Intellectual Cul-de-sacs

I was raised evangelical. I was evangelical in the sense that every breath was a prayer. Every encounter was a chance to be a light of God. Every meal was a chance to bless the food.

Every judgment was black and white.

A little girl rides across Texas in a little truck with her daddy to a Tuesday night prayer meeting. Windows are rolled down and the dusty air whips ponytails around her face. She looks down to admire her white patent leather shoes.

I’m a perfectionist, a completist. I want to love and be loved perfectly and completely. I want a concrete, clear set of rules to follow and to confirm that I am getting an “A” in life. Also, without a vengeful God, who will punish terrible deeds? Without a plan to follow, how will I know where to go after I die?

A teenage girl sits in the passenger seat of a Ford Bronco. Her best friend is driving her home from the clinic where she secretly bought birth control pills. She feels convicted and at the same time relieved that she wasn’t caught. Her best friend senses the girl is conflicted and asks, “Do you really believe that you’re going to Hell now, Rachel?” She looks down at her grungy combat boots and whispers, “No,” but she doesn’t really believe it.

These are just two of the moments in my life that, when set against each other, serve up the perfect spiritual conflict on a silver platter.

It has taken me nearly 40 years to figure out that I determine my own worth. Period. End of story. 

What I do to enrich my understanding of humanity is my responsibility. How I treat other people will reflect back on me.

From this deeply personal struggle, I started writing fiction. I asked myself, What if the biblical Adam and Eve, the archetypes for the first two humans, were alive today? Would they be vegan hippies, Trump-supporters, or something else entirely?

My mind was ablaze with details of the world I was building for my characters. Once I decided on a setting, names, and the characters’ personalities I wrote enough scenes for a third of a novel.  Before I invested any more time on the project, I wanted to check in with an editor to make sure the story was viable.

My editor was supportive, critical in the best way, and seemed to “get” my story. The biggest problem she found with my story? I wasn’t putting my characters in any real danger. I laughed when I realized she was absolutely right. Creating back stories, jobs, and quirks had come naturally to me, but what I had written was not actually a story. It was an elaborate description – a pretty vision in which the characters were never made to suffer, fail, or face challenges.

So in my depiction of a modern-day Adam and Eve, I was keeping them safe in the Garden. I wasn’t even offering Eve the apple.

As the creator, I must see that Eve chooses of her own free will to bite the apple. She will do it knowing that she may die because of it. Without making that bold choice, Adam and Eve will remain in an infantile state of innocence and bliss. They will not progress spiritually and the story will be a vignette and not a narrative.

For those who subscribe to a religion, if a Heavenly Author was too afraid to put his creations in danger, Adam and Eve would never know what it was to be a mortal, a parent, or a creator of life themselves. They would not be able to mirror their Heavenly Parents. They would be two-dimensional dolls. 

I heard Sam Harris refer to “Intellectual Cul-de-sacs” on a recent podcast about the value of interfaith debates. He was saying that lazy people will subscribe completely to dogma and they’re done. There is nowhere to go intellectually from there.

I loved imagining the silly idea of a prehistoric Adam and Eve marching up to the edge of a modern-day cul-de-sac like video game characters who ran into a virtual wall. Then I put that vision out of my head and threw them into the den of lions. I said, “Let’s see what happens now.”

I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

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