Inspired by the Goddess

Carol P. Christ writes about the rebirth of the Goddess, feminism, ecofeminism, feminist theology, societies of peace, and the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete.

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Religions and the Abuse of Women and Girls by Carol P. Christ

At the 2009 meeting of the Parliament of World's Religions, former US President Jimmy Carter called the worldwide abuse of girls and women the greatest unaddressed human rights crisis of our time. He stated that this problem is “largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare.” Carter discussed these issues in A Call to Action.

In my address to the Parliament of World Religions on November 5, I will agree with Carter that religions play a major role in the abuse of women and girls, but I will question his view that religion’s contribution to the abuse of women and girls stems from the misinterpretation of a few selected texts. Rather I will argue that patriarchal ideas permeate most of the so-called great religions.

 

Patriarchal religions sanctify patriarchy. When they name divinity as Lord and King, this is not an aberration. When they justify male domination, this is not an aberration. When they justify war, this is not an aberration. When they justify the violence of the state, this is not an aberration. When they justify violence within the family, this is not an aberration. When they justify the control of female sexuality, this is not an aberration. When they justify private property and inheritance through the male line, this is not an aberration. When they justify rape culture, this is not an aberration. When they justify slavery, this is not an aberration. All of these things are at the root of the patriarchal system.

You might be thinking that I have gone too far. Religions have a lot of good in them. The prophetic tradition of the Bible teaches us to care for the poor and vulnerable. Jesus taught us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Muslims refer to God as All-Merciful. I am not denying that there are many good teachings in religious scriptures and traditions, including in scriptures and traditions fundamentally shaped by patriarchy. But the good is so thoroughly mixed together with the bad that we cannot easily separate the liberating core from the patriarchal flesh of the apple that surrounds it.

Yes, the prophets counsel care for the widow and the orphan. But they also tell us that children will be dashed into pieces and pregnant women will have their bellies ripped open because the people rebelled against their God. (Isaiah 13: 16) This vision of divine justice is re-sanctified for Christians in Handel’s Messiah. Jesus may or may not have taught a different view, but if so, why do Christians continue to perform the Messiah? I suggest that those who, for a variety of reasons including community and history, choose to remain within religions that have justified and continue to justify patriarchy must give up the naive view that this is due to misinterpretations that can easily be corrected. They must instead acknowledge their traditions have at least in part been created, shaped, and consistently interpreted to support patriarchy.

The Minangkabau of West Sumatra are an egalitarian matriarchal culture whose central value is the protection of the weak and the vulnerable. They say that they derive this principle from nature. They immediately add, “we take the good and throw away the bad.” What they mean by this is that from observing nature they see that the survival of children and plants depends upon nurturing the weak—babies and seedlings. This is the “good” on which they build their cultural values. The Minangkabau are not stupid. They recognize that violence and killing are found in nature. This is why they say that they take the good and throw away the “bad.” This is their hermeneutical principle. We might add that the Minangkabau people are the ones who decided what is good and what is bad in nature.

This is exactly how feminist theologian Judith Plaskow approaches the Jewish tradition. Recognizing that there is both good and bad in her tradition, she urges Jews to choose the good. She is fond of quoting Deuteronomy which put these words in the mouth of God, “I have set before you, life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.” (30:19) Although she finds this passage deeply meaningful, Plaskow would not argue that it can easily be seen to represent the liberating “core” of her tradition. She is well aware that there are many parts of the Bible she finds quite reprehensible.

She argues that rather than insisting that rightly understood, the Bible does not promote the abuse of women and girls, Jews must acknowledge that there is good and bad in their tradition. She would say that the same is true for Christians and others whose traditions have supported patriarchy. Plaskow chooses to stay within Judaism not to reform it or bring it back to its original meaning, but to transform it, to make it something it has not been before. Judaism may not always have been a tradition that treated women and girls fairly, but it can become one, if Jews choose to make it so.

I suggest that in fact all of us are in the same boat, with the exception of those who have inherited intact indigenous traditions based on the principles of egalitarian matriarchy. The rest of us must choose what is good and what is bad in traditions that have been shaped and influenced by patriarchy. Is there anything that can guide our choices? Perhaps we should look to egalitarian matriarchal traditions for guidance.

