Temptation is among the core themes of many religious and philosophical conversations. In Christian culture, the apple in the garden of Eden is often the first example of temptation, and also cited as the source of the fall of man.
Funny enough however, most remember this story wrong.
…it was never an apple.
The story goes that the fruit that was eaten came not from an apple tree, but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
That’s a crucial distinction.
It was not a randomly selected fruit, used as a temptation for humanity to test their resolution. The consumption of this fruit was not simply a failing in our self-control, but represents rather a crucial definition in the capabilities of humanity which is closely tied to our concept of the Metaphorical Imperative—it’s about the expansion of our cerebral capacity that makes us human.
Like our ability to ask and answer questions about the world, this knowledge of good and evil is to humanity not a fall, but a burden or responsibility. With our minds, humans are capable of thought, consideration, and knowledge—and this gives us the responsibility to act rightly. We have this responsibility simply because we know better…we are accountable.
If we were no more mentally competent than locusts, our destructive actions would be excused by our nature. But eating from the fruits of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil means that we know better—human consciousness sets us apart, and it thus behooves us to act like it, or suffer the consequences.
Original Sin therefore should not be taken to mean that we are born of sin, but rather that we are born with a responsibility to avoid it. It’s a key part of what makes us human, and also what makes us fallible. Knowledge—and free will to use it as we choose—is the true Original Sin.
Knowledge is ever a double-sided blade though, as our ability to consider extra-temporal reality allows us to create it—which also allows us to make excuses and ultimately let ourselves down. Just as we know the difference between right and wrong, we know the shortcuts to fooling ourselves, to deny this truth, and to act against it.
In a perfect world, this knowledge would be enough. To rise above the domain of brutes and act upon this morality that we can clearly see should be our destiny, but because we know that not all will do so, we are often hesitant to risk it ourselves. Acting right when others do not may open us up to deception and cruelty, and soon the world begins to look like a non-zero-sum game; what others take, we may lose, and thus we, besot by doubt, hedge our bets against decency, and towards self-preservation.
In all things now, there is doubt and fear. In business, in friendships, in relationships, and in our daily conduct, the taint of fear has bewildered our senses and blinded us to the basic truths of our being.
Our knowledge is both our blessing, and our downfall. It has long been the bane of political philosophers to seek some system of governance that would allow people to thrive happily and free, but each one fails due to greed, pride, and fear.
Simple codes have never been enough, nor have the religious doctrines which are meant to bolster them.
It grows hard to believe these days…the light is fading.
What can possibly bring us back to those truths now? What story or system can erase this fear, and help us to chart our course through these dark tides? What must we risk to find it, and what will we lose on our search? These are the sources of fear we must face, no matter the associated price. For if our will is bent, if we fail now, there may not be another chance.
We must persist, because we know better.
…I know better.
Be part of the debate: ‘Project FearNaught’ is an effort to start the conversation that changes the world. As such, your voice is key to our ambition. To add your input, questions, or comments, click here.