Friday, October 31, 2014

The Lord vs the Goddess


Whenever I hear of people reading the Bible, I wonder if they read Old Testament texts portraying the Lord in competition with the Goddess and punishing those who worship Her. It’s hard not to despise  this Lord as a petty, vindictive, unlikeable guy.

Much is made of monotheism in our religious tradition. It is said to show the superiority of our religion over the polytheism of others, but it is based on a misunderstanding. Just as the male image of the Holy One possesses many names, the female one has a variety of names. In the Bible She is named El Shaddai, Asherah, Ashtoreth, Astarte, and Anath. Various names for what we call “God” can lead to greater understanding that images of “God” are merely images and not the reality itself.  

In the following passages, the Lord looks more like a tribal god or mascot than “God” (quotations from the NAB):
Judges 2: 13. The Israelites abandoned worship of the Lord and served Ashtoreth and Baal. Then “the anger of the Lord flared up against Israel, and he delivered them over to plunderers who despoiled them.”
Judges 3: 7. Because the Israelites offended the Lord by serving Baal and Asherah, “the anger of the Lord flared up against them and he allowed them to fall into the power of [their enemies].
In First Samuel 7: 4, a similar tale is told, and the pattern appears in numerous other books.

In First Kings 15: 11-14, we read that a king of Judah “pleased the Lord” by destroying sacred objects devoted to Asherah. This also is a common refrain in the historical books of the Bible. Fortunately, our morality has evolved beyond the Lord’s jealous code. No matter how foolish the religious objects of others seem to us, we respect them.

Second Kings 23 details the destruction of all traces of Goddess-worship in the temple and the countryside by a king in favor with the Lord. Yet, “the Lord did not desist from his fiercely burning anger against Judah” (2 Kgs 23: 26). What follows is the fall of Jerusalem to the king of Babylon and deportations of Judeans to Babylon—the Babylonean Exile.

Raphael Patai found 40 references to Asherah in the historical books of the Bible, most of them referring to Asherim, which scholars think were carved wooden poles in shrines to the Goddess. They were everywhere, on every hill, inciting the vengeance of the Lord. In these stories “Evil in the sight of the Lord” really means competition for Him.

Of course, the texts do not represent “God”; they were written by Israelite priests intent on suppressing worship different from their own prescriptions. Their image of a jealous lord violates our image of what we call “God” today—a loving, non-judgmental force guiding all peoples toward goodness.

The Israelite priests largely failed in their campaign. Raphael Patai concludes that, for almost two-thirds of the 370 years during which Solomon's Temple stood in Jerusalem, the statue of Asherah was present in the Temple and she was worshiped by the king, the court and the priesthood.

In Jeremiah 44:16-19, women tell us why She gave good competition to Him:
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 the 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.
First Kings 11 tells what happened because King Solomon had 700 wives of royal rank and 300 concubines. These foreign women turned Solomon’s heart away from the Lord and toward Astarte, and Solomon built sacred shrines honoring the Goddess. The Lord punished him—for serving Astarte, not for polygamy—by taking away most of Solomon’s kingdom and raising up an adversary to him.
Earlier Solomon’s father, David, had massacred all the men of this adversary. 

Genocide stalks the Bible—my subject next time. 



November 21, 2014             Genocide in the Bible

Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not talk about genocide in the Bible, although educated religious are well aware of it. I think we should stop keeping it a secret known only to a few. My religious friends who already know this don’t like to be reminded, but I think it’s important to put the issue forward to check Christian arrogance and apathy.

The biggest scandal in biblical genocide is that “the Lord” commands the genocide. He does not fit our idea of God, but he still inhabits scripture readings in our churches.
The Lord said to Moses: “. . . I have given him into your hand, with all his people and his land. So they killed him, his sons, and all his people, until there was no survivor left; and they took possession of his land.
Numbers 21: 34-35 (RSV translation)
This kind of slaughter becomes a habit. In another passage, the Israelites report that they followed instructions given to Moses by the god called “the Lord”:
. . . we utterly destroyed [the kingdom of Og], as we had done to King Sihon of Heshbon, in each city utterly destroying men, women, and children.
Deuteronomy 3:6
Biblical atrocities do not stop with killing people, as this next passage shows. “The Lord” spoke to Moses:
When you cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan, you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you; destroy all their figured stones, destroy all their cast images, and demolish all their high places.
Numbers 33: 50-52
To appreciate this we have to imagine an enemy destroying all our churches, all our statues and other holy objects. The god called “The Lord” makes sure they carry out his orders:
. . . if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land from before you, then those whom you let remain shall be as barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides; they shall trouble you in the land where you are settling.
And I will do to you as I thought to do to them. (Numbers 33: 55)
Joshua, who succeeded Moses as leader of the Israelites, presided over more butchering.
The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand—all the people of Ai.
Joshua 8:24

