Eve Was Framed
Rev. Joe Cherry
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A liberal religious voice in the Central Valley since 1953.
My first quote:
What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, a cosmic punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, a domestic peril, a delectable detriment, a deadly fascination, a painted ill! Therefore, if it be a sin to divorce her when she ought to be kept, it is indeed a necessary torture; for either we commit adultery by divorcing her, or we must endure daily strife.
St. John Chrysotom
Why is it that women are seen as the enemy? Why is it that women are seen as the one to cause men to do what they shouldn't do? Growing up in this culture we might think that we are immune to the kinds of attitudes toward women that we still see expounded in certain nonwestern countries. I don't think we are. What I want to talk about on this Mother's Day are the insidious negative messages about women that are probably more a part of all our thinking than we would care to admit. I'm talking about attitudes and beliefs that poison our views of ourselves as women, and poison our relationships as we struggle to come to terms with self-loathing of our anatomy and physiology. Given both my professional career as a sex researcher, sex educator and my role as a UU OWL (Our Whole Lives sex education curriculum for adults) facilitator, I have seen many examples of how a poisonous sexual view of women adversely affects our relationships, both with our partners and with our families. But, where do these messages come from? Do you have them?
Let's begin at what could be considered the beginning for much of current Western culture - the creation story in Genesis. Most of us are probably familiar with the basics of the story of Adam and Eve - God created man, then woman from man so he wouldn't be alone, gave them a paradise, told them to stay away from the fruit of the apple tree, snake comes along and beguiles Eve who beguiles Adam - God gets mad, gets even (women will have pain in childbirth, man must toil on the soil), kicks them out of the Garden and life goes on.
So much of this story (and it is one of many creation stories that have similar themes) is the root of the attitudes exemplified in the first quote. Woman is a "necessary evil"- man must not be alone and needs company, but she is a "natural temptation." So what was God thinking in the first place? If he made woman couldn't he have done a better job? And what was the original sin? Do we really understand this based on the Bible story or what has been filtered and retold to us? Elaine Pagels, a religious scholar, sets out to explore some of these questions in Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. Her main thesis is that the first four centuries of the Christian movement that coalesced into what became a more unified Christian church were wracked with turmoil and argument over the meaning of the creation story and early church fathers' writings led to a misinterpretation of original sin. I want to focus on how these interpretations affect those of us who identify as women today.
First, we should be aware, as educated UUs, that there are may versions of the Bible and that we will always be dealing with translational issues unless we speak Aramaic and know the context in which books of the Bible were written. Since we can't know that, let's consider some of the pertinent passages from Genesis from the Revised Standard Version from Pagels' book with respect to our story. First, in Genesis 1:27-28 we have:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created him. And God blessed then and God said, "Be fruitful and multiple, and fill the earth and subdue it."
Then, we get this in Genesis 2:15-18:
So the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." Then the Lord God said. "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper for him."
Skipping down to 2:21-23:
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man and while he slept took one of his ribs, and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man be made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man"
Okay, so we know that some of the rationale used for man being in charge is that they came first, but which is it? Did God make man in his own image - male and female he created them, or did use a rib? - Is this a ridiculous notion? In teaching an adolescent development class about 12 years ago I had been talking about male-female differences during adolescence and that there were few real anatomical differences other than the genitalia and some places in the brain when a young man raised his hand, and honestly, he asked, "But don't women have one more rib then men?" Thus, from a great tale come beliefs that don't match with fact.
In fact, those of us who study prenatal development know that the phenotype for XX, that is, the external physical manifestation of genetics and physiology of what is considered a genetic female, can be seen with an XY genetic male, who can thus have genitalia that look just like a female. This could be because a factor to turn on testosterone didn't happen or he may lack receptors for androgens. To have a genetic female express the phenotype of a male is exceedingly rare and generally only happens in cases where a part of the fetus pumps out loads of steroids from the adrenal glands. So, what's the point - without too much detail on this Mother's day we can conclude that female reproductive anatomy is essentially the default mode - without the proper factors to turn an XY guy into what we consider the reproductive stuff of a male, you always get a female. Thus, we are all really EVE.
