Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For this deed, they were thrown out of the Garden of Eden. The serpent was the one who told Adam and Eve that if they ate of this fruit, they would be “like God, knowing good and evil.” The original couple ate of the fruit, but did not become like God, nor did it make them wise. When they became aware that they were naked, they sewed clothes from the leaves of the fig tree–a mean substitute for wisdom and godlikeness. We can assume that the tree from which they ate fruit was a fig tree, not an apple tree that is so often depicted in Western art.
God is God, and humans are humans–the two don’t mix except in the Incarnation of the Son of God, fully God and fully man. We must know the limits placed on us by our Creator. These limits are not meant to stymie human discovery and achievement. They are meant to protect us from disaster and tragedy. When humans extend themselves beyond certain boundaries, bad things happen. This is not only a Christian idea. In Greek drama, when the hero in his hubris defies the limits set by the gods, tragedy occurs in his life.
In Frankenstein, the New Prometheus, Mary Shelley tells the story of a man who strays outside the boundaries, bringing tragedy into his life. Victor Frankenstein recklessly fashions a monster that eventually destroys him and all he loved.
God is not central to American society, no matter how favorably we compare ourselves with European countries. We fill the vacuum left by a denial of God. In this way, we have asserted our deity. We have become gods, for the office of god cannot remain empty. We either believe in ourselves or in the true God. The pretense of being divine by those who do not qualify continues on in history. Apparently, some people, especially among the intellectual elite, are comfortable with this state of affairs. It only brings about the inevitable tragedy founded on hubris. We have seen the negative results of the deified state in Communism and Fascism. But, totalitarian government is not the only context where such thinking and acting exist. In recent years, America too has displayed such arrogance, perhaps in less acute form than autocracy. The future bodes ill if we do not change course.
In the movie by Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the surviving astronaut of the space probe meant to search out the meaning of the monoliths finds himself in chambers of white that have some appearance of earthly habitations (Check on line for interview with Kubrick). There he is transformed by godlike beings into an advanced human being, the next evolutionary step. But, these beings are not God, for they too were created. Perhaps, these beings are a preview of what we will be in a billion years. Yet, even then, if the universe is still extent, we will remain creatures of the Creator. We have not brought ourselves into being nor have we conquered death. We are dependent on the Creator. Having feelings of absolute dependence (see Friedrich Schleiermacher), is existentially appropriate for us. Gods we are not, nor ever will be. (Note: Schleiermacher’s theology is not orthodox!)
When we use the Latin derived word create for God’s making us and the universe, we are assuming the meaning is of bringing something into existence out of nothing. When we use the same word for what human beings do, we are not employing it as we do for God. We can not make something out of nothing, neither could the beings in 2001.
It is the Church’s mission to spread the Gospel, a message of peace and salvation that leads us from faith in Christ to love of those around us. The Christian knows the limits and obeys them. When he does not, he takes the consequences, repents, and returns to the limits God has set for him. We do not storm heaven, but await the love of God that brings us blessedness. This is the message about Jesus Christ we are called to share with gentleness and respect.
Michael G. Tavella
November 20, 2021