Eating The Apple
by Colin Denny Donoghue
(updated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2008)
Our culture is filled with mythology. Some well-known myths may actually not be as innocent and harmless as is commonly believed. If we take time to think about the myths that pervade our culture, and how they may influence our lives, we can discover underlying meaning and messages that actually disempower us greatly and misdirect us from real spiritual and political truth. By becoming aware of this, we can free ourselves from mental ties that keep us from progress, both personal and political. Here I will focus on perhaps the most well known myths of all, that of Adam & Eve, and the Savior of Humanity, to show how they may actually be doing much more harm than good for our civilization through reinforcing sexism, patriarchy and disempowerment. I will give new positive ways to interpret these myths so that we can reclaim them in the interest of peace, justice, and enlightenment.
The traditional story of Adam and Eve defies common sense. Why would knowing the difference between right and wrong be bad? Has history or your own personal experience shown that to be true? If right was known from wrong early on and acted on, much of the horrific history of human civilization could have been prevented. (Examples that instantly come to my mind include: the South’s continued support for slavery in the 1800’s, 1930’s Germany, early Vietnam War, Iraq/Afghanistan invasions, the 2000 US Presidential election theft by Bush/Cheney, …etc.)
The same goes for our personal lives, where we often ignore the crucial truth of harm and/or exploitation being committed (in a relationship, at the workplace, animal neglect/abuse, etc.) and by ignoring it, we allow the harm to continue and possibly get worse. (A pervasive example of this is the massive human consumption of meat and dairy, that causes massive suffering and violence to billions of animals every year. Check out GoVeg.com.)
How can we have progress without a sense of what's right or wrong? Isn't that what progress always really is? A progression from the bad to the good in varying degree?
The story of the “forbidden fruit” is a centuries old piece of misinformation used to continue the status-quo paradigm that does not encourage the questioning of authority or the progress of humanity. By telling us that having the knowledge of good and evil is bad, this story reinforces mass disempowerment of the People. This is real Orwellian phenomena, saying the good is evil and the evil is good. Furthermore, when we accept other's claims of what's right and wrong, especially from society's official "authorities", even when it defies common sense, we allow ourselves to be complicit with destructive policies, ideology and actions that cause massive harm to others and our environment. (Going along with the propaganda delivered by the mass media concerning 9/11, the elections, Iraq, and the lack of viable energy alternatives come to mind as current examples). When we allow others to tell us "this is right" (ex. the war) and this "wrong" (ex. dissent), we not only voluntarily disempower ourselves and keep our minds from comprehending the true reality, we become sheep led by wolves.
This intentional misdirection of our understanding of Truth has also been accomplished through the “savior” mythology, where only one person, with supernatural powers, can “save” the world, and the rest of us are said to be just powerless “sinners”. This mythology is very pervasive and influential yet most don’t recognize its power; even the popularity of characters like Superman show that American culture subconsciously accepts the idea that we need a supernatural savior to combat evil and injustice (so we might as well remain apathetic consumers). In the latest Superman movie, "Superman Returns" (2006), the references to Jesus are blatantly obvious, even the title brings to mind the "Second Coming" when Jesus will "Return to Earth". At one point in the movie Superman flies over the Earth in a clearly crucified position, and he is also referred to as "My only son, sent to save humanity" by his other-worldly Father, and even refers to himself at one point as a savior when talking to Lois Lane: "You wrote that the world doesn't need a savior, but every day I hear people crying for one."
In the book of the great movie "What The Bleep Do We Know?", which discusses the hidden power within each of us, the authors speak to the point of the disempowering nature of savior mythology on page 204 (emphasis added): "One of the basic tenants of Christianity is the notion that 'Jesus will save me' [and that we are all] 'sinners born in sin' and screwed from the get-go. It is difficult to imagine a more disempowering idea."
