Originally posted by josephw
Guilt comes from having a conscience.
Having a conscience comes from knowing right from wrong.
Knowing right from wrong comes from knowing the difference between good and evil.
Knowing good from evil comes from disobeying God.
Disobeying God comes from being a free moral agent.
Being a free moral agent comes from having been created in the image of God.
Or something like that!
Let me see if I can work from this in the other direction:
(1) I don’t think that one can properly speak of moral
agency before one can tell right from wrong, good from bad. Free agency entails the ability to make choices from among options without duress (which does not mean that all decisions do not have consequences). So I don’t think that the first humans in the Eden story can be considered to be free moral
agents until after eating the fruit.
(2) “Disobedience” cannot, then, be considered to have any moral weight at that point: the humans could not have known yet whether obedience/disobedience was good or bad. Quite frankly, since the Hebrew words tov
refer to any sense of good and bad—from “bad weather”, to “good day” (yom tov
, as a greeting), to “that was a bad (morally wrong) thing to do”—the humans were at that point in a state of innocence where they could hardly assess beforehand the consequences of their actions. They would not have even known that “death” was a “bad” consequence, if they knew what it meant at all.
(3) Disobedience does not follow as a requirement of free agency. Free agency requires the ability to choose and a choice-set from which to choose. That’s all.
An interesting feature of this story is that Adam and Eve are faced with a choice before
having acquired the moral wherewithal to reasonably assess the possible outcomes (consequences) of that choice. In the context of the human condition, we really only learn such lessons by
making choices, and realizing the consequences. Parents attempt to provide ever-widening “safe” conditions in which their children can learn such lessons without disastrous results; eventually, children become adults and are faced with choices on their own recognizance.
Now, whether God might be considered a good or a bad parent in this case depends on how one reads the story. Perhaps God allowed the humans to be faced with this particular choice-set too early in their development. Perhaps he didn’t count on the trickster-serpent tricking them ( the kind of thing that parents hope against when they first send their children off to school, for instance). One can note that God did not send them out into the world naked, but clothed them (and what wonderful allegories we might draw from that!). Perhaps his recitation of what life will be like in the world ought not to be taken as a pronouncement of punishments, but as a warning of what to expect.
This story can be read on various levels. One is as a coming-of-age-too-soon tale; of (moral/psychological) children being tricked; of the awful realization—too late!—of what has happened (who of us has not felt that at one time or another?). I cannot believe that God did not want the children to ever become adults (what kind of God/parent would that be?), nor to forever be faced with choices (as free agents) without the mental preparation to be able to assess consequences. At some point, the children are expected to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad; the tragedy may be that they had the choice foisted on them (by the wily trickster) too soon.
[One reading, based on a phonetic word-play (a pun) in the Hebrew suggests that God did not clothe them in garments of skin
, but in garments of light
—the words in Hebrew are homonyms that sound alike when spoken (read) aloud. The light of consciousness? A ray of redemptive hope? Of the possibility of enlightenment? The Torah is full of hints and allusions that each reader must unpack for him/herself.]
Within the context of the story itself, I do not think that the first humans in the story can be judged as anything but absolutely innocent prior to having eaten the fruit. I do not see moral condemnation as being any part of it (except for the serpent, of course). The innocence of God also depends on how one reads the story. I see it as a story rich with existential poignancy all around.
[And I wonder what hints and allusions there are in the fact that the serpent was permitted in the garden to begin with…]