The Red Delicious Incident
This piece originally appeared in And/Both magazine. And/Both is one of the most beautiful publications I've ever seen, and, Bonus: It's produced by three of my favorite genius artist/writer/queens, Libby Monaghan, Kalene Nisly, and Jennifer Randall. Check it out, buy all the copies, and, if you're an artist, writer, poet, or creatrix, follow them so you can submit your amazing work every few months.
Before you go on, I need to tell you something.
This is the first piece I ever wrote that delves into the Myth of Original Sin. I know it might sound weird that I would spend time on this topic - it's not a businessy thing, it has nothing to do with nonprofits - what does it have to do with anything, really??
Oh. It has everything to do with everything.
I truly have come to believe that the Myth of Original Sin is one of the most damaging, stunting, violent stories that undergirds the theology of monotheistic religions. It is particularly pervasive in the faith tradition I grew up in, Christian Evangelicalism.
I was writing this piece on Great Lies - and, I didn't mean for it to happen, but it just came out. And I went with it.
So, I've been sitting on this since last summer, thinking maybe one day, if I got brave enough, I'd republish the whole thing on my blog. But I was kind of nervous about it.
I was terrified. The truth is, I have been staying quiet about the truth about me and my religious evolution. I talk about it only in the abstract - when I talk about Leave in Love, for instance, I mention that I left my marriage, my church, my religion...but I don't go into it.
I think part of me still doesn't want to disappoint my Christian friends. I think part of me still thinks I can change things "from the inside" - or at least...the inside-ish.
But...that's not true. It's not my job to go back for the others (another blog post for another day). It's my job to stand on the other side of the wall, shining a big, giant light so people who are ready to move into a different place can come join me. And this has to do with change of any kind. I'm not here to deconvert anybody. I'm just here to make it safe for people who don't fit into a belief system anymore to create their own path of spirituality. For me, I had rejected the Myth of Original Sin years - I mean, years - before I finally realized I was no longer a Christian. There just came a moment when I finally let go of that label, because my theology had shifted so much (also another blog post for another day).
So, I invite you to read this, take what you will, and see how it applies to you and your life. What Great Lies are sticking with you? What does the Myth of Original Sin tell you about yourself? That you are inherently bad? That you are separate from God/Source and need some kind of redemption? That you can never be good enough? Maybe you can release these beliefs as they apply to you. Perhaps you can find a way to let go of that and live a happier, fuller life.
Deeeeep breath....here it is.
The Red Delicious Incident
The Great Lie of my life is that I must be perfect, so I might be loved.
We all have a Great Lie, a set of Great Lies, really. Maybe yours is like mine. Maybe yours, like mine, says that no matter what other people do or say to you, you need to respond with perfect patience and understanding. That, when faced with challenges in relationships, you must always be the peacemaker, the one to take the high road, the one to, as my mom would say, “kill them with kindness” or “heap burning coals on their heads.” The latter, a Biblical reference, of course. (You wouldn’t get it unless you were raised with the Bible as your sole teaching text. You had to be there).
Great Lies define for us the reality we experience. They guide our choices. They have more control over our reactions and thoughts and decisions (or lack thereof) than we can ever fully consciously know. And that is why I’m dragging mine out into the light for all to see – but especially for myself to see. I’m so tired of carrying this heavy, slimy thing around with me everywhere I go. I’ve been carrying it so long, it’s almost part of me, embedding itself into my skin and my face and my being – almost. Almost. I’m sure you understand. You have one too.
Last summer, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood published the Nashville Statement, a basic treatise on the things we already know about Evangelical Christianity and what they think about the gays. Surprise! They hate the sin of homosexuality (and now, just to get a little more specific and with it, also transgender identity), but not the sinner. Because they are very surgical about this separation of the sin and the person, at least when it suits their rhetorical needs.
A friend of mine shared a letter of explanation from a clergywoman who has credentials such as a women’s studies degree with a specialty in queer theory. She discusses how she lived as a lesbian, until she met Jesus after an Evangelical fashion. She was told to hate her sin, and so she did. And she walked away from that sinful life of lesbian lust.
I can’t help but imagine where she buried that part of her true self. I can’t help but wonder, in what ways does this repression squish out in unseemly, unhealthy places? It’s not about her – it’s about being human. When we trap ourselves in beliefs and moral systems that are too small to contain the intensity and immensity of all we truly are, we have no choice but to act out in ways small and large. Ask any altar boy. They know all about it. They’ve been touched by it in literal ways when clergy take a vow of celibacy. What happens? That sexuality oozes out in very slimy, damaging ways.
We try to leave behind who we are, and by doing so, we move closer toward becoming self-hating monsters. And we do it so we will be accepted by the flock - s we will be welcomed by the tribe as one of the good ones. We make ourselves smaller so the small-minded will love us.
Our Great Lies come from somewhere. Nobody ever explicitly told me, “Sarai, you are unlovable, except when you are perfect in all the ways.” Rather, I picked it up through observation and implicit modeling. Universal Great Lies – mythologies we use to make sense of the world, especially those tied to moralistic belief systems – feed our personal Great Lies as well. The Universal Great Lie of Original Sin is chief among damaging lies. Original Sin has essentially ruined humanity for much of recorded history. It has been used as a tool to squelch people – especially women and transgender people – and as an instrument of societal control. Mostly, it tells us that humans are born inherently bad, and thus, are in need of salvation from an interloper. It tells us God is separate from us, and a super judgy hothead, to boot. It says we can never be one with God, which is our source, unless we feel like shit about ourselves sufficiently, and eternally.
