These two articles are spot on and they are excellent food for thought. I've found them deeply challenging and hope you do two. We simply have to rethink what it means to be the church. Period.
"Do you realize what you’re asking of me? I did. I was asking him not to act on his same-sex desires, to commit to a celibate lifestyle, and to turn away from an important romantic relationship. Yet as I reflect on that discussion, I now realize I didn’t fully understand what I was asking of him. I was asking him to do something our church community wasn’t prepared to support. I was asking him to make some astonishing and countercultural decisions that would put him out of step with those around him. In many ways, I was asking him to live as a misfit in a community that couldn’t yet provide the social support to make such a decision tenable, much less desirable. No wonder he walked away...
The sexual demands of discipleship will become more plausible and practical to our gay (and straight) single friends if they see everyone in the community taking seriously all the demands of the gospel, not just the sexual ones."
"Today, whenever I listen to “Whole Again” or “Undo Me” or the spine-tingling “Martyrs and Thieves,” I’m sad.
Sad because of the painful choices Jennifer’s parents made in the name of “self-discovery” and “self-expression” that led to harmful repercussions in the lives of their children.
Sad because evangelicalism’s lack of ecclesiology and reliance on experience has led to so many strange and harmful expressions of faith.
Sad because even though Jennifer had the integrity to be honest about her life rather than continue to make money under false pretenses, she received ridicule and insults from Christians she once wrote for.
Sad because of the way faith gets privatized to the point that the exclusive Savior’s inclusive call to repentance seems too narrow a road to freedom.
Sad because evangelicals are so quick to catapult converts into the limelight before they’ve had time to grow in wisdom and truth.
Sad because of the pain many of our gay and lesbian neighbors have endured within a church culture that calls sinners to repentance but not the self-righteous.
Sad because, apart from affirming her sexuality, I can’t see any way that Jennifer would think someone could love her.
Sad because many Christians find it easier to love positions rather than people, while others believe it is impossible to love people without adopting their position."
"Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, 'Look at us.' So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, 'Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.' And he took him by the right hand and lifted him up, and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them - walking, leaping, and praising God. And all the people saw him walking and praising God. Then they knew that it was he who sat begging alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."
In a very short while, I will return to a place I once knew. I loved this place dearly and most often remember it with nostalgia. But when I am honest with my feelings, I remember primarily that this was the place where I learned about suffering.
I learned about suffering there in many ways. I suffered in relationships. I suffered in pride. Mostly, I suffered physically as the billowing pollution squeezed my lungs and besmirched my face. But in addition to these personal sacrifices, I witnessed the painful, blatant, and twisted suffering of others. This was in itself its own kind of suffering.
The suffering of others was visibly present every day, from the elderly trash collectors who had been pushed off their land to the mangy dogs who scrounged for food until they wound up dead in the streets. These things, however, were commonplace. These were the things that after the first few weeks ceased to cause me inner turmoil or distress. They wove their way into the fabric of society the way many of Dickens' most pathetic characters find their own important places within the narrative. These things were wrong and broken, but they seemed to have their place.
But there was one place where the suffering was so great and so visible that it continues to haunt me. If I used the bus to make my way downtown, I had to get off at a particular stop and cross a bridge to enter into the shiny wealth of the city's finest shopping mall. Upon exiting the bus, I would start to walk quickly, holding my breath, trying to mentally prepare for the sights that awaited me.
The bridge always contained beggars, and it always contained some of the most pitiful the city had to offer. All were maimed, most with their eyes gauged out. Some had been burned so wretchedly that they looked like living mummies. They sat in silence, often perfectly still, simply waiting for benevolence to find them. I was told early on that most of them had a pimp, Slumdog Millionaire style, and that giving them money would be fruitless. One day, I passed a man kowtowing violently against the sidewalk. A mixture of drool, sweat, and blood flowed from his head as he methodically beat, beat, beat his brow against the cement pavement. A crowd had gathered around him to watch, but no one acted to stop him. No one moved, they simply just gazed in silence as he begged for their assistance.
