Friday, December 31, 2010

Jesus as Goddess Advocate

by Karen Tate
I asked Karen to write this guest blogpost. She calls herself a "recovering Catholic" and that’s not the only reason her perspective has value.
In hindsight, it is telling that I gave little thought to Jesus until I was no longer Catholic. Growing up in the Bible Belt of New Orleans, a conservative Christian region of the southern United States, I was not encouraged to question religious authority, much less express dissent, but instead I was to accept as fact whatever was preached from the pulpit on Sundays.
When I actually identified with a spirituality that inspired my sincere mind and heart connection with the Divine, it was Goddess Spirituality, and it was as a Goddess Advocate that I began to really think about Jesus, Christianity and the institution that I’ll loosely call The Church.

Thinking back, Jesus was little more than that sad and suffering figure on the cross at the front of the church, or that little baby in the manger at Christmas time, while the sacrifice of his life to his father, our god, for our sins, never made much sense to me. I felt that the sacrifice, whether accepted or required, spoke volumes more about Jesus’ “heavenly father”—a deity I cared little to claim as my god—and I prayed to escape his notice lest I incur his wrath.
There was something about a god who condoned suffering and accepted the sacrifice of sons that seemed too remote from the wise and loving deity, archetype, or ideal I could lovingly and readily embrace as Divine. Even if this request of sacrifice was a test of faith, as I'm told, it felt more like the Mafia questioning my allegiance and loyalty to The Family.

I’m not sure when I actually languaged it, but I believe intuitively I rejected the Christian ideas of suffering and sacrifice. I wondered why a female face of divinity was so lacking. On some level, I think I wondered but could not actually put into words why life-affirming ideas seemed so lacking in this religion I was born into, but no one was talking about it. Everyone just accepted the dogma.

You see, we lived in a bubble. We only met other Christians. There just was little to no opportunity or encouragement to question the programming. Everyone I knew was a Catholic or Baptist and they all seemed to toe the party line, or if they did not, they were not openly talking about it. We never questioned and seemed to revel in singing lyrics in church on Sunday like “Onward Christian soldiers, marching off to war.” It was too easy to practice bad deeds all week and on Sunday or in confession get a “get out of jail free” card by saying a few Hail Mary prayers. Oh, and please let mass end before kick-off time!

But when I opened my eyes and took responsibility for my own education and gave myself permission to question, I began to see The Church dogma as giving license to a select few to control the masses and to the powerful to commit far too many sins—none of which seemed in alignment with the teachings of Jesus.

Reconciling Jesus within Her Spiritual Paradigm

When I first uncovered Goddess herstory from the sands of time, from patriarchal lies, and from subterfuge, I’m not ashamed to say I was livid. I was metaphorically on fire that I had been duped for the first thirty years of my life. And when I found out the role of the Church in the subjugation of women and destruction of other cultures, I was filled with utter disgust. I’m having trouble even finding the words for the toxic emotion inspired by these realizations.

At first, I hated anything related to The Church, including Mary and Mary Magdalene, Pope John Paul II, who loved Mary, and even the wonderful, warm and loving nuns who taught me. They were all guilty by association. I was ready to discard even these female faces who had once been the only figures within Christianity to provide any solace or heartfelt connection to this religion I’d come to see as despicable. Although this does not describe all Christians, when I saw how the Religious Right was using Christianity as a weapon to steer government in the United States, and as a wedge issue to fan the flames of fear and hate to divide people, I was disgusted even more.

And don’t even get me started on the hypocrisy. Many of these vocal and self-righteous Christians who were always telling everyone else the right way to live were the ones getting caught starting bogus wars, having affairs, soliciting prostitutes, telling lies, stealing, abusing their power, causing gay people to commit suicide with their abomination talk—all while failing to really live by the teachings of Jesus. Sure they would shout out at us from our television screens or from their multi-million dollar pulpits about finding Jesus, and by the way, don’t forget to increase offertory giving and mail them a check—but the teachings of Jesus were hardly what these church leaders and many Christians were practicing.

