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Monday, February 23, 2009

blind faith in milton's paradise lost

Milton’s Paradise Lost traces back the roots of man’s inherent sin that was gained by virtue of Adam and Eve’s giving in to the inducements of Satan. By doing so, they contravened God and His command to venerate and obey him completely. Their once unwavering faith quivered because they gave in to mindless obedience. Some people may mistake faith as a form of mindless obedience. After all, anything related to faith is devoid of reason. God expected utter faith from Adam and Eve when He gave this admonition:
[…] fear here no dearth: But of the Tree whose operation brings knowledge of good and ill, which I have set the pledge of thy obedience and thy faith, amid the Garden by the Tree of Life, remember what I warne thee, shun to taste, and shun the bitter consequence: […] (Milton, Book VIII, lines 322-328)
When God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat the Forbidden Fruit, they were not expected to argue or question this command simply because they know that God has unquestionable wisdom. As long as they believe, God would not let any harm befall upon them. This concept of faith is relative to the meaning of mindless obedience; only, mindless obedience means giving in to something that may or may not be just/moral. It comes in forms of temptations, beguiling men to give in to their evil desires that will eventually lead to sin. Eve knew that God is the epitome of goodness, but she still chose to follow the snake even though she knows that its wisdom is dubitable. She may not have believed in the snake, but she still blindly followed it --- thus, she obeyed mindlessly.
The practice of faith is backed up by the concept of free will. God bestowed man the gift of free will --- it is the power to choose to embrace the good or to embrace evil. In Paradise Lost as in the Bible, however, we see how Adam and Eve used this gift to embrace the bad --- Eve, when she ate the Forbidden Fruit, and Adam, when he chose Eve over God. Because of this, God punished them by casting original sin to their descendants, opening the contemporary world to sin and worldliness.
The fall of man started because of evil. It is forever haunting; it is forever seeking for its next prey. In paradise, Satan chose to work his way through Eve first, since she is known to be inferior to Adam thus, she is considered weaker and more vulnerable. Events before the core temptation happened, we can already sense Eve’s agitation when Adam persuades her to stay with him because of Raphael’s warning of impending danger:
If this be our condition, thus to dwell in narrow circuit straiten’d by a foe, subtle or violent, we not endured single with like defence, wherever met, how are we happy, still in fear of harm? But harm precedes not sin; only our foe tempting affronts us with his foul esteem of our integrity; […] (Milton Book IX, lines 322-329)
Here, Eve feels as if she is capable of taking care of herself. She feels assured of her potent faith in God and she tells Adam that no temptation can lead her astray. With Adam’s permission, she sets forth to the garden where she falls prey to the enthralling words of the serpent:
Here grows the cure of fall, this fruit divine. Fair to the eye, inviting to the taste, of virtue to make wise: what hinders then to reach, and feed at once at both body and mind? […] So saying, her rash hand in evil hour forth reaching to the fruit, she pluck’d, she ate; Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat, sighing through all her works, gave signs of woe that all was lost. (Milton Book IX, lines 776-784)
This particular passage marks the fall of Eve. We see how Satan works on Eve’s vanity. He lured Eve into thinking that she deserves to be worshipped with divinity and this could only happen if she takes a bite from the Forbidden Fruit. Despite Eve’s buoyancy that she is capable of resisting temptation, she was too imprudent and naïve to feel evil lurking in her presence. This just proves how weak and vulnerable Eve really is. When she bit on the forbidden fruit, we see how Milton profoundly accentuated the foreboding catastrophe bound her way --- nature wept and the earth was deeply injured. Based from the passage above, we can also garner that man has this continuous craving for something more. Man is never satisfied, and he constantly seeks for a better life. There is just no entity that can wholly fulfill man’s satisfaction. According to Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority, man his this tendency of becoming so absorbed in the narrow technical aspects of the situation that they fail to comprehend the broader consequences it entails. Eve lived in paradise, a world so perfect and peaceful but she wasn’t contented --- she wanted power and heavenly beauty that made her defy God and which cost her imminent doom.
