Spirit Matters by Shirley Barr – Reflections on the Story of Adam and Eve – September 22, 2012

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.

Reference: http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAQ/saq-30.html.utf8?query=adam|eve&action=highlight#gr5


  1. This piece will cause a certain commenter’s head to explode.
    It amazes me that an ancient book of fairy-tales could cause humanity so much grief.

  2. Thanks for this interesting and thought-provoking column, Shirley, which implicitly raises the question of what the Bible teaches about what society’s attitude to women should be. However, when you talk about the Bible, are you talking about the Old Testament or the New Testament, and is there any difference between the two in this regard? Or are you talking about what is generally understood to be a “Biblical standard of conduct” with respect to women, and if so, it would be useful for your readers to have more definition of what you understand to be this “standard of conduct.” At the same time, what do the other major faiths, such as Islam, say about women? And what about secular values and human rights? Over the last 100 years or so, society’s attitudes towards many values have changed enormously and we are still very much in the throes of these changes, as your column reflects.

  3. First we must go to the inspired record and get some light – 1Timithy 2:11-15 “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety”.

    Eve’s sin of disobedience is described as usurping authority over the man – her husband Adam. It was not her place to discuss theology with anyone without her “head”- her husband not being there, to direct her and to protect her.

    The heart of the feminist spirit is displayed in their unwillingness to submit to God’s creative order. Feminist women will not submit to being women, to being wives, to being mothers as God has set down in creation and redemption, as so clearly revealed in the Holy Scriptures. God has a definite order of authority in the family that He has instituted, and problems begin when family members will not submit to God’s order, and by not submitting one to another in the fear of God.

    Notice the last verse from above -“Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety”. In a saving relationship with the God of redemption, a Christian women sees that God’s way of being a women, of being a wife, of being a mother is the best possible way for her, and in fact brings glory and honour to God, and peace and happiness to the family, which she has a vital influence and role to play. She does not want to be a Christian women in order to be saved, but because she is already saved, and in a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Not to leave out fallen man, we too resist God’s order and rule. First of all by treating our wives like merchandise. – oppression in many forms, which equates to fallen man not loving their wives as Christ loved the church, and by not leading them as the Word of God requires. Men, husbands will not lead their homes, and thus they allow the women to lead. As women take the lead this becomes the same sin as Eve committed in the garden.

    In salvation, God rectifies the fall in the hearts of both men and women. By divine grace and power, we are bought back to love and submit to God’s order of life. Which is to say to all of us – God’s way is best! And yes, it does work.

    And by the way, seeking a “spiritualized” meaning of Adam, of Eve, of the fall, and even Satan will not bring light, but further darkness to one’s heart and mind. Such an interpretation is a form New Age Gnosticism. Such spiritualization is a major method of interpretation in all forms of Eastern religions. Such a method is so subjective, that it is not worth the time to consider.

  4. Mr. Newton says “God’s way is best! And yes, it does work.”
    Judging from Mr. Newtons many intolerant comments on this site and others, I have to think his god’s way is a road that should be avoided at all cost. Having a completely closed mind and living ones life by the strict rules laid out by a narrow interpretation of one book might be a good coping mechanism for some individuals, but thankfully most of us can bumble through life quite well while thinking and questioning and being open to other ideas.

  5. As a student of the Bible, I appreciate the references provided by Pastor Newton because they provide some source for what some might feel are “misogynistic” attitudes in Christianity. However, to be fair, perhaps a distinction needs to be made between what Jesus taught and what Paul taught. According to the Biblical record, Paul was not one of the original disciples or Jesus’s designated successor, but became a Christian through a vision on the road to Damascus. Historically, he then became one of the most active apostles whose writings at some point became part of the Christian canon or New Testament and subsequently influenced major Christian thinkers like Augustine and Martin Luther. At the same time, I am not aware of many teachings by Jesus Himself concerning the position of women in the family or their status in society. Coming up to the present day here in Cornwall, I know several apparently happy couples whose marriages seem to correspond to the model that the Apostle Paul advocated; I also know some other apparently happy couples in which husbands and wives treat each other essentially as equals. I personally like and respect all these couples because they are being true to certain principles. But I also do not presume to judge which is “right” or “wrong” in the sight of God, because I acknowledge that that is His prerogative.

  6. People can always read Leonard Swidler’s book, Jesus Was A Feminist.

  7. Neil, please excuse this expression, but Good Lord! Are you actually saying that Mr. Newton’s interpretation of the bible is providing you with insight into “what some might feel are “misogynistic” attitudes in Christianity.”? Mr. Newton regularly uses the bible to heap scorn on Feminists, Environmentalists, Spiritualists, Gays, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and on and on. His god, according to him, will throw all these people into the “fiery lake of hell” for eternity if they don’t repent and embrace HIS religion and HIS interpretation of the damned book!
    If you are looking for insight from Mr. Newton’s intolerance… well, I’d better leave it at that.

  8. Neil Macmillan : the good editor has not seen fit to post my rebuttal, so this post will go no further. What exercise of power and discretion! 🙂

  9. Thank Gawd for “the good editor”.

  10. @ Neil: Appreciate the point made with respect to misogynistic thinking that can and does permeate the structures of religion, I think it is an issue of vital importance. Those of us who are religious really need to do the work of eradicating misogyny from our thinking because it is a false belief and is extremely harmful. Misogyny definition from Wikipedia:
    Misogyny ( /mɪˈsɒdʒɪni/) is the hatred or dislike of women or girls. According to feminist theory, misogyny can be manifested in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and sexual objectification of women.[1][2] Misogyny has been characterised as a prominent feature of the mythologies of the ancient world as well as various religions. In addition, many influential Western philosophers have been described as misogynistic.[1] The male counterpart of misogyny is misandry, the hatred or dislike of men…
    In the context of the continual biblical references we have been subject to in the comments section of this column I identify those as an excellent example of misogyny. Why? Because the writer is adamant that the role of women is limited to whatever it is he has determined, using the Bible, is what women should be doing. No wonder people turn away from religion! While it is easy to ridicule a fanatic, the larger picture demands that we really examine the roots of misogyny and root it out of our human social system. It is like the most venomous and toxic weed found in an otherwise productive garden, which, if the gardener used organic methods, would be suffocated with compost. I have asked the editor of CFN to stop allowing the said commentator to post on Spirit Matters because he had his chance to launch his vitriolic attacks and for the purposes of peaceful relations, he be limited to his own link: http://cornwallfreenews.com/2012/09/op-ed-pastor-tom-newton-of-cornwall-ontario-is-against-abortion-september-13-2012/
    As men and women organize themselves to put clear boundaries in place to stop the toxic spread of misogyny we may start to see improvement in society in general. What do you think?

  11. @ Shirley. It’s pretty sad that you would have to request that the editor (moderator) of this site block or restrict the comments of Mr. Newton on your articles. Mr. Newton has a long history of poisoning any civil discussion with his “vitriol” and intolerance. Your request, in my opinion, is reasonable. Although I’m not a spiritual or religious person, I enjoy reading your columns and I hope you keep them coming.

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