Adam & Eve: Real Talking Snakes

Photo by Maria Orlova on

It’s never easy to admit that I believed Adam and Eve were real people. Or that the Garden of Eden was a real place. Or that a talking snake could be the downfall of humanity. But I did.

Turns out, I believed because I had to.

Unlike the Genesis creation myth, I didn’t feel the need to create any elaborate constructs to tell myself that Adam and Eve existed. Instead, belief operated out of a need to support other beliefs. I grew up in a Lutheran church, so original sin was the doctrine to go to. In a nutshell, the idea is that because Adam and Eve messed up and ate some forbidden fruit, the rest of humanity now has to suffer.

I’m paraphrasing here, but the weight of the idea is immense. If there’s no original sin, then there’s no need for atonement, which means no need for Jesus. The whole house of cards comes crashing down.

Which brings me back to two naked people talking to snakes in their garden. The idea is silly. Who believes that snakes (or serpents, or whatever) could talk to people? The only time I made a mental allowance for talking animals was when it happened in the Old Testament.

It never occurred to me that I was making special allowances for reality. I could read Greek myths and think it was weird how much Zeus got stuff pregnant. Or how Norse myths involved deities that were drunk or stupid or both. At no point did I think I had to start a new temple to whatever myth I heard.

This is a good example of a blind spot.

I’ve talked about the idea a long time ago, when I was first leaving my faith behind. It’s shocking how different something can look after a change in perspective. I still keep thinking I should have known better.

But I was doomed from the start. Before I could tell the difference between ideas and reality, I had people working hard to make Adam and Eve feel real. It got attached to other ideas. Untangling them meant having to go through everything I learned. It meant questioning things knowing that my questions might not get good answers. Worse, it might make people doubt my faith.

To be honest with myself, it wasn’t just Adam and Eve and talking snakes that I believed in. I believed in the fear of it not being true. I believed in the panic of not knowing if I could live in a world without an invisible overlord. And I believed that the stories could bring me comfort if I just accepted them without reservation.

Fear, panic, and the need to be protected from them are real enough. With nobody around who could speak to me on terms I could understand, I had to rely on the bad information I received. The net result is that I believed every person was an unclean sinner in need of magic salvation, all because Adam and Eve ate some forbidden fruit.

I’m not even getting at all the consequences of this belief, either. The story of Adam and Eve is used to justify many other concepts in churches. Gender identity, creation and destruction of physical bodies, and submission of one gender identity to another are just a few of the things off the top of my head. All of this, in reliance of a mythical garden, mythical couple, and mythical talking animals.

So far, the disappointment in myself hasn’t fully gone away. Yes, sometimes it is diminished. But the memories of shame still linger. I have to remember that this shame isn’t warranted. Yes, I believed in something silly, but I was dealing with indoctrination that had been around far longer than I have.

To those who do feel a little embarrassment at the things they used to believe and hold dear, I hope you can find room to forgive yourself.