Zelophehad’s Daughters

Stop Using Eve and the Fall as Evidence that the LDS View of Women is Progressive

Posted by Lynnette

“The incorrect idea in Christian history that wives should be dependent began with the false premise that the fall of Adam and Eve was a tragic mistake and that Eve was the primary culprit. Thus women’s traditional submission to men was considered a fair punishment for Eve’s sin. Thankfully, the Restoration clarifies Eve’s — and Adam’s — choice as essential to the eternal progression of God’s children. We honor rather than condemn what they did, and we see Adam and Eve as equal partners.” — Elder Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen, “Crossing Thresholds and Becoming Equal Partners,” August 2007 Ensign

“So we stand, if you want to talk about things on which Mormons stand across the river, if you will, from other Christian faiths, this is one of the most important—that Eve was not an airhead, she was not a murderess. She was, in fact, wise and courageous, and what she did pleased God.” — Valerie Hudson Cassler, “The Two Trees”

“Some Christians condemn Eve for her act, concluding that she and her daughters are somehow flawed by it. Not the Latter-day Saints! Informed by revelation, we celebrate Eve’s act and honor her wisdom and courage in the great episode called the Fall.” — Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “The Great Plan of Happiness,” October Conference 1993

The above quotations are only a few of many that make the case that because of  the Restoration view of Eve and the Fall, Latter-day Saints have a respect for Eve and women generally which is lacking in (many) other churches. There are aspects of this statement with which I do not disagree, but I also think this is far from the whole story, and I’m simply tired of seeing this cited as evidence of LDS gender egalitarianism. In the contemporary world, Latter-day Saints, I would argue, are not more progressive because of our doctrine surrounding Eve; if anything, we are frequently more regressive.

I would like to go over three points which I see made frequently:

1) In seeing it as positive, we have a more enlightened view of the Fall (and therefore Eve) than other traditions.

First of all, it is worth noting that the idea that the Fall has positive effects is not unique to Mormonism, not even in the history of Christianity. One might note the idea  of the felix culpa, the “happy fault,” in which the Fall is ultimately positive in that it brings about the possibility of Christ’s redemption. Adam and Eve, in this line of thought, were limited in how much they could develop, and Christ’s grace which came about as a result of the Fall opened up a much greater human destiny. Or one might look at the writings of Irenaeus, an early Church father, who proposed that Adam was in a childlike state and it was no surprise that he fell. In fact, says Irenaeus, had he not fallen, he would not have been able to understood the experience of good.

Of course, the fact that the Fall is positive does not necessarily exonerate Eve. And I certainly do not wish to deny that the dominant strain in Christian history has in fact been to see the Fall as a disastrous mistake, and to blame Eve for bringing about our unhappy condition. That this has been cited as evidence of women’s inherent weakness, and used as justification for women’s subordination, is indisputable. And in contrast to this, the LDS view is indeed a progressive one. However, I would be hesitant to be too quick to pat ourselves on the back for having a more positive view of women than say, Thomas Aquinas.

A more fair comparison, I think, is with contemporary Christian thought. And what is going on there? The advent of second-wave feminism beginning in the 1960s influenced theology as well as other fields, and over the past few decades theologians have been acutely aware of feminist issues. The conception of women found in Christian history has come under close scrutiny. In contemporary mainstream Christian theology, feminism cannot be lightly ignored; and while there are still arguments about a variety of issues, virtually no one is asserting that women should be subordinate based on the Fall. The idea has simply been dismissed as a historical artifact. In fact, Genesis is rarely read literally in the first place; a historical Adam and Eve are widely rejected. This means that for many, the issue of Eve’s guilt has simply become irrelevant.

Obviously, I am talking about theology and not popular religion–and theology in a particular context, at that. There are indeed more conservative churches, and more conservative strands of Christian thought. So I am certainly not saying that more conservative ideas about Eve and the subordination of women do not persist; they obviously do. I am simply challenging the idea that the entire Big Bad Christian World has a negative view of Eve and the Fall and subordinates women because of it.

2) We see Eve as a person in her own right, fully equal to Adam.

One of the most disturbing aspects of our view of Eve, in my view, actually precedes the Fall. In the March Ensign’s article on Eve, Russell M. Nelson is quoted as saying that Eve is the “keystone in the priesthood arch of salvation.” Though I have no doubt that this is meant as a genuine statement of appreciation, it is assertions like this that trouble me. Eve, notably, is not a subject here; she is an object.

