An old tickler from many years ago is about the day a gaggle of theologians were confronted by a layman with a simple question: “Did Adam and Eve have navels?” The initial consensus answer was no. But, the layman objected, that doesn’t square with the notion that the first man and woman were the models for the rest of us. Surely God would not have created parents for Mankind who differ from their children in such an obvious way! The uproar over the question lasted for the rest of the meeting.
You can get really dizzy over stuff like that. Here’s another: Before the Fall, did Adam and Eve have sex? Or functioning reproductive systems? The story of the Fall has sexual implications. Also, wasn’t death one of the consequences of the Fall?
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” [Genesis 2:17]
We also have the reference to “the tree of life,” which, if Adam and Eve were to eat of it, would enable them to live forever:
And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life. [Genesis 3:22-24]
There are a few inconsistencies in the above. However, they needn’t give you agita unless you regard the whole of the Bible, Genesis included, as factually exact and accurate in all particulars. The inconsistencies make it far more likely that Genesis is allegorical in nature. The same is true for certain other passages in the Old Testament.
But if Genesis is allegorical, whence cometh this notion of original sin? Wasn’t that a bequest from Adam and Eve? If Adam and Eve are merely figures in an allegory about the origin of life on Earth, including human life, then original sin must have some other meaning. Once again, if we recur to allegory as an explanation for the tension here, a solution can be found. However, it continues to give Old Testament literalists a severe headache.
Many questions of the sort above are put to Christian believers by those who scoff at our faith. Among my reasons for writing my particular brand of fiction is to explore tensions of this sort through the eyes and voice of a priest – my character Father Raymond Altomare, pastor of Onteora County – who is both deeply devout and an unusually intelligent, critical thinker. Regardless of what atheists may think, there are many such persons in the Catholic clergy – far more of them than many an outsider would credit.
A church of any sort is perforce a conservative institution. It exists to conserve and promulgate a set of doctrines. If some doctrines formed early in the church’s existence are later shown to be incorrect, the church will undergo stress. While admitting to error is often necessary, no one actually likes having to do so, and churches are at the extreme end of that preference.
One consequence of that special tension is a decades or centuries-long process of de-emphasizing the disproven teachings of previous eras. If sufficiently protracted, this allows older believers to fade away with their original catechesis intact, while younger believers arise and accept the doctrines as modified by more recent discoveries. Again, the atheist hardliner will often present this as evidence against religious belief as such. (Not that atheists are ever wrong about anything, mind you!) In truth, it’s both protection for the church and an act of mercy toward those who were incorrectly instructed.
A church is a human institution. Yes, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, too. It was founded by the Son of God, but He left it in human hands. Therefore, it can be wrong about some things, and on occasion, it has been. That’s Mankind for you.
The Catholic Church has indulged in that protracted-deemphasis process about a few subjects. As it has happened before, it could happen again. The sole exclusions are the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the four canonical Gospels. The Gospel records are magnificently well confirmed by several thousand discovered and verified copies, plus accounts from secular sources. No other ancient document has been as extensively researched and verified. But the teachings of fallible mortal men are a quite different matter. That’s why we’re equipped with individual consciences: the facility by which we acquire direct knowledge of good and evil, unmoderated and unmodified by other human voices.
Herewith, a snippet from my current novel-under-construction:
“Good evening, Father,” Larry murmured.
Ray smiled. “Come on in, folks.” He ushered them into the sitting room and waved them toward the little sofa while he went to fetch coffee.
Now we’ll see if I’m really fit to teach the Faith.
“Tonight’s lesson will be a little different from the previous ones,” Ray said as he arrayed mugs and a carafe on the coffee table. “Fountain, have you been thinking about the Commandments?”
Fountain’s demeanor was expectant. “I have, Father.”
“Have they got you wondering about anything? Something that God maybe didn’t mention when He gave them to Moses?”
“I have, Father.”
Ray cocked an eyebrow. “Well?”
“Aren’t there more bad things people can do to one another than just the ones God listed on the tablets?”
Ray nodded. “Yes,” he said. “There are. But Moses and the Hebrews were at the beginning of many things. They’d just come out of captivity, and they had just begun a long journey. They would spend many years thinking and discussing the Commandments and why they’re the right rules for Mankind. Some of what was on them, they already knew and understood from their own history. Some, God wanted them to think hard about, for a long time.” He grinned. “He might have meant it as a kind of learning exercise, like what you and I have been doing.”
Her face clouded. “But a lord should fully disclose his will to his slaves. How else are they to know how he wishes to be served?”
Ray glanced at Larry. The security specialist’s gaze was intense. He was plainly as eager for the answer as his ward.
“That, dear one, is the big question, the one that keeps people like me up at night reading, and thinking, and wondering.” Ray sat back and steepled his hands against his chest. “I think I know the answer, but I want you to try to find it for yourself. Here’s a starter question, the one that got me started: when the Hebrews finally reached Judea, their promised land, did their lives change?”
