My contribution to a LinkedIn thread entitled, “Does Adherence to rationality lead to atheism.
Martin: Thanks for your comments. Your view that returning to Eden is unrealistic has a long tradition. The authors of Genesis—Genesis 3:22-24—noted that once mankind presumed the status of god by knowing good and evil, God stationed an angel with a flaming sword to guard the path to the tree of life so that mankind could never return to Eden.
So why do I take issue both with the bible and with the modern view that any reasonable existence requires law and order? To me, returning to Eden is a matter of comprehension, not intent. Without knowing how we expelled ourselves, there is indeed no way back. On the other hand, if we were to understand how it happened, we might find ourselves compelled to return. Genesis tells us how it happened. But, by making the point that no one could return, its authors assumed that, once subject to institutionally-imposed order, no one would understand how the expulsion had happened. And, as far as I know, no one, except possibly Jesus, ever has.
So how did we expel ourselves from Eden? Evolution gifted humans with special linguistic skills, through which we could share mind images of the distant future. Though it required upwards of 200,000 years after we were so gifted, humans eventually came to place more significance in their imagined future needs, than in their present experienced ones. Consequently, men, the males of our species, began forming alliances, in order to secure access to anticipated future needs. Such alliances were first authorized by Chiefs, and, with the advent of writing, by Kings or Gods—that is, by immortal kings who lived in heaven—and most recently by secular institutions. Knowing good and evil is the result of humans believing that whatever supports the alliance is good, and whatever defies it is evil. The expulsion wasn’t caused by original sin, as is usually presumed. As Genesis says, by knowing good and evil we thought we were Gods, and thus that we had dominion over life.
It was the lawmakers, not lawbreakers, who expelled us from Eden. But, let us not lay blame. When trying to secure everyone’s presumed future needs, the original lawmakers had no way to know they were not acting on behalf of God. Nor should we blame ourselves. Once it happened, humans became so emotionally and materially dependent on the law that the possibility it has separated us from life is of little significance. After all, how can we blame ourselves for doing whatever, and believing in whatever, is necessary to materially and emotionally survive legally imposed circumstances.
Your concern that life would be out of control without institutionally-imposed order, presumes it is under control now. Because, only the future—that which has not yet happened—contains the truth about whether viable, that is, life-sustaining order has been established, we can believe anything we want. Considering our utter dependence on law and order, we find immense comfort in believing that things are indeed under control—a belief that conveniently blinds us to the significance of any contrary evidence, whether historical or in the present.
Regarding your concern about spiritually-free cultures being overrun by more powerful forces, I can only say that life is risk. I trust that, if people were to realize that life is not about self, but about life, and thus know that love comes only of being true to life, then, they will take whatever risk necessary to live in the moment. It’s not the length of life, but its quality, that matters. To love, and to be loved unconditionally, is a quality of life reserved only for a body of people—call it the body of Christ, if you want—who are placing one another’s needs above their own.
Furthermore, in view of the sorry history of civilization, and of the clouds of uncertainty now gathering on the environmental horizon, the communities of families I envision might be a far greater spiritual force than we can now imagine. Such communities would consist of people who, without any designs on the distant future, took care of one another and the land that sustained them, according to the instincts Nature gave us. Indeed, after thousands of years, the authority of the human spirit might begin outweighing that of God’s sword—the alliances’ (God’s word) in every instance, is authorized by a sword.
Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” rings true to us legal dependents. But, should people ever get in touch with Eden’s reality, where the human spirit again rules, they will know that the world is not a stage, and love—life’s most-essential reward—is not an act.