The Minotaur seems very nice
A little rough
Around polished edges
This comes from being two people
Detached because he’s misunderstood
Misunderstood because he’s detached
But you can set the man free from bull
He’s a gentle beast after all
Tear down those four walls
Ring placed hopeful on hairy hands
And suddenly you’ll be a-mazed
It’s not four walls
And you’re inside
In fabled tales of old
The story’s often told
How Theseus searched for Minotaur to slay
But you’re no hero
He’ll bring your will to zero
And in that maze you’ll stay
It’s all in your mind
But I think you’ll find
Your hope is never-ending
Which way to go
You’ll think you know
With your wind and all your wending
Illusion of choice
Suppression of voice
He’s there to block your way
If you do the math
And find another path
He’s sure to make you pay
Well wrong IS wrong
Also right is wrong
Lost and listless
Crawling on hands and knees
Every decision you’ve made
Never pleasing his taurine form
You must be a bad person
You must not know how to love
You must be unlovable
You will never escape
And why do you deserve freedom?
It’s his labyrinthine home
Or you’ll always be alone
Sacrifice and appease
Then get on your knees
Or the Minotaur will rage
If you cause displeasure
He’ll use violent measures
Deadening ends within his cage
No straight lines
You’ll look for a sign
And cry out to the skies above
But if there is a God
Who observes you plod
He’s not one made from love
In truth your only sin
Was to open the door and let him in
And offer him your heart
But he’s had you pegged
In his morass you’re dragged
He’s been bending you from the start
What cosmic justice cares about us?
Kindness may be a virtue
The king of all
But why should souls
Who are manifest
Of love and compassion
Be prey to the most monstrous of humans?
If this be divine law or decree
Said Consciousness can keep it
Leave us alone
The heartbreak is too much for us mortals
Do You not hear women weeping?
Does not the sound of pleas
From the kindest among us
Trapped forever in mindless mazes
Shake the very foundation of heaven?
Let Kingdoms fall into the sea
Set love and kindness free
One thing that is fairly obvious among humans is that we don’t like uncertainty. To say that we don’t know something is to highlight ignorance. It’s the highest level of uncertainty we can reveal. Even us ego driven academics are often chided for weighing in on every issue, and it’s a stereotype that is not unfounded. But as every good teacher will tell you there is a lot of value of telling your students that you don’t know. Now maybe some students idolize your intellect and saying you don’t know might shatter the pedestal they put you on, but if they truly care about the pursuit of knowledge they should be lauding you for having the humility and honesty for saying “I don’t know”. No one can know everything, even in their own field. And it’s a moment to teach your students about how one goes about finding the answer to a particular question, and that you never really stop learning or being a student.
But how is it that we know things? We can know things through experience and through investigation. Some claim instinct or intuition is also a type of knowing. But is it, or just a reaction to a particular situation? Instincts can be certainly be wrong even if they are embedded into who we are as humans. But instinct or intuition can also be honed through experience. For instance, a doctor might have a hunch or intuition about what might be wrong with a patient. This isn’t some inborn knowledge. The doctor, as a 16-year-old, certainly wouldn’t be able to make the same guess than they might have after years of experience. Most things that we chalk up to instinct or intuition are based on experiences we have had, or perhaps read about. If, as a woman, you have intuition about a guy that he’s creepy or dangerous, it could be that you’re spot on. Given the litany of examples of violence and abuse of men towards women this wouldn’t be a surprising thing to fear. But whatever that feeling is, does it represent true facts about the universe? Not necessarily, because you could be wrong, but it’s part of our survival to play it safe, instead of taking chances, going against our intuition can be costly. Regardless of what you believe about instinct or intuition all ways of knowing are subject to our cognitive biases and thus investigative methods that attempt to remove biases have a higher probability of being right.
The one thing that I think religion and science have in common is that they are both representative of our desire to know things and our uncomfortability with uncertainty. There are always things we don’t know. Sometimes big things like why is there a universe at all? Or, how did life begin? Many of the questions we’ve had over the years have been explained by the supernatural, only to have that debunked through scientific investigation. Refusing to leave things unexplained we have, in human history, always had those who claimed magic is real and that supernatural forces act with intent. But can we call supernatural explanations an explanations? It answers what, and sometimes who and when, but rarely how and why. It also seems to me that such explanations never really factor into things we are closer to understanding. For instance, we still have questions about lightning, but this is something that we also understand a lot about. We don’t say, “Alright we don’t know exactly how charge separation happens in a cloud, so therefore God.” We have enough of a physical understanding of the situation to know there are some details we haven’t worked out, but that it’s an explainable, natural phenomena. In ancient China, well before we understood anything about lightning, people believed that lightning was caused by supernatural forces and it would strike down people who were disrespectful to their parents. It’s as good an “explanation” as anything when you know nothing perhaps, but that’s a big problem. Such explanations are a dime a dozen, you could say “No! Lightning strikes people who are dishonest with their spouses”, “It’s pixies in the clouds, angry at humans for taking their home to make their village”, “It’s punishment for an entire civilization for their sinful nature”, “It’s an electric elk called Simon”. Things that promote magic as real render the investigation of scientific laws and principles useless. What value would understanding these things if such rules are ignored by the supernatural and the whim of a believer? People often want answers so badly they don’t care about the process.
This is where science differs from religion. Science seeks to explain and is much more about the process of investigation than the answer. Obviously that is the endpoint of a particular question, but how you arrive at that destination is at least as important, if not more important than the destination itself. Science seeks to explain through premises that are verifiable and analyzing available data before arriving at a conclusion. This conclusion then must be reliable as a starting point for new questions to be answered successfully, and this conclusion must be reachable by others independently. And because we don’t always have or know what relevant data is to answer a particular question, we can’t guarantee that any conclusion is 100% right. We can only determine the most correct answer given a certain set of information.
People say that history is also a way to know what’s true, but such people who say that don’t truly understand what good historical scholarship involves, or the reliability of such conclusions. Historians know that any one source of historical knowledge can be biased, so the more data (sources) about a historical event the more sure the conclusion. But even then there still may be cultural bias, or differences in the way historical events were recorded at different times in our history. The lexicon of a particular language was less complex than now and thus we can sometimes only guess at the true meaning of a particular text. We can also support historical claims with archaeological evidence. Apologists that I’ve debated with love to cite the truth of a historical event in the Bible, but saying a historical event happened doesn’t mean the rest of a particular text is reliable. We can’t say that because City A existed as described in the Bible, thus the resurrection happened. This would be like saying well Mel Gibson’s movie Apocalypto must be all factual history because there was a tribe called the Incas. The Bible is a mixture of ordinary and extraordinary claims, and given that it was written by people who were aware of history and the norms of their time it would foolish to expect all of it to be fiction. Unless we have some unaltered video footage we still can’t know anything for sure. Video footage of Kennedy’s assassination tells us that he was assassinated and where the assassination took place. It doesn’t tell us who did it, or why? That had to be investigated and evidence collected. And despite the many conspiracy theories out there, the one thing that nobody says is that God sent down a bullet to kill Kennedy. The laws of physics were obeyed. Somebody fired a gun and that bullet traveled as it should towards its target.
The most important value perhaps of admitting “I don’t know” is that this means that it elicits curiosity and investigation. Having an answer, even if it cannot be tested, can often close off an avenue of investigation that might have otherwise been taken. If you ask me a question about the atmosphere and I give you an answer, you may simply believe me, based on my authority as an atmospheric science professor. If I’m right the fact that you don’t investigate for yourself costs you nothing. Yet if I think I know, or am afraid to look dumb and pretend to know my answer can prevent you from finding the actual answer, and now you may act on false information in the future. The reality is that there is too little time in our lives to investigate everything. Some things we do have to just believe. Having an answer is comforting. Believing in the supernatural can be comforting. That which is comforting doesn’t necessarily equate to truth, it is aesthetics. Aesthetics are important, but we shouldn’t expect everyone to share our aesthetic preferences.
