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A Kangaroo Court in the Garden of Eden

Millions of people live & die believing the God of the Bible to be perfectly just as well as the arbiter of all ultimate justice, but within but a few paragraphs of the start of Genesis, God reveals himself to have a very unfortunate understanding of what constitutes justice.

We’re all familiar with the story: God makes Adam & Eve, places them in a garden, and informs them that they may eat of any tree in the garden, except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil under penalty of death. Eve happens upon a serpent who convinces her that she would not die if she ate of the tree, which she ultimately does, convincing her husband Adam to do the same. God, of course, discovers this transgression and casts them out of the garden to fend for themselves.

If you can get past the ideas of talking snakes, almighty invisible deities, and the idea that our origins trace back to Adam & Eve, the story seems fine, and millions upon millions of people have accepted it as-is as a story of our first ancestors.

There is, however, a very grave underlying problem with this story which ought to call into question how much we can trust God to be just.

Adam & Eve had no way of knowing that disobeying God was wrong. Think about it: If understanding the difference between right and wrong required partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, how could they be expected to make informed decisions before partaking of the tree?

To Adam & Eve, every choice was neutral. Innocent. Free of either good or evil motivation. To them, the moral conflict informs our decisions didn’t exist. They were free to act, without conscience.

The flip side of not knowing what was evil, was not knowing what was good either. To them, God would have been a neutral entity, no more or less good or evil than anything else our “first parents” would have met…

…including the serpent.

God would have been a neutral entity, no more or less good or evil…

Folks have often wondered how it is Adam & Eve could have been so easily fooled by the serpent, but it actually makes perfect sense. If both the serpent & God were both “neutral” in their eyes, they would have agreed with the one whose “truth” was most appealing, which in their case was the serpent, who offered the freedom to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, without the worry of death.

Ultimately, upon eating of the Tree, Adam & Eve instantly knew the morality of their choices, for which God held them accountable.

Having said all that, we must consider this: Was God just in punishing Adam & Eve for disobeying when they had no way of knowing whether disobeying was even an evil thing?

We can get a good sense of God’s idea of justice from this passage, which has been rightly described as an example of a kangaroo court.

If we are to take the Genesis account seriously, then God is less interested in humanity obeying because it is the right thing to do, and more interested in humanity obeying for the sake of obeying. When obedience is neutral or blind, any command makes sense: don’t eat of a tree, don’t fornicate, don’t mix fabrics, don’t murder… With a conscience — the knowledge of good & evil — it becomes readily apparent which of those behaviors is evil and which are good or otherwise acceptable.

Accepting the Bible account, we can thank our “first parents” for the greatest gift: the knowledge required to make moral decisions, freeing us from the burden of blind obedience.

God is … more interested in humanity obeying for the sake of obeying.

If you believe the Bible’s Genesis account is a factual record of history, then you must decide for yourself whether it was good of God to punish Adam & Eve for their entirely uninformed choices.

I contend that it was unjust of God to punish them, and that if the Bible account is true, God’s actions set himself up as an unfit judge of a free humanity.

Addendum: A common tactic used by apologists to answer this kind of objection is to assume that God explained a lot more “behind the scenes.” However, assumptions can be used to make the Bible mean just about anything; indeed, assumptions form the basis of just about every denomination’s distinctive beliefs. I contend that if the Bible, itself claiming that it is sufficient, cannot stand alone without innumerable fallback assumptions, then we should no longer regard it as an “infallible” text. We should embrace the logical faculties which we are born with, freeing ourselves from superstition which demands the shackling of our thoughts to exterior claims of truth apart from reason.

Addendum 2: If you’ve read this far while still thinking i don’t know what i’m talking about regarding God’s sense of justice, then i invite you to reflect upon the story of Abraham, who, to test his faith, was commanded to sacrifice his son. Any sensible man would have, out of love for his son, refused to even consider obeying such a batshit insane command. However, God doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t care about the morality of his own commands; knowing the difference between good & evil was something he forbade humanity, after all. No, all God cared about was Abraham’s blind obedience.

7 replies on “A Kangaroo Court in the Garden of Eden”

I think you’re working under a false assumption that they didn’t understand it was wrong and that all things are neutra to them. They understood that God was good and had given them everything, but told them not to eat of the tree: Eve says as much to the serpent. From then on the serpent lies, but it’s convincing because it sounds like the truth. They do not become like God “knowing the difference” between good and evil, they will come to experience good and evil. I.e., they will gain a working knowledge of good and evil.
Is God unfair in his punishment? No! He told them what would happen if they ate of that fruit: they would surely die. He doesn’t describe how that will happen, but then we find out that they are cut off from the tree of life and from walking with their life-giving creator

You seem to be working on the assumption that Adam & Eve knew what good & evil were. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have known God was good. And if they did know God was good and that his commands are good, what specific “knowledge of good” were they lacking? What was the purpose of the tree at all rather than to be the MacGuffin that sets off a most ridiculous mythology: God basically sets Adam & Eve up to fall, eventually killing himself to save them from himself.

