Monday, March 27, 2017

Did God have a wife?

A provocative series is airing on PBS: “Bible’s Buried Secrets.” The most subversive segment, “Did God have a wife?” (video) captured the most attention from me. I wondered whether it would spill intoxicating information I have garnered over years of doing feminist research.    

“Did God have a wife?” did not seem feminist to me during most of the hour, although its female scholar, Dr. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, reaches for provocation. Her main point is that common perceptions about the Bible and God as taught by the Judaeo/Christian tradition are upended by archaeological finds. They show that Hebrew ancestors of the Jews did not practice monotheism. Jews also did not invent monotheism, but that point was less clear in the documentary.

For hundreds of thousands of years, what is called God was a woman. She had many different names, but She was not rivaled by males. They were her consorts, not her superiors. The Great Mother gave life, and what we would call “genealogies” centered on mothers, not fathers. This information is missing in the documentary, which gives prominence to Baal and El, male Gods.

But now I’ll look at virtues of “Did God have a wife?” Its photos of archaeological digs and figurines found in them excited me. I am a strong proponent of educating people, and what better way to do it than a TV program? I’d never before seen figurines of Baal, El, and Asherah—they were fascinating.

Dr. Stavrakopoulou directs our attention to symbols surrounding Asherah on figurines of Her found in digs. They display Her life-giving powers—prominent breasts and sacred pubic triangle. These were revered by ancient cultures. She birthed new life; She was the tree of life; She was the one saying, “Be fruitful and multiply,” not a lord.

When patriarchy conquered mother-centered cultures, sacred life-giving power was stolen from the Divine Feminine and given to a male God-image—the Lord. In a similar patriarchal do-over, the Greeks stole Her life-giving power by having Zeus manage a kind of birth (more complete story below).

Asherah’s image was accompanied by a branch with leaves representing Nature. At shrines, wooden poles or trees representing Asherah were held sacred. Most biblical references to Asherah—40 of them—are obscured by references to these “sacred poles.” The Lord orders them destroyed, as in Deuteronomy 7:5 and 12:2-3:
Tear down their altars, smash their sacred pillars, destroy by fire their sacred poles and shatter the idols of their gods that you may stamp out the remembrance of them in any such place.

Anyone who researches this will run into the term “cult objects,” a clear sign that our whole culture, academia included, is governed by Christocentrism. Do we talk about a chalice or a priest’s stole as cult objects?

Jesus of Nazareth was not ruled by the patriarchal mindset, but the religion that grew up in his memory was. Christian churches denigrated female bodies and blamed females for all evil. Sexist statements by Church “Fathers” are well-known:
Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.
(Clement of Alexandria)
You are the devil’s gateway. You first plucked the forbidden fruit . . . It was you who destroyed the image of God, man.
(Tertullian)
Woman does not possess the image of God in herself …
(Augustine of Hippo)

Today, the female body held sacred by prehistoric cultures suffers a different kind of desecration. Today, the bodies of females are playthings of men. Few things annoy me more than that public baring of breasts to feed babies is forbidden, while public display of breasts to titillate men is encouraged.

The most impressive part of “Did God have a wife?” was its analysis of Dt 33: 3. The words in question are totally hidden in my NAB translation, but not in my RSV translation. Moses is blessing the Israelites before his death and says he saw “the Lord” and "at his right, a host of his own."

Dr. Stavrakopoulou shows us the Hebrew letters usually translated “his host,” which makes no sense, and explains that it is reasonable to suspect they should be translated "his Asherah." Another reference to "Yahweh and his Asherah" was found on a shard of pottery excavated in another archaeological dig. This my research had uncovered before. In other words, we know that ancient people revered Yahweh and Asherah as husband and wife.

Knowing the history of patriarchal distortions in scripture makes “the Lord” language hateful to me. Its oppressive stamp increased when in 2005 the Vatican overthrew the translation by experts in liturgy who had labored long to produce language beautiful and meaningful. Instead, the Vatican imposed clunky, domineering Lord-talk. It forbids inclusive God-talk, for instance, praying to “Our Mother.”

For this reason, listening to Mass language is always a trial. I can stand it because the atmosphere in Sacred Heart Chapel, the lofty dome and pillars, the music, the reverence and spiritual depth of the religious community, uplift me. When I sit in that place, good thoughts come.

