Morality, Culture & Economics – 1

Is there a connection between them? If so, what sort of connection is it? Is it causal? Are these three things in some sort of causal relationship with each other? I will attempt to piggy-back on biblical teachings to demonstrate that there is a causal relationship between these elements. But the cause may not be what you think it is.

According to the dictionary, morality is concerned with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong. This definition throws us right into the middle of the central concern of the Bible – sin. How so? To see the connection between morality and sin we look to the biblical story of Adam and the Fall in Genesis 3. It is important because it is the story of what is popularly called Original Sin.

Morality is always necessarily about sin.

The term Original Sin is a bit misleading because it intimates that we – humanity – are constitutionally endowed with sin as part of our created being. Such an intimation is not true. Human beings were created good, even “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But following the first week of Creation, something happened. It is incumbent upon us that we understand what happened. To fail to correctly understand the biblical teaching of sin is to fail to understand one of the foundational pillars of Scripture, and to fail to understand morality, in that the very definition of morality extant in Classical (or traditional) Western Civilization is inextricably tied to the Bible.

Before the entrance of the serpent, we learn that there are two trees in the garden into which God has placed the man He created, “The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). These are presented as opposites, and yet their descriptors appear to be categorically different. Opposite the tree of life should be the tree of death. And opposite the tree of the knowledge of good and evil should be the tree of … of what? The contrast begs the question, what is the opposite of the knowledge of good and evil? Note how the structure of the story – the literary technique – brings this question to the foreground through what is called implication, inference or suggestion.

Indeed, implication, inference and suggestion are the tools of the serpent’s trade – the tools of deceit and deception. How does it work? To infer is to use reason to draw a conclusion or make a logical judgment on the basis of circumstantial evidence and prior conclusions rather than on the basis of direct observation. Logicians will know that there is a technical definition involved. (It is a logical relation between propositions p and q of the form ‘if p then q’; if p is true then q cannot be false.) But we are not talking about logic here. Rather, we are talking about how the serpent manipulated Eve into believing something to be false that she had previously believed to be true. Can you sense the subtly involved?

On the surface the story of the Fall (Genesis 3) appears to be pretty straight forward, if you can believe in talking serpents. But don’t get distracted by the details. Imagine with me that the story is not about a snake, but about a person that the writer identifies as a snake, which according to the dictionary is “a deceitful or treacherous person.” The use of the word snake to indicate such a person constitutes a literary use by convention. The point is that the convention of doing so begins here in Genesis. The story is not a myth about a talking serpent, but the very real story about a liar of cosmic proportion.

By identifying this heretofore unknown person as a snake, the writer has told us that the story may not be what it appears to be on the surface. It is actually a complex and quite subtle story about reality and human character. The author of Genesis gives us a clue to the subtlety of the story by telling us that the serpent was the most crafty or subtle beast that the Lord had made. So, we will need to watch carefully how the serpent stalks his prey.

The snake was in drag.

What do I mean? I mean that he was not what he appeared to be. He was in disguise, in costume. He was working under cover. The writer of Genesis identifies him as a snake, but Eve doesn’t appear to notice. She converses with him as if he were simply a person like her husband, Adam. But he is not like Adam in some fundamental sense. He’s pretending to be something he is not. Like a homosexual in drag he is trolling for his quarry. Waiting for the unsuspecting person to show his weakness, his own immorality. When he does, at that point, immorality can speak to immorality with understanding and comradery. And the snake will make a friend, or at least get a hearing. A bond or connection has been made, a commonality perceived.

Cascading Issues

Leave a Reply