Reading “Season of Mists: Chapter 2”

Last year I got it in my head that it would be fun to do a series exploring John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost.  During my time in grad school I had a brief fascination with Milton that was largely spurred on by my immersion in evangelical subculture at the time.  Much of the modern understanding of the story of the Fall is derived from Milton’s work, even though many smarter people than me have pointed out that in reality, he was more or less just writing his own fanfiction about something that he really loved (seriously, when you realize that Milton includes an extended passage explaining how Adam and Eve’s digestive systems worked so that they never actually pooped in the garden, you know you’re dealing with a superfan).  Milton’s imagining of the events leading up to the Fall depicted in Genesis are quite fantastic, and well worth looking at if you have the stomach for poetry.

Lucifer is all about personal freedom. And creeptastic teeth. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

I like to think of issue #23 of The Sandman as Gaiman’s love letter to Milton’s Satan.  From the opening page depicting Dream flying through an infinite nowhere that’s evocative of the unshapen chaos that Satan traverses on his way to infiltrate the garden after he hears about the creation of humans (it’s a terrifying experience, even for a being of near infinite power) to Lucifer’s extended meditation (most of this issue is a prolonged monologue given by Lucifer while he shuts Hell down) on whether his rebellion in Heaven was actually a rebellion or just another facet of the Creator’s plan, Gaiman is riffing on ideas presented in Paradise Lost.  The entire effect of the issue, at least to me, even echoes what I thought about Book One of Paradise Lost (the first book details the aftermath of Satan’s failed rebellion and his attempt to pick up the pieces and establish his reign over Pandemonium besides the lake of fire), which was that there’s a lot about this devil guy to sympathize with (my professor in undergrad with whom I first read parts of Paradise Lost rather soundly deconstructed these feelings of sympathy in her lecture on the text, but I still think there’s a hint of admiration to be found in Milton’s voice).  In Gaiman’s writing, Lucifer comes across as imminently sympathetic.  He’s been villainized by mortals as the one responsible for their bad behavior when he honestly doesn’t give a damn, and he kind of resents the fact that for all his power in Hell, he’s still operating according to the whims of the mortals who find themselves there after they die (Lucifer insists that people who come to Hell do so because they believe they should be there, and the punishments they receive are self-directed).  Like with Milton’s Satan, you have to first accept what Gaiman’s Lucifer says at face value, but it does sound really convincing (particularly in the cosmology of The Sandman where the supernatural seems to spring from the Dreaming, which is a landscape for the collective unconscious of all mortals in the universe).

The ultimate effect is that I consciously recognize that Lucifer is still antagonizing Dream (particularly knowing what’s going to happen because he hands the key to Hell over to him), but in the moments where Lucifer steps down from his office and offers his complaint about what his existence has been like, I feel for the guy.  He’s really screwing Dream over in the process, but I don’t begrudge him deciding that he doesn’t have to be responsible for playing the adversary to a Divinity who might have manipulated him into the role in the first place.  Lucifer’s an agent of free will, and he won’t be damned if he can help it.

Besides exercising his free will (we get a lovely little scene where Lucifer demonstrates his commitment to refusing obligations that he doesn’t want by evicting a small group of fiends who don’t want to leave because they think the lord of Hell should continue fighting the bad fight, as it were; he tells them he’ll do “what he damn well likes” and sends them away), Lucifer also explores the topic of infinite punishment for finite crimes.  Besides the stubborn demons, he also has to contend with a stubborn man who insists that he must suffer for eternity to pay for his really quite gruesome litany of crimes.  Lucifer is unmoved by the catalogue, and points out that all the murders were of people who would have been long dead by this point in time anyway (he seems to have no empathy for the magnitude of suffering that the guy with the hooks in his face inflicted during his life), and everyone’s forgotten his name on top of that (it’s a nice little variation on “Ozymandias”), so the punishment has become pointless.  A little later in the issue, when Lucifer discusses his own crimes we get to see that he’s really thinking about himself, and whether it’s just that he should rule Hell for eternity because of his rebellion (he acknowledges that returning to life as an angel is out of the question probably both because he wouldn’t be welcomed back and because he’d find the servitude galling after millennia playing the bad guy for God).

