The West's Choice — Part I

The West’s Choice — Part I

Blake, Temptation of Eve, 1808

William Blake, The Temptation and Fall of Eve (Illustration to Milton’s “Paradise Lost”), 1808, Watercolor. Click to embiggen.

The decline of the West has been attributed to many causes, but in my opinion, the West is committing suicide due to an unresolvable false-guilt complex built into the very heart of our institutions and culture. Everything we consider to be “Western” was constructed on a religious foundation that defines the existence of civilization as “sin” and everyone born into civilization as being “born into sin.” The “death of God” means our civilization has not only lost its bearings, it has lost the possibility of absolution from the false-guilt substrate underlying Western identity.

The Source Of Guilt

In the West, guilt is a different matter than it is in other cultures. Where other cultures may view guilt as a matter of disrupting a homeostasis, and justice as a matter of restoring homeostasis, in the West guilt is inseparable from the value judgment “evil.” We presume our own homeostasis to be static, unchanging, and “good,” rather than a matter of ongoing flux; disruption is an “evil” which must be exorcised so that it may never again effect our unchanging “good.” Never mind if the purge may further diminish equilibrium. Justice for us is functionally identical to revenge.

This view of guilt did not evolve naturally among Western peoples but rather arrived from the Middle East by way of Christianity. Guilt and evil are inextricably tied in the Western imagination based on the Biblical story of the Fall — that is, the fall of humanity from perfect, divine grace into universal guilt — as told in Genesis 3 (NIV):

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when 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 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. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

According to the Genesis account, the fruit of tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a red pill so severe that humans were permanently driven from the Garden of Eden because of it. As “mother of all the living,” Eve became the fallen progenitor of a fallen humanity, passing along the full weight of heritable guilt to her every last descendent, forever. The advent of agriculture is God’s punishment, and everything that agriculture makes possible — that is to say, civilization — is comprised entirely of sin.

But as far as I am aware, no other culture produced origin myths recording its own Neolithic as the porthole through which evil entered the world. Universal myths of a lost “golden age” do not specifically tie the advent of agriculture with tragedy — even contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes include a lost golden age in their folklores, which indicates to me that the lost golden age is something other than a cultural memory of idyllic Paleolithic tribal life. The Genesis conflation of agriculture with guilt, sin, evil, and punishment seems to be unique.

A Localized Event

In order to understand the story of the Fall, as well as most others in Genesis, it is important to realize that it existed for thousands of years as oral tradition before it was written down, first in Sumerian and later in ancient proto-Hebrew. It is a cultural memory of the first Neolithic Revolution, located in the Fertile Crescent, what is modern-day Iraq. Genesis records a localized event experienced by local people in a specific location. It is necessary to stand in their place- and time-specific shoes to see why they would have experienced their own Neolithic as an unmitigated catastrophe.

As settlement agriculture grew and eventually gave way to cities, there were those who did not engage in the new practice of planting crops. The forebears of the Genesis writers were nomadic sheep herders whose livelihood depended upon their ability to move their flocks freely throughout the terrain. The growth of agricultural-based cities directly and negatively impacted their ability to do this by cordoning off the most fertile feeding grounds for planting, and rerouting natural water sources via irrigation.

From the point of view of the herders, the advent of agriculture was an existential threat and therefore a great evil — to themselves. Everyone who was born into civilization was “guilty” of “sinning” against the herders; as civilization became universal, so too did Eve’s heritable original sin. The herders alone decided that the Neolithic revolution was “the Fall,” ascribing to it accusation, shame, and guilt that was not experienced by those peoples who followed the path of agriculture into civilization.

Cain The Farmer, Abel The Shepherd

This dichotomy between Neolithic herders and farmers is evident in the story of Cain and Abel. This story has befuddled Western thinkers since Roman times, given that it portrays a supposedly fair and just God playing arbitrary favorites between brothers. It makes perfect sense, however, if one understands the herders’ hostility toward the advent of farming. Genesis 4:1-22 (NIV):

Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him. So Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Cain made love to his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech.

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron.

God rejected Cain’s offering because the fruits of the soil are God’s punishment for the Fall. God accepted Abel’s offering because herding was not punishment for the Fall, therefore its fruits were untainted by guilt.

This story further underscores the supposedly guilty nature of farming, and the virtue of the herders, by assigning to Cain the world’s first instance of ressentiment. When God says to Cain, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it”, he is telling Cain that to do what is right is to choose the vocation of herding, rather than farming, so that his offering will be acceptable to God; if Cain does not do what is right, and chooses to continue with his farming vocation, he is taking on the sin and punishment of the Fall. Civilization desires to have Cain, but Cain must be strong enough to reject it.

The Genesis writers next assign to farmer Cain the world’s first murder — possibly an allegory for actual conflict occurring at the time between herding tribes and settled, agricultural tribes. This fratricide contrasts the innocence of the herder and his virtue before God, in opposition to the murderous evil of the farmer.

With the farmer’s guilt firmly established, Genesis goes on to assign to him its first record of a city. Within Cain’s city, Genesis describes a growing population, division of labor, and the development of metallurgy — the first elements of a nascent civilization. All of this is meant to be understood as an expansion of the cosmic punishment meted out in the Garden of Eden. Cain is guilty, the city he builds is guilty, all the people in it are guilty, the music and crafts and knowledge it produces are guilty.

