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Going Beyond Adam & Eve

Here we continue my series on Going Beyond. This time we're not only going beyond Adam and Eve as a literal story, but also beyond all the negative effects that resulted from those who took it literally.

We all know the story of Adam and Eve. As John Shelby Spong points out in his book, Unbelievable, it was an ancient Jewish creation myth. He writes, "Early Jewish readings of this story never saw it in moralistic terms. For them, this was the story of human beings growing into self-awareness, learning to discern between good and evil, ceasing to be children dependent upon the heavenly parent for all things and finally having to enter their maturity and to assume self-responsibility."

This story was never intended to be taken literally, but it was. And, frankly, if you look on the internet, it still is. And, in my humble opinion, that has been a significant factor in the world being off kilter.

If you weren’t convinced it was a myth, a few things should have tipped us off:

  • Talking snake
  • There are two distinct Creation stories – Genesis 1 & Genesis 2
  • Adam and Eve as the first two humans give birth to two boys… think about that…
  • Perfect Garden of Eden on Earth, walled off from the rest of the world, guarded by angels, but never seen

Like Renita Weems, an Old Testament professor at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, always says on the first day of class with her first- year students, “This is not a course on what God said. This is a course on what the ancient Hebrews said God said.” In other words, don't take this literally!

There have been a whole host of negative social and theological consequences from taking Adam and Eve literally. The most obvious is how women have been treated. Seen as simply "helpmates" to men, and created second, from Adam (even though the original Hebrew doesn't really support this), women have been treated as second-class citizens for centuries. Plus, having listened to that ridiculous snake, Eve has been labeled as weak, and even evil, because she was the cause of the fall of humanity into sin. Without her we'd still be living in the perfect garden, happy and immortal. Right.

Theologically, this story is the basis for the doctrine of original sin (thank Augustine in the fourth century for that) which holds humanity in an inherently sinful state forever. In order to try and get out of this sinful state and estrangement from God a number of other doctrine were invented by the early church. Baptism would cleanse someone of original sin, but if you weren't baptized and died as a baby you wouldn't go to hell, but to limbo. Then Jesus was cast as the second Adam, obedient to God where the original Adam wasn't. But then God demanded restitution because Eve and Adam ate the apple, so Jesus became the sacrifice and savior of humankind. Putting it plainly, this is fear-based, abusive theology. 

Original sin dominated Christian doctrine and ended up twisting the life-giving message Jesus shared – I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

Pretend you have two sets of glasses. Through one pair you look at life and humanity from the standpoint of original sin, the fallenness of humanity, the inherent badness of human beings, the estrangement from God.

Through the other pair of glasses, you look at life and humanity from the standpoint of original blessing – the Genesis 1 creation story. God created the earth and all that is in it, including humans, and declared it very good. Through these glasses you see that people are inherently good, even when they behave badly.

Depending on which set of glasses you’re wearing you’ll see things differently and interpret them differently. And, if the goal of Jesus, and frankly, the spiritual path, is to have life and have it abundantly, then the glasses will change the story of how that happens.

If you wear the original sin glasses, the only way to get to abundant life is to somehow get rid of the sinfulness of humanity, right? How did that happen in ancient times? I already mentioned baptism. We can add tithes and indulgences to that as a way to pay your way out of purgatory faster and into heaven. In most churches you will also experience some type of confession and pardon. This reinforces one's sinfulness each week and the need to forgiveness. In addition, it is essential to literalists that you proclaim Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior because he died for your sins.

Now, if you wear the original blessing glasses, the way to abundant life is completely different. On this path, humans are reminded that they are good at their very core. Anything they’ve ever been told about being bad, or not good enough, or an abomination, is ridiculous because these glasses remind us that we are all original blessings, beautiful and unique with gifts and talents to help the world be a better place for all. With these glasses on, we see the sacred in each human being and know that when someone makes a bad choice it isn’t because they are a bad person. They just lost their way, or are dealing with mental illness, or simply made a mistake. It happens. It’s not the end of the world. You’re not going to burn in hell forever, or even spend an extra 500 years in purgatory.

Wearing original blessing glasses, the goal is to help people see the goodness in themselves. Abundant life happens when you are true to your beautiful Self, the part that is connected in Love to everything else.

These two ways of seeing can affect so much. Let’s look at a couple of scenarios:

What do we see if we are wearing our original sin glasses as you are looking at people in jail?  We see bad people succumbing to their true nature. We see punishment as necessary; they are only getting what they deserve.

Now, if we wear our original blessing glasses in this situation, we see the inherent good in these people We understand that they are hurting, lost, and in need of help and rehabilitation, therapy and perhaps meds, to find their very essence.

When we wear our original sin glasses design worship the service begins with, or includes the belief that we are all miserable, rotten sinners who needed a perfectly sinless man to die for us in order to save us. Because we’re always sinning, the service will give us a way to confess and ask forgiveness. Jesus on the cross (saving you from your sin) hangs in the front of the church so you don’t forget.

Wearing original blessing glasses to design worship means that we encouraged folks to come home to the inherent goodness, compassion, love, light and peace that is our nature. We’re reminded that we are sacred beings, Beloved of God, and our purpose is to share our love and light.

Hopefully you see what I'm getting at here. Moving beyond Adam and Eve as a literal story (with all its subsequent fallout) is a much healthier, loving, kind way to live.  It's way past time to move beyond the theology that has held humanity in a continually fallen, sinful state. We need to see ourselves and others as inherently good and seek to reconnect with that Self within us.

The Divine Presence within each of us is light and love, goodness and grace. That is the ground of our being. Knowing that is finding life in abundance. But we have to get beyond Adam and Eve first.

Love & Light!