Deciding To Leave the Religion of Your Birth–Or Not by Carol P. Christ


carol p. christ 2002 colorWhat factors are most important in the decisions of spiritual feminists to leave or to stay affiliated with traditional religions? My friend Jewish feminist theologian Judith Plaskow and I discuss these questions in our forthcoming book, Goddess and God in the World. In this excerpt I speak to Judith about our different choices.

For me no longer identifying with Christian tradition had a great deal to do with belief. At some point I came to the conclusion that I did not believe in Christianity’s “core doctrines” of Trinity, incarnation, and salvation through Christ. Yet these doctrines are expressed in the Nicene Creed, which is accepted by all Christians. In an interview at a Christian seminary early on in my career, I was asked to define and defend my Christology or theory of salvation through Jesus Christ. My answer that feminism had put a question mark over all doctrines for me was not considered acceptable.

Judaism, on the other hand, is not a religion that stresses belief. Indeed your husband Robert used to love to shock me and other Christians by saying that for a Jew belief in God was not required as long as he or she followed the law. Understanding this difference between Judaism and Christianity helped me to understand that the question of belief in “core doctrines” simply was not as central for you as a Jewish theologian as it would necessarily be for me as a Christian theologian.

However, my reasons for leaving Christianity did not only have to do with my lack of belief in its core doctrines. For me the issue I call the power of “core symbols” was equally if not more important. Once I began to understand the way in which the “core symbols” of the Bible had influenced people and cultures, “I” simply could not ally “myself” with traditions that continued to promote them in liturgies.

I found I could not repeat the words nor stand in silence when “God, the Father, Lord, and King” was celebrated in communal worship. On the one hand my body revolted and I felt like I wanted to throw up. On the other hand, my mind told me that even if I could control the reactions of my body, the continued repetition of these symbols by others was influencing their individual actions and the actions of the culture they were legitimating through them—and these actions were hurting others. I have sometimes said that I might have been able to stay Christian if the only thing that was at stake had been the maleness of God. I do not know whether this is true, because I was never faced with this simple dilemma.

For me, it was at least as important to recognize that images of God as a warrior in the Bible were leading other Americans to believe that “God is on our side” in the wars our country fights. Because I had studied the Hebrew Bible intensively, I knew that God is portrayed as a warrior in key texts cited by liberation theologians, including Exodus and the prophets. The God of Exodus is portrayed as a “man of war” who casts the horses and chariots of the Egyptians into the sea. In the prophets, God promises to bring war and devastation on “his own” people who have disobeyed his covenant. These ideas not transformed but simply re-formed in Christianity.

The Holy Roman Empire was converted to Christianity after Constantine saw a cross in the sky with the words “in this sign conquer” as he prepared for battle. Many centuries later, I grew up singing “Onward Christian soldiers marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.” As Robert Bellah argued, “America’s civil religion” involves the belief that America’s wars are justified by America’s special relationship with God as a new “chosen people.” For this reason, many Americans believed God was on our side in the Vietnam War—as many Americans believe today that God is on our side in a war with Islam.

As I worked on my dissertation on the holocaust, I became intensely aware of the power of Christian symbols of the Jews rejecting Christ to create the atmosphere in which the holocaust was possible. It was partly my friendship with you that made it impossible for me to participate in liturgies I felt were anti-Jewish. These included the Easter service in which the Jews were blamed for killing Christ, and even where those words were excised, the name “Judas” or “the Jew” which was given to the betrayer of Jesus.

When I added to this my feelings for women—myself included–who had been psychologically, physically, or sexually abused by men whose power over women was authorized by images of God as a dominant male Other, I simply could no longer ally myself with a tradition in which such images were part of Bible readings and liturgy.

Your renewed commitment to thinking as Jewish about the questions we had heretofore been thinking about together was difficult for me to accept and understand. On the one hand, I understood that it was easier for me to leave Christianity than it was for you to leave Judaism, because as you said, you would always be defined as a Jew in a Christian culture. Thinking back on my decision to leave Christianity in contrast to your decision to stay within in Judaism, I can see that my relationship to Christianity was more complicated than yours was to Judaism.

My parents’ mixed marriage meant that I did not have a single Christian tradition to identify with. I had three—Roman Catholicism from my father’s family, Christian Science from my mother’s, and the Protestantism of my childhood. My father’s decision to stop going to church because of sermons about civil rights meant that by the time I finished college, my immediate family no longer had a religious tradition at all. In addition, the fact that I had experienced discrimination in the church of my adolescence by the other girls and their parents because we lived on “the wrong side of the tracks” must made me question whether I would ever “belong” in a Protestant community.  This made it easier for me to leave.

Nevertheless, and though we have discussed this issue many times, I have never in fact understood why the issue of “the power of symbols” is not as important to you as it is to me. Why does your body not recoil as mine does when images of God as a dominant male Other are invoked? How does your mind allow you to continue to worship in a context where images that we both recognize have caused a great deal of harm–to individuals and communities–both in history and in the present day continue to be invoked?