Whether you admire and follow the teachings of Jesus as a historical, mythological, or religious figure, a more intelligent (and probably accurate) interpretation of the actions of Jesus of Nazareth is not to simply believe in him as the sole savior of the world, (which really makes no sense at all, since there was not worldwide revolutionary positive change after his death), we should instead look at his actions as those that we each need to imitate (in the socio-political context that modern Christianity has all but completely eliminated, notable exceptions include Liberation Theology and the perspectives expressed in books like “Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action” by David Ray Griffin & “Saving Christianity from Empire” by Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer), so that the numbers of those resisting tyranny, hypocrisy, corruption and empire will be great enough so that we really can have worldwide revolutionary positive change. The tyrants of the world cannot crucify every rebel, so to speak, so the reason that injustice/fascism/tyranny continues is because not enough people become active in resisting it. From a Liberation Theology perspective one could say not enough people are imitating the actions of Jesus in the sense described in Ephesians 6:12:
"For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places."
The brilliant African-American scholar Cornel West also gets to this crucial point, in a modern context, in his book "Democracy Matters":
"Let us not be deceived: the great dramatic battle of the twenty-first century is the dismantling of empire and the deepening of democracy... we must remember that the basis of democratic leadership is ordinary citizens' desire to take their country back from the hands of corrupted plutocratic and imperial elites. This desire is predicated on an awakening among the populace from the seductive lies and comforting illusions that sedate them and a moral channeling of new political energy that constitutes a formidable threat to the status quo."
Another relevant perspective from the book "7th Seal: Hidden Wisdom Unveiled":
"Are the Romans in actuality alive and well today, continuing to suppress the greater truths, effecting the prevention of the resurgence of a spiritualy aware and soul aligned civilization?"
Basically, it has always been the few oppressing the many, therefore it can be seen as a problem of actualizing, or empowering, the masses (that means you, unless you support oppression/destruction), who have been tricked into believing false mythology and ideology that deliberately disempowers them, along with being subject to more direct physical tools of disempowerment like poverty/overworking/lack of free time, hunger, sickness and illiteracy. All of this serves the destructive status-quo paradigm, it gives it the power to continue on. Additionally, if you spend much of your time thinking of cultural pop icons, luxury consumer goods, etc., you are allowing yourself to be distracted from where real meaning and satisfaction can be found in life. You are allowing yourself to be disempowered by those who would be happier if you were a simple-minded consumer who never questioned or spoke out against unjust authority.
Today, we have the Bush Administration telling us that they will protect us from the “evildoers,” and hoping we wont do any critical thinking, or care that they've abolished the Bill of Rights, rigged our elections, etc. Again Cornel West says it well:
"At this moment our imperialist elites are casting themselves as the defenders of our democracy."
Bush, Inc. are certainly hoping we wont take the next step after seeing through their deceptions, actually resisting their assault on our freedoms, environment, health and democracy. They are sending the message "Just trust Big Brother and everything will be ok"… In this way they make themselves as another savior figure that we permit to disempower ourselves once again… In the book “Jesus and Empire” the author Richard Horsley writes: “In the Roman imperial world, the ‘gospel’ was the good news of Caesar having established peace and security for the world. Caesar was the ‘savior’ who had brought ‘salvation’ to the whole world.” The parallel between the Roman and American Empire is very poignant in this sense: Bush/Cheney claim to be saving us from the terrorists; we must recognize when history repeats in this destructive and deceptive way. Chris Hedges, author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America” described the modern American Fundamentalist Christianity that is aligned with the Neo-conservative movement as “essentially about disempowerment” in an interview with Amy Goodman on her Democracy Now! Radio program (democracynow.org 02/19/07). This is a key point, as I previously stated; both empire, and religion serving empire, function mostly to disempower the populace through various means so resistance is kept to minimal levels. Gloria Steinem, the well know Feminist leader and author writes in her book “Revolution from Within” that self-help/new age books often have “an important message about the worth of each human being, but with little mention of the external structures that undermine this worth in order to assure their own authority.” These external structures that disempower people in order to insure the continued dominance of the status-quo are too often overlooked as somehow separate from the issue of personal liberation, instead of being recognized and named as the barriers that they are.
