Discourse in the Garden of Eden

“An Apple” by deviantART user Nazegoreng

When I was a teenager, I heard a preacher whose name I’ve forgotten say that Eve fell prey to the Serpent because she tried to reason with him. The preacher’s point was that Eve shouldn’t have relied on foolish things like logical discourse, and should’ve shut the Serpent down the second he dared to debate God’s command at all. Silly women, trying to be all rational and stuff.

While I am still a Christian, I hope it goes without saying that this “check your brains at the door” approach to religion or any other aspect of life goes against everything I now believe. I believe it’s vital to apply critical thinking to everything, even things that come from the people we trust most. Even things we understand to come from God. I believe “Hath God really said…?” is a question theists should ask themselves daily in a sincere search for truth.

But I’ve been thinking back to this long-forgotten sermon a lot lately, and realizing there was a good seed buried beneath the piles of fertilizer. Eve would’ve done well to shut down the Serpent’s discourse from the start, just not for the reasons that preacher stated.

See, the “discourse” between the Serpent and Eve wasn’t really a discourse at all. It’s the tale of humanity’s first bad faith argument. The Serpent didn’t really approach Eve in a desire to verify what God said. His whole purpose in engaging her was to get into her head, get her to question whether she could trust her own sense of reality, and get her to do what he wanted. And it worked. Not because Eve was weak or foolish or amoral, but because she accepted a bad faith argument in good faith. She engaged the Serpent rationally, philosophically, treating his questions like a sincere search for truth when they were really a premeditated attempt to get her to accept a lie.

It gets more interesting when you consider how often Jesus was faced with the same situation, and how he responded to it. There are many times in the Gospels when religious leaders came to Jesus the same way the Serpent came to Eve. They presented a seemingly philosophical question deliberately designed to trick him into revealing himself as a blasphemer, traitor, or fraud. Jesus would respond by exposing them with a counter question, telling a story that he admitted he didn’t expect them to understand, or blatantly calling them out. In any case, Jesus never treated a bad faith argument like a good faith discourse. 

The moral I’m seeing here isn’t one of faith vs. skepticism. I don’t even see this as an issue that specifically applies to people of faith. What I’m seeing is that, if you have every reason to believe someone is only asking you questions to get into your head, gaslight you, trick you into betraying your own principles, or even just troll you for their twisted idea of what constitutes lulz, you are under no obligation to give them a rational answer as though they were asking for a sincere exchange of ideas.

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