Tag Archive: Sin Nature

I’m “Broken” Jesus, Please “Fix” Me

fix me jesus

Key to Evangelical soteriology is the belief that all humans are inherently broken — evil, vile, sinful, enemies of God. The only way that people can gain salvation and inherit eternal life is to admit that they are broken and in need of fixing. It is through Jesus alone — the great fixer – that sinners can be saved. Older readers might remember the days when every community had a one-stop fix-it shop. GE toaster stop working? Black and Decker drill power switch broken? Motorola radio tuner on the fritz? Take it to the local shop, and Bob will make it good as new. So it is with Jesus. Is your life broken? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. The Bible SAYS your life is broken, end of discussion. You might be the kindest, most loving person in the world, you are still broken. According to Evangelicals, deep in your black heart of hearts lies sin and corruption. You might not be a drug addict, alcoholic, prostitute, homosexual, adulterer, fornicator, or New York Yankees fan, but you are still a sinner who is headed for eternal hellfire and damnation unless you admit your brokenness and let Jesus “fix” you.

No person can become a Christian, according to Evangelicals, unless they come clean to God about their brokenness. None of us is without sin, so, as the old hillbilly Baptist preacher said, “you might as well cough it up and admit it.” Of course, God already knows you are broken. He created you that way. I know, I know, crazy stuff, but it is in the Bible, so it’s true!  God knows every sin you will ever commit — past, present, and future. All Jesus wants from you is for you to grovel before him and admit your brokenness. Just admit that you are a worthless piece of shit who deserves eternal torture in the Lake of Fire, and then, and only then, is it possible for Jesus, the Fix-it Man®, to apply the super glue of eternal salvation to your life.

And here’s the thing, even after Jesus fixes you and you become a full-fledged member of the One True Faith®, you are still broken. Bruce, I thought Jesus was the divine fix-it man? In what can only be described as a first-rate con job, Jesus doesn’t fix all of you when he repairs you. Sure, you have been regenerated and redeemed, but you still have what Evangelicals call a sin nature. Thought your sin nature would go away when Jesus wonderfully, gloriously saved you and washed you from head to toe in his blood? Think again. In fact, as a newly minted Christian, you will find that the very same “sins” you struggled with before you became a Christian are still very much alive. That’s why Evangelicals “sin” just as often and to the same degree as the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. One need only read the posts in the Black Collar Crime Series, to see how true this is. The very “men of God” who stand in front of church congregations on Sundays preaching against sin, often commit the very same sins during the week. I pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years. I preached thousands of sermons during that time. Before every sermon, I would silently pray, confessing my sins to Jesus, and asking him to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. That way, my “heart” was always right with God as I preached. Or so I told myself, anyway. How could I call out sins, name names, and step on toes if my own sin slate hadn’t been wiped clean? I preached three and four times a week, and without fail I prayed to Jesus, asking him to wipe clear my sin account. The late Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) evangelist John R. Rice believed in the frequent confession of sin, thereby, in his words, “keeping your sin list short.” I am not sure how “short” my sin list was compared to Rice’s, but I did what I could to keep my sinning down to what would fit on a  yellow 8″x14″ legal pad.

The Evangelical, then, goes through life broken, always in need of fixing. Not only that, but many Evangelicals practice a form of self-flagellation called “brokenness.” Spiritually aware Evangelicals beg God and plead with him to “break” them. Taught to see sin within every crevice of their mind and life, Evangelicals ask God to rip away their pride and self-worth, exposing their sinful behavior. The goal is to reduce believers to tears; to reduce them to piles of ashes; to leave them prostrate before the thrice Holy God. You see, according to Evangelicals, God doesn’t want or need you or anything you can do. His goal is to break you down and turn you into a needy, helpless child. It is only then that God can use you. Christians are mere vessels through which God, through the power and work of the Holy Spirit, does whatever he wants. Sounds like a SYFY show, does it not? Aliens inhabit human corpses and use them to take over the world.

According to the Bible, followers of Jesus are his slaves.  In a 2007 sermon titled, Slaves for Christ, Evangelical megachurch pastor John MacArthur said:

Being a slave of Christ may be the best way to define a Christian. We are, as believers, slaves of Christ. You would never suspect that, however, from the language of Christianity. In contemporary Christianity, the language is anything but slave language. It is about freedom. It is about liberation. It is about health, wealth, prosperity, finding your own fulfillment, fulfilling your own dream, finding your own purpose. We often hear that God loves you unconditionally and wants you to be all you want to be. He wants to fulfill every ambition, every desire, every hope, every dream.

