November 02, 2015

Brick in the Wall: Letting go of Eve

I've had a couple of moments that moved me to talk about this topic today.

Perhaps the biggest was a conversation with my mom yesterday about some of the toxicity she now sees in our former denomination. Don't get me wrong; my mom is tried-and-true, diehard believer, but she was really open and candid with her thoughts, many of which mirror my own, even if they have led us to different conclusions.

Another was definitely the research I've been doing on Genesis 3 for the next long-overdue installment of my Atheist Bible Study series. It reminded me of a short clause in the middle of a verse that changed my outlook, perhaps permanently, and stands as a clear brick in the wall that built me.

When I was nine, we started attending a very fundamentalist church. The type of church that is fundamentalist, and proud to be so, loudly and arrogantly. There was a significant shift in my family's dynamics--my parents' marriage, for instance, which had always seemed fairly egalitarian, became markedly more traditional as my mom attempted to submit fully to my father in all things (a task that was, I'm sure, markedly difficult for her). This was due to the fundamentalist nature of our church, which practiced the "umbrella" philosophy--each household member was under an umbrella of responsibility, with God on the outside (responsible for the entire family), the father (responsible for his spouse and children), the mother (responsible for her home and children), and the children (responsible for submitting to the will of the three tiers above them).

One of the doctrines that struck me during this point was the emphasis on Eve and the doctrines of original sin. We heard the story over and over--it is a crucial point for many denominations, but none more so than those that are particularly fundamentalist (fun fact: this is why so many of those denominations oppose the theory of evolution--if you undo a literal Genesis, you undo all of these doctrines that their denomination rest upon). We had it drilled into our heads that Eve did not sin--no, that was Adam--but that she was deceived. Because of Adam's sin, the world Fell, and began to decay. It was the reason for sin, for sickness, for war and famine and all manners of suffering.

To my young mind, however, one idea rang out: If Eve had never been deceived, this would never have happened.

I think this was a weird convergence of the different aspects of my upbringing. In my experience, women weren't weak. Most of the women in my family were all smart, strong, college-educated, independent. My mom was a master of running our family while my dad was deployed or working long hours. My mom's little sister, one of my favorite aunts, was a strong, independent, fierce feminist. My mom often shared the story of how my grandfather, her father, had declared, "I did not raise my daughters to be housewives!"--not necessarily because he held anything against housewives (he was married to one) but because he had seen his own beloved mother suffer a terrible marriage simply because she could not support her family on her own. To him, a woman dependent on a man was vulnerable, and he wanted to protect his daughters from that vulnerability.

And yet, there I was, confronted by Eve, the mother of humanity, the first woman according to my faith tradition, and she was weak. She was deceived--and reading through the scripture, which I was supposed to take as inspired, inerrant, and literal--it wasn't even a good deception! As a nine year old child, I was able to see through it. How was that Eve, the mother of humanity, could not?

So in spite of the accepted doctrine that Eve had not sinned, I blamed her. I blamed her for all of the terrible things. I blamed her for the terrible war in Bosnia that my dad was participating in peacekeeping efforts for. I blamed her for the poverty I saw around me. I blamed her for the little kids I saw in the commercials, little kids in Central America or India or Africa who were starving and had no clean water or shoes or good clothes.

I blamed Eve because if she'd only been stronger, if she'd only been smarter, if she'd only been more like the women that I knew--she'd have seen through it and none of this would have happened.

For me, this also translated into a deeper internalized misogyny. How could I as a young woman not feel some of the blame?

This went on for some time. I felt lowly and inferior. I felt--believe it or not--guilty for what this rumored ancestor had done so many millennia before.

When I was ten, I developed a love of reading and studying scripture. It was a comfort to me when Dad was away, and when I faced the stress and loneliness of my life at the time. It was during one of my readings through the Bible that I really noticed something in Genesis 3 for the first time:

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Emphasis, obviously, was added by me. But these four words changed my entire outlook on the story. If Adam was with her, then Eve wasn't deceived alone. Both of them bore the burden for it. This was incredibly freeing for my young mind. I have no idea why that simple fact was so comforting.

Aside from being comforting, though, I was also challenged by it. It was a challenge that was simple but never successfully answered for me: Why had I never heard a preacher mention that the two people were together, and both were deceived by the serpent?

The anecdote had showed Eve as weak, easily manipulated--but Adam was too.

Letting go of the guilt of Eve gave me a sense of peace, but the challenge again made me question the doctrines I had grown up with. Those small challenges were more damaging by far than anything I experienced when I actually admitted to myself that I was questioning my faith. Those challenges shook the very bedrock I had built it on, and in some ways, I think that especially those moments I encountered while I was young prevented me from becoming as indoctrinated as some of my peers. Those challenges were a shield, always around my mind, making me think in ways that I wouldn't have otherwise.

So perhaps, I should thank Eve, and her fruit, and the serpent that deceived her. Without them, I don't think I would have been as inoculated as I was.

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