This chapter introduces us to the methodology that Nancy will be using through the rest of Lies Women Believe. If you’ve read the book before you’re probably familiar with “Eve’s diary,” where Nancy fictionalizes an autobiographical telling of Eve’s life, starting with the day she’s exiled from the Garden. The first time I read this in college, I actually skipped these sections because I found them boring– Nancy’s strength isn’t narrative writing.
Today, though, what jumped out to me in this diary entry was this:
Then he offered me some things I had never had before– things I’d never thought I needed. Independence–from God and from Adam. Position– I had always looked up to God and Adam; this creature said they would look up to me. (28)
Nancy’s extrapolation of Eve’s experience includes her never being looked up to by Adam. In our culture “looked up to” is synonymous with words like appreciate and respect. Nancy believes that Eve had never felt respected, had never thought she needed to feel respected by her husband, and intrinsically ties this to the single worst thing that has ever happened in the course of human history (according to evangelicals): Original Sin.
A woman feeling the need to be respected caused the Fall. Women wanting to be respected is a Lie. We’ll see this become glaringly apparent later on, but before we get to that, I want to take the time to point out a common misunderstanding about Genesis 3.
Many conservatives point to the order of events in order to bolster their position that women are “created to be more vulnerable to deception,” that we are “inherently more temptable” (33), because the serpent chose to target Eve first. There must have been some strategy on the serpent’s part, some reason. What they are blithely ignoring is that Genesis, like other ancient texts like Beowulf, is a recorded version of an Oral Tradition.
I don’t know of a culture that didn’t create storytelling in some form. Before writing, stories were preserved by some mnemonic trick– a rythm, poetry, a pattern of some kind. In this particular segment of Genesis, this pattern is called a chiastic structure, our best examples of which come from Homer and the Bible. These structures allow oral storytellers to easily remember all the events and characters of story– and that structure was preserved here. “Eve was deceived first” is a result of this structure and doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the serpent’s motives.
If you haven’t read Man and Woman, One in Christ by Philip Payne, I highly recommend it– he goes into depth on the faulty conservative renderings of Genesis 3 from the perspective of someone who believes in the inerrancy of Scripture, and lays out the chiastic structure clearly here.
All of Nancy’s talk about how the serpent deceived Eve reminded me of a question I’ve had since I was a child:
The Serpent further deceived Eve by lying to her about the consequences of choosing to disobey God. God had said, “When you eat of it you will surely die.” Satan countered: “You will not surely die.” He flatly contradicted what God had already said. (31)
This has always bothered me because the serpent was right. They didn’t die. This passage is usually accompanied by some mumbo-jumbo about how God meant a spiritual death and how Adam and Eve were immortal but at that moment they started aging yada yada … but the question that always niggled at me was that it seemed that God hadn’t been particularly forthcoming or straightforward. At the very least it seems obvious to me that Eve took God at their word: if she ate it, she’d be dead. As in dead. Not spiritually dead, but the six-feet-under-pushing-up-daisies sort of dead.
I know this means I’m “judging God,” which is a big evangelical no-no, but I can’t help it. It seems purposely obtuse to tell Adam and Eve “eat that and you’ll die” if you mean something else entirely. The blasphemous, sacrilegious parts of me go on to wonder if Eve didn’t deeply regret this decision (36), but shouted “No regrets, you lying, manipulative asshole!” as the angels with the big flaming swords tossed them out of Paradise. I mean, if Eve literally existed, which I doubt.
However, the most horrifying part of this chapter isn’t Nancy’s interpretation of Genesis 3, linking women to being inherently morally inferior to men, or arguing that a desire to be respected led to Original Sin. It’s her list of “Lies”:
Their teachings help justify
- anger (“healthy expression of your feelings”)
- selfishness (“You’ve got to place boundaries between you and demanding people”)
- irresponsibility (“You are dysfunctional because you have been deeply wounded by others”)
At the same time, they make “the righteous” feel “sad” or guilty
- for taking personal responsibility (“You’re codependent”)
- for demonstrating a servant’s heart (“You shouldn’t let others take advantage of you”)
- for being faithful to their vows (“God does not expect you to stay in that marriage”) (34-35)
Remember how I said earlier that “Nancy doesn’t think women deserve respect” will become apparent? Well, here it is. This made me so angry I could choke. If I came to this book vulnerable, trusting, and looking to Nancy for guidance or counsel … I know I say this practically whenever a conservative Christian opens their mouth on mental wellness, but I could literally be dead now. That’s not an exaggeration. If I had continued believing these filthy lies that feeling angry because I was raped is a Sin, or that I needed to “admit the part I played” in being raped, or that my PTSD and triggers and are a result of being “irresponsible,” or that being a “righteous person” meant being treated like a doormat, I think it’s likely I would have killed myself.
I couldn’t keep carrying the burden of believing that I was to blame for being raped, or that my PTSD was a moral failing. It was tearing me apart and destroying my life. It was taking away my ability to do anything but curl up into an extremely inebriated ball and sob. I was failing classes and unable to work. Because of how I agreed with Nancy. It wasn’t until I could say things like “my rape isn’t my fault” or “having PTSD doesn’t make me a bad, weak-willed person” that I started recovering and putting my life back together.
Right now I am grieving for every woman who’s ever believed Nancy’s lies.