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September 7, 2014

I’ve been reading Brook Wilensky-Lanaford’s enjoyable and detailed Paradise Lust, about the modern search for a physical Garden of Eden. It’s interesting that the story revolves around the 19th century and its aftermath. This was a very strange transitional time in the relationship between science, history, and religion. The importance (and practicality) of proving the stories from the Bible were real, literal history seems new, or at least newly resurgent. 

While I am not an expert in history, or religion, or the history of religion, or the religion of history, this is the internet, so I I feel free to speculate. My guess is that we are seeing a hang over of sorts from the Enlightenment and the Age of Exploration. While men traipsing off in search of legends was nothing new, by the 19th century the map had been more or less filled in. The great explorers of this time had only the past left to challenge them. Some saw this as an opportunity. These men were seized with the notion that, the word map being the height of mankind’s achievement, surely Eden was somewhere right under their noses. 

Some pointed to the areas of map still left unexplored at that time, while others looked in locations of varying degrees of obviousness. But one explanation I didn’t see anyone mention is the possibility that Eden was just a story.

Somewhere along the way, Western Christendom seems to have completely lost the idea of the allegory. Maybe it was never there to begin with. Pedantry is a hallmark of religion (Paradise Lust describes one group of Protestants as being persecuted for believing that new members should be baptized face first, rather than bending backwards). But this seemed different. Suddenly the tools of science were being used to marry fact and religion. New theories came as easily from the halls of Oxford as from midwestern preachers. The distance between the two narrowed to unprecedented proportions. 

We still haven’t learned to balance the competing needs of religion and science. It does not speak well of ours as a culture that something like the Creation Museum exists. Before we can truly get a grasp of fact, we need to learn to accept fiction. 

Categories: Uncategorized
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