….

Well, if you read the New Testament in its original text, you would come away stunned, really, by how different the original text is from any English version that you’ve ever read, whether King James, New King James, New American Standard, ESV, NIV and you can name all the rest. All of them, virtually, have found a way to mask something that is an absolutely critical element of truth. In fact, the word “slave” appears in the New Testament 130 times in the original text. You will find it once in the King James, once the Greek word “slave” is translated slave. You will find it translated “slave” a few other times in other texts, like the New King James text and even the New American Standard text. And it will be translated “slave” when, one, it refers to actual slavery, or two, it refers to some kind of bondage to an inanimate reality.

But whenever it is personalized, the translators seem unwilling to translate it “slave.” For example, in Matthew 6:24 Jesus said this, “No man can be a slave to two masters.” What does your Bible say? “No man can serve two masters.” The favorite word for slave is servant, favorite English word. Very often bondservant is used, which tends to move in the right direction but is not exactly slave. You have a word used 130 times in the New Testament. You have other uses of that word with a preposition, sundoulos, which means fellow slaves, used about a dozen times. You have the verb form used another approximately a dozen times. So you have at least 150-plus usages of just three of the words and there are others in the group with the root doul, D-O-U-L in English for doulos.

There are about twenty established English translations of the New Testament, about twenty. Only one of them, only one of them always translates doulos slave, only one and it is a translation of the New Testament written by a formidable scholar in New Testament Greek who studied the original papyri, and things like that, by the name of E.J. Goodspeed. Have you ever heard of Goodspeed translation? Goodspeed is a well-known scholar. For fifteen years he was a pioneering professor of New Testament Greek at the University of Chicago. The Goodspeed translation always translates doulos as slave. And when you read it, it gives you an entire different sense of our relationship to Christ. You do have a personal relationship to Jesus Christ, you are His slave. That’s putting it as simply as I can put it.

There are six words, at least, for servant, doulos is not one of them. There is diakonos from which we get deacon; oiketēs related to oikos, house, a house servant; Pais, having to do with one who serves by instructing the young; hupēretēs, a low-level, third level, under servant, literally an under-rower, the third level on a galley slave, someone who pulled an oar down at the bottom of a great ship; leitourgos, another kind of service usually associated with religion; paidiskē and maybe misthios that can be translated minister.

There are plenty of words for servant. There’s only one word for slave, doulos and sundoulos. Yet, in the history of the evangelical translation of the Greek into the English, all the translators consistently have avoided the use of the word. Now you might suggest that, therefore, it’s disputed, that maybe doulos isn’t quite as clearly slave. But that’s not the case. But they avoid it nonetheless. Doulos is not at all an ambiguous term. They are trying to avoid something. It’s not about a lack of linguistic information, it might well be a lack of courage, conviction.

As I said, they will use slave if it literally refers to a slave, a physical slave. Or if it refers to bondage to an inanimate object, like being a slave of sin, or a slave of righteousness. But when it comes to being a personal relationship with God or Christ, they back away from the word slave inevitably and use some form of the word servant. This is a matter of preference in all cases to accommodate. And we ask; to accommodate what? Well I suppose to accommodate the stigmas attached to slavery.

You would understand that. When you give somebody the gospel, you are saying to them, “I would like to invite you to become a slave of Jesus Christ. I would like to invite you to give up your independence, give up your freedom, submit yourself to an alien will, abandon all your rights, be owned by, controlled by the Lord.” That’s really the gospel. We’re asking people to become slaves. I don’t hear a lot of that slave talk today, do you? We have, by playing fast and loose with the word doulos, managed to obscure this precise significance and substantial foundation for understanding biblical theology.

