Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Bible on gays & women


Bible says NO,  August 8, 2012
I am revisiting a story from about a year ago when the St. Cloud Times ran my opinion piece during the debate on the Marriage Amendment in Minnesota that would have banned gays from marrying. The Times titled my writing, “Bible tells us to vote "no'.” As it is no longer available online, I quote long portions:
Promoters of the Marriage Amendment argue that it protects and strengthens marriage, that same-sex attraction must not be enjoyed as opposite sex attraction is, and that the Bible says so. True—the Old Testament condemns homosexuality, but it also tells women to marry their rapists and slaves to obey their masters.

Taking the Bible as a how-to manual on morals, we come up against teachings crude, comic, and cruel. . . . Judges 11:29 to 40 tells the story of Jephthah, a Hebrew chieftain who vowed that if “the Lord” delivered the enemy to him, he would offer up as holocaust whoever met him first when he returned in triumph. It was his daughter, and he kept his vow. 

Obviously, the lord of the Bible is as small or great as the writer of each scripture could imagine. Some Bible passages convey a divine presence uplifting and comforting—see Exodus 3:14, Psalm 71 and Matthew 6:25-30. 

But the lord-god of less sublime imagination commands systematic genocide in Bible books that Christians call the Old Testament—Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and Joshua. Perusing these books, readers will find the petty lord telling Moses’ people to displace the people of Palestine, to enslave some and exterminate others, to leave not a single soul alive. This lord cannot inform our moral conscience because many of his commands horrify more than edify. His words, deeds, and rules tell us how they lived, not how we should live.
             
In Numbers 31, the Israelite army wages war against the Medianites, as the Lord commands Moses, and they kill every male. The women and children they take captive as booty along with goods and animals. Moses angrily asks the returning army, “Have you allowed all the women to live? . . . Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him. But all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves.” 
I surmise that Bible passages like this form the basis for Muslim extremists’ weird premium on ravishing virgins and meeting virgins in heaven.

I also told the beginning of the Sodom-and-Gomorrah story that ends with Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt. Men in Lot’s town come to his door demanding that he give his male guests to them for sexual play. He begs them, “not to do this wicked thing. I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with men. Let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you please.” Apparently “The Lord” approves of sexual assault of females because he saves Lot’s family.

Judges 19:22 to 30 tells a similar tale. A man offers the shelter of his home to a traveler, but perverted men pound on the door and demand that he release the traveler to them for their sexual use. Horrified, he offers them instead his virgin daughter and his own concubine, saying, “Ravish them and do whatever you want to them; but against this man do not do such a vile thing.”

These passages give a clear teaching—the Bible condemns homosexuality, but condones abuse of women and girls. It is fair to say this is part of the Bible’s moral standard on sexuality in the first Testament. The Times headline was correct, in an ironic way.

I am grateful to have the forum of the paper. An emailer wrote:
I would guess there are a few folks running to their bibles today. Wonder how those who may present questions to the clergy will be answered!



A Creed to believe in, August 28, 2013
Jesus of Nazareth said the Reign of God is like seed sown on good ground and bad. The spiritual Realm, he said, is like a dragnet bringing up worthless and worthwhile. The Reign of God is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a shrub large enough for birds to nest in. It is like yeast that spreads through a mass of dough to make it rise. Like buried treasure found and like treasure guarded from thief and moth. Like a pearl for which a merchant gives up all he has. These images of the spiritual Realm given by Jesus are found in Matthew 13 and Luke 12 and 13. They continue to pulse with vitality, open to a variety of interpretations but definitely not open to meaning an exclusive place ruled by a king or lord.

S. Sandra Schneiders points out that the Bible has a wealth of God-images that Christian churches never use: mother, mid-wife, homemaker, she-bear, mother eagle, sun, rock, fire, and breath. Phyllis Trible exposes the Divine Mother saturating the Hebrew Scriptures with Her womb—rehem. In Deuteronomy 32:18, God complains,
You were unmindful of the Rock that begot you,
You forgot the God who writhed in labor pains with you.
In Isaiah 42: 14 God exclaims,
I cry out like a woman in labor,
I gasp and pant.
Dr. Margo Houts offers more examples online.

To be true to the Bible and to Jesus’ imagery, Father must stand alongside Mother and flock must include the pope. I feel confident that Pope Francis would endorse this statement. But a calcified tradition imprisons him as well as the whole Church in language that surely would offend Jesus.

One example is the patriarchal creed, which I cannot with integrity recite. I cringe at the thought of a million women saying, “For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven. . . and became man.” A more effective evisceration of feminine value cannot be imagined. My place of worship deletes the offensive “men” but how many do this? Our congregation does recite, “became man,” which actually mistranslates the original text. To be consistent with the slavishly literal translation, it should be rendered “became flesh.” This insult to women seems deliberate and pathological.
I know many who busily translate during Mass, internally clawing some meaning from the archaic texts. But more people whose minds have not fallen asleep simply leave Christian churches.     
I say internally,
I believe in God, the Mother Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
Without my constant translating during Mass I could not endure the texts that set up idols.
To resonate with Jesus’ teaching about the invisible Domain, we could say,
I believe in the spiritual Realm, a never-failing treasure that thief cannot steal nor moth destroy (Lk 12:33).
I believe in the spiritual Reign proclaimed by Jesus, seeding ground good and worthless, spreading like weeds, leavening like yeast through dough (Mt 13).

