As I was watching the Paralympic opening ceremony, which was wonderful, the commentator told us that the giant apple alluded to Isaac Newton and the scientific enlightenment. My mind went back to my first year at secondary school (a very long time ago) and something else the apple represents, the forbidden fruit in Genesis.
I was not a very religious child. Like most kids then I was familiar with “Bible Stories” and never really thought about whether they were true or not, I just accepted them. At some point during my eleventh year though I decided that I should read the Bible seriously so I decided to start at the beginning, Genesis.
I didn’t get very far. I soon discovered that the creation story in Genesis I contradicts the creation story in Genesis II, but the bit that really fascinated me was the Garden of Eden story in Genesis III
It starts with the arrival of the Serpent. God has already told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of “the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” They are told that, if they do, “thou shalt surely die.” The Serpent contradicts God and says that they won’t die. He says “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”
Well Eve decides to eat some, and also gives some to Adam. They don’t die, they become suddenly aware of their own sexuality, and cover themselves with fig leaves. God returns and is not best pleased. He banishes Adam and Eve from the garden saying “Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.”Now this all puzzled me, if you look through Biblical Literalist eyes you are forced to draw some conclusions
- God was lying and the Serpent was telling the truth
- God is happy so long as man is innocent and ignorant (more a pet animal than a human)
- Adam and Eve are banished as a punishment for acquiring wisdom and knowledge, and to prevent them from acquiring more. And threatening His power.
- There may well be more than one God – “the man is become as one of us”
That was enough for me really.
I thought, at the time, that I had made an important discovery. Unfortunately my RE teacher disagreed and I became a victim of his favourite punishment, standing at the front of the class, arms outstretched, with a bible on each hand. You can probably guess what this punishment was called.
Looking back on this as I grew older I saw that the story is full of metaphor, but none of it is flattering to God, who comes out as an autocratic dictator. I also gradually realised that for some Religious people that’s fine.
They actually want an autocratic dictator for a God!
So I guess we are both happy, they get their dictator God and I find a proud metaphor for the enlightenment (or just for growing up) in the very heart of their holy book.
- I know this take on genesis is not original. It is fairly central to Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy for instance. When I was eleven though, I thought I was the only person who had noticed. The reaction of the RE teacher actually came as quite a shock.
- I‘ve just re-noticed that when God banishes Eve he says “in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children”, alluding no doubt to the pain and danger of human childbirth. And why is childbirth so dangerous and painful? Because of our outsize brain – yet more divine punishment for being intelligent.
So here’s to Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. Come what may I’m on their side, and I think the people behind the Paralympic opening ceremony are too.