Now, there are plenty of science books that can explain evolution to you, but using evolution to explain how you and I and MTV came to be is like explaining how to turn on a TV by starting with protons and electrons. So I'm going to tell you a story.
Don't freak out, but you're going to hear a myth. When human and animal characters act out a story about how Godde and life intermesh, that's a myth. Myths are not fact, and myths are not fiction. They're extended metaphors — they're parables. The Great Flood described in the Bible is scientifically impossible. Noah did not collect two of each of 800,000 species of insect. The nomadic tribes of 5000 B.C.E. did not built a tower that was 500 miles tall.
Whether or not the events actually happened is not the point of the stories in the Bible. Many people have the correct idea that if a story is holy, it must be true — and the mistaken idea that a true story must be a record of a bunch of facts. And some people twist themselves into pretzels trying to prove that hares do so too chew their cuds (Lev. 11:6), that Zechariah (11:12-13) was really Jeremiah (Matt. 27:9-10), and so on.
It's silly. It's unnecessary. The ancient writers who carved their words into leather or who dipped their pens into hand-ground ink and bent laboriously over papyruses didn't care whether what they were writing about was factually true. They knew it was spiritually true. Here's our closest modern parallel: Santa Claus does not literally visit more than 6 billion people every Christmas; Santa does not literally exist. But Santa Claus is nevertheless real.
A philosopher/storyteller named Black Elk used to begin a story by saying something like, "I have no idea whether the events in this story actually happened. I only know that it's a true story."
The stories in the Bible were all written to help people understand some aspect of the human relationship with Godde. This is especially easy to notice in the stories in Genesis. The story of Noah, for example, teaches us that horrible natural disasters are always going to happen; that Godde loves the world so intensely that Godde wants to save all of it from disaster, even the mosquitoes; that for that salvation to happen, humans can't just sit on their butts and twiddle their thumbs waiting for mommy and daddy to do all the work; that sometimes you just have to trust Godde even when the world is laughing at you for acting like a crackpot or a moron.
(That last bit, about trusting Godde and so on? That's what the word faith
means. The Greeks used it as a verb. Of someone who lives in absolute trust that
Godde knows what Godde is doing, even when other people snicker or make snotty
remarks, they would say, "she is faithing." In the Christian Testament, Christ tells us that
that's the best way to live.)
In the very, very beginning, Godde decided to create a being in Godde's image. So Godde took four ingredients — solid matter, for the stuff of the Universe; water, for the blood, sweat, and tears of the Universe; fire, for the life and the energy of the Universe, for the warmth into being and the warmth of undoing; and air, for the songs of the Universe and for its very breathing.
And the world was as beautiful as a baby's nursery, the prettiest, safest, nicest nursery that absolutely ever was. There was every kind of flower and fruit, and no insects were annoying, and nothing was dangerous. But Godde knew that this was not the real world. It was a nursery for the new human being. And so, in the middle of the garden, Godde put the most beautiful Tree that ever was. And on this Tree grew the fruits of Wisdom and Understanding, Judgment and Mercy, Beauty and Creativity, Compassion and Conscience, and the whole Tree was called "the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." Or, if you prefer, the Tree of the Knowledge of the Difference between Yin and Yang.
For a while, things were good. The person (in Hebrew, ha'adam, pronounced "ha ah-DAHM") knew the meaning of life was to cherish life, because Godde said so; but the person had no context for understanding what any of those ideas mean. Godde said to the person, "Enjoy these days of childhood while you can. Be innocent, be happy. Eat and drink whatever you want. But understand this: The day you eat from the fruit of that one central Tree, the whole world will change for you, and you'll never be quite so happy again."
Which meant nothing to the infant, of course, who had no idea what words like "happy" or "purely" meant. How can you understand light when you have no grasp of darkness? The word "happy" could have meant "snerkfrizzle," for all the infant knew. It could have meant "dead," or "blorp."
Godde saw that the infant was lonely, and needed a companion, and eventually a community. And so Godde caused the infant to fall into a coma, and Godde split the infant into the man and the woman. (Really this was the boy and the girl, but the new people had the bodies of grown-ups, because even the best-coordinated three-year-old isn't going to be able to beat a sabertoothed tiger. Or a loan shark, for that matter.)
