//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.// — Genesis 3:6
//A woman a should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.// — 1 Timothy 2:11-13
As an atheist the literal story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden seems a bit outrageous, if I’m going to be honest.
Given the complexity of morality, the thought that it originated from two naked people in a garden eating fruit from a tree at the prompting of a talking snake…really? This is where we get all the varying complexities of morality from?
I mean, c’mon. It’s clearly a myth.
But even as a myth, it has had enormous impact, in my life and in the life of billions. So when I read it, I’m interested in what the myth does in the minds of so many people.
And I’ve noticed that most of the time, Christians seem to read the story as one of God being in the right, and humans and the snake being in the wrong. Eve should’ve not eaten from the fruit; if she did, we might be chilling in the Garden right now.
As an atheist, though, I see the mythical dilemma as a litmus test for humanity. Would human beings live the rest of their lives unquestioning, undoubting, blindly following?
Or…would they ask questions? Would they dare to doubt? Would they test? Would they look for a rationale?
Maybe the myth of the Garden of Eden was born because of this contradiction between faith and reason – which would human beings choose?
It might be a warning to choose faith, to not look behind the curtain, to blindly follow instructions. At least, this might be what the writer wanted those under his charge to choose. The point of religion has, historically, usually been to keep people in line. Blind faith can do that.
But in my morality…I choose not to merely blindly walk in faith. I want to look behind the curtain. I choose reason. I want rationales for moral systems.
The fact that the woman makes the initial choice to eat the fruit, not the man, indicates that the writer is trying to silence women’s capacity to reason, to defy authority – almost as if seeking a rationale for moral structures is especially bad for women. The indication is that there is real danger from women choosing to look behind the curtain and testing the morality that they are supposed to take on faith.
Paul makes this intent to silence women clear in the New Testament when stating in 1 Timothy 2:11-13:
A woman a should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.
As a black man in America, I relate. There is a major contingent in White America that does not want me to ask too many questions about the structure of right and wrong in my country. There is a long history of black people in this country who have been told to read the Bible as a way to keep them quiet and controlled.
And that’s what was expected of Eve in the Genesis myth. She was to be quiet and controlled, listen to the man, and not eat the fruit.
The writer of Genesis clearly wanted her decision to eat the fruit to make her the immoral danger of the story.
But in my mind these days, she’s the principled hero.
In the myth, she didn’t just blindly listen to her husband. She didn’t live the entirety of her life in silent obedience. She was brave enough to test the conventional wisdom of her time, from the beginning, and lead humanity into a rational examination of right and wrong.
And she likely knew there would be consequences for it. I mean, she was disobeying the powerful in the story – which is what pulling back the curtain often requires. You make the powerful upset. Sometimes you have to live with the consequences of making them upset your entire life.
But sometimes it is worth that price to be free.
Silent, faith-based ignorance can be a lot more comfortable. It can give you a blissfulness that rivals the mythical Garden of Eden. But that blissfulness also is a trap, a prison…upkept by the powerful who want you to stay there.
I used to resent Eve as a Christian. After all, if it hadn’t been for her, I thought, I might be living in the Garden of Eden. But I think I was wrong. The Garden of Eden was paradise…but it was also a prison of blissful ignorance.
And Eve is a mythical representation of the reason that holds the capacity to set us free.
I don’t believe the Genesis story anymore, but I was a Christian for 28 years, and the stories – outrageous as they seem to me – are myths that are still in my bones. Looking honestly at the Genesis Garden of Eden story, away from the censure of church, Bible studies, pastors, and the obligation to have faith, gives me a profound respect for what the character of Eve represents.
The point of the story is that, when investigation and reason is chosen over blind faith, the knowledge of good and evil is born.
There are consequences to this knowledge, including a loss of ignorance’s bliss. But the freedom is worth it, at least to me.
Thanks for reading.