Felix Culpa

During the week running up to Halloween the humor site Cracked.com ran a series of articles with horror or Halloween themes, one of these being Adam Tod Brown’s 6 Compelling Reasons to Consider Switching to Satan. This was meant to be humorous, of course, but some of the reasons he gave are worth considering. Brown’s observation that some cultures do not consider a “Devil” figure to be bad was what inspired me to write a recent post on Prometheus.

It is the first reason he gives, number six on the list, that I would like to consider now.

#6. Because He’s Why You Know Things and Ask Questions

Hey! You believe the story of Adam and Eve, right? Just joking, but you at least know it, right? God makes a man and a woman, drops them into the middle of the Garden of Eden, and tells them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. A talking serpent shows up and convinces Eve to ignore that one command and, just like that, we’re all born a bunch of filthy sinners because we possess the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, and all that other fun stuff.

Perfectly reasonable! Anyway, whether he was an actual serpent or not is open for debate if you don’t value your free time much, but most people agree that the “serpent” in question represents Satan. Before he came along, we were built to blindly follow God without ever questioning how or why the things around us happen.

I mean, call me whatever you want for saying it, but that doesn’t sound particularly great to me. I’d honestly rather know some things and make some decisions and, to hear the Bible tell it, Satan is the one who made that possible. Is that really such a bad thing? Well, it depends on who you ask.

Well, as a matter of fact, I do believe the story of Adam and Eve though I will not quibble over whether the story of Genesis ought to be taken literally or as a myth or whether Adam and Eve were real, individual human beings or represented the human race generally. It does not take a particularly keen observer to notice that there is something seriously awry with Homo sapiens. The story of Adam and Eve and the Fall is as good an explanation on how and why we have gone bad as any I have ever heard.

The sentiment that Adam Tod Brown expresses here is close to the theological concept of felix culpa or the fortunate fall. The idea is that it was actually a good thing that Adam and Eve sinned and fell since it led to Christ’s redemption of the human race. Several very important Christian thinkers have explored this concept, including Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, generally in the context of God’s ability to bring good out of evil. I do not believe that the act which led to the fall could be described as being good in itself. Good did come of it, since God can always turn evil into good, but it was not the good which God originally intended for humanity. A fire fighter who rescues a child from a burning house has done a good act, but it would have been better if the house had not caught on fire. No one would think to praise an arsonist who started the fire because his act led to the heroism of the fire fighter.

But, Adam Tod Brown makes the more specific statement that thanks to the temptation of the Serpent, Adam and Eve were granted the ability to learn things and ask questions. Surely, that was a great gain for humanity. If we have fallen into sin, at least we have the consolation of gaining wisdom as compensation. Is that true? Perhaps we should look at the third chapter of Genesis for the full story.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the [c]cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LordGod said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall [d]bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
16 To the woman He said,
“I will greatly multiply
Your pain [e]in childbirth,
In pain you will bring forth children;
Yet your desire will be for your husband,
And he will rule over you.”

17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’;

Cursed is the ground because of you;
In [f]toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
18 “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
19 By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground,
Because from it you were taken;
For you are dust,
And to dust you shall return.”

20 Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.21 The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.

Painting from Manafi al-Hayawan (The Useful An...
Most depictions of Adma and Eve seem to be White. Here is something different. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Serpent promised Eve that she would be like God, knowing good and evil. She and Adam certainly learned about good and evil, but they were not made wiser or more like God. If anything, they lost the perfect communion with their Creator that they had formerly enjoyed and they had even become foolish enough to believe they could hide from God. The Serpent was lying to Eve.

The reason that we know things and can ask questions is because we have been given the faculty of reason by our Creator. This faculty was corrupted by the Fall as was every other aspect of being human. If it were not for the Fall, we would not be ignorant or simple-minded. Mind, body  and spirit would work in harmony with each other. It is possible that our thinking wouldn’t be subject to the sorts of superstitions or logical fallacies it is apt to fall into now. We would learn and discover new things not out of the necessities of survival, as is the case now, but out of the joy of learning about the good world our Creator gave us and we would have a better relationship with the One who knows all.

This is all speculation,of course. I do not and cannot know if that would really be the case, but I do know that we ought not to give the Devil credit for wisdom and knowledge he does not have, nor should we consider rebellion against our Creator to be in any sense a good act. Switching to Satan would be switching from light to darkness or knowledge to ignorance or being to nonbeing, not a good idea at all.


