Evil in Eden
I first heard the story of the Garden of Eden when I was a six year old. My Sunday School teacher gave each child in the class a folded page with a color picture of Adam and Eve strolling in a lush tropical garden on the front and the printed Biblical story on the inside. I’m not sure what message was intended for a five year old from the Garden of Eden story, but what I understood was that Adam and Eve were naked—and that was bad. I can still see the picture of Adam, lower torso covered by an apron of leaves, and Eve with a matching outfit. They obviously were the originators of his and hers combos long before the advent of Pendleton jackets in the 1960s.
For many years Adam and Eve were a symbol to me that nudity was evil and the physical body was something to be ashamed of—a doctrine to which many organized religions still adhere.
Decades passed before I realized that nudity equals sin wasn’t the Eden message at all. Nor was the message intended to be that snakes are slinky and poor human beings are powerless in the face of temptation. Nor was the message that the apple—the source of Applejack, applesauce, and kaopectate—was the preferred fruit of deities. As I reread and rethought the Eden story as an adult, I recognized that perhaps the famous original sin had more to do with the greed of our primeval parents, who had everything but wanted more, than with exposed flesh.
Variations of the Eden story recur in many cultures and most likely it was a story told round the campfire to children in the caves of our pre-recorded history ancestors. I can hardly think my childhood take on nudity was of concern to them. I give my ancient ancestors credit to be smart enough that once their balls or their boobs came in contact with a thorn tree or an ant hill, they figured out some way to avoid future contacts. So, what would our primitive hunter-gatherer ancestors have wanted their children to learn from the Garden tale?
Our ancestors managed to exist through sharing food, child care, even sex. Their lives depended on sharing— sharing of the kill, sharing of responsibility, sharing of pleasure. The Adam and Eve story, in a culture like that, was a morality tale to teach children what happens when you place personal desire, like a bite of the apple, above the welfare of the group. You are isolated, on your own, tossed out of the garden, out of the group, and out of paradise. Adam and Eve wanted more. They were greedy and thought a bite of the apple would get them what they wanted.
In the eons of time since our original parents evolved, wanting more has become an ingrained and accepted feature of our society. But we continue to pay dearly for that first bite of the apple.
Bernie Maddoff wanted more and so did the clients who invested with him. John Goodman, founder of the International Polo Club in Wellington, Florida, had everything money could buy, but he wanted more—more alcohol, more speed from his $300,000 Bentley. He got what he wanted, plus sixteen years in prison, and a $10,000 fine in the vehicular death of a young engineering graduate. Trayvon Martin’s assassin wanted to be a policeman, someone with authority. He wanted to be looked up to. His name is now known ‘round the world, but not as the hero he’d envisioned.
The list of crimes committed in the name of wanting more stretches back to Eden and forward to eternity. Greed may be only one of the seven deadly sins listed by the ancients, but it’s the one responsible for wars, for crime, and corruption.
That may not have been the inheritance Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve wanted to pass on to their progeny—but it’s what we got.
John Siegfried, M.D., a former Rehoboth resident, lives in Ft. Lauderdale. He is the author of Gray & Gay, A Journey of Self-acceptance. Email John Siegfried