Imagine a place like Mars: barren, dry, lifeless. But in the far future humans have learned to terraform planets—to make them like Earth. As the planet changes, its thin atmosphere gradually increasing, the first tentative plants taking root, humans live in a domed city safe from the harsh external world. Inside the dome they have everything they need: air, beautiful gardens, food, wildlife, lakes and streams.
But some catastrophe happens back on Earth, and the humans living in the domed city on the strange planet are cut off from humankind. Over time they lose the knowledge of how the domed city came to be. They carry out the tasks that support their environment without understanding what they do, simply following the rules that sustain their environment. As the years pass, the atmosphere outside the dome slowly grows supportive of human life—though it is still harsh and unwelcoming compared to the veritable Garden of Eden that is their city inside the dome.
Then one day a man (let’s call him Adam) decides to break one of the rules he does not understand. Like the first bite of an apple, his decision ruptures the curving wall of the dome. Was Lucifer whispering in his ear?
Soon all the city’s systems break down; Adam and the other humans are cast out from their Garden into the planet’s harsh and unrelenting environment.
It is easy to understand how, centuries later, as Adam’s descendants struggle for survival, they might come to tell a story that explains the difficulty of their life, and in it Adam is the central character. Why does humanity suffer? It was Adam’s sin.
The original sin, for which all human beings pay the price.
The Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Bible start with Genesis, the story of how life came to be on this planet and why it is so difficult. I believe it is a story—an explanation of the creation and of human life. All cultures have their myths. Adam and Eve and the Garden sound like folklore to me, perhaps rooted in the long-lost history of the first human beings to leave the cradle of life, the fertile garden that is Africa, and venture across the Red Sea to Jordan.
We do not know why they waded across, carrying their belongings and their babies, forsaking a life in fruitful forests. Perhaps it was one man’s wrongful act. Perhaps they were, indeed, cast out. We do not know. All we have is a story in a book called Genesis, “Beginning,” a story that explains human suffering as the consequence of Adam’s original sin.
Here’s where the notion of the Lucifer Effect has so much power. Without denying the innate human capacity for both good and evil, the Lucifer Effect offers an explanation for acts that are so reprehensible it makes sense to a lot of folks to say “The Devil made me do it.”
Is Lucifer whispering in Adam’s ear? (or Eve’s for that matter?) Maybe. But Phil Zimbardo’s psychological experiments show the extraordinary power of situations to override the usually good impulses of mentally healthy college students.
“Mentally healthy” is key. We’re not talking about genetic defectives, or young adults warped by their horrible childhood. Ordinary, happy, well-balanced college boys carried out heinous acts like those at Abu Ghraib.
From a theological perspective, the capacity either to do such terrible things or to be so generous and compassionate as to deserve sainthood, is probably the clearest indication that humans have free will. But latent “free will” within the human psyche is nonetheless shaped and influenced by environment.
Back to Mars. In my little science fiction story, Adam and his cohort have been cut off from the civilization that created their Eden. They are Lost Boys in Neverland, marooned schoolchildren on an island imagining a Lord of the Flies. Without the surrounding influences that were the genesis of their domed city, their city is doomed.
Doomed not because of Lucifer the fallen angel, but because of the Lucifer Effect. Adam’s generation has lost its moorings. Any one of them might take the first step that begins cracking Eden’s protective walls.
Next blog: “Saving Eden”
As an old sci-fi buff, I find your metaphor intriguing.
In the Calvinist tradition, we contemplate the doctrine of Total Depravity. All humans are flawed. All humans will, at one time or another, succumb to the temptation to engage in evil behavior.
As harsh as it sounds, I have always found Total
Depravity a useful reminder that no one is immune from temptation. Total Depravity helps maintain a sense of humility (especially for those of us who have "Rev" in front of our names and might otherwise think ourselves to be "holier than thou").
But, your image of Adam on Mars puts Total Depravity into perspective and demonstrates that no doctrine is without its limitations. Blaming humanity's propensity to sin on Original Sin or an anthropomorhized Lucifer or some inevitable genetic flaw can also relieve us of the responsibility to rise above temptation.
Back in the Sixties, comedian Flip Wilson had a hysterically funny routine called "The Devil Made Me Do It," a catchphrase for which he became famous. I don't know whether you had Flip Wilson in mind when you quoted the phrase, but it would not surprise me. Wilson's monologue ultimately underscores how ridiculous is the notion that the Devil is responsible every time we engage in bad behavior. The same can be said for your Adam metaphor. Until we're ready to stand up and take responsibility, we can expect the Lucifer Effect to continue to wreak havoc.
I am very much looking forward to "Saving Eden." You have creatively established the problem. I anticipate an equally creative suggestion for the solution.
By Rev. Curtis Webster | Posted on January 20, 2009, 12:56 pm
Yes, I was thinking of Flip Wilson. And I'm a fan of SF, too, maybe because it's always made me think about why things happen.