In a previous post (Eros and Psyche) I talked about the conflict between the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian worldviews and that Western civilization is a schizophrenic mix of both. These worldviews have generated conflicting mythologies that have had an enormous impact on art and literature.
The most appalling, sinister and damaging of all the myths is the Judeo-Christian myth of the Fall. We know that it never happened. Even the most devout Christian accepts that it is a metaphor. But what they still cling onto is the insane notion that it has an important metaphorical meaning.
The reality is that it has no meaning at all. Not only did the Fall not happen, it is also a metaphorical lie. It is nonsense.
This rather nasty myth has burdened Western civilization with body shame, the crazy idea of Original Sin, a profound mistrust and hatred of the natural world and a crippling belief that our true nature is ‘pure’, ‘spiritual’ and ‘other-worldly’.
The specifically Christian interpretation is based on a Jewish version of ancient Semitic and Babylonian myths. For a start, Eve did not give Adam an apple. The apple is not native to the ME, it is native to Central Asia and the last wild apple forests lie in the Tien Chan mountains of Kazakhstan. The original Tree of Knowledge was likely a pomegranate, which links us into a collection of myths around fertility and spiritual knowledge.
When Hades gives Persephone six pomegranate seeds, she is tricked into spending six months in the underworld.
It is no mistake that Hades is confused with the Christian Hell. But the original myth is about the cycle of the seasons. Persephone is the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest.
However the Christian telling changes much of this meaning. The Garden of Eden, instead of being a metaphor for nature’s abundance, becomes a metaphor for spiritual purity and innocence. When Eve tempts Adam with knowledge, they are cast from this state of spiritual innocence into a world of punishment and sin. What an awful story. And the Christian God wastes no time in punishing Adam and Eve. How? In the case of Adam he must labour hard in unfruitful soil but Eve is given a special punishment. God attacks her through the birth process. Charming.
If anything this is a myth about the struggle for life, but it is a shame that it is seen as a punishment.
But it is what the Judeo-Christian worldview has made of the myth of the Fall that matters and it was Augustine who delivered the fatal blow when he developed the doctrine of Original Sin. Augustine suggested that the contamination of Original Sin was passed from generation to generation through the sexual act – through semen to be precise.
The sexual desire of our disobedient members arose in the first human beings as a result of the sin of disobedience…and because a shameless movement resisted the rule of their will, they covered their shameful members. Augustine, De Civitate Dei (City of God)
The legacy of this nasty myth is the vilification of one of our most essential human needs, that of sex. It has led to the notion that the sexual act is one of sinful passion escaping the control of spiritual will. It has led to regarding the naked body, and most especially the genitals, as taboo and profoundly obscene. It is crazy talk.
Another legacy is the projection of the state of pre-Fall ‘innocence’ onto children. Let’s make no mistake here. The loss of innocence occurs when the child encounters their sexuality. The Western mind, poisoned by this myth, regards the getting of sexual knowledge, not as a sign of welcome maturity, but of a profound and harmful loss. I will talk about this in future blogs, suffice to say at this point that children are not ‘naturally’ guilty or innocent.
But the most sinister effect of all is the false separation of man from nature. This myth turns the natural world into a place of “thistles and thorns”. It teaches Christian that their true home, their real ‘eternal’ selves, are ‘spiritual’ in nature and belong in an abstract place called heaven – conceived as a return to paradise.
We will have progressed as a society when we have pulled the last roots of this odious weed from our collective cultural memory. It will be hard work because the roots run deep and even the most strident rationalist accepts Judeo-Christian ideas of obscenity, childhood innocence and hostility to nature.