Turning to the art of the issue, Kelley Jones does some incredible work with close up panels of faces in this issue.  It’s a very talky issue with a fair bit of back and forth between Lucifer and Dream, but pretty frequently Jones interjects a panel or two that consists only of a look from one of the two central characters that conveys a lot of information with just a look (also, every panel where Kelley Jones gets to draw a character’s teeth is one of my favorite because he always draws them in a way that rushes headlong into the uncanny valley, which is a wonderfully unsettling effect for a book focused on Dream and Lucifer).  Besides the lovely close-ups, Jones also draws some great hellscapes that convey the emptiness and the vastness of the place.

Next issue sees more of Jones’s signature creepy teeth and the fallout of Lucifer’s parting gift to Dream begins to make itself apparent.

Re-Reading Paradise Lost: In Which Th’ Arch-Enemy Falls

So I’m sitting here at my computer, wondering how I begin this series (the last post doesn’t really count because that was more a history of my experience with the poem rather than any actual discussion of it), and it seems to me that the device of in medias res is a really useful one.  You don’t have to do too much to establish your topic, and you’re free to jump in at a point of high excitement.  The background details can be filled in later; for now, what’s important is that you hook your readers.

Hell at last, Yawning received them whole. By Gustav Dore. (Image credit: University of Buffalo Libraries)

For Milton, I think that hooking his readers was a pretty important thing, considering what he wanted to accomplish in Paradise Lost.  This was going to be the English epic, the poem that defined what was so great about Milton’s native language, and for its subject, Milton picked what he considered to be the most important story in all the world.  That’s a lot of pressure to put on one’s shoulders, but I’ve always understood that John Milton had more than a slight ego, so he probably felt himself up to the task.

That desire to really set his poem apart doesn’t stop Milton from hitting all the typical epic conventions, including the real biggy: the invocation of the Muse.  Of course, Milton’s not dealing with any heathen muses here; he goes straight for the Holy Spirit as his inspiration.  And how does he ask the Holy Spirit to help him?

[…] What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support,
That to the heighth of this great argument
I may assert Eternal Providence
And justify the ways of God to men. [emphasis mine]

– Book 1, ll. 22-26

Okay, so maybe Milton has a little bit more humility than I give him credit for.  He does ask the Holy Spirit to augment him so that he can better explain God’s ways.  Justify them, even.

This is a strange way to begin, asking for help in justifying how God works to men.  Milton’s writing in an age where the universal hierarchy is pretty uniformly accepted by Western thinkers.  Under that model, there’s not much need for justification when it comes to explaining why someone who’s your superior does the things they do; they’re better than you, so shut up and accept it.  God, being at the top of the chain, should naturally be above reproach here, and yet Milton still feels like his purpose is to explain God’s ways.

I guess theodicy’s one of those questions we just can’t get away from, no matter how much our theology may teach us to bury our heads in the sand over it.

And should we even try to get away from it?  In Christian thought, God is supposed to embody love.  That’s the creative force of the universe, and yet we’re constantly bombarded with experiences that demonstrate how love gets so easily thwarted, to say nothing of the purely destructive forces that exist around us and seem to strike without any real reason.  In our worst moments, all the things we can characterize as being of God seem to operate with no justification at all.  I suppose that doesn’t sit well with Milton (which is good; if it sits well with anyone, then they’re either not thinking very hard about what’s happening around them, or they’re psychopaths who lack basic empathy), so he’s going to buck the system with the kindest permission of the Holy Spirit who’s going to do everything in its power to make Milton not suck at justifying God to people.

Alrighty then.

So with the purpose established, Milton finally gets to setting the scene.  We come in just after the rebellious angels have landed in hell,

Such place Eternal Justice had prepared
For those rebellious, here their pris’n ordained
In utter darkness and their portion set
As far removed from God and light of Heav’n
As from the center thrice to th’ utmost pole.

– Book 1, ll. 70-74

What’s really interesting here is how Milton’s personified Justice as an entity separate from God.  The personifications of Death and Sin that appear later in Paradise Lost are pretty famous, but they make sense as separate things.  They’re supposed to be byproducts of Satan’s rebellion (Sin is born directly from Satan’s rebellion, and then she births Death after Satan rapes her), and so it makes sense that they would be their own entities.  Regarding Justice, her separateness is intriguing because it suggests that she’s a created entity, subservient to God.  Milton’s cosmology is a little unusual because he refers to the Son as the first creation of the Father (I remember freaking out the first time I read that bit because it seemed to counter the doctrine of the coeternal Trinity, although now I think there’s probably something more subtle going on; besides, no one really understands the Trinity that well), so Justice has to be something that came afterwards.  I just find it interesting that here she’s characterized as being apart from God, when there are multiple very popular strains of modern theology that say God’s character exists in the tension between his need for justice and his desire for mercy (penal substitutionary atonement, anyone?).  Perhaps Milton is just being poetic, or perhaps he’s making a statement about the need for justice to act in service to God’s primary characteristic of love.

