Τετάρτη, 12 Μαρτίου 2014

The Garden of Eden

Humans draw on experience. We are "genetically programmed" to do so. This is not necessarily a bad thing; if anything, it is probably a neutral thing. But, as with so many ‘neutral’ things, practically anything from the internet to nuclear power, it is when man’s reasoning kicks in that things start to change and take the hue of our own intervention. Our intervention, more often than not, consists solely of our experience on the matter. Knowledge is something hard to attain: it takes a lot of time and effort, things that people rarely apply to their search of truth (‘still won’t research and find all the root of the truth that he speaks of’[1]). Experience is often the easy, effortless alternative. In this way, we cannot claim fully objective understanding of and opinion on any single matter. All this is about the understanding and absorbing of already existing things and situations. But that happens when man’s experience interferes with reality? There is only one truth; different interpretations of it confuse us and trick us into claiming the existence of many different truths, something overly convenient for many. However, when we speak of truth, convenience is rarely a good thing.
On to the Garden of Eden: what a magnificent little fairy tale. I will not engage in the process of explaining in a reasonable way that there is no external force in the name of a ‘god’, because this is not the place for it. I choose to draw on the truth, universal as all truth is, that there is no god. Taking as a given that man has created religion, for a variety of reasons (from reinstating our sense of belonging, to many different political and economic reasons), it is interesting to search for signs of our human experience that may have influenced the details of a religion. As the title may suggest, I shall be occupied with Christianity. Let us take the example of the Garden of Eden.
The Garden of Eden constitutes or resembles a parallel universe, one in which the two first people to have ever existed, only just created by God, live peacefully in the company of all animals, surrounded by the virgin nature (note the use of the word ‘virgin’, a word so beloved by Christian officials). However, happiness does not go on forever; to define how much time passes before things go wrong is probably impossible, as there is no sense of time in this fictional parallel universe. At some point, anyway, Eve gets ‘tricked’ by the snake into eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, the very same tree that God had explicitly ordered them not to eat from, and goes on to feed it to Adam as well. This is the first instance of human experience reflected in this little story. Humans possess the ‘gift’ of curiosity (yet another neutral thing). Anyone who is in search of the truth of things would argue that eating from a Tree of Knowledge cannot be a punishable act, but, rather, everyone’s right. (Note that we cannot claim that everyone should eat from the tree; we all have the right to live in a lie, and no one can deny that knowing the truth at all times may be impractical, even if the difficulty arises because of the very people who live in the lie.)
Now, we have to keep in mind that, the human experiences that are reflected in the details of any given religion, while they may of course be accidental, many times they have a specific purpose. In this case, the purpose is to deprive humans of certain indefeasible privileges, according to the principles of Christianity. When Eve obeys[2] her curiosity and takes a bite off the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, she acts in a way in which many of us would have acted, were we in the same position. And this is exactly the problem: Christianity is founded on the basis of blind obedience to a higher authority (God) without ever searching for the truth of the matter. This is why the word ‘blasphemy’, such a strong and vicious one, is used to describe every instance of free and independent thinking on the believers’ side. Here I would like to point out that, against religion as I may be, my objection is not towards the believers in general, but specifically those who, in the name of their religion, cause harm to their fellow human beings; namely, those who obey their god’s will so blindly, that they won’t even stop to think who they harm in the process of believing. Back to the Garden of Eden. When Eve and Adam both eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, God emerges out of nowhere to punish them for disobeying him by casting them out of the Garden of Eden once and for all, cursing them to a life of labour. Note how the word ‘labour’ is being used today to describe hard work, as well as childbirth (‘woman goes into labour’). The criticisms of this particular instance are numerous.
