Monday, 4 February 2013

Sunday Sermon: The End of the Garden 2 (The Garden Final)

Hello Everything. Thank you for our lives and our parts on your beautiful blue jewel. Help us, in our meditations, our conversations and our actions, to bring closer to Earth a republic of peace. Bless us and help us to do thy will. Amen.
Hello everyone. It's taken me a while but finally it has come to the point in prehistory where, to return to our primeval narrative, our species ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and were expelled from the Garden forever.

The eating of the 'forbidden fruit' appears as a mythic explanation of an awareness of moral difference ('good' and 'evil'/'right' and 'wrong') along with sexual self-consciousness. From the point of view of the mythmaker's generation, as well as our own, these are real occurrences somewhere in human history, apparent differentiators between humans and other creatures, which demand some sort of explanation or narrative. Something happened to us, sometime, to cause these distinctively human characteristics.

Aside, note that although we know that extraordinary changes in consciousness and social life most definitely did occur among our ancestors, the academy properly avoids them as they are all but beyond evidence. For everyday people who perennially ask questions about who we are, where we came from and what's the point, science and the academy therefore offer too little in answering these reasonable enquiries. It doesn't stop us asking, or requiring a capacity to interact with these questions socially. This is a major reason why religion and its questions and narratives can and will continue to be part of social life and yet need not ever be threatened by scientific enquiry. Scientific enquiry and evidence must inform our narratives wherever possible. Indeed as seekers of truth we should be craving such evidence. But for the mind at the grass roots of Logos, science may never provide enough, so intuition and a looser criteria of plausibility rather than evidence must often suffice to fill out our collective narrative. Science isn't everything, is what I'm saying, even if we consider it decisive when it does speak.

But back to the plot, our writer of myth may have had a similar response to the oft-nakedness of tribal peoples as did Europeans of the colonial era - interpreting it as a form of sexual innocence. Then as now this would be a misunderstanding. For one thing mores about clothing and appropriate dress vary enormously, influenced by climate as much as anything. Clothing appears firstly to be an innovation to adapt to either new country or changing climate, not a response to guilt. At the same time even in the most naked society in the world - Aboriginal Australia - there was a strong sense of sexual right and wrong - adultery was punishable by death for example, as it was in many traditional societies. So the connection between origins of morality and the realisation of nakedness seems stretched at the least.

Even less clear though is the connection between these developments in consciousness and the end of the Garden. To be honest I don't think the metaphorical eating of the fruit was the break with the Garden we're looking for, despite the myth. To explore any reality in that myth we have to go back a lot further into depths of the history of the Homo genus, possibly even to Homo habilis. I may of course be completely wrong about the identification of the Garden with observable prehistoric societies, but to follow my proposition I have to admit that this society already has religion, sexual morality, violence and indeed the fulness of human consciousness, warts and all.

The Garden first broke down with a new type of social violence, and not merely semi-ritualised violence between tribes, which might actually have helped preserve tribal identity as well as sustainable populations, but violence within tribes. The breakdown began with a war between totemic kin-groups. In short, Cain killed Abel. The primal herder of sheep warred with the primal agriculturalist. This conflict between herdsmen and agriculturists never really ended in the ancient world, and is still reflected in modern politics between country parties and urban parties. I am not the first to propose that this conflict was the initial major split in the ecological society humans had enjoyed for millennia.

(Candidly, if we wish to include the earlier myth in this view, we might conclude that Cain then blamed his parents, mostly his mother, for their substance abuse.) 

That the very first violence in the Bible is between these brothers - "a keeper of sheep" and a "tiller of the ground" is for me one of the finest moments of intuitive truth in the entire Genesis narrative. Archaeology and history repeatedly confirm the primacy of this conflict in the ancient world. So once again, regardless of whether we want to give these ancient accounts any reading at all, they speak of an issue in our origins which begs explanation, and which will reflect light on how we came to be as we are.