Think, for a moment, about all I have written in this post; how I’ve described how Jesus views humans before and after they become Christians. If the only worth someone has comes from Jesus, why would anyone want to become a Christian? The only reason I can think of is the fear of Hell. We humans wonder what, if anything, awaits us after death. Christianity seizes on this question and turns it into a way to control people, keep church coffers filled, and clerics employed. Evangelical preachers emphatically say — without knowledge — that there is a Heaven and a Hell, that all of us have eternal souls, and we will spend eternity in one place or the other. Want to spend eternity with Jesus, his angels, your dead loved ones, and Donald Trump? You have to bow before the invisible Jesus and admit you are a wretched, broken sinner. Refusing to do so will land you in Hell with the Devil, his angels, and Barack Obama. And after tapping out MMA-style to Jesus, the greatest fighter of all-time, you then must be willing to serve as his slave until you die. And here’s the kicker: even after you die and go to Heaven, you will still spend your life in worshipful servitude to God. That’s right, it was never about you in this life, nor will it be about you in the life to come. It’s all about J-e-s-u-s. Hard not to call Jesus a narcissist. What’s with needing people to continually fawn over you and praise your awesomeness? You’d think that having millions of angels singing your praises day and night would be enough.

I am sure this post will cause more than a few Evangelical zealots to reach for their Preparation H. How dare I paint Jesus/salvation/Christianity in such a negative light! Just remember, John MacArthur, a preacher many people believe is the best Bible expositor of our time, said that to be a Christian is to be a slave. Ask yourself, is that the kind of life you really want; one devoted day and night to slavish service of a thirty-three-year-old single man? No thanks.

Let me conclude this post with the lyrics and a video of the gospel song, Fix Me, Jesus:

Fix me Jesus, fix me
Oh fix me, oh fix me, oh fix me
Fix me Jesus, fix me
Fix me for my home on high
Fix me Jesus, fix me
Fix me for the by and by
Fix me Jesus, fix me
Fix me for my starry crown
Fix me Jesus, fix me
Fix me for a higher ground
Fix me Jesus, fix me
Oh fix me, oh fix me, oh fix me
Fix me Jesus, fix me
Fix me Jesus, fix me
(Fix me Jesus)
Oh fix me

Video Link

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 62, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 41 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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Stuart the Evangelical Asks Bruce the Atheist a Theological Question

naked adam and eve

Comic by Hilary Price

The most-read post on The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser is the post titled, Why I Hate Jesus. Written four years ago, this post is also the most misunderstood post. Many Evangelicals wrongly believe I hate the man, myth, and legend named Jesus Christ. Bound by a literalistic approach to life, they fail to see that the post is really about their religion and not a flesh and blood dead man named Jesus. As I shall make abundantly clear in an upcoming post, there are many, many, many Jesuses; that every generation of Christians shapes and molds Jesus into their own image, according to their peculiar theological, political, and social beliefs. To deny this is to deny reality. To suggest that you worship the first century Jesus and practice Christianity (Judaism) just as the Apostles did in 35 CE is ludicrous and a denial of 2,000 years of Church history. Christianity started evolving the moment Jesus called twelve illiterate men to be his disciples. These men and other followers interpreted and reinterpreted the life and words of Jesus, fashioning their own versions of Christ and what it meant to be a follower of him. This evolutionary process continues even to this very day.

An Evangelical man by the name of Stuart left several comments on the Why I Hate Jesus post. Standard Evangelical stuff. I tried to blow off his first comment with a bit of snark — suggesting I was a porn star — but Stuart was bound and determined to put in a good word for Jesus. In his second comment, Stuart wrote (in response to Zoe, a fellow Evangelical turned atheist):

I no longer believe in the existence of Santa, therefore i wouldn’t go to the trouble of creating a website explaining how i came to no longer believe in Santa, simply because it would attract attention from people who do believe in Santa. And frankly i have no appetite for engaging with such people.

Bruce, by creating this space has invited interest from the vast internet audience on the matters he discusses on this site. It would be naive to think compassionate Christians would not do their duty and offer support in the only way they know how in trying to heal the wounded or help pick up the fallen. Bruce knows that, you likely know that, so really, what else do you expect?

If i didn’t believe in something i wouldn’t waste a single moment on it. Atheists are a different breed though. They are evangelical in their denial and latent hatred of God. Personally i love engaging with intelligent people regardless of their ideology or belief. I have yet to meet ANY atheist with any meaningful grasp on theology.

But I guess when even atheism’s poster boy Dawkins is a theological illiterate there is little hope for anyone following in his footsteps.

There was only ever one Jesus, there is currently only one Jesus and there will always forever be only one Jesus. Anyone who tells you different is like an atheist – they simply fail to understand Scripture

And Bruce’s story isn’t wrong, but it is clear he has been deceived. And knowing that there are many many more like Bruce is honestly heart breaking to me.

