[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”1602585431″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/61x%2BtXT1OrL.jpg” width=”222″ alt=”Enticed by Eden” ]A Panoply of Human Error
A Review of
Enticed by Eden: How Western Culture Uses, Confuses (and Sometimes Abuses) Adam and Eve
Linda S. Schearing and Valarie H. Ziegler
Paperback: Baylor UP, 2013
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Reviewed by Liz Windhorst Harmer
We all know the story: the first man formed out of dust, the first woman formed from his rib, the garden full of good things, the one tree they are forbidden to eat from. The inevitability of a fall. What seems like a small act—Eve accepting the serpent’s lies—has eternal ramifications.
As Linda S. Schearing and Valarie H. Ziegler, both professors of Religious Studies, rightly point out, Adam and Eve are still with us. Their book, Enticed by Eden: How Western Culture Uses, Confuses, (and Sometimes Abuses) Adam and Eve, travels far and wide to find the places in our culture where Adam and Eve are made heavy with meaning, from evangelical movements promoting the submission of women to men, to internet discussion boards for practitioners of “Christian Domestic Discipline” (wife-spankers), to the jokes and advertisements that use and often subvert the Genesis story. Everywhere you find Adam and Eve you also find gender stereotypes, ideas about sex, and ideas about the nature of sin.
The examples Schearing and Ziegler give are a Christian feminist’s worst nightmare. In the Christian instances, Eve is cited as the reason women must serve men and in the secular ones she is a seductress with a snake curled around her naked body.
Conversations about what Adam and Eve mean have been going on for millennia. In the early 21st century iteration, exhaustively reviewed in Enticed by Eden, we have jokes about God having made Adam mentally deficient in order to give him the advantage of having a penis; we have a sex-toy and lingerie empire named “Adam and Eve,” and we have the phenomenon of stay-at-home daughters, in which a movement encourages unmarried girls and women to serve their fathers instead of becoming educated or employed.
Without even mentioning Creationism or the “Mitochondrial Eve,” Enticed by Eden finds plenty to shock and entertain the reader. The first half of the text—“Recreating Eden”—focuses on Christian uses (and abuses). We learn that Adam and Eve are held up as ideals by Christians who imagine what their marriage was like, and we see how this plays out in ideas like princess parties for young girls and Christian online dating. Schearing and Ziegler argue that “the insistence on man as initiator and head, with women the passive recipient of his authority, is the absolute centerpiece of evangelical theology. Everything—everything—begins with the hierarchical creation God fashioned in Genesis” (3). I was with them that far; I could see, as they did, that a hierarchal marriage might lead to problems, and the examples they give of problematic evangelical arguments are compelling.
In the third chapter, however, Schearing and Ziegler expose the limits of their argument. Entitled “Adam as Alpha Male: Christian Domestic Discipline and the Erotics of Wife Spanking,” this chapter goes on for twenty-five pages, and, from what I can see, describes a movement that is the very definition of fringe: “Though there are significant Christian online communities practicing wife spanking and writing spanking fiction, for the most part practitioners of Christian domestic discipline (CDD) have avoided public scrutiny. Nevertheless, CDD is rooted in a theology of gender complementarity that will be quite familiar to readers” (66). They argue that CDD is the logical endpoint of complementarian thinking and that this is bad: CDD is BDSM but with an edge—only women can be submissive and there are no safe words, and, as a result, women, all of whom seem to practice CDD by choice, might wind up raped or abused by their husbands. This chapter is shocking, but veers wildly from the point of the book. CDD may be rooted in Genesis, but it is certainly not a part of dominant culture. Moments like this show up the more troublesome aspects of Schearing and Ziegler’s argument: people are very often made in to caricatures, the relationship between practices and the Genesis texts were fairly loose, and I often felt like I was just wading through an indiscriminate murk of anecdotal evidence. Online commentators were cited time and again, protected by their pseudonyms and taken seriously as evidence. It gets points for shock value, but this shock comes at a price—it is hard to take any of it seriously. The reader gets weighed down by the seemingly infinite ways Adam and Eve are used, confused and abused. Taking an account of weird opinions on the internet is (with apologies to Erma Bombeck) like shoveling snow during a blizzard. Halfway in, the project began to exhaust me. I began to wonder if an apple in our culture could ever be just an apple.
The second half of the book—“Recycling Eden”—deals with Adam and Eve as cultural artifacts, exposing the gender politics in jokes and advertising’s use of ideas of temptation and taboo. The section most interesting to me was the final one—“The Sexploitation of Adam and Eve”—and we, of course, see that they are having some fun with the material. In this chapter, the authors explore some of the ancient Jewish readings of Genesis 2 and 3, all of which was fascinating. For example, they discuss the question of whether Adam and Eve had sex before the fall, a theological debate that reveals the depth of our culture’s attachment of sexuality to women, and temptation, and trespass.
Clearly, the authors are right: a quick trip through the (oftentimes fringe) groups cited in Enticed by Eden is enough to show us that problems continue to abound in the reading of our origin story. Reading the introduction, I shared their outrage, but by the time I had finished reading, I was ready to be done with our origin story, to take invocations of Adam and Eve with a grain of salt, and just to put them resignedly into a column titled “Humans err.” Which only goes to proves their point: what you think about Adam and Eve says a lot about what you think about everything else.
Liz Windhorst Harmer blogs at profswife.wordpress.com.