This is a notion which is repeated over and over in our praise of Eve. She is not described as a person in her own right. Her value lies in what she contributes to the plan of salvation–in other words, what she contributes to men’s ability to achieve their potential. Women are important, we hear again and again, because men could not be saved without them. Eve shows up because of Adam’s needs (it is not good for Adam to be alone). Adam is not created for Eve; Eve is created for Adam. Her role is fundamentally a supporting one. And as soon as she steps outside of that role, she is punished—which leads me to point number three.

3) We honor Eve for her for her decision.

I find this assertion particularly confusing. For one thing, as I mentioned in my first point, believing that the Fall is good does not necessarily equate to seeing Eve’s act in positive terms. The question of whether Eve is deceived or not is a open one in LDS discussion. While in the scriptural text she is clearly deceived (and indeed she explains her own action in terms of being “beguiled”), some have proposed that she in fact made a deliberate and  honorable decision.1 But this question is at least up for debate; it is by no means clear that the act itself is praiseworthy. By contrast, Adam’s act is generally described as wise and the right thing to do (if not as flashy as Eve’s choice).

Much of our understanding of the Fall as necessary and good is based on 2 Nephi 2. Strikingly, Eve gets mentioned in v. 18 in the context of being tempted of the devil, and in v. 19 of being driven out of the garden with Adam. After that, it’s all Adam. “And now, behold, if Adam had not transgressed . . . ” (v. 21). “Adam fell that men might be . . ” (v. 25). Obviously, in these instances, “Adam” is being used to denote Adam and Eve as a couple. But why is it that so often that when we talk about the Fall, if it’s in positive terms—look what good things the Fall brought about!—it’s the Fall of Adam (not the Fall of Adam and Eve)?

The most jarring bit about this assertion, however, lies in the fact that far from ritually honoring Eve, we ritually punish her. The curse of Genesis 3:16 (“thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee”) is alive and well, even if we have softened the language. When I hear that we honor Eve, I want to ask, where? In what concrete way? Where do the scriptures honor her, even? In our most sacred spaces, do we pause a moment to honor her for her insight–or do we immediately relegate her to a silent and secondary role?

In a nutshell, the idea that the LDS view of Eve has lead to more egalitarian practice than other churches simply boggles the imagination, given how many mainstream Christian churches not only do not subordinate women (no language of “preside” or “hearken”), but actually go so far as to ordain them. It is true that this is not the case for more conservative Christians, but to only compare ourselves to these traditions is disingenuous at best. In the end, it turns out that our view of Eve does in fact neatly parallel our view of women more generally: we ambiguously praise her, and then ensure that she is not able to make any more rash decisions.

  1. See, for example, Beverly Campbell’s read of the Fall: “Eve faced the choice between selfish ease and unselfishly facing tribulation and death (Widtsoe, p. 193). As befit her calling, she realized that there was no other way and deliberately chose mortal life so as to further the purpose of God and bring children into the world.” (“Eve,” The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. []

21 Responses to “Stop Using Eve and the Fall as Evidence that the LDS View of Women is Progressive”

  1. 1.

    Awesome, Lynnette! That Hudson quote in particular just kills me — who thinks of Eve as a murderess?

    I think we pay a lot of rhetorical lip service to Eve, but in the official places — scripture and liturgy — we still have nothing good to say about her. When we see the Temple language change in its treatment (i.e., silencing) of her, then I’ll believe we’re actually committed to a progressive and celebratory understanding of Eve.

  2. 2.

    But surely Adam can not be excused,
    Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame;
    What Weakness offered, Strength might have refused,
    Being Lord of all, the greater was his shame:
    Although the Serpent’s craft had her abused,
    God’s holy word ought all his actions frame,
    For he was Lord and King of all the earth,
    Before poore Eve had either life or breath.

    . . .

    And then to lay the fault on Patience’ back,
    That we (poor women) must endure it all;
    We know right well he did discretion lack,
    Being not persuaded thereunto at all;
    If Eve did err, it was for knowledge’ sake,
    The fruit being fair persuaded him to fall:
    No subtle Serpent’s falsehood did betray him,
    If he would eat it, who had power to stay him?

    Not Eve, whose fault was only too much love,
    Which made her give this present to her Dear,
    That what she tasted, he likewise might prove,
    Whereby his knowledge might become more clear;
    He never sought her weakeness to reprove,
    With those sharp words, which he of God did hear:
    Yet Men will boast of Knowledge, which he took
    From Eve’s fair hand, as from a learned Book.