Prometheus was the subject of a story in Greek mythology similar, in some respects to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Prometheus was a member of an older race of gods, the titans, who were the ancestors of the Olympian gods the Ancient Greeks worshipped. The leader of the titans was Cronus, who gained the position by overthrowing and castrating his father Ouranos, the Heavens, at the behest of his mother Gaia, the Earth. When Cronus learned that his children by his wife and sister Rhea would overthrow him in his turn, he decided to forestall the event by swallowing each child as it was born. These six children were the first generation of the Olympians: Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus. By the time Zeus, the youngest, was born, Rhea was tired of Cronus swallowing her children so she substituted a stone for Zeus and hid the real baby Zeus in Crete. When Zeus grew up, he forced Cronus to disgorge his siblings and there was war between the gods and the titans. Eventually the gods won and the titans were imprisoned in Tartarus.

Prometheus had fought on the side of the gods. Prometheus means”forethought” in Greek and Prometheus had the ability to see into the future. Thus, he knew the gods would be victorious and wanted to fight on the winning side. In fact in some versions of the story, Prometheus’s defection was the decisive factor that led to the victory of the gods. As a result of his decision, Prometheus was not cast into  Tartarus but allowed to remain free.

The good relations between Prometheus and Zeus did not last. When human beings were first created, Greek mythology is somewhat inconsistent over who created humanity, they lived little better than animals since they lacked the knowledge of fire. Prometheus took pity on the mortals and urged Zeus to share the knowledge of fire with them. Zeus refused, so Prometheus stole fire from Olympus and brought it to humanity along with the knowledge of many useful arts and crafts. Enraged by this act of rebellion, Zeus chained Prometheus to the Caucasus mountains where an eagle would tear out his liver and eat it every day. By night, the liver would regenerate only to be torn out again. Eventually Zeus relented and allowed Hercules to rescue Prometheus. Zeus punished the humans who accepted the gift of fire by creating the first woman, Pandora, and giving her the box of troubles that she couldn’t resist opening.

Prometheus, by Gustave Moreau, tortured on Mou...
Prometheus, by Gustave Moreau, tortured on Mount Caucasus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You may notice that the story of Prometheus is a sort of inversion of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise. In both cases a being offers knowledge to humanity in defiance of a deity and as a result the being is punished and humanity is fallen into a world of troubles. The difference is that the serpent/Satan is generally seen as a rebel against a just God who wishes evil upon the human race, while Prometheus has been viewed as a benefactor to humanity unjustly punished by a tyrannous Zeus. As a result, Prometheus has come to be symbol of heroic struggle against unjust regimes or of a struggle of reason and science against religion and superstition. There is a publishing house called Prometheus Books which specializes in publications dealing with science, freethinking, secularism, and humanism.

I am not so sure Prometheus is really the hero of the story. It occurs to be that Zeus might have had good reason to withhold fire from humanity. Zeus, being a god, must have known that knowledge without wisdom is a dangerous combination and he must have foreseen the terrible uses humans would make of fire, especially in war..  He might have intended to allow humans to use fire as soon as they had become more civilized. It could well be that Prometheus was not really doing the human race a favor.

There is another story about Prometheus in which he is regarded as a benefactor to humanity, the Trick at Mecone. According to this myth, the gods and humans met at a place called Mecone to make arrangements for the sacrifices that humans would make to the gods. An ox was killed and its remains were divided into two piles. Zeus would choose which pile was to be for the gods’ use in the sacrifice, while humans would get the other pile. Prometheus told the humans to put all the good meat and fat in one pile covered by the disgusting stomach of the ox. In the other pile they put the bones covered with what appeared to be the best fat of the ox. Zeus naturally chose the pile that looked better, leaving the edible parts of the ox for human consumption. Zeus was not pleased with this deception and withdrew the use of fire from humanity to punish them.

Here again, Zeus  Prometheus is presented as the hero and Zeus the villain and again, I am not so sure. This story of the Trick at Mecone is considered to be an explanatory myth which presented the reason the ancient Greeks dedicated the inedible portions of the sacrificial animal to the gods while eating the edible parts. This seems to be the opposite of the Biblical commands that the Israelites only sacrifice the best of their herds and flocks to God at the Temple in Jerusalem.

Perhaps I am more aligned with the ethic of the Old Testament than Greek mythology, but it seems to me that the Trick at Mecone was rather contemptible. Since God, or the gods created the animals that were to be sacrificed, wouldn’t they deserve to have the best portions? Since the gods would have to be far wiser as well as more powerful than mere humans, shouldn’t their commands be followed? The difference was that while the Jews, and later the Christians, took it for granted that God is just, wise and good, and desires only what is best for us, the pagan Greeks did not. According to the poets the gods often acted in ways that were selfish and even cruel. Human beings existed for their use and it was best if the gods took no notice of you. It may have seemed only fair that humans would manage to cheat Zeus. Maybe. I kind of agree with Plato that the poets slandered the gods. Anyway, I still wouldn’t trust Prometheus.