Thursday, December 22, 2011

How Christmas began

The history of Christmas should make us ponder. Christians had no Christmas for more than 200 years after Jesus was born. The origin of the feast had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus because no one knew when he was born.

Bible scholars inform us of contradictions and impossibilities in the biblical accounts contributing to the myth, the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (the authors actually are unknown, but that’s another story). Rev. E. J. Niles, a scholar quoted in Unity magazine, says,
I love how Joseph was said to take his pregnant wife Mary 94 miles to Bethlehem to fulfill a type of civic duty (a census) that most women would never have even participated in during those times.
Also factual nonsense are the genealogies in Matthew and Luke, which disagree with each other, as do their implied dates of Jesus’ birth. Quirinius was governor after Herod died, not before.

But we don’t need Bible scholars to tell us that the manger myth lacks facts; any intelligent reader can infer its disagreements with science and history. Myths are not about facts; they're about meaning.

Not until the third century, at the earliest, did Christmas begin. It developed in competition with Pagan feasts observing the birthday of the sun on the winter solstice, when the sun “dies” as daylight reaches its shortest point and then is reborn or resurrected as daylight increases. The Romans celebrated Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun, “whose annual journey across our sky can be celebrated worldwide as a truly unifying expression of our global family.” This last lovely sentiment comes from Acharya S., an atheist writer. I note this to banish Christian notions that we own Christmas exclusively.

The earliest written record of Christmas appeared in 336 CE, and in 354, a calendar entry for December 25 listed the births of both Sol Invictus and of Christ in Bethlehem of Judea. This double notice provides an example of syncretism, the melding of religious ideas, which, contrary to Christian claims, occurred often in our tradition.

Before the earth was known to be a revolving sphere, the sun mysteriously disappeared in the west every evening, followed some unknown course below earth during the night, then reappeared in the east every morning. Naturally this cycle of nature inspired mythmaking. The Goddess enveloped the sun in her body in the evening and sent it forth in the morning. The Greek sun god Helios crossed the heavens from east to west in a shiny chariot, descended to the underworld, and was "born anew every morning," sang the poet Horace.

The sun's daily descent and ascent also provided rich Christian symbolism. Surrounded by and steeped in Greek myth, Christians of the early centuries imagined Christ journeying to the underworld and rising in the east. "As the sun rises daily for all, so the mystical Sun of Righteousness rises for all," sang a Christian verse. In ancient records Christ was listed as one sun deity among several.

Pagans called their birthday feast of the sun god “Epiphany,” meaning "appearance." The Pagan Epiphany happened on January 6, which also became the date of the rival Christian feast celebrating Christ's appearance in the flesh, showing Christmas to be one solar celebration among several.
Calendar adjustments moved the winter solstice to December 25 and later to December 21. Some quarreling between Christians in East and West broke out when the East continued to observe the birth of Christ on January 6 after the West switched to December 25. Today Eastern Orthodox Christians still celebrate Christmas on January 6.

Because of its Pagan origin, the Puritans did not celebrate Christmas at all, and a few other Christian groups have discredited Christmas for the same reason. But that would also disqualify Easter, All Souls Day (Halloween), and other Christian feasts related to Pagan holidays.

For thousands of years before Christians took over solstice celebrations, human cultures developed myth and ritual to mark it. Huge bonfires were an important part of such events. We can easily imagine that before artificial light existed, the annual shrinking of light down to the shortest day of the year, followed by the steady growth of light foretelling spring, would have had a huge impact on human life.
Today we see the human impulse to light up the darkness in the riot of artificial lighting from November to January. The lights are not necessarily related to the Christian festival, as few people in the West believe the manger story literally anymore.

But for good reasons we continue singing songs that repeat and embellish the myth. There must be something besides commercial value that makes Christmas precious to more than believing Christians. The birth of the Child represents the birth of the precious Self inside each of us, the Christ consciousness in every person—the urge to give generously, the warm feelings of unity with all. This, I believe, is the enduring value of Christmas.

Christmas message, December 26, 2008
Here's my Christmas message along with my consoling philosophy/faith. I learned 28 years ago that I could reconcile my knowledge of Christian myth with my need for spiritual solace by trusting in a Higher Power. It shows Its face in interesting ways when I give myself over to Its guidance.

I was planning to drive somewhere on Christmas Day, having spent Christmas Eve with my son and daughter. In various ways I was prompted to change my mind, sure that it was best to stay home. I prepared to enjoy music and reading. But a friend in emotional need called and we spent much of the day together. I could not have been there for her, had I insisted on my original plan instead of being attuned to the subtle prompts diverting me from that plan.

This sort of thing happens to me often—an inner thread pulling me through the little and big decisions of life. Others attuned to a Higher Power, whether they respond to Jesus or another name, will not scoff at this.

I don’t consider this a late Christmas message. When I was growing up we started the Christmas season on December 25, and it lasted through January. The Advent period before that really did await the day when celebrations would start. On Christmas morning we woke up to the miracle performed by Christ Kindchen the night before. He brought our presents, trimmed the tree, made Christmas cookies—everything. When a school classmate told me slyly that Santa Claus was fake, I was surprised that he’d ever believed in silly Santa Claus. It did start the wheels in my little brain turning with regard to belief in the miracle.

I resent consumerism for stealing Christmas. On this day after December 25, radio stations refuse to play Christmas music anymore, the inspirational, meditative music appropriate to this dark and wintry transitional time between the old and the new. Professional musicians and singers who perform the music know its text is based on myth but appreciate our spiritual heritage. But the commercial world has convinced Americans that material stuff makes up the whole purpose of life. No more buying presents after the 25th, so no reason to play Christmas music. Despicable reasoning.

I wonder what the purveyors of consumerism think “The Twelve Days of Christmas” are about. The twelfth day was Epiphany on January 6, which was the Roman Empire’s winter solstice until a calendar adjustment moved it to December 25. Pagan religions celebrated the birth of the sun on this day and Christians established a rival feast to celebrate the birthday of their “true sun.” When the solstice moved to the 21st in another adjustment, Christmas stayed on the 25th in the West, but Eastern Orthodox still celebrate Christmas on January 6.

Dates and names are less important than the theme of death and renewal—Easter’s theme. For this reason it was a more important Christian feast than Christmas, before consumerism stepped in. Enough of that.

May the economic downturn direct us away from material things during the following year and toward healthy, loving relationships. This is my Christmas wish for all.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Back to being sheep

Back to being sheep, December 8, 2011
The overthrow of ICEL
The new Mass language produces more than a few ripples of indignation, but only in people who know what took place. Ordinary people in the pews, unaware of the history preceding this change and oblivious to the implications of language, accept it without question. All Catholics who attend Mass, however, will be affected negatively, especially those unaware of what happened.
A reader asked me to comment on the new translation, and I am happy to comply, but first I expose the conspiracy. Yes, conspiracy.

An International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) produced its first Vatican II-mandated English translation of the liturgy in 1973 and continued its work to improve the first hastily-wrought translation. Liturgical, biblical, and linguistic experts—even poets—from around the world contributed to a new translation, finished in 1998, that focused on beauty of phrase while accurately translating the sense of the original Latin. All English language conferences of bishops approved it.

But not the Vatican. There a small group secretly made another translation now imposed on the world. The perpetrators, still not known, obviously had the cooperation of Benedict XVI.

Word-sensitive persons react negatively to the imposed liturgy:
Clumsy . . . wordy . . . very stilted . . . awkward and convoluted . . . abstract . . . word-for word literal . . . gobbledygook . . .
There are traps for the unwary . . . [It] ends up suggesting that the Blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit are instrumental in scattering God’s children.
Anthony Ruff, of the St. John’s, Collegeville, Benedictine community, resigned his chairmanship of ICEL’s music committee and wrote:
The forthcoming missal is but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church.
When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process—and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity . . . I weep.
His widely-quoted words explain the outrage from the perspectives of authority and linguistic inadequacy. I object for another reason.

Over the course of centuries, Catholics have grown up; they’ve become less like sheep, more educated and less dependent on the word of clergy. Eastern spirituality and secular humanism have contributed to an evolution in recognizing the worth of each individual human person—a trend appearing not only in religion. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the U.N. in 1948 also signals this trend toward recognizing the dignity of the human person in all its forms.

The words Catholics will now say buck this trend. I’ll explain next time.

December 16, 2011
I’m annoyed by the obsequious compliance of Catholics with the Mass language changes. I said Catholics have grown up, but many grown up Catholics give up on Christianity, even on Jesus, and leave. Of those who remain in Catholicism, most go along with hierarchical commands because it’s easier or because they would lose too much if they stood up for their convictions.

Yes, some language changes are “piddly,” as one person observed, but taken together, they seek to widen the distance between us and sacred divinity. I think the perpetrators had a deep motive, one not acknowledged and perhaps not even consciously recognized by them—reinforcing hierarchical control.
The changes do this in two ways—by beating out the theme of human unworthiness and using Latin expressions to make God seem unreachable except through the power of ordained clerics. This creates a chasm between divinity and humanity in direct opposition to the ascending theme of divinity within all. In the last half of the twentieth century an ascending chorus of voices has sung the song of an animating power we call God dwelling within physical reality. The imposed translation tries to reverse this growing realization.

To me, the proclamation, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” celebrates ongoing, universal expressions of divinity, because Christ represents the divine spark within all, ever nudging us to become better persons. Thus, Christ is constantly dying, rising, and being reborn.
But this proclamation has been replaced by the words, “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your resurrection until you come again.” The interjection of “Lord” vetoes the universal interpretation and directs us to believe literally in the myth of a god who died for us and will come again at an end of the world.