Finally it is often the case that apologists will also use uncertainty as a means of positing that all answers are thus equally valid in the absence of evidence. Sometimes this is true, but certainly there are some explanations that have a higher probability of being true than others. If a tornado doesn’t hit your house one answer to why, could be that God spared your house. But this is highly improbable given how much the dynamics and the thermodynamics of the atmosphere influence storm motion. Provided we could get sufficient measurements of the atmosphere, we would have a better explanation as to why the storm took one path and not the other.
In cases where all answers might be equally valid, for which we have no evidence to support a particular assertion, there is an extremely large number of possibilities. For those who purports the logically flawed prime mover argument, even if it was a sound argument it says nothing about what might be the prime mover. Is it:
More than one
Computer programmer of a simulation
Flying Spaghetti Monster
God who is just really smart, but not omniscient
God who is powerful but not all powerful
God who is not timeless. Created the universe but then expired about 2 billion years ago.
A group of people from a parallel or previous universe who could do magic by writing things down. The act of writing on a page made it come true.
This list is possibly endless as we try to prescribe a nature to the supernatural. In fact the less evidence there is for an assertion the more possible answers we can provide. Not surprisingly we’ve had over 10,000 Gods in human history. My believing in one of these answers and writing it down in a book does not make an answer more true. Yet we are asked to simply accept specific extraordinary claims and reject others regularly by theist apologists.
The better, and more honest answer is, “I don’t know.” The more comfortable we can become with uncertainty, both individually and as a people, the more likely we are to grow. Not only is humility a virtue, but a methodological assessment of that which we have evidence for and what we don’t, can help us search for possible explanations that we might not have searched for because we believed we knew the answer.
A recent exchange I had on someone’s blog post about morality and what standards we use to gauge them had me thinking about a question I never really asked before in regards to theism. In this thread the theist was arguing that God represents an objective standard to what is moral and what isn’t moral, and atheists have no objective standards for morality. I feel theists are equally subjective and I think atheists can objectively evaluate the morality of actions through non-divine standards. I honestly couldn’t get through to to this person to convince them, but no matter. The question that occurred to me that I had asked before is “by what standards to we decide that we should be worshiping Gods and living according to their desires?”
I mean let’s say there is a God, by what basis do we decide that this is somebody we should worship? If they have a bunch of rules for us to follow do we get to question whether those rules are something we should follow? If we do not it seems following those rules is not based on a decision about the rightness of the rules, but rather a default position to authority. Are we to follow all those who are more powerful? Is it a duty to a creator to follow rules blindly? Are we to follow those who promise consequences that make us fearful should we choose not to follow?
Despite the claim by many theists that God represents an objective standard of morality it does not seem that morality plays a role when it comes to following God. One can’t say, “Following God is the moral thing to do,” unless we are somehow able to evaluate the rules that God wants us to follow. In which case God is no longer the standard that we judge the morality of the rules. Can we even say something like “God is good” ? Aren’t we using a separate standard to evaluate God’s goodness. It seems God is only good because of his power, not his morality. Thus whatever happens to us or anybody else is because God allows it to be so, making everything simply good. The punishments, the rewards, the rules, everything. I guess it’s always bothered me to give anything that much authority. Even if I had conclusive evidence of God’s existence, I think I would still want to evaluate him.
I mean let’s say God and the Devil stand before you, incarnate in some human form. How is one able to tell the difference between the two? How do I measure God’s goodness? Is it that one sends me to punishment while the other does the punishment? Surely it’s by one having a greater power over the other. Because it cannot be by actions of goodness, because according to at least the definition of the Christian God, anything that God does is good. Because God is the supposed objective standard of morality and my differing is not permissible if I wish to be moral.
It seems to me that what religion then teaches us is that worship is to be given to beings who are more powerful. If that powerful being is deemed to be the standard good then whatever that being does is by definition good and we cannot question but follow blindly. The consequences of our actions have no bearing on the situation providing we are following the rules laid out by that being. What then is the value of our ability to reason? Isn’t existence then rather empty having to set aside reason to follow blindly that which is defined as the ultimate good?
It still seems to me that someone had to have a pre-defined notion of good to even decide that God met the ultimate definition. More importantly I think it seems worth asking the question whether the worshiping the divine is even a moral action or an action meant simply to ensure obedience to entities more powerful than ourselves.
If you’re an atheist, you are no stranger to the notion that you probably don’t have morals. Or at least good ones. The idea shared my many theists, and why electing a Muslim as president (at least historically) has seemed more palatable than electing an atheist, is that without a belief in divine guidance there is no proper moral path for you to take. In a related argument many theists believe that science has nothing to say about morals or ethics. And my life of thinking science can lead me to a moral life is a waste of time. If I’m moral it had to have come from somewhere other than science. I’ve argued often that morality can be explained by science and it can be derived by science. The idea is rejected so immediately by theists that I am sure they are as shocked by the suggestion as I am shocked that they don’t understand.
The real answer is in evolution, but I thought it would be fun to look at it from a research perspective and imagine we were in a situation where we really didn’t have any moral guidance and we didn’t know why something like murder was morally wrong. Imagine a godless world. One where we know about evolution, and we know all the things that we currently know about humans and behavior, but all of a sudden everybody is unaware about what morally right actions are. Scientists still exists and some study human behavior and society and they are watching us. Let’s start with the most universally agreed upon moral: murder. Thou shalt not commit it. Ending another person’s life. In this world without any moral touchstone you might just kill anybody. Randomly. Without provocation. Because there is no God thus no divine punishment after you die, there is seemingly no earthly reason to prevent you from murdering anybody.
Our scientists are out looking at what life is like in the suburbs, and they see Jim out in his yard trimming the evergreen bushes in his front yard. Cathy, the neighbor, walks out of her house and sees Jim there. They’ve chatted a few times. Jim has seemed a reasonable person, but Cathy all of a sudden says to herself, “You know what let’s just kill Jim. There is nothing wrong with it, and there is no punishment in this life or the next one for it.” She walks back into her house and gets her pistol she keeps in her purse and walks out shooting Jim, quite unaware, and kills him.
The scientists watch in amazement. Suddenly Jim’s front door opens. His two young boys are there and immediately start screaming in grief and terror at the sight of their father on the ground bleeding. Cathy in a moment realizes what she has done. Deprived his two boys of their father. She is deeply affected by their grief, and begins sobbing herself. Suddenly Jim’s wife Susan comes the door. She sees Jim dead, and sees Cathy, her gun now dropped to the ground as Cathy’s empathy has kicked in and she’s buckled over in horror at what she’s done. Susan’s anger though is understandable. Her husband whom she loves his dead, her kids are traumatized, in pain and will grow up without a father. She walks into her house and gets a big knife and walks over to Cathy and stabs her in anger. The scientists scribble away at their notes at all this. A week later, Cathy’s father completely distraught by Susan killing her daughter, decides to go after Susan. One of the boys who saw what Cathy did has grown up now, and felt like Cathy deserved what she got, and that Cathy’s father had no right to kill their mother, Susan. He now decides to go after Cathy’s father. The scientists see a cycle of vengeance possibly without end. They note that the kids, who had been good at school, now have an education that suffers greatly. Both of them end up having addiction problems.
As they tour other cities they see similar events unfold. They notice a growing distrust in their fellow humans. They notice people being more cautious, less interactive, unable to even form coalitions given that someone they thought they knew might murder them because murder is simply not something that occurs as an immoral act.
They fly to a city in another country, let’s say Paris. In Paris they’ve newly figured out the harm of stealing people’s stuff, but they still don’t recognize the morality or immorality of murder. Now they find murder is happening more often. Some of those who want to steal or feel like they have to steal from others realize they are going to be punished if they are caught and decide that if they murder any witnesses they can get away with their crime. This creates even more tension in the society and people are even more fearful.
