Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why Did Adam Need Eve?

God said “it is not good that man shall be alone. I will make a help meet for him.” Why was it not good? What did God see, in this Western creation myth, that gave God second thoughts about his initial idea, which was to create one man?

For most scholars and most of us, the Bible, particularly the early parts of the Hebrew Canon, are considered metaphors and parables, written sometime around the Sixth Century BCE, well after most of the events described in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible took place. It’s possible that much of the creation myth was written in a post hoc attempt to explain life as the writers knew it. There were men and women – they must have come from someplace. Taking the cultural primacy of men as a given, what better explanation (and justification) than primacy of creation? Men had to work hard, women gave birth in pain, how to account for that. They were close enough to pre-axial times that an angry God who exacted punishment would not be a leap of reasoning.

If we set aside this post hoc explanation, what else might be possible? How do we account for God’s judgment that “It is not good that man shall be alone, and given God’s omniscience, why didn’t God see that in the first place and create two men (the “Adam and Steve” hypothesis)? Or why not fashion man so that it was good for man to be alone?

If we take the entire Garden of Eden story – from Adam’s creation to the expulsion – as a metaphor, what does it tell us? God creates a man from the Earth, thereby joining Heaven and Earth in humanity. No other animal was created this way; only humans are part Heaven and part Earth. Further, this being is created b’tzelem Elohim – “in the image of God.” Then God creates a woman from the substance of the man, so she simultaneously embodies the unity of Heaven and Earth as the man does, but also the unity of humanity – men and women are not different in substance, only in form, but they are different, and difference is the point.

What was different when Eve was created? If we assume for a moment the spiritual unity of humans with God and with each other, then God and the world could now be approached from two different angles, two points of view. We could argue that until there was a second point of view, Adam really had no choices to make – whatever he did was what there was to do, not unlike an animal that follows its passing attention to this or that path. As soon as Eve was created, humanity became capable of choice – there were two views of everything – so we could say that if it was God’s intention to give humanity free will, then a second being – similar enough to be connected with but different enough to have a distinct view of the world – was needed. It was “not good for man to be alone,” and the “help” she would provide would be the most essential help – another view to make them both smarter.

So far, so good. But this was Eden – there were no “wrong” choices, except one – the metaphorical tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or we could say the tree of the awareness of choice. I say the tree is metaphorical because, in this view, it was not the fruit that provided the choice, but the existence of the tree itself. God created the possibility of choice when God created Eve. God created the reality of choice with the command not to eat of that particular tree, placed carefully in the center of the garden.

Anyone who has raised children knows that the surest way to get a child to do something is to tell them they are not allowed to do it. With that injunction, this tree, theretofore distinguished only by its placement in the center of the garden, became a shining temptation. No serpents needed. Adam and Eve were confronted with choice and it was Eve – the embodiment of difference – who made the choice and Adam who followed, and humanity was realized in its fullness as the entity that chooses and that learns through exploring differences. From there we can read much of Genesis as an exploration of how we dealt with differences – Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham and his father Terah, Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and his father-in-law Laban, and Joseph and his brothers.

One story that is particularly interesting in this regard is in Genesis 11, the story of the Tower of Babel. According to this account, after the Flood humanity had achieved the Divine ideal of unity, united by a universal language. In what is clearly an allegory inspired by Babylonian myth and architecture, we are told that human arrogance and materialism resulted in the dispersion of humanity and a great diversity of human language. Now God became known by different names – in today’s terms, Adonai, God, Allah, Buddha-nature, Brahma, Krsna, etc.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger said that “language is the house of being – in it, man dwells.” It was a short step from calling God by different names to thinking we were talking about different gods. Somehow we have no problem with the fact that what we call a chair is, in various places, called a silla, chaise, kisay, sedia, stuhl, or stol. We understand that these are simply signifiers for the same object. We seem to have a great deal of trouble, however, understanding that God and Allah and Krsna, and Buddha-nature could likewise be the same.

It is an accepted view in communication theory today that differences can make us smarter. James Surowiecki, in his book The Wisdom of Crowds presents ample evidence that a group, if it is diverse, will come up with smarter answers to a question or problem than its smartest member could have thought of. On the other side of the question, the report on the Challenger disaster, analysis of how we got mired in the Vietnam War, and other analyses of failed efforts show that “groupthink” – the tendency of a group with insufficient differences to stop thinking once they all agree – makes groups less smart. The historic tendency of religious institutions to demand conformity to their view of God, humanity, and nature flies in the face of this evidence. It would not be an exaggeration to say that religious dogma and religious institutions have tried for centuries to undo the work that God did in making us diverse.

If we accept the Christian Canon, then there are two instances in which God recreates Godself in humans – the first is Adam, the second is Jesus. If we accept the idea of b’tzelem Elohim, we can take this to mean that the qualities of God are invested in human form. However, if we start from the Creation, then this is true of all humans – Adam is the progenitor and is infused with both Heaven and Earth, and Eve, formed fully from Adam’s substance, is the same. If Jesus is “the new Adam,” that quality lies not in his being a unique creation, but in his consciousness of his unity with God, a unity all people share but of which they are less aware. If we postulate that the route to this unity with God is through unity with each other (this is consistent with both the Hebrew Canon and those parts of the Christian Canon that we can reasonably attribute to Jesus’ teaching, as well as with Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim teaching), then institutional religion, in its attempt to get everyone thinking the same, is its own worst enemy, or at least the enemy of that which it professes to promote.

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