    (1611)

  3. 3.

    1. Who cares what the Christian history is when we have the restored gospel. 2. The gods said let us make man, both male and female, before they were actually made. Eve was never “just a helpmeet.” She is the mother of all living. Query: Why would he call her that when she had not yet had any children? How could she be the mother of all living when, other than Adam and Eve and animals and insects, there was no other living? 3. Adam’s act was no more praiseworthy than Eve’s. He could have said “take another rib and let’s start this party over again.” I think, like the atonement, there’s more to this than we’ll ever appreciate in this life.

  4. 4.

    Wonderful points, Lynnette! I particularly like this:

    “When I hear that we honor Eve, I want to ask, where? In what concrete way? Where do the scriptures honor her, even? In our most sacred spaces, do we pause a moment to honor her for her insight–or do we immediately relegate her to a silent and secondary role?”

    Exactly. What other Christian group does this? Has a special sacred space with ceremonies where *all* women are ritually subordinated because of Eve? And we call ourselves progressive?

  5. 5.

    “In our most sacred spaces, do we pause a moment to honor her for her insight–or do we immediately relegate her to a silent and secondary role?”
    This is the clincher for me, as well. I suppose I bought in to the “progressive view of Eve” rhetoric simply for not thinking much about it, until I was hit with the temple version in the face.

    Although I have heard the movies changed again recently. Still a silent Eve post-fall?

  6. 6.

    When I read quotes like the Hafen’s I have to wonder if they have ever even been to the temple. I wonder what they think is going on.

  7. 7.

    This was/is a big issue for me and the temple. When I was a teen, I remember reading the Genesis and Moses versions of the Fall and thinking, “Hmm. This blames Eve for a lot,” and I took it to my YW leaders and I was told, “It’ll be much better when you go to the temple.” I was able to do enough mental gymnastics to excuse Genesis and Moses- maybe the translation of Genesis was off, maybe the definition of this or that work in Moses is really more like X or Y or Z.

    Then I went to the temple, ready for it to make sense and not blame Eve and instead of solving everything, it created whole new problems. If we really are supposed to see ourselves as (respectively) Adam and Eve and Eve is directly told she’s cursed BECAUSE of her choice, then… yeah. Likening this stuff to myself was really bothersome. I had to eventually just decide to throw that section of the endowment out because I couldn’t make it work into something positive. We might not punish men for Adam’s transgression, but we definitely are women for Eve’s.

  8. 8.

    “Obviously, in these instances, “Adam” is being used to denote Adam and Eve as a couple. But why is it that so often that when we talk about the Fall, if it’s in positive terms—look what good things the Fall brought about!—it’s the Fall of Adam (not the Fall of Adam and Eve)?”

    Yes, this didn’t occur to me until I was an adult, but I suddenly realized that we talk about the fall of Adam a lot and Eve is mentioned marginally in the discussion (if at all). I think a prime example of this is the three pillars of eternity talk. http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=598

  9. 9.

    “Where do the scriptures honor her, even?” After the fall, I can find only one place where Eve is concretely honored: Our “glorious mother Eve” is numbered with the “great and mighty ones” in JFS’s vision of the spirit world. But it’s not much.

  10. 10.

    TopHat #7. I think maybe you are mistaken. Pre-90′s revisions, I believe the punishment of Eve found in the scriptures was in the presentation, but was never explicitly called a curse nor did it directly call Eve cursed (just that her sorrow would be multiplied…etc.) But since the early 90′s revisions, Eve’s “curse” was completely taken out.

    Conversely, Adam’s punishment mentions a curse (the earth shall be cursed thy sake…briars…weeds…etc.), and his “curse” remains in the endowment today.

    I tried to figure out what you’re referring to since even the scriptural punishment listed isn’t in the current endowment presentation, so my final guess was that you were probably just mistaken.

    Or maybe I’m not remembering some other part that you could be referring to?

  11. 11.

    SteveF, the word “cursed” isn’t used with regard to Eve, but it’s explicit that she’s being told to put herself at the bottom of the wife-husband-God hierarchy because she was the first to eat of the fruit. I don’t see any other way to interpret the language used there. She’ll be hearkening to her husband from here on out as a consequence of the choice that we claim to see as the correct, savvy choice in line with God’s actual desires.

