I was in my teens, a young, over-zealous new fundamentalist Christian when I started reading the book of Genesis. Secretly, I really liked that tree, that apple, hell, the whole Garden of Eden was pretty fascinating. I intimately identified with Adam and Eve’s desire to expand my knowledge. “Knowledge is power” seemed to be a mantra of the 90’s. I kept hearing it from teachers and commercials. It spoke to me. After all, I was a teenage boy and I wanted what I felt I lacked: power.
“And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” –Genesis 2: 16–17
I wanted power over myself and my own confusing feelings but more so, I wanted power in this world, to be rich and loved and famous.
Everything about this “pre-fall-of-man” garden scene was enchanting. There was a naked, perfect woman, an apple, an untainted permaculture, flaming swords, talking animals AND secret knowledge. Sign me up! It occurred to me, just as it did to Adam and Eve, that taking a bite of this forbidden fruit was actually a step up from this perfect garden.
Adam and Eve, as the story goes, were tempted to “be like God” through the process of eating the forbidden fruit. Who wouldn’t want to be like God? Omnipotent, omnipresent, and other Omni-words that I’m sure are just dandy. I felt the temptation to partake as if I were right there in the garden with them in a tee shirt and sandals.
“If I were godlike,” I pondered, “for sure things wouldn’t be so hard. I could predict the future, I could get people to do whatever I wanted. I would, of course, use this power only for the good of everyone. I concluded that I’m pretty sure if presented with the choice to eat the apple, I would do it as well.”
Lately, I’m not so sure I got the moral of the story right. See, along with the promise of “being like God” post-fruit consumption, it also reveals the knowledge of good and evil.
Why would I be so drawn to this fruit that revealed the knowledge of “good” and “evil”?
I’ve taken a long look at my beliefs about good and evil for years now. I have come to understand both concepts to ultimately be a function of human interpretation and not something that exists independently of that. It is, however VERY deeply rooted in our personal and cultural stories.
Good and evil DO NOT exist at the most base level of what is real in our universe as far as I can tell. I believe they weren’t concepts that were present as we know them in the Garden of Eden either. They DO play out every day in the types of human games that we play with each other, but even good and evil break down in those context’s too. For example, you can see the breakdown of the concepts of good and evil happen right before your eyes when two people interpret a glance differently. For observer A, it’s revealing a person suffering from constipation and worthy of sympathy, while to observer B, it’s the dreaded evil eye and has revealed a deep darkness in that person’s soul.
The nature of “good” and “evil” extends beyond glances and into cultural norms and obviously, even deeper into how we interpret disasters and atrocities. It’s not always simple, but I believe that an intellectually honest person would come to the conclusion that despite the emotional charge any situation has, the goodness or badness of the situation will always be a function of a human interpreting it as good or bad.
Thich Nhat Hang explore this idea in his essay “The Moment is Perfect.”
“Even a daily habit like eating breakfast, when done as a practice, can be powerful. It generates the energy of mindfulness and concentration that makes life authentic. When we prepare breakfast, it can also be a practice. We can be really alive, fully present, and very happy during breakfast-making. We can see making breakfast as mundane work or as a privilege — it just depends on our way of looking.”
Let’s get back to The Garden for a moment. What was life like BEFORE our forebears consumed the apple? It is said to be a world where God walked in the cool of the evening in the garden. That humans existed in harmony with the natural world — and even communication with animals. That there was nakedness without shame.
What was happening in the garden was Unity Consciousness, the understanding of everything. God, man, woman, nature is one — not two, not two hundred, not two billion. Just One.
Unity Consciousness was more than philosophical. It seems it was a practical way of operating from moment to moment. There was a perfection in the garden. It was a space outside of “right” and “wrong.” Coincidentally, this is how Eckart Tolle describes the purity of the “now moment”. In his book The Power of Now, he says, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
To be present in any given moment, as a fully conscious observer is to be without interpretation of that moment’s goodness or badness. It is to experience Garden-Of-Eden-like-perfection. A perfection that pours forth from Unity Consciousness. Attaining presence in a moment is like jumping into a quantum reality where there was no fall of man, no knowledge of good and evil and no sure death.
Yet, we are told that from the apple sprung the knowledge of “good” and “evil”. The fruits of that knowledge were duality, opposites, polarity. While these things are absolutely critical concepts for navigating a world based in time, future and past, they do not appear to reflect the fundamental nature of a deeper reality of unity that is always present in the moment.
Could it be that the Garden of Eden is a metaphor for the now moment? Might it also be a synonym for eternity? I’m not certain that biblical scholars would agree, however, to release the burden of continually interpreting the world around us as “good” or “evil”, is quite an accomplishment. It’s a possible interpretation that this garden represents the holy moment available to everyone no matter what the circumstance. The weight of the obligation to judge and assess, when released, is truly an enlightenment.