Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Word "Christ"

I don’t say “Christ” when I mean Jesus, but most of the world uses the word “Christ” as if it were the last name of Jesus. They mean a man Christians worship as God. So “Christ” is a God-image. In discussions of religion, Jesus Christ means Jesus-God or Jesus-god, depending on your beliefs.

When I was little I lived on a farm in the middle of Stearns County, encased in a German-Catholic cocoon. I do not remember praying to Jesus when I was little. Before we kids entered first grade we didn’t know English and I do not remember learning about Jesus in German, only praying in German, but those words didn’t mean anything. I do remember having a God-consciousness, a kind of childhood mysticism. At that early age I did not imagine God to be a humanlike person. While knowing nothing about pronouns then, I think I would have preferred the pronoun “It” to “Him” or “Her.”

In a non-verbal, inchoate way I understood God to be infinitely beyond human beings. I am told other children asked questions like, “Does God have a wife?” or “Where is Lady God,” but they did not occur to me. I am sure that even in my youth such questions would have seemed to be jokes, not questions seriously looking for answers. In the same inchoate way, I must have known that references to God as “He” did not mean God was more masculine than feminine. But it would take many years of living before I would realize the harm in the male-centered pull of our language.

When the apostle Paul wrote “Christ Jesus,” he did not equate the man he was writing about with God. This elevation of Jesus happened later. For Paul, the Greek “Christ” had the same meaning as the Hebrew “Messiah” and both meant “the Anointed One.” Anointed ones in Hebrew history included the Persian emperor Cyrus. Paul’s focus was salvation. He thought all people were headed for hell until this one man sent by God “opened the gates of heaven,” to put it in common language.

Centuries after Paul was writing, Jesus became God in the official belief of the Roman Empire and therefore of Christianity. The religious master who inspired our religion was declared different from the rest of humanity. This came about in a series of Church councils called by emperors who wanted their subjects to agree on religion.
Religious disputes in the Roman Empire raged between Orthodox Christians who believed Jesus was God and Arian Christians who believed Jesus was the son of God. This vastly over-simplifies the issue but I will not go into the dozens of isms, “heretical” groups making distinctions in belief from the 2nd to 4th centuries. It must have been exciting and scary—a time when religious conflicts resulted in lynching and other barbaric cruelties. A time with similarities to ours.  More about these conflicts next time.

In my younger years religious writings exclaimed over the marvel of God coming “down from heaven” to be a man. Catholic teachings identified the man with the second person of the Trinity. Today such worship of Jesus still appears in evangelical writings but rarely in Catholic theology. There is more nuance today.
I think theologians realize that worshipping Jesus is like worshipping Dionysius or Isis or Krishna or any other image of God. Christian theology today reflects the influence of Carl Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, science, Eastern spirituality, and insights from global awareness. We now have to place our God-image in this broadened perspective.

I don’t say “Christ” when I mean Jesus. For me, “Christ” symbolizes the inner Self, the divinity within all beings. I believe the man Jesus expressed divinity to an extraordinary degree but we’re all God-stuff. In my post We Are Divine, I quote poets, sages, and religious leaders regarding this deep reality in human beings. READ THIS to get a Jungian explanation of Christ as a symbol of the Self. I think it should be required reading in every seminary.

More about Arians and orthodox next time, when I’ll quote from When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome by Richard Rubenstein.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Gloria Steinam

Even if you don’t agree with Gloria Steinam, this can make you laugh and lead you to re-think some assumptions.
It leads me to think: WANTED
          Pregnant women at the altar to symbolize creation.

If Men Could Menstruate by Gloria Steinem
Living in India made me understand that a white minority of the world has spent centuries conning us into thinking a white skin makes people superior, even though the only thing it really does is make them more subject to ultraviolet rays and wrinkles.

Reading Freud made me just as skeptical about penis envy. The power of giving birth makes "womb envy" more logical, and an organ as external and unprotected as the penis makes men very vulnerable indeed.

