"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, February 15, 2019

When The Blush Is Off The Bloom Of The Rose– Thanks To Eve Marriage Would Never Again Be A Garden Of Eden

Life in the Garden of Eden was what marriage was supposed to be – a life of bliss and perfect harmony.  No responsibilities, no adultery, no bickering over finances or shared household tasks, no shopping, cleaning, or taking care of the children.  Only when God expelled Adam and Eve did all that begin.  Not only would their life together be short, nasty, and brutish but worse, marriage would become death by a thousand cuts – the inevitable bleeding of romance.  Jealousy, resentment, confinement, frustration, and anger would be the order of the day.

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It is wrong, say feminist scholars, to blame Eve for the Fall; but where else to look?  The devil as portrayed by Milton in Paradise Lost is a powerful, resourceful, canny angel, resentful that he was cast out of heaven and determined to avenge his unjust fate.  What better way than to precipitate another fall and to destroy the naïve, idealistic vision of God the Creator? Didn’t God know that when he gave Man free will it would eventually and necessarily be used against him? God’s supreme achievement – conferring free will and the human intelligence to use it – was his biggest mistake.  Eve was very human in her defiance, in her arrogance, and her presumptuousness.  Eating from the Tree of Knowledge was forbidden by God because of his jealousy.  He and he alone should have all the world’s knowledge, and his children should remain in ignorance.

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So, despite the claim that she was seduced by the devil, she was a free agent and a human being and would have acted with or without the devil.  Feminist biblical scholars are caught betwixt and between when it comes to the story of Eve’s role in the Fall.  If she was seduced, albeit by a supernatural creature, Genesis was setting a dangerous precedent – the weakness and vulnerability of women.  If Eve acted out of her own free will, deceived and manipulated Adam so that he would commit the act of disobedience, then this act – being the first expression of God’s gift – then she must take responsibility for the doom of mankind.

Even more moderate scholars today wince at the many negative depictions of women in the Bible and look for examples of those who are determined, fair-minded, and compassionate.  The women of the Old Testament fare reasonably well – the courageous Hebrew midwives and the daughter of Pharaoh and Deborah the righteous judge are good examples – but the old Eve resurfaces in the story of Delilah.  Despite Sarah, Rachel, Ruth, Leah, and Rebecca who were good but dependent women, loving wives and good mothers, the stories of the cunning and devious Eve and Delilah are remembered best because they are far closer to the post-Lapsarian immoral, survivalist world that we know.  It is difficult, even or especially in the modern world of female authority and independence, to put them out of our minds – especially because Shakespeare made his reputation at least in part on his powerful, cunning, amoral heroines – Cleopatra, Goneril, Regan, Tamora, Dionyza, and Volumnia, all of whom, operating within a distinctly male world, used craft, wiles, and will to pursue their ambitions.

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Influential women in the New Testament are few and far between.  Mary Magdalene, Mary and Martha of Bethany, Elizabeth, and Lydia were known for the service, faithfulness and love of Jesus; but women as a group found little support in the Gospels or in the Epistles of Paul.  Traditional Christianity has believed that the statements attributed to St. Paul in I Timothy 2 - that women were created second, sinned first, and should keep silence—and have been the universal consensus since the days of the early Church.  Paul’s letters to the Corinthians are more accommodating of women but barely so.   Feminist critics have suggested that Paul was a misogynist whose comments are those of a sexually immature and resentful male and not a divinely-endowed apostle. 

Perhaps, but the conviction persists.  Shakespeare’s Othello, before being tried and condemned for his murder of Desdemona, tells his accusers that he has done them and all men a favor, ridding the world of one more deceitful, faithless, and untrustworthy woman.   The jealous men of Cymbeline and The Winter’s Tale are no different.  The women of Ibsen (Rosmersholm, The Master Builder, Hedda Gabler) are all Eve’s descendants – manipulative, canny, cunning, and amoral.

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It is wrong to judge women too harshly or take too much from Biblical tales and fictional drama.  They have been, after all, men’s chattel for millennia and forced to use their intelligence, cunning, and sexual power to realize the most modest of ambitions.  The best examples of this ability to successfully negotiate a male world are found in Shakespeare’s Comedies.  Rosalind, Viola, Beatrice, and Portia run rings around the men in their lives; and although they have to settle for less when it comes to marriages of convenience, they are the true heroines of Shakespeare’s works.  They are not amoral, vindictive, and cruelly cunning, but simply adept, intuitive, and completely understanding of male weakness.

Yet, the age of the modern woman is still recent.  It takes time to get the kinks out, to let the dust of the gender wars settle, and for a new paradigm to be established.  In the meantime women still have issues with unfaithful husbands, are as demanding of them to fulfill domestic responsibilities as ever; and despite the radical insistence that there is no such thing as femininity,  femaleness, or female behavior, women and men are different.  Different levels and type of sexual interest.  Different social perceptions and abilities.  Different persuasions, self-image, and demeanor.  Many women, convinced that the pursuit of male power, authority, and dominance is alluring; and able to use their femininity and an acquired male aggression and competitiveness have been very successful in business and politics. They are the notable in today’s gender-fluid world just like Ibsen’s heroines were radical outliers in theirs.

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For the rest, life is a bit of a muddle.  On the one hand feminists insist that women are fully independent, capable, and strong; but concede that they still need protection and social support.  Safe spaces, politically correct speech, institutional intolerance of male behavior, and suspension of due process in favor of women’s interests belie the notion of female invincibility.  Yet more moderate men and women concede that both are true.

Men of course have not only never changed, but never will.  It is not so much that men are simply hanging on to old patriarchal notions of male superiority; they are far more comfortable with their traditional, natural maleness than women think. Competition, sexual pursuit and endless desire, aggressiveness, confidence, physicality, and male will are part of a quite acceptable package.

It is inevitable, therefore, that marriages are consistently problematic.  How can they be otherwise in a society in which radical sexual politics are changing perceptions and attempting to influence behavior? Less confident, more susceptible men have accepted feminist rhetoric and have convinced themselves that they are the obstacle to female satisfaction, and such satisfaction is of a higher good; and that sublimating or subjugating their natural desires and behavior is the price one has to pay for equality.   More savvy men negotiate around women’s new demands, giving when it is strategically necessary, but holding out when serious battles are at stake.  Such men have been wonderful at doing the little things – child care, housework, affection – to assure their wives’ complicity in their adultery and male wandering.

None of this ever works completely or even that well.  Men are always found out and must pay with a pound of flesh.  Women always seem to organize, arrange, plan, and settle family life to such a degree that even the most complaisant and tolerant husband refuses, resents, and dismisses his wife’s intrusions.

Marriage is at best a difficult often sorry affair; but as Edward Albee, no fan of marriage, admitted, it is the crucible of maturity.  Without the confines of marriage, men and women would be free to flee at the first sign of difficulty, avoid responsibility, and never grow up.  True as that may be, and as permanent as the institution of marriage might seem, it as Winston Churchill said about democracy, it is the worst of all possible systems except for all others.

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