Kass Chapter 2-3
Kass advocates treating the two creations narratives as two completely separate stories, each of which illuminates a different facet of human nature and its relation to God. What is the effect of placing the first narrative first? Would the effect of the story be different if the order of the two narratives were reversed?
In his discussion of Eve's conversation with the serpent, Kass speaks of the ability of human language and reason to distort our perceptions in order serve our own interest, to claim ownership, and to create hypothetical situations that negate received commands. How does this view of language contrast with the view of language given in the first creation narrative? How do we reconcile this view of language with the fact that it is written language that is our primary source of revelation?
Romans 5:18-19 reads: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” Paul frames the Garden story as a matter of obedience versus disobedience. Because Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s command, they were punished with death, and we inherit a fallen nature. Kass, by contrast, frames the story as a gradual awakening of human nature, with its glories as well as its problems. Can we reconcile these two views? What evidence supports each?
Kass’s description of the tree of knowledge and the “rise” of man treats as problematic the human power of choice, the power of reason to divide and classify, the power of imagination. Yet these are the aspects of the human being that we most often celebrate. Does Genesis take an ambivalent view of human nature? Does a Christian viewpoint offer a different perspective on the human being?
John Milton would likely be disappointed to find that the figure of Satan is absent in Kass’s explanation of Gen. chapter 2. What do we think of the omission of this character? What do the tree and serpent represent in Kass’s view? Is this interpretation compatible with Christian theology?
What is your definition of shame? According to Kass, why does awareness of oneself as a sexual inevitably being lead to shame? Is shame a necessary ingredient in any romantic love that does not consist merely of lust?
How is the creative power of language a mirror of God’s creative power, and how does human desire corrupt that power?
What do you think about this quote: “Like every truly great story, it seeks to show us not what happened (once) but what always happens, what is always the case. Like every truly great story, its truth may lie not so much in its historical or even philosophical veracity as in its effects on the soul of the reader.”
What do you think about approaching Genesis 2 by thinking about the “proto-human” adam?
Does Kass’s account of the “rise” of man show the doctrine of “free will,” central to so many theodicies, to be an illogical self-contradiction? (In other words, does the very idea of rationality / autonomy always already entail a turn away from God, so that to create a rational creature with free will is necessarily to create a being that will choose to lean on itself rather than its Creator? Kass seems to think so – I’m not so sure he’s correct. See esply p. 95)
There’s a tension between Kass’s account of the “fall” on p. 65 (where we see very clearly the limits of human reason; man's decision to live by his own lights, w/o dependence on a higher authority, is ultimately a choice of self-destruction) and the “rise” on pp. 89-96 (where man’s choice to live by his own lights, rather than in obedient relationship to God, engenders all the complex, painful goods of civilization: arts and crafts, ornament, agriculture, interest in God, religion). It seems to me that Kass too hastily glosses over the problem of “the limitations of human reason and its (our) dependence on a higher source” (p. 96) in his account of the “rise,” and that his alternatives of Edenic puerility, with all its unthinking desire, versus post-Edenic civilization, with all its awesome complexity and depth and adulthood, are way too simple.
So here are my questions:
Can we imagine more alternatives than Kass does in our reading of the passages before and after the “fall” – in other words, can we imagine the development of reason and the maturation of the human mind *in obedience to God*, or (another way of phrasing my first question) does rationality necessitate grounding one’s being in the self and its assessments rather than in God’s authority?
Does God’s warning against freedom and autonomy demand theism and negate Kass’s wisdom project?
On p. 57, Kass maps the differences between the two creation stories onto the “two utterly disjoined aspects of our world,” the “metaphysical-cosmological” and “the moral-political.” This relates directly, I think, to some of our previous conversations about ethics. What implications does the text’s separation of “the metaphysical-cosmological” from the “moral-political” have for our ideas about civilization, law, public policy, etc? Historically societies haven’t always recognized this clean division (think divine right monarchy). Does this separation justify Christian pragmatism?
On Kass’s dual treatment of knowledge / freedom as the source of humanity’s fall and its rise: what is the significance to Kass’s argument of humanity’s Genesis 2 & 3 knowledge being “autonomous,” “natural,” “uninstructed” (64)? (Note: Part I of this book is subtitled “The Uninstructed Ways” Part II is “Educating the Fathers”; maybe this tells us where he is headed?)
