Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who knows where mythology leaves off and history begins–or which id which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom–Lucifer.
I am not up on all of the commentators of Genesis 3, but I am unaware of any commentator who takes the line that James Jordan takes on the two trees in the Garden of Eden. All commentators, of which I am aware, concentrate on the sin of Adam and Eve in their disobedience to the explicit commandment of God to not eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and of the consequences for the first pair and for the human race. Bonhoeffer for example, in his Ethics emphasizes that since eating of the tree, and coming into a knowledge of good and evil, we have become a people of divided soul, and that the original unity of the world and of human action has been lost. This culminates in the Scribes and the Pharisees, who he terms as “men of conscience.” He emphasizes that in Jesus, there is a recovery of this original unity that is very striking as Jesus knows God, and all of His action springs from that.
All of this strikes me as true and valid. But it leaves some questions unanswered. Keil and Delitzsch struggle with the inherent difficulty but, it seems to me never completely successfully answer the discomfort they feel. Was the human race ever intended at all to know “good and evil”? Keil and Delitzsch affirm that they were, but would have come to this knowledge by persevering in obedience to the prohibition. In some way, humanity would then have become so knowledgeable. But, this seems a bit odd. The knowledge of good and evil is exactly what was forbidden, and they imagine the Tree to remain forever beyond bounds.
Jordan’s answer is that the Tree of Knowledge is forbidden only temporarily. This is a simple, but common sense solution that has backing in biblical foundation. Many things are not wrong or bad in and of themselves, but are a matter of timing. Jordan asks simple questions to make the point. “Is sex wrong? No, but someone wanting sex at age thirteen outside of marriage is committing a sin.” If my twelve year old son comes to me and says, “Hey Pop, can I have the keys to the car? I have a hot date tonight,” Nothing wrong either with driving a car, or a “hot date” in and of themselves, but it is only if I am crazy that I will not say “No!” to my twelve year old. In five or six years, the request is not necessarily a bad request. Likewise biblically, the desire to see God is not evil, but in this world is “too soon.” Here we know God by means of the ear. The Beatific Vision is reserved for the hereafter, and in trying to fulfill that desire now leads straight to idolatry. Nor, was it wrong for Israel to want a king. The Law made just such a provision (Deuteronomy 17:14-20) But Israel sinned in wanting a king too soon in both the case of both Gideon, and of Saul, and for that matter, of Jesus who could only be enthroned following his resurrection (John 6:15).
The question as to whether humanity was meant to come to the knowledge of good and evil is an unsettled question in the history of dogma. Let me suggest the inadequacy and incompleteness of our answer to this has been pernicious and has itself borne bad fruit.
The real occasion for the development of the perniciousness to develop was all around literary criticism of Milton’s Paradise Lost.
A line of questioning and criticism was begun by William Blake, was taken forward by Percy Shelly, and became almost the standard in the whole of the Romantic Movement. Satan, it was noticed, was far and away the most luminous of all characters in the great epic poem. God apparently only wanted humanity to remain eternal children, obedient, obsequious, and unquestioning. How uninteresting and how apparent that God was a boring tyrant who ought to be rebelled against. Satan was a far more interesting character, and he only invited them to taste of the fruit in order for them to become, for the first time, truly human. It was obvious that God did not want mature and independent beings, but rather little obedient ciphers. Maturity was to be found in rebellion, and the fall was a “fall upward” into complete humanity. God was an oppressor, and must be opposed. Paradise Lost was turned on its head.
There is a long and interesting history of interpretation from that time to this. But what is clear is that Blake and the Romantics struck a chord. Is it possible to be fully human if one does not have the knowledge of good and evil?
There is also a long line of influence from the Romantics to Leftist thinkers, not the least of which is Karl Marx. This line can be seen in carrying through in the above quotation that is taken from the fly page of Alinsky’s famous Rules For Radicals. The Establishment, the Man, the Capitalist are simply the latest participants in the role of Jehovah in Paradise Lost. Maturity, justice, and equity are all to be found in rebellion.
The great difficulty that Leftist theorists and practitioners are up against, from Marx to Alinsky, is what happens if they and their protagonists win? From Lenin to Obama, this becomes an insoluble dilemma. They now themselves become the new Establishment. They have no doctrine of authority that does not see authority as oppressive and inherently evil. The only “solution” to this dilemma is to promote “eternal revolution,” endless chaos and endless opposition. But one reaches, inevitably a point, where chaos would only be completely destructive and there will be nothing left to rule.
If Jordan is correct, then the ambiguities of the doctrine of the two trees are resolved. The “pernicious doctrine” is avoided. The calling of the human race was not to remain eternal and unquestioning children, but were indeed from the beginning, meant to grow up into rulers who did judge between good and evil. They were meant to “graduate” to the second tree.
I am positing that Jordan is correct, and his answer is the best I know of. The heart of Leftism is not answered, or answerable apart from it. And, this ambiguity in Christian doctrine leaves one in the uncomfortable position of having certain sympathy with Blake, Shelley, Marx, and Alinsky. Jordan gives an answer, and it should be developed.