I responded thusly:

I grew up in the Evangelical church, attended an Evangelical Bible College, and pastored Evangelical churches for 25 years. Yet, according to you, I have no meaningful grasp of Christian theology. I spent thousands and thousands of hours studying and reading the Bible, yet, according to you, I don’t have a fundamental understanding of Christian belief. Surely, you see how irrational and stupid such a statement sounds.

The real issue here is that you don’t like my interpretations and conclusions. Thus, instead of meaningfully interacting with them, you rage against Bruce, the man.

The purpose of this blog is to help people who have doubts about Christianity or who have left Christianity and are looking for support. You, my friend, are not my target audience. I let people such as yourself comment because you provide reminders to ex-Evangelicals of the arrogant, self-righteous beliefs we left behind.

Please keep preaching your gospel, Stuart. People such as yourself win more people to atheism than I ever could.

Earlier today, Stuart sent me a question: Why were the fig leaves not acceptable? I assume his question is some sort of test to see if I really know anything about Evangelical theology. What follows is my answer.

The Bible says in Genesis 3:1-7:

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

In Genesis 2, the Bible tells us that Adam and Eve were originally created naked, without sin, and unashamed before God. In Genesis 3, a walking, talking snake came to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and questioned the command God had given them to not eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The snake — whom Evangelicals believe was Satan — said, “Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” Eve replied, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.” The snake replied, “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Eve looked at the Tree’s beauty and saw that it was good for food and would make her wise — the Ginkgo Biloba of the Garden. She picked a fruit from the Tree, took a bite, and gave it to Adam to eat too. And just like that, Adam and Eve plunged the entire human race into sin. Since that fateful moment, every human is born a sinner, alienated from God. Humans have no choice in the matter. We are forever doomed by a man and woman we don’t even know taking a bite from a piece of fruit. Or so the story goes anyway.

adam and eve wearing fig leaves

Immediately afterward, Adam and Eve realized for the first time that God had created them with genitals. Ashamed that they were naked, Adam and Eve gathered some fig leaves, sewed them together, and made themselves aprons to hide their genitals. Later, God came to the Garden of Eden and took a stroll in the cool of the day. Fearing God, Adam and Eve hid among the trees, hoping that God would see not see them. Alas, God, after playing a quick game of Where’s Waldo (Wally), found them. Adam said to God, “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” Wait a minute, I thought Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together for aprons. Why weren’t they wearing them when God made his appearance in the Garden? Maybe the leaves caused chafing, and Adam and Eve decided to return to their natural state. Whatever their reason, God was none too happy. To the first man and woman he said, “Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?” A rhetorical question? Or did God not know? Regardless, Adam replied to God, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” Ladies, want to know where Evangelical men blaming you for everything comes from? You need look no further than Genesis 3 and Adam blaming Eve for his errant fruit-eating.

talking snakes

God then turned to Eve and asked, “What is this that thou hast done?” A rhetorical question? Didn’t God know what Eve had done? Regardless, in classic Flip Wilson style, Eve responded, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” In other words, the DEVIL made me do it! God, pissed off at Adam and Eve’s bad behavior, cursed all humans and cursed the earth. Ever had to pull weeds from a flower bed or garden? God’s doing. Worse, God condemned all humans to death; instead of unending life, we would now have a fixed time to live and die. And then, to put an explanation point on his anger, God killed a bunch of puppies, skinned them, and made fur loincloths for Adam and Eve. The first person to shed blood of earth was God, not man. In fact, it can be argued that God has shed more blood than all of humanity combined. Either by direct action or commanding his followers to do so, God had slaughtered millions and millions of people. Yet, Evangelicals say he is a God of love, peace, and guacamole.

Genesis 3 ends with God throwing Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden, leaving them and their progeny to fend for themselves. That is, until God got tired of having no one to play with and decided to make Abraham and some of his descendants his playthings. Or so goes the story anyway.

