In writing workshops, I often assign students to write for five minutes, non-stop. They must not erase or edit or correct; they must not stop to think.
“But I never know what to write,” someone always says. Or, “I don’t know how to begin.”
“Then write that,” I would say. “And keep writing it until you find you do have something to say.”
Some filled half a page with angry scrawls. But always, at some point, they added “…because…” and amazing insights poured out.
“Now,” I told them, “ignore all the preamble. Get on with your story.”
I wonder, sometimes, what would happen if we applied that principle more universally. If, instead of prefacing our business correspondence, grant applications, and research reports with wordy introductions, we cut to the point?
Even the Bible has a preamble.
Indeed, some Christians might argue that the entire Old Testament is preamble to the story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He’s all that matters.
Scholars say that Exodus—the second “book” in the Bible—was the first book written. That would make the whole of Genesis a preamble. Or, if you prefer film terms, a “prequel”—something written after, about what happened before.
So where does the real story start? With the escape from Egypt? With Abraham and Sarah? With Noah?
I can’t treat the opening chapters of Genesis as anything but preamble. Simply because there was nobody there to witness it. And no writing with which to record it.
Besides, it conflicts with what we now know about the origins of this Earth. Not the first chapter—it differs only in detail from the broad sweep described by geology.
But the next two chapters, the Garden of Eden story, presume that everything started off perfect. And then paradise fell apart. Theologically, it’s usually called “The Fall”—an explanation of how the disobedience of two proto-humans introduced sin and death to the world.
On that premise, theologians have built elaborate card castles about Original Sin, something handed down from parent to child through sex, something so powerful that we can only be freed from it by the sacrifice of someone who was absolutely sinless.
It’s also our justification for believing that we humans were given “dominion” over the Earth and all its creatures, to “fill the earth and subdue it” for our own benefit.
But what if we treated those chapters simply as preamble?
Instead of striving to re-capture a perfection we never had—geologists say the early Earth was a most inhospitable place—we might see ourselves on a vast,, universal journey towards creating a more perfect future.
If there was no ‘fall,’ there was no need to be redeemed from it. No need for a sinless sacrifice. No need for that sinless one to return once more to set things right, forevermore.
The Garden of Eden has shaped countless stories and tales. It speaks to everyone’s experience of falling below our ideals. So I’m not suggesting it should be excised. But I don’t like having all the rest of my religious beliefs bent to fit a preamble that never actually happened.