In the book Great Mystics & Social Justice: Walking on The Two Feet of Love, Susan Rakoczy unsheathes the false dichotomy between personal and social transformation that many modern Christians, Buddhists, philosophers, "spiritual" people, etc. ignorantly accept: "Two Temptations are enticing. One is to plunge into activism without a spiritual grounding. The other, especially insidious, is to take a deep breath, close the doors of the churches on the problems of society, and focus on a private experience of religion. For some, a "Jesus and me" religiosity is very satisfying since it allows them to seek personal holiness without attention to those outside their religious circle. This, however, is a corruption of the gospel, whose basic principle is love of God and love of neighbor."
Returning to the mythology of Adam and Eve, Eve is made to be the villain, the cause of the “Fall of Man”, yet another example of patriarchal sexist distortion of religious and historical truth, demonizing women as was done to Mary Magdalene, made to be a prostitute. And then of course there is the non-sensical Trinity, which has a Father and Son, but the necessary Mother is missing, replaced by the “Holy Spirit”.
The story of Adam & Eve would make much more sense if Paradise was lost because they stopped eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and departed to the gray area of lies and deception of the “Devil”. A loving “God” would have never said don’t eat from this tree, but eat and live by the knowledge you gain, and remain in the Garden of Eden, Paradise. Why did Adam and Eve become ashamed of their nakedness AFTER eating of the knowledge of good and evil? If we are made in the “image of God” why would our naked bodies be something shameful?? It was because they STOPPED eating of the knowledge of good and evil that they became ashamed, they no longer knew our nakedness was good, they were banished for listening to the Devil who stayed on the Tree of Knowledge to discourage them from eating the fruit, to convince them that they would be fine without that knowledge. The characters of God and the serpent have been reversed to serve the sexist patriarchal oppressive status quo; supporters of this backwards ideology are the authors of our modern story of Adam and Eve, surely not “God”. We are told heaven is the joyful peaceful place in which God’s presence is experienced so fully that all who are there gladly do “God’s Will.” What would this will be? Would it be for carrying out trivial assignments and duties, like a king’s servant? Or would it make more sense that it would be to bring peace, love and justice to your surroundings? “God’s will” would certainly consist of the latter if we are to remain consistent with everything that is said of this God, so then in the setting of Eden it makes more sense that one would want to eat the apple of the knowledge of good and evil, so that one could then act on that knowledge and always choose the right over the wrong. By doing so, one would remain in “Paradise” or “Heaven”, gladly doing God’s will, since that is what would make one’s existence most enjoyable, satisfying and “heavenly.” Therefore God's will and love and justice are inseparable, and those are inseparable from human happiness. In politics the Will of the People, or the majority is usually for greater compassion and justice, while the will of the few who bring fascism and tyranny have the opposite motivation: the desire for personal wealth and power. So the former is equivalent to the will of God(dess), while the latter can be thought of as the will of the Devil, producing evil in the world (as done by groups like the Bush Administration, etc).
Martin Luther King Jr. ate the apple when he declared segregation to be an evil, Gandhi ate the apple when he declared the British occupation of India to be an evil, (along with countless other examples of people declaring and facing real evil, not the bullshit propaganda that people have always been fed by tyrants) and by their so doing, humanity progressed. So the “apple” is in reality our inner conscience, which we discover through bringing our attention inward. This inward-looking practice is disrupted by countless distractions and disturbances like corporate advertising and our “entertainment” filled culture; we are being constantly distracted from our inner self, which serves the status-quo paradigm perfectly.