Worse and glaringly obvious is the interjection of guilt-inducing words in a confession that used to read simply, “I have sinned through my own fault.” Now they want people to say “I have greatly sinned . . . through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” It would be laughable if it didn’t do so much harm.
The mostly-women congregations left in Catholic churches definitely do not need to hear how unworthy they are, given the tendency of women to grovel in self-criticism and the rates of violence against women. I repeat the accusation I flung out in my Sermon to Catholic priests:
What you don’t realize is that you contribute to sex abuse every time you say Mass.
Provocative? Yes. I hope to provoke change. An indictment of Catholic priests? No. The vast majority are innocent, good, and doing good, while oblivious to the wickedness wrought by the words they say. My Sermon explains adequately; here I have another task.

The second way the imposed translation induces a feeling of remoteness from divinity is by slavish devotion to Latin. As Rita Ferrone states in Commonweal, the imposed translation doesn't sing because it exactly renders
each word and expression of the Latin, [using] sacral vocabulary remote from ordinary speech . . .
It has resulted in prayers that are long-winded, pointlessly complex, hard to proclaim, and difficult to understand. . . .
Like so many of the newly translated prayers, it will come across as theo-babble, holy nonsense.
Some changes are hilarious.
“Not worthy that you should enter under my roof” replaces “not worthy to receive.”
“He took the precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands” replaces “he took the cup.” This theo-babble is especially amusing—the Latin word, calix, simply means cup.
“Consubstantial” replaces “one in being.”
He descended into hell” replaces “he descended to the dead.” This science-defying phrase reflects the first-century belief in a 3-tiered universe with earth sandwiched between heaven and hell where the dead lived. Among other deities, the goddess Persephone traveled up and down between the three levels, preparing the way for the god Jesus to ascend and descend.
The great spiritual master Jesus of Nazareth turned into a male idol! As one of my readers lamented,
Jesus has been polluted and contaminated beyond all recognition.
The foolish changes in liturgical language magnify problems already there—creating a male idol, reinforcing the feeling of human unworthiness, and reinforcing the damage to women. They not only debase the liturgy; they debase humanity.

Lords, Fathers, He’s & Him’s, January 2, 2012

The new imposed Mass translation is even more sexist than the one it replaced; it’s loaded with “Lords,” “Father’s,” “He’s” & “Him’s.” One passage in the Nicene Creed illustrates what appears to be deliberate patriarchal propaganda.
The former text read, “he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became flesh.”
The imposed one reads, “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
It foolishly substitutes the Latin-sounding “incarnate” for “born” a few lines below the silly “consubstantial.” So we should expect its literal translations from the Latin to continue. But then it mistranslates from the Latin with the phrase “became man” instead of accurately translating the Latin caro and the Greek sarx as “flesh.” (Thanks to my scripture consultant Vincent Smiles for supplying the Latin and Greek.)
I can’t help thinking that the conspirators imposing this translation had in mind something very different from accuracy.
Richard McBrien weighed in on the new Mass translation. He corrected the
seriously mistaken impression abroad that the new translation of the missal was inspired and promoted by liturgists. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I've heard Catholics say that their pastors, though not conservative, have praised the new translations. Either their pastors are not being honest because they don't want to be reported to their bishop or they are deep-down right-wing in their thinking.
Well said. For background on the imposed language changes and why they invite outrage, scroll down.

McBrien identifies 3 strengths of Catholicism —its openness to other religions, its openness to scientific findings, and Catholic social teaching. I heartily concur—these elements make me proud to be Catholic. But I would list them in reverse order—Catholic social teaching, openness to science, and the Catholic attitude toward other religions, which is far from consistently open.
I could also have been proud of my church if, instead of wasting money and energy to impose the bungling translation, it had accepted a translation that international language experts perfected in decades of painstaking, cooperative labor. That Catholic institutions, instead, comply with meek docility to foolish Vatican directives disappoints me. One of these years Vatican tyranny will be too much and it will get the pushback it deserves.
I understand the reluctance to revolt. I can write acerbic criticisms of hierarchy because I’m not in the position of religious leaders who risk losing their jobs for taking a conscience stand or who have to protect their whole religious communities. How admirable those who speak out despite their vulnerability!
Increasingly, we see instances of conscience revolts among Catholics. There is the whole sex abuse scandal moving in on hierarchs who covered up the crimes and perpetuated the abuse by moving offenders around. I feel for church leaders who now have to clean up after the guilty ones.
There were the brave sisters in the Catholic Health Association who corrected U.S. bishops when they opposed the health care bill. The legislation passed because of the sisters’ stand and, as a result, health care is being extended to more people.
There are the Roman Catholic Womenpriests whom the Vatican declares self-excommunicated, along with religious leaders like Roy Bourgeois who openly support them.
There are the theologians ignited into a firestorm of protest against the U.S. bishops’ ill-advised condemnation of Elizabeth Johnson’s award-winning book, Quest for the Living God. Understandably, theologians fear that theology subject to Rome and confined to pushing traditional dogma will be ridiculed. Theologians who dare to challenge literal interpretations of doctrine excite me, but that’s too large a topic for this post.

I rejoice over every protest against hierarchical tyranny and eagerly await more because, only when religious abuse of power is thoroughly discredited, can deeper spiritual awareness flourish. The imposed translation illustrates the truth of Carl Jung’s words:
Religion is a defense against the experience of God.
Authentic spiritual experience in today’s Catholic Church happens in spite of the institution, not because of it.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Michele Bachmann vs Bishop Spong

God calls us to fall on our faces and our knees and cry out to Him and confess our sins.
I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, “Are you going to start listening to me here?”
Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann's god reflects the reified idol promoted by typical Christian God-talk. He thinks and speaks like the dominant males so admired in the paradigm we are in the process of escaping.
Retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong articulates the paradigm to which we are shifting. Joyfully I listened to him on MPR’s Midmorning cogently support the messages in my book and blog. Samples:

Science versus the literal “Sunday school version” of faith;
Bible passages contradicting each other and contradicting Christian doctrine (for instance, the idea that Jesus is God);
Atheism (a-theism means not believing God is an external being; it does not necessarily mean disbelief in God);
God-talk excluding the feminine ("It’s always a he.");
Religion promoting prejudice (“tribal hatred” in the Bible);
Christianity dying in Europe (empty churches; “rigor mortis too kind a term”);
Why have faith? (Humans need something that transcends humanity. “I want to offer an alternative to secular humanism”).

As Spong was answering the last question, he spoke of Jesus’ essential message—love. I was reminded of the many times people ask me why the heck I stay in the Catholic Church, given my beliefs. The answer—I find love practiced by Church people. That I am surrounded by many loving, aware, educated Catholics makes me luckier than many who grow past the spiritual immaturity of literal belief but have no community of like-minded Church people with whom they can continue to grow. I can see why they leave.

In answer to a listener question, Spong discussed “the disconnect” between biblical studies and what happens in church. This gets to the message I keep pounding in—liturgies must change! if Christianity is to have any relevance to contemporary life. As Spong stated, “The way we tell the Christ story is not making it in the modern world.”

The growing numbers of Christians waking up reassure me in the face of fundamentalist Christian revival politics.
Now I’m on my way to Thanksgiving dinner hosted by loving, aware Christians who share their bounty with others.

Spong & Stearns churches” September 20, 2009
On September 27, I was in Bobby Vee’s studio, the interesting former bank building of St. Joseph, MN, participating in the Millstream Arts Festival. With me were John and Bob Roscoe, whose new book presents a perfect counterpoise to my writings, which point to the worst in the Church. Their book points to the best. Legacies of Faith presents in colored photos, architectural descriptions, and brief histories all 52 Catholic Churches of Stearns County, MN.

The brothers Roscoe wrote that, when showing their out-of-state brother the beauty, grandeur, and overall magnificence of churches in Stearns, they realized with a shock, “The architecture we were seeing surpassed all but a few of the churches recently visited in rural northern Italy.”

The churches are extraordinary and this county is extraordinary. John Ireland, Archbishop of St. Paul, called it “a new Germany” and that’s half of it. It must be the largest concentration of German Catholics in the country and their churches, inspired by the best of European culture, are architectural gems. Stearns is my lifetime geographical home and I could say much more about its German Catholicism, but not now.

For some people who understand religious myth, Bishop John Shelby Spong tells it like it is. I first responded to his work less enthusiastically. Yes, he did a good job explaining the silliness of literal belief, but he offered no spiritual uplift.

Spong has evolved, as this MPR Midmorning interview with Kerri Miller shows. I like the way he answered my questions and related questions. My faith in the Other Side continues stronger than his, but that’s all right.

"So why stay?" December 1,2011
In response to my last post, a reader wanted me to say more about “why the heck I stay in the Catholic Church.” He wanted to know,
why we should be on the train at all—because Jesus has been polluted and contaminated beyond all recognition.
I agreed to write about this question that I have been asking myself for over 30 years. I wonder if some readers remember that the first chapter of God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky is titled “So why stay?”
This reader wanted more:
I hope it addresses not only why you haven't left the church but also why you haven't left Jesus—given the sorry history of Christianity.
Answer: I decouple Jesus from the institutional Church. U.S Bishops Conference president, Archbishop Timothy Dolan admitted this is what Christians do.
. . . as the chilling statistics we cannot ignore tell us, fewer and fewer of our beloved people—to say nothing about those outside the household of the faith—are convinced that Jesus and his church are one.
So let’s not blame Jesus for Christianity’s faults.
Churches are human institutions; I believe Jesus represents the life force we call God.
Church preaching can be mistaken and culturally specific;
Jesus’ preaching puzzles and can be misinterpreted, but it speaks to all humans irrespective of culture.
Churches make and enforce rules, some of which themselves violate morality, exemplified by official Catholic bans on contraception, all homosexual activity no matter how loving, and abortion even when it saves a life instead of taking one. Exemplified further by the Catholic Church’s despicable record on women’s ordination and on prominent Catholics who obey conscience instead of hierarchy. Three examples of the latter are Roy Bourgeois and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Sister Margaret Mary McBride

To appreciate the gulf between Jesus and Christianity, I recommend reading the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and Matthew, in this order, with eyes cleansed of church propaganda. A useful aid is The Five Gospels: the Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus by Robert Funk and the Jesus Seminar. Also place the Jesus you find there alongside shamans in cultures around the world. Strip Jesus of the garbage laid on him by Christian churches.