In our womanpriest Masses we recite a creed adapted from one by S. Joan Chittister:
We believe in one God who made us all and infuses all of life with the sacred.
We believe in the multiple revelations of God, alive in every human heart.
We believe in Jesus Christ, who leads us to the fullness of humanity, to what we are meant to become.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the breath of God on earth, who gives life to hearts of stone.
Spirit speaks and gives meaning to the Word through time.
We believe in one holy and universal church, joined together with the wholeness of creation.
We acknowledge our need for forgiveness in the face of our frailties. We look for life eternal in ways we cannot dream, and trust that creation goes on creating in this world and in us forever. Amen.
The male images forced on Christians create an idol opposed to the images of Jesus and other prophets.


EMBARRASSED, September 18, 2013

I wonder how many clergymen were embarrassed by the first reading last Sunday—Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14.  Here “The Lord” shows himself to be a wrathful, petty overlord, obviously not the Great Ineffable Presence, mysterious and incomprehensible, that is our more-evolved concept of God today. This lord conversing with Moses goes into a fit of such rage that Moses worries, “What will the neighbors think?” This is in Verse 12, not included in the Sunday reading. I wonder why it was deleted. Because it hits too close to the negative impression on us all?

Obviously, “The Lord” is a human image, an idol, a god created by humans, more specifically, a god created in man’s image. He is no better than the golden calf that incited his jealous wrath, the one made by Aaron for worship by the Israelites. Moses manages to calm him down enough to relent and not carry out his threats.

It helps to know the origin of this image that our tradition asks us to pray to. “Yahweh” comes from YHWY, the tetragrammaton standing for the four consonants of God’s name in ancient Hebrew. This language was written without vowels and, because the Israelites had a religious fear of pronouncing God’s name, the true pronunciation is lost. (Some contemporary Jewish authors continue the reverential practice by writing “G_d” instead of spelling it out.) In place of God’s name was read Adonai, meaning “lord.” In Hebrew, every noun’s gender is reinforced by the adjectives and verbs referring to that noun. Because “lord” was masculine,
every Hebrew-speaking individual from early childhood was imbued with the idea that God was a masculine deity, . . .”
Raphael Patai,  The Hebrew Goddess.
Exactly how it is for Christians today—from early childhood every individual is trained to think God is male. And Exodus 32 shows what can happen when a certain image takes the place of the Ineffable Source of All that we call God. 

But an exclusively male God-image does not fully reflect our Judaeo-Christian heritage. Archaeologists, historians, and mythologists reveal that the Goddess was popular with our earliest religious ancestors. Our own scriptures as well as a host of female figurines found in Palestine attest to it. According to Raphael Patai, “historical scrutiny” shows that for centuries following the coming of the law of Moses, sole worship of Yahweh by the Israelites “remained a demand rather than a fact” because the people chosen by Yahweh also worshipped Canaanite deities, including Goddesses. This is no surprise in light of the vitriol directed against female God-images—there must be a reason they do “protest too much.” What dumbfounds is the scope, the popularity, and the legitimacy of Goddess worship.
With scriptural evidence meticulously presented, Patai concludes:
It appears that of the 370 years during which the Solomonic temple stood in Jerusalem, for no less than 236 years (or almost two-thirds of the time) the statue of Asherah was present in the temple and her worship was a part of the legitimate religion approved and led by the king, the court and the priesthood, and opposed only by a few prophetic voices crying out against it at relatively long intervals.
Patai’s conclusion, so agitating to our familiar mindset, is confirmed by other scholars, and it is supported by Jeremiah 44:16-19:
We will not listen to what you say in the name of the Lord. Rather will we continue doing what we had proposed; we will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and pour out libations to Her, as we and our fathers, our kings and princes have done in the cities of Judah and streets of Jerusalem.
Then we had enough food to eat and we were well off; we suffered no misfortune. But since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out libations to Her, we are in need of everything and are being destroyed by the sword and by hunger.
The Bible has forty references to Asherah (Queen of Heaven) and also mentions the Goddess names of Astarte and Anath.
So far in this post I haven’t even mentioned Shaddai, a most intriguing name for God in the Bible. More, some other time.
At St. John’s SOT my lone voice protesting, “God is not 3 guys in the sky,” met little response from the seminarians, who made up the bulk of the student population. But after one class—I think it was Christology—a man with whom I’d had no interaction handed me a little tract about Shaddai. Wow! I don’t even know his name, nor did I have any more contact with him. I’ve always assumed he was a seminarian and wonder if he’s still a clergyman.

September 23, 2013

On September 22 Jack Richter emailed this COMMENT:
Excellent blog today by Jeanette Blonigen Clancy. Impeccable research had obviously been done by Ms.Clancy as she demonstrates that it was the FEMALE "Goddess" that was originally worshiped in the ancient pre-Judean cultures of Babalonia, Sumer and Egypt as well as Greece. Male dominance and the concept of a "male deity" came later. It has been used to wrongly suppress women ever since.

I say Brava to Ms. Clancy for using her vast knowledge of biblical TRUTH, to share with others so we can continue to build a non-fundamentalist world based on equality and justice for ALL.
 

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