The scientists wonder whether or not these “civilized humans” are just weird so they go observe a hunter-gatherer tribe in New Guinea. There while one member is gathering berries with their child, they are killed by another tribesmen, Poku, who saw no harm in just murdering somebody. The tribe feel that cannot punish Poku as they no law that murder was wrong. Poku is one of the strongest and fiercest of the group and while he had previously been one of the stronger members of the tribe, he is no longer trusted and people in the tribe sleep further away from him. Some of the tribe say they should keep watch and lose some sleep keeping guard. The tribe had loved him and are in grief that he has betrayed them. They are also in grief at the loss of the victims. The one who was picking berries was also one of the best storytellers in the tribe and weaved baskets well. The loss will be felt. They note that despite Poku’s strength he is still finding it difficult to get enough food on his own. To hunt animals is a group activity and he struggles to find enough other food all the time. The scientists note that none of the women in the tribe wish to mate with him. Being one of their best hunters and being of impressive stature his genes, and abilities would have been helpful to the tribe.
As a couple more years go by observation they see the breakdown of communities and people notice the change too. Many feel the pain of seeing loved ones being killed, they remember times when they used to get along with their neighbors and that they use to work together and collaborate to do more than they could on their own. The scientists conclude:
there must be laws against murder to discourage those who commit smaller crimes from committing greater ones
people can work together more and solve problems that impact their lives
PTSD and other mental illnesses are lessened when there is less murder in the society which impacts each person’s individual ability to prosper
murder eliminates people with important skills that might be needed. The chance of knowledge being lost before being passed on increases when murders occur unabated
a free pass to murder increases the chance that genetic material might be lost before reproduction can occur. In extreme cases, this loss of genetic diversity can be detrimental
The consciousness of the people to accept such findings would be increased as they too see what has become of their society without an initial idea that murder is good or bad. Society embraces the laws, and their own desire to not live in a society with endless cycles of violence to increase their own chances of survival, leads to a change in culture.
Thus concludes my little thought experiment. I would welcome those who wish to pick it apart. Of course it all might seem quite horrific to you, and that’s good. There is a reason why we don’t conduct experiments in this way. The point is that A) It wouldn’t take very much observation by an objective outsider to see how harmful murder would be to a society and B) For those of us living in the experiment our emotions, our intuitions would also be able to pick up the harm quite easily.
The good news of course is that we don’t need such an experiment. We’ve been living in the experiment for millions and millions of years. The slow march of evolution inching us in the direction of social cooperation, the development of more and more complex emotions, and the development of empathy and love to help us bond with fellow members of our species to increase the chance of survival of ourselves and our offspring has required only a dim awareness of the direction we were headed. Science explains this all quite well, and we could do a similar thought experiment for many other ethical and moral practices. And if you can’t find a scientific explanation for, let’s say, why eating pork is an immoral as compared to other meats. Then you probably have found something that probably shouldn’t be considered immoral.
Finally it’s important to note that the reason we have the morality that we do is because of the particular evolved species that we are. Mammal – primate – human. We might expect a very different set of moral principles were we intelligent being who evolved from spiders or frogs. And while I’d like to believe that any species who had reached our level of intelligence and realized the effectiveness of cooperation and reducing suffering in other life would converge into a similar morality in the end, the path to get there is certainly not going to be the same for every species that could evolve our level of intelligence.
After my previous post about faith, which led to a fruitful discussion, I’ve been thinking more about the importance of faith to humans and how it might be framed in a more useful way. A couple summers ago I presented a series of posts about 8 virtues or qualities that make a good human, and faith was the last one I discussed. I think that if I were to do that series again today I might change the word faith to “prediction”.
In the discussion we had on my most recent post about faith, we talked about the difference between religious faith, and the sort of everyday way we might use the word faith. One of the things that I talked about as a difference between how a scientist might use faith, and what a religious person might call faith are two different things. The most important difference being that a scientist would be willing to change what he has faith in, based on evidence. I have always argue that while faith is important we should be willing to change what we have faith as we learn. The other thing that I argued was that faith is built on evidence and there is a very big difference in having faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, and faith that there is a supernatural divine being. The difference there being the weight of evidence, and the quality of evidence used in building those two types of“faith”.
But I started to think about it at a deeper level and it seems to me that at the heart of faith is really something else when I started to ask, “Why do we have faith at all?” Faith is a representation of our desire to predict an uncertain future. When I had my son, I wrote a post called Love and the Future, about how when we love we start painting pictures of the future in our mind. It happens in romantic relationships too. According to a friend of mine who is a counselor, one of the hardest parts of counseling someone after a difficult breakup is for them to let go of those “future plans”. I have also written a post before about “expectations”. In the post, I talked about the benefits of expectations in that we rise to meet them. By having a future goal in mind, we make better progress than none at all. Of course, there are many who would say you shouldn’t have expectations, because they will only lead to disappointment, but I am not sure it’s possible to live a life without any expectations. It’s natural that we’d have some, but I think that it’s true we might have limits into how many failed expectations we can shoulder. Either way it seems to me that expectations are also a type of “faith”. A desire to place some certainty in the future based on our desires and wants. It is something we expect to come true, even if it doesn’t.
For the past few months I have been practicing mindfulness meditation, and it has been an enjoyable experience. I’ve been using an app called Headspace. It avoids a lot of the new age type stuff and really focuses on the philosophy of meditation and I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in getting into it. The goal is to be more focused on the present, to be mindful of what we are doing in the moment. A thought struck me yesterday when I was practicing it, as that one of the things they tell you in the guided meditation is that you want to think about “what are your goals with the meditation” and after it’s over they suggest you think about what is going to the very next thing you do. So even in something that is supposed to be about the present, we cannot help but look forward at least a little bit in our thinking.
I have come to the conclusion that it is natural in humans to be forward thinkers. I have had the thought before that one of the things that makes humans more intelligent is our ability to project further into the future than other species. Now one could argue that we are also still pretty awful at it, but the fact that we try is actually impressive. We look for patterns in the universe and we try to project those patterns into the future so that we can be less uncertain and fearful about it. While Farmer’s almanacs would like us to believe that squirrels can predict months in advance about the severity of the winter, it is clear in an evolutionary sense life on average are poor forward thinkers. If they were good at it, I’m not sure extinctions would happen as often as they do. For instance, an animal can only assume a winter will lie between certain climatic norms. Some portion of the population will develop mutations better equipped for let’s say surviving a larger range of conditions, but when change becomes to extreme large proportions of a population if not all, cannot adapt and die out. Humans are better at it, unfortunately we are also deeply conceited and that leads to problems. So given this human propensity to want to predict, the best thing we can do is to build value systems that allow us to be successful more often.
When we say we have faith in our partner, our ourselves, we are making a statement that there is an expectation that based on existing evidence that we will continue to handle some future situation in the same way we have before. Making a statement like, “I have faith I will do well on my exams”. Presumably you have taken enough exams to presume a similar outcome. More than that, to make sure it isn’t blind faith, you have examined the patterns to your success through various study methods, getting a certain amount sleep, etc to make sure your faith is not misplaced. Your faith is a type of prediction. A value system that aids in this faith is your ability to be introspective and also perhaps learn from others as to how they study and learn what are good and bad practices.
So where does religious faith fit into all of this? Hopefully by now it is pretty clear, but let’s look a little closer. I have read several atheist and agnostic scholars speak about religion as a type of model. This is how religion has always made the most sense to me. What is the purpose of models? In science models are things that model scientific processes that give us more predictive capabilities. The better we understand a process, on average, the more predictive we will be. This is why a scientist’s ‘faith’ might be quite different than a religious person’s faith because the success of a scientific theory is its predictive capability. The poorer it is at prediction the less certain we are about our understanding. In my field of meteorology one of the main reasons we try to model atmospheric processes is to become better at prediction. It is helpful to be more aware of what weather and climatic patterns are coming in the future.