They stood for shooting exhausted animals from planes, for taking reproductive rights away from women, for denying gays equal rights, for teaching abstinence instead of sex education, then failing to commit funds to poor people who could not afford o feed their children. I heard many rationalize their greed by saying their riches were gifts from god, while the poor were sinners and thus earned their poverty. It seemed their god and his ideals were about power, control, and the mighty dollar.

When this veil was lifted from my mind and eyes, it was difficult at first to return to anything remotely related to The Church—even Jesus, who was being used as their poster guy to legitimize suffering, sin, and abuse of the masses. Church leaders seemed to count on no one opening a book or discussing ideas on the internet. They counted on everyone continuing to take their word as gospel and not question or give themselves permission to see history and spirituality through a fresh lens.

But I eventually began to reclaim Jesus within my spiritual paradigm as a Goddess Advocate. In fact, I came to believe if Jesus would ever appear back on this Earth, his heart would be broken by the deeds perpetrated in his name. I remembered that Jesus was not part of the status quo. In fact, in his day he would have been a heretic, a terrorist, certainly not one of those endorsing suffering of the many for the benefit of the few. Neither can I believe he would want his followers to be a herd of “sheeple,” following some repressive dogma without critical thinking.

Jesus was trying to show humanity a new way of being. In his day he railed against the abuse of Temple elders, as he surely would today. Forever seared in my memory is that “Jesus Christ Superstar” movie where he over-turns the tables of the money-changers, walks with the poor, and treats women as his equals. The figure of Jesus became rehabilitated in my mind—and he had nothing to do with the institution that is The Church.

Jesus - The Sacred Masculine

I began to see Jesus in many new ways. I saw him and his mother Mary as the last figures in the long line of Pagan Goddesses and their consorts, with Jesus the dying and rising lord or king. Just as several of the Goddesses such as Isis and Artemis passed their baton on to Mary, Jesus was the Green Man, Attis, Tammuz, or Osiris. In fact during the season of Ostara, near the Christian holy day of Easter, I traditionally read to our group a meditation wherein we see in our mind’s eye the face of the consort of the Goddess morphing from one god to another, finally ending with that of Jesus. And now Christmas time becomes an opportunity instead of a farce as I use my radio show and platforms to publish articles or open discussions to remind Christians of their Pagan roots. December 25th has associations not just with Jesus’ birthday, but with Pagan traditions, Winter Solstice, Pagan gods like Mithras, and Yuletide Goddesses.

With my new-found relationship to Jesus came my embrace of his mother Mary and Mary Magdalene. I also feel less hesitant to walk into a Christian Church. I go in and look for the female faces of deity; Mary, Mary Magdalene, Guadalupe and Black Madonnas. And when I see Jesus sitting in the lap of Mary, I see Horus in the lap of Isis, and I also see Jesus as the consort of Goddess and Jesus as the Sacred Masculine. He is the Sacred Bridegroom of Mary Magdalene, herself an aspect of Goddess, and in their pairing is the balance of the Divine Couple—Divine Feminine and Sacred Masculine, our sacred life force, in wholeness, in balance, in equality, as it always should have been. I see in this Divine Duo the common ground where Pagans and progressive Christians can come together outside of the confines and dogma of The Church to build a new and healthy society, culture, and spirituality that serves the many and not just the few.

January 5
The facts of history do not support Christian insults to pagans, who in early Christian history were their religious relatives and rivals.
God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky

I am so glad I asked Karen to write a guest post. She helps us to re-imagine Christian images and to integrate Christianity with its pagan roots. The Judaeo-Christian tradition portrayed Goddess spirituality as the reviled enemy, segregated from and opposed to us, but Karen’s post shows how they can be merged.
She gives new perspective on Jesus—Jesus as both child of the Goddess and paired with Goddess as Sacred Bridegroom and Sacred Masculine. Unfamiliar images for Christians, to be sure, but less irrational than the Christian myth of a father generating a son with no female around.