  12. 12.

    Yep, Lynette, I was guilty of assuming we valued Eve because I’d heard vaguely positive statements throughout my life. When I was planning the GD lesson at the start of this year about Adam and Eve and creation and the fall, I realised that there aren’t that many scriptures about her, and there aren’t that many positive conclusions to draw from a close reading of the scriptures.

    I guess I started favouring a much less literal reading, around that time, and now I read it through the lens of the author’s context – it says as much about them as it does about God and the garden and the world.

    Also, yeah, the way we talk about other faith traditions really bothers me. Last week, in a talk from a visiting High Councilman, I heard that we’re the only religion he knows of that has worldwide meetings on a regular basis, intended to deliver the word of God, and uplift, edify and inspire. I would suggest, sir, that you’re not very familiar with many other religions.

  13. 13.

    I feel like you ignored ( deliberately or not I can not tell) two of the restoration scriptures that most strongly praise Eve:

    “10 And in that day Adam blessed God and was filled, and began to prophesy concerning all the families of the earth, saying: Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God.
    11 And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
    12 And Adam and Eve blessed the name of God, and they made all things known unto their sons and their daughters. (Pearl of Great Price, Moses, Moses 5)”

    “39 And our glorious Mother Eve, with many of her faithful daughters who had lived through the ages and worshiped the true and living God. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 138).”

    Also, while the temple does not give Eve many lines, in the new videos she is the emotional core of the video. Her emotions and feelings are so powerful and palpable. There are also other positive changes such as showing Adam and Eve working together after the fall.

  14. 14.

    SteveF. I didn’t go through the temple until 2006, so I have no idea what the previous version was, but that was the impression that the language gives. If I remember right God starts with, “Because you…” which tells us that this is a direct consequence/punishment of her actions.

  15. 15.

    This is solid, Lynette. First let me agree with you. There is no clear reading of the scriptures in which Eve or our conception of her should be termed progressive. Just because we praise her doesn’t mean we can’t also despise her. (That is the art of putting a woman on a pedestal.) Praising Eve is not the equivalent of holding progressive values. Let me continue by responding to IDIAT (#3).

    1. History of religion and the Fall is important, even in light of the restored gospel. Read “Prodigals and Pilgrims: The American Revolution against Patriarchal Authority 1750-1800″ by Jay Fliegelman. It’s one of the best books on American History I’ve come across. It explains how changing attitudes about the Fall and the rearing of children across the eighteenth century influenced the roots of the revolution: at the beginning of the eighteenth century American Protestants still believed that the Fall was a bad thing that rendered our natures and the world evil, and that from the time they were newly born, children(‘s bodies) needed to be ruled and corrected (through swaddling clothes, corporeal punishment, etc.): the wild and wicked fallen nature of human beings quite literally needed to be beaten out of them. By the end of the century, mainstream American Protestants had adopted some progressive Enlightenment values and no longer viewed the Fall as inherently evil: the Fall had resulted in negative consequences–death, decay, and the capacity to be tempted–but children were not inherently evil; instead of being ruled over, they needed to be guided and nurtured into moral, self-sufficient adulthood. You can see how the Founders quickly made this an analogy to their relationship with the Monarchy: it was time for morally self-sufficient adult colonies to rule themselves. In any case, the founders of our religion were raised by the founders of our country, and they possessed the same modern conceptions about the nature of the Fall. Many (most?) Mormons would be comfortable suggesting that the restoration completed what the founders started, but the influence could have just as easily been the other way around. (There’s no reason why it couldn’t have been both.) The history of the Fall is important, because the restoration didn’t happen in a vacuum. The gospel was restored by G-d to mostly American Protestants weaned on progressive Enlightenment values; however, you are right to point to the primacy of restoration revelation on this topic.

    2. You are spot on with this one. Is there any greater epithet for anyone else in the scriptures than “the mother of all living”? You’d have to go to G-d themselves to find something as great. (Unless you despise mothers and life; then you’re a Gnostic.)

    3. Also spot on. And it speaks to #2. Eve was not just a helpmeet; she had eternities of history before coming here. But it may have been her particular function–taken on by subjective choice–in this sphere of existence. It’s important to remember that while the scriptures look to pre- and post-mortality, they are primarily for this sphere of existence. Before the Book of Abraham and Section 93 et al., did we have any clue what we were like before we came here? Likewise, before Section 76 did we really have much of an idea of what life will look like beyond this? And even those scriptures are highly vague and cryptic given the subject. (Can anyone really claim to understand the whole light, intelligence, spirit of truth discussions in the Doctrine and Covenants?)

