Friday, August 1, 2008

The Fruit of Knowledge

By April D. Boland

Having been raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, I am well-versed in both the Bible and the doctrines upon which many faithful people base their lives. As an adult, I find myself casting a discerning eye upon the stories I have held so dear. For example, I must ask: Is anyone else bothered by the fact that the first great sin, the one that caused destruction and death to come into the world, came about when humans ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, God created Adam and Eve and put them in a paradisaic garden. His only command was that they not eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which resided in the center of the garden. "Eat from it and you will surely die," God said. Eventually, Eve is tempted and eats from the tree. She brings Adam down with her and God casts them out of the garden. This leads to all sorts of terrible things - a veritable Pandora's box, if you will - including death and the agony that accompanies childbirth.

More recent writers, many of them humanists and/or feminists, have questioned the underlying message in this story. Eve was the first person to desire knowledge, and she was punished for it. What is wrong with desiring knowledge, we ask?

Perhaps the story symbolizes something deeper than that. It might be viewed as a metaphor for the fact that knowledge brings about suffering. For example, animals are blissfully ignorant about their own mortality. They don't lose sleep over the meaning of it all, or visit psychotherapists to get prescriptions for Prozac. Humans, on the other hand, have to face a terrifying truth each day of their lives - that they will one day disappear from the face of the earth. Doesn't that make knowledge both a blessing and a curse?

Yet those of us who are dedicated readers crave knowledge. Like Eve, we extend our hand when the world tells us to stay away. Reading is for nerds, they say. Why do you always have your nose in a book? I find it quite comforting that Original Woman, supposedly the foremother of us all, was willing to give up safety, security and sweet ignorance for a taste of that thing that draws us back to our bookshelves time and time again. She set an important precedent, teaching us that some things are worth taking the more difficult path.

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