A comment following my post two days ago “What’s good for the goose…” suggests that sometimes we are introduced to idea that we somehow recognize without further analysis, that resonate with a depth that cannot be fully described. As I said, I’ve had this experience in what we sometimes call “love at first sight.” I’ve also had it in relation to music. I can’t tell you why a piece speaks to me, or even put into words what it means. But it is sometimes immensely powerful.
Ideas, on the other hand, rarely bowl me over in that way. I love ideas, but I so often see their potential limitations that I am rarely stunned into silent awe. “And the greatest of these is love,” probably belongs to that very small group of ideas that seem to reflect a transcendent truth. And Chomsky’s exploration of the implications of Einstein’s e=mc2 which completely eliminates my need for another “spiritual” world beyond the world of energy and matter in which we exist.
Today I was introduced to a third idea that I find simply stunning. It is an explanation of the “sin” committed by Adam and Eve which drove them out of Eden. The Sin was to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, an action which always mystified me. Until now, I thought this sin was a violation ofsome supposed arbitrary rule like eating pork or having meat on Friday. Or far more destructively, the sin was the desire to understand, a definition that in my view represented nothing more than the attempt by those in positions of power to maintain that power by keeping the “plebs” in a state of ignorance by naming the attempt to gain knowledge “hubris.”
But today I was introduced to a third possibility. The sin of eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is exactly that. It is believing that we can judge who is bad and who is good. It is believing that we know who is pleasing to God and who isn’t, who is on their way to hell and who is going to heaven. It is knowing who the enemy is who deserves to be killed, it knowing what other people’s motives are, it is knowing who is “one of us,” and who isn’t.
Believing that we can make these kinds of judgements with accuracy and impunity is what destroyed life in the Garden of Eden. It divided the human community into good and bad, into “us” and “them.” It gave war and revenge a legitimate evil justification. No wonder the authors of Genesis made this an idea of the devil.
I need to think about this more deeply, but I am wondering if ultimately Genesis sees a willingness to settle our differences through physical power rather than through listening and negotiation and compromise as THE great sin of mankind.
Is all war, then, always wrong?
I have been greatly influenced by World War II. Could we, in all conscience, simply have let Hitler complete his ghastly work of ethnic cleansing?
Clearly Chamberlain’s agreement with Hitler, his “peace in our time,” was a charade.
But could we have, should we have, negotiated? Could we, in the worst case, negotiated to accept all of the Jews and all the other people Hitler claimed were “inferior,” into our own countries?
And what of Afghanistan today? From what I am reading, outsiders from the British, the French, the Russians, and now the Americans, have, for centuries, misunderstood the tribes living there. Today we Americans have vilified the Taliban, with the “knowledge” that they are evil. It’s an attitude which is making negotiations with these “terrorists,” and our withdrawal from Afghanistan extremely difficult. Because we already know who is right. We already know that anybody who disagrees with us are the “bad guys.”
Of course we have to live by principles, and by our convictions.
But eating of the tree of knowledge of good and evil might just be that terrible sin of judgement by which we think we know not only ourselves but everybody else too.
What if we had the conviction that war is always a Great Sin, always the wrong way to solve our differences? Yes, I know this is immensely idealistic. But as an ideal, how does it stand up against the nuclear option? or sending in “more troops”? or “dying for one’s country”?
As I say, I need to think about this more. But I’m stunned.