Sunday found me in the pew at my church listening to the first reading from the Bible. It was the official creation story found in Genesis, all about Adam’s being created by God and then later Eve’s being made by taking a rib from Adam’s side. My favorite visiting retired priest gave the homily, delighting me and my pew mates while perhaps unnerving some other congregants. After asserting that this story is clearly written from a male point of view, he pointed out that God is configured as wielding power and punishing his creation for disobedience. As he read about the serpent’s choosing to tempt Eve rather than Adam, he argued that evil comes from an outside force, and that nothing terrible happens until Eve tempts Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. This reinforces the supremacy of the male sex in Judao-Christian tradition. Because the first humans disobey God, they are expelled from Eden. Our homilist talked plainly about this version’s setting up the sexes as unequal, with Adam the male above Eve the female, again reminding us of whose point of view is operational in the story so many of us know so well.
Our brave preacher then asked what might have happened down these millennia if the creation story had been told from a female point of view, informing us that there are at least three other versions that never made it into what became the official Bible in western cultures. From my reading of feminist history back in the 1970s and 1980s, I know one of these ignored versions. It is about a woman named Lilith who was Adam’s first wife, created at the same time and from the same clay as he, hence equal in ancestry and behavior. Needless to say, Jewish men in charge of creating official doctrine preferred the Genesis version since it supported male ascendency. If Lilith was referred to at all in later times, she was cast as a dangerous demon of the night.
Our visiting priest went on to say some existential things about humans and God: God can only inspire what we can understand and that understanding is limited by our own experience. His own preference among the various versions is based on the fact that the distance between humans and God is simply too big, so he made two people at the same time and told them “there is no paradise, there’s just the three of us, so we have to figure out how to do this thing called living and being human.” For him, this version is gentler and more androcentric than the Genesis story.
His last point was to assert that the God in the Gospels is a god of love, and that our relationship with this loving force is based not on obedience but on trust and a radical sense of equality between women and men, never mind if officials within Christendom haven’t always celebrated or even allowed for such a radical approach.
I kept hearing signs of being moved and pleased from my friends sitting around me; once one of them actually touched my shoulder and I reached behind to take his hand. Clearly we were absorbing every word of the homily eagerly, feeling understood by our visiting clergy person who at one point even referred to the “#meToo” movement as another effort to erase ideas of women as either seducers or obedient servants of male wishes and desires. So while it’s true that at the highest levels, the Roman Catholic Church is decades behind the times and seriously misogynistic, the man who talked to us for twelve minutes or so Sunday doesn’t agree nor is he willing to go along with outdated and unloving policies.
I, of course, just keep on reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, where it’s so undeniably clear that his sympathies lie with Eve throughout his epic poem.