The Buddhist (not exclusively of course) practice of mindfulness and contemplative/concentration building meditation is a well developed practice for re-directing our attention inwards and discovering our conscience, or eating the metaphorical apple. Yet even Buddhism has been corrupted by post-modern nihilism with a completely unjustified emphasis on the doctrine of emptiness/no-self, that the Buddha himself warned would lead one astray if taken as ultimate truth. Modern “Buddhists” have done exactly what was warned against, and have strayed into a non-dualist, non-judgmental perspective on the world, similar to modern “Christianity” that tells us good works are meaningless, and only by saying a certain prayer and attending church regularly will one find salvation, through a single individual (Jesus), in the afterlife (the current life being regarded as a "lost-cause"). This is a belief system that is completely disempowering to the individual. It puts their focus and faith in something that is essentially imaginary, so that one doesn't take the actions necessary in the real world to ensure their freedom, peace and happiness. Another tenet of some distorted modern branches of so-called Christianity is the emphasis on a “Judgment Day” where a divine being will appear out of thin air and cast judgment on mankind. This of course discourages everyday people from making their own judgments and attempting to hold those guilty of great crimes against humanity accountable for their actions. Again we must wait for a superman to bring justice to earth, to tell us what is right and what is wrong, we cannot do it ourselves. This savior mythology is completely compatible and compliments the garden of Eden mythology that tells us eating from the apple of knowledge of good and evil is blasphemous, and that we should leave all justice seeking to “God” an imaginary figure who does not currently exercise this power on earth, but "don’t worry" say the apocalyptic Christians, "he will come soon", just keep waiting, and do nothing to fight injustice, and don’t you dare consult your conscience and common sense, remain disempowered and subservient to the status-quo system of thought that you have been conditioned by.
Another Christian tradition that may directly concern the Garden of Eden mythology is the modern “Christmas Tree”. I’ve read the suggestion that Christmas trees may actually be symbolic of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which I personally find intriguing. In this re-working of the imagery of the tree, real apples would be hung from the tree instead of ornaments, and family members would give the apples to one another, recognizing that gaining the knowledge of good and evil was a crucial part of the religious/spiritual path.
Ultimately and for practicality however, what is most important is the truth. Most people will automatically respond in the proper way to a situation once they know the full truth of it; our inner nature is good and is always with us, despite the negativity that usually covers it. That's why propaganda and misinformation is the main tool of the creators/supporters of any destructive system/paradigm. The focus in activism, and personal life, should be what the full truth is, the "right" or "wrong" of it follows that, it is technically secondary. In order to "eat the apple" in the real world, to act knowledgeably using our conscience, we need the best and most factual crucial information we can find. The main purpose of propaganda is to prevent people from acting on their conscience based on the facts. Instead, they attempt to use our own conscience against us, by appealing to our compassionate nature through Orwellian slogans like "Support Our Troops", "The War on Terror", "No Child Left Behind", etc. The crucial information we need to evaluate with our conscience is for the most part not coming from our government or the mass media, so where do we find it? How do we see through the lies and misinformation and find crucial truth? For the political/social truth, the short and practical answer is truthful independent media/books/documentaries/speakers, etc. and one's personal investigation. For the spiritual truth, whatever your personal practice may be, your own personal investigation and experience should be the authority. The Buddha said repeatedly to trust your own experience to see if his Eightfold Path is effective (basically a path of Loving (morality–>peace–>concentration–>insight–>happiness), which can be found in all traditions) and to not take his word for it, try it and see for yourself.
Truth has great power; when it is revealed it is a force in itself, because it activates our compassionate inner nature, our conscience . Satyagraha, a term Gandhi coined for his overall activist strategy, is translated as “truth-force” and “insistence upon the truth”. Satya (the truth)+ Agraha (to insist upon) = Satyagraha. We must each become a Satyagrahi, a practitioner of Satyagraha, in our personal lives as well in our socio-political reality, in order for there to be genuine and lasting progress.
I believe it is a 50/50 effort, internal and external revolution is needed; fighting fascism while practicing a path to enlightenment simultaneously. Because life is both personal and political, the inner and the outer, and we need to work for the progress of both to find satisfaction, and reduce our own suffering, while we help reduce the suffering of others simultaneously. Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, the Buddha, etc. all emphasized non-violence as the wisest and most practically beneficial behavior to adopt for personal and political behavior/policy. We need to center our lives AND our politics around non-violence/Ahimsa. Bush/Cheney, and all other fascist rulers throughout history represent the exact opposite, producing harmful and destructive policies, which is just furthering suffering, anguish and disharmony on Earth, as well as sabotaging our spiritual journey towards peace, wisdom and happiness.
