Thursday, July 31, 2008

Goddess Mary

National Catholic Reporter has a lovely article about Meinrad Craighead, an artist who grew up Catholic and whose images convey “a keen sense of the brooding, watching, beckoning power she finds in the land around her, in the sky above, the earth below, in the animals, in our dreams.”

I would change a word in the statement that the artist’s “first real religious experience, at the age of 7, was not in the church but in nature, with her dog.” Her experience was spiritual, not religious.

Gazing into her dog’s eyes, Craighead as a girl felt water rushing deep inside her and saw a woman’s face that she immediately recognized as God, “more real, more powerful than the remote ‘Father’ I was educated to have faith in. . . . God the Mother came to me and, as children will do, I kept her a secret. We hid together inside the structures of institutional Catholicism.”

Craighead’s feminine images of the Divine are healing the Christian tradition’s lopsided use of male images and masculine pronouns. “He,” “Him,” and “His” endorsed the oppression of women and also the degradation of nature, because psychically women are associated with nature.

As Carl Jung pointed out, however, Catholicism retained more feminine imagery than Protestantism because Catholics venerate Mary, who plays exactly the psychic role that the Goddess played in pre-historical times—she’s the Great Mother, as mythologists like to observe.

Jung approved vigorously when the Assumption of Mary into heaven was declared in 1950 because, he said, it brought some balance to the masculine Godhead. He did not believe any doctrines literally; his concern was human psychic health. In addition to gender imbalance, he observed Christianity’s low valuation of nature.

Maybe because women give birth and suckle children, they are more closely related in the human psyche to nature than are men. Interestingly, shrines devoted to Mary often have moving water, as Craighead’s vision had. And the Goddess appeared with natural elements such as water and trees.

We need feminine God-images to balance the preponderance of “king,” “lord,” and “father.”

At you can read about a peace activist priest who assisted at a women's ordination ceremony. Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, long associated with the cause of Christian non-violence and attempts to close the international school for military training at Fort Benning, Ga., earlier this month staked his conscience to a different cause: the ordination of women in the Catholic Church.”

A reader emailed me a comment (not submitted for publication), naming Nancy Pelosi as evidence that woman power is not shared power. Her crafty wielding of power does not come close to accomplishing the harm done by other powerful women, past and present, that I could name. That individual women who managed to rise in the male system used male tactics does not invalidate our conviction that woman power is needed and rising.

I'm responding to the comments after this post.

The gleeful “ha, you want power” opens up thoughts about power. Someone once suggested I run for office but I said I’d be spectacularly unsuccessful as a politician. I’m no leader in that sense and don’t want to be. My “assignment” is to prod deeper reflection than most people are willing to engage in. If I wanted external power, I would not risk dislike by debunking cherished notions.

But the world needs women to collectively acquire more power and it is happening. Called “soft power” in popular parlance, a more feminine kind of power is now promoted as the preferred way to do foreign policy. It encourages agreement with one’s own position without using violence.

Woman power, however, is power WITH instead of power OVER. It is shared power, symbolized by and carried out in circles. A circle of shared power, in contrast to hierarchical power, values the contributed wisdom of EVERYone equally. To do foreign policy or church governance with this model, would require leaders to relinquish their patriarchal role of forcing their own view on others and instead coax out the view from those at the bottom of influence.

Woman power is democracy at its best. Ironically, while the current Bush administration claims to spread democracy around the world, it tramples on democracy at home. Strong resistance from both conservatives and liberals rises from disgust over its underhanded endorsement of torture and its efforts to control public discussion. Its disdain for the views of others resulted in disastrous foreign policy that Condoleezza Rice is now gamely trying to reverse.

Leaders cannot impose their views for long anyhow. Observe the futile efforts of the Catholic hierarchy to squelch discussion about women priests. Relentlessly, historical facts refuting their cherished position that women have never been Church leaders keep surfacing—evidence from New Testament letters, evidence in the catacombs, evidence from monasteries in Ireland, and the list goes on. Burgeoning respect for womanly wisdom can’t be squelched.

The statement “God's masculinity is part of the Christian revelation” in Florian’s second rant would be denied today by every respectable Christian theologian, Catholic or otherwise. But Florian is right in assuming the importance of sexual symbolism in the Christian myth—what he calls its “revelation”—and in its denial of ordination to women.

I’ll refer again to Sex, Priests, and Power by A.W. Richard Sipe, retired priest, psychotherapist for abuser-priests around the country, and a board director of the Collegeville Sexual Trauma Institute. He analyzes the culture of the celibate priesthood and its pathological loathing of women, quoting a treatise as recent as 1909:
“If he is going to treat her as she wishes, he must have intercourse with her, for she desires it; he must beat her, for she likes to be hurt . . . [she] has no desire to be respected for herself.”