Of course, that reading doesn’t fully explain why God, after so easily subduing an upstart rebellion (we’ll learn much later that he ended the conflict single-handedly after three days of fighting among the angels) sees fit to punish the rebels by casting them into hell.  The best explanation I can come up with leans on Satan’s famous declaration that it’s “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven!” (1.263).  Milton seems to be making a case that Satan’s damnation stems from his own pride and refusal to submit to his place within the hierarchy.  God would be willing to take the fallen angels back if they would repent, but they’re incapable of choosing that option.  It’s a more or less Arminian reading of damnation (which generally posits that God hasn’t predestined us to salvation or damnation, but leaves the choice up to us individually; it’s the most palatable interpretation of hell as eternal punishment that I can imagine, though I still think it has flaws).  Of course, Satan’s mental state might call into question how fair it is to leave the decision of damnation up to him.

In Satan’s first speech, Milton establishes that our subject has a very special discursive style.  It involves complicated (and often convoluted) phrasing with multiple digressions (as though Satan just can’t keep focused on a single train of thought for very long) that tend to distract from the central point that’s being made.  It’s not unusual for Satan to carry on for more than twenty lines with a tangent before he finally gets to the point he started with (for an excellent example, look at lines 84-105 in Book 1; it’s a difficult passage to parse, even with a good edition that takes care to include clarifying punctuation).

Actually, Satan’s oratory reminds me a lot of my own informal writing (though I lack all the fancy diction that Milton’s prone to putting in the devil’s mouth).  I wonder if that means that I’m in the same boat, where my salvation is up to me personally, but I just… can’t… get to that ever important thought (I mean, how could I when so many other interesting thoughts occur along the way?) that puts me in the proper doxological category.  The point I’m trying to make is that Satan’s a bit of a loon, and his mental capacity continuously diminishes throughout the poem, so having a salvation model that requires him to come to a place of right belief isn’t the most fair setup.

Also, Satan’s kind of full of himself:

That glory never shall His wrath or might
Extort from me: to bow and sue for grace
With suppliant knee and deify His pow’r

– Book 1, ll. 110-112

Here Milton intends for Satan’s redemption to be impossible because of his own pride and inability to acknowledge his place in the divine hierarchy.  It goes back to the free will factor, which I still think is the least problematic form of a model of eternal damnation, though I believe modern thought has eroded the defensibility of this position.  In our postmodern society, the existence of God is no longer something that people are able to treat as a given which they must deal with in their approach to the way of the universe.  It’s harder to blame a person for rebelling against God (and consequently bringing about their own damnation) when they don’t necessarily have to believe that God is something against which they are in rebellion.  Contemporary non-Christians are usually not angry apostates who shake their fists in rage against a God in whom they still bear a grudging belief, but people who just don’t accept the premises of the faith as axiomatic.  God’s not worth fighting because God might not even exist (or if God does, he might not bear any resemblance to the person described in Christian tradition; he might not even be a single entity).  I think that Milton’s exemplar of spiritual rebellion comes across as a little dated here.

But the question of Satan and the other fallen angels’ agency in their damnation isn’t the only question that Milton grapples with in this first chapter.  He also hits in a slightly oblique way the whole issue of a cosmology where evil, as embodied in the rebellious Satan, is allowed to run free and thwart good.  Beelzebub, Satan’s chief lieutenant, brings it up like this:

But what if He our conqueror (whom I now
Of force believe almighty since no less
Than such could have o’erpow’red such force as ours)
Have left us this our spirit and strength entire
Strongly to suffer and support our pains
That we may so suffice His vengeful ire
Or do Him mightier service as His thralls
By right of war, whate’er His business be:
Here in the heart of Hell to work in fire
Or do His errands in the gloomy deep?