(“Oversimplification” perhaps, but i know the Bible well enough to know it’s an accurate simplification.)

Yes, perhaps it is an assumption that they knew God is good (one that is probably based on my perception that they knew God made them and gave them everything they have, and we’re told his whole creation was very good). But I don’t think it is an assumption to say that they didn’t know what sin was, or what was wrong, since sin is to disobey God and they knew what he told them not to do, and knew what he said the consequences would be. God said what would happen, they chose to do it anyway, and God followed through with punishment.

The purpose of the tree is a common question, and not an easy one to answer (because ‘who has known the mind of the Lord?’) but I’m not sure it’s worth discussing if you consider the whole thing a ridiculous mythology.

If they already knew what was good (e.g, God, obedience, all of creation) and evil (e.g., disobedience, sin, the serpent), then it seems a stretch to imagine that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil meant anything at all.

After all, when they ate it, the result was an understanding of, well, sin (manifest in their covering their nakedness).

But you say that they already understood sin? How could that possibly be?

I’ve noticed that most teaching regarding the tree pertains to the “knowledge of evil” bit, and that makes sense, as the Bible focuses on their nakedness immediately after the fact. But what about this whole “knowledge of good” thing? Isn’t that what led them to put on clothes? They knew nakedness was evil, and they also learned that wearing clothes was good.

But wouldn’t they have already known what was good if they had such an understanding of God, obedience, and all of creation?

It just doesn’t add up. And if the only way to make it make sense is to say that we can’t explain why it makes sense because the mind of God is so far beyond ours… well, that really isn’t an answer. Human language is capable of expressing pretty much anything, especially if a supposedly all-wise, all-knowing mind is authoring it. That the Bible contains so many “mysteries” that cannot be explained is not at all a strong point for it.

If they already knew what was good (e.g, God, obedience, all of creation) and evil (e.g., disobedience, sin, the serpent), then it seems a stretch to imagine that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil meant anything at all.

That is what I addressed in my initial comment. It’s not just knowing the difference, or knowing that they exist; it’s an intimate knowledge, an experiential knowledge. The bible uses the concept “to know” in that way reasonably often. For example, it uses “know” for the physical union of a man and a wife in several places, and also Jesus says to the people who did works in his name, but never trusted him, “I never knew you”. They already had an experiential knowledge of good because they lived in a world that was very good, but by choosing to disobey God they come into a deep relationship with sin where they are ruled by their desires and deceived into believing that immediate pleasures and living for self are better than the promises of God. And so everything that was completely good also becomes touched by evil in some way (not that there’s nothing good in the world now, but it will be affected by sin in some way or another).

That the Bible contains so many “mysteries” that cannot be explained is not at all a strong point for it.

I don’t think the bible does contain terribly many mysteries that can’t be explained. It contains many mysteries, but many are explained in the bible itself. There are some things that are not explained in the bible, but are explained by other things in our world (e.g., science), but that doesn’t disprove or exclude the message that is in the bible because the bible’s purpose is to reveal God and his plans for us, not explain the way every single thing in our world works.
What I meant in my quote is that I believe we can attempt to answer why God made the tree, and I think we can come up with a pretty good hypothesis of why he made the tree — if we look at God’s character as a whole, as it is revealed in the bible — but we probably won’t know if we are 100% correct in that hypothesis because we don’t know the mind of God.

I’m still not sure that makes any sense: The tree was the source of experiential knowledge? Why create a tree with experiential knowledge of good & evil… if experiential knowledge of good would have been picked up by interacting with God and experiential knowledge of evil would have come by disobeying God (and not from the tree directly).

Either God set Adam & Eve up by creating an unnecessary tree, or Adam & Eve didn’t know the difference between good & evil and thus God, well, also set them up.

Regarding answering Bible difficulties by appealing to the character of God, i’m too disturbed by the character of God to even want to appeal to it to explain anything. After all, he is the God who forbade the eating of shrimp while allowing the beating of slaves, who forbade mixed textiles while allowing rapists to marry their victims… Who created a free species, allowed them to sin, condemned the majority of them to Hell, all so that he could send himself to temporarily die to save a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of believers — believers who are “drawn” to belief, according to Jesus, according to the will of God, not man, according to Paul — all to show forth how much he loves the world…

Further, if Adam & Eve were simply accepting God as good because he presumably said so at some point, despite their being unable to fully comprehend what “good” even was, then that would seem to reinforce what i said above about God wanting simple blind obedience rather than informed worship.

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