Women of Faith is a short film made on a shoestring by some former students of mine. You’re not likely to see it except here. A young woman, Julianne, clearly distraught, perhaps in despair, wanders into an art gallery, featuring paintings of women. The artist talks to her about the paintings, and as she peers into each one, it comes to life. She sees a short vignette about an inspiring LDS woman from the past. That’s the premise of the film.
It feels a bit like a Church film, and its intent is obviously inspirational and at least somewhat didactic. But didactic about what, with what intent?
Julianne, the distraught young woman, wants to get back to Africa, where she’s done humanitarian work in the past. The artist is named Eve, and carries an oh-so-symbolic apple. And I think that’s really what the film is about, young women embracing the mission of Eve. And I think it’s related to Julianne’s dilemma. She wants to leave, to go somewhere where she’s needed. And Eve helps.
The film’s vignettes are interestingly tangential. Like, one of them is about the painter Minerva Teichert. But it’s not really about her work as a painter, particularly. It’s about whether she should marry Herman Teichert, who was not LDS. This is what I mean by tangential; an Idaho woman, from a time and place sort of hostile to art, and definitely unsupportive of an artist’s life, nonetheless wants to (and intends to) paint, but the conflict of the film has more to do with her marriage than what we might expect. So the message isn’t really about feminism v. patriarchy, or even cultural expectations v. My Dream’. It’s about something more down-to-earth.
But really, it’s about embracing the possibilities opened up by Eve.
And what is the mission of Eve? In medieval theology, she was understood straightforwardly enough. Eve messed up. Eve lived in paradise, partook of the forbidden fruit, and ruined Adam’s life. Kicked out of the garden, a life of pain and sorrow and illness and death. Eve blew it. Eve’s the reason our lives down here suck.
We don’t see it that way, we Mormons. The key scripture for us is Moses 5:11.
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.
Eve ate the apple, to be sure. But we believe she did it on purpose, knowingly, that life in the Garden was one of stasis, pleasant enough, but without growth or learning or any real happiness. By transgressing, Eve opened the door to sin, yes, and temptation and pain, but also joy. Instead of a placid and undemanding contentment, we suffer, we bleed, we bruise, we die, but we also open up the possibility of progression.
What would art be without Eve? Spiritless decoration. What’s drama without conflict, what’s music without counterpoint, what’s dance without movement? Eve’s choice introduced the exquisite tension of human sexuality to mere procreation, introduced the abrasive possibility of contention and disagreement to human relationships turned placid and undemanding.
We take it a step farther, in fact. Whether we understand ‘Eve’ and ‘Adam’ and ‘Serpent’ and ‘Eden’ as actual beings in an actual place, or as metaphors and types and symbols, either way, we think that narrative echoes one we all went through. We all were Eves. We believe in a pre-existent state where we all had a choice to make; mortality with all its suffering and misery, or eternity without conflict or difficulty or growth.
We made, I think, an informed decision. We saw the earth; we saw life on earth evolve from slime mold to amoeba to dinosaur to hominid. We saw violence; we knew what that was. We saw disease and suffering; we knew what those were as well. We chose deliberately to come to a place that had to look just plain terrifying. But we also knew we’d never learn a darn thing if we didn’t go.
I wonder if that’s why we put so much emphasis on rites of passage. Births and naming ceremonies, adulthood, birthdays, graduations, weddings. We probably had a big party ourselves before we went. And I don’t doubt that I was a peculiarly timid and cowardly spirit. I wanted to wait; I didn’t want to come until evolution led us to an age where people had things like air conditioning and antibiotics and dentistry.
Anyway, we reject, we just flat out reject a ‘curse of Eve.’ We reject, pretty much completely, the idea of Original Sin. To us, original sin just means a propensity for rebelliousness. And, come to think of it, maybe that’s Eve’s real legacy. A kind of fearless chance-taking, a spirit of adventure, a commitment to ‘nobody tells me what to do.’ If so, nicely done, Mom.