Stuart wants to know, “Why were the fig leaves not acceptable?” The correct answer from an Evangelical perspective is that Adam and Eve sewing fig leaves together to cover their genitals was a picture of human self-righteousness; an attempt by Adam and Eve to cover up their “sin” on their own terms. The thrice holy God would have none of that. According to a plan cooked up by him from before the foundation of the world, sin had to be atoned for with blood; that Adam and Eve’s sin could only be covered through God killing and skinning some puppies and making fur loincloths to cover their sins. The Bible says in Hebrews 9:22, 27-28:

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission . . . And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

The Abrahamic religions — Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — are, according to the Bible, blood cults. You can come to no other rational conclusion IF you read the Bible as most Evangelicals do — literally. Now, if you see Genesis 3 as a fictional story meant to impart a greater meaning, well anything is possible. It’s 2019, and thanks to five centuries of literalistic interpretations of a book they believe is an inspired, inerrant, infallible text written by God, Evangelicals are forced to defend all sorts of absurdities. And I get it. People such as Stuart have to preach the party line. Otherwise, they are admitting that Evangelicalism is built on a foundation of lies and misinterpretations. Without a real Adam and Eve created by God in October 4004 BCE, the Evangelical house of cards comes tumbling down. A real New Testament God-man requires a real Adam and Eve. The Last Adam needed a First Adam for the Evangelical gospel to make sense. Without original sin, there was no need for Jesus to take a thirty-three-year vacation on earth. If Adam and Eve were metaphors as liberal and progressive Christians allege, then it can be argued that Jesus was a metaphor too. Upholding what Christians will celebrate come Easter Sunday requires a literal reading of the Bible. Without it, the Christian gospel of atonement for sin and redemption makes no sense — at least to me, anyway.

Now, this hardly means that Evangelicals are off the hook. Literalism can be a real bitch. In fact, I don’t know of one Evangelical who is truly a literalist from Table of Contents to Concordance. All Evangelicals — when it suits them — spiritualize scriptures that don’t “fit” their literal reading and interpretation of the text. Evangelicals have what I call theological schizophrenia. Granted, Evangelicals try to make their peculiar interpretations mesh with one another. Countless Christian books have been written about Bible hermeneutics, systematic theology, and harmonizing the Biblical text. Try as they might, however, Evangelicals fail at this task. The Bible is an incoherent mess of contradictory texts, and if taken and believed literally, they lead to all sorts of nonsensical and harmful beliefs.

Yet, when I challenge Evangelicals to take EVERY word of Genesis 1-3 literally, they either say they do or start making excuses for while they don’t. I have challenged countless Evangelicals to let the words of the unknown author of Genesis stand on their own, and in doing so see that it is impossible to square Trinitarian Christianity with the text. In fact, honesty demands admitting that there were actually at least THREE Gods mentioned in Genesis 1-3, and that Christianity does not, in fact, rest on a monotheist foundation.

I double-dog dare Evangelical readers of this post to read the Bible as it is written, and not let theological presuppositions get in the way of what the text says. Read each book by itself and ask, “what is the author is trying to say?” Dare to ask yourself, as the talking snake asked Eve, “yea hath God said?” Just asking this question is the first step towards intellectual freedom; the first step towards freeing oneself of Evangelical bondage.

If you are an Evangelical who has stumbled upon this post, I am so glad you stopped by. Let me recommend several books you might find helpful as you weigh some of the claims I make in this post. If the Bible is “truth,” surely it will withstand intellectual investigation. Don’t take your preacher’s word for it. To quote the Good Book, seek and ye shall find . . .

Books by Robert Wright

The Evolution of God

Books by Bart Ehrman

The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World

Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why

How Jesus Became God : the Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee

Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior

Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don’t Know About Them)

Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth

Forged: Writing in the Name of God–Why the Bible’s Authors Are Not Who We Think They Are

God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question — Why We Suffer

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

Thank you for reading this post. Please share your thoughts in the comment section. If you are a first-time commenter, please read the commenting policy before wowing readers with your words. All first-time comments are moderated. If you would like to contact Bruce directly, please use the contact form to do so.

Donations are always appreciated. Donations on a monthly basis can be made through Patreon. One-time donations can be made through PayPal.

Knowledge

tree of knowledge

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32

Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise. — Thomas Gray

A little learning is a dangerous thing. — Alexander Pope

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance. — Confucius

Knowledge is a weapon. I intend to be formidably armed. — Terry Goodkind

No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire. — L. Frank Baum

Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse. — African Proverb

Knowledge is power. — Francis Bacon

In Sunday School, children learn the story of the Creation and the Fall of Mankind. When I was a child, the Sunday School teacher would read the story to us – and if we were lucky, she would populate a felt board as the story unfolded. Typically, after the story, some sort of craft or game would follow, helping to reinforce the lessons contained in the story. Sunday school was fun, but as an adult I can see how much indoctrination occurs in such a setting.