In the power of such ensnaring suffering, I felt completely powerless. I didn't speak the language, and I couldn't cause disturbances of the "peace." For the duration of my walk across the bridge, I shared physical space with these people, but the chasm that spanned my plenty and their need seemed as big as the whole earth. The barriers which separate people are often larger than space; the languages, systems, governments, alienation, gender, and myriad other issues stared me in the face and pointed at my inadequacy to bless, to heal, to comfort, to bring justice.
The more frequently I walked across the bridge, the more my soul screamed at God. I started to pray when I passed them by - internally mournful, screaming prayers. It was the only thing my mind could latch onto as the panic arose within my soul.
One day I remembered the above passage from Acts. There was no way for me to do anything for the beggars - or was there? I started to consider whether I truly thought prayer was "doing something." When I, a child of God, am in the presence of suffering and pray, do I understand that I am actively at work? Is my understanding of prayer, of God, of myself as joined to Christ full enough to believe that when I pray, I am not being passive? According to scripture, is prayer not the most aggressive thing I could do? Like Peter and John, I looked at these humans living in terrible suffering and I understood that my hands were tied. But, my status before the Redeemer is not hindered by the evils of the world and so I prayed.
These are the reflection that regularly got me across the bridge, but now, as I contemplate returning, I've begun having doubts. Yes, prayer is the primary weapon against evil, and yes, it was a good response to what I witnessed. But to my sorrow, I have realized that I never looked these people in the eye. In my rush to get across the bridge and in my desperation to deal with the turmoil in my soul, I really was still primarily focused on myself. I prayed for their deliverance because I felt uncomfortable. I rushed across the bridge because I didn't want to feel the pain. I never made eye contact because the possibility of making a connection was a degree of terrifying my mind couldn't hold.
One of the most striking phrases in the above passage is the sentence, "And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, 'Look at us.'" This description of the connection between Peter and the beggar is terrifying. Who has this kind of confidence when dealing with the brokenness of the world? Who dares to look suffering in the eyes and request that it look back? I can't image what results would ensue from consistent interactions such as this one. I shrink from asking myself what might have come about if I had truly looked at the suffering on the bridge. I don't know what would have happened. But I know it would have challenged both me and those begging.
Right now, I am afraid of returning. I am really afraid of being confronted once again with the degree of suffering found in the world. But mostly, I think I'm afraid of myself. I'm afraid of how I respond. Will I rush across the bridge or will I look into the eyes of those who live a life I cannot fathom? Am I more afraid of the first, or of the unknown answer to the latter? I do not know.
I've read a couple of great posts recently and thought I would share. It's always exciting to find people either saying the things you want to say or saying things your mind simply isn't smart enough to think of. So here are some borrowed words on topics we love to discuss at Carved to Adorn.
First, Ruthie found an amazing article over at First Things on Lena Dunham's Girls, Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, and the sacred stories we tell. Alan Jacobs's thoughts are chewy, but every bite is fantastic.
"What we need is not condemnation of Adam, or condemnation of Hannah for liking Adam, but better art and better stories, better fictional worlds, by which I mean fictional worlds that rhyme with what is the case, with what is true yesterday, today, and forever. Not the abolition of mythic sandboxes but the making of sandboxes in which to play with true, or truer, myths: fictive spaces in which Hannah can do better than Adam, and Adam can better than what he is, a bitter prisoner of past angers and resentments."
Read it here.
Second, in order to help keep the conversation about female sexuality going, I recommend Jordan Monge's post yesterday on Her.meneutics titled The Real Problem with Female Masturbation, Call It What It Is: Ladies Who Lust. I'm not sure that I agree with everything in it, but it is an honest discussion and a good place to start. Please add any thoughts you have about it to our comments!
