The Old Stories Are Best: Adam and Eve
In my last article for The Epoch Times, “What’s Wrong With the World,” I touched on the fact that there is what I called a “triumvirate of psychopathologies” that afflict us as human beings, and that these three psychological problems were evident from the very beginning.
Indeed, that is the joy of the earlier, older stories. While simple from a narrative point of view, at the same time they seem to contain more and greater explicatory power. The story of Adam and Eve is a perfect example of this.
Blame, Projection, Denial
First, let’s recall what the three major psychopathologies are. As human beings we tend to, first, blame others, especially when we are at fault; second, project onto others our own fears, insecurities, and motives; and, third, deny reality, which is to say that we refuse to accept how things are even when the evidence is staring us in the face.
This last problem—denial—is arguably the worst tendency of all. No matter what the evidence, some people insist on not accepting it because they are wedded to their own pet theory. For example, Sir Fred Hoyle, a most eminent British scientist of the 20th century, refused to accept the evidence for the Big Bang Theory—that the universe had a beginning—till his dying day in 2001. Part of this rejection was entirely theological: He considered the theory to be pseudoscience because, as he said in a BBC interview, “It is deep within the psyche of most scientists to believe in the first page of Genesis.”
Madness, in a sense, is the refusal to accept reality as it is and to impose on it the unreal structures that we desire or that we prefer.
The Very First Question
But how, then, does the story of Adam and Eve reflect these three pathologies? Consider the story in Genesis chapter 3. In the first verse we find the serpent being introduced, which is described as “more crafty than any beast of the field,” and it speaks.
Two things to note at this point: First, if the serpent is “speaking,” then, as I see it, we are clearly not dealing with a literal snake but something or someone more potent and intelligent, of which the serpent forms some sort of representation so that we can understand. In other words, we are in the realm of poetry whereby truths are being expressed which are difficult to express otherwise.
“Adam and Eve With Apple and Serpent” by Marcantonio Raimondi, after Albrecht Dürer. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Public Domain)
Second, we note that after the previous two chapters and their total of 56 verses, we come to an interrogative sentence posed by the serpent. It is, in fact, the first question that the Bible poses, which is, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?”
We notice the craftiness of the serpent immediately, although Eve apparently doesn’t, for God did not say “you shall not eat from any tree,” but rather that from “any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” In other words, the ban was only for one specific tree. The serpent, thus, exaggerates the prohibition to make it seem worse than it is.
We can infer that this form of marketing—via exaggeration—initiated the first doubt in Eve’s mind, the first doubt in a human mind. She thinks: What had God said, in fact? Swiftly, she has a more serious doubt, not exactly of what God had said, but whether God’s words were true. Would they die? Believing the serpent, she thinks: No! And underlying this question lay an even profounder question: Was the creation “good,” as God claimed in chapter 1?
And the answer is, of course, that we are not good, for Adam and Eve chose evil as we do now. Metaphorically and perhaps literally too, they ate evil (symbolized by the fruit) and in doing so began to see things differently. Rather like a drug entering the body, the poison’s first symptoms might be mild, but eventually reality acquires a hallucinatory quality that can no longer be controlled.
The psychopathologies come rushing in. First, Adam denies his guilt. Asked the direct question by God, “Have you eaten…,” he equivocates. He cannot be guilty because he blames Eve and holds her responsible for his actions. See how the words “I ate” come right at the end of his sentence: “The woman Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate,” as if he is distancing himself from them so that they are as far away from him along the sentence structure as they can be.
So denial and blame form a double whammy! Eve, suddenly finding herself entirely responsible for the mistake, immediately shifts into similar gear. Her sentence is less convoluted, but it’s blame first: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Both, then, individually and collectively, claim that they are not responsible for their actions, and blame another. Surely, too, this is not wholly unfamiliar to us. Are we exculpated from our crimes because we were deceived by someone when we committed them? Certainly, in courts this excuse is frequently used. However, here blaming doesn’t work—and denial is futile.
On top of these denials and blames, intriguingly, they project their guilt. Adam, incredibly if we think about it, projects his guilt onto God Himself! “The woman Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me ….” In other words, Your actions caused this mess. If You hadn’t given me Eve, then I would not have eaten: My guilt is Your guilt; if I have done wrong, it is because You have done wrong.
Or, another possibility is that contrary to what God said, life is bad. In this brilliant psychological and spiritual moment of utter intensity, the created turns on the Creator and imputes to Him his own faults and wrongdoing.
“The Rebuke of Adam and Eve,”1740, by Charles Joseph Natoire. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Public Domain)
Eve goes the other way. Rather than projecting onto God, she imputes the guilt and wrongdoing onto the serpent which deceived her. Keep in mind, of course, that God created the serpent, so there is an indirect imputation of blame on God too!
Eve makes it sound very straightforward, but if we go back to the text, we find something quite different from a simple misdirection. First, she listens to the serpent, then she sees that the tree is “good for food” and also a “delight to the eyes,” and that the tree itself was “desirable to make one wise.” There is a complete sensuous (and later writers, for example Milton in “Paradise Lost,” also add sensual) feast going on here: She hears, she sees, she experiences gustatory and hunger pangs.
There is nothing, of course, wrong in itself with sensuous experience, for the world is beautiful, but what Eve is subtly doing—following perhaps the craft of the serpent—is piling on reasons why she could not help but eat the fruit. In other words, the very beauty of the world (which God created) seduced her into error. She fell in love with what God had created rather than with the Creator Himself, and so broke faith.
And perhaps above all the sensuous reasons, she gets at last to the cognitive one: wishing to possess wisdom—a vaulting ambition to be as God or like God. This blasphemous desire conceals yet another critique of the Creator, for it implies a defect in creation, as if she and Adam were not already wise.
However, if we take the Christian interpretation of these passages, God—remarkably and perhaps with compassion—seems to accept partially both projections. In the case of Eve’s assertions, we learn from God’s curse that the serpent is doomed, for it will be wounded in the head, which is fatal; whereas the serpent will only wound Adam’s seed in the heel, which is not fatal, and which is seen as a prophecy of the wounding of Christ on the cross.
In the case of Adam’s projection, God becomes the Man who ultimately receives the final punishment for the transgression. It is as if God atones for only creating a “good” cosmos rather than a perfect one (a perfect one could not fall into error)—which St. Augustine referred to as the fortunate fall (felix culpa) whereby mankind obtains a greater good than could be obtained merely by remaining good.
Be that as it may, we have at the point of the Fall two good human beings, a man and a woman, who now endemically suffer from blaming, projecting, and denying. And if the consequences of this are bad when facing God, they are scarcely less awful when confronting each other.
Check yourself: How often do you find yourself blaming others for your problems and difficulties? How often do you find yourself projecting onto others—neighborhoods, races, gender, age, and so on—issues that really have their root in you?
And finally, are you in denial? What facts won’t you accept, will deny to your dying day? These things on a personal, local, national, and international level are what drive evil today. The fault is in us, and until we can accept this and take responsibility, the situations we find ourselves in are beyond repair and can only worsen. Adam and Eve have a lot to tell us.