Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Humanity's Fallen Existence

Question number five of the "Nine Meaty Questions" sent in by a reader of Just Genesis is "Do you think the fall was eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, or was that just symbolic for some other disobedience?"

Answer: It don't think that the fallen existence of humanity can be explained simply as the result of eating from the tree of knowledge. There is more to this story!

Eating is an earthly pleasure and this story reveals how easily we are tempted to gluttony. St. Gregory (Pope of Rome) preached that "A man can use the world as if he were not using it, if he makes all external needs minister to the support of his life without allowing them to dominate his soul. They remain external to him and under his control, serving him without halting his soul's drive to higher things... no created pleasure in the world should ensnare you."

The idea that eating of a particular plant can make you wise is common among tribal peoples and shamans employ phytohallucinogins to induce trace states during which they receive knowledge from the spirits. According to Amazon shamans, the cosmic serpent taught their ancestors which plants to mix to overcome the body’s natural protection. Combining ingredients allows the DMT in the ayahuasca to produce its hallucinogenic effect when orally ingested. The vine also contains harmaline which can cause vomiting and diarrhea, but it doesn’t have an affect on shamans who develop a tolerance to its emetic and purgative effects over time. However they do not develop a tolerance for ayahuasca’s hallucinogenic effects. Read more about this here.

Here are some responses from readers:

Anonymous wrote: "The fall is a description of failing to obey and call on God for help in obeying. The real fall is not saying they're sorry."

Mairnéalach wrote: "The tree of knowledge of good and evil is a symbol. Until men get deceived by Satan, they enjoy a naive freedom from shame. Once they listen to Satan and disobey God, they have guilt and shame. The reason I say this is symbolic is because human experience recapitulates this disobedience and this revelation of shame constantly. Therefore, I may as well be Adam myself. The tree is the source of my tragic sympathy with the first man."

We must note that there are two trees mentioned in Genesis 2-3 and the one that Adam was commanded not to eat of was "in the middle of the garden" (Gen. 3:3).

St. John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) held that the first humans were created midway between corruption and incorruption and were free to choose. It is like the story (Deut. 27:11-26) of the Israelites gathered in the valley between Mount Gerizim (of blessing) and the Mount Ebal (of cursing) and God telling them to "Choose life!"

The Fathers speak of the tree in the middle of the garden as having both a material presence (literal existence) and as representing a state of being (symbolic of being created "midway"). Adam stretched out his hand and took of the fruit of that tree. Christ stretched out his arms on the Tree (Cross) and broke the curse of Adam. The Cross, like the tree in Paradise, literally existed but is also a state of being. Christian often speak of "walking the way of the Cross" or of "taking up the Cross." When, by faith and God's grace, we lift up the Cross we choose life.

Let us return to St. Gregory who poses the choice each human faces daily. He wrote: "If the object of love is what is good, then the soul should take its delight in the higher good, the things of heaven. If the object of fear is what is evil, then we should keep before ourselves the things that are eternally evil. In this way, if the soul sees that we should have a greater love and a greater fear about what concerns the next life, it will never cling to this life. To help us achieve all this we have the help of the mediator between God and man. Through HIM we shall obtain all this the more quickly, the more we burn with a great love for HIM, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen."


Jonathan said...

Alice, I have to say, I was somewhat disappointed with this post on the Fall, as the consequences of our first parents' eating of the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I think I was expecting from you some insights into how prominent a role that food and eating had as a component part of the sacred world presented in the garden of Genesis, and also about the spiritual understanding of the relative impoverishment of the fallen world, food-wise. I guess that, going back to your recent (July 7) post on the principal tenets of the Ancient Afro Asiatic Religious Life, which I have been reflecting on a lot, I would have to say that I am surprised to see that someone who has been immersed to this degree in the values of Genesis and of the ancient religious life represented there, was not ascribing as a value, -- of at least equal weight to the other seven or eight principal tenets that you have observed,-- to some aspect of the idea of food and eating. As author Michael Pollan, in the Omnivore's Dilemma says "The way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world." Waiting to hear if you have any more to say about the symbolism of the fruit of the tree! Jonathan

Alice C. Linsley said...

Frankly, Jonathan, I'm more concerned about fasting than eating. We got into this sinful state because of our lusting stomachs and eyes.