Garden of Eden painting/Wikipedia

Sapere Aude — Dare to know, Dare to speak

By Kelly Mathews
Freedom of speech and religion have a long and tangled history.

A story many are familiar with even if they are not Jewish, Christian or Islamic, is that of the snake and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The story permeates cultural foundations such as the basis for how we still make laws and decide the discourse of what is true and legitimate knowledge in Western Civilization.

The story goes that Eve was deceived by the serpent into eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge.

She spoke up and decided for herself what was good and bad, despite the devil.

The consequences for Eve daring to choose freedom of knowledge, to be like God, over submission to her guardians, set a daring precedent we have been warned about ever since. Eve did something powerful when she ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. She transgressed the authority of her husband and the god of the Bible.

I argue Eve preferred freedom and its consequences to an idyllic life in the Garden of Eden where all she was required to do was submit, obey and be good to her masters.

Eve is not the only one to transgress the will of the gods and her would be masters and suffer for humanity to have knowledge and speak. So did Prometheus, but he is made a hero for giving humans fire, whereas Eve, who was to be the mother of us all, is treated as more of a Pandora.

It would appear the purpose of this tale is to make women, through Eve the permanent scapegoat and “Eve-il-doer” in the imaginations of countless generations.

This was in order to render women and women’s forms of knowledge, wisdom and spirituality, as  illegitimate as any offspring were once considered outside of marriage.

Some women yet managed to find agency in speech, in expression, through out history. Yet it has been a long, hard war with many battles and skirmishes and it is still being fought.

Many are ready for that revolution in which daring to be wise becomes a heady desire and pleasure, to reveal what one knows as a kind of disruptive rebellious anarchy of the current systems of knowledge. Many are ready to speak with passion and fire and brave all the world and every kind of hell for true freedom.

Freedom of speech within the context of our lived lives in our religions requires our imagination, our spirit, our creativity, our endurance.

Sometimes, though, it may mean an entire shift in the paradigm and that is what is coming — a time of true revolution when we can speak freely of our beliefs and for the knowledge of women without being deprived of livelihood.

Tracing the tangled map of freedom of speech and religion the cost of freedom of speech has been great, and often, silence or lying has been used in the defense of those who were demanded information from, in the guise of granting them absolution from their so-called sins — their will to know, their will to freedom of spirit, of life, to intimacy, and privacy of self-expression. Some need privacy to express themselves freely, and feel enslaved and shackled by labels of shallow value that have nothing to do with others truly knowing them.

Where religion destroys love and empathy and human creativity and attachment and enslaves the heart and mind to dogmatism and kills and tortures it destroys freedom of speech, life and spirit by demonizing and otherizing. Where faith, brings people together and helps them be more trusting, empathetic and loving and creative it fosters freedom of spirit and freedom of speech.

Speaking in both a spiritual and metaphorical sense of the consequences of belief in sin and its effects and consequences in real life, none of us, though, can ever really be free, to express ourselves, even if it is the law, if the social consequences for speaking up deprives us of all that makes us joyful and alive in our lived experiences. If we are deprived of livelihood, the ability to support ourselves, because we wish to publicly engage in ideas and discourses which oppress us and we seek to make cultural change through art and we are exiled for our creations, than this is not freedom.

This is instead, the masters prod to get us to confess our “sins” via self-expression and freedom of speech so that we are trapped by the pleasure we feel in taking charge, the power therein when we speak what we feel to be the truth of our experience, and then are punished for our opinions by society, or even those we call friends because of their overarching social hierarchies of religious belief.

Indeed, it would seem that sin, the desire to have knowledge and think critically for oneself and acquire wisdom,  is viewed as how humans were enslaved and degraded by the three major religions.

It is time to stop blaming the snake.

It is time to stop blaming the woman.

Paradise is not lost.

It is time to be like Eve — to dare to know.

Eat the fruit.

 Join SpokaneFAVS for a discussion on Religion and Freedom of Speech at its next Coffee Talk at 10 a.m., March 7 at Indaba Coffee/The Book Parlor. Mathews is a panelist.

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Tom Schmidt

It’s way past time to eat the fruit. Likely the origins of the garden story was not as a fall, but a lifting of humankind up, giving us the knowledge of good and evil. We therefore have to be responsible, a painful choice. Thank you, women, for giving us that power. The power of empathy?

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