Archive for October, 2010

You, me, termites, and naked mole rats

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Quote of the day, from an article about simplifying one’s lifestyle:

Only termites, naked mole rats and certain insects like ants and bees construct social networks as complex as those of human beings. In that elite little club, humans are the only ones who shop.

From on Monday, August 9, 2010, and Friday, October 15, 2010.

Deconstructing the Garden of Eden

Monday, October 11th, 2010

God makes Adam and Eve, and they live in a garden in Eden.

They may eat of all the trees save one, the fruit of which harbors the knowledge of good and evil.

The snake convinces Eve to try the fruit of the tree.

She does, and in turn convinces Adam to try some, too.

He does, and their eyes were opened to the world around them, also noticing for the first time that they were naked.

God comes along and calls for them, but Adam and Eve hide in shame.

When God discovers they have eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he sends them from the garden and from Eden, never to return.

The Genesis story was one of many creation stories popular at the time it was recorded. It was not necessarily the most popular, but was chosen for who-knows-what reasons. Rather than focus on the historical context of the selection of this particular creation story for the Book of Genesis, I’m more interested in examining this story in terms of its archetypes.

Genesis has four main characters: father, mother, daughter, son. God is the father; Eve, the daughter; and, Adam, the son. But who is the mother? The serpent.

Original creation stories featured a goddess who created the world. As the storyline evolved, a son was added. Eventually, the son became consort, and finally the male god was kept and the female goddess was dropped from the creation story altogether in many parts of the world. However, one of the most common symbols of the goddess throughout the world was the snake. Therefore in this analysis, we’re going to say that the snake is the archetypal mother.

So, four main characters: mother, father, son, daughter. In the beginning of the story, they all live happily together in Eden, in a lovely garden. By the end of the story, the father tells the children they must leave the garden to make their own way in the world. What happened? Why would the mother encourage the children to eat of the forbidden fruit? Why would the father forbid the fruit in the first place? What is Eden?

What if Eden were representative of… childhood? What if Eden represents a time when father and mother take care of daughter and son? What if forbidding them from eating the fruit of the tree of good and evil is simply a way to protect the children from things they don’t really need to know about so long as they are children?

After all, many parents decide the type of television and movies their children may see, in the belief that some things, despite being part of the “real” world, do not need to be part of their children’s understanding of the world at that time. There is an understanding that at some point the children will need to face the world as it is, without the protections of youth and ignorance/innocence. But in the meantime, when they are young, children benefit from a worldview that protects them against the many variations of ill we humans do to one another.

If this is the case, then the father’s injunction against eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil has a good reason. It’s not time yet for the children to grow up. What, then, of the mother encouraging the daughter to eat of the forbidden fruit?

Really, the first step on the road to eating the forbidden fruit was not the snake’s encouragement, it was the fact that the daughter approached the tree at all. The act of approaching the tree demonstrated the daughter’s developing curiosity about the world around her and a nascent desire to understand the world on her own terms and not just as defined by her parents.

The mother, knowing that this time would come, occasionally monitors the tree to see if her children are starting to explore it. She sees her daughter approach and realized the time has come for her to grow up and begin to make decisions for herself.

“Go on, try it,” the snake says.

“But daddy says we aren’t supposed to,” the daughter says even as she reaches up for a fruit.

“Your father is just trying to protect you, but it’s time you stand on your own two feet, beloved.”

The daughter eats of the fruit, looks around, and the world is different. She’s developing her own sense of right and wrong and her own understanding of the world, based upon the knowledge she gains of herself and of the world. She’s growing up.

“Look, brother ! Look at this!” the daughter calls to her brother.

“Hey, sis. Whoa, you’re not supposed to eat that, dad said.”

“I know, but it’s really cool. You ought to try it.”

“I don’t know…”

“Come on, one bite won’t hurt you.”

And the son eats the fruit and the world changes for him, too. But he’s not so happy about it because he thinks maybe it was better when he was a kid and maybe he doesn’t want to grow up just yet. Also, he’s mad because he didn’t think of it first.

“Hey, I didn’t want this! Why’d make me eat it?” yells the son.

“I didn’t make you eat it; I just gave it to you.  You ate it!” the daughter yells back.

“Kids! Settle down!” says the snake.

Then the dad comes along. What’s all this ruckus? Oh… you ate from the tree. And he gets sad, because he knows his son and daughter are children no longer. He won’t be able to protect them from life’s ups and downs. He looks at his wife the snake and says, “Well, we knew this day was coming.” Then he addresses his children, “Kids, you’re growing up now. Your mother and I will always love you and support you, but it’s time for you to make your own way in the world.”

So the son and daughter leave home to learn about the world on their own and to come to terms with it in their own ways.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And that’s Eden. A place where you used to live, when life was simpler. A place you miss, perhaps. Or perhaps not.

N.B. Since this is an archetypal reading of the Garden of Eden, realize that each persona (mother, father, son, daughter) can represent an aspect of one’s personality. Meaning, this story isn’t essentialist and doesn’t propose that only girls are naturally curious and only boys naturally feckless. Rather, we all have aspects of our personality that are protector, encourager, adventurous, and cautious.