Mythologists like Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Mircea Eliade, and feminist theologians like Sandra Schneiders have been explicating similar insights for many years, but the all-male Church hierarchy represses these advances in understanding.
As we enter the post-Christian era, I hope schools of theology will recognize their responsibility to provide context for the Christian story. They should require readings in mythology and feminine theology. Every Christian priest and minister should know that “Father” is a mythic image, not a fact. Every presider at a liturgy should avoid terms that perpetuate male-dominant conditioning—“Lord” and “Father.” Every presider should introduce terms that invite deeper understanding of the Holy One—“Mother” and “She.”
Karen writes:
Adversaries of the Sacred Feminine tried to sweep awareness and knowledge of Her under the rug—that’s why I am dedicated to uncovering new facts and theories. . . . if you remember, one day people thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the Earth! Every day we learn new things, uncover hidden history, and perhaps the truth of our planet and species has not yet been definitively written—perhaps there is a frontier with much yet to be uncovered. Here at Voices of the Sacred Feminine, we look behind the locked door and peer into the abyss of the past.
Please be aware that I do not advocate exclusive WORSHIP of the Goddess, substituting one deity for another. Neither does Karen. In appreciation of mythologists’ insights, we offer alternative myths to the Christian myth. Seeing alternatives may awaken recognition within the less educated Christian community that the Christian story is indeed a myth. I say “less educated” while wondering how many theologically “educated” Christians have any awareness of this at all.

Belief in the Sacred as exclusively male defies rational sense as well as violating our innate sense of justice. To correct the injustice and irrationality, we offer sacred Goddess images.

DrTom said, You might be familiar with something Catholic theologian, Sr. Sandra Schneiders has said: "The Trinity is a lot more than two men and bird."
It did not endear her to heirarchy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Jesus, a sun god

Of all feasts, Christmas may have the greatest potential for linking us with other spiritual traditions. It started when Christian leaders in the third century borrowed a popular idea from rival pagan religions, a solstice feast honoring the birth of the sun.

Before the earth was known to be a revolving sphere, Christians and pagans alike wondered in awe over the sun’s daily course—disappearing in the west every evening, following some mysterious path below earth during the night, then reappearing in the east every morning. It inspired myth-making. The Goddess enveloped the sun in her body every evening and sent it forth in the morning. The Greek sun god Helios traversed the heavens from east to west in a shiny chariot, descended to the nether regions, and according to the poet Horace was "born anew every morning." Literature devoted to Helios shines with religious fervor and high artistry:
Helios, eye of the world! Joy of the daytime! Loveliness of heaven! Darling of nature! Jewel of creation...

Glory of earth and sky, the sun is the same for all,
Glory of light and darkness, the sun is beginning and end...

Helios, ruler of the world, spirit of the world, power of the world, light of the world.
Mystical, emotional ecstasy flows out of this sun-god literature. The last is from a Greek litany, but the same or similar phrases have been used in Christian litanies.
Surrounded by and steeped in Greek myth, Christians of the early centuries imagined Christ journeying the nether regions and rising in the east. “He descended to the dead,” declares the Apostles’ Creed. Christ became the true sun, the light coming into the darkness, the "Sun of Righteousness," the "Dayspring from on high."
Like pagan literature, our scriptures are dotted with light imagery. Luke l:78 speaks of "the bright dawn of salvation to rise on us." John 1:9 names Jesus "the real light which gives light to everyone." John 8:12 has Jesus saying, "I am the light of the world." In the gnostic Acts of Thomas Jesus appears after his baptism like a youth with a torch, the image of Helios in Greco-Roman art. The Nicene Creed continues the imagery—“God from God, light from light."

My atheist friends may consider this proof that Christianity serves up hogwash. Not at all! They’re right about one thing—we should not believe religious stories literally. But how many adults actually believe that three kings on camels followed a star from afar and arrived at a manger (feeding trough) the night Jesus was born? If you think it’s in the Bible, check again.

So why do we sing Christmas carols and love them so? What’s the attraction?
Religious images of all kinds link us with Transcendence, with the invisible realm, the realm of meaning. It speaks in symbols that can guide our lives in the outer world. Helios no longer adorns the heavens and neither does Jesus, but the psychic energy of Christ continues to resonate in American hearts, especially at Christmas when Nature’s cold and darkness direct us inward to mystery.
The nativity story’s meaning varies for each of us and may be related to birth and childhood, and it’s always difficult to express. On the surface, the primary function of Christmas for Americans today is buying and selling, but that doesn’t explain the warm feelings, the generosity, the return to religious stories we know are fictional. Unlocking the reasons for the lure of religious symbols can engage us for a lifetime.

