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My son is in the throes of college application season, writing essay after essay about lessons learned in life, his character and experiences that define who he is. It’s hard to write about yourself in this way, especially when most of the prompts feel disingenuous. So when one comes around that sparks his creativity, he can’t help but apply to the university offering him the chance to create a world, rather than blather about himself.
The University of Vermont is one of those offering optional prompts worthy of kids these days. One of them in particular asks what you would do if a time traveler gave you a remote that can bend time for you but has only rewind and pause. Which button would you choose?
My husband and I pondered the question, neither of us sure we’d want to stay in the moment, but also not wanting to re-live the past. We have few regrets and the natural course is forward from here. Eventually he said, “I’d go back in time to the Garden of Eden and tell Eve not to eat the apple.”
Something about that didn’t feel right. The Garden of Eden is one of the most powerful myths of the West. It defines our civilization, and the three religions of the book, in a very specific way. Eating the apple of Tree of Knowledge of Good an Evil has brought just that—good and evil. War, separation, environmental destruction, abuse, all these things exist because we ate the apple. Yet every symphony, love poem, great story and cultural innovation have also come from the same source of knowledge.
Then it hit me, yes, I’d go back in time to rewrite the story of the Garden of Eden, but Eve would still eat the apple. And when God arrived later that day, the benevolent being would find his children dancing butt-naked to the music of the winds in the trees and the songs of the birds. When he asked what they were up to, they would turn to him and Eve, stepping forward and holding out her hand, would present the core of the eaten apple. The Great Creator would pause, wondering what his child would do next, for the fate of history would be decided with her answer.
“Did you eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?” he’d ask.
“Yes,” she’d reply with a smile, “and it was delicious!”
Our Stories Shape Our Culture
The story of the fall as it is written is understood by many scholars as the separation between man and God. In that moment, we fell from perfect union with the Divine and into our humanity, becoming nothing more than bodies to be subjected to pain and torture. In Genesis, God finds Adam and Eve trembling in the bushes, fig leaves sewn to cover their genitals, ashamed of who they were. How horrible to go from divine union to isolation in mere moments. Why would the acquisition of knowledge cause us to cower? Or make us feel sinful and in need of constant correction?
The reasons for such a religious foundation have long been debated, but I’m no longer interested in why the creators of Judaism, and by extension Christianity and Islam, wanted to teach humans that to know what God knows is a sin, or something we should feel ashamed about. I’m more interested in how that myth hinders us now that we’ve entered the Anthropocene Age. For we are no longer animals, slaving away under the sun trying to feed ourselves. That toil has been overcome, and thanks to our technical advancements, we now know how to feed the world. We’ve conquered the punishment set out to us by the gods. In reality, humanity has become the hands of the Earth, and as such, we are as powerful of a force upon this planet as any god. We’re on par with our storm systems, rivers, earthquakes and volcanoes when it comes shaping the face of this planet.
Yet the environmental devastation caused by our industry combined with nuclear weapon arsenals peppered across the world, doesn’t auger well for the future. It appears the hands of the Earth have taken their knowledge of good and applied it heartily towards greedy goals, and thus evil.
To me, it’s not surprising that humanity as a group would behave in such a way. When more than half the population has been raised on the toxic myth that they are sinners for wanting the knowledge to create, that they are mere bodies that must toil to eat and give birth, that salvation exists only if God wishes to give it to them, then how else would we act? We ate from the tree of knowledge and suffered for it. Therefore anything we do with our minds and with our knowledge, must also make us suffer.
A suffering, shameful, sinful race will only create in separation from the whole. It will never be able to see its place in the web of life nor within the divinity of the cosmos. A sinful people can only sin, therefore they will not see the face of God in their brother, and thus will kill their brother, not truly understanding that to do so is to commit suicide. A shameful people can’t hear the wisdom of the winds, the ocean and the planet itself that unceasingly whispers the truth, “We are one. We are one.”
It isn’t surprising that the hands of the Earth, raised to believe they are dirty, greedy and unworthy of God’s love, would act accordingly. As Lady Bird Johnson said, “Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them.” If our Father in Heaven thinks we’re sinners, then we’ve grown up exactly as we should.
The Technological Age Demands a New Myth
This is a problem, because we can no longer afford to think so little of ourselves. The Garden of Eden is a myth that has run its course, if for no other reason than it is now dangerous for humans to continue to see themselves as children in need of punishment. This mindset has taken every beautiful thing we’ve created and turned it into a game of war—we fight for raw minerals, human collateral, territory, and wages. We spill our filth into the rivers, oceans and the air we breathe, simply because we must make endless profits fueled by endless war. Meanwhile, we cower in our individual homes, plugged into our entertainment devices, ashamed of our bodies and spending millions on self-help books and diets that will only make us feel even more lowly. How thin is thin enough? How rich is rich enough? Many of us who are well off swim in a sea of guilt, knowing that our brothers and sisters only go hungry and suffer from disease because we don't have the will to grant our technological blessing upon all.
Moreover, we continue to create because we can’t help it. We ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and thus are co-creators with the divine whether we want to own up to it or not. As humans, our minds are programmed to continue to find new ways of living, to harness the forces around us, and push the boundaries of civilization. This is human nature and we shouldn’t be ashamed. Instead we must accept our power and understand that we are the hands of the Earth and co-creators with the Divine. We shape the cosmos with our thoughts and build the world with our will. We can create the Garden of Eden, or we can destroy it. Sorry Elon, Richard and Jeff, you can’t fly away to another planet and leave this one behind. For wherever you go, there you are.
Our technology demands that we leave behind the victim mentality and the illusion of separation. There is a new myth, one that reminds us of the love that lives within each being in the universe. This is the love that binds us together, that links seemingly different systems into a glorious web of life. It is this divine union of all life that makes it impossible to pollute a river without also killing off various forms of life, including humanity. There is no separation in the air we breathe, nor are our minds individual, like it or not. It is madness to continue to create while also being ashamed. There is only hell for the world if we stay on this course of self-loathing. Even our machines will hate us, because we will teach them to do so.
****Come with me back to the Garden of Eden…
God sees Eve delight in her discovery, watches Adam dancing under the golden sun, and he breathes a sigh of relief. They have accepted the challenge with joy.
“You think it delicious?” he asks.
“Yes, my Lord. Your knowledge is the most wonderful I have ever known,” she replies.
“I wondered when you two would discover it,” God admits. “I’ve been waiting for you to take your rightful place at my side. Come, my children, we have a world to create…together.”