Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Religion, Oppression, and Stuff Pt. 2

MECHTILD OF MAGDEBURG, The Flowing Light of the Godhead
God is not only fatherly,
God is also mother
who lifts her loved child
from the ground to her knee.
The Trinity is like a mother's cloak
wherein the child finds a home
and lays its head on the maternal breast.

Ok. So the first part of this tackled how Christians do/n't interact with people who do not share the same tradition. My point was this: please, followers of Jesus, be quiet unless people explicitly tell you they want to know more. Or, unless you KNOW it is Godde telling you to do so. Maybe I'm being way reactive to things I've seen but...(read John Shore's I'm Ok--You're Not. lol)

This post is about something else brought up on that feministe post that also got me thinking. People were questioning whether or not a woman could both be monotheistic and feminist. Since, again, I'm not qualified to speak on the experiences of Jewish or Muslim women, I'm gonna focus on my experience of Christianity.

The reasoning goes that in a religion whose leadership, symbolic language, and sacred texts are androcentric there is, structurally, no place for women. It's inherently oppressive to us.

This reasoning, however, erases the voices of many women throughout time who have found their tradition liberating. Who, in the words of Lucinda Peach of American University, have carved out spaces for themselves in their tradition where they can flourish (and I chafe immediately against the idea anyone else can tell a woman what liberates her).

This reasoning also erases my voice. Though, to even say that I carved out a space to flourish in my tradition would be wrong. It was Godde Hirself who carved the perfect space out for me.

Briefly this winter, I de-converted from Christianity because I held the aforementioned mistaken belief. It seemed Godde hated women. 

I mean, the Bible can be scary for a woman. In the books of the law, women were required to marry their rapists. They were traded like property. They were unclean longer after giving birth and menstration and sex than men who ejaculated; thus their bodies were treated as a contaminating force. They were even barred from the holiest place in the Temple. They were marginalized in the gospels, even though Jesus was probably the least sexist guy in our tradition and we have many non-biblical sources that show for the centuries after Jesus died and was resurrected, women were leaders in the Jesus movement. In the Epistles, Mary Magdalene was edited out as the apostle to the apostles, and this honor was given by Paul to Peter instead. Later, they were told not to speak in church. Not to usurp male authority ya da ya da ya da. 

Never mind all the things said of women by theologians throughout the centuries. Philo, Augustine, Aquinas, Tertullian, Calvin, Luther...All the theologians I as a Christian have been taught to respect. 

I'd been having Mary Daly's pronouncements bouncing around in my head, the one's from Beyond God the Father, for months. 

God is a masculine God. Christ is a male Christ. People look at the cross not as a revolutionary rejection of unjust authority, all authority but Godde's (the power of love instead of the love of power) but an excuse for people to force women to suffer at the hands of abusive husbands/leaders in the Name of God(tm)!!!

All of it was making scary sense. Plus, I'd seen what "men's headship" of women had done to my mother. Mom had followed the "submit unconditionally to thy husband" thing for many years with a man who could seemingly not be pleased. Our home was chaotic and dysfunctional. When she started following the "feminist" (and I believe, more importantly, Godly) principles of self-assertiveness and boundaries, our family improved dramatically (I even have a decent relationship with my dad now!).

Furthermore, the doctrine of men's headship in marriage made me uncomfortable in another way. It makes the husband a little christ over his wife, when the rest of the counsel of scripture insists that Jesus alone is Lord. It was a glaring contradiction, and seemed, instead of something Biblical, a kind of "heresy." 

For a while, I tried to hang on to my faith despite damning evidence (pun intended). Wanting to help facilitate change I wished would happen in the church at large, I talked to my pastor about maybe using feminine language for God-the-father in church. Then, I told him a personal story about Godde revealing Herself to me as Mother Bear (Hosea 13:8). My dear pastor, visibly shaken, tried to explain that I was wrong. He wound up completely invalidating my experience, and telling me God was a fierce father bear ready to protect me from error. Error in this case being Goddess worship? It was a psychological blow, and demonstrated everything I feared that was true about Christianity. A man (who had always enjoyed a likeness to God I as a woman had not, though I love him to pieces) had dismissed my personal experience of the feminine in Godde. It was silencing and infantilizing. 

And I thought, "what a shitty bargain I have struck with the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob." To be a Christian, I have to feel alienated from who God made me to be. A woman.

I don't blame my pastor. Now, even though he doesn't know (yet), I thank him. Without him, I wouldn't know what I know now. He sent me out, so I could learn, and return stronger than ever! He did me a great favor! 

Though, at the time, I was in an insecure place, and it was though he'd handed me a loaded gun. Of course, I was the one responsible for pulling the trigger. And I did, because, after that converstion, I felt that if this man, who I love dearly and whose opinion I really respect, and who has counseled me with great wisdom in the past, willfully refused to understand, there was no place for me in my tradition.

I followed an unspoken, disavowed command: do not goddess worship. A few days later I decided to leave my faith. It was, at first, a great relief not to have "split consciousness." I investigated Wicca, longing for a patron Goddess. I read everything I could, felt affinity with the Hopi Corn Maiden, and the African Oya, and Sumerian Inanna. I learned the magickal properties of herbs and stones, even though I wasn't really interested in doing spells. It wasn't magickal skill I wanted, necessarily, but a relationship with a deity who didn't hate women.

I read everything about goddesses I could get my hands on and thrilled to the idea that once upon a time in the distant past there was an Eden-like, non-violent, matriarchal society that worshipped the Great Goddess. And then, I read more and found Marija Gimbutas' work on ancient Europe had been largely discredited. This ethereal Eden-matriarchy was probably an inaccurate picture of ancient societies. Somewhere, I read that goddess worshippers sacrificed people to their deities. Not the non-violent matriarchy I'd hoped to find in my research...