Lastly, since I'm sure we could all use a good laugh after reading the first two articles, I give you this to end on a lighter note. If you're like me and secretly wish you lived in an Anthropologie storefront, you will identify with these 87 thoughts.
Quoting Ruthie’s intro to her post last week:
“This is the kind of post that is addressed explicitly to Christians, and will be confusing and strange for many of my friends who are not Christians. So, secular friends, if you keep reading, you are about to get an intimate glimpse into one aspect of Christianity. And Christian friends: grace. Grace all around.”
"Men enjoy sex more than women."
Of all the conversations I had about sex during my adolescence, this phrase was the most important. Spoken by a trusted and authoritative source during a conversation about how a young teenage girl with a blossoming bosom should conduct herself, this comment shaped and formed much of my views on sex. It’s important to understand that the person making this statement was not in any way trying to denigrate sex. Actually, it was quite the opposite. As typical of orthodox Christian beliefs, he was speaking quite eloquently on the beauty of sex and how good a part of creation it is. The goodness of sex was the key reason why this man wanted his listeners to know that it should be protected and not treated carelessly. He made the above comment upon noticing the discomfort his female audience displayed, proceeding to explain that while women may not see certain issues concerning sex as a big deal, all men did.
The tenor of this conversation is very familiar to most women my age who grew up in conservative Christian homes. We grew up with the idea that all men we encountered were loosely reigned-in hormonal torpedoes possible of being set off at a moment’s notice should we give any false encouragement. Now that I look back on adolescents, I actually think this very well may be true of most lads between the ages of twelve and twenty. I do not believe it was damaging to be told as a young woman about how much men are wired for sex or that how I act and dress can communicate certain unintended things. What I do lament as I look back upon my sexual awakening was the constant and pervasive idea that somehow keeping male sexuality in mind meant women do not like sex as much as men or that women do not struggle sexually as much as men.
Because here was the problem - by the time I heard the above statement, I was already struggling greatly with my sexuality. I don't remember exactly how old I was, but I think I was about fourteen or fifteen. The reason I didn't feel comfortable with discussing the topic was not because I didn't like the idea of sex, but rather that I was terrified of how much my body did seem to like the idea of it. I truly believe many young women's reticence to talk about sex in our teenage years was not because weren’t interested in it. It was because sex seemed like a daunting and awe-some thing and we couldn't find the courage to speak up concerning the questions we had or the hormone induced feelings we were feeling.
As I let the idea of men liking sex more than women sink further and further into my teenage psyche, the more and more confused I started to feel. I liked the idea of sex and I liked the sexual feelings I was feeling. Did that mean I was some kind of outlier of femininity? Was I somehow a dirty, over-sexualized woman because the idea of intercourse sounded great? I was convinced that I must have been way more sexually wired than every other good Christian woman I knew, and within my world, this did not seem like a positive thing.
For me as a woman, ideas of sexual purity were somehow closely linked with sexlessness. Teenage male sexuality was recognized and addressed as a good and natural drive; male purity seemed to be defined as Christian restraint. For us young women, though, our own blossoming sex drives were mostly unacknowledged. Purity for us was about helping keep male sex drives in check rather than learning how to address our own rising desires. Male lust and masturbation were seen as natural inclinations out of place of what God intended. The idea of female lust and masturbation did not even exist.
I saw these things play out with even more intensity at my small Christian college. The idea that women did not enjoy sex as much as men and therefore were more naturally pure continued to cause major confusion as young women entered and went through college. Sex was the primary topic that we all wanted to talk about, that we were all obsessed with, but hardly ever got to really engage on. When I look back on life in the female dorms, it seems like the sexual tension was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife. Though it may have looked different from the struggles of our male co-eds, I do not believe we women struggled any less with sexual issues. Porn was not an open problem at the time (though I'm guessing it would be more of one in today’s generation, at least statistically), but there were hardly any limits on what movies or tv shows girls felt they could watch. They had so imbibed the idea that they were more naturally pure that girlfriends frequently told me they didn’t think it mattered what they watched. I frequently and commonly heard women talk about men in ways that if the genders had been reversed would have been immediately called out as sinful lust. Young women, including myself, got away with this kind of openly sexual talk, again, because of our Christian culture's assumption that women do not struggle with lust as much as men. Female masturbation has been the absolute taboo topic of recent Christianity, (most people, male and female, simply do not want to believe that women have the type of sex drives that would be tempted by it), but I know it was very present within our dorms.