In case you are wondering Judith does have answers to these questions—answers that involve history, community, and what she calls the ambiguity of life.  What are your reasons for leaving or staying affiliated with traditional patriarchal religions? 

Carol P. Christ leads life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute. There is still space in the spring tour May 25-June 8.  Fall tour is Sept. 28-Oct. 13.  Come to Crete learn more about Goddess and a culture of peace.   Carol spoke on a WATER Teleconference recently.  Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions

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42 replies

  1. Thank you so much for this post! I love the Christian tradition, but I find that I,too, cannot stomach it anymore. It’s because the Goddess, the Magdalen for me, has been such a tender and pivotal part of my life during my years of personal transformation that I refuse to take part in any service where She or some feminine Presence is not recognized and honored equally to Christ. There IS a Goddess! It’s time to wake up! I want to tell everyone to open to Her and feel Her amazing love. It is so very healing and balancing of the masculine within—not the least bit warlike—gentle and mothering and powerfull al at once. Jill Frew

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  2. Carol–I always read your essays with great interest. I am still trying to identify my spirituality. If I lived within an hour of a Unitarian church, I think I would attend there because they would tolerate and share my quest. I thought I might be a pagan, but I don’t believe in spells or magic, only that we and all of nature are one and the same. I’m not sure about god and goddess but if there is one, there must be the other as nature is male and female. And I cannot be part of an organized religion that sees me as less than any man.

    So I will sit here on the buckle of the Bible Belt and ponder with help from essays and books like yours.

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    • UU’s have a “Church of the Larger Fellowship,” which is an online group for those who can’t attend actual services at a UU church. You might look into that, or just start a UU group yourself!

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      • I have thought of this Katharine, starting a branch of UU here in Williamsport, Tennessee. I was deterred because I am an introvert, good on paper but poor orally–so I’m thinking maybe I could mine the website that you suggested, it goes beyond the reach of brick and mortar. Maybe I could air a website sermon and then have a discussion? Will think on this. Do you know if any one else has done this and how they’ve gone about it?

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    • I am not that interested in spells and magic either, though I once was. I agree that acknowledging our human connection in the web of life is much more important than using spells or magic to get what we want out of our personal lives. In any case, I was a failure at that (I didn’t get what I thought I wanted), but then I woke up and decided to appreciate what I do have and not worry about what I don’t have.

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    • Betty – It looks like there are many ways to become involved with the UU church of the larger fellowship: http://www.clfuu.org/ministries/ I hope you’ll give it a try!

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  3. Carol, Years ago I walked away from all forms of organized religion. However, I have remained engaged in the study of the biblical text because of its position of continuing importance in society. The May issue of the Mother Pelican blog contains an article I have recently written. It is Article number 9 about biblical misperceptions regarding women (with the pen name Jennifer J. McKenzie). Here is a brief quote from that article:

    ” All of the biblical books, written over about 1100 years, by a number of different people, are a dialog. They are different expressions by different people about the world, how it was created, humanities’ role in the world, how society should be ordered, and which ideas, peoples, or sexes should be dominant. It is a record of the ancient struggle over issues that still occupy us today. Some of the battles are not so different from those we have recently fought because of the bombing of the twin towers, or the killings of ambassadors, or the taking of oil field hostages. We are still having trouble in the Middle East. We still debate woman’s role in society and in the home. We still ask if a woman should participate in battle. Or if people should war at all. And, we still are trying to deal with the ideas of corrupt priests and rape in the army. There is a trite saying to the effect that “If one doesn’t know one’s history, one is bound to repeat it.” This why biblical material is important – it is a record of the development of early human thought and similar struggles taking place during those times. It is profitable to study the Bible with these ideas in mind.”

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  4. I have studied the Bible intensively. That is one of the reasons I walked away from Biblical religions. In my opinion, despite the best attempts of feminist exegetes, I do not think there is any way around the “fact” that the biblical authors perceived Yahweh as a male God and persistently identified his power as power over, power to destroy, power of a warrior. Sure Yahweh was sometimes worshiped with “his” Asherah (this proves his maleness) and there are times that female imagery is used of the male God–comparison to a mother in labor and so forth. But this does not make Yahweh female or androgynous in the core symbolism of the Bible. Nor does it erase the images of power over as power of a warrior to destroy and annihilate his enemies.

    I have not discovered any great wave of interest among feminists who stay in Biblical religions to resist or transform or refuse to participate in liturgies in which God’s power is portrayed as power to destroy. I would be happy to be proved wrong on that. Sadly, some of the very texts that feminists like in the prophets are embedded within larger contexts in which God is about to or already destroyed his own people for not living up to their moral obligations.

