Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Bible Blogging: Genesis, Ch. 1 - 3

It is natural for humanity to grasp for knowledge and understanding. Questions such as "How did we get here?" and "What's the purpose of our existence?" will continue on in perpetuity.

Science is beginning to answer the first question, yet we all struggle still with the second. But what happens when humanity doesn't have the tools and capabilities to make even rudimentary inquiries into how we arrived on earth? You get creation myths such as The First Book of Moses, Commonly Called Genesis.

The interesting thing about Genesis, especially in regards to fundamentalism, is that two creation narratives co-exist within the first two chapters of the book. The first creation myth (Gen 1.1 - 2.3) establishes the power of the word ("And God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light.'")and God's creation of humanity in his own image, imploring them to "[b]e fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it." I don't think it's too far-fetched to state that the last command haunts us today in regards to human overpopulation and the resultant environmental degradation.

The second creation myth (Gen. 2.4 - 2.24) is much more fanciful with God fashioning the man, Adam, from dust and then his wife, Eve, from his rib. Also, the timeline differs with God creating man first and then populating the earth with all forms of life, both plant and animal, for food and enjoyment. This differs from the first creation narrative where humanity comes last. God, it seems, can create two worlds and then somehow splice them together a la Donnie Darko style. How fundamentalists can reconcile two creation narratives with differing timelines is beyond rationality. It seems with God all things are indeed possible. Also noteworthy in chapter 2, God tells the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die," setting up humanity's fall from grace and humanity's mortality.

Enter the serpent in chapter 3, who can talk and beguile. This wily snake takes it upon itself to trick the woman into eating of the tree of knowledge, saying, "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." And wouldn't you know it, but that temptress falls for the serpent's double-talk and then gives some to her husband and he eats it as well. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked." God, naturally, finds out and punishes these two sinners by cursing them with not only death, but pain in childbirth and male dominance for the woman, and toiling in the soil for the man to reproduce his family's existence until his own eventual death. The final divine infliction upon these two transgressors is banishment from Eden, because there in grows the tree of life and God doesn't want them to gain immortality on top of having knowledge of both good and evil. God does not like competition, because, well, he's God.

Now, it's evident from even an elementary school education that this is a made-up story created by primitive people to answer pressing questions such as how the earth arose, how we got here, and why we die. Also, it has disciplinary implications such as servility to authority and the establishment of a patriarchal society.

The thing which matters today, is how, with all that science has accomplished and explained, can we believe this myth today? All the animals of the earth flourished in one day? What about those fossils showing millions and millions of years of adaptations and failed evolutionary experiments? Night and day aren't a product of a spoken utterance, but are due to the rotation of the earth on its axis as it orbits around the sun. We have evidence for all of this, fundamentalists don't have anything but the words in this piece of ancient literature.

Lastly, we should look at the message these creation myths perpetuate. Although more liberal religious people claim the command, "[b]e fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it," is one of stewardship, this isn't what's communicated in this translation. They're merely reinterpreting it to serve their environmental ideology. The command is simple: breed and conquer nature.

Another message embedded within the text is that women are second class beings, slaves to their masters, men. Let's be serious, how many of us would tell our daughters that certain careers or lifestyles are out of their hands because a book people believe is the word of God proclaimed that a woman's, "desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you?" Rightly so, not many.

And of all the things that bother me the most is God's punishment for man's thirst for knowledge in chapter 3 of Genesis. What kind of God would create an inquisitive being and then place a powerful temptation before it and declare it off limits? Are Adam and Eve merely playthings for this God? Does this God show forgiveness or love of any kind?

When you add the fantastic elements, the contradictory timelines and possible interpretations of this story together, the thing that should strike a rational reader is not the believability of the account, but that anyone of a modern education could still believe this literally.