Transforming our world from a fake dominant culture debased on money-value to a true partnership culture recentered on life-value

In a previous post entitled Embracing the paradigm shift – from the principalities of darkness to the principles that value life, I opined:

Unless we come face to face and heart to heart with the demons within and  be able to verbalise that which is repressed within and projected onto others without, the vicious cylce of life-destruction, cultural and structural violence and unhealthy life choices and unhealthy environmental exposures will persist. There is so much at stake so as not to be complacent and not make this a collective effort of collective enlightenment as opposed to collective endarkenment.  Unless we reset and rebase our cosmology on integral and fully life coherent principles and effect the greatest turning from our collective suicide pact with the principalities of endarkenment, we would end up destroying ourselves and for all that is worthwhile living.”

The realisation now is that we need to come to terms with the root of our culture of violence and to see it for what it is or what it purports to be, which is a fake culture based on domination that debases all that is of instrumental and intrinsic value to life.  As also explained in the above blog article, drawing from Johan Galtung’s definition of cultural violence in Basic Human Needs Approach For Positive Peace:

Cultural violence is the prevailing attitudes and beliefs that we have been taught since childhood and that surround us in daily life about the power and necessity of violence. We can consider the example of telling of history which glorifies records and reports wars and military victories rather than people’s nonviolent agitation, movements, rebellions or the triumphs of connections and collaborations. Almost all cultures recognise that killing a person is murder, but killing tens, hundreds or thousands during a declared conflict is called ‘war’ or killing of innocent people by the security forces are often declared as caught in the crossfire.”

To make any tangible progress going forward we have to come to terms with what is culture.  Here are some definitions:

  • Culture refers to the cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, attitudes, meanings, hierarchies, religion, notions of time, roles, spatial relations, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people in the course of generations through individual and group striving.
  • Culture is the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people.
  • Culture is communication, communication is culture.
  • Culture in its broadest sense is cultivated behavior; that is the totality of a person’s learned, accumulated experience which is socially transmitted, or more briefly, behavior through social learning.
  • A culture is a way of life of a group of people–the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.
  • Culture is symbolic communication. Some of its symbols include a group’s skills, knowledge, attitudes, values, and motives. The meanings of the symbols are learned and deliberately perpetuated in a society through its institutions.
  • Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered as products of action, on the other hand, as conditioning influences upon further action.
  • Culture is the sum of total of the learned behavior of a group of people that are generally considered to be the tradition of that people and are transmitted from generation to generation.
  • Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.

– from

To sum up, culture is a system of knowledge, a way of life, symbolic communication, traditional ideas and their attached values, sum total of learned behaviour and collective programming of the mind.

What got me thinking was the article entitled What Is Culture? | Definition of Culture, which expounded some more on the meaning of the word “culture”:

The word “culture” derives from a French term, which in turn derives from the Latin “colere,” which means to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivation and nurture. “It shares its etymology with a number of other words related to actively fostering growth,” Cristina De Rossi, an anthropologist at Barnet and Southgate College in London, told Live Science.”

This piqued my interest in that it brought readily to mind the value wars explained by Professor John McMurtry between the “actively fostering of growth” by money-capital interest, versus the “actively fostering of growth” of life-capital interests.  If we are going to be true to the true definition of the word “culture” which means “to tend to the earth and grow, or cultivate and nurture actively the fostering of this growth”, then our cacnerous system of domination of private transnational money-sequencing over life-capital protection, maintenance and flourishing is a fake culture, and is in desperate need of rebooting, rebasing, resetting and regrounding on a true culture recentered on life-value.

Interestingly, there is ample anthropologic evidence that this true culture of tending to the earth and its life support systems and the cultivation and nurturance of social life support systems was the norm of human evolution and development, where socialisation was based on relatively peaceful co-existence with each other and nature, and conflicts were dealt with non-violently. Back then, our development from childhood to adulthood created more wholesome, caring and sharing and life-rational homo sapiens who were communally-engaged beings and becomings, rather than the fragmented, hoarding and loathing life-irrational homo economicus and homo politicus self-interested agents that we have been enculturated to become in this day and age. (Please see: The 99 Percent—Development and Socialization Within an Evolutionary Context – Growing Up to Become “A Good and Useful Human Being” by Garcia Narvaez and The Original Partnership Societies: Evolved Propensities for Equality, Prosociality, and Peace by Douglas P. Fry and Geneviève Souillac.)