More genocide commanded by the lord occurs in Deuteronomy chapters 7, 12, 20 (“you must not let anything that breathes remain alive”), Joshua 6, 10 (“. . . utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded”), and 11. 
I quit searching for passages showing the god commanding genocide but ran into many exposing his perverted sexual morality. See especially Numbers 31. 
Check out these verses, which introduce a sexist horror commanded by “the Lord”:
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.
Numbers 31: 7-8,17-18
The terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria could take lessons from this lord. Another outrageous passage occurs in Dt 22:
If . . . evidence of the young woman’s virginity was not found, . . . the men of her town shall stone her to death, because she committed a disgraceful act . . .
We know the likely story. The young woman who lost her virginity likely was raped. From news of tribal practices in the Middle East today, we know many women are victims punished for the acts of their assailants. 

Come to think of it, to a lesser extent, this happens to college students today. They are sexually molested, but their assailants go free and the legal system blames and shames the victims. 
Come to think further, Catholic bishops did the same thing.  This occurred to me after I had finished posting. I write this now in an edit.

We are told that certain people in history read and studied the Bible, even memorized large swaths of it. That statement is not followed by dismay over some of its contents. I don’t understand it.

Here I have pointed to only a tiny portion of the loathsome passages. I present them to challenge my fellow Christians who think our religion is superior to other religions, as our childhood faith trained us to think. It is not. Jesus of Nazareth left us a treasure of spiritual counsel. It does not insult him to tell the truth about our religion.

At its beginning, our tradition beat its rivals, the religions around it. It won the power to tell its side of the story as the normative one. Because its symbols saturated the Western world, they provided primary access to the Inner Realm. Ours is a fine religion. It does what all religions are good at—providing images for humans to think about inner truths. When it and any religion insists that its way is the only good way, that’s when it’s dangerous.  We see how dangerous in these stories about genocide in the Bible.
************************
Two comments propel me to add this note:

Both noted that all genocide examples are from the Old Testament, and isn’t the New Testament more gentle and civil?   

Correct. The New Testament IS gentler, more humanist. Most humanist and loving of all are Jesus of Nazareth’s teachings, which focus on the Divine Reign within each human person. One of the responses, however, also mentioned the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of witches and heretics. 

As expressed above, institutional religion’s ideas cannot be trusted as coming from what we call God.

COMMENT.
Anonymous said...
Ms. Clancy, I think you would agree that your statement "Most humanist and loving of all are Jesus of Nazareth’s teachings, which focus on the Divine Reign within each human person" might more accurately be worded as "Most humanist and loving of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are those that focus on the Divine Reign within each person." Those, of course, are only part of the teachings attributed to Jesus of the New Testament. He is also presented as believing that the way to heaven is narrow, that few will make it, and that the majority of humans will suffer eternally in Hell.
An Old Testament god who orders the death or enslavement of hundreds of thousands of people is an awful character, but doesn't threaten hell; far worse is a god (or god/man) presented as approving--even arranging--the eternal torture of most of humanity. That's the N.T.'s Jesus, unless you have a convincing argument that such beliefs were falsely attributed to him in Gospel writings (which I would read with interest).

 November 15, 2014  Tony Flannery

Thank you to Larry Schug for sending this poem written in New Mexico, thinking it could go with my post, “The Lord vs the Goddess.”  I agree.
            Encounter with a Collared Lizard
             
A collared lizard,
hardly larger than a dragonfly,
crosses our path, stops to sun itself
on a limestone rock in a dry stream bed,
a meeting of species
that seems serendipitous, if not predestined,
even in the vast desert of space and time,
as if my human life is no accident,
but some sort of blessing,
not from the God who lives in churches,
demanding worship and sacrifice,
but from the goddess of small places and little lives,
the goddess who can’t wipe the smile from her face.
Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, founder of the Association of Catholic Priests has been a popular writer and speaker in Ireland and has publicly questioned official church teaching on celibacy for priests, contraception, homosexuality and women's ordination.

He is touring our country and met with 30 fellow dissidents in St. Cloud two weeks ago. The discussion was exhilarating, as indignant views were aired. Few persons there remained silent the whole while.  Malcolm Nazareth nailed the whole set of problems in Catholicism under patriarchy—assigning all power to an exclusive group of white males. 
Referring to texts edited by Paula S. Rothenberg, Malcolm writes,
US culture and civilization is summed up in the term "Whiteness" or ‘historical, systematic, structural race-based superiority.’ The roots of racism, sexism, as well as homophobia are in the cult of masculinity.

By praying exclusively to male lords, Christianity and Islam have damaged the spiritual imagination of most people on the planet. If we would pray to God our Mother as well as Father, we would break this pattern in our consciousness that encourages people to demean women. It leads to sexism, racism, clericalism, colonialism, and homophobia—all oppressive systems.

