Here are a few of my favorite questions from a recent interview with Catherine Elsworth over at Goodreads about Eve, how it challenged me, how I think it might challenge others, and why I’m so excited about it. This interview really got to the heart of Eve and resulted in some terrific questions.
And you know there’s not much I love more than a great question.
The following was first published at Goodreads.com.
GR: Why was it so important for you to challenge the creation narrative of Genesis? What did you most want to do with this book?
For many of us, and I grew up evangelical fundamental Christian, the narrative has been pretty engrained. And the more I worked on the passages themselves, primarily pushed in that direction because of some major losses of my own, sexual abuse [an issue in the book] and those kinds of losses which were perpetrated by men, the more I came to the opinion that the narrative we have adopted is wrong. I grew up in a hierarchical fundamentalist religious perspective that really subordinated women and even in the last couple of decades has found new language to subordinate women. So I wanted to challenge the existing narrative because the polarizing language we use with regards to gender or relationships, to masculine and feminine, has created a huge amount of division and confusion. I saw a narrative for the entire passage that would allow a conversation to emerge that might get away from this polarity language and begin to relate to the question in terms of being human, not in terms of gender or ethnicity or social position. And I thought if I can find a way to make that narrative accessible, maybe it could change the conversation. And I really believe it can. So I’m kind of thrilled about it.
GR: How would you describe the existing narrative?
WPY: Oh, you know, Adam is created and then Eve is created, and she is beguiled by the serpent, who is the bad guy, and she tempts and draws Adam into an existence of separation from God. But the narrative predominantly places the blame at the feet of women, and that hasn’t answered the question why have men done so much damage in the world.
GR: Why do you think this interpretation has endured for so long?
WPY: Because it’s dominated by men, and translation has been dominated by men, and men have been the ones in power who have told the story. It’s true not just of gender issues; it’s true with ethnicity issues, and those in power create the narrative for history, whether they do it on purpose or not. I know job security impacts interpretation of Scripture more than any single thing. Genesis says that when the turning takes place, at least the woman turns to a relationship, which is more like the character and nature of God, but the man turns to the ground and the works of his hands, and so it becomes about territory and property. So, surprise, surprise, the narrative emerges that allows some sense of justification for men to continue to dominate and suppress the voice of women, and this is so wrong. Look at all the destruction and damage that men have brought to the world and continue to do so. So we need a different conversation.
GR: By depicting Eve as a black woman or having the images of God breast-feeding or Adam pregnant, are you trying to get people to think and perceive differently?
WPY: Yes, and the text allows for all of that. The word “mercy” is from the same root in Hebrew as the word “womb,” and so every time you read “mercy” you are dealing with the maternal nature of God. And you’ve got language in Isaiah of God nursing or El Shaddai, which means the breasted one. We need to have a conversation that deepens our understanding of, and appreciation for, what being human is all about and that everybody, in my view, every single human being is a unique expression of the spectrum of both the masculine and feminine, because God is neither male nor female.
GR: How did you come up with the story itself—Lilly Fields, a teenage victim of child trafficking, horribly injured and abused, becomes a witness to creation and the fall and thinks she can somehow change history.
WPY: With the kind of history that I have, with growing up in a culture where sexual abuse was a part of my world before I was five years old, and it took me decades to work through the damage with any sense of coherency or integration, I have for many years been inside the conversation with regard to the healing of the human soul. So when I was looking at the story line, I was thinking, Eve is the character who frames the story, but who is the central character? The first time I began working with the idea, I was literally thinking, I want a 15-year-old girl to be able to read this story and not get lost. And I was thinking about the fact that sadly we live in a world where girls are constantly being trafficked, and they are objectified. And I was looking at my daughters and my granddaughters and thinking, How do I speak to this in a way that might change things for them? And not just for my girls but for the daughters of us all. Lilly allowed me huge freedoms because she allowed me to explore the process of healing itself.
GR: Some of the subject matter in your books, the suffering of Lilly or the murder of Missy in The Shack, is pretty traumatic. Is that part of what you want to do—to shake people?
WPY: I do, and there’s no question about that. But even in Eve it’s not graphic, and you don’t need to be. You’ve got to pull people across the threshold enough so they understand what it is you’re talking about. But I want my kids to be able to read this, and I want teenagers to be able to read this. People who read horror had an easier time with that than they did with The Shack because it is so human and so tangible and so wrenching, but not because it is graphic. And the same is true for Eve. I want a pretty strong boundary yet at the same time I don’t want to be some Pollyanna person who thinks everything in the world is wonderful, because it’s not. We have huge devastating problems that it is way past time to address.
GR: The voice of your teenage heroine is modern: She’s unimpressed and skeptical about religion.
WPY: Yes, and it’s because this younger generation is exactly there. They’ve got really good crap detectors, they’re not excited about agenda, things are moving and changing so fast, they want something that matters that actually makes a difference. And her voice was not difficult to access. I’m surrounded by young women who give me lots of feedback, who love me, but aren’t impressed.
GR: There was a very strong reaction to The Shack, with people accusing you of heresy and theological inaccuracy. What’s it like to have such a visceral response?
WPY: I love a visceral response way more than I appreciate ambivalence. Someone who doesn’t care, there’s no real conversation there. At least with an angry person you can have a conversation, because when people are upset, something in them is being challenged enough to raise their ire, and that’s an engaged process and opens up the possibility of really great conversation. I love the questions, I love the conversation, and I think it’s our way forward.
WPY: The same people who didn’t read The Shack and didn’t like it are not going to read Eve and not like it. And the beauty is they are my people. They really are. They are the people I grew up with, I know really well, and I know where they are coming from. I know what they are afraid of. So yeah, I anticipate I will get the same sort of serious 12-page dissertations against all the evils of the book that I’ve had before. But even with The Shack, I’d say that might be 1 or 2 percent, maybe 3 percent, of all the responses that I get. And even when people have come to where I’ve been speaking and intended to take a stand against me, they are overwhelmed by the stories of how this conversation has penetrated people and changed their world.