Yet, even with all of these very real ways in which we young women were struggling with our sexuality during college, we never once stopped believing that we might not actually like sex itself. I'll never forget the time there was a panel discussion on the topic of sex at the college. I didn't attend it myself, but something was said by one of the panel members that threw all of my female friends into a tizzy worrying about whether or not they would like sex after getting married. One of my friends was engaged and I can still see the panic-stricken look on her face as she worried about what her future would hold. A few days later, a recently graduated and married friend visited campus and many of my friends fell upon her with questions about whether or not she liked sex. An open and unassuming person, she simply smiled widely with a glint in her eyes and said, "Yes. Very much. You have nothing to worry about." A loud collective sigh echoed throughout campus. Somehow, despite everything that almost every fiber of our bodies was telling us about our sexual desires, we needed convincing that it was possible for women to like sex.
I never needed convincing that I would like sex, but I did need to understand that my sex drive did not make me less pure as a woman. I had many fears about sex going into marriage, but figuring out how to want sex was not one of them. It's sad to me now that I ever feared I was too sexual. How can that even be a thing? I and many of my dear friends often talked with each other about wanting to get married simply so we could have sex, but these conversations were always quiet and in private so that we would not seem like “those” type of women. It is a common idea within the Christian community that it’s good for men to get married so that they do not burn in lust, but who has ever heard women openly talk about the goodness of getting married for their own sexual needs?
During the first few months of my marriage, I had a recurring experience after having sex with my husband. We would have a glorious experience, full of love and adventure, but when we finished, I would go and sit in the bathroom by myself. A few times I cried, but mostly I just sat as a certain wave of emotion rolled over me. I still can't name the emotion specifically, but there was a sense of emptiness and loneliness to it, along with a profound recognition of loss. It was similar to homesickness, but wasn't the same. I was not unhappy; I had just been exuberant. I was not ashamed; I have never been more sure and confident of my body. I was not really lonely; my husband is my best friend.
The feeling stopped after a few months and the farther away from it I’ve come, the more I think it stemmed from the perceived loss of my sexual identity. Before marriage, Christian women have a certain and particular identity - sexless and pure. And now, all of the sudden, in the throws of marital passion, I was experiencing a profound and fundamental shift of identity. I was now a fully recognized sexual being in the eyes of my Christian subculture. During my times sitting in the bathroom, my soul was mourning the passage of my perceived purity. But how was I at all any less pure than before I was married? How was I any more a sexual being than before I was married? It seems to me that in our Christian views concerning sex, men simply go from being inactive sexually to active. Why is the change for women so much more fundamentally deep and dramatic? Because the Christian community tends to falsely believe that sexual purity for men is a matter keeping in check something that is already present, while for women, marriage is the turning on of a sex drive that shouldn’t have previously exist.
Like men, women are sexual agents and the Christian community has got to start talking and acting like this is true. In a culture as saturated with sex as our is, we need our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and dearest friends to be showing the younger generations that they are sexual beings who have something to say to us. Of course there are tasteful and dignified ways to do this, but there is nothing healthy about us pretending that sex is not an issue for women. Women want sex and we can either keeping telling them to deny their identities as sexual beings or we can start an ongoing conversation about the glories of female sexuality as God created it.
So... let's talk about sex.