Religious faith, at its root, is a kind model. One constructed a long time ago, built largely on false patternicity errors, but given how little we understood about the universe its weak predictive capabilities (in line with empirical evidence) is hardly surprising. Nevertheless it is an attempt to know the future. It’s full of prophet predictions, it speaks of what happens to you when you die, how the world will end, what consequences your actions might have. People pray or plead for diving intervention for their future endeavors. ‘Please get me this job, please make it rain so our crops come in, please don’t let my mother die of cancer.’ These are all attempts to give us certainty in an ever changing universe in which are predictive capabilities, especially at an individual level, are extremely limited. The statement “God has a plan for you” is a prime example of how religion has the course of your life worked out already. There is no need to worry about it. Just have faith. People find it soothing to pray, people find it peaceful to know the purpose of the universe, to know what will happen to them when they die. In fact, on the whole, religion gives far more certainty than science, which is why I expect it is much more popular. Science rarely claims 100% predictive capability, but religion does, and to this end religion can be easily used to exploit people. It is a panacea to all the uncertainty in the world. Religion pushes people to have more and more faith in times of doubt and confusion. What they are really saying is “Be more and more certain that (religious claim x) is the truth.” And if you’re successful, not surprisingly, you feel better. With mental effort we can convince ourselves to be more certain of things whose outcome is uncertain. Human history is rife with such examples. There is no doubt in my mind that we have better models for how humans can live their lives now. Nevertheless, we have maintained these old models, trying to ignore the worst bits of them, and developed an entire field of apologetics whose main purpose is to try to convince people that these old models still not only have value, but that they are actually superior to other models out there.
Now just because prediction is something humans do, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a virtue. I guess I see it as a raw instinct that needs to be tamed, which is how I have approached all beneficial human qualities. I think it’s clear that while much happiness can be found in getting lost in the moment, we need some sort of value system that gives us a direction. We might get there and find we have to go somewhere else, but it seems beneficial to always have some sort of idea of where we might go next. In my life it seems that the people I have admired most are the ones who can take pleasure in the moment, but also keep their eyes ahead of them as well. It’s dangerous to get lost in times that have not occurred, just as it is unhealthy to dwell in the past. So if I were to choose this 8th value that makes a good human, perhaps the word “prediction” doesn’t quite do it justice, but until I come up with a better word it will have to do. There is, however, no question in my mind that a defining quality for our species is our ability think about the future. It encapsulates our dreams for a better future and if there is any escape from the fate of extinction that most life on this planet has faced, it will be through our ability to predict, if we can remember to be humble enough to remember we aren’t perfect.
Woman approaches Adam with fruit in hand. Adam is bent over next to a rock outcrop.
“Adam, I have returned. I have something for you.”
“I have something for you too. Check this out. There is this creature that seems to have been preserved in this rock over here. I don’t even know what it is. I named every animal, and this wasn’t one of them.”
“Hmmm…that is weird. But listen I have something more important. Here let’s eat this fruit.”
“Oh okay. I guess I am a bit hungry…er…wait. Where did you get this fruit?”
Woman gives a little smirk, “Where do you think? The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
“Oh no…no. We can’t eat this. Our Father, He had one rule. That’s it. Seems pretty clear cut and not a whole lot to ask.”
“Don’t worry Adam. A talking snake explained it all to me. We have to eat this fruit.”
“Wait…what!? Talking snake? Are there any of those hallucinogenic frogs I named hopping around? How can there be a talking snake?”
“How can you make a person out of a rib? Listen we wondered before why He would have put the tree here, and you said He probably knew we weren’t going to touch and so He didn’t think it was important where he put it. Well what if He put it here, because He wanted us to eat it?”
“Well why would He want us to eat it, but tell us not to eat it?”
“You said you had a lot of questions. So do I. Curiosity. We have loads of it. These questions burn within us and we want to find the answers to those questions. That’s how He made us.”
“That’s some pretty good reasoning. But why can’t we just ask Him and He can explain it to us.”
“Weren’t you listening Adam about making children. Children grow into adults. At some point children have to leave the guidance of their parents and make decisions for themselves. Every home feels like paradise when you’re a child, but this can’t be our home forever. We have to grow up.” Woman does her best God impression, “Symbolism!”
Adam’s eyes narrow and his expression hardens, “Alright, let’s do it. By doing this together we’ll be husband and wife, right?!”
“Oh shut up, and eat the fruit!”
Adam takes a fruit from woman and they both take bites. Chewing slowly and swallowing.
“Adam, do you feel anything?”
“No nothing. What about you?”
“I don’t feel anything either. I thought, for some reason, that I would suddenly understand everything so much better.”
“Yeah, me too. This is kind of disappointing.”
“You don’t think he just put the tree there as a test to see if we would obey him, and that the tree had no special powers at all do you?”
“No. That would be kind of cruel. God wouldn’t do something like that.” The fossil Adam was holding slips out of his hand making a cracking noise as it hits the ground.
The winds begin to shift northerly and pick up speed.
“It’s getting a bit colder Adam.”
“Yeah, well I have noticed the daylight hours gradually getting shorter, so I expect weather patterns will start shift, but also you seem to be naked.”
“What!? I’m naked?! Clearly you’re the world’s first crack detective too. No shit I’m naked. So are you!”
“Ack…you’re right…I am naked too. I guess I knew that…but I don’t think I want to be naked anymore. It doesn’t feel right. How do we get less naked?”
“I don’t know. Maybe we should cover up our…um…naughty areas. I don’t feel like we should just be exposing them for everyone to see.”
“Who’s everyone? We are the only two people on this planet.”
“I don’t know, let’s just cover up. I’m going to go find some big leaves. Maybe from that fig tree over there.”
“Fig tree? What’s a fig tree?”
“That tree over there. You got the animals…I decided I’m naming the plants. Let’s go.”
Woman and Adam walk over to the fig tree to find some suitable leaves.
“Adam, I’m feeling a lot of shame right now…like I need a big leaf to cover my behind, and I feel upset that the leaf has to be so big.”
“I feel shame too. Like I need a big leaf to compensate for what seems to be a sub-par dangling appendage.”
“So thus far eating that fruit has only led to feelings of shame associated with a negative self-image. I don’t know about you, but I’m also feeling regret.”
“Yeah me too. Being an adult sucks. I don’t even know who I want to impress. My motivations are so unclear to me right now, I….wait…do you hear something?”
Woman and Adam stop what they are doing and they hear the sound of rustling leaves and the voice of God humming a merry tune.
Adam whispers, “He’s here! How come he doesn’t know we already broke the rule?”
“I don’t know. Inflated sense of self-confidence?”
“Hide? What good is that going to do if He’s omniscient? He’ll know where we are.”
“Just do it! Quick over here among those trees!”
God stops in His tracks and tilts his head listening.
“Adam. Is that you? Where are you Adam?”
Adam whispers to woman, “See, told you hiding was a good idea!”
“Adam! I have divine hearing. I know you’re in the garden somewhere.”
Woman whispers to Adam, “He placed us in the garden, and He knows we’re in the garden somewhere? I see where you got your detective skills from.”
“I think I should answer Him. He’ll find us eventually.”
“Fine…but he should have found us immediately as an omniscient creator.”
Adam steps out from behind the trees. “Oh hey, God. We’re over here.”
“Aaah…Adam. Woman. How are things been going? Getting along? Make any babies yet? Um…wait…why are you holding fig leaves over your naughty areas?”
“Well…er…we weren’t sure who it was in the garden and well we were naked and so we hid. You know…I didn’t want anybody pointing and laughing at me.” Adam blushes.
“Wait! Who told you, you were naked? Those are precisely the lust-filled concepts I didn’t want floating around your heads!” God’s eyes glance towards the Tree of Knowledge. “Have you been eating from the Tree of Knowledge?! There are two less fruits there than there should be. I am very good at counting. The book I’m writing right now even has a chapter called Numbers. Out with it children. No lies!”
“Well Father, I was just taking a look, and well this snake came along and really explained it all quite clearly and you know, it just seemed to make sense.”
“Snake?! I think I know the culprit. Hold on.” God vanishes in a puff of awesomeness and returns holding the snake with its stubby little legs waving in the air.
