An interesting discussion came up tonight in a forum I frequent - What was going on with the snake and the tree and the fruit in the Garden of Eden?
General agreement by most that it was a story of not obeying and suffering punishment for it. That's the story I heard in Sunday School and apparently most others did as well. But I thought about it for the first time since I was a little kid, with adult cynicism and now I'm not sure... Here's my thinking and I'm sure I'm not the first to think it... among scholars or ThinkAtheists... but put up with me.
It's an allegory for the Parent/Toddler relationship. Adam and Eve were toddlers told not to do something (don't eat the fruit), but not told WHY NOT to do that thing. The authority doesn't owe them an explanation and they wouldn't understand it anyway. If they obey, they can remain children and be taken care of forever and ever, amen.
But they disobeyed and ate the fruit and gained the understanding of WHY NOT that the parent had. They're now adults (or at least adolescents) and now they have the burden of taking care of themselves that comes with understanding WHY NOT. And the world is tougher and they have to make decisions and nobody will take care of them.
The Ancients saw this Fall as a bad thing. I think it's just a natural and healthy bit of maturation. The next step is to move out of the Parent's basement altogether and live completely without him, because we're not children and he's not necessary anymore. That's where we are now: boxing up the good stuff and hopefully leaving the childish things for the Parent to put in the closet under the stairs. Eventually the Parent dies, but we've go our own thing going on so it's a little sad, but no regret and not a big deal.
But for the Ancients in charge, this wasn't just a story about disobeying and punishment. This is a story about presuming to think you can even understand the decisions being made on your behalf. Like you might say to a toddler: "Because I'm the Mommy and I say so!", that's the message. It makes the transgressor go from thinking "If I do it, this bad thing will happen," to "I shouldn't do it because I shouldn't do it." Discussion of the matter at hand is impossible because the nature of the transgression is irrelevant, it's that there's a transgression at all. Not "Don't question", but "There is no question."
And if you can get your subjects to believe that kind of thinking is why all of humanity suffers you can get them not to even think about questioning your authority.
Isn't this somewhat the way the Catholic Church in its heyday, and most totalitarian governments, have operated? But this is central to the Christian Church in all it's denominations and kind of a beloved story about our frail humanity. And it's really just propaganda designed to protect authority.
And it's a monumentally powerful bit of propaganda. Biblical , in fact.