Addendum: This post was getting really long, so I’m leaving it here for now. But this is a conversation we want to keep having at Carved to Adorn. I’m listing a few points below that I think would be beneficial for anyone to consider when taking up this topic and hopefully Ruthie and I can attempt to write about them in the coming months.
First, Christian purity does not equal female sexlessness. Second, women and men may experience sex differently and prefer different aspects of it, BUT women do indeed love sex. Third, in most cases, good sex takes work, so if a woman does not enjoy it right away, it doesn’t say anything about her (or the gender as a whole’s) natural capacity to enjoy sex. The wisest and best women (and men!) know there are ways to increase your pleasure during sex. Fourth, women are not limited to liking sex when they are young, but rather they can and do love sex throughout the many different stages of life.
If these points can start to be more a part of the general conversation concerning female sexuality, we will make long strides in helping women, young and old, embrace all that God made them to be.
Living with members of the opposite sex - nothing new in our culture. Whether romantically linked, sexually involved, or just friends, America does not bat an eye at the practice of unmarried men and women sharing domestic living situations.
But what about the growing trend of young Christians in "platonic" co-ed living situations? The decision to do so and justifications for it baffle my parents' generation. My mom and I have recently been talking about the topic and since what used to be a no-brainer (that unmarried male and female Christians do not live with each other before marriage) now is up for debate, she asked me to share with her what I would say to a friend considering such a living arrangement.
Here it goes...
1) Grey areas
The first issue is that there aren't Biblical proof texts concerning such living arrangements. While scripture speaks in black and whites about adultery and lust, it doesn't say anything specific about this modern problem within the church. So in addressing it, the grayness of the issue needs to be recognized up front. My generation is always defending themselves with the grayness of a situation. So in talking about it, we have to first establish not only that there are Biblical principals connected to such living situations, but that they are relevant and important to consider.
I think examples of other times in life when Christians believe something is very clearly right or wrong, not because of a direct command, but because of general Biblical principals are important. Take physical abuse. The Bible does not anywhere give us a direct command not to harm our spouses, children, friends, etc. But because the Bible clearly teaches the value and dignity of humanity and commands to treat others as we would be treated, we do not question the wrongness of abuse. It's a moral decision based not upon command, but upon principal. Could someone find loopholes? Yes, and they do. And we believe they are terribly wrong for it, holding them accountable for their actions.
The problem is that living with someone is not a violent physical offense, therefore making it benign to my generation. We have been culturally conditioned to see violence as wrongdoing and anything else as personal preference. Those within the church aren't free from this conditioning. But according to scripture, more than just violent behavior is wrong and bad for us individually and as a community.
So people first have to be convinced that they can commit true and real offenses simply by the situations in which they put themselves, regardless of the grayness of those situations or their seemingly passive/nonviolent nature.
2) The divide of body and soul
I think the biggest problem with modern American is that we have divided our bodies from our souls (to use generic terms). It's visible everywhere, but nowhere more so than in our sexuality. We see ourselves as a conglomeration of two totally different things - a body and the whatever else is inside. These two things are forced to coexist, but have little else to do with each other. In other words, the average American sees herself as an inside and an outside. What the two do are completely separate so that we are people divorced within ourselves. This is one of the biggest arguments being used against sex before marriage - your acting one way with your body and another way with your soul, but it's awfully hard to divorce the two and if you do succeed, you're living in a fractured world.
I think, though, that Christians need to hear that this problem flows both ways. In the same way that you can't divorce your soul from your body while sleeping around, you can't divorce your body from your soul while sharing living space. The totality of our beings include different elements and they are created to work in unison with each other.
And that's where the issue of instantaneous significant other comes into play. People find themselves with instant significant others in many different situations, work being a good example. All of the sudden there is another person who is significant in our decisions, space, and time. These things lead to emotional connection and response. Living together goes one step further in creating instant significant others. In living together, people are creating a household. I think that this alone is reason enough not to have roommates of the opposite sex. On an emotional level alone, you are already divorcing yourself. You are putting yourself in a situation that calls for certain emotions and feelings, while at the same time neutering your heart so that those feelings don't arise. Or, if your not emotionally stunted, your heart overwhelms you and the emotions take over. Either way, your living in a situation that requires emotionally fracturing of yourself.