The way we imagine what’s called God makes a huge difference in human relationships. I hope information like that given here will gradually sink into the minds of more people. Right now, I resolve to do more educating on this topic, but I keep being distracted by political events.

**
One person replied,"Oh, pul-leeeze." I'm sure he knows this but I thought I'd better add it: If it's ridiculous to think of God having a wife, isn't it just as ridiculous to pray to an exclusively male God? This is the point.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

My Re-Imagining moment

First, I invite readers to learn about the Re-Imagining movement. 

On February 26, I was re-imagining at Mass while listening to the first reading—Isaiah 49: 15:
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
In the past, when I heard passages like this I thought,
Lovely, God described in feminine terms!
As I listened this time, I thought about the Greek myth I wrote about in the previous post. The myth has the Goddess Athena springing fully-formed from the head of Zeus, so that a male god usurps an exclusively feminine faculty. On the basis of this myth, the Greek dramatist Aeschylus justifies matricide (Scroll down to previous post for the story).

With this in mind, I thought to myself about the Isaiah passage: 
It’s lovely, except that the Lord is speaking. No one imagines a female lord.
The Judaeo/Christian Lord robs females of their power as Zeus does by his faux birthing of Athena because the Lord never is referred to as “She.” Pronouns tell us what’s wrong with this and many such scriptural passages. When He claims feminine powers, He utterly negates female worth. 

As the Mass progressed, I also thought of a recent interview by Krista Tippett, host of “On Being.” She was speaking to a mathematician and science writer.
Margaret Wertheim: My mother’s Catholicism has been one of the greatest and deepest influences on everything I do.
Tippett: But you also are atheist, is that correct?
Wertheim: [I do not] believe in the existence of God in the Catholic sense. [But] I want to say very publicly I’m not an atheist. . . .
I’m very, very saddened by the fact that militant atheism has become [sic] so to the fore of our society. I think it’s destructive and unhelpful. And I don’t think it does science any service. 
I agree and know atheists who agree. 
The word “militant” stood out during the interview and came to me in church. I thought,
The Bible contains militant patriarchy.
Wertheim used “militant” to describe atheists belligerently attacking a belief system—quite different from the Isaiah reading about a mother’s love. But the Zeus-birthed-Athena myth and the-Lord-mothers-better-than-a-mother myth both insidiously undermined the belief system in pre-historic times when God was imagined to be female. 

Knowing history enlightens the present. The Great Mother in pre-history, Mater Magna, embodied feminine powers. If Christianity is to stop being a patriarchal oppressor, we need to pray to Her as well as to Him.



Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Chalice and the Blade—and Trump 2

First, I apologize for neglecting to publish recent comments. I forgot to check. This is an explanation, not an excuse. If you scroll down to previous posts, you’ll find comments that weren’t there before.

Riane Eisler’s The Chalice and the Blade inspires further reflection:
     Myths of classical Greece show how the male-centered invaders who conquered female-centered societies thousands of years earlier also conquered minds. In the earliest Greek myths, Hera reigns supreme as the Queen of Heaven. In the male system, she becomes the jealous wife of the all-powerful thunder-god Zeus. Greek religion even grants Zeus a power unique to women. The goddess Athena springs fully-formed from his head; he fathers a daughter without the help of any mother!

Greek drama of the fifth century B.C.E. deserves our respect for its artistic value, but it also deserves our criticism for its anti-feminine values, as illustrated in the Oresteia, a trilogy by Aeschylus. 
Stripped of its artistry, the plot in brief repels us. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter Iphigenia. To avenge his crime, Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon and mother of Iphigenia, kills Agamemnon. Then their son Orestes avenges that act by killing his mother Clytemnestra.

Orestes is brought to trial and absolved for murdering his mother. On what grounds? The god Apollo argues that a mother is not truly a parent, only a vessel to nourish the father’s seed. He points to Athena, saying, “There can be a father without any mother.” Athena agrees that only fathers are related to their children. Expropriation of female power is complete.

Can there be a more effective victory over feminine values? Christian myth copied it.

But today, the power of the Father/Son myth is waning. This monumental change is evidenced by the “nones,” the 25 percent, and growing, of U.S. society non-affiliated with religion. Other phenomena signaling the shift are frequent messages of love and acceptance in public discourse and growing rejection of capital punishment. A large signal of a major shift is the uproar surrounding Donald Trump.

His choices to head departments and agencies designed to protect health care, housing, economic security, clean energy, fair access to technology, voting rights, a safe environment, and mutual respect have histories of undermining the very institutions they will now head.

