How Does Goddess Change the World? by Xochitl Alvizo


It can only be that She begins in a small way at a single place in the world. It can only be that She begins within us. 

Carol Christ’s post this week made me think of a favorite little passage I love from a Catholic theologian, Gerhard Lohfink, who wrote a book about whether God needs the church. I’m not going to engage that specific question here nor am I going to talk about the ins and outs of the book. I simply mention it because it holds within it the beautiful passage that deeply resonates with me and has become the primary image I hold on to when thinking about how I want to participate in the transformation of the world. The passage comes from a part of the book where Gerhard Lohfink muses about how God would start a revolution while still respecting human freedom and participation:

God, like all revolutionaries, desires the overturning, the radical alteration of the whole society – for in this the revolutionaries are right: what is at stake is the whole world, and the change must be radical, for the misery of the world cries to heaven and it begins deep within the human heart. But how can anyone change the world and society at its roots without taking away freedom? (Lohfink, 26)

The issue is that for centuries people have tried and tried again to change the world, to ‘free the masses’ and save people from suffering, misery, and oppression – but too often revolutionaries resort to violence as their means. The systems are so rigidly and stubbornly in place that the revolutionary comes to see no other way to bring about radical social change except through a widespread violent overthrow. But this form of revolution will come at the cost of many people’s freedom and well-being. It will violently silence dissenting voices, it will suppress alternative visions, and will stifle creativity and difference for the sake of effectiveness or the success of the cause. A revolution that takes away human freedom and creativity is no revolution at all. It has not gone deep enough to the roots that would bring about the radical change that would respond to the deep cry from within the human heart.

And so how might Ultimate/Intimate Reality start a revolution? Here is my favorite of Gerhard Lohfink’s passage, with a couple word substitutions that better reflect my own way of seeing things (he uses salvation language that I think breaks up the otherwise beautiful flow):

It can only be that God begins in a small way, at one single place in the world. There must be a place, visible, tangible, where the [transformation] of the world can begin: that is, where the world becomes what it is suppose to be…Everyone must have the opportunity to come and see. All must have the chance to behold and test this new thing. Then if they want to, they can allow themselves to be drawn into the history of [transformation] that God is creating. Only in that way can their freedom be preserved. What drives them to the new thing cannot be force, not even moral pressure, but only the fascination of a world that is changed. (Lohfink, 27)

That is a vision that makes sense to me. Imagine if we could each do our own beautiful part in community with our friends, family, and neighbors in our particular time and place. Imagine that we participate in the incarnation, the embodiment of a divine new reality that begins within ourselves and is then shared and worked out in participation with others in our particular visible, tangible place…we would be, as Carol Christ stated, co-creators with Goddess, inspired to live “creatively, joyfully, and in harmony with others in the web of life.” A transformed world indeed!

I do also recognize that big widespread transformations must also take place as it relates to systemic and institutional oppression and injustice. These must be collectively resisted, protested, interrupted, and dismantled, for sure. But they cannot be simply replaced with an alternate, yet just as big, system or institution that is suppose to universally work at all times for all people in all places – that is a patriarchal fallacy. Particularity matters. Context, creativity, and participation must always be given their place.  Human freedom and dignity cannot be sacrificed – otherwise the ‘new thing’ will not be new at all – the roots will still be rotten.

The world does need overturning indeed – I am %100 with the radical feminists on this – the change must be radical for the whole world is at stake. The change must start from deep within the roots if a truly new creation is to be brought to life. But it is my contention that the overturning cannot, will not occur if done by the same old domineering, violent, tyrannizing ways. That is not the way of Ultimate/Intimate Reality.  Sonia Johnson in Wildfire: Igniting the She/volution (38) rightly affirms that “What we are doing in the present is creating the future, is the future.” In other words, “the means are the ends…how we do something is what we get” (35). The radical change of the Goddess starts with us, within us, and engages us as free and creative be-ings, cultivating in us the very transformation toward which we move. As we and the communities of which we are a part begin to transform into and embody that beautiful, just, and life-giving new way, others will have the chance to behold and test the new thing, drawn to it out of sheer fascination – fascination that a new thing is possible and that the roots of change can emerge in a diversity of creative ways for every new time and in every new place.

So, how does Goddess change the world? It can only be that She begins in a small way at a single place in the world. It can only be that She begins within us.

Xochitl Alvizo is a feminist Christian-identified woman and theologian currently completing her PhD at Boston University School of Theology in practical theology with a focus on ecclesiology. Finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably interconnected and the good one can do in any one area inevitably and positively impacts all others. 

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Categories: Ethics, Feminism, Feminist Theology, General, Relationality, Resistance, Social Justice

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12 replies

  1. Well said, thank you. “She begins within us” ~ “within” holding the key to transformation.

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  2. You really have to name the agent Xochitl— the people who want to “free the masses” and resort to violence on a massive scale are…. three guesses men. Name the agents of massive violence worldwide, and you come up with one answer—men.

    What we know about Goddess societies was their incredible non-violence, because the society itself was not constructed around male supremacy to begin with. The feminist movement in the US, which involved hundreds of thousands of women in the streets, was THE most non-violent massive social movement in US history. Now why was that? Compare that to the so-called male controlled “anti-war” movement. Women present a massive movement to end the domination of one sex of the other sex. Violence from men is everywhere, in the home, on the streets, in wars around the world, and men really have nothing to do with significant social change for women. They don’t know how to do it.

