Philosophy with Attitude

Sat Jul 5 16:22:38 1997
Date: Mon, 21 Oct 1996 13:58:09 -0400 (EDT)
From: Jan A Nielsen <>
Subject: another forum piece for Friday in response to Dunhom's piece

Though it saddens me that Stephen Dunhom chose not to address the points that I made two weeks ago, I am delighted that I can once again provide a different viewpoint to the statements he gave us last week. The topic: the original sin, a fascinating piece of Judeo-Christian thought.

A question was apparently posed as to why all humans must bear the cost of the mistake made by the "Adam and Eve" characters of the Old Testament. Dunhom's answer (and that of the Christian apologetic community) is that even though everyone has to pay this price (basically, having to work for a living, experiencing pain in childbirth, and dying at some point), God is still merciful because He sent His son to pay the price for those who accept it.

Sounds nice, doesn't it? Those of you who were around last year for the much-publicized "$100 cookie" should now be familiar with the "Jesus died for your sins" mantra. But was it all really necessary? [As you read the following, keep in mind that I am using all references in the hypothetical sense, starting with "If God exists and the Bible is true..."]

The situation in the Garden of Eden goes like this (well, depending on which version of the Genesis story you like better, but that's another topic): God creates the heavens and the earth, plants, animals, air, light, and other things we couldn't get along without. Then He decides that something is missing -- animals, after all, won't worship Him the way he wants them to -- so he creates humans, first Adam and then Eve. Keep in mind, and this is very important, neither of them yet has any idea of the concepts of right and wrong; they just pretty much do what God tells them to.

Also keep in mind that God is omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent... even though it might not seem that way all the time, since the story also describes God looking for Adam and Eve and not being able to find them. So, God creates the Tree of Life, also known as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. He puts this tree in the Garden, knowing full well that Adam and Eve have no idea what's right and what's wrong... and then He allows the Serpent, a.k.a. Satan, a fallen angel, to sneak around in the garden.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what will happen next. The witless Adam and Eve are deceived into eating the fruit of the tree by the serpent, decide that being naked is bad and sex is fun, and go to hide from God and be naughty together. God eventually finds them and curses them for all eternity for disobeying him, and they are cast out of their Garden spot.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, close examination will show that God could have done any number of things to prevent this eternal mishap, without violating the free will of Adam and Eve. Angels do not have free will, and presumably even fallen angels are not as powerful as God. It would not have been too much trouble for God to remove the serpent/Satan from the garden, to keep him from getting Adam and Eve into trouble. Trees certainly don't have free will; it would have been easy to place the tree in a place that Adam and Eve wouldn't have access to, or even to not create the tree at all. God, being omniscient in all directions of time, would have known from the start that His children would disobey Him, and could have -- indeed, should have -- gone out of His way to keep them from eternal suffering.

Still with me? Well, let's assume for the moment that He could not or would not -- for whatever unfathomable reason -- prevent Adam and Eve from gaining knowledge of good and evil and that sort of thing. They've sinned against Him, and so must face His righteous wrath. They and all of their heretofore innocent offspring are cursed for eternity, unless they can find some way to make it up to Him. But this is impossible -- humans just aren't good enough for God, no matter how hard they try. Seems like a pleasurable eternity is pretty much lost on humankind.

Well, around 4000 years pass (if you add up all the "begats" and whatnot), and finally God has a Big Idea. Since all humans are inherently sinful, due to their great-great-and-so-on-grandparents' mistake, it will take someone sin-less to pay the price. The angels won't do, for whatever reason, so God splits again (or was already split when He first realized what was going to happen at the beginning of creation) to form His son, Jesus. Only Jesus -- who is part of God -- is sinless enough to pay the price that humanity owes.

This is yet another place in Christianity where atheists like myself have to draw the line, and here's what it looks like to us: God sends Himself to earth to pay a debt that humans owe, because He decided not to keep humans out of trouble. He suffers for a week or so (unless you count the approximately 33 years of earthy existence as well), is crucified, and rejoins Himself in heaven. It may be extremely heretical to ask this, but how much suffering is this, really? To us, it really looks as though humanity was set up right from the start -- God knew darn well the Adam and Eve would disobey him, and He knew that millions and even billions of people would suffer as a result. Does this sound merciful to you? It doesn't to me.

What makes a whole lot more sense -- whether you are religious or not -- is to read the creation story as just that. People of all cultures have tried for thousands of years to understand the human condition -- that is, babies are born, grow up, work, play, suffer, rejoice, and die (not necessarily in that order). Creation stories attempt to offer an explanation for this phenomenon of life; because what we think of as scientific knowledge was rare and hard to discover in the past, these explanations take on a supernatural (that is, "beyond natural") form. This does not mean that their lessons are incorrect -- far from it: many creation stories offer significant insight into the human mind and society. What is does mean is that we may be making a mistake in looking at them as literal or scientific truths. They were not written as science, because science as we know it did not exist then.

Once again, if you would like sources for this piece (I don't have a Bible handy so I couldn't reference each Biblical idea), please feel free to email me at If this piece troubles you... it should! The whole idea is to encourage you to think about the ideas that our society accepts as given, and to think about them critically. If you can still "keep the faith," more power to you, but even the Christian God wants you to examine your beliefs (sorry, I don't have a reference, but I do remember reading it somewhere...). Peace and critical thinking to everyone!

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