But listening recently to a woman describe the unexpected arrival of her menstrual period (a red stain had spread on her dress as she argued heatedly on the public stage) still made me cringe with embarrassment. That is, until she explained that, when finally informed in whispers of the obvious event, she said to the all-male audience, "and you should be proud to have a menstruating woman on your stage. It's probably the first real thing that's happened to this group in years."

Laughter. Relief. She had turned a negative into a positive. Somehow her story merged with India and Freud to make me finally understand the power of positive thinking. Whatever a "superior" group has will be used to justify its superiority, and whatever and "inferior" group has will be used to justify its plight.

Black men were given poorly paid jobs because they were said to be "stronger" than white men, while all women were relegated to poorly paid jobs because they were said to be "weaker." As the little boy said when asked if he wanted to be a lawyer like his mother, "Oh no, that's women's work." Logic has nothing to do with oppression.

So what would happen if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? Clearly, menstruation would become an enviable, worthy, masculine event: Men would brag about how long and how much.

Young boys would talk about it as the envied beginning of manhood. Gifts, religious ceremonies, family dinners, and stag parties would mark the day.To prevent monthly work loss among the powerful, Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea. Doctors would research little about heart attacks, from which men would be hormonally protected, but everything about cramps.

Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of such commercial brands as Paul Newman Tampons, Muhammad Ali's Rope-a-Dope Pads, John Wayne Maxi Pads, and Joe Namath Jock Shields- "For Those Light Bachelor Days." Statistical surveys would show that men did better in sports and won more Olympic medals during their periods.

Generals, right-wing politicians, and religious fundamentalists would cite menstruation ("men-struation") as proof that only men could serve God and country in combat ("You have to give blood to take blood"), occupy high political office ("Can women be properly fierce without a monthly cycle governed by the planet Mars?"), be priests, ministers, God Himself ("He gave this blood for our sins"), or rabbis ("Without a monthly purge of impurities, women are unclean").

Male liberals and radicals, however, would insist that women are equal, just different; and that any woman could join their ranks if only she were willing to recognize the primacy of menstrual rights ("Everything else is a single issue") or self-inflict a major wound every month ("You must give blood for the revolution").

Street guys would invent slang ("He's a three-pad man") and "give fives" on the corner with some exchenge like, "Man you lookin' good!" "Yeah, man, I'm on the rag!"

TV shows would treat the subject openly. (Happy Days: Richie and Potsie try to convince Fonzie that he is still "The Fonz," though he has missed two periods in a row. Hill Street Blues: The whole precinct hits the same cycle.) So would newspapers. (Summer Shark Scare Threatens Menstruating Men. Judge Cites Monthlies In Pardoning Rapist.) And so would movies. (Newman and Redford in Blood Brothers!)

Men would convince women that sex was more pleasurable at "that time of the month." Lesbians would be said to fear blood and therefore life itself, though all they needed was a good menstruating man.

Medical schools would limit women's entry ("they might faint at the sight of blood"). Of course, intellectuals would offer the most moral and logical arguements. Without the biological gift for measuring the cycles of the moon and planets, how could a woman master any discipline that demanded a sense of time, space, mathematics—or the ability to measure anything at all?

In philosophy and religion, how could women compensate for being disconnected from the rhythm of the universe? Or for their lack of symbolic death and resurrection every month?
Menopause would be celebrated as a positive event, the symbol that men had accumulated enough years of cyclical wisdom to need no more.
Liberal males in every field would try to be kind. The fact that "these people" have no gift for measuring life, the liberals would explain, should be punishment enough.

And how would women be trained to react? One can imagine right-wing women agreeing to all these arguments with a staunch and smiling masochism. ("The ERA would force housewives to wound themselves every month": Phyllis Schlafly)

 In short, we would discover, as we should already, that logic is in the eye of the logician. (For instance, here's an idea for theorists and logicians: if women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest level, then why isn't it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long? I leave further improvisation up to you.)

The truth is that, if men could menstruate, the power justifications would go on and on.
If we let them.
(c) Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions. NY: NAL, 1986.