perspective, the answer to the question, Why are we here – meaning, why are we where we find ourselves to be right now: in a chair, at a desk, reading or writing these words, alive as far as we know, more or less content with that, but never far below the surface tormented by the gnawing fear of illness, financial disaster, shame, and loneliness, all the while hours, then minutes, now seconds closer to death and the grave – can be found in Genesis, in the Garden of Eden, specifically at the event commonly called The Fall.
The Fall. There has always been something fishy about that particular Bible story. In fact, I find there are numerous passages in the Bible which seem to make no sense. Many of these, I realize, are the result of misunderstandings or confusion in translation or transcription. These are procedural and editorial errors, and as such harmless enough. Others may have actually been intentional misrepresentations, conceived to serve some cause or conflict among ancient Jewish and early Christian sects. In effect, shepherds fighting over custody of the flock. For example, I have read that the New Testament book Mark is thought to have been written for consumption by new and potential converts in Rome after an unsuccessful Jewish resurrection in Palestine against Roman colonial rule. And, so as not to offend that audience, negative references to Pontius Pilate and other things Roman were softened or left out. Thus, in Mark’s report of the crucifixion, Pilate is cast in the more reasonable role (”Do you want me to release Jesus?” he asks the crowd in a gesture historians seem to think is extremely unlikely), while the Jews play the heavy (”Crucify him!” which line has been read by Christians over the centuries as an excuse for anti-Semitism).
As seekers, none of this should surprise us, for the Bible is no ordinary publication in the sense that we think of books in our time. It was never a single manuscript, complete from Genesis to Revelation, submitted by some aspiring author to one publisher after another until eventually it appeared on bookstore shelves and TV talk shows just in time for the Christmas buying season. In fact, the Bible’s route to us was far more tortuous than ever that one could be, and while this is not the place to review the not entirely happy or untarnished history of the Bible’s compilation into the single unit we now love so wisely, it is never inappropriate to recall its flaws, for ultimately they are our own.
But still, having said all that, there remains a category of biblical enigma which does not lend itself to the careless scribe, partisan pastor, or ruthless rabbi solution. In this group, the element of mystery seems to be built right into the passages themselves, shamelessly calling attention to itself, and fairly defying the reader to abandon the orthodox interpretation in search of what else may, or may not, be discovered beneath the surface, disguised and hidden from ready view. And of all the passages that fit into this mold, the Genesis account of The Fall has been for me one of the most frustrating and tantalizing. Like a loose tooth, it has been an irritant I could not ignore, could not seem to fix, and could not spit out.
The first thing to recognize about The Fall is that none of us can afford to ignore it. Whether we consider it to be fact or fancy, a myth or just a silly story, its effects on us are real. Psychiatrists make much of the scars we collect from experiences which occur in our childhood, for these, they say, can shape and determine the way our lives will unfold. For example, to oversimplify for purposes of illustration, if there lies hidden deep in our subconscious a shady, fearsome memory of having one morning as an infant spit up our breakfast oatmeal all over father’s new suit, eliciting from him the predictable spontaneous outburst, we may never again be able to enjoy oatmeal, or in the extreme case, even sit comfortably at a breakfast table, all without realizing why. Until, that is, a psychotherapist helps us in unearthing, confronting, and defusing that memory, so that we may recognize that that event was not the calamity we subconsciously recall, but rather an ordinary, routine morning at the family breakfast table. Indeed, we will realize that it is in the very nature of babies to spit up oatmeal and of fathers to be spit up upon. In a word, we will see the offending memory for what it is, a childhood distortion, and be able to release it. In so doing, we are rendered free of blame; there being no guilt, there is no complex.
Now, put The Fall into that clinical context, and imagine the potential effects on the human psyche, individual and collective, of being ceaselessly reminded and tormented, from pulpit and subconscious, that in our cosmic infancy not only did we foul Our Father’s day (and, remember, by that point in time, there had only been about a week of them!) but we soiled Paradise itself. Clearly, therein lie the seeds of an insatiable guilt complex of mega-proportions.