If Johan Galtun is the “Father of Peace Studies”, then Riane Eisler is the “Mother for Cultural Transformation Studies”, whose life-work is helping us to see our way through this quagmire of fake culture, fake religions, fake news and alternative facts.  She has provided a blueprint and a roadmap for this transformation of our culture to one based on life partnerships in order to get our social trajectories back on the path of right relationships with each other and nature.

In her article entitled Building a Caring Democracy: Four Cornerstones for an Integrated Progressive Agenda, she wrote about “going beyond old social categories and analyses”:

“New thinking requires new language. Linguistic psychologists have shown that the categories we are taught channel our thinking (Ornstein, 1972).

Traditional social categories – such as ancient vs. modern, Eastern vs. Western, leftist vs. rightist, religious vs. secular, capitalist vs. socialist, and technologically developed vs. undeveloped – fragment our thinking. Each only describes a particular aspect of a society, such as time period, geography, ideology, or level of technological development. Moreover, societies in all these categories have been unjust, violent, and repressive, so none help us answer the question of what is needed to build a caring democracy.

Even beyond this is a more basic problem with traditional social categories: all focus almost exclusively on the so-called public sphere of politics and economics from which women and children (the majority of humanity) traditionally have been barred (Eisler, 1987, 2000, 2014, 2016; Eisler & Potter, 2014). They fail to take into account findings from psychology and neuroscience showing that what children experience and observe early on impacts how their brains develop – and hence their beliefs, feelings, and actions, including how they vote (Eisler, 1995, 2014, 2016; Narvaez, Panksepp, Schore, & Gleason, 2015; Niehoff, 1999; Perry, 2002; Eisler & Fry, in progress).

Conventional studies of society also draw from this limited database. They too fail to include the whole of humanity (both its female and male halves) and the whole of our lives (not only the public sphere of politics and economics but also our family and other intimate relations) (Eisler, 1987, 2000, 2014, 2016; Eisler & Potter, 2014).

The study of relational dynamics (SRD) is a new multidisciplinary method of social analysis. It draws from an integrated database that encompasses the so-called public and private spheres as well as both the male and female halves of humanity.

This new method of analysis probes two relational dynamics. The first is what kinds of relations—from intimate to international—a particular culture encourages or discourages. The second is how various elements of a culture interactively relate to shape and maintain its basic character.

To analyze these relations, the study of relational dynamics applies systems analysis: the study of how different components of living systems interact to maintain one another and the larger whole of which they are a part (e.g., Ackoff, 1974; Emery & Trist, 1973). Academic sources for SRD include cross-cultural anthropological surveys (e.g., Coltrane, 1988; Murdock, 1969; Sanday, 1981; Textor, 1969); anthropological and sociological studies of individual societies (e.g., Abu-Lughod, 1986; Benedict, 1946; Giddens, 1984; Min, 1995; Schlegel, 1998; Sanday, 2002; Oliner & Oliner, 1992); findings from neuroscience (e.g., Repetti, Taylor, & Seeman, 2002; Kim, Evans, Angstadt, Ho, Sripada, Swain, & Phan, 2013; Muller, Marlowe, Bugumba, & Ellison, 2009; Narvaez, Panksepp, Schore, & Gleason, 2015; Niehoff, 1999; Super & Harkness, 1986; Fieve, Brill, Hutchings, Mednick, & Rosenthal, 1975; Gettler, McDade, Feranil, & Kuzawa, 2011); findings from primatology (e.g., de Waal, 2009; Sapolsky & Share, 2004); as well as analyses of laws, moral codes, art, literature (including fiction, biographies, and autobiographies), scholarship from psychology, history, economics, education, political science, philosophy, religious studies (including the study of “mystery cults” around the Mediterranean from before the rise of Christianity), archaeological studies (primarily of Western prehistory because of greater availability of materials, but also some of Indian and Chinese prehistory), the study of Western and Eastern myths and legends; and data from more recent fields such as chaos theory, systems self-organizing theory, nonlinear dynamics, gender studies, women’s studies, and men’s studies (for citations of sources, see, e.g., Eisler, 1987, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2013, 2015; Eisler & Levine, 2002). In addition, it has drawn from data obtained through personal experiences and observations obtained from living in Europe (Austria), Latin America (Cuba), and North America (the US), as well as travel (often including conferences and other meetings with diverse scholars) in Kenya, Japan, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Columbia, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, Russia, and European nations such as Finland, Sweden, Germany, Italy, France, Hungary, Croatia, the Czech Republic, and Greece.

