Erich Fromm on disobedience in Eden
& the emergence of humanity

Fromm, Erich (1900-1980). On Disobedience: Why Freedom Means Saying "No" To Power. New York, NY: Harper, 2010. See:

“Disobedience as a Psychological and Moral Problem,” originally appeared in Clara Urquhart, A Matter of Life (London: Jonathan Cape, 1963).

Adam and Eve, living in the Garden of Eden, were part of nature; they were in harmony with it, yet did not transcend it. They were in nature as the fetus is in the womb of the mother. They were human, and at the same time not yet human. All this changed when they disobeyed an order. By breaking the ties with earth and mother, by cutting the umbilical cord, man emerged from a pre-human harmony and was able to take the first step into independence and freedom. The act of disobedience set Adam and Eve free and opened their eyes. They recognized each other as strangers and the world outside them as strange and even hostile. Their act of disobedience broke the primary bond with nature and made them individuals. “Original sin,” far from corrupting man, set him free; it was the beginning of history. Man had to leave the Garden of Eden in order to learn to rely on his own powers and to become fully human.

Fromm, Erich. You Shall Be As Gods: A Radical Interpretation of the Old Testament and Its Tradition. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966. See Chapter II: The Concept of God.

The Christian interpretation of the story of man’s act of disobedience as his “fall” has obscured the clear meaning of the story. The biblical text does not even mention the word “sin”; man challenges the supreme power of God, and he is able to challenge it because he is potentially God. Man’s first act is rebellion, and God punishes him because he has rebelled and because God wants to preserve his supremacy. God has to protect this supremacy by an act of force, by expelling Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and by thus preventing them from taking the second step toward becoming God—eating from the tree of life. Man has to yield to God’s superior force, but he does not express regret or repentance. Having been expelled from the Garden of Eden, he begins his independent life; his first act of disobedience is the beginning of human history, because it is the beginning of human freedom.

It is not possible to understand the further evolution of the concept of God unless one understands the contradiction inherent in the early concept. Although he is the supreme ruler, God has created a creature which is his own potential challenger; from the very beginning of his existence, man is the rebel and carries potential Godhood within himself. As we shall see, the more man unfolds, the more he frees himself from God’s supremacy, and the more can he become like God. The whole further evolution of the concept of God diminishes God’s role as man’s owner.

Variations on this theme can be found in other works by Erich Fromm:

Escape from Freedom (1941)

Psychoanalysis and Religion (1950)

The Forgotten Language: an Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales, and Myths (1951)

The Art of Loving (1956)

Marx’s Concept of Man (1961)

The Dogma of Christ and Other Essays on Religion, Psychology and Culture (1963)

For bibliographic details see:

 From Eden to Cain: Unorthodox Interpretations & Literary Transformations: Selected Bibliography

Erich Fromm pri malobeo en Edeno & la ekesto de la homo
(Esperanto translation by R. Dumain)

Socialist Humanism: An International Symposium
edited by Erich Fromm

Erich Fromm on artificial intelligence & psychological determinism (1968)

Revisiting D. T. Suzuki:
Selective reading, memory, & embarrassment

by R. Dumain

Tiel, kiel ĝi ne okazis” [in Esperanto]
de Marjorie Boulton

La kaptilo de Dio” [in Esperanto]
de Marjorie Boulton

From Eden to Cain: Unorthodox Interpretations & Literary Transformations:
Selected Bibliography

De Edeno al Kaino: Malkutimaj Interpretoj & Literaturaj Pritraktoj en Esperanto:

Secular Humanism—Ideology, Philosophy, Politics, History:
Bibliography in Progress

Atheism / Freethought / Humanism / Rationalism / Skepticism / Unbelief /
Secularism / Church-State Separation Web Links

Theodor W. Adorno & Critical Theory Study Guide


On a Foundational Triad of Plinths
by John W. Ragsdale
(Eco-logos, Vol. 25 (No. 92, 1-2,. 1979), pp. 8-12)
[From the Erich Fromm Document Center]

Internationale Erich-Fromm-Gesellschaft e.V.
(English version)

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