Naked Calvinism: on the sinful nature of man and Genesis
Ever since Saint Augustine, the Western Church has always taught that
1) man was created perfect, that is to say without any moral flaw
2) following the advice of the snake, he chose to eat the wrong fruit
3) God cursed him and he inherited a sinful nature, making hatred, lies, adultery, selfishness and many other related evils inevitable for him and all his descendents.
Most Christians, Atheists and even Muslims I talked to told me they view that as an essential Christian doctrine which can be found from the first pages of the Bible.
It might come as a surprise to many people that the Eastern Orthodox Church denies this radical change of nature following the Fall.
And if we look at the text of Genesis, which describes the very event responsible for our alleged sinful nature, we realize that they are not less Biblical than the Conservative Protestants who view them as heathens.
Now, let us take a look at a text many of us grew up with.
The snake was sneakier than any of the other wild animals that the Lord God had made. One day it came to the woman and asked, “Did God tell you not to eat fruit from any tree in the garden?”
2 The woman answered, “God said we could eat fruit from any tree in the garden, 3 except the one in the middle. He told us not to eat fruit from that tree or even to touch it. If we do, we will die.”
4 “No, you won’t!” the snake replied. 5 “God understands what will happen on the day you eat fruit from that tree. You will see what you have done, and you will know the difference between right and wrong, just as God does.”
6 The woman stared at the fruit. It looked beautiful and tasty. She wanted the wisdom that it would give her, and she ate some of the fruit. Her husband was there with her, so she gave some to him, and he ate it too. 7 Right away they saw what they had done, and they realized they were naked. Then they sewed fig leaves together to make something to cover themselves.
8 Late in the afternoon a breeze began to blow, and the man and woman heard the Lord God walking in the garden. They were frightened and hid behind some trees.
9 The Lord called out to the man and asked, “Where are you?”
10 The man answered, “I was naked, and when I heard you walking through the garden, I was frightened and hid!”
11 “How did you know you were naked?” God asked. “Did you eat any fruit from that tree in the middle of the garden?”
12 “It was the woman you put here with me,” the man said. “She gave me some of the fruit, and I ate it.”
13 The Lord God then asked the woman, “What have you done?”
“The snake tricked me,” she answered. “And I ate some of that fruit.”
14 So the Lord God said to the snake:
“Because of what you have done,
you will be the only animal
to suffer this curse—
For as long as you live,
you will crawl on your stomach
and eat dirt.
15 You and this woman
will hate each other;
your descendants and hers
will always be enemies.
One of hers will strike you
on the head,
and you will strike him
on the heel.”
16 Then the Lord said to the woman,
“You will suffer terribly
when you give birth.
But you will still desire
and he will rule over you.”
17 The Lord said to the man,
“You listened to your wife
and ate fruit from that tree.
And so, the ground
will be under a curse
because of what you did.
As long as you live,
you will have to struggle
to grow enough food.
18 Your food will be plants,
but the ground will produce
thorns and thistles.
19 You will have to sweat
to earn a living;
you were made out of soil,
and you will once again
turn into soil.”
20 The man Adam named his wife Eve because she would become the mother of all who live.
21 Then the Lord God made clothes out of animal skins for the man and his wife.
22 The Lord said, “These people now know the difference between right and wrong, just as we do. But they must not be allowed to eat fruit from the tree that lets them live forever.” 23 So the Lord God sent them out of the Garden of Eden, where they would have to work the ground from which the man had been made. 24 Then God put winged creatures at the entrance to the garden and a flaming, flashing sword to guard the way to the life-giving tree.”
Imagine now that you are space alien reading this text for the very first time and trying to understand its meaning.
It is truly remarkable that we find absolutely no evidence of a dramatic psychological (or even biological) change turning the first morally perfect humans into wicked, greedy and selfish creatures.
The only possible reference to a psychological consequence is “But you will still desire, your husband, and he will rule over you.” which is pretty ambigious and falls infinitely short of describing a radical and inheritable psychological transformation.
The verse “These people now know the difference between right and wrong, just as we do. But they must not be allowed to eat fruit from the tree that lets them live forever.” is very profound and enigmatic but if one takes it at face value, it teaches that people became efficient moral realists, not psychopatic murderers!
There are situations where the absence of evidence is evidence of absence IF one would clearly expect to find certain things given the truth of a theory.
If the author(s) of Genesis really believed in the doctrine of the sinful nature, they would have clearly expressed it using sentences such as: “Curse on both of you! From now on, you and your offsprings won’t stop cultivating wicked thoughts within your hearts.”
Yet this is clearly not what one finds in Genesis 3.
If one reads the sad story of Cain murdering his brother Abel, one fails to see any evidence of this sinful nature making evil deeds inevitable unless God intervenes.
According to Calvinism, God should have said: “Boy, sin flows in your very blood so that you have no other choice than sinning and commiting atrocities. It is up to me (and my sovereign grace) to decide if you will kill your brother or not.”
But what do we read in the text?
“This made Cain so angry that he could not hide his feelings.
6 The Lord said to Cain:
What’s wrong with you? Why do you have such an angry look on your face? 7 If you had done the right thing, you would be smiling.[c] But you did the wrong thing, and now sin is waiting to attack you like a lion. Sin wants to destroy you, but don’t let it!
God warns Cain about the possible consequences of his state of mind but emphasized that it is up to him to overcome the temptation. There is no indication whatsoever that before the fall, humankind could not have been confronted with such heinous thoughts.
In order to prove the doctrine of Total depravity in their TULIP, Calvinism like to quote God’s description of the state of mankind before the flood broke in:
“The Lord saw how bad the people on earth were and that everything they thought and planned was evil. 6 He was very sorry that he had made them, 7 and he said, “I’ll destroy every living creature on earth! I’ll wipe out people, animals, birds, and reptiles. I’m sorry I ever made them.”
But if this clear wickedness was a consequence of the fall of Adam and Eve, this is not what we would read. The text says that such misbehavior and misdeeds were a (not necessarily inevitable) consequence of human nature as it was originally made by God.
Let us suppose it was a consequence of the Fall itself, and that man was previously morally perfect. This would be of uttermost importance and the writer would have said:
“He was very sorry that he left them the choice between the two fruits and that they made the wrong decision.”
Once one has taken all of this into account, how likely is it that the author of Genesis had a Calvinist understanding of the Fall?
And how likely is that later theologians read into the text something which was never there?