A distinguishing feature of the study of relational dynamics is that it pays particular attention to the comparative status of males and females as well as to childrearing practices. Unlike most sociological analyses, SRD examines how a society constructs gender roles and relations, as well parent-child relations, and how these in turn are related to its political and economic structures and beliefs. That is, while SRD recognizes the importance of family structures and normative beliefs about gender roles/relations and parenting practices, it examines these in their larger cultural, political, and economic contexts, showing how the two spheres interact. This systemic, child-development-focused, gender-balanced approach led to the identification of interactive patterns that keep repeating themselves cross-culturally and throughout prehistory and history: the contrasting social configurations of domination systems and partnership systems (Eisler, 1987, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2014, 2016).”

She goes on to elaborate on the “two underlying social configurations”:

“The interactive, mutually supporting configurations of the partnership system and the domination system transcend traditional social categories such as right or left, religious or secular, Eastern or Western, Northern or Southern, and so forth.

Cross-culturally and throughout history, societies adhering closely to the domination system – be they secular, like Nazi Germany in the West and Kim Jong Un’s North Korea in the East, or religious, like ISIS in the Middle East and Boko Haram in Africa – have the following core configuration:

  • Authoritarian rule in both the family and state or tribe, with rigid hierarchies of domination;
  • Ranking of the male half of humanity over the female half, and a high valuing of so-called ‘hard’ or ‘masculine’ traits and activities like domination and violence;
  • A high degree of institutionalized or built-in violence, from wife- and child- beating to war and terrorism, since fear and force ultimately maintain hierarchies of domination – be it man over man, man over woman, race over race, religion over religion, and so forth;
  • Normative stories that present domination and violence as divinely or naturally ordained. (Eisler, 1987, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2013, 2016).

In societies that orient to the partnership system – be they ancient ones such as Catal Huyuk and other prehistoric Neolithic cultures, or modern cultures such as Sweden, Norway, and Finland – we see a different configuration:

  • A more caring and democratic organization in both the family and state or tribe, with hierarchies of actualization where power is used to empower rather than disempower;
  • The equal valuing of both halves of humanity, and high value given to so-called ‘feminine’ or ‘soft’ values such as caring and nonviolence (which are considered ‘unmanly’” in domination systems);
  • A less violent way of living, since violence is not needed to maintain rigid rankings of domination, be it in families or the family of nations;
  •  Beliefs that present relations of mutual respect, accountability, and benefit as natural, and support hierarchies of actualization, where accountability and respect flow both ways rather than only from the bottom up, as in hierarchies of domination. (Eisler, 1987, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2013, 2016).

