Once upon a time, God created Man in his own image, and placed them in The Garden of Eden, a Paradise where they could live forever in joy just by being there. No aging, no pain, no sorrow, no failure. On one side of this Garden few the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, whose fruits bestowed awareness. On the other side of this Garden grew the Tree of Life, whose fruits bestowed immortality. To Adam & Eve, the Garden’s only human denizens, God simply instructed “Do not eat the fruits of these trees.” And so they obeyed.
Until one day.
A serpent approached Eve from the bushes as she wandered by the Tree of Knowledge, and suggested that she eat an apple from its branches. “Why should Man be restricted from wisdom?” the snake tempted her. One of the defining features of Man is free-will: the innate right and ability to make choices. So Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and immediately became aware of duality, that she was different from Adam, of sin and purity, of light and dark.
God learned of this disobedience and feared Man would eat of the Tree of Life, achieving immortality to match their now divine intelligence. God feared they would become as Him. And so they were banished from the Garden, cursed to age, to die, to toil all their days. And we, their ancestors, are cursed to live similar existences…
Although millennia of human ingenuity and technological advances have made that toiling significantly easier.
This, if you are not familiar, is the creation myth from The Bible: the story of where we are from and why we are the way we are.
However, upon closer examination, the story of Genesis could actually be seen as a metaphor for human development. In our own lives, we are created by our parents, in their image (due to genetics), and placed into a (to our un-educated eyes) paradise where we don’t have to feed ourselves, clean or do anything particularly useful with our time other than eat and play. As Adam and Eve were unaware of their nudity, in early infancy we are literally unaware of our bodies and how to manipulate them. We also don’t know that there is right or wrong, good or bad. Very early on in life, we can’t even perceive the outside world as separate from us.
It’s only through time and experience, plus world-views consciously or unconsciously gleaned from our parents, that we start to learn about duality – right and wrong, self and others, mine and theirs, etc., etc. This sense of duality continues to feed a sense of individual self, with an ever-growing in complexity network of values, beliefs, wants, fears and aspirations.
Eventually, that sense of self begins to feel restricted by parental authority. Unlike in the story of Adam & Eve, we are not tempted by a serpent to expand beyond the limits set for us by our God-like parents. Be it an inner thirst for rebellion, peer pressure or passage through socially constructed rites of passage, in adolescence, something impels us to break free of whatever bondage we are in – that we have the right to have, to know, to go, to be, to varying degrees of conflict (or not) with our parents. The majority of us are not banished from our respective Gardens of Eden – we leave it in accord with well-established social norms such as leaving for college or moving out for that first job, ready to explore the world beyond the garden walls. In our culture, this leaving behind of Eden is viewed as a positive thing – something important and desirable. To grow up is to spend the rest of your days in toil, doing your own laundry, cooking your own meals, cleaning the bathroom, all the things your parents (hopefully) did before your hormones kicked in and impelled you to metaphorically eat of the Tree of Knowledge. Not to mention taking on bills and careers and relationships and, probably, eventually, a family of your own.
In spite of the general population being aware of the Garden of Eden as our origin story, our culture is structured in such a way that both the loss of paradise and life beyond the metaphorical garden walls are celebrated and glorified.
The dark side of this glorified loss of innocence has been especially present in the collective consciousness and mass media lately, in music with Britney Spears’ transformation from virginal school girl to supposed femme fatal and Rihanna’s “Good Girl Gone Bad,” in film with the Twilight saga and The Black Swan, and in television with shows like Gossip Girl, WEEDS and Pretty Little Liars. This may at some point be the subject of another article, but in the meantime you can read about the undercurrents of these media elsewhere.
What really happened when Eve took a bite of that apple was more complicated than gaining knowledge of “Good & Evil.” What happened was the bite of that apple woke her up to the fact that she was inside of a body that is separate from the tree she was eating from. That the tree was rooted into earth beneath that was separate from the sky above. She became aware that she was Eve, and that there was a God who created her, and she was in a body separate from Him.
