March 18, 2017
The book of Genesis tells us that God placed his human creatures in the midst of a garden and gave them free rein to eat of practically all of the trees found there. Unlike the gods of classical mythology, the God of the Bible is not in a rivalrous relationship to human beings. On the contrary, his glory is that we be fully alive, for he made us solely for the purpose of sharing his joy with us. This is why the Church Fathers consistently interpreted the trees in the Garden as evocative of philosophy, science, politics, art, stimulating conversation, friendship, sexuality—all the things that make human life rich and full. And it is furthermore why puritanical fussiness about pleasures both intellectual and sensual is simply not Biblical.
The original couple was told to refrain from eating the fruit of only one tree—and thereupon hangs a rather important tale. The tree in question is identified as the tree of “the knowledge of good and evil,” which is to say, a form of knowing that is the unique prerogative of God. Since God is himself the unconditioned good, he alone is the criterion of what is morally right and wrong. According to the semeiotics of this story, therefore, the eating of the fruit of the forbidden tree is the act of claiming to oneself what belongs in a privileged way to God. It is to make of the human will itself the criterion of good and evil, and from this subtle move, on the Biblical reading, misery has followed as surely as night follows the day.