No society is a pure partnership or domination system. But looking at human history through the lens of the partnership-domination social scale, we see patterns that are not visible through the lenses of conventional social categories (Figure 1).

partnership-domination social scale
Figure 1. Partnership and Domination Systems Reprinted with permission from Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics (SF: Berrett-Koehler, 2007)

She then expounds on the four cornerstones for building partnership cultures:

Four cornerstones
Figure 2. Four Cornerstones for Building Partnership Cultures Reprinted with permission from “The Power of Partnership,” online course offered by the Center for Partnership Studies (

She goes into more detail in the above mentoned article Building a Caring Democracy: Four Cornerstones for an Integrated Progressive Agenda on these four corners which are very much worthy of further reflection and deliberation. In an earlier article in Kosmos entitled Cultural Transformation: Building a Partnership World, she elaborates on the pivotal role of childrearing in programming us to accept violence as natural and “moral” and how our early socialization during this most critical time of our development sows the seeds of violence and social dysfunctionalities in all of their manifestations in our societies.

She explains:

Neuroscience shows that the neural pathways of our brains are not set at birth: they are largely formed in interaction with a child’s early experiences. This is why, although people can, and do, change throughout life, early experiences and relations are critical. If  family  relations based on chronic violations of human rights are considered normal and moral, they provide mental and emotional models for condoning such violations in other relations. If these relations are violent, children also learn that violence from those who are more powerful toward those who are less powerful is an acceptable way of dealing with conflicts and/or problems.

Fortunately, some people reject these teachings. But, unfortunately, many replicate them, not only in their intimate relations but in all relations—including international ones. Coercive, inequitable and violent childrearing is therefore foundational to the imposition and maintenance of a coercive, inequitable and chronically violent social organization.

Since it is through childhood experiences and relations that people acquire habits of feeling, thinking and behavior, we need a global campaign against abuse and violence in childhood relations:

  • Education: providing both women and men the knowledge and skills for empathic, sensitive, nonviolent, authoritative rather than authoritarian childrearing. A resource is the Caring and Connected Parenting Guide that can be downloaded for free at
  • Laws: enacting and enforcing laws criminalizing child abuse and legislation funding education for nonviolent, empathic and fair childrearing. Protecting the Majority of Humanity shows how international law can protect children and women from family violence.
  • Media: eliminating the presentation of violence as a means of resolving conflicts and ‘comedies’ where family members abuse and humiliate each other.
  • Morality: engaging spiritual and religious leaders to take a strong stand against intimate violence—the violence that every year blights, and often takes, the lives of millions of children and women, and leads to violence in all relations. This is the mission of the Spiritual Alliance to Stop Intimate Violence (SAIV).”

So we need a whole-society approach to transform our society going forward.  As is pelucidly clear, we can marry the life-work of Johan Galtung “The Father of Peace Studies” and that of Riane Eisler “The Mother for Cultural Transformation” with that of John McMurtry “The Parent of Life-Value Ontoaxiology” into a most elegant synthesis; where the domination system is now seen as having a cultural, structural and individual bias and disposition towards violence and is seen as a form of life-terrorism where money-value trumps life-value; and the partnership system is now seen as fosturing  the catalytic cultural, structural and individual predisposition towards peace and harmony of the individual life hosts with the life supporting systems in nature and in society.  From this transformative vantage point, the blinkerd out and designated enemy, life-value, is now put in at center stage of this life-partnership socialisation process through and through.

In helping to co-create and reset and reground to a true partnership culture recentered on fully coherent and integrated life-value priniciples, the following unified framework of meaning and understanding of cultural manifestations at different depths is required.

Cultural differences manifest themselves in different ways and differing levels of depth. Symbols represent the most superficial and values the deepest manifestations of culture, with heroes and rituals in between.

  • Symbols are words, gestures, pictures, or objects that carry a particular meaning which is only recognized by those who share a particular culture. New symbols easily develop, old ones disappear. Symbols from one particular group are regularly copied by others. This is why symbols represent the outermost layer of a culture.
  • Heroes are persons, past or present, real or fictitious, who possess characteristics that are highly prized in a culture. They also serve as models for behavior.
  • Rituals are collective activities, sometimes superfluous in reaching desired objectives, but are considered as socially essential. They are therefore carried out most of the times for their own sake (ways of greetings, paying respect to others, religious and social ceremonies, etc.).
  • The core of a culture is formed by values. They are broad tendencies for preferences of certain state of affairs to others (good-evil, right-wrong, natural-unnatural). Many values remain unconscious to those who hold them. Therefore they often cannot be discussed, nor they can be directly observed by others. Values can only be inferred from the way people act under different circumstances.
  • Symbols, heroes, and rituals are the tangible or visual aspects of the practices of a culture. The true cultural meaning of the practices is intangible; this is revealed only when the practices are interpreted by the insiders.”
Manifestation of Culture at Different Levels of Depth