I’m not telling those who are disgusted by literal belief and religious fanaticism to join a religion—their disgust is appropriate. I’m saying that, as humans, they must not shirk the main task of all humans—to grow in wisdom, to search for the psycho-spiritual energies that drive human emotions, to “KNOW THYSELF.” (Whence come these pleasant feelings? These embarrassing feelings? Why did I wake up sweating? What am I called to do?)
Religion helps some people to turn inward and find answers, but not the corrupted and deluded forms of popular religion—fundamentalism and dogmatism.
I invite readers to find their own interpretation of Christmas, with or without religion, but humbly accepting help from a Power greater than us can bring swift, sometimes effortless, help. I quote Jungian analyst James Hollis:
If truth be told, we wish we didn’t have to grow, but life is asking more of us than that.
This More is my Christmas wish for readers.

POSTSCRIPT (December 28).
I cherish this response to “Jesus, a sun god” from a Catholic priest:
Thanks for keeping me on your list...I enjoy your posts and am grateful for people like you!
I enjoyed this post from fellow Christian Scott Thompson:
Good job.
Kathleen Herrick wrote:
Wonderfully illuminating, Jeanette. Bravo!
One wonders if any Roman Catholic prelate has ever read anything at all about the historical context of early Christianity. The maddening ignorance one hears from parish pulpits speaks to the anti-intellectualism which must pervade seminaries.
Many clerics I know ARE aware of the historical context but, unfortunately, they’re not the ones educating seminarians and other priests. And Catholic intellectuals have plenty to do just dealing with right-wing pressure from our culture and from the Vatican. The crop of priests exiting our seminaries today tells me they have not been educated about Christianity’s pagan roots or even historical-critical scripture study, because they’re preaching literalist nonsense. These seminaries exist because John Paul appointed conservative bishops who themselves are unaware of their religion’s early history and do their best to keep priests penned in the traditional Church enclosure.

Catholics who leave the Church because they chafe under its dumb moral rules often land in an even more ignorant form of Christianity—evangelicalism. The ones who leave Christianity altogether are the most educated, but then they’re not around to reform the Church.

I think the biggest reasons we don’t see change are inertia and nostalgia. I feel it myself at Christmas time because I love traditional hymns and sing them with the offensive language.

Here’s an illuminating and hopeful fact to consider: It took Christianity centuries to penetrate into the hinterlands of the Roman Empire. We can expect that the new paradigm, post-Christian spirituality—whatever its form—will take many years to penetrate our culture. I’m encouraged by the signs we can see already.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

More preaching to priests

WHY NOT YAHWEH (December 8, 2010)
In my Sermon to Catholic priests I referred to the discrepancy between their benign intentions and their poisonous words. I wish priests could hear women voice their feelings about sitting in church and hearing Spirit consistently limited to a male individual—“HeHimHis.”
Herewith some comments. Aletha:
What does annoy me is the reference to God as He or Father. God is neither male nor female; God creates all things; how God does this is of course a Mystery. Some of God's creations on earth can reproduce without sex and what we refer to as the advanced forms of life have been given bodies (by God) that use sex in order to reproduce. What is so difficult with saying "God" (or "Yahweh") each time one refers to God?
Some years ago, Jews made an issue of Christians speaking and writing about “Yahweh” because Jewish tradition holds the name of what we call God so holy as to forbid saying or writing it. The Hebrew Scriptures ("Old Testament" to Christians) abbreviated God's name as YHWH. From this evolved "Yahweh," using vowels from the Hebrew word for “Lord”—adonai. To this day neither Jewish nor Christian scholars know what the 4 consonants called the tetragrammaton stood for. In contemporary times some Jews preserving the inhibition write "G_d." Would that they expressed the same sensitivity to gender insults!

