Monday, 7 May 2012
The Long Road From Eden
Not many people believe in a literal Adam from the Garden of Eden. Those that do are considered fundamentalists and out of touch with reality. They hold to the view that Adam’s literal historical existence is a vital part of the Christian position on original sin and the restorative mission of Jesus. They are right on this point. Vital doesn’t even begin to describe it. Indulge me for a moment. Original sin was, according to Genesis, the work of Eve encouraging Adam to eat a forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge, a very special tree in Eden and one that God expressly forbade the happy couple from eating from. To cut a very long story short, they couldn’t resist and sin entered the world, contaminating every single person that came after. Sin is, from a Christian perspective, such a grave condition that we need salvation from it, hence Jesus being sent from heaven to die on the cross, and in so doing absorbing all our sins and allowing mankind the opportunity to once again enjoy a relationship with God. A nice myth, I hear you say. Trouble is; if it’s just a myth then the whole house of cards is in trouble. You see, evolution teaches us that mankind has emerged over billions of years from simpler organisms, a process known as natural selection winnowing us and making us into the creatures we are today. From a strictly biological sense then, there never was a “first” man or a “first” woman, any more than there was a “first” horse or a “first” broccoli. This then begs the very troubling question. If there never was a literal first man, specifically created by God, then what does this do to the doctrine of original sin? More important, what did Jesus die for? Well, if you accept the sophisticated version; or the myth if you like, then it means that Jesus died for a metaphor. Now putting aside the myriad problems with the Gospels and the historicity of the resurrection, it means that the core component of Jesus mission, in fact the primary reason for his mission was built upon an event that never actually occurred. In essence, what you do is remove the spine from Christian doctrine, leaving something gelatinous and loose and vague. I suppose you could continue to argue that we need salvation from our sins, but you cannot refer to a specific event, a central historical event that set the whole thing off. So in a sense the fundamentalists are right to be worried. If they compromise here then they’ve compromised on everything. If I were a true believer it would have to be fundamentalism or nothing. Any less is just a compromise. Any less is an affront to the teachings of Christ. Just think of what it is claimed he endured during his time of Earth. The flogging, the crown of thorns, the humiliation, the crucifixion. For a myth? For a fable? And whilst I’m being picky, at what point do my early ancestors become culpable of this thing we call sin? In our present form we could probably go back about 200,000 years and still call ourselves human. At what point during our story did sin enter our understanding? More pressing, why did Jesus wait 198,000 years to act? These are difficult, some might say troubling questions for believers. I fear that evolution really does provide traditional religion with a very large hurdle to overcome. And I’m not at all convinced that it has.