Remember—Jesus did not claim he’s God, he did not tell people to worship him, he did not discriminate against women, did not impose specific prayers on people, did not make rules that people know in their hearts are senseless.
Maybe you will not love Jesus even after finding what the man truly stands for. It’s OK. There are ways to be spiritual without being devoted to Jesus. I esteem Jesus' sharp revolutionary challenges to religious conventions, but I have to admit it is cultural factors that keep me in the tradition. Each person has to find her or his own way.

Friday, November 4, 2011

1% vs 99% in church & state

Wealth inequality finally has entered the political debate, thanks to the Occupy movement. In politics and economics, the issue is unequal money and power. In religion the issue is power, not money. In both church and state, the few at the top look out for themselves while failing to realize that they need everyone else. This is the reason things are falling apart in both spheres.

Science and spirituality agree that every aspect of reality is interdependent with everything else, no exceptions.
On the physical plane, quantum physics shows interdependence between physical objects and human minds in wave/particle experiments. A scientist/observer setting up an experiment on an atom decides which it will be—a wave or a particle. The physical reality observed cannot be separated from human consciousness; it is not objective but united in a web of relations with the mind of the observer.
Quantum non-locality further supports the principle of interdependence by showing that one part of a split particle will change instantly—faster than the speed of light—when its “twin” on the opposite side of the universe changes. Not a single thing in our universe has autonomous, independent existence; no single phenomenon exists on its own.

In the immaterial or spiritual sphere, the principle of interdependence means that altruism, not greed, succeeds in the universe. As the globe tightens in globalization and spiritual awareness, concern for the whole must govern, as indeed all spiritual leaders urge.
One of the reasons I have not left the Catholic Church (And where would I go?) is its stellar record on the issues of poverty and justice. The long tradition of Catholic social teaching has consistently stood in solidarity with those less wealthy, less able, less recognized—the marginalized. Not only in its teaching but in its actions.
As conservative as the last two popes have been, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have spoken out for just economies. But they have tightened their grasp on power.

In an interview with Krista Tippett, Buddhist and scientist Matthieu Ricard explains the consequences of interdependence.
What do I do? I create a small bubble, a self-centered bubble, and I take care of my own happiness because after all I'm this separate entity so I just have to build my own happiness. . . . Everyone will become happy in their own bubble and then the world will be fine.
But this is not working. Why? Not just because of the moral issue, because it's bad to be self-centered, but because it's dysfunctional, because it's at odds with reality.
“At odds with reality” sums up the church and state policies that brought on the economic and religious messes choking us right now.
The Occupy movement focuses on wealth disparity with its 1% versus 99% statements. Protesters who expose gross inequity are EXPOSING class warfare, not waging it. Elizabeth Warren speaks to the real wagers of class warfare:
There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own—nobody. . . . You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory—and hire someone to protect against this—because of the work the rest of us did.
So how does the Church fit into this? To borrow from Elizabeth Warren,
No pope can dictate doctrine on his own, nor can a set of hierarchs do so. The rest of us form popular piety and morality, sometimes with, often without dictates from the Vatican—think of Marian devotions and bedroom issues.
No cleric in this church became one on his own—not one. You developed your moral values from your mother and other women, less often from men. If you were an altar boy, you probably learned how from a woman. The churches you went to were cleaned by women. The religious instruction you received was primarily by women. The Masses you went to were attended by more women than men.
From pope to deacon, the status of every cleric rests on the backs of women, more broadly, on the backs of lay people.
I quoted experts, but it doesn’t take experts to figure this out. Any child knows that no one and nothing stands alone, that interdependence is the way of the universe. A child can figure out that sellers need buyers, that a successful business depends on customers who have the money to buy the goods or services. A child knows that morality and spirituality are taught by moms, families, neighbors, and communities, not by men in the Vatican.

Systems that continue to favor a few winners with more money or power are unsustainable. Ultimately, they are losers.

1% vs 99%, November 11, 2011
I received a flurry of comments agreeing with my previous post. But most noteworthy are more critical comments from outside of Catholicism.
Laura wrote,
I think money is also an issue in churches and religions, not as obviously in Catholicism. Look at all the rich televangelists.
Good point.
Scott Thompson, wrote,
There are items with which I disagree ......."The Catholic Church has ALWAYS stood behind the poor, the less marginalized, etc....? ??
[Consider] the atrocities of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages in its confiscation of personal property, the pogroms of the Crusades, the killings of thousands during the Inquisition, the support of the Nazis under Hitler, and last but not least, the uncovered abuses of the last 50 years ................”
Good points.
Regarding Catholicism today, two items on the front page of National Catholic Reporter show its two faces. Tom Roberts reports on a document coming from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace that urges reform of international financial and monetary systems.
The document speaks of “common dignity,” “common vision,” “common decisions” and “universal brotherhood.” In fact, the needs of the latter, of “universal brotherhood,” say the writers, transcend consideration of the marketplace.
NCR adds that the basic sentiment of the Occupy movement is in line with Catholic social teaching. Praiseworthy. Hallelujah!

But the same front page carries the story of theologian Elizabeth Johnson disputing a claim by the U.S. Catholic bishops conference, which blasted her latest book, Quest for the Living God, a widely popular work acclaimed by her fellow theologians. Johnson replied that the bishops did not follow their own procedures for resolving disagreements with a theologian—namely, to meet with her or him.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, head of the bishops’ doctrine committee, claimed the bishops offered to meet three times and she didn’t respond, a claim that Johnson called “demonstrably and blatantly false.” Publicly posted letters between Johnson and Wuerl show that she asked for meetings, which they never granted. This is only one example in a constant stream of incidents showing bishops clamping down on theological inquiry, judging ideas they don’t understand. A correspondent quoted by Richard McBrien highlights the irony.
It is beyond me how the bishops can claim, with a straight face, to be teachers sitting in judgment on teachers when they plainly cannot understand the arguments much less the conclusions.
How does this apply to my previous post? The front page of NCR demonstrates Catholicism's “stellar record on the issues of poverty and justice” TODAY, not in the past, as Scott points out. But “common dignity,” “common vision,” “common decisions” and “universal brotherhood” are sorely lacking in the hierarchy’s own relationships with the 99% kept out of decision-making.

More irony—the same issue of NCR reports members of the bishops conference complaining that the federal government infringes on the right of conscience by putting religious freedom under “ever more frequent assault and rapid erosion.” How does the government do this? By allowing practices that most thoughtful members of our society, including most Catholics, deem acceptable but the Catholic hierarchy wants to ban—contraception, sterilization, and gay marriage.

The bishops accuse the government of granting rights that they would take away. The BISHOPS are the ones who threaten freedom! Many, many theologians and members of the Church have had their right of conscience assaulted by the Catholic hierarchy. And until now I didn’t even mention clergy sex abuse.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Why care if God or Goddess

Christians & the Divine Feminine, October 15, 2011
The image of God as Mother is so instinctive that patriarchal religions could not avoid it. The ancestors of the Jews worshipped the Goddess Asherah and the mystical tradition in Judaism known as the Kabbalah revered the Shekinah, the indwelling presence of God. Raphael Patai in The Hebrew Goddess called Shekinah,
an independent divine female entity, a direct heir to ancient Hebrew goddesses.
His assessment is shared by other scholars. Asphodel Long in The Absent Mother wrote that Shekinah represented the Tree of Life and the community of Israel.
In the latter case, she is re-mythologized to become the marital partner of God, reflecting the Biblical tradition of God the husband, Israel the wife.
Shekinah was secretly glorified by male Jewish mystics whose devotion to Her was not permitted to the whole Jewish society. Women were consequently kept in the dark about this feminine image.

One author of our Christian scriptures employs an image strangely maternal. John 7:38 says,
From within him (literally "from his belly") rivers of living water shall flow.
We see here the pattern of attributing female strengths to male God-images because our patriarchal tradition did not allow female God-images. Priscilla, a leader in the early Christian group in Asia Minor known as Montanists, declared,
In a vision Christ came to me in the form of a woman in a bright garment.
Not very strange, but the following is. A second century “Church Father” whose theology reminds me of today’s Christian right-wingers, Irenaeus of Lyons, wrote,
His purpose was to feed us at the breast of his flesh, by nursing us . . .
Weird and telling!
Another “Church Father” of that time, Clement of Alexandria, wrote:
The Word is everything to the child, both father and mother, teacher and nurse ... The nutriment is the milk of the Father ... and the Word alone supplies us children with the milk of love, and only those who suck at this breast are truly happy. For this reason, seeking is called sucking; to those infants who seek the Word, the Father's loving breasts supply milk.
Clement assigned the most powerful image of divine nurturing to a male deity, the Father, because patriarchy could not allow a Goddess. This not only robs female-power; it turns male God-images freakish.

Feminine God-imagery came from yet another “Father,” one in the fourth century—John named Chrysostom (“golden mouthed”). But out of his "golden mouth" came vile sexism:
What else is a woman but a foe to friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a desirable calamity, as domestic danger, a delectable detriment, an evil of nature, painted with fair colours! (from Sex Priests and Power by Richard Sipe)
How could men called "Church Fathers" and saints be so stupid?

Catherine LaCugna, a modern Trinitarian theologian, tells us that one of the famous fourth-century Trinitarian theologians from Cappadocia (in today’s Turkey),
chided his opponents for thinking that God is male because God is called God and Father.
A rare man!

Many have remarked that the biblical Jesus seems feminine, the Jesus of Christian art even more so. His beardless face, his long, abundant, and curly locks distinguish him from the disciples. An unmistakably feminine Christ with swelling breasts and wide hips appeared in the art of Gaul, Ravenna, Rome, and Thessalonica from the mid-fourth century to the beginning of the sixth. If you find the book The Clash of Gods: a Reinterpretation of Early Christian Art by Thomas Mathews, you can see pictures illustrating this.

