I grew up in the English Home Counties, that bastion of middle class politeness and rectitude. Despite this, and despite going to a good grammar school and receiving the usual lessons in religious studies, I never managed to work out exactly what it was that was supposed to make the Bible – or religion generally – so important.
A lot of the problem seemed to me to be that these were very ordinary tales that someone thought were desperately significant, but I really could not see it. For example, if there’s one person who seems to get a rough deal in the Old Testament, it’s surely the snake in the Garden of Eden. What is his crime? To teach Adam and Eve the difference between right and wrong. What were they before that point? A pair of complete moral non-entities who just did as they were told. Only obeying orders, perhaps. And giving them knowledge of right and wrong was a crime?
And what is God’s reaction to this first ever act of moral enlightenment? To punish the messenger.
“And the Lord God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life…” (Genesis 3:14)
In other words, one individual performs an act the local boss disapproves and not only are they punished vilely but so are all their descendants for all eternity. Well that seems fair.
I don’t know about you, but all this seems to tell me is that the very first moral tale in the entire Bible – a book that is supposed to be the basis for Christian moral life – is to punish the one individual who makes moral life possible. And this happens not because of God’s love for humanity but despite it.
On the other hand, what happens to human beings for becoming moral agents? They are expelled from Eden. But if remaining as moral non-entities was the price of staying, was this expulsion from Eden – or rising above it?
So let’s hear it for the snake – the only person ever to enter the Garden of Eden with honest intentions.