The Fall of Adam and the Rise of Civilization: Brief Notes on Genesis 1-11

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Date: 
Saturday, 1 January 2011

An excerpt from “Land Sunday,” in The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary. Ed. by N. Habel, D. Rhoads, H. Santmire (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), pp 83-99. 7 pp.

Origin stories matter. They tell us who we are, how we got this way, and what our responsibilities are. They shape meaning and help us order life, for good or for ill. Americans origin stories such as Columbus’ “discovery” of the “New World” or the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock obviously function to legitimate European conquest and settlement of the continent. The modern narrative of evolutionary Progress does the same thing on a broader canvas, asserting that human history since the dawn of Civilization has been a slow but steady climb out of primitive ignorance toward ever-increasing technological, social and economic sophistication. It is a non-negotiable article of faith that our own cosmopolitan complexity is superior to all that has gone before, and that this developmental process was inevitable and is irreversible.

The “primeval history” of Genesis tells a very different origin story, indeed one that contradicts every key aspect of the “salvation story” of Progress. It has for this reason been widely ridiculed in post-Enlightenment modernity as “mythological,” “pre-scientific,” and frankly silly. But “Ascent of Man” (Bronowski) orthodoxy is showing significant signs of strain under the weight of our deepening environmental crisis, nor does it square with recent research into human origins. The “political” reading of Genesis 1-11 offered in brief outline here has, on the other hand, profound implications for ecological theology and Creation spirituality, not to mention the struggle to save the planet.

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by Ched Myers

All articles on this site were written by Ched Myers unless otherwise specified.