Catherine LaCugna reports that the Eleventh Church Council of Toledo proclaimed that the Son proceeds from the womb of the Father. Other Christian greats who described God or Christ in feminine terms were Gregory of Nazianzus, Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Peter Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich, Anselm of Canterbury, and Mechtild of Magdeburg.
Bernard, Julian, and Mechtild contributed to the twelfth century devotion to the "maternity" of Jesus. They imagined him as their mother, his breasts giving them nourishment—“Mother Jesus" was the name Julian gave him.

Praying to a female image of the Holy One is so natural that Christians do it in spite of being forbidden to do it. Every period of history has had its Goddess—suppressed, dismissed, distorted, demonized—but always under the surface and finally irrepressible.

What difference if God or Goddess? October 4, 2011
It makes a huge difference how we imagine the Holy One. The male-only God dominating Western life had the effect of disparaging feminine values, which left almost a monopoly for masculine values. The God-king encouraged a hard-on-self spirituality. Edward Whitmont in Return of the Goddess throws more light on his influence:
The patriarchal ego is heroic. Its idealized achievement is conquest of self and world by sheer will and bravery. Personal feeling, desire, pain and pleasure are disregarded. Failure to do so is accounted weakness.
The resulting psychological achievement is a sense of personal identity vested in a body-limited, separate self, answerable to the law of group and God-king.
This rigor had consequences for Western religion and Western political history: wars, conquest, forced conversions, obsession with sin and following rules to get into an exclusive kingdom.

My overriding theme in this series and much of my writing is our need for inclusiveness, and this is a feminine value. J.J. Bachofen (Myth, Religion, and Mother Right) recognized it in his study of ancient cultures:
Whereas the paternal principle is inherently restrictive, the maternal principle is universal;
the paternal principle implies limitation to definite groups, but the maternal principle, like the life of nature, knows no barriers.
The idea of motherhood produces a sense of universal fraternity
. . . Every woman's womb, the mortal image of the earth mother Demeter, will give brothers and sisters to the children of every other woman;
Bachofen's reflection reminds us that masculine exclusiveness, unchecked, can become a harsh message of every man for himself, us against them, we are the best, look out only for our own.

More contrasts between male & female emphases to come.
Maxine Moe Rasmussen emailed,
I've had this quote on my bedroom mirror for many months. Since I've had my own vision of the Great Mother awakening, I can only be hopeful for all of humanity.
"Without a restoration to the Christian mysticism of Jesus' own full celebration of the Divine Feminine, the 'kingdom-consciousness' cannot and will not be born."
The Gospel of Thomas, Annotated & Explained—Stevan Davies & Andrew Harvey

Return of the Goddess
Increasingly the Great Mystery of the Universe is imagined female as She was all over the globe in pre-historic times. Evidence of the Goddess' return surrounds us—visions of Mary, Goddess myths resurrected, and feminism, although reviled, making an impact.

From the science of biology comes the Gaia hypothesis, which observes the biosphere stabilizing global temperatures, oxygen in the atmosphere, ocean salinity, and other factors that support life. It is named after the primordial Earth Goddess Gaia. Even Christians and the slow-moving institutional Church are softening their image of God. An Irish Jesuit quoted by Horrocks (The Absent Mother: Restoring the Goddess to Judaism and Christianity) writes,
Mary is now the atmosphere in which I walk, a feminine atmosphere, a protecting atmosphere, a guiding atmosphere, a loving atmosphere.
The monopoly of masculine values wanes, as the globe steadily, inexorably continues its shift to feminine values.

Woman is Life-Giver, Mother Earth, the encircling womb, the Body that gives life and nourishment. She is the power that gives birth to forms, the ultimate Source. As nurturing Life-giver, She inhabits material reality in a way impossible for a Father-God. She is a more immediate parent than the Father can be because She is the Womb from which we are born and to which we return at death to be transformed into new life. Therefore She is not so separate, so disconnected, so "other" from us as the male God. She is, according to Horrocks,
matrix of everything, that is, the home, womb, destiny, and point of return for all life.
The perception of power She brings with Her also differs from God the Father’s rule. God and male power sit up there in a vertical universe—over, higher, other. Now we visualize the Holy erupting from below or appearing from within or surrounding us. God as Mother encompasses all, is inner, deeper, through. The Goddess is less a Ruler over us than a Presence empowering us. She gives us power-to-act instead of power-over-another.

As did the Nazarene. The man depicted in the gospels was not a dispassionate superior but cared to the point of weeping. His wont was to empower others. He would say "Arise and walk," but "obey" was not in his vocabulary, and he denounced those who expected to be obeyed. His kind of authority did not diminish others or make them dependent on him; it empowered others and gave them autonomy. Jesus really models the feminine principle.

It stands to reason that we need to balance the tilt of thousands of years. We need the whole. He rules and sets limits, provides protection and strength; She nurtures, gives unconditional love, provides gentle security and unending advocacy. We can only guess, but a society too exclusively-feminine might discriminate too little, might need more demanding standards, might need more drive to achieve, more competition, more anxiety! But if the feminine had more say in our world, there would be fewer wars, fewer children starving and abused, fewer assaults, more local and global cooperation, more care of the environment, and more sharing of wealth.

Of course it would be as foolish to insist that the transcendent Power is a She as to insist that it is a He. The ineffable, holy Power/Mystery/Force of the Universe is beyond words, beyond forms, beyond images, beyond male/female, beyond any conceptions of which we are capable. Augustine:
When we have comprehended, what we have comprehended is not God.
Whether we call the majestic Power of the universe "Her" or "Him," "God" or "Goddess," or any of a thousand other names, we need images both firm and yielding, both stern and flexible, both our superior and the ground of our being, both other and our own deepest selves. The Great More continues Her unveiling of Self. The Holy One is both She and He.

Restoring the Divine Feminine is not a favor to feminists; it is the sine qua non of all efforts at healing human divisions. The feminist critique is not a footnote to theology; it is central to everything. Its implications touch global concerns such as starvation, the ecology, the nuclear threat, economic justice, and peace. We are witnessing the most profound change in the human conceptual paradigm in thousands of years, if not in the history of humanity. The evolutionary leap is worth taking.

P.S. In response to an email, I add that I never pray to a female image of Divinity; I communicate with gender-less Spirit. What drives these posts is my fury at Christianity's exclusively male "Father Lord, HeHimHis." I am disgusted that our religion perpetuates ignorance, that it encourages worship of a male-idol, a god, not God.

The world needs Goddess, October 27, 2011
This past Saturday I gave a presentation on the biblical Goddess as part of the Women & Spirituality Conference at the State University in Mankato, Minnesota. In this space I already gave information about Goddess in the Bible and I’ll say more in future posts, but here I want to say that I always come away from the conference feeling hopeful that a shift is occurring in human consciousness.

I started attending in 1992 and haven’t missed a year since then because at that conference I find women (and some men) who GET it, people who ask big questions, arrive at out-of-the-box answers, and come to the conference to be with others who get it. They have the guts to doubt official stories about what we call God, about religion in general, and about politics—the topics that rile and divide people because some have the ability to make imaginative leaps that others fear.

Western religions, which have a disproportionate influence on global spirituality, train people to scoff at the Goddess and that training fosters idolatry. How? By limiting the human imagination to male images of spiritual reality. The Christian “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” for instance, are discussed as if they were male individuals with never any suggestion that the Trinity could be as much female as male. I think very few Christians realize that the God-images they worship are not God the SOURCE of ALL.
No image of Divinity is. That’s what the First Commandment is all about.

I recall an event in the 1990s that brought together college students and professors to listen to presentations from a variety of religions. I represented Goddess spirituality and, when I said that we don’t claim God is more female than male, I sensed surprise, relief, and increased respect. The surprise and respect from some, confusion from others, rose higher when I pointed out that God is also not more male than female.

To the shame of Western religions, an exclusively male deity is precisely what they preach. I’ve actually encountered supposedly scholarly pieces arguing that God is more male than female, but most such preaching happens unconsciously with the pronouns I’ve come to loathe when they’re used in reference to Transcendent Divinity—He, Him, and His. The habit of using exclusively male pronouns promotes idolatry.
Here’s typical God-talk:
Who has known the mind of God? To him be glory. ”
“The Lord feeds us; He answers our needs.
What happens when you read this alternative?
Who has known the mind of God. To Her be glory.
The Power of God feeds us; She answers our needs.
If it feels wrong, you’re a typical victim of Western religious training. Consider the implications of accepting the first but rejecting the second. I challenge you to consider whether you’re worshipping an idol, thus violating the First Commandment. An idol because your God-image will not admit Transcendence that’s beyond gender, beyond what makes sense to our limited human minds—Transcendence that’s both She and He and infinitely More.

Respectful Goddess-talk and use of She/Her in reference to Transcendence would not only nudge victims of Western religious training toward a deeper understanding of Transcendence; it would profoundly improve every aspect of human life. This is why we need the Goddess.

August 24, 2014

In this short interview, you can hear Rabbi Rami Shapiro say the Divine Feminine is the way he personally experiences the Holy Source we call “God.” Jesus is the incarnation of Wisdom in the Old Testament, also known as Hochma (Hebrew) and Sophia (Greek). In the New Testament, Wisdom/Sophia/Hochma becomes Logos. 
Shapiro says the ancient writers understood that the gender of God is fluid. Jesus lived at a time “when they weren’t going to listen to a female,” so the wisdom image turned from female to male.

Sophia and Jesus carry the same wisdom, both divine personalities with God before the beginning of creation. Raymond Brown, renowned as the foremost authority on the Fourth Gospel, agrees that the feminine Wisdom and the masculine Logos share divine attributes. Parallel passages from Wisdom literature and the gospel usually attributed to a “John” (more about this to come) illustrate:
John 1: 1-2        In the beginning was the Word
the Word was in God’s presence
and the Word was God.
Proverbs 8: 23   I have been from everlasting,
in the beginning, before the world began.

