German: Utopien 04
A link to the video format of this sermon
appears at the end of the text
(Just a quick reminder:
We are all preachers this Lent.
Our Lenten discipline
is to become a community of preachers.
If Adam and Eve
had snacked on the fruit
from the tree of eternal life
instead of the knowledge of good and evil,
there would be no Lent!
The Garden of Eden
is a really great story
that has been perverted
to be about sex and sexism.
It is not about either one.
Rather, we have turned it into
what we fear and resist
by infusing it with our sexist
and sex-phobic interpretations.
The Eden story is about human nature
and it is bedrock true.
It tells the truth about us
which is why
we would rather it be about
that we can more easily dismiss.
Here it is.
God says to the first woman and man:
”Here are the keys to the garden,
help yourself to anything that delights you…
Oh, except that one tree back there.
You can’t have it.
But that is the only thing
in this whole beautiful paradise
you cannot have.
Now, go enjoy yourselves.”
We know how the story ends
before it is even told,
because we know ourselves.
”Hey, you are required to wear a mask
because there is a pandemic
and it will help just enough
to keep our hospitals from blowing up.”
We know how that went.
A social temper-tantrum erupted.
”Hey, we have these guns now
that can fire a hundred rounds in thirty seconds
and we have to get them
and other military-style weapons
out of the hands of the general public.
You can have your hunting rifles
and your registered handguns,
but not these battlefield weapons.”
We know how and where that’s landed.
A virulent super-minority controlling the majority.
“Hey, we can continue to have
freedom of the press
and freedom of speech
but these things we call digital platforms
need to be re-classified as publishers
and live under the same rules
We know how that has gone over.
A few billionaires
threw a fit and the conversation is over.
But all of us are like this sometimes
It is as if we have a child within us
who is like that
and we have trouble controlling it sometimes.
We can have it all, or nearly all,
but it isn’t enough if someone
tells us “no”
even about just one thing.
And so we fell from The Garden
and have been trying to claw our way
back ever since.
That is the basic punch line
of the Eden myth.
Why did we did such terrible things to this story?
How did it get so misshapen
in the way we told it?
So I am going to tell you,
even though it is a little dry,
because this Lent
we are a community of preachers.
That is our Lenten sacrifice
(or penance) —
to become preachers.
I do not think
I need to say this, but
there was no Garden of Eden,
no Adam and Eve,
no talking serpent,
no Tree of Life
or Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
None of it.
But one of the fundamental problems
of public Christian theology
is that it historicizes Biblical narratives
rather than reading them
as evocative texts
pointing to divine wisdom
to be passed from one generation to the next.
The Garden of Eden story
was once a Mesopotamian creation myth
even older than Genesis.
The Hebrews recast it
and made it their own
in order to refute Sumerian ideas
about human relations with the divine.
Like all myths, Eden
sought to explain
why things are the way they are.
In fact, the whole Book of Genesis,
written and edited long AFTER the Book of Exodus,
was meant to explain
the beginning of things
that the Book of Exodus never mentioned.
The Book of Exodus,
which is the first and primal myth of Israel,
begins with this sentence:
“These are the names
of the sons of Israel
who came to Egypt with Jacob…”
There is no explanation
of what came before.
But every family, culture, nation, and religion
needs a story
about what came before
treats the Garden story
much differently than Christian theology.
Making it about “Original Sin”
is purely a Christian imagination,
and treating it as historical
starts with the apostle Paul
who tried to turn Jesus into the new Adam.
Then Augustine takes it
to a whole new level of the absurd
with the idea of Original Sin.
But the Eden story
is a rudimentary ancient tale
never intended to hold the weight
of allegorical interpretation.
It simply is not that sophisticated.
Eden is a story
that answers questions
from the ancients like:
“But why do we have to work so hard
if God loves us so much?”
”Why is childbirth so painful?”
“Why are men the head of the household?”
“Where were we before Egypt
if we’re not Egyptians?”
One mainstream rabbinical explanation
challenges the Christianizing of this myth
by pointing out
it is a story that was told
You know, the Greek civilization’s influence
that painted the universe with dualism —
flesh and spirit,
good and evil,
human and nature.
But ancient Hebrew was not dualistic like that.
from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,
Adam and Eve lived in a world of non-duality.
The spiritual and the material
were in no way separated.
It was a timeless world,
in which decay, death, and loss did not exist.
So the passage of time did not exist.
The Eden myth
is not about original human sin-less-ness,
it is about the absence
of divine knowledge.
They did not know about good and bad,
life and death,
yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
All of that only comes with an awareness
of “bad” —
the opposite of good.
“The Tree of Knowledge” by Tamar Frankiel at Chabad.org.
What Paul and Augustine did
was to make the Eden myth
the reason for Jesus.
For them, Jesus turned the clock back
to reverse the human flaw
Jesus HAD to die
so that we could start all over again
and have a chance
to get back into Eden.
Theirs was a classic origin myth too —
explaining why Jesus had to die
and what his death did
and why it makes a difference to us.
But…we do not have to accept
Paul’s and Augustine’s mythology
about Eden or about Jesus.
We live in the 21st century
and we dang well better be offering
something different or our religion really will die out.
The New Testament
and later Christian tendency
to read Hebrew scripture
through the filter of Jesus Christ
is just bad theology.
It leads us away from
whatever ancient wisdom
was embedded in the story
in the first place.
We have plenty of ways to
in what he taught
and the community he hosted
without stretching credibility
and using him to distort
the even more ancient wisdom.
You see, now we are preaching.
We are looking at the text
and the history of the text
and we are diving underneath both
in order to find what is there.
What is there
is the idea of a universe —
the Cosmos really —
in which God is incarnate
There is no flesh versus spirit
because God is present
in all things.
There is no sacred and secular
because all things are sacred
and our task
is to discover the sacred
in the ordinary.
There is no human versus nature
because we are an element
in nature, not something
utterly different from it.
We live and move and have our being
There is no Garden to get back to
because we are still in it.
It is the place
we are fouling with toxins
and using up
with our voracious
You see what we just did as preachers?
We dug through the Christian filter
to greet the ancient text
in its pre-Christian mythology
and listen to it.
Then we re-fashioned
the nugget of wisdom it holds
and theologized it for the 21st century.
Welcome to Lent.
Before this homily goes to the printer, better change “verses” to “versus” in the 5th paragraph from the end.
(Please don’t post 😘)
Cam Miller says
Thanks, I’m famous for those!
Bravo! Always looking for a way to de-emphasize Paul and Augustine’s more fevered anti-humanism
Cam Miller says
Have you read any of Elaine Pagels? “Adam and Eve and the Serpent” does a complete job on those two. Be well, my friend.