– from

It is now crystal clear the way forward.  We need to recenter our cultural transformation on life-value principles from which our life-valued practices will naturally follow, in terms of our life-valued rituals, heroes and symbols. This would be away from a fake money-valued but life-disvalued culture that was the engine of life-debasing growth based on social, economic and political practices that fostered the justification and glorification of violence in our rituals, heroes (be they fictional or real) and symbols.  To not take the great step forward and follow this right of passage and turn from our childish destructive ways is tantamount to engaging in a form of life-terrorism in all of our cultural manifestations, which is the real form of terrorism rather than the fake false-flag versions that have been manufactured with our consent and labelled as a “war on terrorism.”

I am heartened that many are beginning to see the light and my fervent hope is that by connecting the dots in what were originally siloed fields of contemplation, investigations of understanding and meaning, we could make another transformation from breakdown of our fragmented dominating and violent world into one of breakthrough to a more united in partnership peaceful world for one and all for once and all.

I will leave you with the article that got me thinking and helped to guide my spiritual senses and sensibilities to the above transformative synthesis that put tilling and tending to the life-garden of human possibilities at the center of this journey of life-discoveries.

 To Till the Earth -– Humanity’s Purpose and the Garden Story

by A.J. Kornblith

When read in terms of plain sense, the story of the Garden of Eden found in chapters two and three of Genesis seems to be quite unambiguous in its meaning. Man, only recently created by God and given an easy life of ignorant bliss, throws it all away by breaking God’’s commandment to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and bad. Transgression and punishment lay at the heart of the plain sense reading, enabling subsequent generations to blame the misdeeds of the man and his wife (later Adam and Eve) for the toils and drudgery they must endure in everyday life. It is as though man were placed on earth for the sole purpose of enjoying the bounty of God’’s creation and was forced to suffer the hard task of laboring in the outside world only because of his transgression.

Far more about the role man is to play inside and outside of Eden can be deduced from the garden story itself. Several instances in the text indicate that God places man in the garden of Eden not as a passive observer but in order for him to be an active participant in caring for the garden. Even though it may not be necessary for the garden’s survival, God sets man apart from the rest of creation and assigns him this special task. This action will prepare man for the similar but far more arduous task he is to face when he must care for the rest of creation outside of the garden and prevent humanity from perishing in the process. That God prepares man for this task even before he transgresses suggests that perhaps the duty of caring for the whole earth, and not just Eden, actually belongs to man the entire time.

In Genesis 1:26, God first mentions man when he says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”[1] From this initial reference, it is already clear that God intends to set man apart from the rest of the created world. Previously, every creature created is referred to only as part of a category, such as “birds that fly” or “cattle, creeping things and wild beasts of every kind,” (Genesis 1:25). God not only places man in a category by himself, but also considers his creation before actually creating him in the next verse. Furthermore, God “created man in His image,” suggesting that God instills some part of the divine in man (Gen. 1:27). This reading is consistent with Gen. 2:7, which also refers to man’s creation, saying, “[God] blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” Rashi interprets this verse to mean that man’s “body [is made] from earthy matter and his soul from heavenly matter.”[2] This inclusion of the heavenly in man sets him apart from the rest of the created world. Such distinctions by no means make man comparable to God, but the division between man and the rest of creation is important because of the specific role man is to play in that creation. God commands man to “be fertile and increase; fill the earth and master it,” signifying in even starker terms man’s uniqueness in God’’s eyes (Gen. 1:28). Both what mastering means and how man will know how to accomplish it remains unclear.

