It’s interesting to watch trends shift. You can view them from a number of perspectives, but I usually choose economy because it’s so closely tied to survival and has always been a pivotal force in my own life. I think we may be watching the very beginning of a shift right now. First came birth control without copays. Now, some evangelical Christian scholars are coming out with something many Christians have believed for a very long time: the story of Adam and Eve and the fall from Paradise is an allegory rather than history, but that doesn’t make the faith any less valid.
But let’s consider the context. In 2008, the U.S. appeared to be wealthy and secure. For a lot of people, a problem like whether or not Adam and Eve actually lived could well have seemed the most important thing in the world, because all their needs were being met. Then came the layoffs. And the next round of layoffs. And the skipped mortgage payments, and maybe a foreclosure. And more layoffs after that. And the kids came of age to go to college, but there was no savings fund to help them, and the loans were drying up fast. And now the unemployment is running out.
Suddenly, theological questions about Adam and Eve just don’t seem as pressing as day to day survival. It’s not that anyone’s lost faith or stopped caring. It’s just: who has time to worry about distant history when you’re actually not completely sure where you’ll be living next month? What one needs from religion in a time like that is not a politicized debate, but a miracle, or at least some support.
Religion survives recessions – thrives, even. It’s just extremism that tends to lose steam, because it requires resources. It takes a lot of time and energy. People suddenly deprived of their resources quickly reassess their priorities and take up more practical, centrist philosophies.
It should be noted that many Christians have believed for many decades that there is no real conflict between evolution theory and the creation story. Perhaps Adam and Eve evolved from other primate forms and the Bible simply doesn’t mention that – it doesn’t really change the story. And what if we don’t have two specific ancestors for all of humanity? That doesn’t take away from the point that humans have a capacity for good and evil that seems unique in the animal kingdom. Nor does it undermine Jesus’ sacrifice to redeem humans from original sin. If you believe in original sin, it shouldn’t matter whether Adam and Eve are the factual account or an allegorical way to explain something as complex as human psychology and amorality to a bunch of humans who had limited concepts and perspectives and – oh, here it is again – bigger anxieties to cope with.
I was brought up American Baptist and encouraged to believe there was no conflict between evolution and the creation story, so I admit I don’t understand where literalists are coming from. Additionally, I picked up rather early on the prevalence of the Conniving Bitch ™ stereotype in fiction – and in reality, with loads of men trying to blame women for everything ever – and that made it doubly hard to picture Adam and Eve as historical fact.
These scholars who advocate not taking every bit of the Bible as historical fact are trying to give their faith more credibility by showing that it doesn’t rely on lies or delusions – that it is fully compatible with the realities science has revealed, particularly in terms of the human genome and what it suggests about our origins. It is telling that a number of noted scientists have expressed belief in God and/or Christian faith.
If we are at the beginning of a shift in trends, and debates about Biblical literalism are losing their allure, and there’s not enough steam in the Tea Party to wreck the economy and prevent a revolution in health care for insured women in the same week (note they picked “Don’t tax the wealthy, please, anything but that!” over defeating the monstrous birth control agenda), then we are indeed living in interesting times. And maybe we can finally start talking about how Eve, the original femme fatale, was created by the minds of men, and what that says about the psychology of those men.
Or maybe there’s not that much to say, and it can all be summed up with: “I didn’t do it! Okay, I did do it, but she made me do it!” After all, that’s been the story for at least two thousand years.