So if the apple reveals the differentiation between violence and nonviolence in all acts and behavior, then ceasing from harm is the first stage in becoming skilled in the ways of the opposite of harming: healing and giving pleasure. Practices such as massage therapy, nutrition/natural medicine/disease prevention, tantra, yoga, etc. then all become areas of utmost importance and significance. With more time to focus on healing and pleasure in a post-backwards society, we can learn more about our bodies and Nature, diagnose and treat health problems naturally and more effectively, and realize our full potential for health and happiness.
This so-called "elite" sometimes use more direct methods than mythology and propaganda to disempower the masses, like sickness/disease being spread intentionally, or even assassination of social-justice leaders; this is a matter of historical fact. Ill-health is extremely disempowering of course, so physical fitness and health is a necessary component of the Path to empowerment/peace/happiness; good health is also needed for active resistance to fascism, oppression, etc. Not taking care of your body is another type of behavior that supports the continuation of the status-quo; there will be no revolution if all the revolutionaries are sick and in massive financial debt. Maybe that's part of the reason why Bush, Inc. have done nothing to improve health care in America, and instead support industries that put toxins/radiation in out air, water and food? Or why the unconstitutional and criminal monetary system run by the corporate-run Federal Reserve is allowed to stay in place, driving us further and further into debt? (See part 3 of the groundbreaking film "Zeitgesit" for more on that: http://zeitgeistmovie.com/)
We need to stand against wickedness when we become aware of it, we need to “eat the apple”, or “the red pill” (to use Matrix terminology), and share it with others. You must hold some conviction in order to do this however and have factual knowledge to base your conviction on. Today it is very unpopular to speak of right and wrong of course, it is very uncool especially amongst young Americans. And in academic circles non-dualism, or post-modern moral-relativism, is the fall back position for many “intellectuals” who deconstruct every argument and then stand for nothing, certainly not social justice. I have found that if you hold any convictions (even very altruistic ones) some status-quo supporters compare you to all extremists, like some right-wing Christian speakers who have turned Christianity completely upside down. Saying the war in Iraq is wrong is to speak common sense and the will of the majority, the view is not extreme because it is in agreement with the facts and the majority of people on earth. Neo-conservative (fascist) ideology is not the will of the People. If we had a real democracy, Bush/Cheney could never have stolen the elections (read Fooled Again by Mark Crispin Miller for starters) as they did, the war would have never happened, nor would have 9/11 because the people who engineered it wouldn’t have been in the necessary positions of power (read David Ray Griffin's books on 9/11 for starters on that topic). If the People know the real truth they will speak and vote for the peaceful and just solution, that is why the fascists in power must rig the elections and tell the People lies and propaganda, undermining the compassionate and rational choice of the People. Democracy and truthful independent media really are the answer but so many say “look at how bad America is, democracy doesn’t work”. That's an opinion based on the false assumption that America IS a democracy, which it is certainly not! It's not even a representative republic! The fact that Bush and Cheney are still in office is proof of that! True Democracy and true representation allow the debate of right and wrong to be conducted by the majority, which ensures the elimination of elitist/special-interest control.
When you watch a bill being debated at your state legislature, you’re often watching a debate over whether the bill will ultimately serve the majority of the population (be good) or serve only the interests of the already powerful and wealthy few (be bad). The well-informed majority is almost always on the side of the less harmful bill and policy, since that is in their own interest (as well as due to sincere compassion for others), it is almost always those few that represent the interest of the uncaring “elite” who stand in opposition.
So if ultimately it is our conscience that shows us the difference between right and wrong, some might say then, that morality is completely subjective and relative, different for each individual. If this were completely true however, how would we progress together as a society? Aren't there actually some "core values" that most sane individuals would agree are "right"? Concerning personal interaction, no action is necessarily always bad, it depends on the circumstance, but that does not mean that morality is always relative! The truth is one should hold a Relative Absolutism, that is, certain actions, in certain situations, can be 100% wrong, like the examples highlighted in this essay. We must consult our conscience on a continual basis (eat the “apple”), through mindful awareness, and decide what is the least harmful and most just action (or non-action) to make. The Buddha called such action that leads to Liberation "skillful" or "wholesome". Some actions in certain situations are certainly more positive and skillful than others, and there is a way for consistent discernment, that does not accept a completely "non-dualist" perspective on human behavior:
"Skillful actions are those that create the causes for happiness, such as actions motivated by loving-friendliness and compassion. Any action that comes from a mind not currently filled with greed, hatred, or delusion brings happiness to the doer and to the receiver. Such an action is therefore skillful or right." - Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness, p.28Our conscience is most clearly perceived when we are fully in the present moment; being fully in the Now also removes us from the disempowering/negative egoistic thought of the past and future, allowing us to be "aware of our awareness" which allows our peaceful (even blissful) inner nature to be experienced. There really is Power in the Now (as explained well by Ekhart Tolle in his books "The Power of Now" and "Stillness Speaks"), which can counter all the disempowerment I've been discussing .