The yearning of man eventually led to Adam’s downfall too. He was so trapped in the web of love. He loves Eve so much that he could not let her go to the point that he chose Eve over God. He seems to be under the impression that he can live without God --- the very same Divine Being who created him and Eve. He reasons that he will be living in devastation without his lifetime partner and he cannot bear that:
How can I live without thee, how forego thy sweet converse, and love so dearly join’d, to live again in these wild woods forlorn? […] Bone of my bone thou art, and form thy state mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe. (Milton Book IX, lines 908-916)
With these treacheries, God justly punished the both of them for their lack of faith and for their noncompliance. They made them shameful of their own bodies, chastised them with visions that would make their descendants suffer, the likes of Noah’s flood, kingdoms that would eventually fall, sicknesses that would plague the world and the Last Judgment. Most of all, they lost their innocence and this could never be redeemed for innocence lost is lost forever.
Adam and Eve’s mindless obedience to the beguilement of the serpent has to do with the high stake of becoming gods like the One who created them. Imagine: creatures becoming creators themselves? And the medium of this transformation was too easy to perform: just one bite and it is all right. One bite into the Forbidden Fruit, and wisdom opens their eyes. It seemed to Adam and Eve that obedience to God need not be minded because of the promising consequence of their biting action. For this one, they could exercise their reason whereas for God’s commandment, they could only exercise faith. The call of the flesh was on this instance, stronger than that of the spirit—it became too easy to obey mindlessly especially if the reward is material and lofty.
Because of mindless obedience, Adam and Eve both lost a paradise. They were both driven out of such a perfect dwelling place. This perhaps is one of the consequences of disobedience. Some people may infer that faith means obeying without reservations and limits. If one disobeys, he will be punished. This can be exemplified in Dante’s literary piece, Inferno, where it is greatly implied that all our grave misconducts have a corresponding harsh outcome in hell. Reacting to faith in such a negative manner, we lose its humanistic nature. It drives people to believe that we submit to religious obligations simply because we are compelled to do so. The Bible perceives the notion of faith in a more optimistic manner. Citing the Beatitudes, the Bible deems that obedience is seen in light of a reward --- that when we obey, we shall receive.
There are distinct personalities in the Bible that serve as ideal Christians for us to follow and look up to. There is Job who, amidst the suffering and provocations of the devil, stood firm in his belief in God. Abraham, who willingly offered his son as a sacrificial lamb to God, gained God’s respect and trust. And of course, Jesus Christ, who withstood the three godly temptations of Satan in the desert. God promised them a seat in heaven for their undying faith and love. He repays them with His love, given back tenfold. According to Merritt Y. Hughes, “the love of God may also be the soul’s passionate devotion to the Summum Bonum of a philosophical faith, immolating all lesser goods on the altar of the Highest Good and forsaking all earthly beauty to ascend the ladder of love to heavenly beauty.” (190)
In today’s context, we continue to endure endless pain and suffering. This is because we serve as spawns to Adam and Eve’s shortcomings. We are born with original sin --- that is, our tendency to disobey and cast out goodness. In the process of growing spiritually, we become Christ-like by aspiring to obey and stop sin to enter our lives. God helps mold our character by sending the Redeemer, Jesus Christ, so that he could salvage and redeem us from eternal damnation. John 3: 16 quotes that God gave His son Jesus out of His profound love for us despite our limitations and inadequacies. He continues to hope that one day, we will choose to come back to His welcoming arms and claim our seat in heaven. The catch, however, is intricate. Before enjoying the delight found in paradise, we are required to purely, importunately obey Him. It is a task we strive to carry out everyday. Again, from John 3:16 “…whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life.” (stress mine)
Man will always have this internal battle between good and evil. Free will, the very same gift that God gave us, is the same thing that hinders us from being morally upright sons and daughters. We will always find ourselves looking for reasons, justifying our beliefs with proofs and explanations. We may find ourselves mindlessly following something that we may deem to be a leap of faith. Thus, we must bear in mind that there is a thin line separating faith from mindless obedience. We then ask ourselves, are we being faithful or are we simply obeying mindlessly?

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