When Trump rolled out the names, I looked for the source of the force behind Donald Trump, who doesn’t have the brains or the ultra-right inclination. All Trump gets out of dismantling protections is the celebrity-attention of being Disrupter-in-Chief. Who’s the driver behind the scene? I thought Mike Pence.

It is Steve Bannon. White America first, sexism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, militarism—all espoused by Bannon and consistent with the values of warrior tribes that overtook peaceful, woman-centered civilizations thousands of years before Jesus of Nazareth lived.
     Bannon, who is Catholic, allies with Vatican hardliners who oppose Pope Francis' more compassionate approach to church doctrine. Bannon sees the world in a fundamental clash of civilizations—Islam versus Christianity—and the “church militant” needs to actively fight “this new barbarity,” he says. He is livid with zeal.

When a system is dying, resistance to the shift toward an unfamiliar paradigm flares dramatically. Bannon’s opposition to Pope Francis perfectly illustrates this. Our country is being ruled by the extreme ideology of Steve Bannon and the emotionally-damaged Donald Trump.  But there is hope. The blazing show of Donald Trump/Steve Bannon signals patriarchy in demise.

"Intelligence Squared" debates pit four debaters against each other, two on each side. The debate over the proposition, “Give Trump a Chance,” reinforced my feeling that we stand at a crisis point that will generate massive changes. Only one debater defended Trump. The other debater on the side of giving Trump a chance argued that our institutions are strong enough to resist Trump’s destructive policies and those who voted for him need time to reconsider their vote.

I didn’t care which side of the debate won; I wanted to hear debaters argue to give or not give Donald Trump a chance as a way of gauging whether our society is choosing cooperation and partnership over domination and competition.
How much resistance is building to the Trump administration’s stance against others and over others? That even the debater who argued to give Trump a chance recognized the destructiveness of his policies assures me that stereotypically-feminine values indeed are surging. 

I am not arguing for feminine qualities to overtake masculine qualities and reign alone. We need masculine strength, independence, and confidence. We need balance,   and this has been missing for millennia, ever since warrior tribes invaded and conquered matrilineal societies during the fifth and fourth millennia B.C.E., and replaced their peaceful, egalitarian cultures with warlike, hierarchical ones.

More next time.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Chalice and the Blade—and Trump

I write this to offer hope, as an anti-peace, anti-human-rights, anti-environment agenda seems to rule the U.S.   Hope can grow when we place current events in a larger context. Looking at the broad scope of human history assures me that, whatever consequences we suffer from a broken political system today, events over the long term are moving toward a gentler, more equitable world order. We can’t know how much time it will take, but focusing on the broad perspective reassures me.

The distinguished anthropologist Ashley Montagu called Riane Eisler’s work, The Chalice and the Blade “the most important book since Darwin’s Origin of Species." 
Eisler identifies domination and aggression (the blade of the Father) as patriarchy’s model for ordering society. She shows that partnership and nurturing (the Chalice of the Mother) endured as a countervailing power throughout human history, even during the fiercest patriarchal times. It prevailed as the model to structure social systems during the Paleolithic and early Neolithic ages:
  In sharp contrast to later art, . . . Neolithic art [contains no] imagery idealizing armed might, cruelty, and violence-based power . . . no images of “noble warriors” or scenes of battles . . . no signs of “heroic conquerors” . . .
  What we do find everywhere—in shrines and houses, on wall paintings, in the decorative motifs on vases, in sculptures . . . is a rich array of symbols from nature . . . wavy forms called meanders (which symbolized flowing waters) . . . serpents and butterflies (symbols of metamorphosis) . . .
   And everywhere—in murals, statues, and votive figurines—we find images of the Goddess, . . . the divine Mother cradling her divine child in her arms. . . .
the Goddess, whose body is the divine Chalice containing the miracle of birth and the power to transform death into life through the mysterious cyclical regeneration of nature.
This prehistoric civilization was woman-centered but not matriarchal. Women did not dominate; they were not superiors in a pecking order but had status as birth-givers. Excavations of Paleolithic and Neolithic societies bring into view feminine figures, symbols, and activities that occupy a central place in art, in buildings, and in villages.

