Genesis 3 is a very important chapter in the bible. It has helped shape and re-shape Judeo-Christian views on human nature, the state of the world and the relationship between good and evil. It has affected and influenced philosophers, theologians, writers, politicians, historians, artists and the average person on the street. When I examine Genesis 3 I see a story that has been paramount in underwriting the conflict between faith and free thought, which has raged throughout history. This story serves as a precedent for religion’s continuous attempts to suppress reason among its followers and for its attack on anyone brave enough to examine God and their faith through the lens of rational thought.
Genesis 3 says:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say. ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate…Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”—therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-7, 22-23)
So in this story God creates humans without sin but also without knowledge of good and evil. Humans carry with them a sort of infantile innocence allowing them to be “sinless” simply by being ignorant. The one command God gives these naive creatures is to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil lest they die. (1) Adam and Eve appear fine with this command and neither of them seems to give the tree much thought until the serpent comes along. It is the serpent that gets Eve to question God’s command and see the value of what he was withholding from them. The serpent assures her she will not die but rather that her eyes will be opened and knowing good and evil she will become like God. Eve then displays one of the most wonderful qualities of humanity; curiosity, the desire to know more about the world around us and thereby better ourselves. Eve uses her senses to examine the tree and finds that the fruit would be good both as a source of food and to make one wise and so like any good scientist she tests it, she eats the fruit. And sure enough, just as the serpent had said, her eyes were opened and she became more aware of the world around her then she had previously been. God comes along looking for Adam and Eve. When he finds them he discovers that they have disobeyed him and then speaking to the other gods or himself says that humans have become like “one of us, knowing good and evil” and so he kicks them out of the garden to prevent them from also eating of the tree of life, which would allow them to live forever.
When examining this story and how it is usually taught to people in church what amazes me the most is the very thing that is never even acknowledged, which is the simple fact that everything the serpent said was true while what God said was in fact a lie. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they did not die as God had threatened but rather just as the serpent said their eyes were open and God himself admitted that they “have become like one of us, knowing good and evil.” I do not understand why this plain fact is so openly ignored? Not only did Adam and Eve not die after eating the fruit but according to Genesis 5:5 Adam lived for nine hundred and twelve years, so much for the trustworthiness of God. Now the reason anyone ever believes this god again after such an obvious lie is strange indeed but they do and throughout the bible this god persists in fighting against humanity’s purist of knowledge constantly calling them to forego their own reason and trust solely in him. This god seems intent on preventing humanity from growing in knowledge trying rather to reestablish humanity’s infantile mind so as to obtain humanity’s absolute submission and their continuous worship and sacrifice.
So why does the serpent get such a bad rap? Why, if you ask any normal person about the story will they say that the serpent lied when in fact he was correct? The serpent told the truth whereas God lied and yet the serpent is the one cursed and God continues on in history unblemished despite his clear sin. Robert G. Ingersoll, a great American orator and writer from the 19th century, astutely notes this and praises the virtue of the serpent. “If the account given in Genesis is really true, ought we not, after all, thank this serpent? He was the first schoolmaster, the first advocate of learning, the first enemy of ignorance, the first to whisper in human ears the sacred word liberty, the creator of ambition, the author modesty, of inquiry, of doubt, of investigation, of progress, and of civilization.” I say amen to that. The serpent has my gratitude for where God says “trust me” the serpent said “don’t trust me rather see for yourself”; where God says “listen to me” the serpent says “listen to reason”; and where God says, “fear me” the serpent says, “fear ignorance.” God demanded faith (ignorance) while the serpent offered reason (knowledge) and Eve wisely listened to the serpent. Truly, what parent desires their baby to remain a baby forever? Should not a parent nurture and teach their children so that they may one day stand upon their own two feet, make their own decisions and live a good life? Yet this god would have none of that rather he would have us all be intellectually barren living in diapers for all of eternity.
We live in a day when religious fundamentalism is growing worldwide at the expense of rationality and sound education. Dogmas and creeds are regaining the place they had lost as the dominate force in creating and controlling people’s morals, politics and over-all worldview. Reason is once again being viewed with hostility and suspicious in favor of mindless doctrines and ridiculous interpretations of archaic scriptures. Doubt is again a sin and faith is THE virtue. We are told one should have faith; faith in God, faith in you country and faith in your own unexamined beliefs. Sadly this unexamined faith endangers the world as it allows people to maintain their pathetic feelings of superiority over those who do not share their same unexamined beliefs.
Unfortunately, the fight against fundamentalism is one that is amazingly difficult. Fundamentalism has the advantage of being able to spread itself through birth, bribery, fear, laziness, coercion and violence whereas reason must rely solely on education. As we saw God demanded faith and relied on threats whereas the serpent demanded nothing and offered only information. So let us stand up against the faith of fundamentalism and evangelicalism by following the brave example of Eve. Let us continually take the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil through the process of education and learn to think for ourselves. Let us not waste the gift the serpent pointed us to by ceasing to examine and test the world around us so that we can make it a better place. God had millions of years to make the world a better place and yet has done nothing as far as I can see so I say it is our turn. It is time to stop starring at the sky waiting for a god that’s not coming and time to start looking one another in the eye, learning from one another and working together for a better future. And if knowledge makes us like the gods then I say let us dare to be gods.
(1)I’ve also always wondered, if Adam and Eve did not have the knowledge of good and evil how could they “know” that it was wrong to disobey God?