So, we can laugh at the absurdity of the rib story and you might be saying, okay - this is scientific fact, so what is the big deal? One, man's primacy is typically asserted to keep women in their place and there is more to the story than who came first - there is the dispute over the meaning of the apple. God had told Adam he would die even before we get the version where Eve is made from Adam's rib. Eve told the snake the story. When the snake was trying to entice Eve, the serpent said
You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Doesn't sound so bad and the tree was beautiful, so Eve eats from the Tree of Knowledge and gives some to Adam - the passage reading;
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took the fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband and he ate. (Genesis 3:6
Not much in the way of seduction or enticement apparently needed for Adam. One may wonder why women get the rap as evil granddaughters of Eve who must not be trusted, yet if man was there first and had already gotten the lecture from God, why don't men get the reputation for being clueless, disloyal and rebellious? Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent and God made them clothes, cursed them and threw them out.
How do we get from eating from the tree of knowledge to current attitudes and beliefs toward women?
More bitter than death I find woman,
Ecclesiastes 7:26-28 (ca. 400 BC)
From a variety of sources we find that creation stories were written down by many Hebrew tribes, starting about three centuries ago, and we might surmise that there was an oral tradition of this for hundreds of years before. Thus, this idea of woman and her place in the fall from grace comes from Jewish tradition, and her description in the Old Testament tends to be fairly negative. Christian writers debated meaning of the creation story in the first three to four centuries after the death of Christ and there were as many different opinions as there were different Christian sects. The unification of the Christian church in the 4th century CE is where we can find how this story affects everyday values, attitudes and behaviors. Perhaps we know from our religious education that there were often several versions of certain books of the Bible and what is in the now official books of the Bible were probably chosen such that they best reinforced the status quo of the peoples of the time.
But are these early writings and beliefs of importance to us now? We need only look at history to see how men not only expanded the notion of the meaning of eating from the tree of knowledge to mean original sin in the form of sexual matters, but how much more women had to fall compared to men, and finally how the message about women's inherent inferiority continued to be generalized to every part of her existence. Tertullian, an early Christian writer from the first century, clearly outlines that even the best of his `sisters in Christ' will never be able to escape their heritage from Eve as we can see in this quote:
You are the Devil's gateway.you are she who persuaded him whom the devil did not dare attack.Do you not know that every one of you is an Eve? The sentence of God on your sex lives on in this age: the guilt, of necessity, lives on too.
Further on he states:
A stain upon our chastity is accounted by us more dreadful than any punishment of any death.therefore is a woman the obstacle to purity, the temptress, the enemy. Her body is the gate of hell.
Tertullian, Apologeticus (ca. AD 200)
Pagels likens women in Tertullian's world to be "co-conspirator's of Eve." But, we must also look at how aspects of the original sin were interpreted to further understand how women's whole being was a problem. Somehow, Augustine was to have the most profound effect on notion of original sin by putting at its heart the sin of desire. In Confessions he talks about his own wrestling to understand his desires and passions and interprets humans, from the actions of Adam and Eve and his own failings, to be awash with lust and in need of great control. Given that Eve ate first, we can see that she is to be controlled the most as she tempted man. And given that she was created second, she was considered both intellectually and physically inferior to man. In fact one of the only way that women can be seen positively in Augustine's view is when being chaste.
Now, in some ways both Adam and Eve got the rap from Augustine and he was ultimately influential in changing views of free will in Christianity as it pertained to all humans, but we are much more likely to see emphasized in the subsequent writings of the time that even if men are construed as fallen, too, how completely inferior women are in most every way.
Girls begin to talk and to stand on their feet sooner than boys because weeds always grow up more quickly than good crops.
Martin Luther, Table Talk (1533)
Another scientific fact is that girl babies are usually about 6 weeks more neurologically developed at birth compared to boy babies and that girls do tend to mature physically toward puberty before boys, but isn't it interesting that a simple biological phenomenon can be construed as a defect on the part of girls and women. They need to be controlled and they need to know their place - we can see this from the next quote from the middle of the 19th century:
The Holy Scriptures show that it is clearly the will of God that man should be superior in power and authority to woman.No lesson is more plainly and frequently taught in the Bible, than woman's subjection.If the position assumed by the (suffragist) women be true, then must the Divine Word from Genesis to Revelation be set aside as untrue.