Again, I expect it makes little difference how we think about The Fall, or whether or not we consider ourselves to be religious. Those of us raised in a Judaeo-Christian-Islamic culture (and virtually all traditions share this account in one form or another), and particularly those shaped by the fundamentalist ethic, are bound to have had this element of that heritage firmly imprinted upon them. The only resolution is to unearth and confront the offending memory, as we did with the oatmeal incident, and discover, if we can, the real meaning of what happened that day in Eden.
There is a children’s game called “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” which, like many children’s games, can be usefully adapted to adulthood; in this case, to help discern reality from illusion, fact from foolishness. The game consists of a simple picture, usually suitable for crayon coloring later, drawn with numerous intentional errors which the players must discover. For example, the scene might be of a country barnyard showing a farmer milking a cow, a horse grazing, and a hen clucking about her brood. But sharp-eyed youngsters will quickly notice that the cow is depicted without udders, the horse with antlers, and the brood is composed of ducklings. While some of the errors may be more subtle, all of them will be of that order. The lesson or moral of this game presumably is that first impressions can be deceiving. In life, we are urged, take the time to look again, carefully, without expectations or prejudice. Sound advice, and it is precisely what we wish to do here as regards the picture of The Fall presented to us in Genesis.
But before we do that, let’s take a moment to rehearse the scenario for those who may have forgotten the particulars. In the beginning, after having created the heavens and the earth, God planted a Garden in Eden called Paradise, and there He placed Adam and Eve, warning them gently but very specifically (there is no way this incident can be faulted to inadequate or misleading instructions) that they could eat freely of whatever they might find there EXCEPT FOR ONE THING, the so-called forbidden fruit, which they may not even touch, much less eat. Then, the words barely out of God’s mouth, Adam and Eve not only touched the one thing, but they ate it! There was also present in the Garden a serpent (”more subtle than any other creature”) who it was that persuaded Adam and Eve to eat the forbidden one thing. (Actually, to be precise, the serpent persuaded Eve who persuaded Adam.)
When God discovered this unhappy turn of events, He punished Adam and Eve, just as He had promised He would. The two were banished from Eden, and sentenced to a variety of ugly consequences known to us now collectively and simply as “life”. We are told that, when confronted by God, Adam tried to implicate the Creator Himself (can you imagine such nerve?) by pointing the finger at Eve and noting that, after all, she had been His idea. For her part, Eve blamed the serpent, who apparently either did not feel the need, or was denied the opportunity, to defend himself, for he did not speak out on his own behalf. He was nonetheless sentenced to go thenceforth “upon your belly” (suggesting, one supposes, that in the beginning serpents were erect) and to be generally despised by all creation from that day forward.
That is the picture. Now, what’s wrong with it? Well, right off, it is apparent that there are at least two items in the Garden which do not even belong there: the fruit and the serpent. If God did not want Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit, why did He put it there? He had an entire Universe in which to hide it from them. And if that was not space enough, He could have created another. Still, if it had to be in Eden (perhaps the tree would not grow in any other soil), then, as every parent knows, the worst thing God could have done was flag it to their attention by forbidding it. To every child’s ears, the words “You can’t have this” generate “I want that”. Had God not mentioned the tree and its fruit, it might have been eons upon epochs before any of us stumbled across it. Or, if He had to mention it, at least God could have installed an insurmountable fence around it.
As for the serpent, practically by definition, Paradise is a place without serpents, certainly venomous or otherwise nefarious serpents. There is no other way for it; the serpent does not belong in this picture. Yet, there it is, and apparently with free run of the Garden. Also, why was the serpent created by God to be more subtle (that is, mentally acute, clever, discerning, cunning) even than Adam and Eve? It makes no sense. Can you imagine a parent putting a newly born infant into a playpen with a poisonous snake and a toxic apple, and then leaving it there with no more protection or advice than the warning, “Don’t get bitten and don’t eat the apple”? And then getting angry at the child when it does!
