The Truth Will Set You Free

Alice Miller, from The Truth Will Set You Free

When I was a child, the story of Creation was for me above all the story of the forbidden fruit. I could not understand why Adam and Eve should not be allowed to have knowledge. To me knowledge and awareness were wonderful things. So I failed to see the logic behind God’s decision to forbid Adam and Eve to recognize the essential difference between good and evil.

My childhood stubbornness on this point lost none of its vigor when I later encountered other interpretations of the story of Creation. At an emotional level I simply refused to see obedience as a virtue, curiosity as a sin, and ignorance of good and evil as an ideal state. To my way of thinking, the apple from the tree of knowledge promised an explanation of evil and hence represented redemption – good as opposed to evil.

There are countless theological explanations for the motives behind God’s inscrutable counsels, but in all too many of them I see a terrorized child trying hard to interpret the mysterious actions of the parents as good and loving, even though the child cannot fathom them – indeed, has no possible chance of fathoming them. The motives behind them are unfathomable even for the parents themselves, hidden away as they are in the dark recesses of their own childhood.

I have never understood why God would tolerate the presence of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden only if they remained ignorant and why they were punished so severely for their disobedience. I never felt any yearnings for a Paradise where obedience and ignorance are the conditions for beatitude. I believe in the power of love, but for me love is not synonymous with being “good” in the sense of being obedient. Love has something to do with being true to oneself and one’s feelings and needs. And the desire for knowledge is part of that. God obviously set out to deprive Adam and Eve of this loyalty to themselves. But why? My conviction is that we can love only if we are allowed to be what we are: no pretense, no disguises, no façades. We can genuinely love only if we do not deny ourselves the knowledge available to us (like the tree of knowledge in Paradise), if, instead of fleeing from it, we have the simple courage to eat the apple.

I still find it difficult to summon up any kind of tolerance when I hear it said that children have to be beaten to make them “good” and to ensure that God will take pleasure in them. The story of Creation has long prevented us from opening our eyes and recognizing that we have been misguided.

I can remember as a child causing my parents embarrassment by asking questions they found difficult to answer. I bit back the questions that were on the tip of my tongue. But they come back again and again, and I intend to make use of my freedom as an adult to let the child within finally ask the questions she always wanted to ask.

Why did God plant the Tree of Knowledge right in the middle of the Garden of Eden if He didn’t want the two people He had created to eat the fruit? Why did He, the almighty God who created Heaven and Earth, lead His creatures into temptation and force them into obedience? If He was omniscient, He must have known that in creating humans He had made beings who would be curious by nature and that He would be forcing them to be untrue to their nature. Why might He have done that? And what would have happened if Eve had not partaken of the fruit? There would have been no sexual union, so Adam and Eve would never have had any children. Would the world have stayed barren and empty? Would Adam and Eve have lived forever, alone, without children?

Why is having children bound up with sin? Why is the act of giving birth so painful? How are we to understand that God planned these two human creatures to be infertile, although the story of Creation talks of how the birds and the beasts are actively enjoined to go forth and multiply? God must have had a concept of reproduction. Later we are told that Cain married and had children. But if there was no one else on earth except Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, where did his wife come from? Why did God reject Cain for displaying jealousy? Had He not forced him to be jealous by giving obvious preference to Abel?

Whenever I asked these questions, I aroused indignation for having the temerity to query God’s omniscience and omnipotence and for dismissing the information I did get as illogical and inconsistent. Usually the response was evasive. I was told not to take the Bible so literally, that it was symbolic. Symbolic of what? I asked, but got no answer. Or I was reminded that the Bible contains much that is fine and true, something that I had never denied; but I did not see why I had to accept the things I found illogical.

Children want to be accepted and loved, so in the end they do as they’re told – which is precisely what I did. But that did not mean that I had lost the need to understand. Unable to fathom God’s motives, I set out more modestly to inquire into the motives people might have for so readily accepting these contradictions.

With the best will in the world I could find nothing evil in what Eve did. If God really loved those two he wouldn’t want them to be blind, I thought. Was it really the serpent that seduced Eve into a desire for knowledge? Or was it God Himself? If an ordinary mortal were to show me something desirable and then say I must not desire it, I would find that positively perverse and cruel. But when it came to God, one wasn’t even allowed to think such things, much less say them out loud.

So I was left alone with my reflections, and my search for enlightenment from books was equally fruitless. Then I made a simple discovery that put the contradictions in a whole new light. The Bible was written by men. We must assume that those men had been through some unpleasant experiences at the hands of their fathers. Surely none of them had had a father who took pleasure in their inquiring minds, realized the futility of expecting the impossible of them and refrained from punishing them. That was why they were able to create an image of God with sadistic features that did not strike them as such. God as they saw Him devised a cruel scenario in which He gave Adam and Eve the tree of knowledge but at the same time forbade them to eat its fruit – that is, to achieve awareness and become autonomous personalities. He wanted to keep them entirely dependent on Him.

To me, a father who takes pleasure in tormenting his child is sadistic. And punishing that child for the effects of his own sadism has nothing to do with love, but a great deal to do with Poisonous Pedagogy (the Bible is full of it). This was how the authors of the Bible saw their “loving” father. In his Epistle to the Hebrews (12: 6-8), Paul makes it clear that it is chastisement that bestows the certainty of being the true sons of God and not bastards: “But if ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” I can imagine that people whose childhoods were lived in an atmosphere of respect, without physical punishment and humiliation, will believe in a different God when they grow up – a loving, guiding, explaining God, giving them an example they can live by. Either that or they may do without an idea of God altogether, preferring to get their bearings from human models they can look up to as embodiments of love in the true sense of the word.

This book is the expression of my identification with Eve. Not with the infantile Eve palmed off on us as a kind of Little Red Riding Hood, easy prey to an animal’s cunning temptation, but with an Eve who saw through the injustice of her situation, rejected the commandment “Thou shalt not know,” set out to understand the difference between Good and Evil and was prepared to assume responsibility for her actions.

In these pages I offer the insights that have become accessible to me since I found the courage to listen to what my body was trying to tell me and in this way to decipher the meaning of the very beginning of my own life. The journey back through childhood to that beginning enabled me to discover and describe the subtle mechanisms of denial that operate in us but that we rarely perceive because the commandment “Thou shalt not know” gets in the way.

I sincerely believe that we not only have the right to know what is good and what is evil; we have the duty to acquire that knowledge if we hope to assume responsibility for our own lives and those of our children. Only by knowing the truth can we be set free. Only in this way can we free ourselves from the fears and anxieties we knew as children, blamed and punished for sins we did not know we had committed, the fateful fear of the sin of disobedience, that crippling anxiety that has wrecked so many people’s lives and keeps them in thrall to their own childhood.

Given the right help, we as adults can free ourselves from that terrible spell. We can procure vital information and realize that we are no longer forced to search for some profound logic in everything our educators and religious instruction teachers passed to us as the gospel truth – and which was nothing other than the product of their own anxieties. You will be amazed at the relief you will feel when you step out of that stifling role. Then, at last, you will claim your right to face reality head-on, to reject illogical justifications, and to remain true to your own history.

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