[95 Jul 06] -- hardly even a draft yet!

Some thoughts on Eden, the spiritual and the carnal, and the beginning and the end.

I sometimes come across the idea of ``original innocence'', and it fascinates me with the question ``What was life like, in Eden?''.

-- ``they knew they were naked'' -- but it was, so far, OK that they were naked -- what had changed? Perhaps that is the central question here.

As well as ``what had changed?'' there is ``what is (now) wrong?''. Did their knowing that they were naked make the nakedness (which up to then had certainly been OK) no longer OK? I would like to think that the visibility of the bodies God (who hates nothing that he has made []) made for us in His Image itself is still OK, and only the being a way that we are ashamed of being is wrong ([Ezekiel 36] again -- ``you will be ashamed of the way you were''?)... if we do what we think is wrong, we are to blame for the doing of it, but if we do only what we believe to be right, we are innocent [Paul on Let him that is strong in his faith eat meat]... not that this gives us licence to do anything we like, as we have been a good sense of right and wrong, and have been given the Holy Spirit to enlighten and inspire us as to what is right in new situations.

Looking at commentaries -- this is pretty complicated! It has a lot to do with what is already inside us -- but what is that?

It is something bigger than just ``nakedness'' and probably much bigger than just the ``shame'' although these are so easy to pick on as central; a commentary talks about ``the whole experience of the range of moral values'' or something like that.

In fact, it seems nothing to do with nakedness in the sense of having no clothes on; as anyone who has been to a clothing-optional beach or sauna will have realized, nakedness not necessarily at all sexual. (If it were to be sexual, why would it be the wrong? Presumably be in the promiscuity that it could lead to.)

The pity of shame

It seems that the idea of the fall, with the entry of body shame into the story, brings in some dualistic ideas -- i.e. ``spirit / soul good, body /mind bad'' and we swallow these fairly readily. But this assignment of values doesn't really make sense to me {Jesus talking about washing of hands etc} seems to suggest that the body itself doesn't have moral values, and it is the spirit / soul that can be good or bad.

(I'm not sure what to think about the position of dualism -- some of what St. Paul writes seems to be very dualistic, but modern writers seem to regard it as a heresy -- presumably this is something different from what St. Paul wrote, though? Thinking particularly of [Romans 7].)

But what is carnal pleasure anyway?

It is undeniable (according to theological reasoning) that unbridled carnal pleasure is not what God wants us to have, as such. (See however C. S. Lewis with Screwtape complaining about God's hedonism!)

But what constitutes illicit carnal pleasure, and is carnality orthogonal to illicitude or are two linked?

Jesus, speaking against adultery [], says that to look on someone with lust is wrong. (I presume he implied it's as wrong for a woman to look with lust on a man as for a man to look with lust on a woman, although he mentioned it only one way round; perhaps his hearers at the time weren't that bothered about what women wanted.) But what is lust? Desire for sexual pleasure? But what pleasures are sexual? I raise the question because it does seem to be a real one, and an important one, to me, particularly in my situation as a single man with some good married female friends, some of whom sometimes give me embarrassingly enthusiastic hugs... what is about some friendships and some situations that can make what is physically the same gesture of warmth be either innocent and joyful or somewhat tacky and uncomfortable? I think a lot of that depends on what is going on around of each of the people concerned and also on the history of their friendship so far. (For more about this, see my essay about being ``just friends''.)

So what is lust, anyway? Probably not only about sex, but about power -- about wanting to satisfy one's desires using a person (as distinct from relating to them as real peers).

To what extent can we return to Eden?

Can we ``go back'' like the Adamites hoped to... how far can we return to innocence?

No; we cannot reverse time, but forgiveness undoes the guilt, and we are now washed by Christ, and can take up the advantages of the way things were before we sinned, just as though we had never sinned.

It seems that our return to innocence is, in practice, partial (sin after baptism, and having to strive continually); and also that a return to innocence (in our hearts) might not be a return to Eden, because our surroundings may not have returned with us... or perhaps, like St. Francis seems to have according to some views of him, we can start to see again the innocence of our surroundings (``original innocence'' theology is popular with some modern franciscans!).

A return to innocence can surely be in Christ alone... by the forgiveness of our sins, and by a continuing intention and effort to remain innocent. I don't know quite what the Adamites thought theologically, but their physical nakedness seems hardly relevant, unless ``they knew they were naked'' simply means ``they knew they had no clothes on''... or is it relevant? It is good to avoid false shame -- indeed one could call it blasphemous, or very nearly so, to regard as unseemly, and therefore conceal, someone made in the image of God... but perhaps it is appropriate to conceal when people are seen without an awareness that they are made in the image of God!

I suppose clothing is innocent... it is the perceived need for it that is the sign of non-innocence... I keep coming back to the question ``what changed?'', though!

And why do people perceive a need for clothing? Some would say it is to avoid tempting into lust those who are easily tempted, but I think that's both inaccurate (because the lustful nature is already in them) and a post-hoc rationalization, not the real reason.

Perhaps the reason for the perceived need is largely shame... that we are told so much, throughout upbringing, that certain parts of our bodies are shameful, something to hide ``because they concern sexual union'' and about which jokes are made that should not be made... and then suddenly pious books on marriage start exalting sex (but not, as far as I've noticed, comfort about clear body visibility).

One reason for clothing is one that I repudiate heartily (from my Franciscan-inspired Christian viewpoint) and that is for status -- for people to know who you are and whether to respect you. Obviously this too is largely a cultural matter -- some cultures are more clearly stratified than others -- but we are equal and rainment must neither be something to compare people on [James ?2?] nor to worry about or glory in [consider the lilies of the field].

This also leads to the matter of low self-esteem -- so many people have been pushed to think of themselves as rubbish, and need a way to present something other than themselves, and clothing, as a representation of status, are a means to this.

Eden, evolution and entropy

And a ``return to Eden'' plan must acknowledge that we are in a fallen state, in a post-fall universe (for example, we must labour to co-operate with nature in the production of our food and other basic requirements... perhaps that we sense and resent this, is connected with entropy) and so we have responsibility that is a burden to us and must be approached through self-discipline.

Only in such self-discipline (and then, only when it is motivated as a responsible response to God) can we then look for joy... a joy which is a far cry from the hedonism in which ``they knew they had something to be ashamed of, and didn't care or revelled in it''. Such self-discipline seems, abstractly, to be hardly separable from joy; but concretely, hardly separable from grinding painful struggle.

For other essays, see the index to my essay collection.

[John's Christianity page]
John C. G. Sturdy

The files in this directory are listed in this index, and the starting point for this section of my web tree is here.

[John's home] Last modified: Sun Jun 10 22:27:50 GMT Daylight Time 2007