Or, look again at the behavior of Adam and Eve described in this scene. Eve walks over to Adam and says, in effect, “Honey, this nice snake said it’s okay to eat that forbidden fruit God told us never to touch. Have a bite, it’s good.” To which Adam replies, “You mean to tell me you have there in your hand the very one thing God specifically insisted we must neither eat nor handle on pain of exile, a life of endless work and pain, death and eternal hellfire, punishment without end? Sure, I’ll have a bite.”
I mean, really. Was Adam so dense? Why did Eve not simply step on the snake’s mouth? And, perhaps most confusing, why was God surprised when this disaster just waiting to happen happened? Worse, as we alluded to above, why did God punish mankind, not to mention serpentry, for realizing an event whose potential, nay whose inevitability, was His own making, and which must have been as evidently apparent to Him as it is now to us playing this game? The fact is, this picture has gone beyond the bounds even of our children’s game; it is literally riddled with errors. This cow not only does not have udders, this cow is not a cow.
Distilling the issue down, the unanswerable question seems to be this: How is it possible in a Universe created by a Perfect Creator inhabited by beings created by Him and like Him that an event so overwhelmingly reeking of imperfection as The Fall could occur? In a word, how, where nothing could go wrong, did something go wrong? The orthodox response is that the created beings were provided at birth with freedom of choice, which included the freedom to choose imperfectly, or to choose to be imperfect, which, of course, they did. Everything that ensued from that choice for imperfection, or out of that imperfect choice, was caused by it, and we have only to glance at today’s newspaper headlines and obituaries to be reminded of its continuing influence upon us. He warned us, so stop whining. The logic is flawless. Or is it? As in every card game, watch the dealer’s hands closely. Theologically speaking, we may be being dealt a fast shuffle here, and it has something to do with that business about freedom of choice.
Let’s look at it this way. God is Perfect. So perfect, in fact, that when applied to Him, the word is capitalized. Now, instantly I acknowledge that one might fairly argue that that observation about God is arguable. That is, God’s condition or nature, at least as we know it from where we sit now, is far less a matter of fact (or of fact to which we have access) than it is of perspective or paradigm. To my way of thinking, for example, God may be male or female, a warrior or a huntress, a unity, a trinity, or a multiplicity; but to yours, a product let’s say of an entirely different culture, God may be something else altogether. After all, in a very real sense each of us creates God for ourselves, perceives God in our own image or through our own imagination. We see everything, including God, through the only lenses we have, our own. How else could we? But whatever may be our views on the matter, however we describe God, I expect we could agree on this one point: that to be God is to be perfectly whatever God is. After all, that is in part how we differentiate between ourselves as humans and God. We are imperfectly good (or bad or whatever), whereas God is perfectly good (or bad or whatever). Thus, the word or label “God” suggests perfection. Again, while we might disagree over what God is, we could likely agree that whatever He (!) is, He is perfectly that. Even those who are uncertain about other aspects of God’s nature, or about whether or not God as such exists, presumably can agree that whatever God is, or if God is, God must be perfect, or Perfect, to be God. Otherwise, we are not talking about God but about something else.
Now then, perfect is an adjective which describes a thing in its entirety or in its every respect. That is, it is a condition. It affects or informs the whole entity so described, and is evident in that entity’s every respect. If something is perfect, there cannot be any aspect or element of it which is not also perfect, and which does not reflect the perfection of the whole. There cannot be a trace or a hint of imperfection to the thing, not even the potential or capability of a trace or a hint. Otherwise, the thing would not be entirely perfect, and if it is not entirely perfect, then it is not perfect at all.
In common speech, we might say that a thing is “perfect except for such-and-so,” but, like many colloquialisms, although it communicates well enough, that construction will not stand up to the scrutiny of logic. Clearly, it is impossible for a thing to be partly perfect, sort of perfect, more or less perfect. Either a thing is perfect or it is not. Additionally, once perfect is always perfect. For a thing to deteriorate from perfection to imperfection, the thing must succumb to the deterioration process. But so long as the thing is perfect, the deterioration process cannot take place, cannot even begin, for there will be nowhere for it to take hold, no fertile ground in which to grow. It is impossible to introduce imperfection into a perfect thing. The perfect thing, being perfect, simply cannot be otherwise.
