UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

30 Mar

It seems to me the snake was telling the truth; God was lying. The woman says to the snake: we may eat of the fruit of any tree in the garden but that one. The one that lies in the centre of the garden. God tells us it’s bad for us, that it will kill us.

AdamandEve
“Adam and Eve”, 1528
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)

And the snake says, “Oh sister, that’s horseshit. You eat the fruit from that tree and you’ll know things. You’ll be able to understand stuff. You’ll know the difference between right and wrong. That’s why the Old Bastard tells you not to eat it. He knows, you eat that and you’ll be like Him.

And so she eats it. And she gives it to the man and he eats it. He always does what she wants him to.

And they begin to understand. And what do they understand of themselves, man and woman? What do they do? They see each other naked and are ashamed of that. Of the poo and the goo and the in-out squishing noises; the feasting on each other’s flesh that never troubled them before. More than that she realizes she’s always spreading her legs even tho’ it doesn’t seem to feel half as good for as it does for him. They didn’t understand before, they just did it. And now the man understands he’s always doing what she wants and now she’s really gone and done it! How he longs to get back to his nice comfortable rut when he was happy and stupid. Well no more of this obedience shite, now he has to face brutal existential reality. From now on he’ll be picking much more the fruit of the hemp tree. And he better invent beer.

And now they have to work. (Or did they really always have to work they just didn’t understand what that means?) Now they feel pain (or did they always feel pain?) Now they understand: death is waiting for them.

Did God lie? Sure. Don’t we tell our children hyperbolous stories in order to prevent them from doing stupid stuff? How useful to how many parents over the aeons has the Boogie Man been? And sure the snake was telling the truth. I’m sure there are pedophiles skilled in the art of appraising children of the truth of parents’ white fibs in order to win their trust and lure them toward perdition.

In an older version of the story Eve is given a choice between the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. One brings immortality, the other understanding. She chooses, feminists like to say, because her man cannot. Did she make the right choice? Would she? Had she known she would be ashamed. And shamed?

It’s a story.

I’m amused and moved almost to pity when I see people fight for the literal interpretation of scripture. I understand. It makes things nice and simple, clear and easy to understand. How many times has the law fallen to disrepair because of the excessive deployment of interpretive metaphor?

It can be made to say anything! Thus cries the priest in Jesus of Montreal when confronted by a Passion play that deploys the actual facts (and lack thereof) concerning the actual life and death of one Joshua from the Sticks. That this Passion also expresses most beautifully the gift that Jesus bore is immaterial to the priest. It contravenes doctrine and therefore his cushy job in the Cathedral is threatened.

It’s a story. The truth is not the story, the truth is in the story. The story is simply a vessel for it. And like a child that’s been taught not to go wandering in the bushes for fear of the Boogie Man the story will morph and elaborate as s/he grows and ages. S/he’ll know that it was a lie yes, but one that fundamentally told the truth. Does that not make sense? What truth now in the Book of Genesis, second episode.

Modern people reading it will know better, if they wish. We have always known that the human female, unlike other animals, feels excruciating pain and is in actual mortal danger during child-birth. But we now know (if we wish) that this is the dual result of our relatively recent evolution to a bipedal mammal and the subsequent increase in brain size requiring of course larger skulls. Because of our large brains women suffer pain. The little brats, their heads are too big! It’s another story but it says the same thing: the pain in childbirth is consequence of our capacity for understanding. Different story, same basic truth.

Still the stories are different. They are composed in different times and told in different ways. In these differences there is also a truth, perhaps one that sits on a larger scale of existence.

What is the difference?

Well obviously we can forget all that palava about ‘shame’ (can we? should we?). Sex is natural, necessary and should be fun. We have thousands of years of contemplation of the subject (mostly by males). We have thousands of books, documentaries, internet soundbytes, magazine articles, newspaper items coming out every year (mostly by females). We have understanding. What we don’t have are the rituals and beliefs that create from all that a new idea of ‘the good life’ in this brave new world.

In the old stories the woman chooses, from willful wickedness or courageous determination (mostly willful wickedness). She knows not the consequences but more than anything she wants to know. It’s the artifact of a culture asserting the political rule of men, no more soap operas. It is the artifact of a culture that radically chooses to assert the primacy of monogamy and sobriety in sexual matters. No more bouncing from girl to girl. But the woman chooses. Within the old story an older story leaves an essential, now submerged, thread.

The story of the Fall of Man was originally a rebellion. Rebellion against the then dominant culture with its god-kings, its bedazzling religious spectacles, its rituals of blood and sex. In these scary creeds there is also an Original Couple. But they are gods. Human were not then worth remembering except if they were great kings who won a war. The Book of Genesis was a Book of Revolution. It declared that we were cosmically important. That our… what we moderns would call – ‘sexuality’, is not a giant force that drives us writhing into the maelstrom but the site of a virtue that the One True God commands.

Naturally we know that the pagan tale corresponds more with the facts as ascertained by science. But we are modern people, three thousand years after Moses, and we no longer feel the need for human sacrifice or blood soaked ritualistic orgies. Perchance our war with sex, waged over millennia has something to do with this? We understand. And understanding has cultivated our hearts, some of us. What is the literary difference between the Book of Genesis and the Theory of Evolution? In the old story the woman chose and we blame her: Eve the temptress! scowls St Augustine, Woman is defective and misbegotten shouts! St Acquinas. Let them die in childbirth! scoffs Martin Luther.

Is this perhaps more, perhaps a denial by the male animal in furtherance of controlling the sex instinct so wild in humanity? His sex instinct. For who is it that thinks most of the consequences on the brink of coitus? Who’s the one more likely to ask: is this a good idea? Defective? Misbegotten?

Canova
“Three Graces”, 1817
Antonio Canova (1757-1822)

Methinks they speak in denial. The early Christian women tried hard to accommodate the image. They dressed in bags and rags and had to mutilate themselves because sometimes the drab threads didn’t do much good. In CE 585 the bishops at the Council of Mâcon decided that , yes, women do have souls after all. The motion was carried by one vote.

What difference between the stories? We now know we did not choose. We know that that doesn’t matter – things are as they are regardless. We know we can’t blame women, that blaming women is surfeit of the bully instinct in the human animal, the result of the prime bleak fact of violence, and consequence finally of the male tendency to use their penises for thinking with. All this is to modern people banal, matter-of-fact. We know that that’s the way of it and what can you do? And we know, if we can face it, that we don’t know. We are like children who have grown up.

What has our tough adolescence made of us?

Lucasfriedeggs

Sarah Lucas, b. 1962
“Self-portrait With Fried Eggs”, 1996

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