The Minangkabau say that the protection of the weak and the vulnerable is the highest value. For them, this means creating communities that support women and children and caring for the land so that the agricultural cycles of planting and harvesting continue. By this criterion, the prophets’ concern for the widow and the orphan and the poor at the gate is part of the “good” in Biblical traditions. Well-established practices of gift-giving ensure relative equality in egalitarian matriarchal societies. Jesus’s admonition to sell what you have and give to the poor should is “good.”

Egalitarian matriarchies are not male dominant, hierarchal, or governed by a single individual. Rather they have well-developed systems of participatory democracy with councils of female and male elders making the final decisions. Quakers worship without leaders, encouraging equality and discouraging egotism by valuing silence. The Havurah movement within Judaism and the Woman Church movement within Christianity encourage equality and sharing. Many Goddess and women’s spirituality groups share leadership. All of these attempts to create alternatives to hierarchical male domination are “good.”

Egalitarian matriarchies tend to view the earth as a great and giving mother: their ritual practices honor the interdependence of life, value all living things, and the give thanks for what has been given by the earth. Respect for the earth and all beings is found in Native American traditions, as well as in many neo-pagan groups, and this too is “good.”

This is an excerpt of my speech to the Parliament of World Religions which will be delivered on November 5, 2018 in Toronto.

 

Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist writer, activist, and educator living in Greece. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol  has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger. Carol will be speaking at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Re-Imagining Conference at Hamline University in St. Paul Minnesota on November 1 and 3; on at the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto, Canada on November 5; and at Memorial University of Newfoundland on November 7-10.

 

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Carol P. Christ is a author of the much-loved books Rebirth of the Goddess, She Who Changes, Weaving the Visions, and Womanspirit Rising, and forthcoming in 2016. Goddess and God in the World and A Serpentine Path. She leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in spring and fall.

Comments

  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite Saturday, 27 October 2018

    No way have you gone too far, no way did I personally think that!...if anything, this kind of thing hasn't gone nearly far enough, hasn't been spoken of enough and certainly not in the correct and most wide & influential forums (yet) but seems like you are well on the way and I can't thank you enough. I would so love to be there in Toronto when you give the full speech, but will excitedly wait to at least read the whole thing, which I presume will eventually be made available..?

    I have been, in my own small circle, been saying a lot of this for years. First of all, the mixture of the good & bad has, I firmly believe, been very deliberate. After all, how do you make the bad palatable and acceptable to the masses for millennia..? Why, you wrap it up & carefully present it with some "good". There are, have been and can be no real "misinterpretations" of (at least most of) what is clearly and explicitly misogynistic doctrine, in some form or another, in all major world religions.

    Some, like the Mormon church in which I was uncomfortably brought up, have found very cunning, crafty ways to disguise sexist ideas and practices. Women end up being more emotionally & mentally abused, repressed and brainwashed within (many, if not most) Mormon marriages and within the faith on the whole. Their intense focus, as with all Christianity (and others, but Mormonism is a strange offshoot of Christianity), on the MALE "godhead", male power, male leadership, solely male priesthood, etc. is still very belittling to women and our inherent power, despite the lip service they still pay to women in their oh-so-important roles, of course, as wives and mothers.

    The Mormon church acknowledges the existence of a Heavenly Mother, but they pointedly refuse and deny prayers to her, significant discussion of her and so on, and all on the flimsy excuse that it is "out of respect" so people don't end up slandering her and "taking her name in vain" as has been done with the Heavenly Father & Christ. Oh please...This is another of their subtle devices to keep the divine feminine out of sight & out of mind and I finally came right out and told my mother so a few months ago, and that it is a serious imbalance & injustice and a huge part of why I became a big multi-goddess-worshipping pagan, because I was starved for and denied my Mother and that that was evil and beyond unnatural and unhealthy.

    Thank you again for this, and may more and more people have the courage to take this as far as possible and reveal the all the whole truth and expose the abundant, unacceptable bad that is nefariously disguised by and presented with some good. Truth is truth, and it won't share a bed with lies, manipulation and false & evil "doctrine".

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Saturday, 27 October 2018

    Please accept my most sincere wishes for successful and triumphant presentations next month, and especially on November 5th.

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