The Not-So-Savage Curtain

Like a lot of people in this world, I am a fan of the Star Trek franchise. Now, before those of you who aren’t hit the Back button, this article is not about Star Trek per se, so please bear with me.

One of the episodes that stands out in my mind, is an original series episode called The Savage Curtain. In it the crew of the Enterprise travel to a planet called Excalbia. The unique thing about the living rocks that inhabit Excalbia is their culture has no experience with the concepts of “Good” and “Evil.” In an effort to understand this concept, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock find themselves on the planet’s surface along with an assortment of characters extracted from kirk and Spock memories including Abraham Lincoln and Genghis Khan. They are divided into the “good guys” and the “bad guys” and forced to battle it out to the death. A few skirmishes and much philosophizing later, Kirk and company emerge victorious and the Excalbians come to the following conclusion…

“It would seem that evil retreats when forcibly confronted. However, you have failed to demonstrate to me… any other difference between your philosophies.”

After a few more philosophical observations and a memorable quote from Abraham Lincoln (There is no honourable way to kill, no gentle way to destroy. There is nothing good in war except its ending.) everyone survives and the crew moves on to its next assignment.

So… why the trip down Trekkie memory lane? Well, what always stuck in my mind about this episode was not the debate over the classic battle between good and evil but the aliens involved. The Excalbian spokesman makes the claim that the very concept of good and evil is unknown to them. This seems nearly impossible. Could a society with no concept of good and evil, or right and wrong actually survive? Would they not at the very least come to the conclusion; harm me = evil and help me = good? Could such a society exist?

Well actually, we are supposed to be just such a society. At least that’s what Juan de Valdes suggests. I wrote about Valdes a few weeks ago. Those who haven’t read the article will find it here. This morning, over coffee, I was reading a book of excerpts from Valdes’ One Hundred and Ten Considerations. Check out consideration number 106 where he talks about man(kind) in the spiritual sense:

He was placed in the garden called the earthly paradise. But after he ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he lost the image of the likeness of God. He was expelled from the earthly paradise and retains the knowledge of both good and evil. I understand it is unnatural to man and foreign to his first creation to remain excluded from the earthly paradise. Likewise I understand it is unnatural for him to possess ‘the knowledge of good and evil.’ By what I experience in man’s restoration, in his regeneration, and in his being made a new creature, I realize that he does recover the image and likeness of God.

Think about that for a moment; it is unnatural for him to possess ‘the knowledge of good and evil.’ The scriptures seem to re-enforce Valdes’ interpretation as God asks Adam how it is he knows that he is naked (Gen 3:11). The knowledge of this simple fact indicates to God that Adam has transgressed, as it is knowledge Adam would not have if he had remained obedient.

It is an interesting notion that if everything had not gone awry in the Garden of Eden, then the human race today would, just like the fictitious Excalbians, have absolutely no concept of good and evil. Morality plays would not exist and neither, I imagine, would the entire arena of philosophy. (A good thing perhaps?)

I will confess that this idea is entirely beyond my comprehension. I find I cannot adequately imagine a culture that is devoid of these most basic of concepts. I realize I am being repetitive here, but really, to think that if everything had gone according to God’s original intent then we would exists in such a pure state of innocence that terms like “good” and “evil”, “right” and “wrong” would be completely meaningless and serve no useful purpose in our lives.

If Valdes is right then in the next world we will be restored to this state of innocence. It is no wonder that scripture is so lacking in details of the next life. It will obviously be beyond our comprehension. I can hardly wait!

2 thoughts on “The Not-So-Savage Curtain

  1. Hi Dennis. My name is Krista and I am a friend of Rachel’s. She shared Roberta and your emails with me because she was so blessed by them. I, in turn, was so intrigued by “Java and Jesus” I just had to follow the link to your blog. This posting in particular has me in shivers. I long to share my inner most contemplations of God and conversation with Jesus but lack the eloquence of words that you apparently have. This concept of knowledge of good and evil has been with me for a long time but I seem totally unable to explain this revelation to others. It is so basic to our relationship with God and to our understanding of selves. I would like to share your posting with others if you don’t mind. You explain very clearly what seems to come out as mumble jumble when I try to tell it. God bless you mightily.

  2. Dennis,

    What a great article. You have made some wonderful connections here on obedience and knowledge. I’ve always wanted to do a study on the relationship between the two.

    I often think in reference to the Romans passages on “handed over to the desires of their flesh” on the relationship between knowledge and obedience.

    ? How does knowlege and memory work together? Does a lack of memory work in the same way lack of knowledge does and vice versa?


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