Most of us are familiar with the biblical story of the fall, when Adam and Eve were thrown out of paradise after an incident with a serpent and a piece of fruit. I remember it from Sunday School at the local Methodist Chapel. Why did our ancestors place so much emphasis on this story? It comes in Genesis 2, in verse 8, just after the creation of heaven and earth.
And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man…
God creates Adam and then Eve and by the end of Chapter 4 (verse 23), because Eve partook of the fruit of a forbidden tree (it was clearly the woman’s fault):
…the Lord God sent him out of the paradise of pleasure, to till the earth…
This was obviously highly significant to the men (well they probably were of that gender) who set down the Old Testament. Why? Well, Steve Taylor’s book The Fall has an answer to this question, not only for the scribes of that era, but also for ourselves and future human beings.
It’s taken me a while to get around to reading this book – first published in 2005 and highly recommended by many reviewers. I guess I sort of thought I knew the story, but it was not with the wonderful vision encompassed by this book. Steve is a psychologist, so his story is imbued with a deep understanding of human psychology, but he has also clearly researched and understood many disciplines to produce a work of this scope. This is a history of the fall and a vision of our potential return to paradise.
Roughly, the story goes a bit like this. The life of hunter-gatherers embedded in the dreaming of life was largely one of a paradise. There was plenty to eat, plenty of space around, equality of men and women, little need for conflict with other human groups. There was no separation from nature. The along came a change in climate in a layer from the Sahara right across to China. There was a gradual increase in desertification, so that the erstwhile paradise could no longer support its population. Inevitably this led to movement of populations and conflict with those already settled in surrounding areas. Gradually the usurpers became more aware of what was happening, they psychologically emerged from the dreaming, became planners and organisers, and out-competed those surrounding populations, notably across Europe and China.
Characteristics of the post-Fall era included farming, ownership of land, warfare, patriarchy, left-brain dominance, body shame, technology, the one God, absolute rulers, inequality, linear time, not living ‘in the present’, separation from nature. These gradually spread across the earth, taking over or incorporating indigenous paradise peoples.
All this resulted in around 6000 years of environmental abuse, treating nature as if it did not matter, when it is actually the ground of our being. The result we see today is the threat that climate change will, within a century or so (if we’re lucky), destroy human civilisation.
Steve Taylor links all these changes to the ‘ego explosion’, which was a part of human evolution, but not an end in itself. We now need to move on to the ‘trans-Fall’ era, which has been prefigured by all the great world religions – Upanishad, Buddhism, Christiantiy, Islam, Taoism,… With tools such as meditation, these religions provide a way beyond ego towards compassion for all beings, and morality. The 18th century saw a new impetus towards transcending ego with the abolition of slavery, the romantic movement, the women’s rights movement, the egalitarian ideals of the US and French revolutions, leading to today’s much more enlightened Western democracies. But still the exploitation of nature continues, even has accelerated.
He suggests that we are moving towards transcending ego separation, retaining its benefits while living more in harmony with others and with nature, basically becoming more spiritual. As he says, basically there is little choice – it’s that or face the end of our civilisation. 16 years on from the publication of this book in 2005 it requires increasing acts of faith to remain as hopeful as he was.
His book gives a great perspective on our predicament, anyway. Well worth a read.
Featured image: Dieu réprimandant Adam et Eve, by Domenichino,
from Jérôme Villafruela, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons