I went to Catholic School in the 1960’s. This was the time of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962-65). Pope John XXIII called the Council because he believed the Church needed updating. Perhaps this was why when we were taught about the six days of creation the focus wasn’t on Adam’s rib. I doubt feminism had anything to do with it, more likely it was the realization that the Church had to get up to speed in the science department. The dust-ups over Galileo and Darwin left egg on the ecclesial face and besides, how could prestigious Catholic universities like Georgetown and Notre Dame offer science degrees without teaching scientific theories? That the earth is not flat and revolves around the sun rather than the other way around, however, was a long-settled matter by the time I was in school. But even though not everyone pursued higher education, the Church still had a compelling interest—vis-à-vis “updating”—in demonstrating how modern Catholicism in general, and Genesis in particular, could be interpreted in a way that was more in step with science. And so, the nuns explained that each “day” of the six days of creation was actually hundreds of millions of years long. But the order of events described in those six “days” is remarkably close to what we now know about the birth of our solar system, Earth’s geological formation . . . and evolution! Well, scientifically, the events of the first and fourth days would not happen hundreds of millions of years apart, and the Adam’s rib story appeals to male ego not reason, but all in all the account seems stunningly approximate. And so, in brief:
1st Day: Let there be light. God separated the light from the darkness and named the light “day” and the darkness “night.” (“Let there be light” could refer to our sun being created, and the earth spinning on her axis makes day and night.)
2nd Day: Let there be water and sky. (Early on, earth was super hot. As the planet cooled, an atmosphere formed when gases spewed out of volcanoes. Oceans formed when water vapor, also released into the atmosphere from volcanoes, cooled and fell back down as rain.)
3rd Day: Let the land appear. (Early earth was indeed mostly water. Perhaps the water receded, or maybe volcanic activity beneath the seas spewed out lava from the earth’s core, forming islands and, eventually, land masses.)
4th Day: The sun, the moon, the stars and the planets were created. (Unlikely. Scientists believe Earth and the other planets were formed when dust from the birth of our sun formed clumps—first pebbles, then rocks, and eventually planets. Stars are also suns. Earth preceding the sun, stars, and other planets may be romantic and give us pride of place, but didn’t it also bring the Inquisition to Galileo’s door?)
5th Day: God created the fish, the birds and the insects. (Genesis says animals and mankind were made on the same day. Really? Couldn’t the already created fish in the sea eventually have grown legs and walked out of it?)
6th Day: God created man in his own image. Male and female he created them. (Genesis says that animals were offered as companions to Adam before Eve was. It begs for satire. “And God created Adam and saw it was good, and then said . . . he needs a dawg!” Adam, made first, was made in the image of God, ergo God has been thought by some to be male, “image” interpreted as meaning physical characteristics like the kind men have. So, God is an all-powerful entity with the body of a man? Ain’t that Zeus? With all this obsessing over physical traits, if God created man in his own image—male and female he created them—an equally erroneous but at least more imaginative conclusion would be that God is a hermaphrodite. If one insists on obsessing over the physical traits of a non-physical Being, that is. Perhaps another way of interpreting “image” is in the teleological sense. From the Greek telos, which means function, it defines a thing in terms of what it does. What does God do? Create. And when male and female join together and become as one, they procreate, bringing new human beings with souls and intellect into the world. So, perhaps man(kind) is created in the image of God not because of what physical characteristics one of them may possess, but because of what they do.
Aha! will cry the misogynistic fans of Adam’s rib, what about the use of the pronoun “he”? It might be simply grammatical, and an old fashioned and not all together accommodating grammar at that: When the sex is not known the masculine gender is assumed. But how did God describe God, and in what physical form did God appear? God appeared to Moses as a burning bush, a mysterious fire that burned but did not consume. Fire can warm your bones and give you a hot meal. Or burn your house down. But this fire had no such down side. And what was said by God? “I am what I am.” There is no masculine pronoun in that sentence. But most of all, it is a precise definition of eternity, because eternity is not just from this moment on into forever, it goes in the other direction as well. Existing without ever beginning. Just, always. What could be more all-powerful or all-knowing than that? Most of us have had a taste of what endless feels like, however pedestrian, when stuck in traffic or standing on a line that doesn’t move. But eternity in the opposite direction? It confounds.)
This is the point where the nuns would probably say, don’t delve, and, quite frankly, I’m happy to oblige. I have a headache. But one last thing: It seems to me that there is a certain school of thought—ascribed to by some pro-life male writers—that believes the abortion issue would go away if women would just do as they’re told! That it’s a simple matter of obedience: not just obeying God but mostly obeying men. There is a view that says first comes God, then come men, then come women. That men answer only to God, but women answer to men. In our modern world is this helpful? Has it ever been helpful??
The abortion debate has never been just about law, and will never be resolved by law alone. It must involve winning the hearts and minds of women, and talking about us as second bananas, not as creatures in our own right but fashioned from the rib of Adam, is demeaning. It suggests Eve was a second-class citizen in Eden, and that her status there justifies keeping women second-class citizens in society—that it’s God’s will somehow.
How can you win hearts and minds when you are talking down to someone? It’s not helpful. And I do believe that men who jump on the Adam’s rib bandwagon do so out of ego, even if perhaps unconsciously. And that justifying their prejudice by saying Hey, it’s in the bible! is not unlike women who abort justifying their disengagement of conscience by saying: Hey, it’s legal!