But I think it goes one step further. Sex is a natural step in domestic relationships between men and women. It's part of life when men and women live in close and constant relationship with each other. We all know that as Christians, if we're living with someone and sleeping with them, it's sin. But we don't recognize that if we are living with someone of the opposite gender and not sleeping with them, we're not living naturally. We're splitting ourselves from what we are naturally made to do. The platonic co-ed living arrangement divorces sex from the situations in which it should naturally occur.
3) Pop culture
The funny thing is that pop culture is actually agrees with this. There isn't one movie or TV show about men and women living with each other that hasn't assumed they will eventually deal with the issue of sex. In fact, it's most often the driving plot line. A man and woman start out in a platonic relationship and then wham! sex gets thrown into the mix and the big question is will they or won't they? Friends, possibly the most culturally informative and defining sitcom of the last twenty some years, is always addressing this question. Every single time living situations become co-ed, sex becomes involved. It's not cast as anything strange or unusual. It's life. Sex is the normal outcome of domestic households.
Another thing, though, is that I don't think young Christians really take lust seriously, or even have a working definition of what lust is. The fact is, lust is so commonplace in our culture that we don't even notice it. It's the primary responses between men and women and totally and completely accepted, if not glorified. Desire and desirability are the key lens through which my generation looks at others and themselves. It is important to make sure people actually understand what lust is and what Jesus says about lust, because it is not a gray area.
Additionally, though, it is really important to not separate women out from dealing with lust. It's good to talk with women about the issue as the object of male lust and helping their brothers in Christ, but it is just as important, if not more so, to talk with women about their own lust. The church tends to desexualize women, giving it nothing to say to the trends among America's young females. Women lust far more than the church recognizes and our culture is actively encouraging it. A woman's lust will most often look different than a man's, but it will be present.
4) Myth of the "relationship status"
The last big thing to understand is my generations inflated view of "relationship status." Contemporary American culture is all about labeling ourselves and our male/female relationships fall especially prey to this. We want to be able to label and define every relationship we have, thereby defining ourselves. Where this connects to roommate situations is that we young Americans tend to believe that these labels actually mean something. I think young Christians going into co-ed living situations really think that because they all label themselves as single and platonic, this label will somehow magically hold true. We don't tend to understand the organic nature of relationships. Cooking dinner, doing laundry, watching TV together defines a relationship far more than whatever label might be given to it. I think it would be helpful for people to start actually thinking about the actions they do together and what they mean and produce, rather than the superficial status they've given a relationship.
5) Authority, convenience, and rebellion
In the end, though, I really think a lot of the problem comes down to three things. 1) Americans don't believe in any authority in their lives. 2) Americans are controlled by what is convenient. 3) Americans are infatuated with rebelling. You can talk about the above points with someone till your blue in the face, but unless the Spirit is leading them to let go of these three big things guiding all American youth, there is no reason for them not to live together before marriage.
While living overseas, I somehow accidentally signed up for a free subscription of The Economist using frequent flyer miles. My mom faithfully saved every issue for me to read when I retuned after two years, so recently in an effort to purge my room of junk, I sorted through the stack of magazines, saving a select few while pitching the rest.
Two copies piqued my interest. One issue blames motherhood for gender inequality in the workforce (yes, a blog post will be coming on the article once I've fully digested it and formulated my response). The other issue's cover labels its topic as "Gendercide: What happened to 100 million baby girls?" While living in Asia, I had heard from word of mouth that the gender ratio was far off balance due to the traditional preference for boys, but I never researched it myself. I was excited to finally read about it, even though the article was a good year and a half old.
