The Knowledge of Good and Evil

Yeah, this seemed like a nice, light topic to touch on this week. Super casual.

Okay so a while ago I was reading that book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, and there was a part I can’t really remember about the "Original Sin". I’m pretty sure we all know the story but JUST IN CASE you didn’t grow up under a repressive Christian tyrannical regime in your household, or somehow managed to avoid the crushing and pervasive influence of America’s puritanical roots, the story is basically this: In the beginning "God" created “Adam” and “Eve” (at this point I'd like to quickly interject that there is a lot of discussion to be had about the creation story and whether it’s literal or metaphorical, or somehow both. Trust me that is something I would loveeee to get into but for the purpose of keeping this post from being thesis-length, I’m going to suspend that discussion and we’ll just take the story—loosely— as it's presented in Genesis). Okay so “God” created “Adam” and “Eve”, and He put them in this sweet garden and He was like “Listen, you got everything you need here, okay? There's plenty of food, super clean water, I’m gonna be with you all day everyday, you're all set. The only thing I’m asking is that you don’t eat from this one tree I put in the center of the garden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Which like also God, what kind of shit? Anyway, He goes on) Literally you can have anything else you want here, just don’t eat from that tree. We good? K great, you two crazy kids go have fun!” Except we weren’t good and through some trickery involving a "snake", and some misogyny involving Adam’s aversion to taking responsibility for his own actions, he and Eve ate from the tree, got kicked out of the garden, and ruined everything. Or so the story goes.

So I’ve heard this story literally one million times (I counted) and can recite it in my sleep, but I couldn't quite grasp the significance of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Clunky title aside, it obviously provides the crux for the climax of the story, but what is "the Knowledge of Good and Evil" referring to? And why was it such a problem that Adam and Eve wanted to know good from evil? In EHS Peter Scazzero presents it differently: instead of thinking of it as wanting to know the difference between good and evil, rather the “sin” (another Christian buzzword that needs dismantling, unpacking, and reclaiming but please bear with my use of it) in claiming that knowledge was that Adam and Eve wanted to be the Judge. To decide what is good and what is evil. And that hit me ‘cause I was like, well I’ll be damned if that isn’t what the Church has been most characterized by since its rise to power—being judgmental. Deciding who’s “in” and who’s “out”, who’s going to hell, who’s going to heaven. And of course, always deeming itself on the “right” side of God’s law, even if it takes some maneuvering of that law to fit its own agenda. *sips tea*

I’m wondering if maybe part of the problem in humans trying to be the Judge is because, considering that was never meant to be our job, we literally don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. There’s a part in another book I’m reading, Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald May, where he talks about how he’s learned to realize that he can’t tell what is good and bad in his life anymore. He used some kind of gnarly examples from his own life but I’ll give you a couple scenarios off the top of my head. Like maybe you get a new job, and you and everyone you know think it’s good, but then it becomes too demanding and you miss getting to bond with your family, which is bad. Or maybe your fiancé dumps you, and you and everyone you know think it’s bad, but then you go on this deep and healing journey of self-discovery, and later realize it was a mess of a relationship and you dodged a bullet, which is good. (There’s a Chinese parable that illustrates this point more clearly, if you want extra credit. I believe it's called Parable of the Lost Horse. Check it out and report back!) I know I’m touching on a super deep philosophical discussion about good and evil which I am in no way prepared to have right now, but it’s definitely something to think about right? Maybe we don’t actually know what is good or what is bad because to know such a thing requires an expansive perspective of time that we just cannot possess in our lifetimes. All we know is what’s in front of us and how we feel. Also how hilariously ironic (read: sad, damaging, destructive) is it that the original sin is also the one the Church is most known for: the desire to usurp God’s position as the only Judge. (I was going to insert a Miley Cyrus lyric in here but then thought better of it. Bonus points if you can guess what it is and leave it in the comments!)

We (everyone, but Christians in particular) have some reworking to do. And I’m not saying we should throw the baby out with the bath water and not take a stand on anything because “who’s to say murder is bad” or some dumb shit like that. It’s bad. Murder is bad. I’m saying maybe we should hold more room for nuance in this discussion. Maybe you don’t know as much about your own religion or God as you think you do. Maybe you don’t know as much about your life as you think you do. And sure we’ve all tried to play judge a time or two or too often, but the reality is those shoes are wayyyyy too big for us to fill, and we should probably give that job back to God, or Karma, or the Universe, or whatever you believe handles that shit. All we have is this present moment in front of us. Let’s not use it to be judgmental assholes.