Similarly, a perfect being can be the cause of only a perfect effect. The creation of a perfect being cannot be other than like itself, perfect. Indeed, wholly perfect. Were it to be otherwise, were the creation to be other than like its creator, then where would the stuff of it have come from? The characteristics of a creation must be the characteristics of its creator. If not, then it is the creation of another. A light bulb can emit only light; it cannot emit darkness. If darkness should issue from a thing, then whatever that thing is, it is not a light bulb. Likewise, a cow cannot give birth to a colt. The natural issue of a cow will always be a calf, and if the issue is other than a calf, then the mother is other than a cow. Thus, we are told in Genesis that God created man “in His likeness. Of course He did; how else could He? It could have been no other way, and it was not. The biblical blueprint “in His likeness” confirms that.
In the beginning, God was Perfect. Being Perfect, God can cause or issue only Perfect effects. Thus, God’s issue is Perfect, just as surely as a cow’s is a calf. Like Him. Sharing or reflecting His Perfection. The creatures in Eden, Adam and Eve, the issue of God, that made the fateful choice for the forbidden fruit, were perfect. They had to be, for there is no way they could have been otherwise. So, The Fall could not have been caused by their imperfection because they could not have been imperfect. But if they were perfect, then what about the choice to eat the fruit?
A choice is none other than an idea or a thought. Its place of birth and its residence is the mind. It may have apparently external ramifications, as for example if I should choose to upend a water bucket over your head, but the choice itself, the act of choosing – from the initial inception of the idea as a possibility, through the weighing of the pros and cons, to the enabling decision, including the command to the muscles to act and move appropriately – all occurs in the mind and nowhere else. Also, the factors that enter into the choice-making process, the pros and cons, reside solely in the mind, and are of the mind alone. To be sure, they appear to be external, but they are not. In the water bucket example, your pleas for mercy and threats of retaliation may seem to me to originate from a source (you) which I ordinarily consider to be beyond or external to my mind, but my consideration of them, even my awareness of them, occurs entirely within the confines of my mind. Indeed, despite the obvious appearances, it is not your pleas and threats that I consider, but my reaction to them, my thoughts or ideas about them, what I think of them. In fact, what I understand to be a plea or a threat may have been intended by you to be neither; but that matters not at all. What matters is what I understand, for that is all that I consider. And all of that is in my mind and never anywhere else. Thus, wherever the presumed stimuli for our thoughts may seem to originate, or even if they can be said actually to have come from anywhere, is ultimately irrelevant. Witness in this context so-called compulsive fears which need have no basis whatsoever in external fact in order to be chillingly real, and literally physically crippling.
The mind considers only what is in the mind and only in the mind does it consider. Again, how could it be otherwise? To answer that, one need only try to shift the locus or site of mental consideration outside the mind. Shall we say, across the street? Obviously, it cannot be done. We might say the same thing somewhat differently: The mind considers only what is in it, or only what it already knows. Once again, how could it be otherwise? Try to consider something about which you know absolutely nothing. It cannot be done. If we do not already have in our minds the conception of a thing, at least in potentiality, if we do not already have in our minds the material out of which to build an image of a thing, we cannot think about it at all or ever. We cannot put anything in our mind that is not already there, at least in some form. How would we get it in?
Thus, at that fateful, pregnant moment of choice in Genesis, the mind of Adam and Eve, ultimately of mankind, wherein that choice was considered and taken, was perfect. As the issue of God, it had to be perfect. Further, it could not have known imperfection, even as a potentiality, because there was no imperfection in it, and a mind cannot know what is not in it. Being unable to consider imperfection even as a potential alternative, Adam and Eve could not have made the choice for imperfection which we are told they made, for clearly it is impossible to choose what it is impossible to consider.
So, Adam and Eve were perfect, and their choice had to have been perfect. But still, something went wrong. Could it have been possible that some outside agent (say, a snake) could have convinced or tricked Adam and Eve to be imperfect?