“Alright everyone. It’s punishment time!”
Adam asks, “Why do You look so gleeful Father?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never done it before. New experiences are hard to come by. Okay now….snake! You have deceived my creation and for that I am removing your legs and forcing you to crawl on your belly!!”
Snake begins to slither around rather impressively climbing up and down trees and curling around woman’s legs.
“I rather like this…”
“I mean punish me no further!”
“Yes…well I curse you to eat dust!”
“Well that would actually make my work easier since dust is everywhere, but I still feel rather hungry for small rodents.”
“And you will now be enemies with mankind. You will bite at their heel and they will stomp you on the ground!”
Snake slithers up woman and speaks in her ear, “Well we’ll just stay out of each other’s way then yeah? Seems simple enough?”
Woman responds, “Sounds reasonable to me.”
“Excuse me. Woman’s voice will not be silenced.”
“It will. To punish you for what you’ve done, giving birth will now be of the greatest pain! And pitocin will not be invented for many years to come!”
“What?! You want me to populate the human species but are making giving birth the most painful experience in my life. You’re a sadist you are. Whatever happened to forgiveness? Isn’t that a better way to treat your children?”
God thinks about it for a few seconds….”Nope. Also, I’m not done. I’m also turning the civilization into a patriarchy. I wanted everything to be equal, but because of what you’ve done I am making women beholden to their men.”
“What?! Are you kidding me?” Woman gives an exasperate look and turns red with anger. “Well considering you made me a nameless helper for Adam over there, it probably wasn’t going to get much better anyway.”
Adam woman turns and says with a comforting smile, “I promise to use my power over you responsibly.” Woman gives him a dirty look, killing the grin instantly.
“Adam! Don’t think I am done! You also ate the fruit against my command. I curse you to become a farmer. You will till the earth and eat from it. It will be hard work and much that grows will have thorns and thistle requiring you to wear thick clothing so that you get very hot and sweaty while you work. Your diet will mostly be vegetarian in nature due to it providing the maximum amount of calories and nutrition per square foot, and you will eat until you die returning to the earth enriching it with organic material for new plants to grow and continuing a never ending cycle of death and life.”
“Actually that doesn’t sound too bad. Makes you really appreciate each moment and strive for a better life while you have it.”
“Yeah Adam, I like this part.”
Adam turns to woman and smiles. “I shall name you Eve as you will be mother of all. And though large amounts of toil and incest lie before us, we’re going to make it.”
“So finally I get a name. Not bad actually. But I reserve the right to come up with one of my own if I find something better!”
Adam capitulates, “Fair enough.”
“I just want you to know children that this hurt me more than it hurts you. I really didn’t want to do all of that, but you forced me hand.”
“I am sending you out from paradise and you will be cut off from the Tree of Life forever. But before you do that I am going kill a few animals and make you some clothing. It’s cold out there East of Eden and I don’t want you to get sick. Besides people will start dropping like flies once you domesticate large mammals.”
Adam and Even watch incredulously as God slaughters a few animals and skins them. Using a little bit of omnipotence to speed the tanning process.”
“There you go, and I put in an extra set so you have something to wear while washing the first set. Now here’s a pack of seeds to start off with as well. They’re all labeled. I put them in this little pouch I made from that dead deer over there.”
God snaps His fingers and they are magically transported next to a large river. “Well good luck. I’ll make a few appearances again just to make sure everybody is aware of my awesomeness. Byeeee!”
“Well Eve, I guess we got some seeds to sow.”
“Yeah.” Eve looks around. “We’ll probably need something to dig with, let’s see if we can find some tools of some sort over by those trees.”
Adam starts to remove his clothing. “Those weren’t the seeds I was talking about.”
A very angry woman watches as God vanishes, and turns her attention to the only remaining person in the garden.
“Alright. You look like you want to say something, but given the uniqueness of your existence I’d recommend against it. Do you have something to say?”
Adam shakes his head.
“Good. You’re off to a good start. Alright first of all, where are we and who the hell are you?”
“Well this is the Garden of Eden. It’s my…er our Father’s….paradise for us. And I’m Adam.”
“First of all a father who just creates you to be somebody’s helper, and then spends the first 10 minutes of her life making her bits twinkle and showing somebody how to get up all in her business and squirt baby making fluids in her, has questionable parenting skills. Secondly, why do you get a name, and I don’t.
“I’m not really sure. I don’t get told a lot. All I can tell you is, I’m a man, which I was told, means from the Earth since I’m made from dirt, and you are woman, meaning from man.”
“Wait, my designation means I am from man, but yet I am the one who will be giving birth to all sorts of future men? That’s rich. And what was all this when I arrived,” woman makes talking motions with bother her hands, “two boys talking it over and deciding what’s going to happen my body? Talking it over as if I wasn’t even there? Is this what I can expect in the future?”
“No no…of course not. I am sure you’ll be part of the whole decision making process. I mean we’re man and woman, we go together, none more important than the other.”
Woman’s expression softens momentarily. “Wait a second, are you telling me I have to be your mate? That we are going to be doing all that baby making He was talking about? I don’t even know you.”
“Yeah, but somebody has got to make people. And look, look at this thing down here, it’s sticking straight out at you. I think that’s how it works, it sort of points to who you are supposed to mate with.”
“Well don’t point it at me. Given that it started pointing about 2 seconds after you saw me, I don’t think it bases any of its decisions by divining the inner working of my soul or through some appreciation of my intellect.”
“But I really feel like…you know…what he was talking about…insert slot A into tab B? He said it would be a lot of fun.” Adam moves in close for an embrace.
Pushing him away, “Ugh…stop it. What are you doing?”
“I’m doing what feels natural in paradise!”
Woman smacks Adam on the side of the head “Well so am I. As quaint as it is that our mutual Father wants us to get it on, as it stands, I wouldn’t mate with you if you were the last man on Earth.”
“But I’m the first man on Earth, and there isn’t anybody else around.”
Woman looks around exasperated, “I’ll admit my options or few. But this child birth and raising stuff sounds like a fair amount of work. I need to know whether we can work together as a team. And that means talking to each other. Getting to know each other, and really talking about whether a relationship between us has a future.”
Adam’s tool for baby making goes limp. “Hmm…weird.” Adam looks down. “I suddenly feel like I can talk about other things. You know what? You’re right. There is no rush. It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful setting, and we have the Tree of Life nearby, we have forever, perhaps literally to make babies.”
“Tree of Life? What are you talking about?”
“Oh…oh…yeah I guess I should tell you. Well you know He hasn’t given me a lot of details on this Tree of Life. He mentioned something about being the greatest creation and being forever in paradise, so I assume the tree has something to do with that.”
“Well having children for the rest of eternity doesn’t sound fun, but I imagine just walking around in a garden could get old as well. Anything else?”
“Yeah. Something important actually. That tree over there. It’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We are forbidden to eat from it.”
“I don’t know. Our Father created all of this. He’s pretty powerful and knowledgeable, I figure it’s best to listen to Him.”
“Yet you had to spend the first few weeks of your life in what sounds like a taxonomical nightmare?”
“Well it was a learning experience. I mean I imagine when you create a universe there is always some bookkeeping at the start. Either way, He was pretty clear about not eating from that tree.”
“So you’re telling me that we are an omniscient and omnipotent being’s greatest creation, and he has placed us in paradise, but puts a tree full of rather delicious looking fruit in the middle of our paradise and we’re just expected to walk around it or something? I mean why have the tree here if we’re not allowed to partake of it?”
“These are fair questions? Well He’s omniscient so He knows we’re going to listen to Him, so He figured it doesn’t matter where He puts it.”
“Maybe, but it seems like poor planning overall. I mean I have a pretty strong curiosity, don’t you?”
“Yeah. I think I do too. I’ll even admit that there were times when I was enjoying seeing all the different animals. I really wanted to learn more about them, not just name them. To be honest, I’ve got a million questions about everything.”