– Book 1, ll. 143-152

Just prior to Beelzebub’s rumination on why God might allow the fallen angels to continue in their full strength, Satan discusses how it’s fortunate that they still have their power, because this means, with the new knowledge of God’s true strength, that they can continue to wage war eternally, even if they can’t really hope to ever overthrow God (funny how quickly Satan’s goal changes from conquest to just constant agitation; the diminishment of his ambitions is a regular motif throughout Paradise Lost).  Beelzebub, though faithful, has a little bit more sense to be wary of the fact that all the fallen angels are being punished for their rebellion, and that the reason for their current state probably figures into that punishment somehow (if I had to hazard a guess, it might go back to Satan’s pride; being beaten but not weakened would feed into his inability to repent; of course, that’s kind of a crappy move on God’s part, since it means he’s stacked the deck against the fallen angels’ own free will).  Alternately, Beelzebub reasons if their strength isn’t anything to do with punishment, then it’s probably to do with some other plan that God has which requires them to operate in hell apart from him (here we get hints of predestination and the adage that “even the devil is God’s devil”).  Either way, things don’t look too good for the fallen angels.

I guess they’ll just have to build themselves a giant demon palace and hang out for a bit.

One last thing I want to note (and this doesn’t speak so much to the framework Milton’s trying to build around hell and the fallen angels’ natures, which I think is the major theme of the first book) is a passage from the catalog of demons who comprise Satan’s vast infernal army.

With these came they who from the bord’ring flood
Of old Euphrates to the brook that parts
Egypt from Syrian ground had general names
Of Baalim and Ashtaroth, those male,
These feminine, for spirits when they please
Can either sex assume or both, so soft
And uncompounded is their essence pure,
Not tied or manacled with joint or limb
Nor founded on the brittle strength of bones
Like cumbrous flesh but in what shape they choose,
Dilated or condensed, bright or obscure,
Can execute their airy purposes
And works of love or enmity fulfill.

-Book 1, ll. 419-431

This passage is a description of the various Baals and Ashtaroths who appear in the Old Testament as local gods of the nations surrounding and mixing with Israel.  It’s part of a much larger list (the majority of Book 1 is this catalogue of the fallen angels) that re-frames various pagan deities from antiquity as fallen angels who posed as gods in order to lead people away from the true God.  The thing I want to note here is how Milton is pretty explicit in saying that sex is a biological trait bound up in our physical bodies.  The fallen angels (and by extension, the faithful angels as well) are creatures without a fixed sex, because they’re purely spirit.  This idea probably has its roots in Platonism with the concept of ideal forms, and seems to have a twinge of disparagement for the physical world in general, but I like this passage because it seems to be Milton saying that sex and gender are fluid, at least on a spiritual level.  To put it another way, there is nothing intrinsically gendered about a man’s spirit or a woman’s spirit.  Furthermore, Milton seems to be noting this detail as just a neutral fact.  Spirits may change their sex as they wish to serve whatever purpose they have, for good or ill.  From the perspective of gender dynamics, it’s a pretty progressive stance.

I wonder how it’ll hold up when we get introduced to Adam and Eve.

Re-Reading Paradise Lost: In Which I Lay Out My Argument

It seems appropriate, at the start of this particular undertaking, to utter a small prayer.

God, where do I start with this poem?

My usual quip about it being best to start at the beginning doesn’t seem quite so proper here, what with this being an epic poem and the convention of in medias res being in full effect.

Nonetheless, I’m not always a very proper person, so let’s just forget beginning with Satan recovering from his failed bid to overthrow Heaven, and go back to my freshman year of undergrad.  That’s when I was first introduced to Paradise Lost, and I recall it had a bit of an impact on me.  I wasn’t a very well trained reader back then (for anyone wondering, the difference between a novice reader and a well trained one is just the number of papers they’ve had to write about their reading; there’s no guarantee the more experienced reader is any better at offering insights into literature), so what I remember from reading the first two books of the poem for my survey of English literature class was that I came away feeling really bad for Satan.  I mean, he fought for a cause he believed in and lost, but he was still prepared to keep fighting on after that.  The guy had conviction.

A happy rural seat of various view. By Gustave Dore. (Image credit: University of Buffalo Libraries)

Of course, then my professor explained to us in class how Satan was intended more as a parody of an epic hero whose qualities marked him as a character that should be disdained.  I learned my lesson there and didn’t think any more about Paradise Lost until I was in graduate school (thanks to that same literature professor, I developed a taste for the English Renaissance that kept me from really revisiting Milton during my undergrad years).

