The Tree of Knowledge: Morality.

Posted: August 25, 2013 in History/Philosophy
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is for Eva the source of her timidity towards her own nudity. The nudity is only an example of the kind of changes in Eva’s behaviour. The situation of nearly ultimate freedom (except for this one tree) changes drastically. What has really changed in the world after this event?

Humans became moral beings.

I don’t read this as a story about a woman breaking the law and bringing down Gods fury. Instead, it’s a mythical genealogy of morality. In the story, humans as a part of nature change to a separate being in the world. As the beings created in the image of God, they already had a special place in the hierarchy of existence. Their transformations created a gap between humans and non-humans. The a-moral nature of harmony is left for uncertainty and hard work. Both uncertainty and hard work are the result of this introduction of morality. Unfortunately for us, the Tree didn’t give humans any rules about what is good and bad, it only created the ideas of ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Even though both extreme concepts are perfectly fine parts of His creation, he predicted the problematic situations that would result from combining these moral concepts with humanity. Simply put: taking a bite of the apple brought morality into humanity. Now we are stuck with it!

The uncertainty and hard work creates the need for a constant search for the right rules to follow and actions to take. God didn’t only condemn us to hard work on the land, but, more importantly in this case, to work hard in searching for the good.

This reading does seem to give an extra option to a millennia old paradox. Socrates asked: “Is something good because God commands it or did God command it because it is good?” Both options will bring you in serious trouble. But according to the God of the Old Testament, God didn’t want any morality in humanity at all! Good and evil were safely confined in the forbidden Tree of Knowledge. God knew these concepts would unnecessarily problematize life*.

This is not to say that we should all try to be a-moral today. Morality is part of what we are. Whether you believe in the existence of God and/or the literally meaning of the Bible, the story does show that humanity is blessed with a curse called “morality.” The story gives us a mythical history to show us what morality is. In addition, it makes us aware of the need to constantly re-think our moral beliefs. Morality is unavoidably an eternal work for all of us.

* Another possible response is to see God as a platonic idea(l) of the Good.

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