Malfeasance In The Garden Of Eden
Consider for a moment a tragic hypothetical situation: A one-year old toddler is left alone with a loaded gun while his father runs an errand. On the way out the door, the father instructs the boy to not touch the gun, then lets in an older child from the neighborhood who, the father knows, has a history of playing with firearms. When the toddler, encouraged by the older boy, shoots and seriously injures himself, who would you consider the most guilty: The injured child, the older boy or the father?
Any reasonable person would lay the entirety of the blame on the father. Despite his warning, he knew his toddler was incapable of completely comprehending the magnitude of the danger presented by the firearm. By leaving a curious child alone with a loaded weapon, he created an enormous opportunity for tragedy. Worse, he GUARANTEED it, by letting in an older child who he KNEW would encourage his toddler to play with the gun. Such are the actions of someone who fully INTENDS a tragic outcome.
Now consider the Biblical myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden -- a very similar tale of a father (God) who left his innocent children (Adam and Eve) alone with a dangerous temptation (the tree of knowledge), then purposefully allowed a corrupting influence (the serpent) to lead them to disaster. As in our hypothetical example, any objective, rational observer would consider this "father" to be, at the very least, criminally reckless, for he created the circumstances that would make the outcome inevitable.
Yet Christian tradition informs us that, among the characters in this story, only God is blameless, while Adam and Eve are punished for their disobedience (and the serpent for his collusion). Applying this Christian apologetic paradigm to our hypothetical example illustrates its monumental absurdity. In such a context, it is the father who is the victim, not the innocent and ignorant child he maliciously endangered and manipulated. The one-year old toddler is solely responsible for shooting himself, because he exercised "free will," and the father has no choice but to inflict punishment -- because he "loves" him.
However, genuine free will requires not only an unencumbered ability to select among two or more choices, but also an understanding of the consequences of each. Prior to their "offense," Adam and Eve were as innocent and ignorant as the toddler of our story. They had not yet eaten the forbidden fruit, and thus had NO knowledge of good and evil. Their ignorance was so complete they didn't even realize they were naked (at best, they didn't perceive any need to feel shame or embarrassment because of their nakedness). Lacking such comprehension, their ONLY guidance was the warning given by God.
Yet this warning was countermanded by the only other apparent authority figure in the garden -- the only other entity who, along with God, clearly had an understanding greater than their own: the serpent. The first authority figure (God) told them not to eat from the forbidden tree, for ON THAT DAY, they would die (He lied, for Adam lived another 930 years). The second (the serpent) told them that eating from the tree would "open their eyes," and that they wouldn't die (all true). With God conveniently absent, they were left to trust the serpent.
In all honesty, if one takes the Genesis narrative seriously, the ONLY characters in this tragedy who are genuinely blameless are Adam and Eve, for only they clearly lacked a true understanding of the consequences of their actions. It's less clear whether or not the serpent understood those consequences. All we're told of him is that he was "more subtle than any beast of the field." Whether "subtle" is to be interpreted as "cunning," "meticulous" or "illusory" is open to debate (in the book of Revelation, Satan is called "that old serpent," but he is never clearly identified as the same serpent in the garden).
With respect to God, the narrative is much clearer, and more damning. Accepting the premise of his omnipotence and omniscience, we can only conclude that he alone is responsible for the circumstances leading to the "fall" of Adam and Eve. He had the power to create them already possessing the knowledge of good and evil (and thus able to TRULY exercise free will), yet he chose not to. He could have created their home (the garden of Eden) WITHOUT the tree of knowledge, yet he chose to tempt them. He could have prevented the serpent from leading them "astray," yet he not only let him in the garden, he granted him the power of speech. He could have returned to refute the serpent and re-assert his authority, yet he chose to remain conspicuously absent. He could have inflicted a lesser punishment (or none at all, given his own culpability), yet he chose to condemn all humanity to pain and toil.
Every choice God made in this story, every action he took, seems designed toward the predetermined result of a sin that dooms all mankind and demands redemption. This is not the behavior of a loving and forgiving creator, but of a sadistic and malevolent tyrant.
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