Chivalry or Chauvanism?
March 14th, 2011

Even if you aren’t a Christian, you probably know the story.  It’s from Genesis and has been leveraged into literature throughout Christendom.  It goes like this:  Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden.  God tells them that they may eat the fruit of any tree in the garden except for the tree in the middle of the garden otherwise they will die.  Then the serpent comes along and says, “Yeah, God was not totally honest with you.  That tree over there in the middle is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If you eat its fruit you won’t die, but you’ll know of good and evil and you’ll also realize that you’re naked and you’ll probably want to cover up.”  So Eve buys into the serpent’s story (which, by the way, was accurate), takes a bite, and peer pressures poor Adam into jumping off the bridge with her.

This story was the Old Testament scripture lesson in church yesterday, and when the priest kicked off the sermon he did something that caught my attention.  As he began to make analogies that would carry throughout the sermon, he attributed the disobedience to Adam alone.  He talked about Adam setting the course for the human race by eating the forbidden fruit.  Per the sermon it was Adam’s decision to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Eve was not edited out of the scripture reading (thankfully) but she was wholly cut out of the sermon.

As the sermon progressed I thought about this glaring omission.  I thought maybe it was an attempt at political correctness.  Perhaps it would have been a faux pas to blame the woman for sending all humans on a crash course to sin.  Perhaps it was a decision based on chivalry.

But the priest’s neglect of Eve’s role didn’t sit right with me.  Political correctness aside, the truth (per scripture, at least) is that Eve took the plunge first and exerted her bad girl influence over her unsuspecting husband.  So why leave her out?  Was it an attempt to mitigate Eve’s role in a pivotal moment of the Bible?  If so, I’d call that straight-up chauvinism.

GAP (who is wise about such things) pointed out to me that some scholars believe that the blame was placed on Eve to diminish the role of women – to position them as easily manipulated by male-centric authors of the day.  Our church takes scripture more literally than I do.  (I think a lot of people see the Old Testament this way, but I apply a fairly non-literal interpretation to much of the New Testament as well.)  I believe the Bible was written by fallible, human men.  It was written in pieces 100 to 200 years after the crucifixion  when memories had faded and oral tradition had allowed stories to evolve.  So I was surprised at this departure from the written word in the sermon.  The priest who spoke yesterday is younger than our other priests.  I am heartened to believe that his interpretation of scripture might be more akin to my own than to the literal interpretation of the older priests.

I don’t have an answer here.  But I was intrigued by the decision about Eve.  Chivalry and chauvinism don’t often show up in lock step.  But I wonder if yesterday’s sermon might have exhibited a little bit of both.

6 Responses to “Chivalry or Chauvanism?”

  1. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I’m agnostic, but I’ll weigh in anyways. I’m applauding your priest’s decision. We skirt-wearers get a bad rap far too often. :)

  2. Gale Says:

    Kitch – Thanks for weighing in. Part of what got me scratching my head about this topic was that I noticed it in the first place. Was I just looking for sexism? Was I making a mountain out of a molehill? Was the whole thing completely innocent? It’s possible that this whole episode says more about me than it does about our priest.

  3. Alison Says:

    Wow – I’ve never heard anyone exempt Eve in this story. (Especially since she was the one who initially took the plunge!) That’s bizarre.

    I’ve always believed both she and Adam played pivotal roles in this story. Both disobeyed (or “sinned”) in their own, equally significant ways. If anything, though, I’ve always thought this story was interesting in that the woman WAS the one to initiate the first step of disobedience, rather than the man “leading” the way. Is that necessarily a commentary on the weaknesses/tendencies of women and men? Maybe, but not necessarily. Do both characters’ actions apply to each of our lives? Absolutely.

    Regardless, even if it’s not a “literal” (although who are we to conclusively ever know), I’m more and more convinced each year that this Genesis story is brilliant. Imagine I’ll probably spend the rest of my life unpacking it and learning even more about the nature of God and the zillion parallels of BOTH Adam and Eve to our lives…

  4. Cathy Says:

    My take is similar to Alison’s. I have never heard of Adam taking the fall. That is odd. I am curious to know if you asked the priest about it. What was he thinking?!

  5. Anne Says:

    Yeah, it’s interesting he omitted her from the conversation altogether. My general feel is that stories in the Bible are meant to convey something that was important to the authors at that time. Digging back into the societal context at the time might give some clues as to what we’re meant to understand in terms of Eve’s and Adam’s roles. Generally, we try to put our modern understanding on things and those understandings can be misguided…my thought is that we’ve done that a bit with poor Eve:)

    What I’d be more curious about was the priest’s message and what piece of the creation story he was hoping to focus on. I wonder if he just went the path of avoiding Eve in order to avoid the “Adam vs Eve” controversy about who’s to blame because that was separate and distracting from the overall theme of his sermon? Of course I wasn’t there, but that’s just a thought.

  6. Laura H. Says:

    Sorry to be so cynical….but I have a hard time believing a priest would leave out Eve as an act of chivalry. How very strange. I think you should ask the priest why he did that and report back to us! I’m interested in knowing!
    I continue to be astounded by sexism in Christianity. When I started dating my husband in 1995, his Catholic-light denomination (Missouri Synod Lutheran) didn’t allow women to vote in their church! And my mother-in-law nearly boycotted her own daugther’s wedding in 2004 because the Methodist officiant was a woman! Seriously, who does that?!
    I am delighted to invite you and your blog readers to attend service at your local United Church of Christ. Our minister kept Eve in yesterday morning, and our denomination is based on God loving and welcoming all people! Imagine that!