John 1:3               Through the Word all things came into being.
Proverbs 8: 30  When the foundation of the world was laid
            I was the skilled artisan standing next to the Almighty.

John 3:16b            Whoever believes in Him may not die
but may have eternal life. 
Baruch 4:1b       All who cling to Her will live,
but those will die who forsake Her.

John 1: 11             To his own he came, yet his own did not accept him.
Proverbs 1: 24    because I called and you chose not to listen,
because I beckoned and you ignored me,

John 10:10b          I came that they might have life.
Proverbs 8:35    The person who finds me finds life.
More about Rabbi Shapiro and the Divine Feminine next time.

August 29

Rabbi Rami Shapiro was pursued by the feminine face of Divinity. Not only in the Wisdom literature of the Hebrew Scriptures (see previous post), where She is clearly a woman in the heavily gendered Hebrew language. The Virgin Mary appeared to him everywhere, and he also discovered the Divine Mother in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Shapiro says,
She intruded on my meditation and prayer time and just would not leave me alone.
For him She is the manifestation of Divinity in the world, both nature and the way nature operates. She is nature and also transcends nature.

He receives from Her a unique teaching, a sobering lesson:
At the root of reality is a fundamental unknowingness, the reality that bad things happen to good people. We would like to believe,
“If I do the right thing, God will reward me.”  
 But there’s a deeper truth—the non-knowing insecurity we all experience.

The Divine Mother helps us to deal with the bad things happening, to live with the paradoxes of life. She gives us the grace to live in the madness of uncertainty.

Religion claims to give us surety.
“Religion is about answers; life is about questions,” says Shapiro.
Many go to religion to avoid life, but living the questions is more powerful. It also is frightening, risky, and more challenging. This genius of the Divine Mother is lacking in conventional Western religion. In Hinduism, She appears as Kali, the Goddess of chaos and destruction.

Shapiro feels that Wisdom (Hochma, Sophia) burns off the ideologies and leaves him with not knowing (this is not the dark night of soul, he explains).  It is a state of grace because there is nothing to know, just the wildness of daily existence. We learn to live with compassion and humility, without neat answers and rewards.

He applies this interpretation to the Book of Genesis. In the beginning, reality is wild, chaotic, effervescent. He finds it interesting that in Genesis God does not kill the chaos.  God calls life out of chaos but doesn’t kill the chaos. Shapiro says,
Learn to live the wildness, which is where the Mother is.
Then we find tranquility and also compassion for others experiencing the madness.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zionists & the Promised Land

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has given up trying to negotiate with Israel, which, in violation of signed accords, continues to confiscate Palestinian land and violate Palestinian rights. Now the PLO is asking the UN Security Council for full recognition of Palestine, which would call more attention to Israel’s violations of international law.
For fear of losing the Jewish vote, the Obama administration opposes the PLO’s bid at the U.N. and will veto it. Despite this, Republicans accuse the administration of not being pro-Israel enough, and the Christian right preaches that Palestine belongs to Israel by biblical command.

This faith response (adapted) comes from Florence Steichen, CSJ, Coordinator of Pax Christi MN, 1998-2006.
The Promised Land
It does not make sense to work for a just peace if God has promised all the land to one people, the chosen people.
The first consideration is, How do we understand scripture? And intertwined, How do we image—not understand, but image—God?

To begin, scripture is not history; it is not a record of what happened. The Bible is like a library, a collection of writings of many different kinds. Biblical accounts of the conquest of Canaan and entry into the Promised Land tell the experience of a people who succeeded against all odds. They believed they succeeded because their God had chosen them, guided their leaders and fought for them.
It is a national epic, told, re-told and embellished for centuries before it was written. The basic truth of the story is this: The Israelites did settle in Canaan. But we need to be cautious about assuming we know God’s will and role in this.

Those who choose to interpret scripture regarding the Promised Land literally need to deal with several related texts. There were conditions to the promise:
Be careful to act in accordance with all the laws that my servant Moses commanded you (Joshua 1:7).
The Old Testament is a history of the Israelites’ faithlessness and forgiveness. Rabbi Michael Lerner, writing in Tikkun magazine in September of 2007 comments on crucial requirements for ownership of the land:
From Moses to Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Prophets taught that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was totally contingent on the moral and spiritual life of the Jews who lived there, and that the land would, “vomit you out,” as the Torah tells us, if people did not live according to its highest moral vision.
Over and over again, in one form or another, the Torah repeats its most frequently stated mitzvah (command):
When you enter your land, do not oppress the stranger [the Other, the one who is the outsider of your society, the powerless one].
Not only “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” but, “You shall love the Other.”
Joshua 6 tells of the conquest of Jericho. You know the story about marching around the city for 6 days, carrying the ark and blowing trumpets. On the 7th day they marched around the city 7 times and the walls fell. However, archeologists have determined that the city was already in ruins—there were no walls left to fall!
Leviticus 25 states:
Hallow the 50th year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and to your family. The land shall not be sold [and I add “taken”] in perpetuity, for the land is mine. With me you are but aliens and tenants.
The Israelites are not perpetual owners, but “aliens and tenants"!
But most problematic for both pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians, from Numbers 31:
They did battle against Midian, as the Lord had commanded Moses, and killed every male.
They killed the kings, and took the women and their little ones captive. A few verses later, Moses is angry at his officers.
Have you allowed all the women to live? . . . Kill every male among the little ones, and every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But keep alive for yourselves all the young girls who have not slept with a man.
Does this sound like the word of God, the will of God?
This picture of God is hard to square with the One whom Jesus revealed, who makes the sun rise on the just and unjust alike. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says,
Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.
God has not changed; we have grown in our awareness of who God is, what God is like. We have moved, I trust, from God as portrayed in the book of Job—God who gives Satan the power to do anything he wants to test Job, including persecuting his family!—to God as unfathomable abyss. In the new universe story, as theologian Elizabeth Johnson and others write, God even suffers with suffering people.

Speaking of suffering, Michel Sabbah, the former Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem whose diocese includes Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, Jordan and Cyprus, wrote a Pastoral Letter in 1993, on “Reading the Bible in the Land of the Bible.”
Sabbah is a Palestinian from Nazareth, the first local person to be named patriarch, the highest Catholic position in the area. An Israeli citizen, Sabbah even with VIP status has been blocked on occasion from entering the West Bank to celebrate Mass with the local congregation.

Patriarch Michel Sabbah wrote the pastoral letter “to answer questions that Palestinian Christians have regarding the meaning of the Bible because it appears to be directly linked to the difficult situation which we have experienced.” It is very painful for Palestinian Christians to hear biblical texts such as Psalm 135:
God struck down many nations and killed mighty kings—Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan—and gave their land as a heritage to his people Israel.
Sabbah reminds his readers that the Word of God is living and active. Salvation history is history, there is progression. God promised to make Abraham the father of many nations and a blessing for all nations. Jews, Christians and Muslims all venerate Abraham as their common father of faith in one God who blesses all people. Christian and Muslim Palestinians are equally and deeply conscious that they have always lived in this land. Palestine is their country, their political and cultural patrimony.

I interject that even the man Jesus needed to learn that God is God of all. And I, Jeanette, interject this from my post "Canaanite woman & General Lee":
In Matthew 15: 21-28, Jesus rebuffs a Canaanite woman asking him for help, saying his mission is exclusively to the “house of Israel,” that is, to fellow Jews. “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.”
To this insult from Jesus the woman sends a clever rejoinder, “Even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their masters’ tables.” It brings a compliment from Jesus and having her wish granted. The woman has successfully converted Jesus from an exclusive, closed-circle stance to a new, open and broader view of things—including non-Jews.
The Apostle Paul, too, was surprised to see that the Spirit came to the Gentiles, and Peter needed a vision and the visit to Cornelius to get the point.
Continuing from Sabbah’s letter:
The Word of God can be used only in the struggle for truth. In such a case, this word can only unite us. If, on the contrary, it fosters division or hatred among us, this would mean that we have deformed the divine Word, making it a weapon of death, not of truth. And it would mean accepting the principle that we should read the Bible only from a political perspective, thus forgetting its religious essence.
This brings us to the political dimension of Christian Zionists, those who believe that the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 (“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed by you”) has abiding relevance, that support for Israel is biblically mandated. They support even the political and expansionist aims of the State of Israel, all its policies and its military incursions on Palestinians.

Zionism is a late 19th century Jewish movement that sought a homeland for Jews, not necessarily in Palestine. There was even consideration of land in Africa for a Jewish state. The modern state of Israel established in 1948 cannot be identified with the Israel of biblical times. Joel Kovel, an anti-Zionist Jew, states,
Zionism asserts that the Jewish claim on that land, which is over 2000 years old, overrides anybody else’s claim, all legal considerations, and any respect for human rights. . . . Zionism is a betrayal of everything worthwhile in the Jewish tradition.
While I am sadly convinced that many distort scripture for political purposes, I also think some really believe the promise literally, such as Rev. L. Nelson Bell, Billy Graham’s father-in-law. When Israel conquered Jerusalem in 1967, he wrote,
That for the first time in more than 2000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives the student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.
Christian Zionism is a powerful political force in the U.S, an important constituency of the Republican Party. Christian evangelicals lobby Congress to not pressure Israel in any way to give land for peace.
But it is important to note that not all evangelicals are Zionists, and many make that clear in public statements. From a letter of over 40 evangelical Christian leaders to President Bush:
We reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions—of both Israelis and Palestinians—on the basis of biblical standards of justice. (July 2002).
In July of 2007, more than 30 evangelical leaders wrote to President Bush,
Being a friend to Israel does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted.
Jimmy Carter, an evangelical, is a good example of a critical friend of Israel. He has been vilified and accused of anti-Semitism for his book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.

There is no reason to assert that the ancient Israelites had or that the modern state of Israel has a right to perpetual control of the Promised Land, Palestine. I conclude with Sabbah’s question: Is it possible for a just and merciful God to impose injustice or oppression on another people to favor a chosen people?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Patriarchal dominating god

(continuing “Goddess Mary” series)
Jesuit sociologist Walter Ong argues in Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness that God is male. As can be expected, he conflates his God-image—the male “Father”—with Transcendent Reality and unwittingly argues against himself.
We are distanced from God as from a father.
We have never been physically and physiologically attached to God. . . .
In this sense, God is male. He is not nature.

Nature is feminine, Mother Nature. Out of her we grow.
We do not grow out of God. . . . [God is always] other, different, separated as a father physically is . . .
Without intending to, Ong shows plainly that the deformed relationship of Christians with Transcendence stems from their male god—the sole image of divinity permitted to them—out there, over us, detached from us.
From this grew the image of a stern and relentless judge-god and sin-centered theology. The demands of the exacting god prompted Teresa of Avila to,
thinking of how I have offended God, and of the many things I owe Him.
It led her to frequent confession and worrying over confessors who committed "so great an evil" as to say that mortal sins were only venial sins. She called it a "pretext" or excuse when they told her that “pastimes and satisfactions" are allowed, sure that her "poorly educated" confessors put her salvation in jeopardy.

I hasten to add that I am not trying to destroy Teresa’s deserved reputation as a great mystic; I am exposing the deformed image of divinity in our tradition. Teresa’s scrupulosity grew naturally and abundantly out of the staple spiritual diet in Christian Europe.

The Little Flowers of St. Francis belongs to a genre called hagiography—Lives of the saints with limited historical value but revealing a spiritual attitude that still plagues us today. Writing a century after the death of Francis, the author attributes to Francis of Assisi this "wonderful" sermon given in a town terrified by purported wolf attacks:
. . . saying among other things that such calamities were permitted by God because of their sins, and how the consuming fire of hell by which the damned have to be devoured for all eternity is much more dangerous than the raging of a wolf . . .
how much more they should fear to be plunged into hell . . .
The gleeful relish in this writer’s description of punishment for sin occurs commonly in our tradition. Another sample comes from neo-scholastic theology:
It is certainly fitting that God, as legislator and ruler, should not remit offenses without temporal punishment, so that in the future His laws might be better obeyed.
The Big Boss in the sky tops a long line of bosses who exact greater submission from females than males. In another Flowers of St. Francis story, Clare, the saintly sister of Francis, is visited by the pope, who asks her to bless loaves of bread on the table. She replies in a painfully obsequious manner:
Most Holy Father, please excuse me, but I would deserve to be severely blamed if a vile little woman like myself should presume to give such a blessing in the presence of the Vicar of Christ.
The Greek word hierarches means "one who presides at sacred rites," but a theological dictionary defines hierarchy as,
the body of men [sic] empowered to administer sacred things, a body organized in ranks and orders with a subordination of the lower to the higher ministries.
Creatures stand on a ladder in greater or lesser proximity to the Boss "up there" and must go through "ranks and orders with a subordination of the lower to the higher." The Holy is not freely accessible to all but must travel down to lower creation in a well-defined pecking order: pope, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, men, women, children, animals . . .
Always power flows from the top down, and morality consists in following rules and obeying superiors—obedience a touted virtue and pride the biggest sin.

Hierarchy presumes submission to authority above and domination of subservient others below—a can't-fail recipe for alienated relationships. In his play Saint Joan, George Bernard Shaw gives Joan of Arc's main interrogator at the trial condemning her to be burned a telling speech:
What will the world be like when The Church's councils of learned, venerable pious men, are thrust into the kennel by every ignorant laborer or dairymaid whom the devil can puff up with the monstrous self-conceit of being directly inspired from heaven?
Because Joan's interrogators cannot imagine Holy Guidance erupting from within, her replies remain incomprehensible to them.
LADVENU. Do you not believe that you are subject to the Church of God on earth?
JOAN. Yes. When have I ever denied it?
LADVENU. Good. That means, does it not, that you are subject to the our Lord the Pope, to the cardinals, the archbishops, and bishops . . .
JOAN. God must be served first. . . . My voices do not tell me to disobey the Church; but God must be served first.
CAUCHON. And you, and not the Church, are to be the judge?
JOAN. What other judgment can I judge by but my own?
Christian hagiography reveals the effect of the power-over model on all relationships. When Francis commands one of his monks to twirl around like a fool, the monk is expected to obey him even "if he should order you to throw stones." Benedict finds one of his monks loitering during prayer time and strikes the offender with his staff.
In a more subtle manifestation of this mentality, Teresa of Avila writes that because Jesus "was subject to Joseph . . . Joseph could give the Child command." Caught in the hierarchical model, she struggles to sort out who had command over whom. Did Joseph because he was parent? Or did Jesus because he was God? The possibility of power arising from within or for shared, mutual, horizontal, reciprocal relationships does not occur to her.

Augustine's writings betray the same perception of a cosmos structured in super and sub-ordination, domination and submission, power flowing down and requiring absolute obedience:
It is You who make wives subject to their husbands . . . [in] faithful obedience; you set husbands over their wives; you join sons to their parents by a freely granted slavery, and set parents above their sons in pious domination . . .

You teach slaves to be loyal to their masters . . . [You] warn the peoples to be subservient to their kings. (quoted by Peter Brown)
All relationships are vertical. You either dominate or are dominated. Authority, leadership, and order translate to command, control, and subjection. As late as 1982, J.A. Lyons writes,
Just as it is not possible to be a father without having a son, so too God cannot be almighty unless he has creatures over which to exercise his power.
The top-down power model still pervades Church communication, not only in governing the institution but governing belief! Vatican officials and bishops give themselves authority to,
judge whether what is presented as the content of faith is accurate.
Even theologians are forbidden to dissent publicly from official teaching. When polls first indicated a Catholic majority favoring the ordination of women, a bishop asserted that "the only appropriate discussion" about the question was "why the teaching of the church is correct." He assumed that, contrary to Vatican II’s declaration in Lumen Gentium, the Church is not the whole people of God but a few men in power.
At a 1994 synod on the role of religious orders, a Hungarian cardinal complained that the notion of obedience is being “corrupted by democratic sentiments."

Today the power game continues over Elizabeth Johnson’s Quest for the Living God: Mapping the Frontiers of the Theology of God. Despite the author receiving numerous awards for her theological studies and the book being widely used as a theology text, the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Doctrine censured it.

When the Catholic Theological Society of America objected to the bishops’ harsh critique, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, chair of the committee, answered that the role of a bishop is to be a judge of authentic theology and that Johnson should have sought an imprimatur (approval) from her bishop. I find this highly ironic because, in my view, Catholic bishops—indeed, all clergymen—could benefit from taking courses in theology from Elizabeth Johnson.
No doubt Johnson’s inclusion of the Divine Feminine poses a problem for the censuring bishops. Chapter Five of Quest for the Living God is titled: “God Acting Womanish.”

Tea Party & Medieval piety, August 30
(continuing “Goddess Mary” series) This response came to me:
I fear my mind cannot take all this in. . .
Yes, it's hard to take in. (She was responding to "Patriarchal dominating god.")
Thank Goodness, we have come some distance from past “saintly” attitudes and perceptions because they clash with ours. A huge shift has ensued. The “Father-God” now resembles less the thunderbolt-hurling Zeus and more a loving, caring Mother. But domination/subordination still cripples all our relationships—male over female, clergy over lay, white over black, straight over gay, and so on.

How the POWER-OVER model demeans women is exposed with sickening clarity in the image of a female soul relating to a male god. In medieval piety men adopted a dependent, submissive, stereotypically-feminine attitude to gain approval from a male god. They spoke of their soul as "she" in obedience to "Him." She was to be dependent and submissive.
Prevent the soul being too confident of her strength and so yielding to presumption.
(Louis Bouyer, The History of Christian Spirituality)
The passive female soul was dominated by the active male god who boasted,
Know that I am he who is and thou art she who is not.
As late as 1981 Walter Ong wrote,
In relation to God . . . we are all, men and women alike, basically feminine.
The female’s place is clear: she is inferior; she must never be the initiator; her proper attitude is yielding compliance. No wonder Teresa of Avila, a stronger woman than most, often apologized for being a woman. This model laid the spiritual foundation for the scourge of pornography.

It is also hard on males who lack the will to dominate. Rapists in prisons force a weaker male partner to be "the girl." Passive boys are beat up in fights. Both women and men are hurt when divine initiative and activity are seen as masculine, human dependence and passivity as feminine.

The POWER-OVER model underlies all, and churches continue to pound it in with their relentless HeHimHis Lord talk. It took feminist theologians, who stopped seeing everything as either higher or lower, to spot what lies at the bottom of the other inequities. This was written by Sandra Schneiders:
Rosemary Ruether has pointed out that patriarchy is the basic principle underlying not only the subordination of women to men, but of one race to another, of colonies to master nations, of children to adults, of nations to divine right monarchs, of believers to clergy. In other words, patriarchy is the nerve of racism, ageism, classism, colonialism, and clericalism as well as of sexism.
The male-over-female pattern supports and perpetuates all vertical, alienating relationships. Power unchecked becomes power corrupted. Given this pattern, clergy sex abuse—its biggest shocker the cover-up by bishops—seems inevitable.

The submissive female role also is forced on supposedly inferior parts of ourselves—feelings, for instance. Augustine expected men
to love the sexuality of their wives and the physical bonds of their families only as a Christian must love his enemies.
(biographer Peter Brown)
A brother in The Little Flowers (see previous post on hagiography) shocked his confreres when it seemed
he was grieving for his brother out of a natural and worldly affection.
They were relieved when he assured them he was not giving in to natural feelings.
The POWER-OVER model leaves Nature no inherent rights. Animals, forests, lakes and streams can be used, manipulated, and destroyed at will. Here is a writer still preaching domination over ourselves and over nature:
Christ is still living and cooperating with us in the restoration of dominion first over ourselves and then over the non-human cosmos—a truth forgotten by many theologians and spiritual writers today. (George Maloney, 1982)
He complains that ideas are changing, wishing that "dominion" would proceed unchecked.

