I’d like to take on a particular narrative that circulates around these parts: Namely, it’s a reading of Genesis 3 that I find remarkable. Here’s the narrative:

Man’s original sin was disobedience. God ordered Adam & Eve  to not eat the fruit from a particular tree. Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate the fruit. The just and necessary punishment for that disobedience was death, so Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden and deprived of eternal life. Not only that, but the just and necessary punishment for their disobedience is that all their descendents must also die and suffer eternal torment after death.

Fortunately, for those who adhere to this narrative, redemption is available through the atoning blood of Jesus. But in the absence (or rejection) of that atonement, the arch sin of disobedience and the just and necessary punishment stand.

I’d like to make the case that the narrative described above is remarkable for its authoritarian bent.

Parents try to instill a number of virtues in their children–among them, obedience, generosity, kindness, self-reliance, honesty, creativity. The opposites of some of these virtues are considered sins–disobedience, cruelty, miserliness, dishonesty. Parents can emphasize certain virtues over others.

Parents use a number of means to inculcate the virtues and discourage the sins–among them, threats, punishment, modeling, relationship, praise, skill-building, reason, environmental management.

Authoritarian parenting (like authoritarian government) emphasizes obedience as the primary virtue and punishment as the go-to means of achieving it. The virtues of kindness, generosity, creativity get short shrift in authoritarian parenting, as do the use of praise, skill-building, and modeling. Authoritarian parenting is associated with poor outcomes–i.e., you are less likely to produce a healthy, functional, law-abiding, and kind adult through authoritarian parenting than with a more nurturing style. To be fair, authoritarianism isn’t the worst form of parenting: utter neglect and indifference are worse. 

Authoritarian parenting can be the result of low parental skills; it can also be an appropriate response to a highly lethal environment (such as a war zone, enslavement, or a failed state, where one wrong move can get a child killed or sold). 

Authoritarian governments rank among the worst humanity has produced: Communism, Fascism, Islamism. They tend to be arbitrary, cruel, inefficient, and corrupt; they deprive citizens of basic rights and freedoms and create large-scale suffering. They tend to be better than a failed state, but worse than any other form of government. 

So: The obedience/punishment reading of Genesis is authoritarian. And authoritarianism is problematic.

Are there other ways to read Genesis 3? Sure! Here are my favorites:

  • It’s about the development of agriculture and humanity’s loss of living naturally off the land:

“Cursed is the ground because of you;

    through painful toil you will eat food from it

    all the days of your life.

It will produce thorns and thistles for you,

    and you will eat the plants of the field.

By the sweat of your brow

    you will eat your food (Genesis 3: 17-19)

Life was good in the hunter-gatherer days. Agriculture is nothing but work and paying taxes to the feudal lord.

  • It’s about the loss of innocence: 

when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. (Genesis 3: 5-7)

Animals don’t suffer like humans do: Ignorance is bliss; self-awareness is the root of suffering.


  1. Amiright that this obedience-punishment version of God in Genesis has an authoritarian bent? 
  2. Is it spooky that Christians who embrace this view also have a tendency to embrace authoritarians like Trump and Orban?
  3. Are authoritarian parenting and government really undesirable?
  4. How do you read Genesis? Literal truth? Divinely inspired allegory? Myth? Utter bullshit?
  5. What is your favored interpretation of the story of the Fall?