Saturday, December 24, 2011

Our way or God's way

Jerry Coyne points us to Denis Alexander's "metaphorical" interpretation of the Adam and Eve myth. Coyne justly criticizes Alexander for ignoring the fact that millions of people (and no small few theologians) really do take the Adam and Eve story literally, and that while Alexander takes Adam and Eve metaphorically, he appears to take Jesus' resurrection literally. Coyne is correct, of course, but even as metaphor, Alexander's interpretation is deeply problematic.

Alexander wants to interpret Adam and Eve as a "narrative" which "tells the story of humankind going their way rather than God's way." "All people," Alexander tells us "sin by their own free will." Without Jesus' sacrifice, humanity can win back a "friendship with God" that "first Adam – Everyman – is unable to accomplish by his own efforts." But if this story is just a narrative, if it's not actually true, then it becomes almost incomprehensible that anyone would adopt it.

What is this "God's way" that we are supposedly abandoning? What are these "sins" and why should they be an inescapable consequence of free will? It would be one thing if it were literally, actually true, if that's how God really did set up the universe. I can't comprehend why an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God would do such a thing, but I'm baffled by far less powerful beings (such as my college's web site designers) than Yahweh. If it's true, we just have to deal with it, just as we have to deal with Quantum Mechanics and economics, which are at least as weird as Original Sin and Redemption.

But if it's not actually, literally, true, then it's not just a story, it's a stupid story. If I have a choice, if the story isn't true, then it becomes at least ridiculous and at worst obscene and immoral. I'm not a "sinner"; I'm very happy going my own way and not God's.
I don't need a "friendship with God", and any friendship that requires the torture and death of a thinking, feeling being — and the character of Jesus in the Bible clearly depicts someone with very human emotions — is a friendship with a psychopathic tyrant: it's not a friendship I even need.

Whether we like it or not, we have to deal with the literal, factual truth. I don't like it that human beings can and have used nuclear weapons on human beings. I don't like it that human beings can and have systematically slaughtered millions of people with industrial efficiency. I don't like it that people can drop brutally torture and rape men, women, and children and then go home and play the part of loving parent and spouse, without a shred of cognitive dissonance and moral qualm. But these things are true.

But if the story of Adam and Eve isn't literally, actually true, if Alexander is seeing it not as a true story we must make sense of, then to not just apply but endorse the metaphorical meaning is to choose it, to endorse it because he likes it. And someone who likes that narrative is not a philosopher or theologian. He's a fool or a monster.

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