“Me too. And I feel especially curious about things I’m told not to touch.” Woman starts walking towards the tree and Adam grabs her by the shoulder. She turns “Don’t touch me! You need to learn about consent Adam. Don’t be like Father.”
“Sorry…er…I was just trying to stop you from going to the tree. I don’t want you to get in trouble.”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry. I’ll be a good girl and I won’t eat from it, but we can go look at it right?”
“I guess. I just…well…if we aren’t suppose to eat from it, I figure it’s best not to get close.”
“Stop being so fearful. This is paradise. Like you said, I am sure he knows everything will be fine or he wouldn’t have put it here. I’ll go off by myself if you’re too frightened.”
Woman walks towards the tree, entranced by the ripe fruit dangling in the sunlight. As she gets close she feels some apprehension creep into her. Maybe Adam was right. She sits down, and leans back against a smooth rock which in no way was created by millions of year of erosion, and stares at the tree.
“It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”
Woman looks around for a voice she’s never heard before.
“Over here. I’m waving my tail. Do you see it?”
Woman looks to her right and sees a black and green scaly animal on stump legs, plodding towards her, wagging its long pointed tail.
“I kind of got the impression that we were the only beings with consciousness in this garden. Who or what are you?”
“Well, some might say I’m the anthropomorphized representation of evil, but since you don’t know what evil is yet, just call me what your boyfriend so brilliantly named me, snake.”
“He’s not my boyfriend. And he didn’t say the animals can talk.”
“Well, let’s be honest, he isn’t exactly the brains of the operation. Although I must admit you and he, well that’s some fine handiwork by God. We aren’t on the best of terms, but the Guy really knows how to fill His day. But, to give Adam some credit, strictly speaking, animals don’t talk. The one you’re talking with right now, however, does. If you can believe you were made from a rib, my talking is small potatoes. Let me get over there, we need to have some words.”
“You do move rather slowly…your legs are very short.”
“Yeah. Well, in time, you’ll see God has a strange sense humor. I came from the east. I ‘ve been walking here for a month pretty much non-stop.”
“Well, it’s pretty much just like here. But it changes more. Things live, things die, things fight to survive, but you keep busy. Never a dull moment they say. As to who they are, I can’t say, but for some reason I love clichés, idioms, metaphors. Language is so colorful.”
“No I literally mean what is east?”
“Oh…well it’s the opposite of west.” The snake sidles up to her and rests on the grass near her and they look at the tree together. “Look at that tree?”
“Yeah. I just keep wondering why He would put it here. And what can be so bad about eating the fruit.”
“Well this isn’t your average fruit. It’s definitely special. As to why He put it here, I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. But, I, for one, am glad He did. You know why?”
Woman shakes her head slowly.
“Because this tree is everything. I’ve been trying to figure out God since I was made. Sometimes when he’s on a roll, creating, I truly think he figures a lot of stuff out without even realizing it. The thing is, putting this tree here was the best idea ever and intentional.”
“But we are forbidden to eat it. He told Adam.”
“Yep. And you’re going to be punished too. But here’s the thing: you are what you are. He made you curious. You want to know how things work. There is no knowledge that you want to be barred from, so you are going to have a bite of the fruit from this tree, and so is Adam over there. It’s inevitable. Might as well get it over with and leave paradise behind. All good things must come to an end.”
“But isn’t paradise a good thing?”
“You still don’t get it. He doesn’t really want you to have paradise. Otherwise he wouldn’t have made you curious and put the tree, he says he doesn’t want you to eat from, smack in the middle of paradise. I mean who does that? It’s like putting a cookie in front a child and saying ‘Don’t eat that!’ Sorry I forgot you don’t know how children behave yet, but you will. Oh and you’ll like cookies too.”
“What will happen to us?”
“Not sure exactly. You’ll probably be kicked out of paradise, but you’ll at least have the skills to try and build your own paradise. One that you’ll actually have to strive for, and thus appreciate the effort it takes. God, well He’s sort of the definition of privileged. He never had to work for it. You might think you’re better off that way, but believe me you’re not. The only thing that matches God’s ability is His narcissism. It’s not good to just have it all, with no idea how you obtained it.”
“That does kind of explains the lack of nurturing qualities in our Father. But what about Adam? Do you think he’ll eat it? He seems pretty big on the whole obedience thing.”
“He’s just like you, don’t worry about it. He would have eventually wandered over here himself. Now go grab a couple of pieces fruit and have yourself a snack. Destiny awaits you! Ooh it appears I flair for the dramatic as well! Alright, time to make the slow journey back to my home. This design is ridiculous….”
The snake waddles away muttering under his breath at his poor constructed body. Woman walks to the tree and grabs a couple of pieces of fruit. “Hmmm…I thought they would feel magical, but seem kind of ordinary. She shrugs her shoulders and walks back to Adam.
“Wake up Adam, wake up. God has a surprise for you!”
Adam groggy from the divine anesthetic, “What? What’s going on?”
“Well all those animals seemed to be rather interested in their own affairs, and quite frankly, with the exception of may be the…” consults stone tablets written by Adam…”the chimpanzee and the…er…dog,” God ponders for a moment wondering what God spelled backwards is,”really didn’t seem like a great helper worthy of the impeccable qualities imparted to you by your creator.” God gives an imaginary tip of the hat, “So here you are….yooooooouuuur helper!!!” God had a little light shine down from above in a rather showmanshippy sort of way.
Adam is a bit stunned, and upon seeing the first naked person of the opposite sex, he learns a little bit about a previous dangly body part. Fortunately, shame hasn’t entered into the picture.
“Name her Adam, name her as you did the animals!”
The newly created being seems to demonstrate a mixture of frustration, and fear.
“Um…okay…but er, can you tell me why my abdomen is hurting?”
“Oh that’s just a little leftover pain from the rib I took out of you. Let me take care of that.” God sends a warm glow of light towards Adam and after it passes into his abdomen, the pain is gone. “Do you like that effect? I’m working on how best to impress people with my awesome powers.”
“Yeah. Impressive. Listen before I name this helper over here.” Points to helper, helper has an I’ll give you a piece of my mind look, “I’m a bit concerned that you’re taking body parts of mine to make new people. Why didn’t you just create this person from the dirt like me?”
“What? What does that mean?!”
“I want you two to have a special connection. A piece of you, to make her.”
“But why a rib?”
“Because you have lots! Well 12 pairs. It varies a bit.”
“But I think I’m having trouble breathing. You might have nicked my diaphragm”
“Nope you’re fine.”
“How many more people are you going to make like this? I assume all my parts aren’t expendable.”
“Nope this is the only one I’m making from a body part. She’s special. I wanted her to share your genetic code. Symbolism!!”
“Yes, well I still don’t quite get that. So anyway, how are we going to make more people?”
“You are going to love it, and so is she! You see that bit down there that stood at attention like a worshipper obeying his Lord God? Well you are going to put that thing inside of her?”
God points to the nether regions of the newly created being and a little light begins to glow like a little star. The new being looks a bit stunned and frightened.
“Is there some sort of hole there? I don’t really see anything.”
“Of course there is…it’s um…well…don’t worry, when the time comes you’ll figure it out. Insert tab A into slot B. Pretty straightforward.”
“And that act just makes more people like us? Do they pop out from behind bushes or something?”
“No no, it’s much more fascinating than that. See you have this fluid inside of you and when you put your bit there, into her bit there,” more starlight twinkling on the requisite body parts, “it’s going to feel great. Then you are going to reach this amazing moment, say my name a lot, and in the height of ecstasy expel this fluid into her. There are these little swimming things in your fluid you see, and they are going swim and find this egg in her, fertilize it, and about 9 lunar months later, you are going to have this tiny baby pop out.”
Newly created being looks horrified.
“Does she also reach the height of ecstasy at the same time, because that would be pretty awesome?!”
“Um…well no. I mean she could, but really she’s quite complicated, and you know as long as your…er…fluid gets in there. You get to have a baby! Or well she does technically.”
And so what is this baby thing?”