    In the 60s and 70s, I can’t name a single woman who was killed in a feminist demonstration or women’s rights march. But I think we can name hundreds of people over the past decades who were killed in violent classes with police — men clashing with male police officers, or women being shot dead by male police officers/national guard — Kent State comes to mind here.

    Radical change would involve something women have never attempted in the history of the world, the migration out of the home and out of male direct policing. Women would have to make this huge commitment to end the domestic policing within the home, and an end to the “production and reproduction” that fuels the 5000 year old system of female oppression. Could women do such a thing? How badly do women want real freedom, and how important is it to end male tyranny worldwide?

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    • I hear you Turtle Woman, overwhelmingly men have been the agents of violent and oppressive systems – as we have historically and presently continue to live in a primarily patriarchal world. To me that point is well established. In this post I wanted to focus my intention and attention to the constructive aspects of transformation and on reflecting on biophillic and creative alternatives. I continue to seek my own transformation and authentic radical change. Thanks for your encouragement along the way.

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    • This is the thing I keep coming back to Turtle Woman . . . you are right . . . “domestic policing in the home”–what does a massive, communal, non-violent response look like? Practically speaking? In college I was deeply moved by MLK Jr. and his message and movement–which of course left women totally out of the equation. The success of this movement (not that racism is over) I think in part is due to the fact that 1) racism oppresses men and 2) racist oppression was/is considered a “public” issue, whereas misogyny is often not considered a public issues at all–especially violence against women and intimate partner violence, not to mention the psychological and emotional tyranny many women live under in their homes. How can we be in solidarity together given that women are socialized to feel obligated to the “home” and, especially when abused, find walking out of that domestic realm to be extremely difficult and dangerous? Can we meet those women where they are? I’ve imagined what it would be like to stage sit-ins in an abuser’s home only to realize in many if not most cases this would simply make things worse for the woman, since the property is likely in his name and once protesters are arrested there is no one between her and a man more hell-bent on asserting his control. And clearly we could not sit-in every abused woman’s home but Goddess there has to be some radical way to change this situation. What does non-violent resistance look like for feminists in response to intimate partner violence? If I could figure out a way that it would actually protect and liberate women, I would put my body between them and that violence.

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  3. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, from Jacques Maritian, quoted by my teacher Michael Novak, “the means are the end in the process of becoming.”

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  4. True and lasting change can only come from the inside out. No one can force it on another. Which is something many have yet to realize, especially when it comes to the Middle East. If we want a peaceful world, we first have to create that harmony within ourselves. In doing so we become an anchor ray for others to do the same.

    It’s just that so many people are good at talking the talk, but have a little issue with walking the walk. I include myself in this group. With radically changing energy, it isn’t so easy to stay centered and grounded, yet it is even more important to do so.

    Thank you for sharing this. I needed the reminder.

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    • I like your term “anchor ray”–Tolle refers to it as “frequency holder”–

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      • Yes, I’m with Darla – I love that line in tirgana’s comment, ” If we want a peaceful world, we first have to create that harmony within ourselves. In doing so we become an anchor ray for others to do the same.” Isn’t it fascinating how often war is justified as a means toward peace?!!? patriarchal reversals – that’s what Mary Daly called that.

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  5. I really love this post Xochitl.

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  6. Fleurdelleah— I think you have hit on the key issue here. Where women are policed, controlled, exploited and terrorized is IN THE HOME. When was the last time a woman who went into labor was actually paid for the “labor?”

    Men’s movements are about the outside world— front seats on buses, drinking fountains, a place at Harvard Law School— outside. How did MLK treat his wife at home? Read about how he ignored her pleas to get home furnishing as he gave all the money away to “the movement” or how about womanizing? He was more worried about being accused of buying new curtans with the Nobel Peace Prize money than he was about being caught breaking his marriage vows. Small things yes, but his liberation movement was really about the patriarchal outside world, and he wanted the rights white men had, he did not have any idea that a feminist movement was about to explode.

    So we have to look at the center of the oppression. The home. It’s why men don’t LIVE IN MY HOME! NEVER. They will not be under my roof. I will not “reproduce” more baby males either.

    WILL NOT. Women are tethered inside to a personal master, they can be very very kind masters, they can be mean abusive masters, but every woman who lives with one is owned. They can say anything they want to here, but the structure and mind of the men is about “MY wife” MY children.
    Rarely do I hear the words “our marriage” “our children” –it’s telling.

    Women are men’s colonized lands, and for a true women’s liberation movement to succeed we’d really have to change everything. Say women live in groups, an males could visit but not stay, for …

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  7. Yes, this is the sticking point–how to resist oppression in the home collectively and in a way that alters the consciousness of our entire culture. I respect and admire your passion and willingness to commit to drastically alternative ways of living. I do want to live with and have babies with a man and would not be sad to have a son . . . not sure how likely that is given that I won’t settle for less than total equality but I would like to experience those things. I have to believe that there is hope for genuine reconciliation and equality between men and women. But that seems a very long way off. I find myself scheming a lot about this topic . . .

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