The nature of the role that God crafts for man becomes more comprehensible when a portion of the creation story is presented differently in chapter two. The text states, “When the LORD God made earth and heaven— when no shrub of the field was yet on earth and no grasses of the field had yet sprouted the LORD God formed man from the dust of the earth” (Gen. 2:4-5, 7). In this retelling of the story, the creation of man precedes the appearance of at least some of the earth’s vegetation. The text gives two reasons for the lack of greenery prior to this point: “because the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the soil” (Gen. 2:5, emphasis added). This portion of creation, the vegetation of the field, is dependent not only on natural resources such as water from God but also on the direct action of man. God remains the creator, but the implication is that without man to act as a caretaker the created vegetation would be unable to survive or grow. Man must depend on the resources that God has given him, but the vegetation is also dependent on both God and man concurrently.

Other passages suggest that creation’s reliance on man as caretaker extends far beyond the grasses and shrubs of the field. When God first situates man in the garden that he planted in Eden, the text says, “The LORD God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden, to till it and tend it” (Gen. 2:15). The word “to” in the last clause of the verse can mean that God positions man in the garden for the purpose of functioning as its caretaker rather than as a passive occupant. Were the final clause not included, we would have no clues as to what man would actually be doing in the garden. The phrase “to till it and tend it,” however, suggests that man will be involved in the same kind of active caretaking that the text spoke of in 2:5. The text also implies that by placing man in the garden, God expands man’s caretaking role for the grasses and shrubs of the field to include “every tree that was pleasing to sight and good for food” as well as “with the tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and bad” that God plants in Eden (Gen. 2:9). For a being that has just been created, man is being entrusted with big responsibilities by God. Man will spend his time in the garden tending to it and keeping it alive rather than sitting idly by while God does all of the work.

This does not suggest that God is incapable of looking after the garden or any other part of creation without man’s help, but rather that God designates the care of the garden to be man’s purpose for the time being. The task is likely not a terribly arduous one, as there is no indication in the text that Eden is anything short of a paradise. Life in the garden is bountiful and man could probably survive even without working, but God chooses to train him by teaching him skills he will later need when he must survive outside the garden. The important point is not the complexity of the task, but rather that God assigns it to man at this early stage in man’s history, before any transgression occurs. God commands man to “rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth” and also gives man “every seed-bearing plant that is upon the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit,” but only on the condition that he tends to them effectively (Gen. 2:28-29).  The image of Eden as a training ground becomes more convincing here. Only when man is outside the garden will he be able to fulfill God’’s commandment, but as long as he chooses to work within the framework provided by God by adhering to his commandments, God will allow him to continue a comfortable existence within the garden.

The way that the text characterizes the arrival of the woman lends further support to the proposition that God places man on earth with the specific purpose of caretaking in mind. God pronounces, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him” (Gen. 2:18). First of all, it is not immediately clear why it is “not good” for man to be by himself. While he may feel somewhat lonely, the text neither explicitly states this reason nor gives any other. Additionally, God’’s promise of a “helper,” as opposed to some other word choice, indicates that the man has a task to perform that requires someone else’s help.

If we assume that the task with which the woman is to assist is the tilling from verse 2:15, a whole range of new possibilities emerge. In addition to the vegetation in the garden, man now has another project to till or cultivate: his relationship with the woman. This is essentially the beginning of society or of relationships. God sends man a helper so that he (and she) may grasp the first vestiges of not only individual relationships but also societal collaboration. Again, such skills may be of questionable use inside the garden, but outside of it they will be invaluable if he (and she) is to survive and still fulfill God’’s commandment to till and tend creation.

This conclusion is solidified by the verse, “Hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, so that they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). The relationship between the man and the woman will be the first marriage, but it is not yet official. For the man still remains in the garden under the care of God, who is often paternal, and it is arguable that he still enjoys the free bounty of the earth, which is often seen as maternal in religious texts. The verse provides a template for the marital relationship that will become necessary outside of the garden. For now, the man and the woman may become familiar with the relationship and practice it within the garden’s safe confines. Once outside the garden, the man and his wife will have to cling to one another to survive, as the text says, but God ensures that when they are forced to do so, the practice is not completely alien to them. Thus it is not surprising that only the woman is capable of being a “fitting helper,” since her role entails not only assisting the man with the task of caring for God’’s creation but also preparing the foundation of human society (Gen. 2:21).