At this point I took a Maymester course (that’s like cramming an entire semester long course into a three week period of three hour class sessions every day) on teaching English literature of the 16th and 17th centuries (five years later I still have not had an opportunity to do anything with Utopia or Dr. Faustus in a classroom).  Honestly, I don’t remember if we read Paradise Lost during that class or the fall semester afterward when I took a class with the same professor that covered pretty much the same material, but as a general purpose literature course (the members of my grad school cohort who took that Maymester class together took to calling ourselves Erickson’s refugees in honor of that professor, but I, apparently, was the only one who didn’t feel enough like a refugee and so went back to experience the madness a second time).  It’s not terribly important either way, but it was the first time I read Paradise Lost in its entirety.

Or at least, it was supposed to be.

If I recall correctly, I read bits and pieces of the poem, but as anyone who’s ever been an English major knows, there just comes a point where you stop trying to read everything you’re assigned (or maybe every English major doesn’t know that, and I was just particularly bad at it).

No, it wasn’t until the following year during the Maymester when I took a class on grammar (perhaps my absolute favorite class in my whole grad school experience, if for no other reason than because grammar was so ridiculously easy in comparison to everything else I studied, and I really liked diagramming sentences) that I finally read all of Paradise Lost.

Yeah, that’s right; I failed to read Paradise Lost for class, but then I got it in my head to read it on my own.  For fun.

I’m such a nerd.

Part of my motivation in wanting to read the poem came from a certain feeling of kinship with Milton as a devout Christian.  The subject of the Fall is a really fascinating one, and Milton’s treatment of it, being one of the most famous, had piqued my interest.  If I remember right, it was the idea that Milton, like C.S. Lewis (whose space trilogy I had read only a couple years before then), treated Adam and Eve as figures fully deserving of dignity and respect who were very carefully manipulated into disobedience by Satan instead of just a couple of naked idiots in a garden.  Besides that, I was still very steeped in the evangelical subculture, and a meditation on how the Fall had colored the world was one that had practical applications in my mind.

Now I’m a post-evangelical who affirms evolution.  The Fall is no longer a literal event for me, but a metaphor from the second creation story in Genesis for the human condition.  I still believe there’s a separation between people and God that has to do with our disobedience to him, but it’s not some kind of genetically transmitted condition that’s been passed down from a historic Adam.  I don’t believe that Satan is a real creature anymore, though I think he still represents a fantastic metaphor for the very human motivations that drive us to hurt and deceive one another.

Also, I really enjoy well constructed thoughts (I did read this poem while taking a grammar class and did on multiple occasions try to diagram sentences from the poem for fun), and some of Milton’s phrases are just wonderful.  I don’t think I’m a very discerning reader, but I know what I like.  And I like Paradise Lost.

Let’s explore it together.

Idea!

Alright, so this is a blog post, but it’s not really a blog post because I’m not going to discuss a specific topic so much as propose a couple of potential topics for future blog posts.

As I wrote last week, sticking to a regular update schedule can be a little demanding, especially with the ever-looming specter of “I’m out of ideas.”  On the other hand, writing about things for an audience on demand does help stoke one very important impulse: to be able to talk about interesting things.  That’s a good impulse.

Following this realization, I picked up Paradise Lost and began re-reading it.  Keep in mind that this is not your run of the mill poem, but a twelve-book-long epic (granted, they’re very thin books).  It might be, objectively, the best thing, especially as I was looking over the editor’s note for the edition that I have where the editor said quite explicitly, “Paradise Lost is meant to be read aloud.”  Heck yeah!  I feel like I’ve only developed an appreciation for good poetry as I’ve gotten a little older (couldn’t stand the stuff when I was in undergrad), but now it’s just so delightful to read some fine lines of verse.

So maybe I’ll blog through Paradise Lost.  That may be an incredibly overambitious project to undertake, but it should be interesting (at the very least I promise I’ll write a post about Milton’s weird obsession with explaining how pre-Fall digestion worked for Adam and Eve).

The other idea I had is kind of a spin off from the mild popularity of my recent post about Disney’s Frozen.  I’m still not entirely sure why the internet’s in love with the whole movie when it’s really just those couple of songs that were so spectacular, but it’s gotten me thinking about the deep well of old Disney movies that I’ve seen (and all the ones that I haven’t seen which are just sitting around on Netflix waiting to be watched).  I like writing about movies, and I think people like reading about other peoples’ opinions on movies, so this is a good fit.  There’s also the wonderful angle of adaptations in Disney movies (I honestly can’t recall a single Disney film that isn’t an adaptation of other works of fiction).  People complain a lot about the Disneyfication of these stories, so it could be really interesting to examine that a little more closely and consider what gets lost and what gets found in the process of making things family friendly.