The male god who demands exclusive worship forms the root and base of every power inequity, the religious justification for deformed relationships in our social fabric.
You think this is an overstatement? I point you to the example of fundamentalism with its extreme deformity, “Dominionism,” Evangelicals In Spiritual Warfare, a right-wing movement of Christians warring against views different from their own. They believe they must gain dominion over all aspects of society—religion, business, government, family, media, arts and entertainment. They're doing "the Lord's" work, converting Jews, GLBTs, Muslims, etc. to Jesus.

All beliefs “wrong” or out of alignment with their view are the work of demons, as you can hear in Fresh Air by Terry Gross.The rule of Jesus, they believe, will conquer all, make everything right, and they have the job of bringing on that rule. Politically they're aligned with the Tea Party.

Restoring the feminine to our idea of the Holy—getting rid of HeHimHis Lord talk would restore dignity to the less-powerful of every kind. It is all of a piece.
I add caveats. I am not condemning all clergymen and churchgoers but consider us all more or less prisoners of a mental pattern that, I gratefully observe, shifts under the radar while Dominionism grabs headlines. In my own prayer life, I surrender to my inner Guide, trusting Its wisdom as superior to my own. By outlining the deformed framework I hope to raise awareness of it and help to free us all from its shackles.

Sin-talk, September 6
I outlined the male god’s dominating power in my post “Patriarchal, dominating god,” which sets the stage for Judeo-Christian sin-talk and its effect on all Western relationships.

In the Christian myth, a father god rules as a Big Boss topping a long line of bosses who judge us for our sins. He’s out there, over and against us, inspiring more fearful obedience than trusting love. Creatures are distinguished from each other by their relative proximity to God—you know, the pope much, much, much holier than a lay woman. The son-god adds guilt by being crucified for our sins. Guilt, worthlessness, and powerlessness infuse the faithful.

The institutional church strengthens these feelings with its line of hierarchs over worthless sinners who lack the authority to decide what’s right or wrong. Power in this paradigm flows through channels that defy sense, commanding experience-wizened women to address a naïve young man as "Father" and ask forgiveness for sins. Likewise educated, worldly-wise men and women. Small wonder that few Catholics go to confession anymore.
Power always comes from above, and morality is all about following rules and obeying superiors, adding shame to feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and worthlessness, especially for those low on the scale of authority, with more people to look up to than down on.

Yes, of course I’m exaggerating, but not by much when we consider the paradigm that, fortunately, is now past. For a taste of it, scroll down to bits of Christian literature in previous posts, and here’s another tidbit. The following theology was written as late as 1982:
Just as it is not possible to be a father without having a son, so too God cannot be almighty unless he has creatures over which to exercise his power.
(J.A. Lyons, The Cosmic Christ in Origen and Teilhard de Chardin)
It takes a while for the insanity of this to sink in.
Richard Sipe in Sex, Priests, and Power critiques the role of celibacy in deforming Church authority,
The male virgin—the celibate—is one not defiled by woman (his emphasis).

As the celibate system took shape, power had to be limited by one factor: sex. Women cannot have power. . . . [Many] accept this bias as natural and sanctioned by grace.
Sipe quotes St. John Chrysostom complaining in about 386,
Divine law has excluded women from the ministry . . . Yet I have heard someone say that women now assume such liberties as to rebuke the bishops of the Church.
What else is a woman but a foe to friendship . . . a necessary evil, a natural temptation . . . painted with fair colours.
Sin-centered spirituality shames and subjugates men also, especially men who lack positions of power. They do have power in their families and the result is domestic abuse.

Unworthiness contaminates us all. In this sin-centered atmosphere, every prayer brings the realization of how awful we are. This subject makes me feel dirty. I’ve developed such dislike of the word “sin”—the very meaning of which has been twisted by this power paradigm—that I cringe a little when it’s mentioned in prayers, for instance the “Lord-have-mercy” part of the Mass.

To heal from the paradigm of POWER OVER, we can focus on feminine divinity empowering us from WITHIN.

Goddess confounds male dominance, September 13
From an exchange with a traditional Catholic:
We have God's Truth. . . . Truth is given to us.
Others also have God's Truth. Truth reveals itself in an infinite variety of ways.
Myth and Truth don't mix. . . . god/goddesses are a myth with no divinity. You can demote God to myth-level but that doesn't mean you have the power to control Almighty God Power greater than yourself.
Correct. We cannot control how Source reveals itself; we can't control Its infinite variety of expressions—Its myths—coming through human imagination. We don’t know why male deities supplanted female deities. We can guess but don’t know the reasons for the patriarchal system described in previous posts.

But at this point in the evolution of human consciousness, many are becoming aware that what we call God vastly transcends all possible myths and God-images—goddess, god, turtle, eagle, wind, earthquake, whatever.
Goddess is not better than God; God is not better than Goddess. Both express truth; each is a possible way to imagine the Source of All. To understand this is to understand myth and symbol. And to understand the distinction between Jesus the Man vs. Jesus the Myth.
Being human, we prefer certain images for relating to spiritual reality, probably those we're used to. Nothing wrong with that, as long as we don't demand that others do as we do.

God the Father, the guy in the sky who holds us accountable, now is joined by a softer God the Mother to temper the wrathful judge described in “Sin-talk.” We imagine Mother Goddess giving us life from her Womb; we imagine her Earth enveloping us at death to be transformed into new life. SHE is not as separate, as disconnected, as "other" as the He that Walter Ong describes (in “Patriarchal dominating god”). We visualize Holy Mother erupting from below or appearing from within, giving us a break from the oppressive power above.

Stereotypically, Father enforces rules while Mother nourishes and empowers each child, no matter how weak. He stands for POWER OVER and She stands for POWER WITHIN. He stands for POWER AGAINST and She stands for POWER TO as in the power to act capably or generously. Thus, each individual can work on performing with strength and without adversarial relations. This challenges us more than obeying superiors above us and provides an alternative to hierarchical power under Father God. Instead of always being accountable to someone else, someone outside of ourselves, we listen to the voice of conscience within.

The paradox of She and He together can lead us to appreciate Transcendence by confounding our understanding. We need Mother Goddess and Father God plus all the other conceptions provided by religions and science. We need the mix.

If the divine SOURCE had been imagined exclusively female for several millennia and males had been carefully excluded as either divine images or human authority figures, we’d also see distortions. It’s the exclusiveness of male power that produces the problem.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mother right

When Goddess reigned, August 11
(continuing “Goddess Mary” series)
As there are various names for God, there were, in times when Goddess reigned, many names for Her. I repeat: God and Goddess are simply two different ways to imagine and personify the mysterious Power within all experienced by all in human history.

In remote antiquity the Great Goddess was supreme, with many names and various titles given Her in diverse places. In Babylon She was known as Ishtar. Among the Hebrews, ancestors of the Jews, She was Asherah (see my Goddess in the Bible). In Egypt the Goddess Isis reigned supreme, more important than her brother/husband God Osiris. In Sumer, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, She was Inanna, and Her women priests determined who would be kings. An eminent Sumeriologist quoted by Merlin Stone tells us,
The kings of Sumer are known as the “beloved husbands” of Inanna throughout the Sumerian documents.
In a comparable practice but with a twist, Catholic religious sisters took their religious vows in wedding gowns and became “brides of Christ.” The communities of sisters discontinued this practice a few decades ago as it became distasteful to many.

Archaeological finds show the status of women declining in a worldwide turn to patriarchy, a phenomenon still not fully understood. In Europe the change came after 5000 and before 1000 BCE, when Kurgans, also known as Aryans or Indo-Europeans, penetrated the settlements of Old Europe. Aggressively they invaded the area we know as the Middle East, bringing with them new war technology and replacing female deities with their male deities, Sky and Warrior Gods—Joseph Campbell calls them “thunderbolt hurlers like Zeus, or Yahweh.” Their conquests brought a new order of violence and domination by gender.

Our Bible tells one chapter in this story, the Hebrew prophets unsuccessfully trying to stamp out the worship of Asherah and replacing Her with worship of Yahweh, “the Lord” who commands genocide in many Bible passages. Abram's call (Gen 12:1), dated about 1800 BCE, marks a decisive shift in consciousness.

Power shifted from female centrality (but not domination) to male domination. Massive evidence exists, but here I’ll cite only a few details from Merlin Stone’s research illustrating the shift in Egypt. The word “pharaoh” comes from par-o, meaning “great house” where woman ruled. Thus, the pharaohs received their titles through their mothers. In the earliest records beginning in 3000 BCE, the Goddess was served by 61 women priests and 18 male priests. In the period from 1570-1300 BCE, the temple clergy no longer had any women.

Myths also changed. In India the male Indra, Lord of Mountains who overthrows cities, killed the Goddess Danu and Her son. In Greece, the Supreme Goddess Hera became the subordinate, frustrated, and shrewish wife of Lord Zeus. The oracle at Delphi and the priests passing on Her counsel were female; later they were male. In Babylonia (Iraq) the male deity Marduk murdered the Creator Goddess Tiamat. In his informal conversations with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell tells this story.
The characteristic of an imperialistic people is to try to have its own local god dubbed big boy of the whole universe, you see. No other divinity counts. And the way to bring this about is by annihilating the god or goddess who was there before. Well, the one that was here before the Babylonian god Marduk was the all-Mother Goddess.

So the story begins with a great council of the male gods up in the sky, each god a star, and they have heard that the Grandma is coming, old Tiamat, the Abyss, the inexhaustible Source. She arrives in the form of a great fish or dragon--and what god will have the courage to go against Grandma and do her in? And the one who has the courage is, of course, the god of our present great city. He's the big one.

