There’s a Better Story We Could Tell Ourselves

God created Adam and Even in a state of perfect innocence and eternal life (Eden). Then Adam, tempted by Eve, ate from the Tree of Knowledge, and God expelled them from the garden (the Fall). But then God sent Christ, his only son, down to Earth to die for the sins of mankind (Incarnation) and thereby prepare them for their rightful place at God’s side in his final dominion over the Earth (the Second Coming).

In ancient times, artists created perfect, self-contained symbols and myths (Eden). Then the world became crowded by industrial technology, full of noisy cities with their crass, low culture (the Fall). But then the Modernists came along to uphold the great traditions (Incarnation) and set out to return all art to its rightful place as self-contained symbol and myth (the Second Coming).

Early human tribes lived in peaceful unity, sharing an oral language that gave them a sense of deep community (Eden). Then humanity invented the written word, and as the written word become more widespread, human beings became more isolated and more obsessed the idea of the “individual” (the Fall). But with the discovery of electricity, and the ensuing development of mass media technology (Incarnation) humanity is finally returning to a tribal state (the Second Coming).

Etcetera. This story turns up everywhere once you learn the pattern. Everything was better, then it became terrible, then a force larger you showed up to fix everything.

With all due respect for Marshall McLuhan, the Modernists, and Catholicism, this story doesn’t work. It doesn’t serve us the way a good story should.

Take the idea of Eden seriously, and you’re going to walk around your whole life with this awful feeling of missing out. Take the Fall seriously, and you’ll never be able to trust the people around you, because all you'll see is their brokenness. Wait around for the Incarnation and the Second Coming, and you deny your own agency and miss out on life’s many opportunities.

Still, this story survives because it lets people off the hook. It reassures you that you have no control over any of this and are, therefore, excused. Plus, there’s an operatic grandeur to its emotional turmoil. This story will make you suffer, but at least you get to suffer in style.

Besides, it’s linear, which the universe is not.

I’m not interested in a story that increases my suffering. I want a story that helps me stay sane and gives me a clue about what’s going on. I want a story that supports me as I help other people. I want to take my power and do something worthwhile with it, and I want a story that gives me the context to do that.

Here’s what I have so far:

In the beginning, there was just one end of a shape, because time and space are the same thing. We are no more separate from the past and future than the roots of a tree are separate from the leaves. There are always human beings who understand this. Any of us can understand this: we just need to take the spacetime to remember. Right now, you are expressing either the whole evil or the whole good of the universe. Evil is waste and shrinkage. Good is attention and generosity. You are already choosing which to express every moment, and there’s always room to change your mind.