Whether you regard the book of Genesis as the written word of God, or simply as a collection of stories passed down through the ages, it is undeniable that it contains an astounding amount of wisdom. No literature could have survived for more than 4,500 years without it conveying basic truths that generations have found relatable.
The first four chapters are particularly important. Chapters 1 and 2 describe the creation of the world and mankind’s place in it. The teachings within these passages regarding human nature and individual consciousness gave rise to some of the most enlightened and advanced societies in the history of humankind, and form the cornerstone of Western civilisation.
In 1:26, God says: ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals.’
This passage is critical for two reasons. Firstly because it claims mankind is in some way divine. As a result of this divinity, each of us has moral value and an equal right to exist. Like God, we have free will and the ability to change reality (for better or worse) by making decisions that alter our future, and those of others.
This understanding of human consciousness forms the foundation of Western legal systems: the individual’s sovereignty must be respected and all are equal under the law. Wrongdoers should be held accountable for their behaviour, because individuals (and not ‘society’) are responsible for their actions.
Secondly, it states that man was made to ‘rule’. This does not mean we have the authority to do as we please, but that we each have a responsibility not only to look after ourselves, but to manage our surroundings and help others less fortunate.
According to Genesis, mankind therefore has both free will, and as a direct consequence, the responsibility to use it ethically. These virtues are fundamentally intertwined. The less freedom we have, the less responsibility we maintain for ourselves, the less able we are to act morally. Freedom and morality are therefore inextricably linked.
Chapter 3 goes on to describe ‘the fall’ and gives a very plausible account of human nature. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve are safe. They have everything they could possibly desire. The only thing they are forbidden to do by God is to eat from the tree of knowledge. Yet when Eve was tempted by the snake and saw that ‘the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it’ (3:6).
This accurately describes how humanity is not only instinctively curious and knowledge-seeking, but that we are completely incompatible with utopian ideals. People crave the stability and security of the Garden of Eden, but also pursue chaos and excitement. Without learning and experiencing new things, our lives lose meaning. The monotony of utopia makes its prospect distinctly dystopian. We seem innately programmed to seek experiences outside the safe, regulated confines of a system created and imposed by others (no matter how perfect). Consequently, idealistic attempts to inflict conforming ideals on human beings can only ever lead to oppression and violence.
If this very credible, age-old understanding of human nature is correct, it is difficult to see how Socialism – or any value system which restricts individual liberty and responsibility – is in any way compatible with what it is to be human.
Tomorrow George Maggs considers Genesis and Socialism further.