Consider that this way. If, as regards the water bucket I now have poised over your head, you plead and threaten in a language I do not understand, there is no way I will grasp what you are trying to communicate, no matter how hard you try (leaving aside other components or forms of language, such as gestures, facial expressions, body movements, and the like; to get the feel of this, imagine the conversation as taking place in writing). From the point of view of my mind, which is where all my points of view reside, you would not be saying anything intelligible to me, and the practical outcome would be the same as if you were not even speaking. For us to communicate, for me to hear you, I must have already in me the sounds, the concepts, the images, even the values – in a word, the language, that you are using. In this context, the word “hear” is appropriate in both its meanings: not only the current usage which expresses the sharing or exchanging of ideas, but also the biological explanation of the auditory process. If your vocal chords are not designed to the specifications of my eardrums, I will most assuredly not hear you. In this respect, the mind and the eardrums function similarly. The only way I can hear you – again, in both senses of the word – is if you and I can vibrate at the same frequency. It is that resonance which permits, which is, communication.
So, getting back to our written conversation over the water bucket situation, even if you should underline every word, I would still understand none of it if I did not know the language you were using. At the very most, I might comprehend that you were intent on something, but even that only if you and I shared an understanding of the function or meaning of underlining.
Thus, it follows that if at Creation Adam and Eve did not know imperfection, and could not know imperfection, then neither could an outside agent (again, like the snake) persuade them, either by logic or by trickery, to consider imperfection. The serpent’s arguments would have been as unintelligible as an unknown foreign language. Neither Adam nor Eve could have understood a word of what the serpent was telling them. They could not hear him! Any suggestion from him or from anyone or anything else that they be or act in any manner not in strict consonance with the characteristics of their Creator, characteristics which were also their own (for, as we have seen, He could not have given them any others), would have fallen on their eardrums as if upon a stone wall. In fact, what their ears could not hear and their minds could not consider, their eyes could not see, and for all the same reasons. Come to that, if the serpent was in fact fundamentally unlike Adam and Eve, as it must have been if it was capable of contemplating, not to mention pushing, imperfection, then too it must have been unlike God. And if it was unlike God, then it could not have been created by God, for reasons which we have already explored. So, there having been no other creator in the beginning than God, if the serpent was not created by God, then it was not created at all. And if it was not created, then presumably it cannot exist. So much for herpetology!
Reflecting upon our progress so far, we seem to have proven here that Adam and Eve could not have committed the act which every Sunday school student knows they did commit. And yet, clearly something did happen in the Garden of Eden that day. Something important enough to warrant specific reference and relatively lengthy treatment in Genesis (and other scriptures).
This much, at least, is certain: Whatever The Fall was, it was not a fall. It was not a manifestation or an expression of imperfection. That, as we have seen, would have been impossible. Also, there is no escaping the conclusion that whatever happened had to have been planned. The Garden, as we have observed, was staged for it. The tree was in place, where it otherwise should not have been; the serpent was more subtle, which it otherwise should not have been; and the humans were susceptible, which they otherwise would not have been. What’s more, accidents cannot occur in Paradise, any more than imperfection can reside there. And an omniscient Creator clearly cannot be surprised. So, despite the reports to the contrary, The Fall had to have been intended. This was Paradise, where God’s Will reigns supreme. If it happened, it had to be His Will that it should happen. Everything in the Garden, being the creation of the Perfect God, was perfect, and behaved perfectly. Nothing else is possible, and no other interpretation or explanation makes any sense.
So, it was all prearranged by God. The Fall was every bit an aspect of creation as every other aspect of it. That being so, clearly The Fall was no calamity at all. The Fall was a conspiracy, and God was (and is) the Principal Conspirator. Like the circus clown’s threatening water bucket which is revealed at the last terrifying moment to contain not water but harmless confetti, The Fall was not a catastrophe, not a crime, not a failing, not a sin. God was neither surprised nor angry. He knew it was going to happen because He planned it that way. Father wanted us to soil his new suit with half-digested oatmeal! So, no blame, no guilt, no complex.
Now, free of the offending memory, we can address The Fall without fear, and unravel its true meaning.
Just get rid of the false,
and you will automatically
realize the True.
Ho-Shan, Zen Master
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“In The Beginning”
was first published in hard copy in 1989
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