Sipe comments, “Although Weininger’s verbalization would be consciously rejected, the essence of his message and logic is alive and well within the celibate/sexual structure of power. One has only to analyze the operation of that system in Rome, in any diocese, or in official documents that deal with issues of gender or celibacy to validate the appeal to nature and God’s will for the place of men and women in the order of things.”

For a healthy priesthood, says Sipe, we must “divorce it from the denigration of women and the arrogance of religious superiority.”

I will accept no more comments to this post. I publish submitted comments if they have points worth discussing, but I have to take the whole or nothing. Unable to edit submissions, I have to subject us all to empty words, words, words. It's the reason I used the word "rant." Please edit your comments for economy and spare us all the clutter. And please stop the ad hominem attacks.

Friday, July 18, 2008

God is not supernatural

We don’t need proofs of divine reality because we all have an innate sense of it, atheists included. The work of mythologists supports the conclusion I reached from my own experience that God is the most natural reality, not some super-natural, extra-natural, un-natural, external-to-reality being we have to be told to believe in.

The Mystery deep within all reality does not belong to religion more than to the rest of life, and any claim by a religion that it possesses exclusive revelation of what we call God is absurd. It is religion’s preposterous claims plus its conflicts, craziness, and cruelties that disgust atheists. Understandable. But let’s not ignore the positive contributions of religion.

A recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicated a growing awareness by Americans that God is not a humanlike individual. This is a step toward realizing that the Holy Force is independent of religion. While 60% of respondents said they believe in a “personal God,” a surprisingly high 25% said they believe in an “impersonal force.” I welcome the shift to this more abstract idea of God and away from the Guys in the Sky. As it gains familiarity in public consciousness, I hope that a growing number of people will see how distorting and inappropriate is the steady drip of “He,” “Him,” and “His.”

The poll by the Pew Forum confirmed the importance of faith to Americans, but it also showed dogmatism waning. 70% of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination, including majorities among Protestants and Catholics, said they agreed that "many religions can lead to eternal life."

Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune saw the poll results as proof that “the Humble Majority” agree “that no single religion or philosophical system has a monopoly on the Absolute Truth.” He believes, “Humility is the appropriate response to the vastness of the universe and the wonders and horrors of life on Earth.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Women in the Bible

A 1996 study by Sr. Ruth Fox analyzed passages chosen for the lectionary, the book of biblical readings used in liturgical celebrations.

She found that passages in the Bible about women performing significant deeds have been omitted or relegated to weekdays instead of Sundays or “neatly sliced out of the middle of the lectionary passage.” The pattern of exclusion could not have been accidental. It was deliberate, and it reinforces the message promulgated by Church officials: Women are subordinate to men in regard to sacred matters.

Fox cites examples in the scriptures known to most Christians as Old and New Testaments. Some omissions are almost laughable because the reading stops just at the point when women are depicted as dignified messengers from God to humanity. And sometimes, writes Fox, “Passages containing positive references to [women] are left out while those containing negative references are retained.”

It’s all about perception. Deletion of passages about women leaders from readings of the Bible in church reinforces the exclusion of women from decision making in the Church.

Women in the Church need to make more rapid progress in prodding it toward gender justice. They could learn from women in the secular sphere. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy changed perceptions about women as leaders. In discussions about policies, speakers now refer to officials in companies, to members of Congress, and to a hypothetical president as “he or she.” The Catholic Church is way behind.

But life is not static. Religions, like species, thrive or die, depending on their ability to adapt to changes. My hopes rest on evolving attitudes toward woman power.

Women in the 4th Gospel    April 14, 2017

Theologian Sandra Schneiders renewed my attraction to the Fourth Gospel. Years ago, when I became aware of Christian myth and broke out of the Christian envelope, I didn’t like the Fourth for the same reason that most Christians favor it—because it does the best job of turning Jesus into God.

I recall the time a fellow writer, a minister, learned that I did not believe Jesus is God. He quoted, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life”
"The historical Jesus did not say these things," I answered. The minister knew I studied theology. He never came back to our writers group.

Then I read an article by a Hindu who finds the I AM passages in the Fourth ravishingly beautiful. They leave him "in an uplifted internal state" by evoking divinity in every individual, religious or non-religious. For "divinity" we can substitute "inner intelligence" or "moral sense."