In Genesis 6, the expansion of the guilty population becomes so great that God wipes out all life, with the exception of Noah and his family, by means of a world-encompassing flood. In Genesis 11, God destroys that symbol of upward-reaching civilization, the Tower of Babel. Later, God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah because he found not one righteous individual within those cities. The Prophets all carry the same basic message: stop participating in the ways of civilization or God will punish you, too. The list of Old Testament examples demonstrating the evil of the city, as opposed to the virtue of the outsider, is practically endless. In fact it is not a stretch to say that the Old Testament is comprised entirely of the herders’ descendants’ effort to maintain their sinlessness by remaining separate from civilization, even while living within it.

The Fall and its attendant universal inherent guilt is a brilliant origin myth for a people in the unique position of trying to maintain ethnic integrity without a land base on which to do it. However, until the advent of Christianity no one held to this view except its originators.

Christopathology

Christianity began its life as a bizarre Jewish splinter group. Jesus of Nazareth was only one of many messianic Jewish figures; his cabal of disciples and his preaching vocation were not that unusual in the late Roman Empire. Jesus was a Jew who came to save Jews. There is no indication that he ever intended his teachings for anyone else.

It was the apostle Paul, formerly the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, who decided that Jesus’ teachings were for gentiles. Paul never met Jesus and was not part of his ministry. Paul was converted from persecutor of early Christians to Christian himself when he experienced a vision of Jesus while en route to Damascus.

In Paul’s logic, gentiles are universally guilty because they do not follow ancient Hebraic Law, particularly those statutes which require animal sacrifice; but Jesus, being the infinite lamb, fulfilled the Law by his crucifixion and resurrection. Any gentile who accepts Jesus as substitute sacrifice is excused from universal inherent gentile guilt.

Most Westerners are so accustomed to ambient cultural Christianity that the absurdity of this proposition escapes their notice. Imagine yourself going about your daily business, when a stranger holding a book walks up to you. He says, “This book of mine says you are guilty because you don’t sacrifice particular animals to a particular foreign deity. But I have great news! My book also says if you believe X, Y, and Z, the foreign deity will forgive you! But you must never question what my book says you are to believe, or you’ll be guilty again!”

The nerve! The only appropriate response to this is to tell the stranger he needs to resume his medication and bugger off. However, that’s not what Christianity does.

Christianity accepts the stranger’s book and its unilateral accusation. Christianity says to the herder: you are correct that agriculture is God’s punishment of my forebears, and that all things agriculture makes possible are inherently evil, including and especially civilization. You are correct that guilt is heritable, inherent, and universal, and that I am personally guilty because of this. You are correct that only your people are sinless, because your forebears were herders and not farmers, and all others including mine are guilty and evil by default.

To become a Christian is to give up one’s own understanding of oneself in favor of a stranger’s; it is to give up one’s natural identity in favor of one forged of shame and guilt, in ancient accusation. To become a Christian is to suppress one’s natural inclinations and to distort one’s thinking and behavior to the liking of a foreign accuser.

To build a Christian civilization is to create culture and state based upon acceptance of the ancient accusation, distorted in all the ways the accusation demands, saturated with a foreign origin myth that holds civilization itself to be guilty. Suicide is baked into the cake. The “death of God” means that the edifice of forgiveness, once pasted over the structures made of blame, shame, and accusation, is now gone.

No means of forgiveness exists any longer; the West — and civilization itself — stands accused, without an advocate or even the possibility of one.

The West’s Choice

Christianity was the West’s forbidden fruit. Because of Christianity we became like gods knowing good and evil, foreign concepts that previously had no bearing on our societies. When we took Christianity into ourselves our eyes were opened and, like Eve, we discovered that we stood accused of guilt. We covered ourselves with a fig leaf called Jesus, ambassador of our accusers, long since crumbled to dust. And because we believe in the guilt Christianity installed into us, we are allowing ourselves to be banished from our homelands, our Eden, to prevent us from eating of the Tree of Life that we might continue our existence into the future.

If the West is to continue in any form, this foreign false-guilt complex must be rooted out of our psyches and our institutions. We must stop thinking of ourselves as “fallen” and “evil” and “guilty,” and start to see ourselves with the same level of compassion our accusers demand we show them. We must find a way to restore our belief in our own innocence, and we must find a way to make that belief resilient against accusation. We must, in short, find a way to undo the damage Christianity has done to us.

I can see two ways of making this happen. The first, which I’ll call the Pagan Path, involves identifying and rooting out all traces of Christianity from our thinking and institutions. These will then be replaced with concepts and practices from indigenous Indo-European cultures. The second, which I’ll call the Revelation Path, involves reconstituting Christianity as a secular religion that imparts universal inherent forgiveness to all individuals within any given civilization, and to civilization as a whole. The book of Revelation offers a framework within which this project might be carried out.

I’ll describe and compare these two paths in my next post. If you’d like to be notified when that goes live, you can follow me on Gab.ai or Minds.com, or sign up for an email notification in the right-hand column.