One ridiculous belief flows out of the Father-Son monopoly—the belief that a male produced a son without any contribution from a female. That’s impossible in nature, but the reverse happens—females can reproduce without males. It's called parthenogenesis.
Nancy has a thoughtful comment:
Oh dear, Jeanette, there is no progress because we are bathed in masculine god-talk from the womb. There is no progress because the male of the species is not about to give up his dominance in all things, not just religion. There is no progress because women are not about to tell the males of the species to go take a walk until they are willing to truly share power. The last is a dangerous move for any woman to make for it invites physical violence as we so well know from the newspapers.
I have no suggestions. The Source is our only source and all we can do is believe that somehow, somehow all will come right. Certainly not in our lifetime, but sometime, sometime. I choose to believe that somehow, all the suffering, all the injustice are not for nothing.
Sometime. Yes, it’s what I hang on to.
Maxine’s comment is the feistiest:
You Go Girl!!!!! I get fed up with all the sweetness and all the caution in reply to inclusive language. Let's be done with only Father, Brother, Warrior, etc. and let's start USING Mother on a regular basis - from the pulpit! If the pastors and priests called God Mother the congregation would follow along.
Thanks for your work!
This expresses some of my frustration. You clerics who can do something about this, please hear us.

PREACHING TO PRIESTS continued (December 12)
Karen Tate, surmising the reason for hierarchical intransigence, wrote:
It's easier to take when I realize it's about their fear they might not have gotten it all right, that their invested position is shattering.
I think you gotta upset their apple cart. Some people don't ever change and some people have to be forced to change. They've had a lot of time to do it on their own—now the Sacred Nudge.
And I think the nuns should MUTINY.
Religious sisters apparently have decided they can effect change better by doing it very gently, to avoid shocking large segments of the public not yet ready for change. Karen’s naming of hierarchical fear is dead on.

But again I point to Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWPs), who, by the way, are supported by many religious sisters. Patrician Fresen, a former Dominican nun of South Africa, was ordained a priest in 2003 and a bishop in 2005 by a male bishop whose identity is locked away in a bank vault, not to be disclosed until after his death. Three other male bishops were in attendance.
Patricia (RCWPs eschew titles) studied theology in Rome where her obvious knowledge and intelligence led male seminarians to tap her for tutoring. She taught in South Africa’s national seminary at Pretoria, where, according to her, she was
constantly discriminated against . . . it happened almost without people thinking. . . . women were often the worst.
As soon as she heard about women priests, she recognized the parallel lines of injustice in the Church and in South Africa—or “the apartheid of sexism in the Catholic Church”—both crying out for moral resistance. Like Nelson Mandela in South Africa, like the civil rights movement in the U.S., Roman Catholic Womenpriests act contra legem ("against law"—canon law, that is) in prophetic disobedience of a law obviously unjust, contrary to the facts of Church history and to the movement of history discernible today.

Responses to the "apartheid of sexism" keep coming in and I'll keep posting.
Karen Tate added:
For anyone interested in hearing an interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriests, tune in to Voices of the Sacred Feminine radio the first Wednesday in January.
To call in: 718-766-4662
To listen: Click on Voices of the Sacred Feminine.

POSTSCRIPT (December 19)
More thoughtful response has come in following my "Sermon" on November 28. From David Steeves:
Language has been used forever to shape and control people’s thoughts. George Orwell in his fictional 1984 called it “newspeak” and showed how totalitarian abuse of language could be used to control people. Marshall McLuhan’s statement that “the medium is the message” also makes the point that there is power in how we use words.
The church knows this and has shaped its worship services and interpretation and translations in the Bible to insure it maintains control of the thoughts and attitude of the congregation. Male gender words for god insure that women are thought of as second class humans. What is shameful is that many women have bought into the language and ideas and helped the church to continue this distortion. It is shameful for all humans, for it also makes god who created all things, human. If there is a god, it is much more than any human could ever hope to be.
Carol wrote,
Inclusive language is important to me, too. However, I don’t believe in using either just Mother or Father. Using Mother is attractive, of course, but your main point is to not give a gender to God, right? Yes, let’s just use “God” as is.
She’s right about my main point. I suggested using both "Mother" and "Father" to answer the argument that we need “Father” for a warm, personal, intimate image. By mixing female with male images we would educate people to the incomprehensible transcendence of what we call God. It’s the exclusiveness of male images that deliberately misleads.