The presence of God in the text decreases dramatically from the first to the second creation story. Kass’s reading of the second story is then very strongly anthropological – concerned with sorting out characteristics of humans. Do we have to read it that way, or is there a way to put anthropology and theology together as we read this story?
Does our sexuality “consitute our humanity” (89 and elsewhere)?
On the bottom of 116 Kass points out that God's pronouncement to Adam ends by reminding the man that he will return to his beginning - the dust. God’s pronouncement to Eve is parallel; she will return via her desire to her husband and be ruled over. As a very loose riff on this: how does what we understand about our origins as gendered humans inform our understanding of our ends or goals as regards gender?
Should we read the first few chapters of Genesis as “a descriptive and realistic picture of human nature” or as “a normative and idealistic one” (100)? At the top of p. 99, Kass argues that the Garden of Eden story “does not offer moral teaching on human sexuality; neither does it present a picture of the ideal relations between man and woman.” By contrast, Roman Catholic theology of the body grounds its sexual ethics – and particularly its emphasis on abstaining from the use of contraceptives – in a close reading of the creation stories and the Garden of Eden story. [Although, IMHO Kass *does* derive a normative sexual ethic from Genesis – see bottom of p. 121 / top of p. 122.]
The original Adam is gender-indifferent / androgynous, and God creates woman in response to a deficiency that God perceives (“it is not good for the man to be alone”). What does the story of God’s creation of woman (in response to observing Adam’s solitude as “not good”) tell us about the nature / character of God? “Sexual shame becomes the mother of invention, art, and new modes of cooperative sociality; note well, it is not the woman alone who sews. If the needle is the first tool, clothing is the first product, and hiding is the first goal of art” (109). Discuss.
“Human self-consciousness is radically sexual self-consciousness” (89). Discuss.
As a famous bio ethicist, Kass' conducts a well-developed and thought-provoking anthropological reading of Genesis 2 and 3. By contrast, his theological reflections are sparse and leave much to be desired (note his brief descriptions of God's actions on pp. 58, 63, 54, 66, 67...) Another bible study member raised the following question: "Should we read the first few chapters of Genesis as 'a descriptive and realistic picture of human nature' or as 'a normative and idealistic one' (100). I'd like to expand the question by asking us to reflect on what these chapters tell us about God's nature. How do the two creation narratives, as two distinct stories, illumine aspects of God's nature and why did the Biblical redactors choose incorporate both within the canon of scripture?
The 18th Century Enlightenment appears to have influenced Kass' understanding of human freedom (64-66). For him, human freedom and autonomy seem to be synonymous. By contrast, Karl Barth (in one of last week's readings) defined freedom differently. For him, true human freedom occurs when the Christian acknowledges that they are a "creature" and not the "Creator" (p. 155, Barth). "To be wholly and unreservedly under the lordship of God, to be wholly and unreservedly a creaturely subject, is not in any sense a constraint, a misfortune, an outrage or a humiliation for the man who as a Christian can see actualised in Jesus Christ both the lordship of God and also the subordination of the creature... If the relation between the Creator and the creature is the relation which he can see in Jesus Christ, then existence in this relation is the existence which is to be truly desired, an existence in the highest possible freedom and felicity" (pp. 156, 157, Barth). I'm hoping that this theological definition of human freedom will help us to find alternatives to Kass' reading of the "fall" and "rise," and consequently enable us to envision how reason and the mind can be developed in obedience to God.
Kass interprets the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad as symbolic of rational, free choice: "the knowledge prohibited is in fact the knowledge implied in violating all prohibitions, or in other words, the knowledge implied in any act of free choice." (p. 65, and throughout) How do we reconcile this reading with Christian understandings of sin? Is a traditional Christian narration of the fall in tension with or complementary to Kass's reading?
Related to question 1: Kass, on pp. 38-39 explains the image of God in humankind chiefly in terms of rationality. Yet it is rational choice that he sees displayed when Eve partakes of the apple. Does the text really support such a reading? And is such a reading Christian?
Kass claims that the sewing together of fig leaves is representative of the human "disposition to art" (p. 90, also elsewhere). Is it proper to view these first garments as an artistic enterprise? And how does this very human-centered reading of the fig girdles fit with God's provision of garments when He expels A&E from the Garden?