Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Erich Fromm on religion (3): In the Garden of Eden

I probably first read Erich Fromm's distinctive analysis of the Biblical myth of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in his most important book, Escape from Freedom, which as a teenager I read several times. Over the next few years I read most of Fromm's books in English.  But as with several of my youthful interests, I moved on and only took him up again decades later.

I was always intrigued by his interpretation of the Eden myth, which makes a good deal of symbolic sense, i.e. that what Christians call the Fall really represents man's rupture with his unity with nature, with his unselfconscious animal state, whereupon he gains knowledge of his mortality and becomes embarrassed by his nakedness. I believe he is correct in this, but I cannot accept this as a complete interpretation. Several myths (my interest is primarily in the Edenic and Cain/Abel myths) have been reinterpreted, transformed, even turned upside down. But I think that, at the end of the day, there's an inherent limitation in myth, and I think the Edenic myth is a case in point.

Fromm includes variations of his analysis is various of his works. It seems to me that there is an unresolved contradiction in his perspective. His thesis on the Old Testament is that Judaism begins as an authoritarian religion and ends up as a humanistic one. I think that his approach is fundamentally flawed, but at the moment I would like to point out Fromm's admission that the Edenic myth shows evidence of its development in ancient times and the survival of repressed elements (see my previous post) and that God's judgment on Adam and Eve is a manifestation of authoritarianism. So, if the Edenic myth is interpretable both as anthropomorphically authoritarian and as symbolic of the rupture with the unity of nature, there is an unresolved discrepancy here. I think both assertions are true, but this is precisely why myth is inherently limited and liberal religion inherently ideologically suspect.

Here is my list of significant references.

Fromm, Erich. Escape from Freedom. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1941. In Britain: The Fear of Freedom, 1942; see pp. 27-28.

__________. Psychoanalysis and Religion [1950] (New York: Bantam Books, 1967), pp. 41-42.

__________. The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales, and Myths (New York: Grove Press, 1957 [1951]), pp. 234-235.

__________. Marx’s Concept of Man (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, 1961), Chapter 6, Marx's Concept of Socialism.

__________. You Shall Be as Gods: A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and Its Traditions. New York: Fawcett Premier / Ballantine, 1966. See pp. 21-23, 57-58, 96-98.
Summary: Naomi Sherer reviews... You Shall Be As Gods by Eric Fromm.
__________. “On Disobedience” [excerpt] (1984).

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