This seemed like the perfect place to share the article. I can't imbed the article, so you need actually follow the link (gasp!). But as a quick taste and incentive to inform yourself concerning this issue, I've copied the first couple of paragraphs below. Read the rest at Gendercide: The worldwide war on baby girls | The Economist.
"XINRAN XUE, a Chinese writer, describes visiting a peasant family in the Yimeng area of Shandong province. The wife was giving birth. “We had scarcely sat down in the kitchen”, she writes (see article), “when we heard a moan of pain from the bedroom next door…The cries from the inner room grew louder—and abruptly stopped. There was a low sob, and then a man’s gruff voice said accusingly: ‘Useless thing!’
“Suddenly, I thought I heard a slight movement in the slops pail behind me,” Miss Xinran remembers. “To my absolute horror, I saw a tiny foot poking out of the pail. The midwife must have dropped that tiny baby alive into the slops pail! I nearly threw myself at it, but the two policemen [who had accompanied me] held my shoulders in a firm grip. ‘Don’t move, you can’t save it, it’s too late.’“‘But that’s...murder...and you’re the police!’ The little foot was still now.
The policemen held on to me for a few more minutes. ‘Doing a baby girl is not a big thing around here,’ [an] older woman said comfortingly. ‘That’s a living child,’ I said in a shaking voice, pointing at the slops pail. ‘It’s not a child,’ she corrected me. ‘It’s a girl baby, and we can’t keep it. Around these parts, you can’t get by without a son. Girl babies don’t count.’”
For two and a half years now, I've been discussing Christianity with Chinese friends. In these discussions, my understanding of my own worldview has grown in unexpected ways due to difficult or complicated questions posed to me by my friends. Usually a topic is brought up, they express their reservations about it, and I am forced to admit I don't have a ready answer.
One such confusing topic is Eve's involvement in the fall of mankind. What surprises me when discussing this topic with my Chinese friends is that they think Eve was condemned for curiosity. Growing up in a Christian home, I was always told Eve was condemned for rebellion against God, not human curiosity. Additionally, my Chinese friends quickly jump to the conclusion that Eve receives the entire blame for evil entering the world, another contradiction to what I was taught. It bothers them to see the female sex blamed for the world’s evil and problems. After all, isn’t curiosity a natural part of human existence?
A few weeks ago, I read something that shed light on this topic for me and has caused me to contemplate the Western worldview’s conflicting influences. I climbed into bed and took out Bulfinch's The Age of Fable for light reading before sleep. Remembering a painting depicting the story of Pandora I once saw and loved, I decided to educate myself and actually read the myth. In one short paragraph, my mind was filled with thoughts that kept me awake for some time. The Greek myth of Pandora relates how evil was brought into the world by the accident of a woman. In some ways, it resembles the Biblical account of Eve's participation in bringing evil into the world, and yet there are crucial differences. Within the West’s literary and religious heritage, we find competing descriptions of womanhood.
Bulfinch's recount of the myth reads as such:
"Woman was not yet made. The story (absurd enough!) is that Jupiter made her, and sent her to Prometheus and his brother, to punish them for their presumption in stealing fire from heaven; and man, for accepting his gift. The first woman was named Pandora. She was made in heaven, every god contributing something to perfect her. Venus gave her beauty, Mercury persuasion, Apollo music, etc. Thus equipped, she was conveyed to earth, and presented to Epimetheus, who gladly accepted her, though cautioned by his brother to beware of Jupiter and his gifts. Epimetheus had in his house a jar, in which were kept certain noxious articles for which, in fitting man for his new abode, he had had no occasion. Pandora was seized with an eager curiosity to know what this jar contained; and one day she slipped off the cover and looked in. Forthwith there escaped a multitude of plagues for hapless man, -such as gout, rheumatism, and colic for his body, and envy, spite and revenge for his mind, -and scattered themselves far and wide. Pandora hastened to replace the lid! but, alas! the whole contents of the jar had escaped, one thing only excepted, which lay at the bottom, and that was hope. So we see at this day, whatever evils are abroad, hope never entirely leaves us; and while we have that, no amount of other ills can make us completely wretched."
