I’ve heard at times from non-fundamentalist friends and family that the stories of the Bible are not to be taken literally but that they provide moral lessons. Sometimes I have to wonder what moral lessons and truths they are talking about.
For instance, there is one story in the Bible in particular that honestly and seriously confused me about how a loving father should act. God is presented in the tradition of Christianity I was raised in as the perfect Father, and we were taught that this story happened literally. It is the story of Genesis 3, usually titled “The Fall” or something like that. It’s a bit long and I don’t want to reproduce it here, but if you want to read it you can find it on BibleGateway.com.
The gist of it is that God had told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Well, in the KJV “the tree in the midst of the garden”) or else they would die. To made a fairly short story even shorter, Eve is persuaded by the cunning talking snake into taking a bite, and then getting Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. It’s what happens next — and the explanations and rationalizations I was taught — that confused me. Do Adam and Eve die? Well, not right away, but it is presumed that one day they will (the assumption was always that they were immortal before, and now they are mortal even though I don’t think the text actually says that anywhere so I’m not entirely sure if that is part of the story or if it was just “interpreted” into it.)
Anyway, no God doesn’t kill them — not right away anyway. He does worse. He curses them and all of their descendants with hard labor — tilling of the ground for men and painful childbirth for women. God does not only carry out this threat, he compounds it even to the point of cursing all the good things he had created in the previous two chapters.
What does this say about how a perfect father acts toward his children? I was told, and believed, that it means that if a father ever makes a threat to a child to try to ensure obedience and the child disobeys (for any reason) than that father is honor-bound to carry out that threat. If he doesn’t, then the child will lose respect for him, and all sorts of nastiness will supposedly result. In God’s case, it would be a blemish on his spotlessly perfect nature, and we couldn’t have that. It’s just all-important that the children OBEY and face serious and painful consequences if they don’t.
Of course they said if a father is not God, he shouldn’t make terrible threats like that to start with — but then that meant that earthy fathers should not really be like the supposed perfect Father — which I found confusing when I was a kid.
Obedience is the key lesson here — not healthy child development or flourishing, not development of a loving and trusting relationship, not an understanding that just being told to do or not do something is simply not good enough to expect compliance from a young child. And Adam and Eve were like children in this story — not even knowing good or evil before they ate the fruit. It’s just obedience based on “do what I say, or I will hurt you” that God expected from them.
There is also a related lesson that reaching for knowledge and understanding is wrong. That trying to understand why an act is good or evil, rather than simply obeying for it’s own sake, is sinful.
Are these good moral lessons? I don’t think they are.
Or it could just be a ancient myth with no real moral lesson to teach. A just-so story from people who live a long time ago to explain why life is so hard. In fact, I have a idea that is exactly what it really is.