Totemic families were not equal, even in Aboriginal society. Some totems were more prestigious than others, generally according to how dependent the tribe was on them for survival. The kangaroo totem might enjoy prestige if it was from kangaroos and their ecologies that the tribe was getting a lot of its tucker, for example, but if the kangaroos failed one year another totem might gain greater prestige. In this way there was great flexibility even whilst all sorts of possibilities were maintained.

I can only attempt to imagine the nature of the Garden in the Fertile Crescent, but doing so I have to conclude that the Australian Aboriginals had it pretty tough. I mean, compared to kangaroos, herds of sheep must have been a doddle to manage, even in their pre-domesticated state. I imagine tribes simply following the herds and, taking care to sustain the population, harvesting them at will. Further, I can even imagine the sheep learning to stick near the humans for protection against other predators, especially if the humans also actively helped with other needs like maintaining pasture land. The humans could exploit them and guarantee their survival at the same time, as contrary to merely exploiting them.

But not everyone concerned themselves deeply with sheep. Remembering that these ecological relationships are totemic, utterly embedded in religious narrative and law, there are also people kin with other species. Along the flats of ancient valleys there were those whose totemic vocations developed the sustainable use of grasses - early wheat and barley - for human food. That's great of course. There's once again a variety of options for the tribe in the region, but there is an implicit conflict.

For one thing both of these totemic vocations will over time increase population capacity, and indeed the evidence is that populations slowly but steadily increased in the Fertile Crescent over time. I'm happy to assume that, as we observe in many modern traditional societies, the peoples had cultural mechanisms for population control. But with a developed and diverse totemic society and such wonderful species to work with the population did grow, to the point where any failure of the system, through climate change or immigration from climate change (like glaciation) elsewhere, could suddenly stretch the system.

And at a certain point the managed wheat and barley looks like grazing land for the herders, and to our proto-agriculturalists the precious wheat or barley fields become threatened by the sheep. Both groups can lay claim to the absolute importance of their totemic kin. Both groups are bound by sacred duty to their totems. Something has to give. And hence Cain came to kill Abel, dividing the tribe and beginning modern human history. The wheel was broken, in the first place, from within.

To sum up the whole series, I am proposing that Homo sapien is naturally a conscious gardener of the environment, who collects and develops knowledge and management techniques through the device of language, of Logos, though not in writing but in narrative, art, song and dance. This elaborate and evolved nature, as ecological, situational and stable as any creatures', must have had ups and downs constantly for any number of reasons, and was highly adaptable (that was its evolutionary point after all). But at a certain point this ecology broke irreversibly, leaving us with a disconnected Logos that we might call the first 'religion' contained by a population alienated from the existential reality of that Logos.

I've had a subtle shift in my view even since beginning this Garden series. At first I considered the Garden a special era toward the end of human prehistory and leading into history. Now I consider it as almost defining the human species. We might have been called Homo gardenius for my current understanding. Tools and fire don't define us, as they came long before. Language might define us, but it doesn't in itself define much except that we are chattering. What defines us is our capacity to garden and for the garden itself to be a text, read and exchanged among us by narrative. Logos was our initial technology of information and computation.

The mystery, the difficulty, the ever-since human crisis, is that we became alienated from that nature and have never since attained the same harmony between one another and the environment. To get from there to a new human harmony is the goal of most major religious systems, and it is the goal of the House of Every.

So I come to the end of my attempt to modernise the subject matter of Genesis 2-4. I stress that although I teach, this is not 'doctrine' in any traditional sense, of the House of Every or of me. The series is an attempt to introduce the subject of human beginnings with reference to our legacy of myth but alongside modern evidence and reasoning. It is an invitation to ongoing reflection and discussion, to an ongoing collaboration in our collective search for truth, meaning and ourselves.
Everything, thank you for all the teachers who have come before, all the evidence and analysis collected by your prophets and scholars, and all unfolding Logos. Send us more evidence Every, more insight, more brilliantly thinking searchers of the truth of You for us to learn from. We want to know and we want to collaborate in the searching and the knowing. Bless my own readers Every, that they may be critical, original and mindful in their own searching, gleaning that which is helpful from my own teachings and disregarding anything that is flawed. So be it.

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