Meditation on Good and Evil
I often think about good and evil. Why would a good God allow evil? Why as men are we always plagued with inner turmoil around the idea of our own goodness? Why do we among all animals suffer so greatly for our sins? As I ask questions like this I am always drawn back to the teachings of my childhood. Even as my beliefs have changed and grown, I cannot help but believe that answers are there in the book of Genesis. Very few stories or experiences have shaped my beliefs as much as this one simple story about a time when Adam and Eve lived in paradise. Paradise as I understand it, is a place without evil. In paradise man lives in harmony with his surroundings and experiences only joy and wonder for the world. In Paradise the world is man's place to play, learn and grow; his only job is to experience everything and give it a name. In the story of Genesis Adam and Eve live in Paradise. They know God and they know happiness and they know the world they live in. They are forbidden nothing but one thing, a simple fruit from a very specific tree. In the story they eat the one forbidden fruit and so they are denied Paradise forever more. They eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and can never return to Paradise. Understanding that one action reveals the most important understanding of the human condition. Without knowledge of good and evil we are in a state of Paradise and with knowledge of good and evil Paradise is lost to us forever. To me the wisdom of Genesis is that the heart of human suffering is caused by our capacity to judge; it's through judgement that we see good and evil and all the follies of man, greed, jealously, want, possessiveness, self loathing, idolatry, hate, embarrassment, vanity, and the rest -- all come into being. All emotional suffering is built from the one simple act of judging and from that act taken even once, we forever loose the ability to live in harmony with the world. In the first book of Genesis God creates the heaven and earth, this is a very important action, but not as import as the one that follows. When God is done creating the heaven and earth, he passes judgement on it. He looks at his work and declares it to be good. God does not say "This my creation is good and evil." What God does say in Genesis is as follows, "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good." It's man not God that looks at God's creation and finds it wanting. Here is the set up that makes this story so profound, at the start of the story everything is good, and man lives in Paradise where no one is judging. Adam and Eve eat fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the first thing they do is starting judging everything. They start judging themselves and find that they are naked. They are happy, living in harmony with nature and the moment they start applying value judgements on the world Paradise is lost. God sees only good in his work and man finds both good and evil. Original sin therefore is the act of passing judgement. We could summarize this as to be happy you must name but not judge.
The message of this story, is that it's not language that separates us from animals, it's morality. We had language but still lived in Paradise. We lose paradise when we judge. The ability to judge and find some things to be good an other things to be bad or evil. In Paradise the wolf still eats the sheep, but its no more than the way of the world. The wolf is not a villain and the sheep, who may experience fear, is still not a victim. We don't see our hairlessness as nudity, we don't see foul weather as hardship. Pain is something to be avoided not the affect of something sinister in the word. This is important because these simple judgements of good and bad, or good and evil are all it takes to build every pain and folly of mankind. What is greed except the belief that more of something is better-- "more good." We corrupt ourselves, our lives and our world, by constantly finding things wanting. We create our pain by believing we could be better, should be better, need to be better. This need for goodness manifest as sickness because we don't have the capacity to decide what "good" really is. We replace all manner of things with "good" in a vain attempt to find our way back to paradise and all sin is just a compounding of that one original sin, judgement. The lie is that we can be more like God by making ourselves better. The sickness is that if we can return to Paradise by making ourselves "more good." The truth is, that every time we pass judgement we further remove ourselves from Paradise. Paradise is not lost, but the more we fight to get there, the further away it gets.