There is a clear line from worship of male gods to all forms of gender violence. The simple elimination of the word “Lord” in our prayers would break this training and transform the dominant, perverted image of God in our Western religions. I beg priests to lead with courage.

As Tony Flannery was about to leave he said we were even more radical than he. I hope we radicalized him beyond talking about Catholic sexual teachings, the future of ministry, and the problem with infallibility. I gave him a copy of my God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky.

Change of topic:
I had never seen the movie or read The lost Child of Philomena Lee, an Irish woman who spent 50 years searching for long-lost son. Her journey ends in the exposure of cruelty in a monastery trained in perverted Catholic sexual doctrine. Having now seen the superb movie, I speculate that it’s one of those rare movies that measure up to the book.
It happens that an article in the latest NCR echoes the theme in Philomena: babies inChile were stolen and sold to well-off families.

I asked Malcolm to write a post for this blog, and I haven’t forgotten my promise to write about genocide in the Bible. 

COMMENT:

Chris said...
Hi Jeanette,

Let me first say with absolute sincerity that I am not posting here for the purpose of trolling. Whenever I visit your blog, I find myself totally perplexed. It seems to me that your engaging in a kind of idolatry- an idolatry of, well, unconsciousness. What your unconscious of is that your subjectivist/relativist ideology precedes your faith and apparently everything else .

Moreover, most of the causes that you so fervently pursue are, themselves, ideals that have their source in that very religion/civilization that you so strenuously object to. What spiritual universe, other than the West, do we even find the recognition of things like racism and sexism in the first place?

To my knowledge, none. Why is that?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Myths about Mary


The official Catholic Church would have us believe unbelievable things about Mary, the mother of Jesus:
that she remained a virgin in spite of giving birth to Jesus,
that she was conceived without original sin (assuming it exists),
that she was taken bodily up into heaven,
and that she was the mother of God without being God.

In my experience, hardly anyone knows what “Immaculate Conception” means. I hear it confused with the belief that Jesus had no human father. To explain “Immaculate Conception,” I offer this text written in 1866:
. . . by the sin of Adam man is conceived and born in sin, and obnoxious to [the lord’s] wrath, . . . a woman, after child-birth, should continue for a certain time in a state which that law calls unclean; during which she was not to appear in public, nor presume to touch any thing consecrated to God.
She was officially unclean 40 days after the birth of a son, and the time was double for a daughter. (Girl babies made a bigger mess dirtying . . . what?) For her purification a mother had to bring a lamb and young pigeon or turtle dove to the temple.
These being sacrificed to Almighty God by the priest, the woman was cleansed of the legal impurity, and reinstated in her former privileges.
Even after Mary was declared immaculately conceived or unstained by original sin, the Church, following Jewish tradition, celebrated Mary’s purification in the temple after giving birth. And Catholic women went through the same purification ceremony. This “reasoning” is so weird, I suspect some of my atheist friends still won’t understand. Contact me and I’ll explain further.

There’s more for your entertainment. Doing research for a womanpriest forum, I found apocryphal works on Mary. Apocrypha, meaning “things put away" or "things hidden,” were not accepted into the Bible but influenced beliefs. Those on Mary reveal the origin of Marian doctrines. The Gospel of James emphasizes her exceptional purity.
 . . . the priest said to Joseph, Thou hast been chosen by lot to take into thy keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel.
The priest tells Joseph he’d better fear God—remember what happened when others didn’t obey:
“the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction.” And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in thy house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. . . .
Why did Mary need a guardian? I found this explanation:
. . . the crisis posed by Mary's becoming a woman and thus her imminent pollution of the temple. The priests resolve the crisis by turning her over to a divinely chosen widower.
Womanhood polluting the temple! Because of her menstruation? In contrast to that patriarchal culture, indigenous cultures around the world celebrated the onset of the flow, and in some cultures, men envious of woman’s power to remain strong while bleeding cut themselves in pretend menstruation. But the Church held Mary to be above physicality. Joseph finds her pregnant and is “greatly afraid.” Then
an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, saying: Be not afraid for this maiden, for that which is in her is of the Holy Spirit; . . .
Another aprocryphal work on the Assumption has this passage:
 . . . with the departure of her blameless soul . . . a voice out of heaven was heard, saying, “Blessed are you among women.” . . .  from that time forth all knew that her spotless and precious body had been transferred to paradise.

Apocryphal writings reveal the origin of the “Hail Mary.” From the Gospel of James:   
Behold, a voice saying: Hail, thou who hast received grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women!