In Pandora's tale, the creation of woman is a punishment, which is alone cause for concern, but even more interesting is the relationship between woman and evil. Evil is a problem that comes from outside of Pandora, rather than something that lies within, thus making the release of evil into our world an excusable mistake. The justifiable act of curiosity gets the better of woman by accident. Though woman herself is a punishment for an act of treachery, the action that brings evil upon humanity is not condemnable. Evil's entrance to the world is grieved and regretted, but not condemned because the culprit made a mistake rather than a choice. Pandora is a victim who is not held accountable, thus stripping her of a protagonist’s role. In short, woman is a curse without moral accountability for her decisions.
In the Biblical narrative, we see almost the exact opposite. Genesis 2-3 reads:
"And the LORD God said, 'It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.' Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
And Adam said:
'This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.'
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, 'Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'' And the woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’' Then the serpent said to the woman, 'You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.' So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden."
Here, Eve is a protagonist, someone capable of making important decisions. In the beginning, Eve is in her being and essence a blessing to mankind. Her purpose and existence is to fill a void, the answer to a felt need recognized by God. With her arrival, human relationship begins and she is recognized for her physical, mental, and moral comparability to Adam. Most importantly, she is a responsible being who will be held accountable for her actions. In Genesis, curiosity in not the cause for evil's entrance to the world. Evil enters by willful action, a choice to disregard the truth and forget the promises of God. There is no victimization by others, rather a sad and despicable rebellion.
This distinction is incredibly important to the way we view ourselves as women. One of the most common misunderstandings of Biblical Christianity that I've come across in my relationships with Chinese women is that Eve ate the fruit and fell from grace because she was curious. And how could God punish someone for being curious? For my friends, it’s like asking, how could God punish woman for being human?
We women need to reexamine what our inherited Western worldview tells us about Eve, learning to distinguish between the dignity given to woman in the Biblical account and the assumed Pandoraish version of the story we’ve inherited and is passed on to those outside the West. If we think of Eve as a Pandorian mistake-maker, then God’s condemnation of mankind truly does smack of injustice. But if I look at the Biblical account without the centuries long influence of Greek mythology, I find a much more dignifying, though terrifying, explanation for the state of woman’s sorrow and of the world.
The picture of womanhood given us by Pandora is the globally common and pagan one, and it is this version that has helped create the marginalization of women. A summation of this view goes, "Women don't know what they are doing, they can't be trusted, so to keep them from making harmful mistakes, keep them out of the loop." To say our involvement in the destruction of mankind was a mistake is the first step to giving up our dignity, our rationality, and our voice.
Interestingly, this is the first thing the Biblical account describes Eve doing after her eyes are opened to evil. Eve’s first statements after eating the fruit pass the blame of her actions on to someone else. She removes herself from the protagonist’s position and assumes the role of victim. Man was not the first to victimize woman, keeping her from being an active participant in the world’s decisions. Woman was the first to do so. Our mother Eve victimized herself and the rest of us when she told the first myth that it was someone else’s vault she ate the fruit. Since then, every victimizing myth, every story or fable that has made women helpless and stupid is only a retelling of what Eve herself declared to God when asked who was responsible. Pandora was Eve’s creation.
So how do we respond? By no means am I writing that women should be proud of Eve's actions. But I do believe that if women want to claim "comparableness" to Adam, our first step should be to stop passing the blame were it isn’t justified. Our second step should be to stop blaming the Bible for the victimization of women, for in its texts, even in woman’s worst moment, she is given more dignity than the world’s myths provide. And lastly, through my conversations with Chinese friends, I’ve learned that the third step is to grieve the reality in which we live and to reach out for the overwhelming grace given woman by her Creator.