In an earlier scene, God instructs the man, “Of every tree of the garden you are free to eat, but as for the tree of knowledge of good and bad, you must not eat of it; for as soon as you eat of it, you shall die” (Gen. 2:16-17). The violation of this prohibition by the woman at the snake’s urging and the man’s subsequent participation in the transgression signal the end of the pair’s comfortable existence. What it does not signal, however, is the immediate enactment of the punishment that God promises will befall the man if he (or, presumably, his wife) disobeys God’’s commandment; God does not immediately kill either the man or the woman. Instead, the concept of death explicitly enters the world for the first time.   In detailing the punishments that will befall the man for his actions, God says, “By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat, until you return to the ground, —For from it you were taken. For dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). It is plausible that man forfeits some form of immortality that he might have enjoyed had he remained in the garden, and this idea fits the meaning of 2:17.

God still intends for the man and woman to play specific roles in caring for creation, whether they are immortal. An important component of their punishment, however, is how their roles in tilling the earth will fundamentally change. Just as it is unclear before whether death is present in the world prior to the transgression, it is similarly uncertain to what extent (if any) childbearing is a necessary part of survival in the garden. Now, however, there is no doubt of its importance, as God says to the woman, “I will make most severe your pangs in childbearing. In pain shall you bear children” (Gen. 3:16). While in the garden, her role in the tilling process is to assist in the care and repair of creation and to help the man cultivate the beginnings of human society and relationships. God now gives the woman a new primary responsibility: literally growing and cultivating the entire human species. Perhaps recognizing both “the positive and life-affirming aspect[s] of the new reality,”[3] “the man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all the living” (Gen. 3:20).

The man’s role in tilling and tending the earth also becomes much more difficult outside of the safe confines of Eden. God says to him, “Cursed shall be the ground because of you; by toil you shall eat of it” (Gen. 3:18). His primary task transforms from the easy work of caring for a garden to the arduous labor of farming a field, which now he must do so simply to survive. But there is more at stake than survival. In 3:23, the text states, “So the LORD God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he was taken” (emphasis added). Just as God places the man in the garden “to till it” in 2:15, he now sends the man and his partner out into the world with the same purpose. The difference is that because of God’’s anger with human disobedience, both the man and the woman’s tasks are now much more difficult than before, with the added sting of losing the possibility of immortality.

At the same time that God’’s temper flares, however, he also shows his capability for compassion towards his creations. As stated above, he already gives the man and his wife opportunities for working with the garden that surely prove valuable when they must farm for their own food in the wilderness. Having learned to till and take care of the garden, they are consequently capable of doing so elsewhere even if the conditions are significantly rougher. God also gives them a chance to become accustomed to one another, so that when they are more interdependent on each other for survival, it will not come as so great a shock. Furthermore, in addition to not immediately carrying out the punishment of death he previously promises to the man, God allows both humans to keep the knowledge of good and bad that they receive from transgressing.   On top of it all, God even provides clothing for the pair, who are now conscious of their nakedness, for it says, “And the LORD God made garments of skins for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (Gen. 3:21). God simultaneously shows his fury at being disobeyed and the consequences of disobedience as well as his capability for compassion and providing his creations with the tools necessary for survival and success. “The ‘punishments’ meted out by God to the man, woman and serpent,” notes commentator Joel Rosenberg, “are in effect simply statements of our normal biological realities. To each of these woes there is a positive aspect, the most important of which is that without procreation, we (later generations) would simply not exist.”[4] Adam and Eve still have their purposes to fulfill as caretakers of the world. It is only now that they are outside of Eden that they can fully comply with God’’s commandment to “[be] fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it” (Gen. 1:28). As God says, “Now the man has become like one of us, knowing good and bad” (Gen. 3: 22). While it is for this reason that God expels man from the garden of Eden, at the same time the milestone marks the fulfillment of God’’s first declaration regarding man: that he be “in our image, after our likeness” (Gen. 1:26).

