Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

BIBLE: Genesis (Adam and Eve, Freud and Marx)

Genesis deals with the creation of heaven and earth.  We’re told that “the Spirit of God moved” and everything in the universe came into existence.  How did it happen?  “God said, let there be light: and there was light.”  God didn’t think about light and then somehow it came into existence on its own.  He spoke it into existence.  Then an interesting thing happens.  “God saw the light, that it was good.”  God didn’t say light was good.  He saw that it was good.  Somehow this Spirit, which doesn’t have a mouth, can talk.  This same Spirit, which doesn’t have eyes, can see.  This is exactly the sort of thing Freud complains about when he says “the common man cannot imagine God otherwise than in the figure of an enormously exalted father.” (Civilization and Its Discontents, GB1)  Freud thinks religion takes a human image and projects it outward onto some vague Cosmic Being with enormous power.  That’s the opposite of what Genesis says: “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  Freud says Man created “god” in our image.  Genesis says God created Man in his image.  Freud’s view is humanistic and thinks Man is the measure of all things.  Genesis is theistic and teaches God was at the beginning of creation and remains at the center of all things. 

Marx has a similar complaint but with a slightly different emphasis.  In Genesis God says to Adam “Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”  That’s not what the serpent says.  He tells Eve “Ye shall not surely die.  For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”  These are two very different messages.  Adam and Eve are given a choice between good and evil.  They choose wrong and their decision is called The Fall of Man because according to Genesis that’s how evil came into the world.  This is exactly the sort of thing Marx complains about when he says “theology explains the origin of evil by the fall of man, that is, it asserts as historical fact what it should explain.”  Marx wants rational explanations and rejects Genesis because he doesn’t think it is an “historical fact.”  Somewhat like Adam and Eve, readers are left to choose between a poetic story and Marx’s preference for rational analysis.      

Given two starkly different alternatives how should GB readers choose?  Compare notes.  The GB method is to consider alternatives by comparing what other GB authors have to say.  Aristotle wasn’t talking about Genesis but he had this to say: “if it is true that intelligence is divine in comparison with man, then a life guided by intelligence is divine in comparison with human life. We must not follow those who advise us to have human thoughts, since we are only human, and mortal thoughts, as mortals should.” (On Happiness, GB1)  This quote doesn’t suggest that Genesis was right or Freud was right or Marx was right.  Aristotle is merely emphasizing how important it is to use our intelligence wisely.  Reason is a powerful tool.  That’s why Marx thinks we should use it to explain things rationally.  Genesis agrees that Reason is powerful but for that very reason we should be careful how we use it.  Power can be intoxicating and lead us down the wrong path.  Genesis tells us Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise.”  Health, beauty and wisdom look like good things.  What rational person is against health, beauty and wisdom?  Marx and Freud both think Man is the measure of all things but Genesis says God’s way is best.  Augustine (City of God, GB4) says one path (Marx and Freud) leads us to the City of Man and the other (Genesis) leads to the City of God.  Which way is best and how can we be certain?  In the Great Books nothing is certain.  We can’t even be certain that nothing is certain.


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