Furthermore, I found that even in societies that worshipped goddesses, they were used to bolster male imperial power. They weren't necessarily empowering for women themselves. One of my complaints about Christianity was that Jesus was used by Constantine in the 300's to bolster male/imperial power, a legacy that has stayed with us to this day. 

I started noticing, too, the way gender and sex were still conflated in Wicca. In Dianic Wicca, my particular field of study, this focus on literal, bodily function was still quite transphobic. As if a trans woman was any less a woman than any other: penis or no.
(Don't get me wrong. As a religion, I have nothing against Wicca. For many, Wicca is great. I'm just saying it wasn't necessarily fulfilling for me.)...

Furthermore, the masculine was still associated with reason and the feminine with emotion. The masculine with the sun's energy, and the feminine's with the moon's. Explicit or not, this is the division in traditional Christian theology: male is imbued as imago dei with the "greater light" of reason, Godliness, and culture and women with the lesser light of emotion, bodliness, and nature. (I believe all genders contain a little of everything. A woman can be really logical and spiritual and nurturing. A man can be nurturing, and logical, and emotional. The gender binary itself is an illusion; it's more of a continuum...)

Furthermore, in Wicca, women's bodies were still revered by their fertility functions. The maid, mother, and crone symbols, though I still love them as metaphors about the cycles of a woman's life, are still about the physical capabilities of women to give birth, just as birth giving is in Christianity: "a woman will be saved through childbearing..." 

My biggest problem, however, was that no goddess had called out to me. I had no patroness, even though I longed for one. I would pray to various goddesses, waited for a response. I prayed to the generic Great Goddess. No answer. I still had no drive to do magick. Like I said, I wanted a relationship with someone. I wanted a Divine Mother, Sister, and Friend...Wicca satisfied my intellectual need for goddesses, but it could not satisfy my need for the intimate, loving Divine relationship that characterized the one I once had with the Godde of Jesus. 

And then, one night, I found myself re-converting to Christianity. 

One night, after I'd stayed up late studying. I was so empty, and trying to pray to the goddess for wisdom. For comfort. For love. There was nothing but hopeless blackness and sadness in my heart. 

When I went out to smoke, I lost my favorite Goddess charm somewhere around my dorm's complex. I kept circling around and around in a frenzy, as if losing this artifact was literally losing my last connection to the Divine. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking of Jesus' parable of the woman with the lost coin. It was as if Godde and Jesus were squating in the back of my mind. And Godde was that determined and strong woman following me down the street looking for Her lost coin. The Trinity seemed to say: "you're looking for your goddess. But your Godde is looking for you."

When I went inside, I just happened to stumble on a quote online about Godde and Jesus being our Mother. Just as I read, a song started playing on my ipod called "This Is To Mother You." These were the lyrics: 

This is to mother you
To comfort you and get you through
Through when your nights are lonely
Through when your dreams are only blue
This is to mother you
This is to be with you
To hold you and to kiss you too
For when you need me I will do
What your own mother didn't do
Which is to mother you
All the pain that you have known
All the violence in your soul
All the 'wrong' things you have done
I will take from you when I am come
All mistakes made in distress
All your unhappiness
I will take away with my kiss, yes
I will give you tenderness
For child I am so glad we've found you
Although our arms have always been around you
Sweet bird although you did not see us
we see you

And I'm here to mother you
To comfort you and get you through
Through when your nights are lonely
Through when your dreams are only blue
This is to mother you

That was it. The dam broke. I had a come back to Jesus moment. lol. 

Through these months away from my faith, Godde systematically broke apart everything I mistakenly believed:

There are problems in every religion, even the goddess centered ones. This is because of sin. Because humans can suck. In Christianity, one of our corporate sins just happens to be sexism. In our symbolic language, our overwhelming leadership of men, and our inattention to "women's issues" like domestic abuse/objectification/sexual assault/pedophilia. The list could go on ad nauseum.  

I learned, through experience, Jesus may have been male, but his "Father" and the Spirit are beyond gender. Jesus was our savior and his humanness and not his gender is important. His maleness says nothing about Godde ontologically except that S/He Who Is knew, as Rosemary Radford Reuther's noted in Sexism and God Talk, that a woman savior who served others and gave herself up for people would be no big deal. It's what a woman was supposed to do anyway. It was radical that Godde would come as a man, with more social power than women, and would empty Himself on our behalf. Godde, the first person of the trinity, transcends gender, so imaging Her in feminine terms is no less theologically correct than imaging Him in male terms. That Jesus called Godde Father was not to disclose that Godde was male, but was a loving and powerful parent. Mother and Father can both work today...

Lately, I've been thinking about what Jesus said in John 20 to Mary Magdalene when He tells her to tell the disciples He's ascending to His Father, and their Father; His Godde and their Godde."

In Jesus, Godde is now my Mother, Father, Sister, Brother and Friend. 
While S/He Who Is does not belong to me in a literal sense, S/He does belong to me and I to Hir. In the way lovers belong to each other. As a Christian woman, this means I have equal access as men do to the Divine. This means this is my tradition, too, and that it can benefit from my experiences just as much as it did from Paul's. The Sacred Hearted Jesus is mine, Godde the Parent is mine, Godde the Spirit is mine, the church is mine. Everything in the world is mine as a gift from the One Who Loved Me. And I have things to give back to each. 

This is incredibly liberating!

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