As educated people, we’re encouraged to face truths about the world. Often, horrible truths. There are people in Syria who set out in plastic boats to travel across oceans because the fear of drowning is less than the fear of staying where they are. Hundreds of people in Alamance County don’t have enough food to eat.
We must face this knowledge, however painful it is. This is the point of being educated. It’s also why our culture is wrong in the way it perceives Eve’s fall from grace. Because if grace equals ignorance, I don’t want any part of it.
The serpent in the Garden of Eden tells Eve that when she eats the forbidden fruit “[her] eyes will be open, and [she] will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).
Genesis says the serpent deceives her, but what he says is true. He leads her to disobey God, but if somebody were regulating my experience so I was unaware of a huge component of existence, I wouldn’t want to obey them.
Prince Siddhartha, who becomes the Buddha, spends the beginning of his life surrounded by wealth, sheltered from knowledge of death and poverty. When one day he escapes to the surrounding village, he witnesses suffering for the first time and is stunned such experience exists.
Siddhartha dedicates his life to finding an end to suffering. Through this work, he becomes enlightened. If Siddhartha had stayed in his palace, unaware of evil, he wouldn’t have become enlightened. He wouldn’t have become Buddha. It is through facing the reality of good and evil that we make progress toward self-actualization.
If Eve hadn’t eaten from the tree of knowledge, she would’ve lived forever, unaware of the existence of evil. What’s the point in being alive if we don’t know what that entails? What’s the reason for living if not to augment the good of the world in attempts to balance out the evil?
If good and evil exist, I want to know. I want to know about the world around me. All of it. Even if it’s painful. Especially because it’s painful. This is the point of education.
Eve speaks in Ansel Elkins’s poem “Autobiography of Eve,” “Let it be known: / I did not fall from grace. / I leapt / to freedom.” Knowledge sets us free. Knowledge makes us citizens of the world. Knowledge is what truly saves us.
In Genesis 3:6, Eve eats the fruit because it’s “desirable for gaining wisdom.” Gaining wisdom is the ultimate goal of living. In that case, Eve is a hero. Eve is a trailblazer. Eve did not damn us when she ate the forbidden fruit: she saved us.
Emily DeMaioNewton is a multi-faith intern at the Truitt Center.