    The post on this forum about LDS Cosmology is also relevant at this point. Think about it this way (or, at least, think about thinking about it this way): it would be a mistake to draw conclusions about the eternal nature of existence or the eternal capacities and destinies of men and women from the cosmology we’ve been given, because the cosmology we’ve been give only refers to this sphere of existence, which, by design, is obscured and veiled.

    Here I’d also respond to Melyngoch’s comment about Eve being punished for something that we claim was good by saying that the Eve’s fate for taking the fruit (i.e. her desire being to her husband) can only be seen as a bad thing if it wasn’t a) designed to be that way from the beginning for a greater eternal purpose, and b) wasn’t agreed to by Eve and all women who chose to come here. Even though we (and they) acknowledge what Eve (and Adam) did was good, and done by design, it was still a transgression. G-d could not force Adam and Eve from his presence without it being warranted. His own eternal decrees demanded that it be a transgression, otherwise he had no power to prevent them from enjoying his presence. And every transgression has a consequence. Everything we know (which is little, admittedly) about the council and war in heaven hinged on not only an intelligent design for mortality, but also on the supreme importance of choice. Unless the Book of Moses is flat out wrong, from an LDS perspective the transgression and its consequence must have been by design and assented to (by unimpeded and informed choice) by all, including everyone reading this comment. But again, we were only given a mortal cosmological outlook, not an eternal one: might we not see the post-transgression injunctions to Adam and Eve, then, spoken by G-d himself, as keys to understanding the responsibilities and concerns of being a woman and a man in this world (and this world only), rather than a cruel, unjust, and insulting punishment for a needful transgression? It would be a mistake to see it as anything more than a cue for living in this world.

    Back to your main point, Lynette, unless they have real revelation on the matter, anyone speaking on the subject should dial back their (probably well-intentioned) rhetoric about our church being progressive and men and women being equal (in an early twenty-first century conception of the term, at least). Integrity demands it; however, it would be an equal mistake to move the opposite direction without something equally valid: we shouldn’t be hasty to move from one historically contingent position to another equally historically contingent position. We would need a third guarantor–an authoritative mediator–to warrant it.

  16. 16.

    OK, so we’re not progressive. Let’s be content with becoming Kings and Queens, Priests and Priestesses. Let’s be content with inheriting the universe.

  17. 17.

    Your “we” carefully skips over the inequality, Jack. It’s like saying, “Bill Gates and me, together we have $70 billion.” Literally true, but a bit misleading.

  18. 18.

    Well, that’s not a bad arrangement if “Bill Gates” is anything like Jesus.

  19. 19.

    Sorry to be so unclear, Jack. My point wasn’t about us and Jesus, but rather about women and men. Inheriting the universe is no good for “us” if parts of that “us” don’t have as much say as other parts. To the topic of the post, if we take the ritual subordination of Eve seriously, it sure looks like we’re endorsing an arrangement that is exactly that. Saying “we” ignores that inequality.

  20. 20.

    The logic still holds. No man will receive such an inheritance unless he is like Jesus, indeed, unless he is one with Him. And no man will arrive at such without being one with his wife. It is through At-one-ment that both men and women receive all that there is. If you’ve got it all you’ve got it all.

  21. 21.

    The temple ceremony is at least as ambiguous as the Bible with respect to Eve’s culpability. (Though I have to say that at least in the version of the temple movie that has the very charismatic actor playing Lucifer, it’s hard to blame Eve for being persuaded to eat the fruit. I’d have eaten it too if I’d heard that spiel.)

    Where the ceremony definitely does depart from the biblical narrative, however, is in its tacit exoneration of Adam. He doesn’t eat the fruit because his wife convinced him it would be good, but rather because he was caught on the horns of an impossible ethical dilemma. He could obey either the commandment to abstain from the fruit or the commandment to multiply and fill the earth; he couldn’t do both. The exoneration of Adam arguably makes Eve’s *relative* culpability greater.

    That said, excellent post. Especially liked the questions about where in the tradition Eve is honored. Saying the LDS Church is progressive because it honors Eve is like saying its progressive because it honors Heavenly Mother. Eve and Heavenly Mother are both honored only with occasional lip-service to make women feel valued and important in the face of massive inequalities.

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