Things went on pretty well. The man and the woman made up names for things, like "aardvark" and "platypus" and "slumgullion." And they learned how to compare. The strawberry was redder than the peach, and the lettuce wasn't as nubbly as the broccoli. The man liked the taste of beer better, and the woman liked the taste of chocolate better.
After a while, the two children couldn't help noticing that the Tree was the most beautiful tree in the Garden. Every tree was beautiful, but the Tree was the most beautiful. Every tree bore food that was good to eat, and so the Tree must also have the best food. Hadn't Godde made it the best? Hadn't Godde put it in the center of the Universe? If Wisdom and Compassion come from Godde, mustn't wisdom and compassion be good things?
The children had no way of knowing that to attain wisdom, you must have firsthand experience with evil, wrongdoing, and sheer stupidity, and to attain compassion, you must have firsthand knowledge of suffering. What is evil? What is suffering? The children had no idea. All that they knew was that all the trees were beautiful, and all the trees bore fruit that was good to eat. The Tree was the most beautiful, so its fruit must taste the best. The children had learned how to reason, but they didn't yet know that if you don't have all the facts, you can easily reason your way to the wrong conclusion.
So they talked it over. The woman reminded the man that Godde hadn't seemed to want her to eat from the Tree, back when the two of them had been the one person. Godde had used the word "happy," or maybe it was "snerkfrizzle," or "die." Who knew?
But the man had noticed that when he was especially adventurous and daring, the woman seemed to like it, and this made him feel good, although he didn't have the ideas for any of these words yet.
And so the children decided to consult Godde about it. And Godde said, "No, eating from the Tree won't actually kill you. I'm not the kind of Parent who leaves poison lying around near a crawling baby. It's the Tree of everything that makes a person good, knowing what injustice is and why it's wrong, knowing what suffering is and why it must be relieved, knowing why selfishness and greed and pride aren't as much fun as creativity and joy and playfulness."
Most of these concepts were gibberish to the children, including "it won't kill you." Remember, death hadn't been invented yet. But they understood that eating from the Tree would make them more like Godde, and Godde is the best and most wonderful Being there ever can be. So they went ahead and ate of the fruit of the Tree.
One instant they were happy, and the next instant, they were sick for the first time in their lives — sick with shame and guilt at their first confrontation with the very ideas of intentionally hurting someone else, of grabbing all the good stuff and hogging it to yourself, taking whatever you wanted no matter who it belonged to, using other human beings as if they were things.
Sick with shame and guilt, the man and the woman huddled together behind a bush — lay in each other's arms and wept. The dog howled. The cat crept into a corner and hid.
And Godde had Compassion on the two suffering children, and Godde blessed them.
To the woman, Godde said, "You will be beautiful, and your man will desire you, and you will desire him. And you will be able to bring forth and nurture new life, as I do, and it will be very good. But it will be hard work, because new life is an achievement, and all achievement is worth working for."
And to the man, Godde said, "The world can be a dangerous place, and there are going to be times when your partner is going to be pregnant or busy with your babies, and they will need you to protect them and take care of them. Every child needs both a mommy and a daddy, teachers, protectors, role models to show the child what love is all about. But being a good parent will be hard work, because celebrating life is an achievement, and all achievement is worth working for."
And to both of them, Godde said, "I made you out of earth, air, fire, and water, so that you would know the joy of being alive. But part of what makes life precious instead of boring is that it eventually ends, and you return to the great stream of being. And so you will eventually return to the earth, the air, the fire, the water from which you came, and to the great stream of being that never dies."
And the man named the woman Life, because she could have babies. And the woman named the man Humanity, because you can't appreciate life without being human, and you can't appreciate being human without being alive. (As Yeats said, "O body swayed to music, O quickening glance, / how can we tell the dancer from the dance?") The Hebrew words for Humanity and Life are Adam and Eve. They are the eternal partners, the yang and yin, the peace and the love, the justice and the compassion.
No matter how bad your suffering gets, it is good, because it is part of being alive — and life is the greatest blessing there is.