For the uninitiated, Original Sin goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. The story goes: God creates a perfect world, and puts Adam in it. Then, as a kind of macabre afterthought, he puts Adam under general anesthesia so he can take one of his ribs (why?? God created everything else out of exactly nothing, so why he needed some raw material for this one, I’ll never know) to build a woman out of spare parts. Folks, meet The Helpmeet. What a nice, sweet, humble, submissive helper she is!
Eve, this Helpmeet of ours, is actually a bit feisty, but in a subversive way. I’m not going to lie. I love her defiance.
Eve stretches and yawns for the first time, and Adam regains consciousness. God goes, “Hey, you guys. Look. Here’s this amazing, perfect garden I made for you. It’s small, yes, but it has everything you need in it. Yeah, yeah, there’s a great big huge world out there to explore – but not for you. Y’all just kick it here in the garden, eating the fruit and…oh wait. Um. I need to tell you something. There is this one tree. Don’t eat that shit. You don’t want to know why.”
Eve, being the curious, clever creatrix she is, raises one eyebrow and says in a hushed voice to Adam, “…I kind of do want to know why. Is that bad?” Adam can’t stop staring at her boobs. He doesn’t answer.
God says, from around the corner, “Hey! I heard that!”
One day, Adam is running around, doing I don’t know what (my best guess? Twiddling it), and a snake – a full-on talking serpent – slithers up to Eve.
“What’s up?” He asks.
“Oh, hi, talking snake. I’m just making a daisy chain because I’m so filled with the wonders of this beautiful world around me and it’s so perfect and so amazing and I just am so #blessed I can’t even. You know?” She replies.
The snake looks at her doubtfully. “Really.” He says.
She slowly looks up from her daisy chain, furtively glancing around to make sure Adam and God aren’t lurking around, spying on her, as was their wont.
“Truth be told, talking snake, there is this one thing that’s been bothering me.”
The snake’s snout shifts into a broad grin. “I know, right? It’s that tree, isn’t it?”
Eve, relieved to finally be understood by someone, throws up her hands and shouts, “Thank you! Yes! I know! What is up with that tree??”
The snake says, “Look. It’s just you and me. Ya wanna find out?”
And Eve, eyes twinkling, lips curling into a mischievous grin, nods her head vigorously.
This is where the adorable origin story of humanity gets real serious.
She eats the fruit, and gives some to Adam who wandered by, totally innocently, because, I guess, he’s a dude, which makes him less terrifying, apparently. The fruit, it tastes…just ok. According to the illustrated Bible stories I read as a kid, it’s like, a Red Delicious apple, and the only person I’ve ever met who likes that particular apple variety is my dad. I’m sure she was mildly disappointed.
But disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how God and, as an extension of the masculine, furious God in this particular mythology, Adam, feel about the Red Delicious Incident.
God is so pissed, He (notice, now I’m using the masculine pronoun for the first time, because this, too, is a Universal Great Lie - that God is a dude) throws Adam and Eve out of the garden (Adam, to Eve on this occasion: “Look what you did! This is why we can’t have nice things!”) and tells Eve that she’s going to have menstrual cramps and having babies will hurt. No shit, Sherlock. Pushing a fully formed human baby out your lady bits hurts. Duh.
But that’s not the point. The point is: being a woman is inherently fraught. The point is: being a woman means you are disobedient. You must be broken like a fierce stallion some rich kid wants for their own riding horsey. You must be contained. You must be domesticated. You are dangerous in the wild. You are too free to be heeled…until, after years and years and centuries and millennia and lifetime after lifetime of effort, you are finally silenced and put in your place. You finally understand that you have to be perfect if you want to be loved.
After all, you bleed. You have cramps.
This is evidence of your inherited curse. It is evidence of your inherent badness.
The lies we tell ourselves, the lies we hear from others, and the mythological lies we have internalized don’t have to define our lives, though. We are actually here to discover Truth and live within the freedom of what it represents. It takes some time to wake up to this reality, and some guts to pursue it – and the process of this awakening is painful.
Waking up to the truth that you are OK and lovable no matter what you do or don’t do, or who around you delivers or doesn’t deliver that love to you is something that only happens, I believe, in the crucible of struggle, change, and transformation.
Eve was kicked, unceremoniously, out of the garden. We’ve all been kicked out of proverbial gardens before – or we’ve chosen to open the gate and march out on our own. Or we’ve slowly crept out the gate when nobody was watching and hopped that fence in the dead of night. We leave things we love, people we love or have loved, jobs, habits, beliefs willingly or no. Sometimes, like the once-queer-identified woman I mentioned above, leave behind who we are in favor of a more acceptable skin.
We get to choose what we leave and in what we invest. When we choose to leave our true nature – our beautiful, messy, inherently good (suck it, Original Sin!) nature – we choose to kill a part of ourselves. And when we kill a part of ourselves, we naturally go on the hunt for other people who haven’t done so. We try to kill them too. We want to keep them locked up so they won’t threaten our newfound deadness. We want to make them seem like monsters so we can feel like we belong with someone, somewhere, and these someones who took us into their tribe said the Others are bad. So we go along with it.
What if, instead, we chose to leave the confines of manufactured morality? What if, instead, we rejected the beliefs and ways of being that restrict humanity and attempt to legislate Good Behavior on everyone else?
What if, in leaving, we didn’t find the demons outside the gates of the garden, but instead…we found a garden?