catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 2 :: 2008.01.25 — 2008.02.08


(In)Security and the Fall

Can the power of a single word change the world in which we live? Playwright-activist Eve Ensler thinks so—her award-winning Vagina Monologues is performed thousands of times a year in dozens of countries to raise awareness of violence against women and funds for individuals and groups who care for the beaten, battered, and abused. For Ensler, the very word “vagina” possesses a power so deeply subversive it must be suppressed at all costs by the powers-that-be, and so to proclaim it, to explore it, to put it into the public where it cannot be ignored is a deeply liberating act and a first step in liberating both women and men from the sexual violence that permeates not only American culture but many cultures the world around.

The vagina, of course, is not a mere isolated part of a woman's body, but the locus of her sensual and spiritual being, a place against which much violence has been directed and a deep part of her that, if properly reclaimed, can symbolize wholeness in overcoming the systematic attacks on her person perpetrated by a culture of death.

However, Ensler is not content merely to deal with “women's issues.” She rightly perceives that the root of violence against women is buried deep within the human consciousness. In her book Insecure at Last: Losing It In Our Security Obsessed World, she chronicles her travels around the world and the revelations of her own spirit throughout the journey. She takes the reader to refugee camps in the former Yugoslavia and Africa, cities in Mexico overrun with bandits and corporations, Afghanistan, post-tsunami Sri Lanka, and other places. She describes her interactions with the women she meets there—survivors of gang rapes, beatings, attempted murders, and further atrocities that boggle the mind. Through it all she tells not only the stories of those she has met, but also her own story of abuse at the hands of her father, her drug-abusing and promiscuous past and her meditations on the human condition as seen through her own pain and healing process. She tells of how keeping these women at a distance gave way to truly joining with them in their sufferings and joys, how she went from hearing their stories to inhabiting their lives as a fellow-traveler—and she invites the reader to join them, as well as her, in a journey from brokenness to wholeness, from dis-ease to healing.

“Security,” she says, “is essentially elusive, impossible.” Nothing is secure, but this is the good news! But it is only good news to those who are not seeking security as the foundation of their lives. Ensler sets the security obsession of America against her own learning to let go, discovering that the more one grasps at control the more one loses it; the more bombs we drop, people we imprison and systems we put in place to enhance security, the more we destabilize the world and erode what peace we already had.

We shelter and sequester ourselves, constructing systems—religious, political, legal, economic—to maintain an order that keeps the illusion of life before our eyes even as we deny the fact that we are killing others, ourselves, our planet. Instead of holding onto life with the tenuous white-knuckled grip she says we have to learn to let go, to deal with mortality, to allow mystery and uncertainty to be central parts of life and not enemies to be vanquished. “Freedom can only come from contemplating death,” Ensler writes, “not from pretending it doesn't exist. Not from running from loss but from entering grief, surrendering to sorrow. . . Freedom comes not from holding your life more precious or sacred than others'.”

In short, Ensler counsels us to receive life as a gift, not to take hold of it as an object to be dissected, analyzed, and dominated. This view finds strong resonances with the Biblical story.


Security and the Fall

The obsession with security, which seems to fundamentally undermine its stated goals by its modes of operation, has deep roots in the human condition expressed most profoundly in the story of the Fall in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve—the caretakers of creation, God's image-bearers and mediators of the divine presence in the world—chose to usurp God's position and “become like God, knowing good and evil,” rather than allowing God to guide them and teach them how to live in the world that had been given them.

It is extremely important to see that prior to Adam and Eve's action there is no evil in God's creation. Many Christians approach the text with the belief that gaps in the text must be filled – that prior to the events of Genesis 3 there has already been some mythical fall from heaven in which Satan has rebelled against God and been cast down, and it is this Satan who takes the form of the serpent and tempts the first humans, tricking them into giving power of the world over to evil and death. There is not a shred of evidence for this fantastic worldview in the Bible—much less so in Genesis itself, which I am convinced must be read as the canon presents it to us: as the beginning of beginnings, presenting a theological understanding for the foundations of the human condition in the world.

While later layers of interpretation identified the serpent with Satan (e.g. Rev. 20:2) in Genesis itself the serpent is simply a part of the creation God has pronounced “very good.” It is simply one of the creatures that crawls on the ground from Genesis 1:24-25. Modern translations often identify the serpent with a weasel-word such as “crafty” or “cunning,” when in fact the Hebrew simply means “wise.” The serpent is one of the creatures of the earth Adam and Eve have been specifically charged to “rule and subdue,” perhaps even representative of the wild world outside the garden that is in need of ruling and subduing. Nik Ansell, Senior Member in Theology at Toronto's Institute for Christian Studies, reminds us that we must not see the pronouncement of creation as “good” in Genesis in terms inherited from Greek philosophy with “good” meaning some kind of static perfection. Instead we must see creation in Genesis as dynamic, as relational, and its goodness as contingent on the continued work of God and God's appointed creation-caretakers, human beings, as they do the work with which they have been charged.

As we all know, Adam and Eve failed—instead of exercising the relational rule God had authorized in Genesis 1.  This rule was utterly unlike the dominions of earthly kings and emperors and intended not to impose upon the creation but rather to lift it “upward” into the divine life shared by God and people, they took hold of the forbidden fruit at the suggestion of the serpent. As I said above, they seized hold of what had been given as a gift. This aspect of the fall has had volumes written about it, but there is another aspect that is often crucially missed.

Adam and Eve were not simply guilty of disobedience in some kind of God-ordained multiple-choice test with cosmic consequence, the real sin they committed was that they failed to do the very thing they were charged in chapter 1—to rule over the creatures of the earth, bringing God's life and mediating the divine glory to the very creation. In Ansell's words, “To fill the earth humanly is a calling to let the earth be filled with God, to let the light of God's presence fill the darkness.” The sin of Adam and Eve led to humanity's corruption, to the birth of a new understanding of rule based on domination and control, rather than of relation, community, and lovingly seeking to help the creation find its fullest potential. But the rule of domination is not itself the original sin, it is the natural result of humanity's deep failure to co-inhabit the divine presence as God's beloved children and to extend that presence throughout the world.


(In)Security and Redemption

The ethos of control, the search for security, is born of the original sin, the foundational failure of humankind, and the consistent Biblical remedy from Genesis to Revelation is not to devise better systems of control, a more complete theological solution or technological remedies that enable us to live in the world we are destroying. Rather, it is to give up our pretensions to autonomy and seek the mercy of the living God who desires to speak to us, to teach us the ways of shalom, the deep, enduring wholeness and peace which no act of domination can provide, and of mishpat, the all-encompassing justice-beyond-retribution where all things are truly made right between God and people.

Ensler's concluding chapter is titled “Peace is a state of being; security is being of the state.” Peace is about more than just having an intellectual understanding of what is good, it is about inhabiting the good and living together, suffering and rejoicing with one another. All the ways in which we have sought to maintain control over our world may provide us with temporary safety, but at what cost? Since the advent of the modern state, one of the most basic modes of control, ostensibly to enable us to live in peace, the violence of war has increased dramatically. The irony cannot be missed—every attempt to increase security seems to undermine it. We continually create a world we cannot control, and so lose both the world and our very souls. Insecure at Last provides us with many resources to help us reverse our understanding of security and what it means to dwell in God's world and so much more, as it draws us into Ensler's world and the world of those with whom she journeys in the book.



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