Patriarchy with its dominating subordination of women took over the peaceful societies and, over the course of many centuries, replaced pre-patriarchal honoring of birth and regeneration with a militaristic, male-centered framework.
Eisler includes influential thinkers in her far-reaching synthesis.
  Nietzsche’s philosophy, under which the “noble and powerful . . . may act toward persons of a lower rank just as they please,” is the forerunner of modern fascism. . . .
  Nietzsche’s ideal moral order was a world . . . ruled by men who say, “I like that, I take it for my own,” who know how to “keep hold of a woman and punish and overthrow insolence,” and to whom the weak “willingly submit . . . and naturally belong.”
A present-day political figure comes to mind.
  Nietzsche despised the Judeo-Christian tradition as not androcratic [male-dominated] enough because it contained what he called an “effeminate” “slave-morality”; ideas like “selflessness,” “charity,” “benevolence,” and “neighborly love.” 
The Christian tradition’s embrace of these values is uneven, but Jesus of Nazareth did not preach domination, says Eisler.
  He rejected the dogma that high-ranking men—in Jesus’ day, priests, nobles, rich men, and kings—are the favorites of God. He mingled freely with women, thus openly rejecting the male-supremacist norms of his time.
. . . time and time again we find that . . . [Jesus preached] the gospel of partnership society. And in sharp contrast to the views of later Christian sages, . . . Jesus did not preach the ultimate dominator message: that women are spiritually inferior to men.
Eisler refutes the belief common among atheists and agnostics that there never was a historical Jesus with the “compelling argument” that Jesus modeled feminine values.

Today the dominator model is breaking down, asserts Eisler. Stereotypically-masculine traits like tough leadership and fighting, often with violence, is giving way to the stereotypically-feminine virtues of compassion, cooperation, gentleness, and partnership. The pendulum is swinging back. Taking the long view with Riane Eisler, we can see feminine attitudes slowly taking hold today, as in ancient history they were slowly supplanted by male dominance.

I take hope from the breakdown of dominator values happening today. Yes, it’s long and slow, but boosting a change in attitudes is the weirdness of Donald Trump. The whole world seems repulsed by it, the final straw, as my friend predicted (see “New Year hope despite chaos” below).

Respect for standing over and against others (the patriarchal Father) is lessening, while respect for loving and accepting all (the nurturing Mother) is growing. My hope surges when I see growing numbers of manly men endorsing the shift to feminine values.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Whither are we headed?

As a writer about religions and spirituality, I have tried to avoid writing about politics, but right now I cannot get politics out of my mind. And when events become as momentous as those occurring today, politics merge with spirituality. A man whose foremost talent is selling himself, who aspires less to lead the country than to glorify himself, was elevated to the most influential political office in the world. As an American facing the world, I am embarrassed.

I admit I rejoice that Trump’s approval rating is tanking. Maybe, I hope, maybe, maybe his supporters are beginning to discern the truth …………. At this point in my writing I started guessing which developments since the election might have opened the eyes of formerly deluded voters, but that’s a futile exercise. The signs pointing to Trump’s true character were quite evident before the election.

As I go through my days, I console myself and fellow mourners with the astonishing image of the rising sun (see below). Its promise appears to be coming true; I observe an awakening following the shocking election.

Around the country people are mobilizing to resist expected assaults on the human rights of groups targeted by campaign vitriol. Blacks, immigrants, Muslims, women, and gays are vowing to stand up for themselves. Churches are organizing to be sanctuaries for the despised and the rejected. Environmentalists are determined to defend progress made during the Obama years. Journalists are correcting Trump’s falsehoods. President Obama says he will continue to participate in politics “where I think our core values may be at stake,”
Scott Simon on NPR pleads for "a revival of respect," adding it must be acknowledged that one candidate is most responsible for the loss of respect in our public discourse, "and he won."

The country shows a new spirit of involvement. People are saying, “It’s up to us.” They realize we cannot expect politicians to set things right without citizen involvement.

We don’t have to run for office or write letters to be involved. I believe that staying informed and caring deeply contributes to a healthy political consciousness that will manifest in ways we cannot predict. We exercise spiritual responsibility by thinking well.

Friday, December 30, 2016

NewYear hope despite chaos

Since the election I have been veering back and forth between fighting despair and being the one to console others near despair. I counted ten Trump appointments of persons apparently committed to destroying the departments they should manage. They threaten justice, labor, money policies, environment, education, energy, commerce, housing, and health care.
We are on the cusp of change coming from chaos. I fear the center cannot hold.