The eating of the apple of the Tree of Knowledge was the moment that mankind lost its blissful innocence and became aware of duality. And as we know, duality is oh so very complicated and painful. So complicated that we have to be sent to school at a very young age so we can start to learn about it. And once you learn about how this world of duality works, you have to decide if you want to “make something of yourself” in it, so you have to seek more education in order to learn about deeper levels of duality. And then, over all of this, there are the trials and tribulations of learning about the duality between your values and collective values, relations between Self & Others, private life and public life, and even the relationship between your conscious self and your unconscious self. The list could keep going.
Whether or not The Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden has any truth in actual history, the structure and themes of that story are at work in every single one of our lives. Theology tells us that the eating of the apple was our original sin and that our expulsion from the Garden of Eden was a punishment and a curse. However, this viewpoint is not validated by our culture. We live in a world where failure to grow up, to get out of the metaphorical Garden of Eden and make something of ourselves through toil is considered a failure.
Just as our parents ultimately want us to grow up and do something, and probably ultimately surpass them, surely God had expectations of Adam & Eve when he created them. The conventional understanding of the story of Genesis has a flaw. Within the structure of this story, it is a truth that God created everything. This would include that snake that dared to tempt Eve into disobeying God. New Age-ists and occultists have ground for an argument that expulsion from the Garden was all part of the plan.
In the millennia since man has been ejected from Paradise, we have created society, agriculture, electricity, technology, industry, education, art and culture. In a world of duality, all of these have good and bad sides, of which we could spend hours expounding upon. Everything in our world is a double-edged sword. But we would have none of it if we were still frolicking naked through the Garden of Eden.
If our expulsion from the Garden of Eden mirrors the early part of a human life, an individual human life can be looked at as a mirror to understand the life of our entire species. After our own individual expulsions from Paradise, we work, we learn self-sufficiency, we create careers, we date, we make more friends, we join groups and fraternities, we get married and we establish families of our own, creating our own little Adams & Eves to occupy our little Garden of Edens.
The human race, for the most part, has reached the age of established security and complete self-sufficiency (as much as any person can create them). Current environmental and economic circumstances and inequalities would argue we could do a better job of this – but that’s another article entirely. In the article, Leaving Behind a Man-Made Hell, we established that the world we live in was created entirely by people and human ingenuity, including its problems. It is said by philosophers that to be God is to be able to create, to know, and to live forever. We have yet to perfect our ability to create, as exhibited by the mess of the modern world, but we have also not reached our full potential.
There are a lot of ways to view the current hell we have created for ourselves:
1. Human beings are cursed to eternal suffering due to original sin, unless we accept divine salvation. (Read The Bible)
2. The structure of society has been engineered by a secret, elite group of occultists in a grand rebellion against the authority of God. (Google search ‘Illuminati Conspiracy Theories’)
3. The modern world has been hijacked by a selfish, greedy elite desperate to consolidate more and more power. (Turn on the news)
4. The evolution of humanity has been halted by a final showdown with its own unconscious, primal survival instinct. (Take a look at your own psychological problems)
There is tons of evidence for each of these views, and more. Each of them have compelling arguments, truths and ways to invalidate each other, and you should delve into understanding all of them. This article, however, is about trying to understand the process by which our own personal destinies unfold, as well as the destiny of Man.
In adult life, we eventually seek to create a home-base that nurtures us like or better than our environment in early life. Harkening back to that story of our origin, when God learned that Eve had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, his specific motivation for casting them out of the Garden of Eden was to prevent them from eating from the Tree of Life and living for eternity, like Him. He even placed a cherubim at the gate to the garden to keep Adam & Eve from getting back in.
Any good parent wants their child to grow up and surpass them – but not until they earn it.
The next step in the life of our species is to re-establish the Garden of Eden. And in so doing we may get access, once again, to the Tree of Life.
The destiny of mankind can be witnessed in the destiny of individual man. Our individual grand finales are death – a return to the dust. All theologies speak of a life after death, be it reincarnation or an after-life. Most speak of the material world we live in as being an illusion, relegating death and the exit from this plane to the status of “transcendence.” We are the sons and daughters of God, and we are being raised with the same hopes and wishes with which we raise our children. The destiny of mankind is to earn the fruit of the other tree. To attain true life.