I had resolved not to watch Dr Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s third programme on The Bible’s Hidden Secrets, entitled The Real Garden of Eden, but in the end the temptation to stay away from the BBC iPlayer was simply too much to resist.
I would love to provide a point by point refutation of the doctor’s thesis that the Garden of Eden was in fact on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a real place, and that Adam was a historical kingly personage, and the Fall an allegory of the sack of Jerusalem, but alas, there is neither time nor space for that. Life is too short. And really, if she had been in Dan Brown territory last week, the good doctor was in Erich von Däniken territory this week. Where was the hard evidence for these extraordinary claims? And why was there no mention of the evidence that rules it out? After all, unless a lot has changed in Biblical scholarship since I was at the Gregorian University, sitting at the feet of Professor Gianluigi Prato, everyone knows that the Eden story is Babylonian in origin and that it was written down in the time of King Solomon and the so-called “Solomonic enlightenment”) (circa 900 BC), which was several hundred years before the first sack of Jerusalem in 597 BC.
But this sort of nonsense all springs from the basic error of ignoring what the text says in favour of what I think it ought to say – something I was severely told off for by my English teacher as an A-level student.
But what I really want to say to the doctor is that she is guilty of attributing indiscriminately to Christians doctrines that many Christians do not hold. Twice we were told that the Eden story was the basis for the belief that humanity is “fundamentally bad”. That sounds great, but no Catholic would ever claim that humanity is fundamentally bad, for no Catholic believes that. (Some Protestants may do so, but I can leave them to fight their own corner.) Belief in original sin means that we all have a tendency to do wrong and commit sin; it does not mean that we are completely corrupted. The Catechism (articles 410-412) is very clear on this: “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God,” it says.
Why is this important? Well, if one leaves the doctor’s statement that we think humanity fundamentally bad, we seemingly assent to the foundational attack on faith made by Nietzsche, namely that belief in God necessarily entails the denigration of humanity, and that the more you love God the less you care about the human race. It is this Nietzschean idea that is the foundation of the unjustified claim that the Catholic Church is “the enemy of humanity”.
But this is simply false: the more you believe in God the more you will value humanity as his creation, and as the people called to dialogue with him.
The assertion that the Eden story is the source of this belief in human depravity also contradicts the text of Genesis, for, if you remember, God shows mercy to our first parents. He clothes their nakedness, and though they are put out of the Garden, this is not necessarily a disaster, as the closing words of Milton’s Paradise Lost show:
Som natural tears they drop’d, but wip’d them soon;
The World was all before them, where to choose
Thir place of rest, and Providence thir guide:
They hand in hand with wandring steps and slow,
Through Eden took thir solitarie way.
The doctor’s error is something that would guarantee her a fail at A-level, at least if I were marking her paper – it is an elementary, careless mistake, and it shows that the BBC does not employ fact checkers; it is another sign of the sloppiness of our age, and in particular the way that religion is routinely misrepresented by people who ought to know better. After all, isn’t one of the BBC’s purposes to educate? Why, then, is it spreading ignorance in this way?
One last point: the doctor also asserted that the Eden story has had a negative impact on women and led to their suppression. I am prepared to accept this preliminary thesis. I agree, Eve is not the best standard bearer for women. But can someone, somewhere, please find me a single shred of evidence that links the Eden story to an actual occasion where women have been treated badly? Can it be proved? Is there any hard evidence for this view at all? Because if it cannot be verified then it is yet another worthless supposition.