By Helen De Cruz
A few years ago, I was singing in the choir of a local Anglican church (something I have had to give up, but hope to take up someday again). One of the carols we were practicing was Adam Lay Ybounden; the relevant lines in this intriguing late medieval macaronic text goes as follows:
Ne hadde the appil take ben, the appil taken ben, Ne hadde never our lady a ben hevene quen. (If Adam had not taken the apple, our lady would never have been a heavenly queen).
I discussed this text with a fellow singer, a baritone who is also a natural scientist, and asked him: "Do you think that if the Fall had not happened, the Incarnation wouldn't have happened" (as this song implies). He thought deeply and said: "No, I think God would still have been incarnate because we had still so much to learn from him". Now, neither the baritone nor I believe in the literal Fall narrative. There was no literal Adam, no apple (or other fruit) etc. But yet it seems that the question is theologically interesting.
This short conversation indicates that one can find theological significance in something one does not believe to be true. Indeed, I wonder how many congregants, that Christmas eve, really believe the Christmas story, cobbled together from diverse biblical passages and the tradition.
Does it even matter if such stories are true for the religious believer? Eric Schwitzgebel recently argued, using the case of Passover, that yes, it does matter. He writes:
It matters ... because if the story is literally true, then a god who works miracles really exists. It matters if there is such a god or not. I don’t think I would like the moral character of that god, who kills innocent Egyptians. I’m glad there is no such god.