Consulting one's conscience on everyday relations with family, friends, co-workers, etc. is certainly very important; our personal interaction with others has direct effect on their lives, in varying degrees of positivity or negativity. Of course the practice is difficult and we will make mistakes often, but with discipline we can rise to a higher level of being. For example, personally I have not been living by the ideals presented in this essay due to my negative habits, etc. but I continue to strive towards them because I believe in their benefits, for myself and others. First we must clarify and refine the direction, or the Way, before we can make progress. That is my intention with presenting these ideas here.
Yet shouldn't consulting our conscience on the actions, policies, and messages given by our dominant authority figures and socio-economic/political systems, that effect far more people than we do in our personal lives, also be given priority. Isn’t that in fact what we are told Jesus did, when he denounced the hypocrisy and violence of the dominant religion and political empire of his day? So today we must be aware of those same destructive forces that live on in the current destructive status-quo paradigm. If you can see the blatant truth of the evil of the Bush Administration, act on it. Write your reps and say you want Bush/Cheney removed from office. Every person does make a difference. If the truth about the elections were known nationwide immediately and then the truth about 9/11 being an inside job was also known nationwide, would we have the “war” in Iraq, would we have the destruction of our constitutional rights? Of course not! If we had “eaten the apple” we could have prevented all this destruction, injustice, and massive suffering.
Here is another quote that uses the terms "soul' and "inner compass" in place of conscience or "apple", but the message is really the same:
"The major threat to external control is our internal guidance system -- our souls. To us, our souls are our best friends and most trusted guides. But to the control paradigm, they're the enemy -- what has to be removed in order for external control to work. Only when we're sufficiently disconnected from our inner compass will we follow outer demands." -"The Paradigm Conspiracy" by C. Largent and D. Brenton (highly recommended), p.9,When we are connected to our conscience/soul/spirit/higher-self we also become connected to an outside world that becomes much more interactive, through synchronicity/guidance and positive circumstances that follow an inner transformation. When we become happier, healthier, and more at peace through a "Joyful Rebellion" against the destructive status-quo, we also may discover our passion for Life that had been covered in negativity and inner/outer oppression. Kenneth MacLean, author of "The Vibrational Universe", in an interview in Evolve! magazine said: "[P]assion is discouraged simply because it is such a high vibration/emotion relative to the society at large, and there is a genuine fear [by authority figures] that a passionate person is a dangerous person. There is a concern that our society would be turned upside down if people were allowed to find their own way without direction from the authorities." Indeed, and a society that is Orwellian/backwards should be turned upside down! When our "leaders" are taking us in the opposite direction to where we should be headed, revolutionary change is needed.
Eating the Apple, consulting our conscience, is only the first step of course, action is the second. Knowledge is only valuable if acted upon. For example, knowing of The Law of Attraction/Manifestation (described well in the film “The Secret”, derived from the ancient tribal practice called Huna), which is all about self-empowerment and taking responsibility for oneself, it's pretty much the opposite of the savior mythology belief; it only benefits the individual who becomes more conscious of their thoughts and really focuses on the positive possibilities rather than the negative.
In conclusion, Adam and Eve, in this perspective, would have stayed in Paradise by always choosing the positive over the negative; by acting in accordance with the knowledge they gained from the apple (their conscience), thereby always choosing good over evil, experiencing that it was always to their own benefit, bringing them continued happiness. The same holds true in the real world, right here, right now.