I AM the shepherd, I AM the door, I AM the vine, I AM the bread of life, I AM the light of the world, I AM the way, the truth, the life. The Hindu writer recognized the I AM inside each of us.

Years later, someone in my woman-priest community, Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, brought evidence that Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel. She was its founding author.

This seems preposterous when you first hear it. I invite you to change your mind by reading,  Mary Magdalene authored the 4th Gospel

Sandra Schneiders gave me new reason to cherish this gospel in an address at Newman Center. She finds in it four strong women, not one-dimensional women but capable of rational intelligence and of interacting with Jesus unmediated by men. She is more tough-minded, unconventional, courageous, committed, and powerful than many men in the gospels.

The Samaritan woman at the well (Chapter 4) converts her whole Samaritan town. Martha of Bethany (Chapter 11) leads her household, and her confession in Jn 11:27 surpasses Peter's in Mt 16:16. Mary of Bethany (Chapter 12) anoints the feet of Jesus. When Judas protests her extravagance, Jesus defends her. Most impressive is Mary Magdalene, the first to witness the risen Christ (Chapter 20).
These women protagonists break the mold of stereotypical portrayals of women.

I see differently two points made by Schneiders.

1) In criticizing the Church for its "canonized prejudice" (this phrase raised delighted laughter from her listeners), she stated that the over-arching problem in the Church's treatment of women, that from which all others flow, is clericalism. I don't think that's the  main problem. It's sexist God-talk.

The patriarchal concept of what's called "God" trumps every other sexist sin in Christianity, including clericalism. Everything would change, almost effortlessly, if the faithful were allowed to conceptualize the Highest Value imaginable as feminine.
If Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Intelligence, Power—whatever one holds highest—were called “Mother,” everything would change.

If appeals to Mother or “Her” became as commonplace as appeals to “Lord Father Him,” church people and people around the world, whatever their beliefs, would experience less sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and every other kind of bigotry. I believe people would be less cruel, less violent. The damage done by the patriarchal god of Western religion negatively impacts everything in human experience.

2)  Schneiders scoffed at Catholic women priests because they participate in clericalism. True. But Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) are well aware of this.  Nevertheless, women’s ordination is an effective way to resist the official Church’s mistreatment of women. And as individuals, Catholic women priests model non-clericalism.

After the presentation and questions, I asked Schneiders whether Mary Magdalene could have been the Beloved Disciple and the author of the Fourth. She agreed. “But of course, it can’t be proven.” Of course.

Again, I invite you to Mary Magdalene authored the 4th Gospel and hope you find the evidence as convincing as I did.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Justice for poor, marginalized

The Catholic Church preaches justice, compassion, and aid to the poor. Over the centuries Catholics have lived out that commitment in many ways, but certain actions of its hierarchy send the very opposite message.

John Nienstedt succeeded the beloved Bishop Raymond Lucker in the Diocese of New Ulm and caused consternation with his hard-line, rightist positions on sexual morality and other matters. Then the ultra-conservative was promoted to become Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Fears of the consequences have materialized. His office has attacked two vibrant Catholic parishes in Minneapolis, some would argue, the two most active promoters of justice—St. Stephen’s and St. Joan of Arc—by thwarting their ministries to the marginalized. In both, their offense in his view apparently was that the parishes affirmed gay and lesbian persons.

A board member of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities called the archbishop’s action “another volley of dehumanizing spiritual violence” under his “reign of homophobic hatred.” St. Joan of Arc parishioners are speaking out. At St. Stephen’s a group broke away to continue worshipping as it thinks appropriate. Nienstedt’s outrages galvanize Catholics who might otherwise slide passively along in a Church with “leaders” who lag way behind their supposed followers.

Conscientious Catholics are resisting the tyranny of cruelty disguised as morality. Another example is the subject of “Community supports ousted nun.
Sr. Louise Lears is a faculty member in theology at Saint Louis University known for her work for peace and justice, for the poor, for survivors of torture and war trauma, and for the homeless. Saint Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke banned her from ministry and from the sacraments, after which he was elevated by the Vatican to a higher position. So much for the official Church’s preaching about justice and human rights.

To non-Catholics it may seem incredible that Catholics stay in a Church with dictatorial and wrongheaded officials. It’s a question I wrestle with in the first chapter of God Is not Three Guys in the Sky.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Tax System Unfair

I received phone calls in enthusiastic agreement with my article in the St. Cloud Times.
Our democracy is in danger of becoming a plutocracy, a nation controlled by the rich.
A really “free market” would not slather economic rewards on a favored few. We need to tax the wealthiest Americans fairly to avoid going the way of Latin America or Asia.