Knowing Good and Evil
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4 (NRSV)
(Psst, white folks. This one’s for you.)
The white colonizers who came to the land we live on now invariably thought themselves to be good guys wielding peaceful tools: a cross, a hoe, an oar. They maintained that they came here for religious freedom, or to grow food and escape poverty, or to explore and tame the wilderness from sea to shining sea.
But crosses, hoes and oars can also be used as hammers. And to a hammer, they say, everything looks like a nail. Genocide, kidnapping, enslavement, and forced conversion are the shadow side of our sunny history in the UCC.
If you can trace your lineage back to Pilgrim and Puritan forebears, to German farmers and crafters, maybe you’ve known all along that your ancestors were hammers. Maybe you are just coming into fuller awareness, and it’s painful to trade ancestral pride for shame.
As uncomfortable as it is to face the evil embedded in the origin story of our country, it is even more painful to face the evil in ourselves – the complicity, cowardice, materialism, and racial bias that persist – especially when we, like our ancestors, need to understand ourselves as only good, rather than as the mixed bag that is every human being.
This myth of the serpent convincing Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of good and evil is just that: a myth. We don’t yet fully know the difference between good and evil, particularly in ourselves.
But if the last few months are any indication, perhaps we whites are finally daring to take a bite of that forbidden fruit to awaken to a new consciousness. It is a bitter fruit, but it won’t kill us – the serpent was right about that. It is, rather, good and healing medicine.
It won’t make us God, but it will bring us closer to heaven.
God, help me to bear the discomfort of examining the myths of the past and of this present, even if it means finding out that I am not as good as I thought I was. Release me into the freedom to accept my whole nature: good and bad, mixed together, always beloved, and able to do better now that I see more like you do. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church UCC in Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church, Standing Naked Before God, and her newest baby, Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World.