I think I’ll start with my favorite Disney movie, and then just move on from there.  If you have an opinion on a movie you’d like me to consider, let me know.  Otherwise I’m just going to go all willy-nilly and probably end up just watching Pixar movies instead, because they’re, objectively, better.

Reading Earthman

So, last week I took a look at a brand new tract that Chick’s released about how Catholicism is secretly idol worship of the World Trade Center (or something), and this week I’m taking a look at an older tract that Chick’s just put back into print (it’s displayed on the website almost as prominently as the new tract).

Earthman is actually a very straightforward presentation of something we who hail from evangelical circles call the bridge illustration.  There are other names for the model depending on what visual metaphor you use to structure it, but universally its a way of organizing the essential pitch of the gospel.  The fact that I’m describing a way of presenting the gospel as a pitch should be the first alarm bell.

The essential point of the bridge illustration is to break down the gospel into a series of bullet points that are best summed up by four broad ideas: God’s Purpose, Man’s Problem, God’s Remedy, and Man’s Response.  The way I recall the bridge, you start by explaining God’s purpose, which is that he created humanity to enjoy eternal and overabundant life (each point is accompanied by a verse to highlight that this is what the Bible tells us, so it’s totally reliable; since I’ve left behind proof-texting as a method of theological discernment, I no longer have the relevant verses memorized).  You follow that up with Man’s problem, which is where you give the account of the creation story in Genesis 2-3 (for our purposes, it’s best to ignore the separate creation story given in Genesis 1) and explain that because of Adam’s original sin (this is a model that only works within an Augustinian theological framework) all of humanity is fallen and incapable of having fellowship with God because we’re no longer perfect and therefore can’t be in his presence (it helps to have a Calvinist bent too).  Once that’s been explained, you go on to talk about God’s Remedy, which is Jesus.  The wrap up is Man’s Response, where you explain that all a person needs to take advantage of this very special offer from God is accept Jesus as your lord and savior.

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That’s what he said. (Image credit: Chick.com)

That’s the essential idea as I remember it, anyway.  Earthman focuses mostly on the creation story, though there are hints of all the parts of the bridge embedded in the fringes of the central narrative.  It starts off with an anti-evolution volley that involves citing a book which was published by Chick publications (I checked, and it’s definitely not a comic book this time, but not much else recommends it as a credible source of information; also, I came across a customer review that described the book as “full of ammunition for those skeptical about evolution”; I wasn’t aware that ammunition was what we were looking for in the ongoing discussion of the objective Truth–this is probably fodder for a post all its own) and suggesting that the tract itself may soon be banned from public schools, making the uncomfortable proposition that what we’re about to read is intended as something you should give to school age children.  This is alarming because what follows is apparently a very prettily illustrated rehash of John Milton’s Bible fanfiction, Paradise Lost.

By the way, I dearly love Paradise Lost, but elements of that work of fiction have seeped into the popular consciousness about what’s going on in Genesis, mostly in the form of the story about Lucifer becoming Satan and inhabiting the serpent in order to tempt Eve (Satan is not a figure in the text, nor is it implied that he’s represented by the serpent; in fact, this interpretation isn’t even supported later within Scripture).

As an English teacher, I’d love to be able to teach Paradise Lost, but I would never suggest that its contents supersede a science textbook the way that Chick implies here.

See, this whole thing just gets more and more frustrating as I continue to think about it, because Chick’s trying to be so blasted literal in reading the second creation story (despite referring to details that aren’t even in that account), but in doing so he’s highlighting the absurdity of a literal reading.  It’s a shame, because I really like the creation story.  I think it provides us with an excellent metaphorical explanation for the state of human nature (that we are both created in the Imago Dei and we are extremely poor reflections of it, such that we need God’s intercession to help us better fulfill our purpose of reflecting his character) and it’s a wonderfully compact introduction to the idea of Christ’s necessity.  Reducing it to a pretty picture book about a genetically perfect superman and his wife (who for some reason is depicted wearing make up; total literalism fail, Chick) whom God kicks out of his house because he’s angry with them just feels like an insult to the purpose of the text.

Also, evil vegetarian Cain:

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God rejected the vegetables because he actually hates Vegans; also, since Adam screwed everything up, God’s totally cool with killing animals for food now, and in fact encourages it. (Image credit: Chick.com)