“So came Eve…the last created being in the creation of the world, without whom the whole creation of the world and all that was in the world would have been in vain and the purposes of God have come to naught.” -Elder J. Reuben Clark
Technology has brought us some truly remarkable abilities as humans. We can cure disease, travel hundreds of miles with ease, and talk to someone in Hong Kong as we sit in Washington, D.C. Slightly less remarkable is our ability to consume 5 years worth of television in 2 weeks, which is what I did a short while ago with the BBC series Merlin. I’m sure most of you are familiar with that odd empty sense you get after binge watching something on Netflix, so I convinced my mother to watch the series so I might have someone to wax endlessly on to about my theories on religious symbolism within the series.
Now, my mother has long been a fan of Arthurian legend, so it didn’t take much convincing. One of her favorite books is T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, and it makes for interesting discussion on the series to have that perspective. Yesterday, she and I were discussing Morgana and (spoiler alert) her descent into evil and how it can parallel Lucifer’s fall from grace, especially within LDS doctrine. Sometimes, Morgana is evil in other Arthurian tales, and at one point my mother asked me, “Why do you think it is that so many stories portray evil, or the one who is supposed to be like Satan, as a woman?”
My response came like a reflex. “Eve.”
Over the years, the woman who ushered in not only knowledge, wisdom, and choice, but humanity itself has been corrupted into some sort of vile temptress, or “The Original Sinner,” as some texts would call her. In fact, her names have grown to include, “the lance of the demon”, “the road of iniquity”, “the sting of the scorpion”, “a daughter of falsehood”, “the sentinel of Hell”, and “the enemy of peace,” to name but a few.
All of these titles came because of her decision to partake of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What most people fail to realize is that without this decision, we would not be. Adam and Eve lived in the garden as little children, with no concept of sexual relations. General public sex education may be lacking, but I think you can put two and two together and realize that if the rest of humanity was to come into the world, the two of them had to come to know each other Biblically, which was only understood after partaking of the fruit.
On a boarder scale of just good and evil, we must realize that personal accountability is paramount. Mormon doctrine teaches that we are not to be held accountable for the sins of our first parents, but for our own. That means the converse is true, in that we cannot hold Eve accountable for the sins committed by humankind. They are our own to bear, and calling her the “Mother of All Sin” is simply a way of shifting responsibility. In our last General Conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson addressed the importance of accepting our our agency and responsibility therein. “God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, ‘that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.’… In matters both temporal and spiritual, the opportunity to assume personal responsibility is a God-given gift without which we cannot realize our full potential as daughters and sons of God. Personal accountability becomes both a right and a duty that we must constantly defend; it has been under assault since before the Creation. We must defend accountability against persons and programs… And we must defend it against our own inclinations to avoid the work that is required to cultivate talents, abilities, and Christlike character.” The mentality so to blame Eve for the sins of the world is not only incorrect and grossly degrading to her character, but also something that will prevent us from progressing to become something greater.
Much of the corruption of Eve’s divine character came about during the time of Medieval legends, so it is not surprising that the stories of that time would have chosen a woman to bear the role of the Devil, or some representation thereof.
But what does this mean for specifically women today? What effect does centuries of portraying evil as a woman have on us? I’ll tell you what it does. It creates cultures that shame us into hiding, into viewing ourselves as innately wrong. Women will see themselves, and more especially their sexuality, as something sinful, instead of beautiful and moving. In a different address, Elder Christofferson stated, “There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality.”
I recently saw a woman ask, “Why do all portrayals of the Seven Deadly Sins always use a woman for lust?”
The reason is femininity has been degraded to a weakness, either as our own or that of men’s hearts. It is supposed to pale in comparison to the “strength” of traditional masculinity, but when his “strength” fails, and a man actually succumbs to feelings of lust, it somehow is not the evil within himself that has come out, but the evil of the temptress before him. Society has done far too much to remove any responsibility for sexual relations from a mans shoulders, and it is this mentality that continues to contribute to rape culture and slut shaming.
Those aforementioned terms may be new ones, but the concept is not new. It was in the 2nd century that Tertullian told women that they were all “the Devil’s gateway” because of Eve. It is a tragedy to me that our mentalities have not come as far as they should since then.
Until we remove this seemingly permanently ingrained, however false, ideal that women have a naturally stronger relation to temptation than men, we will never be able to resolve the acts of violence, hate, and injustice that plague women to this day.
Author’s Note: I wish to say something on my choice of title. I know for many within my own faith it may have been jarring as we hold Eve in such sacred regard (imagine if I was Catholic and I wrote a piece called “Slut Shaming Mary”), and wanted to express that it was meant in no way to degrade her. I chose the title with much pondering, as I am always deeply troubled when I see how the majority of the world treats Eve, and I could not find a better current vernacular to express what I feel has been done to her over the years.
Painting by Anna Lea Merritt (1844-1930)