The Talking Snake
Imagine a world where everyone has all they need; where there is no conflict; and where people live in harmony with nature. It sounds pretty nice, but the overwhelming majority of people don’t want it — if they did, we’d have it. Even now, with almost eight-billion people on the planet, there is enough for everyone to have everything they need and a lot of what they want.
I have never understood why people don’t want what appears to me to be the best possible world for everyone. I’ve also never understood why I am one of very few people I know who wants such a world. I accepted long ago that I am mentally ill by the standards of the society that I live in — I take medication that makes it possible for me to tolerate daily life in America. The meds don’t change the fact that I can see the possibility of a better world. They just make it possible for me to endure what actually is.
The Biblical explanation for the unhappy state of the world is in Genesis 3. Having made a good world and declaring it good, God instructs Adam and Eve to enjoy themselves, but not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The serpent tricked them and they ate the forbidden fruit, at which point they started thinking for themselves and immediately became ashamed.
People like to pick at the metaphor. I’ve heard atheists say things like “Snakes can’t talk” as if they had uncovered some staggering bit of insight that no one had ever noticed before. I’ve never heard anyone argue against the underlying meaning of the metaphor which is what I said above — the world is the way it is because people make it so — not the abundant, beautiful natural world, God made that. People made the ways of doing things that result in poverty and war. That story is in Genesis 4 — Cain gets jealous of his brother, Abel, and murders him. Jealousy is wanting what someone else has — envy and greed are related. Atheists like to claim that religion causes wars, but they can’t give one example of a war that was fought over religion alone. There have been many wars between peoples who had different religions, but every one of them was really about control of material goods, usually real estate and the attached resources. Any and every “religious war” was really about property. Cain wants what Abel has, so he declares war. All crimes, except for “victimless crimes”, like using recreational drugs or exchanging sexual favors for money, fit that formula. Most modern societies have legal ways for some people to accumulate and hoard huge amounts of resources while others suffer deprivation, but that’s pretended to be something other than violence because the people who control the resources also control the legal process.
I can’t think of any more compelling evidence for the existence of Satan than the state of Christianity in America. Of course, the teachings of Christ were mangled beyond recognition centuries before Europeans crossed the Atlantic, but I’m writing from where I am. Here in the USA, the beliefs most associated with Christianity are the opposite of what they should be. It would be comical if it wasn’t so tragic. Satan can quote scripture — he’s presented as doing so several times in the Bible — and he’s certainly twisted it. Many, if not most, American Christians, people who believe themselves to be devout followers of Jesus, publicly proclaim positions that cannot be reconciled with the Bible. Then other people, who value social justice, declare themselves in opposition to the false representation of Christianity given to them by people who have it all wrong. Most Americans don’t understand Buddhism either, but they also don’t adamantly defend an incorrect interpretation of it. I’ve known Christians and atheists to become angry when I tried to explain to them that the Bible doesn’t say what they think it says.
It is possible to not want what you haven’t got — or to want it, but not resort to violence to get it. It is, in fact, a very simple and pleasant way to live. Blaise Pascal wrote, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” Both Buddhism and Christianity provide adherents with things they can do to facilitate sitting quietly in a room alone — both of which are called “meditation”, though “contemplation” might be a better world for the Christian version. The Bible rewards reading and contemplation. By reading and contemplating the Bible, one can attain wisdom — God’s wisdom, symbolized in Genesis by abstaining from eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, by trusting God to bestow what is needed in its time. When one has this wisdom, jealousy becomes ridiculous, and violence becomes disgusting.
Sometimes I fantasize about leaving society, escaping from the endless barrage of ridiculous and disgusting. There are no frontiers left, nowhere that a person can go to get away from “civilization”. The northern European social democracies are certainly more egalitarian than the US, but getting there would require funds I don’t have and a visa that they’re unlikely to give me. And my kid is here, for a while longer. My kid did a little looking online and came to the conclusion that Iceland is where they want to live. I’m encouraging that because they’re right, and if they go, I might be able to tag along. Realistically though, I probably won’t be able to get out of America, so I do what I can to make peace with it. I have a house which I share with two cats, and my kid every other weekend. I often find myself sitting quietly in a room alone.
When circumstances force me to go out, I’m reminded that the city of God, Zion, will have a wall around it. Residency in Zion will be entirely voluntary. Those who prefer a world of jealousy and violence will be allowed to have that, but they won’t be allowed into Zion. I assume that the overwhelming majority of people will choose to live outside the city of God — based on the fact that the overwhelming majority of people don’t want to live in a world where everyone has all they need; where there is no conflict; and where people live in harmony with nature.
The talking snake has done a damn good job of tricking people.