William Butler Yeats, a poet of yesteryear, has a poem for our time:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Looking for hope, I had a talk with a mentor/friend of mine who would hesitate to call herself a psychic, but significant images come to her. I was not surprised to hear an optimistic message from her. Twice she saw the image of the sun rising—right before the election and right after. The sun was farther over the horizon after the election of Donald Trump.

Her interpretation of the images:
  The recent images just before and after the election are saying we have reached the tipping point and the light will begin to be on the ascendant. I realize it sure doesn't look like that at the moment.
   There is a lot of inertia.  Doing a mass 180-degree turnaround "socially, or culturally"  is like turning around the biggest ship imaginable. As an analogy, the engines have been put in reverse to slow the ship down enough so it can gradually be turned in the opposite direction.
   Among all the influences and feedback we've been getting for decades, Trump's election seems to be the final weight that is tipping the balance. He is apparently "the straw that will break the camel's back." Seen from within the culture at the moment, it sure looks like chaos.
   "The center cannot hold.” From my perspective, the center is already rotten to the core. Trump is just bringing it into very bold, can't-be-missed, focus. Every single person, wittingly or (mostly) unwittingly, is complicit to some degree in the present situation.
   Every thought we think, every belief we act on, every single purchase we make, every interaction we have—with another person, animal, plant, institution, whatever –is a vote for the kind of world we want to live in.
   Look at the food people buy: fake food loaded with harmful chemicals, devoid of minerals and nutrition to keep them healthy. Meat from animals who are treated horribly, and loaded with body-destroying chemicals. A vote for industrial agriculture.
   Then, when sick, there are lots of votes for a medical system that only treats symptoms, not causes. A vote for the pharmaceutical industry, which turns out drugs at a prodigious rate that they know can make you sicker.
  The voting goes on and on in every moment of your life.  And it all has resulted in the present world situation.
  We've all had our input on both the light and dark sides. Now we are almost forced to become conscious of our daily votes and start making wiser choices.
I cannot believe we are headed for doom. Our country is strong enough to survive a Trump presidency. I take heart from the promise of the images.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Spirit

Parker Palmer offers a song that can appeal to both religious and non-religious people. Scroll down to the lyrics of Sara Thomsen with the guitar. 

 I cried when watching this next video. 
A young Arab-American sets himself up across the street from a Trump Tower, blindfolded with a sign saying that he trusts passersby, inviting them to give him a hug.  Nothing happens for a while, and then . . .


I ended my reflection on nones by asking, “Why [in our increasingly secular culture] does our entire culture embrace the religious feast of Christmas?”

Don’t we all love newscasts of people being exceptionally generous during this season? Don't we love stories of spreading love and cheer? 
I do. I think we all need these stories even more because of growing secularism with its despicable focus on buying stuff to stuff people who already are stuffed with stuff.
Spiritual values during the Christmas season provide relief from mandatory gift-giving and ferocious consumerism.    And there’s more to our love of this season.

As a fan of mythologist Joseph Campbell, I found innumerable myths around the world like the Jesus story, all telling of transformation. In the northern hemisphere, the winter solstice engendered sun gods. 

The Roman Sol Invictus (“Unconquered Sun”) was seen by Christian leaders as a powerful rival of Jesus Christ. To counter the popular birthday celebrations on the winter solstice in honor of Sol Invictus, Christian leaders declared Jesus Christ the real sun god and the winter solstice his birthday. Despite some calendar adjustments since then, the feast of Christmas does not fall exactly on the solstice.

No historian claims to have the slightest idea when Jesus of Nazareth was born. It would be good for Christians to know the history behind their birthday celebrations for baby Jesus.

Joseph Campbell and other authors place Jesus in the context of many Christ-figures. At first, this seems to discredit our Christian story, demoting it from history to myth. But we have to realize it’s not a demotion. Religious myths contain honorable symbolism disclosing the spiritual Source beneath outer phenomena. Gods and goddesses should not be seen as rivals, but as enriching the myth of Christ. They are alternative Christ-figures.

Mythologists reveal example after example of pagan deities prefiguring the Christian God-image. In Egypt the main God-image was Isis, the Great Mother, and her child was Horus. When Christianity pushed out other religions in the third and fourth centuries, figures of Isis with Horus on her lap were conveniently renamed “Mary with Jesus.” In this way was retained the popular Mother-with-Child motif, one that strikes strong chords of sympathy in the human breast, whatever one’s feelings about religion. Thus the appeal of Christmas.