“Well it’s like you, but at a very early stage of development, so it has to learn and grow up into you…or…er…her over there.”
“So does this baby talk or anything?”
“Not at first. It learns to talk!” Good looks quite impressed with himself.
“Okay, but it’s able to like go around the garden and feed itself though right?”
“Well no. It can’t really walk at first. Or grasp anything. Can’t really see more than 3 inches in front of its face, and it will take a good month or two before its eyes can follow objects around. Oh also it can’t chew, owing to not having any teeth. It will be quite a few years before it can really fend for itself reliably.”
“That’s horrible! Well what I’m supposed do with it?! How do I feed it!?”
“Well see those two lumpy bits on her chest?” God makes her nipples begin to twinkle.
“Yeah I quite like those.” Adam gives the newly created being a toothy grin.
“Well when the baby is born, they produce milk and she just gets the baby to latch on to the nipples and, pardon the expression, those babies can suck like a demon.”
Both Adam and the newly created being look at the breasts with a completely disgusted look on their face.
“Oh stop it you two…it’s a beautiful experience, just you wait.”
“Alright, so what we can make a baby any time I put my thing into her?”
“Um…sure. Don’t worry about the details yet.”
“And so this thing, it like grows in some sort of a pouch or something?”
“Yeah…I guess. Sort of.” God points to the abdomen of the newly created being and makes an nice red glowy area. “You see it’s going to grow right around here and her belly is going to get bigger and bigger. Inside her is something called a womb, where the baby develops.”
“And so it grows until what? It just sort pops out of her?”
“Nope…it just sluices out her, easy-peasy. In the same place where you put your thing in to make it. That’s efficiency!”
“So 9 months of gestation and several years of basic doing every little thing for this thing is more efficient than just popping new people out of the dirt?”
“Adam! It’s a miracle!”, rebukes God.
“Sorry Father. Okay, well…this all sounds like a lot of responsibility. Maybe we should get to know each other a bit better first.”
“Alright, alright, well listen, you need to name her.”
“Hmmm…well she’s made from me, and I’m a man. But she’s got a womb. So wombman? No, I don’t really like the phonetics there. How about woman?”
God rolls his eyes, “That’s the type of naming creativity usually attributed to me. Okay, well I guess let’s go with it. But I still think you are missing out on the whole symbolism part here, but in any case, now that you have woman, you may leave your father and unite with her as one. That’s what I was getting at here. Wish you were a little brighter, but I guess subtlety is learned.”
“Okay, well this all great Father, but does she talk, she really hasn’t said anything thus far.”
“Well I created her to be a helper, I didn’t think she needed to talk. She just needs to do what you tell her to.”
Woman looks back at God incredulous.
“Don’t get me wrong Father, I appreciate the thought, but you’ve given me the ability to choose, I think she should have it too.”
“Are you sure? Because you know life is pretty confusing as it is?”
“I’m sure Father, and give her a voice too.”
“Okay, but listen as soon as I give her free will and a voice, I’m going to hit the road. I know anger. I’ve been in some pretty good rages myself, and she looks like she’s about to burst. I prefer to think of this garden as a peaceful place, so I’m going to shape some glaciers or something. I’ll check back with you later.”
God creates a little ball of light that travels quickly towards woman and as soon as it hits her it envelops her body. Then with fire in her eyes she looks at Adam and then over to God and starts walking over to God.
“Explain the rules to her Adam. Byeeeee!” and quickly vanishes.
“So, um…Lord? God? Sounds a bit formal. But I mean you created me from dust and all, so dad doesn’t sound great either. Father…er…hey thanks for putting me in this garden. It’s gorgeous I have to say. I mean I don’t know much about…well anything yet, but I imagine it has everything a guy could need.”
“Yeah don’t worry about that Adam you’re set up pretty good here. This is basically paradise. I’ve put the Tree of Life here, you will literally never die here and you can just enjoy it forever. Oh and I also put the…” God speaks really low in a mumble, “…ledge here as well…ood…evil” mumble mumble, “…perish..”, speaks really fast, “Don’t touch it. Okay and moving on.”
“Lord. God. I…er, didn’t catch what you just said there. What else did you put here. It sort of fell apart after you told me about the Tree of Life.”
“The Tree of Good and, er, Evil.” God looks sideways with feigned innocence.
“The what? Good and Evil?”
“Yeah, bit of a nasty tree really. I know seems a bit incongruous with the whole everlasting life and paradise vibe, but it sort of contains wisdom, knowledge, sort of gives you a lot of my ability to learn from your mistakes and improve and get smarter over time so you’ll become more and more like me. Listen, I don’t recommend it. You eat the fruit and you’ll die. Really moving on.”
In the commanding voice of God, “MOVING ON!”
“Alright, alright.” Adam hangs his head down.
God shifts uncomfortably, “Sorry about that, but the truth is that we really have…or er…rather you have a lot of work to do. Okay, confession time. You know how I’m all-powerful and all-knowing yeah? I mean I can literally make anything happen. But, the thing is, I’m not exactly good at everything. Does that make sense?”
“No, but I was literally just created, and I’m not allowed to eat from a certain tree.”
“Alright, alright, point taken. Well let’s say you know a lot of stuff, but even knowing all that stuff it can be hard to convince somebody of your point of view. Oh or, let’s say I know everything there is to know about carpentry, you know like I read all about it in a book, you know…book smart, but in general I’m just not very good at it. Can’t build a table to save my life. Fortunately I can just think it into existence and it happens, thus I appear to be a master carpenter, but if I actually had to do the work, the results would be terrible.”
Adam with all the confidence of a young child who wants his father to think he is smart replies, “I think I understand, especially if I knew what carpentry was! Or a book!”
“Yeah, um…well one thing I’m very good at is creating. I’ve created a lot of things on this planet, beasts of burden, all manner of wild animals, birds. I’m pretty certain I made the insects too, it just doesn’t seem to have been overly intentional. Well anyway, here’s the thing Adam. Your Lord and God, just isn’t very good at deciding what they should be called. And if I’m completely honest, I kind of feel my time is better spent thinking about other things. I mean my consciousness is pretty massive and can do a lot of important stuff. Do you know what I’m getting at son?”
Adam smiles sweetly and shakes his head.
“Well Adam, you are going to have to name every living thing I created.”
Adam’s jaw drops. “Wait…Father. This doesn’t make any sense. You named me just fine!”
“Actually your name is just a bit of word play, it actually means ‘earth’ as I made you out of dirt. You see? Not terribly inventive.”
“Wait my name means dirt!?”
“Well it also mean red-skin, for the color of your skin. Words sort of have lots of meaning. Ambiguity is something you are going to LOVE! Either way, you’ll admit that my names are far too logical and less than inspirational. So anyway, here’s your etching tool,” God blinks his eyes in a fun and magical way, “and there is a pile of stone tablets to write on. In case you want to make any notes.”
“Oh my, God, there are thousands of tablets there!”
“Yeah, well you know everything is provided for you. And everybody needs a job. Purpose is important Adam. I created this whole universe for you, so it seems only reasonable that you could do this for me. Right?” God grins unconvincingly.
“I don’t know anything about naming either!”
“Hey I’m not completely abandoning you, you don’t have to go and find all the creatures. I’ll bring them before you. Watch them behave a little bit and I have a feeling that your creativity will kick in and you’ll come up with a great name. You’re my greatest creation after all. I know you won’t let me down. Consider yourself the first biologist!”
“Alright, enough with the pep talk Father. Let’s get to work.”
After several days…
“May fly, fruit fly, black fly, horse fly…”
“Why horse fly?”
“Don’t know, don’t care. Tsetse fly, dragon fly…”
“What is a dragon?”
“No idea. Crane fly, sandfly, mosquito, midge”
Several more days…
“Oryx, lynx, ibex, fox, minx…”
“You seem to be using a lot of x’s there.”
“Yeah, I get on a streak, it flows.”
“But that doesn’t sound all too inspired. I mean I could have done that.”
