Monday, November 22, 2004

Trying To Put The Fruit Back

Opinions Nobody Asked For took a wrong turn and ended up in theology. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

Genesis 3 is one of the Bible's most well-known stories. It chronicles how Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command, ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and bad, and were therefore banished from Eden. It takes up maybe a page of rather unimpressive writing. However, deep within this story and its myriad interpretations lies a key to understanding America's cultural divide.

The Christian thought that has shaped our society - and continues to shape it - refers to the episode as "the fall of man." Here the emphasis is on man's disobedience and punishment. From this story comes the Christian doctrine of "original sin," claiming that all mankind has been tainted by sin because of Adam and Eve's transgression. The act of the first couple, therefore, is an undeniably bad thing.

But most people recognize another dimension behind the story. Had Adam and Eve never eaten the fruit, they would never have known good and bad. Indeed, it is said that "their eyes were opened." But because of this eye-opening experience, they first began to feel shame at being naked. It can be argued that the point of the story, then, is that we must pay for the pleasure of knowledge with the pain of moral responsibility, that because we know right from wrong we are charged to do right.

Perhaps it can be said that when Adam and Eve ate the fruit they held on to the seeds and planted them all across the earth. It is true that we are constantly eating of the fruit of knowledge - personally and collectively. Each time we do, we are faced with painful and sometimes horrifying choices along with the benefits we reap.

And always, there are forces that would wish that we had never eaten, that want to put the fruit back on the tree and return to our sojourn in Eden. You can see it in the people protesting a nuclear power plant. And you can see it when you read about the Texas school board's decision to eliminate contraception from their textbooks, or when you hear about plans to teach abstinence-only sex education classes, or when you hear about people protesting a new movie about famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.

But recall that once we ate the fruit there was no turning back. Adam and Eve tried to put the fruit back. They even lamely passed the buck onto the serpent. But God would have none of it, and so we were doomed. We were doomed to a life of moral responsibility when we took that first bite and our eyes were opened. We can no longer put the fruit back where it came from - we must now face the choices that are in front of us.

To advocate abstinence-only education, to refuse to teach our children about contraception and safe sex - this is trying to put the fruit back on the tree. Conservatives are trying to avoid having to make moral choices about sex, to set Alfred Kinsey up as the serpent and return us to our blissful ignorance. This is human nature - to wish for ignorance once we had knowledge, to shy away from our tough moral choices. But we must resist the urge to pretend that these choices don't exist. We are no longer in Eden - we are in a world of choice, and we must face the truth about sexuality and present our children with good solutions to the moral dilemmas that they will inevitably face. We must realize that even if we wanted to, we can't put the fruit back.


Mike said...

When they were writing Genesis (which was when, a couple hundred AD?) I think the point of the story of "the fall of man" was, in fact, to frighten people away from exploration and expansion of knowledge. The implication was that God didn't want us to know anything without his permission. Surround us with all this wonder and then expect us to ignore it? Pshaw.

As for Eden, I guarantee it wasn't paradise if no one was getting any action. The fact that people would want to willfully return to our initial state of ignorance dazzles me. Stupidity is one thing: I can forgive people that, 'cause you can't help how you were born. However, when people actively seek ignorance over knowledge, I find it hard to believe that's God's plan for humanity. Doesn't it seem more likely that maybe He gave us our intelligence and curious nature so that we could fully reap the wonders of all that He created?

No, you're right, probably not. Silly me.

Anonymous said...

Well, I do confess, this may be the first time there's a theological discusson where I feel I've got nothing useful to add.

I've always seen the Garden of Eden story in terms of each human's personal relationship with God and how we willingly cut ourselves off from God by making bad choices. That said, your spin on the tale is interesting. Whether I draw that lesson from the Garden story or not, it's a valid argument about knowledge.

Much as we'd sometimes like to, we can't "un-learn" knowledge. I'd like to sometimes. I am fearful about what people will do with cloning technology or the possibility of genetic engineering. It's possible those will only be used for medical purposes to make humanity's lot better...and not for, say, eugenics. But I don't have that much faith in humanity.

By the way...since you brought up theology...if you've got about half an hour to spare, I'd love to hear your thoughts on a sermon at my church just before the election. Go to and download "The Challenges of a Kingdom Obssessed Life." It's obviously from a Christian perspective, but I'm curious to hear your thoughts on it. You too, Mike. It touches upon Christianity and politics, but not in the way you would expect. It may simply hold no meaning for you since it approaches things from an unabashedly evangelical perspective....but it's seriously shaping my view of my role as a Christian in society. It also shows me precisely where American Christianity is going astray.

- Ben

Anonymous said...

I just found your blog while "Googling" "the tree of knowledge of good and bad" I also found a very interesting article I thought I'd share, it's at

the article is "Everything you need to know about life."
you might find it interesting.