First of all, here arises the exquisite paradox of God’s almightiness. For one might wonder (and rightfully so, since our faculty of thinking and reasoning about things shall not be hindered by something as preposterous as a religion), if it was indeed so important that Adam and Eve should not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, why did God put it in the same place as they were? The answer to this paradox, as any devoted Christian will claim, is that Adam and Eve should of course obey God’s orders so that they would not be tricked by any factor, external (snake) or internal (curiosity), into disobeying their maker. Then, why did not God create Adam and Eve in such a way that it would be impossible for them to disobey his orders?, the inquisitive mind would continue. The devoted Christian will once again have the answer ready, as the brainwashing of religion is indeed hard to defy: but, of course, God did not create humans to be mindless robots, but, rather, he blessed them with the gift of free will. This is perhaps one of the strongest arguments of Christianity against blasphemous inquiries of this sort. Whether God has faith in human kind (what a twist) and believes that we will not let him down by disobeying him, is to me unclear. I will leave it to a better Christian than myself to answer this. However, the reason why we are ‘blessed’ with free will is of no importance here: what is important is that the whole concept of free will is, in fact, a falsity. Here, the paradox unfolds itself, if we consider the following points. First off, let us establish the definition of ‘free will’: I believe it is commonly accepted that free will means that man has the freedom to think and reason, and subsequently act in any way he/she sees fit to the situation. The factors that may influence such a decision are irrelevant; what we need to focus on in order for the argument to be developed is that, in any given situation (extreme situations such as authoritative states are not considered here), man has complete freedom to act in any way he/she chooses.
Having established a coherent definition of the concept of free will, let us go on to explain how the Christian claim that humans are created by God possessing free will is disproved. The ultimate aim of any good and faithful Christian is to live a good and moral life, in order to gain a place in Paradise, once their body dies. The goodness and morality in this case are, of course, defined by Christian officials. Since free will is one of man’s faculties, however, it stands to reason that we can always act in a way that is considered bad or immoral (always by Christian officials). Should they lead a bad and immoral life, Christians are condemned to spend eternity in Hell, a place of agony and suffering. To get an idea of what is accepted as good and moral and what is not, we can look at the Ten Commandments. According to them, stealing, killing, lying and being unfaithful are considered bad and immoral. This is something that we can all agree to, a universal code of ethics and morality, if you will; i say it is universal, because all human beings are born equal, and all have the right to life, to private possessions and to truth, among others. Accordingly, depriving a human being of these sights is immoral and unethical. However, the Ten Commandments go on to order Christians to do some things that are not as universal and unequivocal; for example, ‘never speak God’s name in vain’ and ‘never swear’. Of course, the Ten Commandments are not the only source Christians turn to when in doubt about the goodness and morality of their actions. Let us not forget the ever-popular, all-time classic handbook, the Bible. (Oh, the Bible. Even the very name of the holy book should spark some faith into us, heathens. But maybe next time.) I will not elaborate on particular examples, as my knowledge around the Bible is very little (as much as I enjoy fiction), but it suffices to say that, along with some nice little stories (including, of course, the Garden), the Bible is very much an index of the ‘dos and don’ts’ of Christianity, for all the faithful to follow. That would be a Christian code of ethics and morality, as opposed to the aforementioned universal code. So far, we have established that Christians have to live their lives in accordance to the teachings of Jesus and God’s orders, in order to spend eternity in the beauty of Paradise, in the grace of God; if they don’t, they are doomed to spend eternity in the fiery pits of Hell, in the wicked company of the Devil. I believe that the paradox is clear now. We are free to act on our own will during our lives, but we have to follow the aforementioned Christian code of ethics and morality if we want to spend eternity in Paradise. I think it is safe to assume that, concerning the hypothetical afterlife (I say ‘hypothetical, as I believe no such thing exists), no one in their right mind would choose eternal torture, physical and psychological, over eternal peace of mind and serenity. Therefore, even though man is created by God as possessing the faculty of free will, we are, in fact, not free at all to actually exercise it, if that would mean going against the dogmas of Christianity; were we to do so, we would be condemned to an eternity of suffering in the afterlife.

[1] Lyrics from the song ‘Patience’, by Damian Marley & Nas
[2] I chose the word ‘obey’, because at times, when we follow our urges or wishes, we do so in a manner that is almost forced, thus implying that reasoning is not always involved.