"God" alone also has drawbacks. For one, it lets persons steeped in the male Christian image continue their narrow view. I think the best way to refer to the Source, the great Presence, is to use a variety of names to show the inadequacy of any particular image.
I’ve noticed that, when pressed about a source of spiritual reality, avowed atheists use words like “grand” and “incomprehensible”—very good expressions. By confining the Ultimate to a humanlike male, Christian God-talk earns the contempt of atheists.


Here’s more follow-up to my complaint about “God-He” language. From a religious sister:
Just want to say that I appreciate your letter to priests. For my part, whenever I am lectoring I do not use “he, his” etc.
In gratitude to you and our Beloved/Love Source.
Notice her lovely names for "God." A Benedictine friend quoted Ralph Marston for me:
There will be times when you give all you have, and end up with nothing to show for it. Keep giving though, for the rewards are surely there, even if they are too profound for
you to see just yet.
The disappointments may sometimes be so painful that you feel like giving up. Remember though, it is your caring that makes the disappointment possible, and that very same caring
will pull you up and push you forward.
I am blessed with surety about speaking out because “the still, small voice” keeps prompting me. I can’t not do this. And, at least most of the time, I can let go the results, satisfied that I’m planting seeds.
An anonymous male writes:
We're living among the gravestones of a passé form of Christianity which is wedded to US Empire. Neither has a future. Throwing a rock at one or other is the same. Both are moribund enough that a couple rocks aimed with care would bring the houses of cards tumbling down.
It's just a matter of time. Fear? No room for that at this time. Both these hollow empires are riddled with enough fear and panic even if they pretend not to let these emotions show.
He’s pointing to the era we’re evolving toward that I’ve written about (Check out the “Post-Christian” posts in my Index). “Post-Christian” does not mean the end of this religion but the passing of its “passé form” and its domination in Western society. I expect Jesus of Nazareth to be revered well into the future while institutional Christianity continues to lose its influence. It's possible that humanity will grow in appreciation of Jesus' real contribution to our spiritual life as shallow idolatry of Jesus wanes.

Christmas illustrates the drag that religion places on evolving consciousness. We sing traditional Christmas carols that tell stories we know are fictional. Choristers and instrumentalists perform texts they don’t believe literally, but the sounds bring us together in nostalgic circles and warm us all. Enthusiastically I join in the singing, male-dominant words and all, because they're familiar and no one wants to change them. It’s part of cherishing Christianity and, more intensely, cherishing the traditional ties that bind us.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Sermon to Catholic priests

(November 28, 2010)
What you don’t realize is that you contribute to sex abuse every time you say Mass. How? By reciting typical liturgical God-talk.
I realize your predicament. Because of the Vatican thought police, you’re not free to use truly enlightening language, but you wouldn’t have to stick in a “Lord” or “Father” at every turn. These nouns make some of us want to scream. And those who don’t mind? The less they mind, the more they’re harmed.

Steadily, incessantly, the dominant-male language drips into minds, insidiously planting inequality and domination as the primary frame of human relationship, of all relationships—humans with each other, with Divine Source, with animals, with the earth.
You think “Father” is a nice image? Then why not mix it with “Mother”? You see. It’s the exclusiveness. The male dominance. The inequality.

A good replacement word might be “Spirit” but you’d want to stick a “Holy” in front of it and then many would think of a particular deity in the sky. Do you get it? Can you see what this thousands-of-years-old bias does to our minds?

Pronouns are worse than the nouns. Being the least explicit, they’re the most difficult to challenge. Invisible to our awareness, pronouns effectively fetter our thoughts. One theologian trying to correct the mistaken perception tripped over it instead when he wrote,
God is not male; He is a spirit.
"HeHimHis" condition us to feel male power as natural, normal, proper, and right, while female power is unnatural, abnormal, improper, and wrong. We have all—men and women—suffered deep psychological damage from language that limits the unfathomable Mystery of the universe.
How deeply the grooves of our minds have been cut shows in discourse about God-talk. Theologians declare that God is beyond male or female but then nullify their point by referring to God as "He." One person wrote,
We would never think of questioning that God was the Father and could never conceive of God as Mother. Christ named God the Father; if we believe Christ, we cannot compromise.
A theology student argued,
Our faith would not be the same faith if we believed in a Goddess rather than a God.
He got that right. Unfortunately. Correctly he stated that sometimes our tradition depicted God "so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to him." Can you not see the harm?

