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 hard-liners 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.     


Monday, November 14, 2016

Nones are rising

November 14, 2016
The number of religiously non-affiliated people, according to the Pew Research Center, is rising. In 2007 they comprised 16 percent of Americans. In 2015 their percentage rose to 23 percent. Meanwhile, the number of Christians fell from 78 to 71 percent.

I do not mourn this, although I regularly attend Mass with Catholic religious sisters. Not all these nuns are so very different from nones. Both groups have spiritual values that transcend conventional bounds, but nuns express their spirituality in religious terms while nones express spirituality without religion.

At the same time that I feel at home with nuns, I identify with nones’ getting more inspiration from nature than from God-talk. Like nones, I have lost respect for institutional religion. My biggest criticism of Christianity is its God-images turned into gods by patriarchal language imposed on churches by the Vatican.

I hold it responsible for Pope Francis' lack of vision regarding women. I can’t say it better than I did in the Minneapolis StarTribune yesterday: “Avoid gendered God-talk”

Thank you to readers who sent me kudos for this.


December 5, 2016   Christian Nones?

I was wrong. Or more accurately stated, I gave out-of-date information in stating that 23% of Americans are nones. In 2016, 25% of all Americans are nones. This is the latest finding of the Pew Research Center. Think of it. The number of Americans who identify with no religion keeps rapidly rising.

The largest number of nones describe themselves as atheists and agnostics. They say they “don’t believe.” Examining the Pew Center’s data on nones more closely, I see they don’t affiliate with any religion because religions teach myths that science debunks. The atheists and agnostics I know reject religion for the same reason. And what is their devotion to truth but a mark of integrity? And what is integrity but a spiritual principle?

Nones, atheists, and agnostics—whatever they’re called—reject religion because it violates their spiritual principles, although they don’t put it that way. The next largest group of nones “dislike organized religion” because it abuses power and causes conflict, another spiritual principle shared with my atheist/agnostic acquaintances.

A few nones have the perspicacity to claim being spiritual but not religious. I think this characterizes most nones, atheists, and agnostics, whether or not they know it. The writings of atheists Hitchens, Harris, and Dawkins disclose the inner integrity driving them.

I go to church, nones do not, but I feel closer to nones than to most churchgoers. My own life mirrors the rise of the none phenomenon. I left my church after college and tried to be an atheist because I did not believe the Father/Son myth. Reading Teilhard de Chardin, Carl Jung, and feminist theologians told me I didn’t fit in atheism. Then Al-Anon gave me the gift of my Higher Power, a non-denominational, compatible-with-science way of appealing for spiritual help and communicating with power vastly greater than human.

My Higher Power, my inner Beloved, the Christ in me (Galatians 2:20 and 4:19) guides me daily. Everything preached in church resonates with Higher-Power spirituality except those darn lords Father and Son.

When my mantra “God is not three guys in the sky” burbled up in me at the School of Theology in the 1980s, I felt alone and afraid. Surrounded by religious people earnestly preparing for church work, I did not dare say it, until I did. “God is not three guys in the sky,” I said in classes and in halls. No shocked looks. No reprimands. People around me seemed to understand. This awareness keeps growing, as the none phenomenon evinces.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Francis on women’s ordination

Soon after Pope Francis was elected and the refreshing changes in his leadership style were being celebrated, I wrote that he doesn’t get the issue of women. That became abundantly clear this last week when he again closed the door on women’s ordination. Yes, he’s a wonderful man. Yes, he’s humble and courageous in his determination to right wrongs, even to a limited extent on the treatment of women.  But he just doesn’t get it. He does not understand patriarchy; he does not understand its impact on human thought, attitudes, and expectations. 

Francis is not uninformed, just unenlightened. He has not accomplished the shift in consciousness that is required to accept women in roles previously delegated exclusively to men. Christian God-talk keeps Francis and other good people from realizing what patriarchy has done. He needs a strong dose of Mary Daly (“If God is male, male is God”) and Rosemary Radford Ruether, whose book Sexism and God-talk motivate my writings and presentations on sexist God-talk.

I and other feminists have been railing against the drumbeat of HeHimHis for years, without effect on Christianity. But outside of our religion there is movement. Atheists scoff at the Christian gods called Father and Son, but they are not the most effective. I believe Nones are the ones who will put the final nail in the coffin of patriarchy because they do not waste energy proving how foolish literal religious beliefs are. They don’t discredit themselves by scoffing at spiritual reality. Nones neatly sidestep religion.

I’ll say more about Nones next time. In the meantime, read my post “Francis on women’s authority.” The man who let me tell about his shift in consciousness has since died.