The Serpent Was Right

Regardless of our current religious orientation, most of us are familiar with the Garden of Eden story … which begat the Christian concept of “original sin” and redemption through substitutionary atonement.

Christian religious traditions hold that the original sin has been passed down from Adam and Eve to all humanity. And that the only way to regain our right-standing with God is to accept Jesus as our savior, heaping all of our misdeeds and offenses upon him—the sacrificial scapegoat for us all.

But what, exactly, was the original sin? Disobedience? Doubt? Rebellion? Self-awareness? Self-centered egoism?

According to one chapter of the Bible, God warned our primogenitors, “… you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Gen 2:17, NIV).

Apart from the fact that there’s a second account of this story in which, rather than die, God recognized their transgression and proclaimed their punishments—pain in childbirth and subordination to men for women, and, for men, relegation to an accursed ground with which they must toil and sweat for their existence (Gen 3:17-19, NIV)—we learn that Adam and Eve didn’t die for what they did; with 56 children, they are reckoned to have lived about 930 years before their demise.

Therefore, the serpent was right: neither Adam nor Eve died after eating the forbidden fruit.

Yet the crafty old snake was the voice of temptation, dressed up in an all-too-human question: “Did God really say (that)?”

Eve, in effect, replied: “Yes. Those were God’s rules.”

But what some think of as the devil in disguise—the serpent—persisted: “You will not certainly die … For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5).

For most of the Judeo-Christian persuasion, “die” was symbolic, as in separation from our intimate connection to God, which evangelicals and other Christians will tell you can only be redeemed through being “born again” with Jesus … aka (metaphorically, of course), a resurrection.

So, let’s return to my original question: What, exactly, was the so-called original sin? Was it disobedience? Doubt the God really said something? Rebellion against the established rules? Self-awareness and/or its offspring, self-centered egoism?

I believe it was self-awareness and egoism.

What happened after Eve enjoyed the tasty fruit and cajoled Adam into trying it, too? They recognized that they were naked and donned fig leaves as garments. Their son, Abel, killed his brother, Cain, out of envy. Humanity sold its soul in a variety of Faustian deals and bargains.

Egoism is a “doctrine that individual self-interest is the actual motive of all conscious action; a doctrine that individual self-interest is the valid end of all actions,” along with “excessive concern for oneself with or without exaggerated feelings of self-importance,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Only by transcending our egoism can we truly understand and care about the welfare of others.

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