Rev. Henry Grew, In debate at the Fifth National Women's Rights Convention (1854)
And it is not only our advanced growth that is at fault or those who will tell you that their God has given them the right to be in charge, but we can fast-forward to a more modern theorist who profoundly affected thinking about women and their kind. A theorist who wrote extensively on how religion was illusion:
The first step in the phallic phase (is) a momentous discovery which little girls are destined to make. They notice the penis of a brother or playmate, strikingly visible and of large proportions, at once recognize it as the superior counterpart of their own small and inconspicuous organ, and from that time forward fall a victim to envy for the penis.
We know that Freud had a profound effect on psychiatry, psychology and modern culture. Even though he admitted that he did not have evidence for some of his beliefs, he was concerned in the late part of his life that he would not have time to prove what he thought, so he decided to make his pronouncements and leave it to his followers to prove. Well, folks, there is no proof, but this pronouncement was probably taken as fact because it reinforced a long history of the view of women as inferior. Freud was a man of his times, and couldn't see the bias in his own work, because if he truly applied rational, scientific methodology to his theories he would have had to change his mind.
Such beliefs about the inferiority of women persist in our culture and can still be heard in the outrageous pronouncements of misguided males (and females). Today, I am asking all of us to think about how you might have these notions embedded in your own thinking that affect your sense of self, if you are a women, or affect your sense of interactions with women in your world. For me, a deeper issue, one that I have spoken of in the past, is how this history affects us as UUs. Since Eve was to blame for original sin and original sin became more about the sin of desire, then we may be affected in our sense of ourselves as sensual and sexual humans. As a faith-based organization I ask us to look at how our heritage from our Judeo-Christian past affects us. I believe it affects us women by making us dissatisfied with our bodies and our desires.
I ask you on this Mother's Day, a day to honor women as a parent, to truly begin to honor yourself as a woman. I hope we can personally explore if we hold negative beliefs about ourselves as women. Do you put yourself down for not having the right sort of body, for what your body can do like menstruate, lactate, and lubricate, or for your experience of sexual desire? I believe we need to apply our principle of the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings in supporting our sexual selves as women at all ages. But deeper than that, we need to integrate this principle in our interpersonal relationships by being willing to explore our own beliefs and behaviors.
Women, are you treating yourself with a deep sense of inherent sexual worth and dignity? Are you treating your partner that way? Do you use sexuality as a means to control your significant other? Do you let him or her do that to you? In your search for truth do you turn the spotlight on yourself and examine your own tendencies to believe what your parents or your culture have told you? We feel free in our faith to question past religious traditions with respect to our search for truth in the universe, but do we also use that freedom to see our own prejudices or biases about our spiritual sexual selves?
In our search for social justice, we can perhaps more easily see how our Judeo-Christian heritage affects those who do not adhere to the heterosexual paradigm. We have become a Welcoming Congregation. But, I believe that we are all sometimes trapped in this notion that our sexual selves must be suppressed or we face expulsion from polite society, our partners will reject us, or we should be ashamed for our very human desires. We don't need to borrow sexual shame from other religious traditions. The truth is that Adam and Eve were both framed. Since it is Mother's Day I have focused on how this tradition traps women, but our cultural heritage does trap men, too. I'll leave it to someone else to consider that (maybe for Father's Day!). In the meantime, I urge you all to think about taking Adult OWL next winter when John and I will teach it again. I urge you to think about the meaning of our Welcoming Congregation, and to remember to support social justice for women who are still at the mercy of religious traditions that shame and devalue their very being. And, I wish you a happy, healthy, and sexy Mother's Day!!
[Delivered 13 May 2007. Lin Myers, Ph. D., is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Stanislaus County. She teaches psychology at California State University, Stanislaus.]This is a (copyrighted) Guest Sermon from our collection. If you enjoyed it, or if you'd like to use part of it, please contact us via E-mail:
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