I fear priests suffer greater ignorance on this subject than lay people. You’ve become inured to the deadly language. Educate yourselves. There are any number of feminist theologians who can help you.
Now cut it out! I saw you flinch at the word “feminist.” It underwent the same denigrating campaign as the word “Goddess.”
Poke around on the Web at sites like Women Waking the World or Voices of the Sacred Feminine or in the Index on this blogsite. You won’t be educated if you don’t move out of the narrow trench dug by Vatican strictures. And if you don’t move out of it, you are no spiritual leader.

Now I opened it. I unleashed a Pandora’s box of heretofore unsaid realities, and I’m forced to go on with it. I’m sorry. I’m sorry it hurts. But, oh, the unacknowledged hurt and harm done by our Church!

My hard words in the previous post accuse priests, but we all participate in it. I’m guilty too. It’s easier to just sleepily go along instead of resisting the implicit insults to women and girls, the constant barrage in Christian language of male dominating over female, male superior commanding female inferior.

When I entered the School of Theology almost 25 years ago, I was hit by the blast of sexist language. Coming from the secular world, I was blown over by it—there’s nothing like it in the rest of life, although religion only magnifies the maleness, domination, and competition that structure our entire society.

Just as startling was the contrast of the devastating words with the gentle men drinking in and proclaiming them, perfectly oblivious to their underlying message. The verbal insults to women coming from sweet, polite and affirming males was surreal. I have to say I felt safe and irritated at the same time. I said I was a feminist and they accepted it, but what I didn’t admit was my exceedingly vulnerable state—severely insecure from events in my life at that time. I was incapable of standing up to the conflict gracefully. Still am.

“He,” “man,” “He,” “man” blanketing everything! All Christian theology drips oppressive He-man ideology to a ridiculous degree. When a holy woman in Christian history makes a contribution, it goes down in church history as “man” having said or done it.

I can understand the reason for some of it—it’s the German connection. The Holy Roman Empire had a prominent place in Christian history and consequently put German theology and spirituality at the center of Christian language. And it was German Lutherans who pioneered historical-critical research on the Bible, which brought awareness to Christian scholarship of the myth at the center of our tradition. This places German writings at the center of scripture study. In German, “the man” is der Mann, but the German man means “one.” It is a separate word entirely and does not refer exclusively to males. This distinction wasn’t kept in translation.

The German language genders every noun, and this adds to the imbalance. Gott comes out more exclusively male in German because it is preceded by the masculine article der and not the feminine die.

Our tradition actually forbids respect and reverence for female images of the Divine. If we look at it honestly, we can’t escape it. Every reference to Divinity is kept strictly masculine—by Vatican decree. We are commanded by Rome to ignore what we know and to identify the highest value of all existence as exclusively male. Male bias rules so pervasively our theology and manner of speech that we don’t know how to cut it out. Frankly, I don’t know how to do it, how to preserve my integrity as an aware, adult Christian woman.

“God-She” works, but “Lord-She” does not. Besides being uncompromising in its masculinity, it legitimizes domination. “Father” is easy to deal with. Just add “Mother” in equal portions. Easy. But who does it? I understand the fear of right-wing thought police who knock down our brightest and most courageous—Roger Haight and Peter Phan among others.

Can we work through the fear? If we really want to help victims of all kinds, we will engage in what should be the abiding work of Catholic theology and practice—how to render our religious tradition in gender equal terms. I get so tired of incomprehension, of ignoring, of going along with what we're used to because it's easier. Waking up is hard, brutal sometimes.

Thanks for your support, dear friends who have written in response . . . .

From an anonymous male:
I think the points you bring up are legitimate. The male references do not offend me but I have witnessed some of the more sexist members of my gender use the language used in church and the bible to prop up their sexist view points, which I find repugnant.