Now that they are fully prepared to face the hardships of the world, Adam and Eve are sent out to fulfill God’’s commandments to till and tend to it. These two orders, to till and to tend, have separate but related meanings. The former implies an action involving preparation, cultivation and development, whereas the latter entails a process of repair. Adam and Eve begin these undertakings, but the tasks they have to perform remain relevant and necessary for mankind today.

Even in the literal sense, the act of tilling has several applications for Adam, Eve, and us today. First, the pair must farm the land in order to survive. They also have to farm effectively enough so that the species can grow and prosper, so that humans may eventually “fill the earth and master it” (Gen. 1:28). Today, humans have certainly filled the earth, and to a great extent we have either mastered or are in the process of mastering its many resources— for better or for worse. Nevertheless, we remain just as dependent on the earth as our ancestors were, although we may not be cognizant of the fact since most of us are accustomed to purchasing our food processed rather than producing it ourselves. With a much greater population on the planet, it is even more important that we marshal our resources and develop them effectively.

This leads us to the other tilling that Adam and Eve begin: the process of setting up or cultivating the early vestiges of human civilization. Eve’’s arrival in the garden allows the pair to model a marital relationship that eventually becomes the primary unit of society, and once they leave the garden they have to put this model into practice and develop it. As the population grew, the level of societal organization and complexity progressed accordingly from relationships between individuals. Our ancestors, beginning with Adam and Eve, prepared the earth for habitation like one prepares a field for planting, although they managed not only soil but society as well. Such actions are especially relevant to us because advances in communications technology have made the world smaller than ever before. Whole civilizations can and do interact with one another and no segment of the world can act as though it is completely cut off from the rest. These communications and the forces of change that accompany them have lead to extensive problems and disagreements. For example, a series of cartoons in a Danish newspaper mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad resulted in riots and violence across the Middle East. Our primary task in tilling is to develop norms for interactions between the diverse societies on this planet that now have no choice but to interact with one another. The bar for dealing with these problems has been raised as societies have become more complex, but human ingenuity combined with greater opportunities for cooperation have allowed us to meet the challenges set before us by God, and we have every indication, based on Genesis, that he will continue to provide us with the necessary tools to do so in the future.

Like the act of tilling, tending can also be applied both literally and figuratively. Adam and Eve have to remove the “thorns and thistles” that sprout in their fields if they are to cultivate their crops successfully (Gen. 3:18). For us today, however, many of the dilemmas that we face on this planet are of our own making. The most obvious example is the looming threat of global warming caused by our own industry. While certain high-ranking public officials may choose to ignore it, the damage we are doing to the planet will have lasting consequences for our children. We must tend to these problems and repair the damage done as best we can, lest we end up disobeying God’’s command to care for the earth.

Finally, tending also refers to the repair of societal injustices and the restoration of fundamental fairness to society when it is lacking. When God punished but did not destroy Adam and Eve, he was modeling the compassion and justice that we should and for the most part have incorporated into our societal laws. In our own country, human rights are by and large respected in the course of normal law, but this is not the case in many parts of the world. That is not to say we must launch crusades to rectify the injustice. Still, where we can, we have a duty to use reasonable methods to pull the weeds of societal injustice both at home and abroad. Politics is gardening on a local or global scale. Just as God gave our ancestors the capability to till and tend the earth on an individual level, so too has he bestowed upon us the aptitude to cooperate and make use of our skills as an entire species to develop and repair the entire world.


[1] JPS Hebrew-English TANAKH (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003).   All other biblical   references are also from this source.

[2]Rashi Gen. 2:7-8

[3] Joel Rosenberg, “Bible – Biblical Narrative,” in Back to the Sources-Reading the Classical Jewish Texts, ed. Barry W. Holtz (New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1984), 57.

[4]Rosenberg, 57.

© 2007, Society for Scriptural Reasoning

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