The story of the Creation and the Fall of Mankind is quite brilliant in that it attempts to explain the following to people who lacked explanations to their questions about their origins. The story tackles the following topics:

  • the origins of humans;
  • the presence of good and evil in the world;
  • what happens if people disobey their deity;
  • why women have been treated as second-class citizens;
  • why people desire to have sex;
  • why childbirth is so painful;
  • why the serpent slithers on the ground and why so many people have an antipathy for it;
  • why there is death;
  • why people wear clothes;
  • why we cannot return to a perfect world on earth;
  • why we have to work and why it is hard.

I am many years removed from learning these Bible stories and more than a decade removed from church attendance. Looking at some of these stories years later, as an atheist, I see aspects of the story that I had not considered before. It is also interesting to look at these stories in terms of mythology and not as the literal historical fact that Biblical literalists profess.

One thing I find fascinating today is the concept of the Tree of Knowledge. In Sunday School, it was described as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve were instructed that they could eat of any tree in the garden except for this tree, for if they did, they would “surely die.” It is hard to understand how newly-created humans who have no experience, no education, no knowledge, could comprehend concepts such as “good,” “evil,” and “death.” Maybe the deity or deities “created” their brains already programmed with certain concepts, instincts, tools necessary for survival, but the story does not explain any of that. Carl Jung posited the concept of “collective unconscious,” the supposed part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual’s unconscious. There is no evidence of the existence of “collective unconscious,” though it is an interesting concept to ponder.

But let’s return to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The phrase literally translates as the tree of knowledge of good and evil from the Hebrew language. But the pairing of opposites may be an example of merism, a literary device that depicts meaning by pairing direct opposites – and in this case, it could be a merism that denotes “everything.” Some scholars believe that the merism does not denote a concept of morality but is merely inclusive of “everything.” In any case, many Christian sects teach that Adam and Eve were punished for their disobedience, and that the punishment carried forth through all Adam and Eve’s descendants — including those of us who are alive today. I have not heard preachers expand upon the concept of Adam and Eve being punished for seeking and acquiring knowledge, though some may have. It is true that there are plenty of Bible verses that warn against seeking worldly or carnal knowledge, and knowledge of content outside the spiritual is denigrated. Human knowledge itself is denigrated as being inferior to the knowledge of God. I searched online for a comprehensive list of Bible verses that denigrated knowledge and could not find one such list, but I found many verses in both testaments denigrating knowledge. I also found a variety of verses that state that true knowledge can only be found through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

If one considers the Tree of Knowledge as symbolic of knowing everything, then why was it that god or gods did not want the humans to have knowledge of everything? Was God meaning to protect the humans or was he trying to prevent them from attaining knowledge? And why would God try to prevent humans from acquiring knowledge? There is so much good that has come from humankind’s attainment of knowledge. We have learned more about how the world works, how to prevent diseases, how to harness the earth’s resources for better living conditions, how to increase our crops and how to supply fresh water. However, we have also learned more efficient ways to kill our fellow humans, and we have polluted the earth. We have created borders to exclude our “tribes” from one another. It is said that with much knowledge comes much responsibility. Perhaps the creators of this myth, ancient though they were, understood the great power and great danger of knowledge when conscientious stewardship is not applied.

From my own personal experience, knowledge of the world outside the Evangelical bubble was key to my deconversion process. In fundamentalist religions, people are warned against the outside world, often prohibited from owning certain books or gaining access to the internet and discouraged from attending secular schools. The outside world is labeled as evil, with pastors/rabbis/imams railing against the dangers to be found in the outside world. Some religions scare their members with images of demons and hell lurking around every corner, to be found in each book or library or website. The goal of fundamentalist religions is to retain its membership — to indoctrinate a new generation — and to do that, they must convince their followers that TRUTH can only be found within the safe confines of their fundamentalist religious world. As my friend who was raised in Reform Judaism commented when I told her the story of my upbringing in Evangelical Christianity, it’s a cult designed to keep its members trapped within.

The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil can be, then, symbolic of all the exposure one encounters outside the confines of fundamentalist religion. I have eaten from that tree. I can no more unsee or unread or unlearn the ideas I found outside those confines any more than I could uneat a fruit. I could try to purge it from my mind as one might try to purge a food or poison from one’s body, but the effects of exposure are not easily reversed. At least, for me they could not be. Nor would I desire a different outcome.

What do you think about the myth of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? Do you see this story as a warning about misuse of knowledge, or do you see it in another way? Please let us know in the comments.

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