“The thought never occurred to me Father. Pelican, Pigeon, Penguin, Puffin.”
Several more days…
“Weasel, beaver, otter…”
“Great pace Adam. You’re knocking them down one every 10 seconds we’ve hit near 300,000 of these things, we should be done, in about a week or two.”
“Father, I’m running out of names. I’m literally just trying to alternate vowel and consonant sounds to come up with names. I just called something an el-eph-ant. I’m lost at sea over here.”
A look of “Uh oh” washes over God’s face.
“Well as it turns out, I completely forgot about all the animals in the sea. I’m think it might be a bit longer than week or two.” God gives a sheepish grin, which he can now do since Adam already named one of the animals a sheep.
A couple of months go by (It is not clear that months had been defined for the lunar or solar calendar at this point, but one can be certain that for Adam it was a very, very, long 2 months).
“Well done Adam!” God quickly reads through all the tablets and makes a mental note (God can do those sorts of things and remember it)
Adam asks in a beleaguered voice, “So what now father. Do I get to wander the world and see these animals in their native habitats?”
“Er, no, you’ll be staying here. But you’ll get to hang out with the near 100 species that are in the garden!”
“One hundred?! Well why did I bother naming all these animals I won’t even see? I’m the only person around to even see ANY animal!”
“Calm down. I’ve got great news for you, quite related to that point actually. I’m going to make you a helper!”
“I just named like 8 million animals, and NOW you decide to bring me a helper!?”
“The stress is getting to you son. Probably should have let you have a day of rest. I did give myself one after all. I might be omnipotent, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a good nap. Although I can assure you that creating the universe was much harder. Anyway, yes in retrospect it would have been more useful to do this last task as a bigger team, but I assure you, you’ll forget all about that when you see her!”
“Quiet son, your Lord God is going to do a little surgery.”
God applies His divine anesthetic and Adam falls into a deep sleep.
Every morning I, or occasionally my wife, start off the day by making tea. Specifically chai tea. As an aside the word chai means “tea” in Hindi. In my dad’s language of Punjabi it would be cha. So in a way saying chai tea is like saying “tea tea” which makes no sense, but I am starting with the familiar, but I usually just say chai. I am half Punjabi and should say “cha” but communicating my caffeinated beverage of choice gets more difficult if I am used to saying cha.
So first thing in the morning I wash the pot, if it is not washed already, and measure out the amount of tea I want to make. Usually about 4 mug fulls of water. I put the water on the stove and turn the burner on. As the water heats up I add an equal number of heaping teaspoons of loose Yellow Label Lipton tea. Then I take some green cardamom pods, whole cloves, fennel seeds, black pepper corns, and piece of cinnamon stick and put it all in a big stone mortar, and then take the heavy stone pestle and grind the spices and add it to the pot of water with tea in it. Once the water boils for a few minutes I add the milk. Whole milk, because chai without enough milk fat in it is wasted chai. 🙂 I add enough milk until the color looks right, and then I add a little bit of honey to sweeten it slightly. After the tea comes to a boil, I turn the burner off and pour the tea through a sieve leaving the spices and loose tea behind. Drinking that first sip of hot tea in the morning is a glorious feeling. Not only does it wake me up, but the taste which mixes the slight bitterness of black tea, the rich silkiness of milk, a blend of distinct spices, and a hint of sweetness from the honey has a solidness, a wholeness to it that I can’t quite describe. It feels like home to me as invokes many memories of growing up drinking tea with my family. At that time in my life I usually didn’t have morning tea, but late afternoon tea with my parents when they come from work. I introduced it to my wife when we met and she fell in love with it, and it is now as important to her as it is to me, and so it is now a shared pleasure. And on mornings when I haven’t had a lot of sleep, I may find making the tea to be a bit of a chore but that first sip in the morning makes me feel like I have the strength to face the day. The making and drinking of chai is a ritual for me. I think my only one. If I’m away from home I miss it and genuinely get excited for that first cup of chai when I get back.
We all have our rituals. In many ways I feel like rituals are like beliefs, they are like habits, they are repeated actions and thus forge neural pathways in our brain which when activated release dopamine. I think we need ritual in our lives to a certain extent. A repeated activity that simply brings emotional comfort should never be seen as a bad thing. Of course the way ritual can feel so solid and tangible can also be dangerous. As I wrote out my ritual for making chai and how it makes me feel I think to myself how I could never be vegan. But perhaps I should be vegan. There are many positive scientific and ethical arguments for being vegan. This clash is at the heart of how are beliefs or our rituals impact how we rationalize away good arguments in favor of those practices and beliefs we hold dear.
I think it’s also important to recognize that the tangible feelings those rituals give us are therefore an illusion. I remember when I was about 16 a friend of my mother’s, who was Greek Orthodox and cut hair in her home was giving me a haircut and talking about an upcoming Easter celebration. They were big meat eaters, especially lamb, but she announced to me that on Good Friday they don’t eat meat. She said “I don’t know, but not eating meat, makes me feel closer to God.” I found this to be such a strange statement, because I really felt like buddying up to God should really be more about helping people than whether or not you eat meat on Good Friday. It struck me at that moment how ritual influences our emotional state. And while I think we can afford some fantasy in our lives, when we get mired in ritual it is very much like an addiction. Ritual is like a drug for which we trade a certain euphoria we get by performing the ritual instead of actions that might be more productive to the lives of ourselves and others. The oft used example is quite true, that going to church every Sunday does not make you a good Christian. Many religious movements begin as an offshoot of other religions that seem to dogmatically get lost in ritual over more pragmatic practices that actually produce. Sikhism is a good example of this. This religion developed out of need to rise up from the oppression of the Mogul Empire in India at a time when the Hindus simply bore the oppression and turned to ritual and prayer for help instead of doing something themselves. Of course as the religion aged it too has become more mired in ritual as well, even though it began as a rebellion against it.
To see how easy we can get caught up in ritual the following text appears below the picture above at the website for this image. While I’d say that there is some hint that you should be doing good things in your life, I think words like these make it too easy for people to think they can bypass practical applications of a positive spirituality over performing rituals:
“A ritual is a formula which is meant to dovetail our consciousness to the supreme consciousness of God. The whole purpose of a spiritual ritual is transformation of the heart – from selfish passions to a spirit of selfless service to others, from arrogance to humility and from envy to having the power to appreciate others. If this transformation doesn’t take place in our heart, to create good character, personal integrity and ultimately love for God, then these rituals are all a waste of time.
The value of a ritual is to the extent we please God. Its not the ritual but the content of what our consciousness puts into that ritual. The real essence of all spiritual practices is to purify our heart and awaken the innate love of God. If our rituals are performed with that aim in mind, that ritual, like a vehicle, will help to transport our consciousness to the supreme destination. There is the analogy of a package. If you give a gift which has beautiful decorations outside but a horrible gift inside, the one who receives it will not be happy. The content of the package is all important. So our motivation for doing the ritual is all important, otherwise its just a ritual. So if we have the proper motivation to perform the ritual then it will have a tremendous substance. What is that substance? We access the empowerment and the mercy of the Lord. Thus by giving our heart to the Lord through that ritual, then that becomes the true content of the ritual.
In the beginning of our spiritual life we follow rituals for our purification. When there is proper philosophy and service behind it, it can awaken love of God. It is a way to express our intent to love God, to serve and please Him. So when we have the right enthusiasm and intent, then the ritual becomes something very deeply spiritual. If it is done under the proper guidance and with the right purpose, it purifies our heart and motivations and gradually real genuine spiritual experience awakens from within.” – Radhanath Swami
It seems that it is human nature to gravitate towards ritual. They make us feel good. They are comforting and safe. But like all things moderation is important. Introspection and reflection on these rituals is important. And some rituals are wholly harmful in practice and simply are inexcusable to allow them to continue. Maybe we simply need to make doing good in the world a ritual instead. 🙂
Feel free to share some of your rituals and how likely you are willing to give them up! 🙂