“Well, did they become more complicated, or less?”
Fountain didn’t answer at once. Larry became maximally attentive.
“They became more complicated, did they not?” Fountain said at last.
Ray nodded. “They did. They had homes to build, land to cultivate, roads to chart through the wilderness, cities and towns to establish and markets where they could trade with one another, a whole new society to construct. It meant more ways for people to deal with one another. A lot more ways they could do one another good…or evil.
“God knew that ten Commandments wouldn’t cover all of it,” he said. “But there are commandments behind the Ten Commandments. Ultimate rules that unite the Commandments and all the other rules that people must live by, if we’re to live in obedience to God and in peace with one another. Even though He didn’t include them on Moses’s tablets, He sort of whispered them through the Ten Commandments themselves.
“We call those big rules the Great Commandments. There are only two of them, and they seem really simple. But they imply everything else that we have to know to get along well with one another…to have peaceful lives and a peaceful, happy society. All we have to do is think about them…but with a special part of our minds.”
Ray propped his chin upon his steepled fingers and smiled.
Now we’ll see if I really have what it takes to do this.
Larry was looking at him curiously. Fountain’s face had filled with excitement and the anticipation of discovery.
“Father,” she said after a moment’s silence, “will you tell me the Great Commandments?”
Ray turned pointedly to Larry. “I’m sure your lord can tell us.”
This is your moment to shine, big guy.
“You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, and your whole soul, and your whole mind,” he said hoarsely, “and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Ray smiled and nodded. “Jesus’s very words. And which special part of our minds do we use to apply the Great Commandments?”
“The conscience,” Larry croaked.
“Exactly.” Ray said. He returned his gaze to Fountain.
The young futa’s attention seemed to be elsewhere. Her eyes were unfocused, and her lips were slightly parted. Yet she was plainly in no discomfort.
Theologians of fifty years’ experience still contemplate the Great Commandments and what they require of us. A twenty year old girl deserves a few moments of silence to kickstart the process.
Larry’s hand moved toward Fountain’s and clasped it. Fountain returned the clasp. The grip looked very tight.
“Father,” Fountain said, “who is my neighbor?”
Thank You, God.
“Anyone who comes near you, dear. Anyone who comes into your life. That’s what the word means.”
Her gaze sharpened. “How do I love my neighbor as myself? And what does it mean to think with my conscience?”
“Neither one is hard,” Ray said, “You turn your attention inside you, and you ask yourself some questions. Suppose you were thinking of doing something to your lord. The first question to ask yourself is ‘Would this hurt him?’ The second one is ‘Would he want me not to do this?’ And the third, which might be the most important of all, is ‘Am I being selfish?’”
“I could never hurt my lord,” the futa whispered.
Ray nodded. “I know you wouldn’t do so intentionally, dear. He knows too. But there are things you might do that could upset him. Especially if you were to do them without asking him first.”
He hunched forward. “You, Fountain, are unique. I know there are other futanari, even some who were trained as you were, but there are none exactly like you, with powers like yours, a lord as special as yours, or a home and family as special as yours. That will make loving your neighbor as you love yourself a special challenge. You must practice using your conscience, carefully and consistently. After a while you’ll find it easier to remember to do so, but it will never be automatic.”
Larry emitted a long sigh. Some hidden tension seemed to have released him from its grip.
“Do you understand, Fountain?” Ray said.
“I do, Father.” She smiled. “You were right. It’s not hard.”
And it is not.
May God bless and keep you all.
Love cannot be commanded. It must be given voluntarily. Too, love implies feelings of deep affection, a special place in the heart of the one who loves.
I remember coming across “Love the Lord your God…”, and thinking how can this be possible? It seemed as illogical as being asked to taste the color blue. God is remote and abstract. It’s hard enough to love a person, but God?
Over the years I’ve made a (if not the) connection. I can look at the biggest of big pictures, and see the universe, from the infinitesimal to the infinite, as more wondrous and beautiful than I have the capacity to appreciate. I can look at my own life as a human being here on Earth, and be absolutely bowled over at how marvelous the experience has been (well, mostly). I can read the Gospels, and try to wrap my mind around the incarnation, and all that followed. I can look at God the Creator, and feel such an outpouring of gratitude that I can now say that I have that love for God.
But as to my neighbor? Perhaps I’m splitting a hair, here, but the commandment is to love my neighbor, not “like” my neighbor. I can take this part to mean that I keep the Commandments with the stranger, as I would with my beloved. Even if I dislike my neighbor intensely, I will not bear false witness against him. I will not murder, steal from, or cheat him. I will not commit adultery with his spouse. God may ask us to do what is extremely difficult; He would not ask the impossible.