It’s been a long time but I remember my dad quoting something from scripture about how the man is the head of the household and his references to how only males were allowed to run mass (Catholic) and how women played subservient roles in the church because that is how God wanted it. My dad has since dropped those types of comments with me because he knows I don't appreciate it. I'm sure he still holds those views but he doesn't share them with me.
From Maxine Moe, whom I've quoted in this blog before:
One Sunday morning back in the 90's I stayed home instead of going to church. At that time, and throughout all previous years, I attended services every Sunday. This particular Sunday I was so totally overwhelmed with all the duties expected of working women: You handle your job better than most men, and take care of the housework, laundry, shopping, cooking/baking, make plans for weekends and plan every celebration (additional food preparation), do the bookkeeping and handle schedules for the whole family, all the while raising children and providing whatever they need throughout their infant, toddler, elementary, jr./sr. high school AND handling what they need help with even in the college years. During the ‘90s I had kids in elementary, jr. & sr. high school and college.
The attitudes that dictate that all of the above is "women's work" is worth much discussion on its own - but that is another story. Or, part of this same story.

On that particular Sunday I did listen to the service on the radio. I remember dusting off a surface and hearing the pastor read that day's scripture which began: "Christ and his disciples were walking." I took the dust cloth and threw it as hard as I could to the floor.

"Christ and his disciples were walking." The immediate picture that played in my mind was Christ and a few MEN were walking. It sickened me how we totally fold into the views given us and how destructive those views can be. Without thinking, I pictured men only.

Words portray an image, the image reflects your thoughts, your thoughts direct your actions. Most certainly, a person's thoughts and actions do matter! The image that is portrayed is of absolute importance!

Now, think of what we have been taught regarding feminine images of the divine. To say that this does not have a negative effect on each and every person, each and every hour of our lives, is pure ignorance.
Maxine Moe
Well said, Maxine.

Why I don't make the sign of the cross (December 6)
My “Sermon to Catholic priests” brought in a lot of email response, some of which I will continue to post. Laura wrote,
“[A psychology professor at the College of St. Benedict 25 years ago] couldn't see what all the fuss was about with he/she, thought it was a waste of time changing the language. I told him I was raising three young daughters (at the time) and I wanted their gender to be represented in their school books and the books we read at night so that they would know not only boys mattered.
I use s/he instead of using he/she. . . .
Anything that denigrates women adds to the pervasive attitude in society that women are underlings. . . . The language was part of a more pervasive problem, the invisibility and underclassness of women, almost like they weren't considered to be human except to serve and bear children. I think the language was a symptom and not the cause, and it is archaic to still use it when the world is trying to move on.
It is too bad the church has that much power. Churches take spirituality and pervert it in order to control people.
But then, sexual abuse in the church is not limited to women.
This last point begs for more discussion. What is the connection between sex abuse of all types and liturgical language? Why do I say priests “contribute to sex abuse every time you say Mass”? Because God-talk saturated with “Lord,” “Father,” and “He” endorses domination and exclusion. Because its systematic exclusion of feminine images endorses POWER OVER others. Because it serves to perpetuate Deformed Catholic power.
Because a map of reality that imagines certain male individuals superior to females and lesser males is wrong. Morally wrong and also a misreading of Trinitarian theology. This is why I do not make the sign of the cross if the priest intones, “In the name of the Father and of the Son . . .” The Holy Source of all spiritual and physical reality is not 3 guys in the sky.

Patricia Fresen, a Roman Catholic woman bishop and Doctor of Theology, illuminates the parallels between sexism and racism and by extension all oppressive systems:
Both racism and sexism give all power and privilege to one group of people to the exclusion of the other group. Both racism and sexism are horrendous systems of injustice. Once one becomes aware of the injustice . . . one cannot go back. We learnt, in the apartheid years, that sometimes the best or even the only possible way to change an unjust law is to break it.
Priests aware of the injustice clean up their God-talk, and I hope soon we’ll see more resistance from male priests to sexist injustice commanded by Rome. One good way is to attend Roman Catholic Womenpriest (RCWP) liturgies.