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Monday, March 21, 2011

What if Eve had been a trained scientist, Part 3

This is the third and final post in a brief series.  To get up to speed, see here and here.  In the latter post I presented a series of questions a sceptical and inquiring Eve could have asked Yahweh Elohim, Adam, and the serpent.  The answers to those questions would have given her plenty of data with which to make an informed decision about eating the fruit.

But wait a minute.  Couldn't Eve have called the serpent a bald-faced liar and fled?  Studiously ignored his every comment/question?  Told him in no uncertain terms:  "I don't talk to animals, especially animals who ask me impertinent questions?"  Brought Adam over to hear the serpent's outrageous talk?  Bashed in his head?  Or, Adam could have intervened and cut off the interview.  A lot of orthodox Christians think that's what should have happened.

As far as I'm concerned, any of these could have been appropriate responses depending on what Eve knew about the serpent.  And that depends on what assumptions one brings to the story.

My approach to this story requires setting aside any of these potentially legitimate tactics.  The Eve in the Biblical story talks to the serpent -- and caves in almost immediately.  As I pointed out earlier, this Eve is almost unbelievably incurious and suggestible.  How badly she comes off can be illustrated quite easily by comparing her with C. S. Lewis's Perelandrian Eve.  Satan has to commandeer the body of a human and spend several chapters worth of clever manipulation to get that Eve close to sinning.  According to the speculations of many orthodox theologians, the pre-fall Adam had superior intellectual powers.  If that were true, Adam's initial excitement about Eve must have worn out quickly when he discovered what a dimwit she was.  No wonder he ate the fruit when she offered it.  He realized that without him she would be completely unable to cope whatever Yahweh Elohim might do to her.

In short, the Biblical Eve is a chauvinist hack job.  Christian theologians have taken this bad theology and run the faith completely off the rails.   It is for that reason I used Eve's decision to engage in conversation with the serpent as my starting point.  Once Eve listens to the serpent, she is in a position to pursue systematic inquiry into the doubts raised by the serpent rather than half-assed observation and assent.  By that means she could have secured herself from lies and deceptions.  She would not have needed "presuppositionalism" or any of the other ridiculous non-sequiturs espoused by orthodox theologians to keep the rest of us in intellectual infancy.

OK, I'm done with that brief rant.  Now to the real rant.  The more fundamental problem with this story as explicated by orthodox Christianity is that it is a setup.  Eve is supposed to eat from the fruit.  Everything is arranged so that she does so.   Her own character and actions fit all too easily into the prearranged outcome.

My Eve is intentionally uncooperative.   If Yahweh Elohim wants her to fall into the serpent's clutches he's going to have to work at it.   Now he, Adam and the serpent are faced with somebody who won't take their word on the basis of trust.  She demands explanations; she intends to gather and weigh comparative evidence.    If Yahweh Elohim wanted her to grow in wisdom, he would be jumping for joy over her probing.  Maybe somewhere in the story's prehistory that was precisely the point.

Orthodox Christian theologians will have none of this.  If they are to be consistent with their traditions, they must be chauvinists and tyrants.  Therefore, Eve's probing questions are a sign of arrogant, autonomous thinking.  How dare she ask Yahweh Elohim to explain himself?  She doesn't need this explanation and therefore will not get it.  Yahweh Elohim will refuse to answer her questions.  If Adam is wise so will he.  The woman is just that, a woman, and therefore unqualified to be given such unrestricted access to knowledge and independent judgment.  She should be comforted -- and left largely in the dark.  Over time, perhaps, she will receive answers to at least some of the questions, once she proves herself capable of resisting the serpent purely out of love for Yahweh Elohim and a desire for his glory.  Of course, since the point is for her to disobey, the period of time over which her set of queries goes unanswered can be extended as long as necessary to provoke her revolt.

That partly explains the set of questions she asks the first time around.  I'm willing to let the orthodox play offense for awhile.  So, Yahweh Elohim responds first and anwers few or none of the questions directly.  Instead, he raises the point of Eve's need to trust him and seek his glory even when his purposes seem hard to understand or even unworthy.  Then Adam answers in the same vein.  Finally, the serpent answers all of Eve's questions fully, according to his lights (which, even if true as far as they go, may put Yahweh Elohim in a bad light).   Now she may have grounds to suspect that Yahweh Elohim and Adam have something to hide.  What does she do?  She approaches them with an enhanced list of questions.  In addition to the questions she asked the first time around, she also asks

  1.  Yes, I understand that I would benefit from learning to trust you, but some of my questions are simply for clarification.  Won't you please at least answer those questions?    
  2. What should I conclude about the serpent from the answers he gave me?
  3. How long am I to wait until you answer the rest of my questions?
Most orthodox Christian theologians, or at least the ones I am personally acquainted with, are decent people.  Some are even exceptionally admirable (apart from their theology).  But when it comes to defending the ideas of God to which their theology commits them loyalty to their core convictions trumps all other considerations.   Of course, there are some who make adjustments to their core convictions due to social pressures or, more charitably, the pleadings of their own consciences.  Others are quick to point out this "trimming."  I have yet to encounter an orthodox Christian community without this type of struggle between "soft" and "hard" theologians.  Furthermore the "soft" theologians are only "soft" relative to the position(s) on which they "trim."   On other matters they can be just as "hard" as their "hard" siblings.  On the matter of Eve I doubt there are many "trimmers."  Therefore, we can expect most of them to propose that Yahweh Elohim will give Eve no answers to these questions either, including #3.

I would love to be corrected on this point.  Seriously, please correct me.  Show me how I am misconstruing Christian orthodoxy, how I am hard-heartedly thinking evil of Yahweh Elohim.   Convince me that God would have really loved a sceptical, probing Eve and all her descendants enough to condescend in a time of great danger and help her out of it.

But I'm willing to bet I get no takers.  Yahweh Elohim does not stoop to exposing himself to sceptical, autonomous thinkers.  He is not a specimen to be examined.  He will not let himself be subject to that kind of humiliation.  Therefore, Eve is to remain unanswered.  If she eats the fruit -- and she surely will -- so be it.

And with that orthodox Christian theologians make a mockery of their benevolent God.

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