How did these tales about Mary (rivaling the fairy tale of shepherds and kings in a stable) develop and why? The answer lies in pre-Christian history. Around the globe in pre-Christian and pre-patriarchal times, the accepted God-image was the Great Mother. Several Virgin Goddesses pre-figure Mary by producing a child without sexual intercourse—Isis, Ishtar (Easter), Inanna, Demeter and others.
The child, like Christ, often is male, is born at the coming of light (winter solstice), and is born in a hidden place like a stable or cave. He becomes a powerful leader. He dies and is reborn (2nd Coming).

When Christianity replaced earlier religions in the Roman Empire, Mary became the new Goddess. An illuminating moment occurred in 431 at the Council of Ephesus. In a raucous fight over which title should be given Mary, Theotokos (Mother of God) won over Christotokos (Mother of Christ).

The people of Ephesus rejoiced at the outcome because Ephesus was the seat of Artemis/Diana, “Divine Mother” and “Queen of Heaven.” Diana’s temple became the church of Ephesus. “Virgin” and “Star of the Sea” (Stella Maris) are more Goddess titles bestowed on Mary.
As these few facts demonstrate, Christianity is a synthesis of paganism and Judaism. It accepts its connection with one but not the other.

This Sunday, October 12, Mary Smith and I will present a forum after our Mass.  I’ll speak about the parallels between the Great Mother of ancient history and Mary in Catholic belief, and Mary Smith will present a model of Mary for us today—not a Goddess but a woman with attainable strengths to companion us on our journey.
This frees us to place the Sacred Feminine where it belongs, on a par with the Sacred Masculine.

October 15, 2014          When SHE reigned

On Sunday Mary Smith, our priest at Mary Magdalene,First Apostle, and I gave a joint presentation on Mary, the mother of Jesus. I gave evidence of the parallels between Mary and the pre-Christian Goddess in apocryphal Christian works and in Catholic doctrines.  Mary spoke about the meaning of Mary for us today—not as a Goddess. Both of us mentioned the Black Madonna, dark images of Mary appearing all over Europe. 

When the Roman Empire replaced earlier religions with the Christian religion, it convened councils of bishops from around the empire to decide which form this new religion would take. There were many Christianities with a wide variety of beliefs. And there were many old religions in the empire, devoted to various images of Divinity. 
      One was Isis, the mother of Horus, an Egyptian mother/son pair, whose motifs were transferred to Mary and Jesus. So closely are the two pairs linked that figurines in which Horus sits on the throne of Isis’ lap were simply renamed “Mary and Jesus.”

The other week I observed my student teacher, Ryan Snyder, presenting a lesson on Egypt in his World History class.  He reminded me of the period when Black leaders from the southern part of Egypt ruled—a reminder that the image of Isis was Black as well as Arabic or Semitic. HERE you can see the variety of Madonna images, known as the Black Madonna.  Notice the dark African ones.

The broad scope of religious history demonstrates an irrepressible need for a divine Mother. Our earliest human ancestors imagined the Holy One female. Extremely ancient myths and materials tell us that the Goddess was supreme and Her worship widespread, if not universal, in human societies around the globe before male deities took over.

Archaeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of Goddess figurines, from Ireland to India, some dating back to 25,000 BCE. The oldest known art objects, they depict human forms with female thighs, buttocks, genitals, breasts, and pregnant bellies—Woman as the Source of Life. In Myths to Live By Joseph Campbell comments that they were
dubbed—amusingly—paleolithic Venuses.
Scholars molded by male-centered thinking did not know what to think of these figurines. They could not imagine WOMAN being held up as an icon, leading to their mistaken opinion that they were erotica. But Charlene Spretnak points to
the difference between the powerful Paleolithic figures and current pornographic portrayals of women as coy, vulnerable toys.
Look at some HERE. The figures were fashioned without feet because their lowest point was intended to be pressed into the earth for veneration in little household shrines. In The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology, Campbell comments sardonically that it is
not unusual for extremely well-trained archaeologists to pretend that they cannot imagine what services the numerous female figurines might have rendered.
He volunteers the answer that they provided the same services our male deity provides: receive our prayers, initiate "meditations on the mystery of being," aid women in childbirth, guard children, protect farmers, their crops and cattle, watch over the sailor and the merchant.

Stories of the female Creator come from Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Africa, Australia, and China as well as the Americas. Woman as Creator of the universe was a natural image for primal cultures who saw that woman bears new life. These cultures were in awe of female power because she could produce a monthly flow of blood without harming her body, she could grow babies in her body and give birth to them, and she could produce food out of her own body. Joseph Campbell wrote that, as the link between sex and babies was not known, males must have seemed,
within one jot of being completely superfluous . . .
    The female body was experienced as a focus of divine force, and a system of rites was dedicated to its mystery.
Human figures of larch and aspen wood are carved to this day among the Siberian reindeer hunters—the Ostyaks, Yakuts, Goldi, etc.—to represent the ancestral point of origin of the whole people, and they are always female.
Vestiges of that ancient reverence for the female appear in our scriptures, as we  will see next time.