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Garden of Eden: Peace or Freedom
The Garden of Eden and Human Nature
The Garden of Eden is an idyllic world of beauty, calmness and tranquility. It overflows with abundance, peace and security, but this happy state of affairs comes at a price: ignorance. In order to enjoy the Garden, human beings were required to forsake the knowledge of good and evil. Ignorance is bliss.
Ignorance was key to Adam and Eve's security and happiness, but also to their limitations. The story tells us that the two were so ignorant and blind they did not even realize they were both naked. Thus Adam and Eve in the Garden were in a state of proto-humanity, with their moral sense and their rational faculties significantly underdeveloped. As ignorant and innocent as children, they depended on their father, God, for sustenance and direction. Upon eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve "grew up," suddenly saw right from wrong, and could take responsibility for themselves.
For disobeying God's command, the first man and woman lost God's protection and were cast out of the Garden. The banishment of ignorance was a double-edged sword for humanity, providing clear-eyed knowledge and the opportunity for growth, but also the risk of danger, insecurity and death.
Freedom vs Peace in the Garden of Eden
The story of the Garden of Eden teaches us that ignorance is the principal obstacle to freedom, and that freedom is a principal obstacle to security. As long as they played by God's rules, Adam and Eve could enjoy the fullness of their reliable and predictable little world. But as soon as they stepped outside those tight boundaries, their "fall from grace" was inevitable, and they were on their own.
Hence the fundamental dilemma that has affected humanity since its inception, between peace and freedom. Both have their merits, but history tells us that it is very difficult to enjoy both together. With greater stability comes less freedom, and with greater freedom, less stability. Countless political philosophers have wrestled with the proper balance, if possible, between security in a society and freedom for its citizens; the good of the individual versus the good of the whole; the public versus the private.
For thousands of years, human civilization oscillated between too much freedom and too much authoritarianism. Modern developed societies, having achieved the best balance thus far, continue to debate the proper balance between security and freedom in economic, cultural and political affairs.
Adam and Eve's decision, however temporary, to rely not on God for guidance, but on themselves, represents a human tendency toward critical thinking, as well as risk-taking and the deep desire for growth and exploration. In spite of the need for security and predictability, we will always have this spirit of independence and experimentation.
Human potential cannot be restrained without changing what it means to be human, as the pre-fall "proto-human" Adam and Eve demonstrate.
Change and growth is essential to the human condition. In the absence of risk-taking, challenges and the quest for fulfillment, humans become weak, soft and spiritless. Lack of adequate stimulation has severely negative health effects, both physically and mentally. Studies have indicated that people who retire early often die sooner than those who continue to work or otherwise engage in productive activity.
Humanity outside the Garden
The story of the Garden of Eden presents a warning of the risks of experimentation and giving up the predictable for non-guaranteed gain, but it also reminds us that such risk-taking is inherent to humanity, and to our flourishing. We are not truly human without it.
Ignorance is essential to slavery. It features prominently in the authoritarian's toolbox, which is why every dictatorial regime has sought to perfect the art of propaganda and sheltering its people from new ideas. As long as people are not aware of alternative realities, and are not in a position to think for themselves, the autocrat will always be employed.
Harriet Tubman said:
If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.
From the Garden of Eden to today, the dispelling of ignorance has always been a precondition to liberation and flourishing. It continues to be one of our most important tasks.