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Paradise lost and found

Jack O’Brien

Jack O’Brien

The belief in a paradise lost on account of misdemeanor seems to be firmly embedded in the human psyche, and the question is how it got there. One explanation is the story of Adam and Eve, derived from Babylonian myth current around the seventh century BC and seized on by the priestly writers of Genesis to justify their claim to mediate the relationship of God to Man. Lacking the later benefits of Science, they chose the vehicle of Parable to explain the fundamental concept of sin, and we inherited a beautiful example of the genre, as rich in symbolism as a pudding with plums.

Thus we have Adam and Eve happily living naked and without care in the Garden of Eden, with just the single prohibition against eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. But the Devil, choosing as his persona the squirming serpent, symbolic of deviousness and desire to hurt, who elects the Woman Eve, traditionally viewed by the priesthood as the Temptress to be the first to sample the forbidden fruit. The Devil wins his bet as Eve, now imbued with the knowledge of Evil, loses no time in implicating Adam by offering him a bite. So now they both recognize their nakedness as Evil, and construct trousers accordingly. God, who knows perfectly well what trousers are for, promptly accuses the pair of disobedience and Adam, in his historical role of denying culpability, places the blame squarely on Eve, implying that he was personally unaware of the Apple’s true nature. But it did him no good, as they were both kicked out of Eden.

It is a beautiful story, reflecting every emotional itch we love to scratch: nakedness, sex, moral weakness, unrelenting authority, as true now as it was 27 centuries ago, resonating with everything we know about ourselves, and we would be the poorer without it. But I have a different and far less entertaining, though more personal explanation of how we came to feel we lost Paradise. In this version, after some nine months in utero, warm and lavishly fed, without knowledge of Good and Evil and totally dependent on our Mother’s love she, in slavish obedience to genetic instructions refined over millions of years, ejects us into a hostile world where we must learn within seconds how to breathe or die in the attempt.

This is no bedtime story, but a harsh reality which every one of us has suffered. We do not yet have the words necessary to lay down a proper memory, so we only vaguely recall our time in Paradise or our desperate struggle to breathe, but we shall carry that indefinable sense of loss with us for the rest of our our lives. But there is a second act: after the horror of birth, we get our first drink of milk and that, combined with relief at our narrow escape from death, lays down our sensation of redemption, of forgiveness and the promise of life. What more could we wish for our first hour of independent life?


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