CFN – Some of our readers may have been following the line of comments from the previous Spirit Matters column. If you have then you may have noticed a line from an enthusiastic individual who recently stated that Eve was the original feminist. If I understand this gentleman correctly feminism falls into the category of other evils of society, like communism and degeneracy.
It was fascinating to see someone connect the story of Adam and Eve to the present day struggle for human equality, and to judge that Eve was someone to be demonized. Such thinking has led to great harm for many women throughout history so it is in this spirit that I want to offer some thoughts. I am by no means a religious scholar or expert and am about to wade into waters I have no qualifications for. I feel strongly that religious texts should never be used as a means of making claims that could cause harm to anyone. Stating that Eve was a feminist and feminism is bad and therefore, to be “good”, women should adhere to a Biblical standard of conduct could cause harmful behaviours towards females.
The story of Adam and Eve has absolutely nothing to do with feminism. It has everything to do with our spiritual reality as human beings in our relationship to our Creator. Let us look at a possible explanation. Once again, I turn to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to help clarify this question from a compilation called Some Answered Questions (SAQ). SAQ is a book of questions and answers from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá that a woman named Laura Clifford Barney compiled in order to satisfy her curiosity about various spiritual subjects. It is a personal favorite of mine and I read it often.
Put simply the story of Adam and Eve follows this line: Adam is created by God and lives in a beautiful garden alone. He expresses loneliness and so, while he is sleeping, God takes one of his ribs and creates a female companion for him – Eve. God tells them to eat any of the fruits of the garden except those that are on one particular tree – the Tree of Good and Evil. Eve fails to be obedient, visits the tree and is convinced by the serpent to eat a fruit. She then shares that fruit with Adam and tempts him to eat it. God finds out, becomes angry with Adam who blames Eve and she blames the snake. Immediately Adam and Eve are cast out of the garden because they have been disobedient and serpents from then on are the enemy forever. They have committed the original sin.
This is a powerful story. What does it mean? Many take it at face value and have created a belief system around that story which justifies a certain way of thinking that sees women as temptresses and liars with men as their innocent victims. Is there any other way this story could be understood?
‘Abdu’l-Bahá offered an explanation where he says that those who are intelligent would never take the story at face value because who could ever believe that a divine creator would ever set up creation to fail like that or speak to Adam and Eve in that manner. He asks us to reflect a little and think of the story as a symbol. He offers one explanation and then asks us to come up with others.
Here is part of his explanation:
“Adam signifies the heavenly spirit of Adam, and Eve His human soul. For in some passages in the Holy Books where women are mentioned, they represent the soul of man. The tree of good and evil signifies the human world; for the spiritual and divine world is purely good and absolutely luminous, but in the human world light and darkness, good and evil, exist as opposite conditions.
The meaning of the serpent is attachment to the human world. This attachment of the spirit to the human world led the soul and spirit of Adam from the world of freedom to the world of bondage and caused Him to turn from the Kingdom of Unity to the human world. When the soul and spirit of Adam entered the human world, He came out from the paradise of freedom and fell into the world of bondage. From the height of purity and absolute goodness, He entered into the world of good and evil.”
The purpose of religion is to help the human race to become educated, to advance, to create bonds of love, to realize on Earth the kingdom of unity. Isn’t the explanation offered about the story of Adam and Eve a much more intelligent version that we can actually spend some time reflecting about?
Shirley lives and works in Cornwall, Ontario and is a member of the international Bahá’í community.