Thinking allowed

the tree of knowledge of good and evil

This Sunday’s read­ings include part of chapter 3 of the book of Gen­es­is, the cent­ral story of the fall, in which Adam and Eve are temp­ted to eat the fruit of the tree of know­ledge of good and evil, planted in the centre of the Garden of Eden, and which God has for­bid­den them to eat.

The con­sequence of this is that the couple are expelled from Eden, and they will die.

What are we to make of this?

The key to our under­stand­ing this today is per­haps in the words ‘know­ledge of good and evil’. Our human ancest­ors, at some point in their evol­u­tion, developed enough con­scious­ness to become self-aware. This is a fun­da­ment­al human trait — to be aware of your­self, and to be aware of oth­er people and real­ize that they too are self-aware. Per­haps this real­iz­a­tion, this con­scious­ness, went hand in hand with the devel­op­ment of lan­guage, the devel­op­ment of com­mu­nic­a­tion with fel­low humans. And con­scious­ness and the recog­ni­tion of oth­ers leads to con­science — the recog­ni­tion of good and evil, as the writers of the Gen­es­is story put it. Humans had eaten of the fruit of the tree, and there was no going back.

And along with this self-aware­ness must have come the real­iz­a­tion that things die: that oth­er creatures die, that oth­er humans die; and even­tu­ally the real­iz­a­tion that each of us will die too — the real­iz­a­tion of our own mortality.

Like the writer of Gen­es­is chapter 3 we can under­stand the link between this high level of con­scious­ness, or self-aware­ness, and death. The writer of Gen­es­is puts the story in myth­ic lan­guage, lan­guage that all can under­stand. He (most prob­ably it was a ‘he’ or sev­er­al ‘he’s) starts from the inno­cence in which we assume the non-con­scious to live: the inno­cence where one does not have to make mor­al choices and the inno­cence in which one’s own life is the centre of the world, indeed the only thing that makes the world, the inno­cence in which one has no idea that one’s life is finite. And he points out that self-aware­ness leads inev­it­ably to a loss of that inno­cence which cul­min­ates in the know­ledge of our own impend­ing death.

And in this myth­ic lan­guage we too can grasp at the truth, that in our self-aware­ness we do things that we know to be wrong, and in our know­ledge of our own mor­tal­ity, we live in dark­ness and fear, fail­ing to reach the great heights of cre­ativ­ity and light of which we should be capable.

What then of Jesus? Jesus pro­claims to us the king­dom of God in which is life in all its abund­ance. In this king­dom we are freed from fear of death to live life, a life in which we can make mor­al choices, a life in which we are not con­sumed with jeal­ousy or with bit­ter­ness towards oth­ers, but a life in the light, a life of cre­ativ­ity. The apostle Paul wrote, ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ (1 Cor­inthi­ans 15.22.)


Grandsire Caters

This after­noon saw the Annu­al Meet­ing of the Hunt­ing­don Dis­trict of the Ely Dio­ces­an Asso­ci­ation. Last year we hos­ted this at our own tower in St Ives. This year it was the turn of St Neots, which has a 10-bell tower. As I have nev­er rung at a 10-bell tower before this was some­thing of a chal­lenge. And a ten­or bell of some 29cwt — ours is a mere 12cwt, so the bells are con­sid­er­ably heav­ier than I am used to. The tower at St Neots is large and spa­cious, cer­tainly com­pared with the few oth­er towers I’ve been in. Here is a com­fort­able ringing cham­ber, 30 feet or so up the tower, with plenty of space for the 10 ropes to fall nicely in a large circle, and room around the ringers to sit or stand.

Soon after I arrived the ringing mas­ter called for a plain course of Bob Roy­al — that’s on all ten bells — and I decided to stand behind one of the ringers (bell 7) and see what it was like.

Then some call changes were rung, and I had a go at this, partly to get a feel for the bells, but even so I man­aged to make a few mis­takes. Sigh. I sat down, not entirely impressed with myself.

Next the ringing mas­ter called for a touch of Grand­sire Caters — that’s 9 bells, and a ten­or cov­er. I stayed in my seat, but was even­tu­ally per­suaded to ring bell 7, with an exper­i­enced ringer stand­ing along­side me. Now in the­ory I can ring a touch of Grand­sire Triples, and Caters is ‘only’ a couple more dodging places in 8–9 up and down. The bobs and singles are the same as for Triples. And then there’s the extra two ropes — count­ing my place up to ninth place was one thing, but could I see what was hap­pen­ing amidst all those ropes?

So, start­ing on 7, I dodged with 6 and then up to the back — easy because it is over 8 and 9. Down to the lead is still okay because the bells are still just plain hunt­ing (so every oth­er bell: up the even num­bers and down the odds). Then as I came off the lead a Bob was called. ‘You’re in the hunt now,’ said the friendly voice at my side; ‘Thanks,’ I thought grate­fully, vaguely aware of the fact. (Hind­sight is a won­der­ful thing: I star­ted by dodging 6–7 up, so I knew my next dodge would be 4–5 up; I should have also con­sidered that a bob at that point would mean mak­ing 3rds place and going into the hunt; I should not have been sur­prised, but some­how I had not thought about what to do at a bob — let alone the inev­it­able single.)

Still, plain hunt­ing is nice and easy, except that it’s on 10 bells, well 9 bells, because the ten­or is just cov­er­ing. Oh, and the treble is always the last bell when you’re in the hunt in Grand­sire, so I only had to worry about 8 bells. And in fact that’s only 7 oth­er bells. But with all these ropes, that’s still quite hard to see, cer­tainly when you’ve not done it before. It was a bit like ringing Major for the first time — then I could see my place when I was in 2nd or 3rd, and when I was in 7th or 6th, and some­where in the middle was 4th and 5th. Here, how­ever, I could see my place when I was in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and when I was in 9th, 8th, 7th. And some­where in the middle was 5th place and 6th. So ring at about the right place and hope for the best! ‘Bob!’ came the call and I double-dodged 4–5 down, com­ing out of the hunt. Now carry on plain hunt­ing, and remem­ber that you have to dodge 6–7 down next time.

I don’t remem­ber the exact details of the touch, but there were a num­ber of oth­er bobs, which had me, for example, double-dodging in 8–9 up. And there was anoth­er call of ‘Single!’ Help, what do I do at a single?! Anoth­er friendly word from my mind­er put me right, and the touch con­tin­ued and even­tu­ally completed.

Every­one seemed to think I’d done quite well, although per­haps they were just being polite. For myself, I thought I did just about tol­er­ably, and it was an inter­est­ing exper­i­ence: my ropesight was pretty good, just about good enough to cope with ringing Caters (though prob­ably not good enough to ring Roy­al); my strik­ing and hand­ling could be improved, espe­cially when ringing these heavy bells, some­what heav­ier than I am used to; and I need to com­mit Grand­sire to memory just a little bet­ter — I really shouldn’t have been caught out going into the hunt, and I ought to remem­ber about singles and what to do at one.

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body, mind ... and soul

Anoth­er fas­cin­at­ing pro­gramme in Melvyn Bragg’s almost-always enlight­en­ing In Our Time — the last of the cur­rent series. This one con­sidered ‘the mind/body prob­lem’, start­ing with Descartes’ fam­ous quo­ta­tion, cogito ergo sum, and then tra­cing the his­tory of this philosphic­al and theo­lo­gic­al ques­tion from Ancient Greece, through Thomas Aqui­nas, Bish­op Berke­ley, Spinoza, Hux­ley and through to the mod­ern day (though I missed the very end — I’ll have to listen again.)