the age of innocence
June 9, 2013 Leave a comment
Innocence is usually portrayed as a virtue, or at least as a good thing to have, a sad thing to lose.
But I think J.M. Barrie was on to something when he ended Peter Pan with these words: "and thus it will go on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless."
That chilled me the first time I read it, as did several scenes in the novel.
I think the authors of the book of Genesis had a similar ambivalence toward the prelapsarian ideal. What does the first man, so called, say when God confronts him with his newly acquired knowledge of good and evil? Does he take responsibility? Does he protect his woman?
Genesis 3:12: And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.
It’s not my fault, God. It’s her fault. And really, since you gave her to me, it’s kinda your fault, too.
The story tells us that Eve came from Adam’s rib. Clearly, there was no backbone involved.
Genesis 3:13: And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
Don’t blame me, God. Blame the snake!
The Bible is full of terrible role models for children. The book of Genesis might be the worst, but I’ve never shared in Christendom’s cultural condemnation of the agents of Original Sin. The whole thing feels like a setup from "In the beginning … " (OK, maybe not from Genesis 1:1, but certainly by Genesis 2:9!)
So I’ve been pretty slow to blame the first couple, but reading these passages with my six-year-old son this morning, I felt angry at their spinelessness.
Then it occurred to me: Adam and Eve aren’t just innocents; they’re children. How could they be anything else? Taking responsibility takes character, and character takes experience.
Innocence is neither moral nor immoral; it’s amoral. To long for innocence is to spurn morality, to yearn for freedom from responsibility. "Don’t blame me" is, in fact, the perfect expression of innocence.
The King James Version says that God formed "man" from the dust of the ground, but don’t these passages make more sense with a little editing:
And the LORD God formed a boy of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the boy became a living soul.
And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from the boy, made he a girl, and brought her unto the boy.