So when Tiamat opens her mouth, the young god Marduk of Babylon sends winds into her throat and belly that blow her to pieces, and he then dismembers her and fashions the earth and heavens out of the parts of her body. This motif of dismembering a primordial being and turning its body into the universe appears in many mythologies in many forms. . . .

There was no need for him to cut her up and make the universe out of her, because she was already the universe. But the male-oriented myth takes over, and he becomes--apparently--the creator. (The Power of Myth)
Besides showing the transfer of female to male power, this myth reinforces the idea that the Gods of the Christian Trinity proceed out of a female Source. We do not have to read these myths literally to see that their very existence supports a maternal Origin or Source.

Where is Christ in all this?
We have to distinguish Christ the myth from Christ, Higher Power or Higher Self. In ancient myths, the Son of the Goddess becomes Her consort and is a God (forerunners of Mary and Jesus), but She is primary, the more powerful, the important personage. The Son is known variously as Damuzi, Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, Osiris, Baal, and finally, Christ—it is the same archetype.

Christ's descent to hell followed the path of female deities to the netherworld, and it illustrates the shift from female power to male power. In the earliest versions, the Goddess—Inanna or Ishtar—is a mature queen who travels to the underworld to visit Her sister-ruler. She acts with independence and dignity. But in a later version, Persephone is a young girl abducted against Her will by Her uncle Hades. Finally the descending deity becomes a male hero, Christ. The symbolism of death to life is no longer represented by a female, but by a male.

Mother right, August 3
(continuing “Goddess Mary” series)
The first human social structures were matrilineal or based on mother-kinship. Woman was perceived to be the sole parent, and it followed that children took the name of their mother's clan. Lines of descent went through her, as did titles, possessions, and territorial rights. J.J. Bachofen (Myth, Religion, and Mother Right) quoted the ancient Greek historian Herodotus who was writing about the Lycians from Crete:
They have a strange custom which no other people has: they take their names from their mother, not from their father. For when one asks a Lycian who he is, he will indicate his descent on his mother's side, and list his mother's mothers, and when a woman citizen marries a slave, the children are regarded as nobly born; but if a male citizen, even the noblest, takes a foreign woman or a concubine, the children are dishonorable.
Bachofen corrected Herodotus' assumption that no other people had this custom. Mother right was not confined to any particular people but marks a cultural stage, a period when names and possessions followed the most obvious parent—mother. As it obviously applies to humans universally, this cultural stage was not restricted to any particular ethnic family but preceded the patriarchal system globally.

He described what he called matriarchy but is really matriliny:
Its outward expression is to be found in the naming of the child after its mother, But its significance, is manifested in several other points.
First, in the status of the children, which is taken from the mother, not the father; secondly, in the inheritance of property, which is handed down not to the sons but to the daughters; thirdly, in the government of the family, which falls not to the father but to the mother, and by a consequent extension of this last principle, government of the state was also entrusted to the women.

Thus we have not an outward peculiarity of nomenclature but a thoroughgoing system; it is bound up with a religious intuition and belongs to an older period of human development than father right.
Mother right in property and inheritance lasted down to Roman times, according to anthropologist James Frazer. But today there is evidence that such social arrangements still prevail in parts of Australia, Africa, and Asia where, for instance, the husband moves to his wife's tribe.

In North America, the Iroquois provide an example. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, principles in the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention that launched the women’s movement, knew Iroquois women who, unlike white women, had equal responsibilities with men in family, religion, government, and commerce.
They watched the Seneca nation, near Seneca Falls in upper New York State, govern with women holding political power. Clan mothers, for instance, nominated male chiefs, one requirement being not to have sexually assaulted a woman.

Archaeologist Marija Gimbutas found that matrilineal passing on of possessions survived in mountainous regions around Sarajevo into the twentieth century. Even our patriarchal Bible shows traces of mother-centered cultures from pre-biblical times. In the Book of Ruth, Naomi tells her daughters-in-law after the deaths of their husbands, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's house" (Ruth 1:8).

Merlin Stone in When God Was a Woman supplies more historical information to upset common notions of how things have to be. Herodotus wrote that in Egypt,
Women go in the marketplace, transact affairs and occupy themselves with business, while the husbands stay home and weave.
Sophocles wrote:
Their thoughts and actions all are modelled on Egyptian ways, for there the men sit at the loom indoors while the wives work abroad for their daily bread.
A professor Cyrus Gordon wrote in 1953:
In family life, women had a peculiarly important position for inheritance passed through the mother rather than through the father.
According to S.W. Baron, Egyptian papyri reveal that
many women appear as parties in civil litigations and independent business transactions even with their own husbands and fathers.
Archaeologist Sir William Flinders Petrie wrote,
In Egypt all property went in the female line, the woman was the mistress of the house, and in early tales she is represented as having entire control of herself and the place.
Theologian and archaeologist Roland de Vaux wrote,
In Egypt the wife was often the head of the family, with all the rights such a position entailed.
The precepts of Ptah-Hotep advised husbands to obey their wives. An E. Meyer wrote that until the fourth century BCE a wife in Egypt chose her husband and
could divorce him on payment of compensation. In Egypt the wife was often the head of the family, with all the rights such a position entailed.
Love poems from Egyptian tombs suggest that women did the courting, even using intoxicants to help them woo the men.

More data to upset preconceptions about male/female roles come from the animal world, which for years was misinterpreted as following patriarchal patterns of male domination and female submission. Herds of elephants and schools of whales are led by females, and the praying mantis female eats the male during copulation. Among large cats the females do most or all of the hunting.

Animal behavior also overturns the notion that females naturally must win the attention of males. In most species, males put on a display to win the favor of females, either combating rivals or strutting their beauty. Most birds have more attractively colored males than females. The adornment of males in some animal species, similar to that of human females, impedes their freedom of movement but they put up with it for the sake of sexual allure.

Recent primate research indicates that pure aggression is less the biological drive than formerly thought. Primatologist Frans B.M. de Waal found that the more feminine traits of cooperation and the search for harmony are woven into aggressive moves of animals. Socially successful apes have the ability to make friends. Today's observers of the animal world realize that past observations were colored by incorrect patriarchal assumptions. Male dominance and aggression are not biologically determined but historical phenomena, the causes of which are still debated.

Conclusion: Sexist/patriarchal marginalizing of women is not only unfair; it contravenes Nature.
PS. Don’t miss this devastating portrait. In his NCR essay, Eugene Kennedy analyzes with devastating accuracy some psychologically underdeveloped men now becoming priests, calling them set decorators trying to reconstruct the hierarchical system of the early 20th century Church.

Canaanite woman & General Lee, August 16
The gospel and homily Sunday morning in Sacred Heart Chapel relate to my recent blogposts. Both promote an opening-up, a radical shift to a new perspective. In the gospel story (Matthew 15: 21-28), Jesus rebuffs a Canaanite woman asking him for help, saying his mission is exclusively to the “house of Israel,” that is, to fellow Jews. “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.”

To this insult from Jesus the woman sends a clever rejoinder, “Even the dogs eat the leavings that fall from their masters’ tables.” It brings a compliment from Jesus and having her wish granted. The woman has successfully converted Jesus from an exclusive, closed-circle stance to a new, open and broader view of things—including non-Jews.

Our homilist told another story promoting this theme. In 1865 the congregation in a Richmond, Virginia, church witnessed a shocking scene. At communion time, a black man rose up and strode to the front of church from the back, where Blacks belonged, before anyone else had a chance to get up to receive communion. A terrible breach of custom, of manners, of what everyone knew was the way things had to be. Whites waiting to see who would put the insolent black man in his place were astounded when, instead, a white man got up and joined the black man to receive communion alongside him. The white man was General Robert E. Lee.
Lee and the Canaanite woman opened doors and windows of perception to include the excluded—Blacks and Gentiles. I invite Christians to open doors and windows of perception to include the formerly unthinkable thought—that Goddess is as good an image of Divinity as God.

I invite readers to Jesus as Goddess Advocate , a guest post by Karen Tate, who tells why she left Catholicism but went back to Jesus, reclaiming him as the Sacred Masculine. Also scroll down and review my brief outline of historical material at the beginning of this “Goddess Mary” series.

It is quite likely that some readers will refuse to accept it since it upsets so drastically the view to which we have been trained. The very idea of a Goddess is distasteful to people. Reactions when I refer to Goddess with respect include shock, indignation, outrage, fear, ridicule, scorn, embarrassment, and confusion.

The problem is not lack of evidence but conditioning. Overturning my own training took years of effort and dozens of books. I suggest the same for readers afraid to step out of the familiar frame of reality. While reading Goddess materials you may notice what I did—the damage done by patriarchy to our sense of womanhood. Menstrual bleeding, for instance, signified power in prehistoric times.
Male envy of blood power is indicated by a strange practice anthropologists have uncovered in diverse locations. Judy Grahn explains in The Politics of Women's Spirituality:
Men have developed blood mimic rites in which they slit the underside of the penis to make an imitation of the female genital. The idea is that when the split penis is held upright against the man's abdomen it resembles a menstruating vagina
This practice, called "man's menstruation," occurs in New Guinea, Australia, the Philippines, and Africa.

Juxtapose it with Thomas Aquinas saying woman is
defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the male sex; while the production of women comes from defect.
Augustine taught men to hate women and sex.

Until recent decades, Catholic women had to be purified after giving birth. Christians blamed women and sex for passing on the evil of sin and in effect defined women as naturally subservient because they bear children. Moderns have not gotten over the association of menstruation with shame and femininity with weak subservience. Goddess spirituality can turn the tables on this male-centered view by declaring that, because they have the power to bear children, it is natural and appropriate for women to have power in other areas.

We cannot know to what extent egalitarian societies existed or to what extent Goddess cultures gave power to women. But there is no basis for denying that pre-patriarchal societies revered the power of woman's body, that women played a central role in them, and that power in many primal cultures was not understood to be domination.
Coming up: Does it matter whether we imagine the Ultimate Value of all reality to be male or female? I say YES.