    Sorry, but I feel very passionately about this, precisely because I have studied the Bible carefully

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    • Thank you, Carol, for saying so clearly what I feel about the Bible. Like many other women, I too went through the process of searching for the “original” texts, under the misapprehension that they had to somehow be better: kinder to women and with a truly loving god. I discovered they don’t exist — and even if they did, the modern symbol system is so powerfully entrenched that most people don’t want to be troubled to hear otherwise.

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    • I have to agree with you, Carol. A good book that analyzes Yahweh as a violent, power-over god is _God: A Biography_ by Jack Miles. I can’t understand how any feminist could read that book and continue to be either religiously Jewish or Christian.

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    • I need to say one more time. I am not looking at the Bible from a religious viewpoint. I AM looking at it as an ancient document that expresses some of ancient humanities’ religious struggles. Have you studied it carefully in the early Hebrew and Greek texts? If one does so, one becomes aware of some vastly different concepts, that have been corrupted by about 2000 years of masculine/patriarchal distortions. The name YHWH evolved from the Goddess IO and was androgynous. Jesus was portrayed as psychologically androgynous. YHWH didn’t “have” an Asherah. Asherah was part of the YHWH concept. Etc., etc. I wish someone would read my book, “A Gender Neutral God/ess” and THEN discuss these issues. Why are many women “snowed” by what men tell them, or what men have taught/interpreted, that the biblical text is all about….or by what they read in the English texts? I didn’t write my books to be religious. I wrote them to expose what has been going on so that more women could question the veracity of the doctrines that have been taught.

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      • I repeat I have read the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew. I don’t think I would agree with your understanding that Yahweh is androgynous (whatever the origin of “his” name) for many reasons, including that he is always referred to as he. My rejection of Biblical religion (in my case Christianity) has to do with rejecting patriarchy, not with rejecting men, as you suggest (perhaps referring to me–or not) in response to the blog posted on April 30. There are men in my life too, and most of them also reject patriarchy in varying degrees. John Lennon is one of my heroes because he could “imagine all the people living life in peace.” I don’t think a God whose power is so often imagined as power over, domination, and domination through violence will help us to get to that place. But I also don’t think the world will get there without men like Lennon.

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      • Carol, I wish that you would read my eBook and then dialog with me. I would really like to have your comments on the issues I raise such that the pronoun now translated as “he” originally meant “he/she” and was later translated just as “he.” We have to deal with the Bible somehow, and I’m afraid that just dismissing it will not work for a majority of today’s believers. I am trying to erode the idea that it is an infallible, unchanged document. I think that instead by trying to show that the Bible is an all too human document, yet that it presents historical early religious ideas, both good and bad, might have some resonance with today’s younger generations. It might help some of them not take it so literally. I saw this happen when I talked to a university class, passed out different Bibles, and had students read the same passage in their Bibles. As a consequence one Catholic woman said, “I’m never going to church again.” And, yes, I think that some of the early biblical writers attempted to write in such a way as to portray in words that their concept of Deity was inclusive. Please give my eBook a try. I haven’t done this for monetary or religious reasons. I am trying to better woman’s role in this world and am trying to work toward more concord between the sexes. I can gift my eBook to you if you do not wish to pay for it, if you would take the time to look at it (And that goes for other readers too – I’m not holding my breath and staying up nights worrying about how many people will take me up on this offer :-)

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  5. I appreciate your insights so much. They make me think. Will Judith’s responses be published on this blog? If not, when will your book be available?

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  6. As usual–BRAVA! I grew up Calvinist and Republican in St. Louis, but I gladly left all that, first, when I went to college, and finally when I went to graduate school. Although I greatly admired people like Dr. King and Mother Theresa, and today I admire the Nuns on the Bus, I’ve never looked back. I wish the people who say God Is Love would read the Old Testament more closely. I wish the people who love Jesus would pay more attention to the Sermon on the Mount and less attention to that old misogynist Paul. The Goddess is the grandmother of their gods and the mother of us all.

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  7. Wonderful excerpt, Carol. I look forward to the book. What a great idea to conceive of it as a conversation. I am an Episcopal priest’s daughter. My reasons for leaving what Anglican’s wryly call The OTC (one true church) are so similar to yours as to be almost identical. I spent my life writing novels about that choice. The Christian story and liturgy, whether I can say the creed or not, are so deep in my bones I had to re-live and re-write it, though The Maeve Chronicles, as Maeve will be the first to tell you, are her story, not his.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

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  8. Thanks Elizabeth. We are sisters on a journey–all of us!

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  9. I too have wondered what it is about patriarchal religions, and male god worship services that keeps women in bondage. I thought about the idea of community, which is very attractive to women, and also family loyalty. In many ways, I get to observe heterosexual women at close quarters, and they get very preoccupied with their children, and their husbands, and church to them is simply family community. So they stay, and don’t really challenge the male based religion, or if the church doesn’t use this language, they sit and listen to male pastors give sermons week after week.

    Since my family of origin was a mixed marriage of a Jew and a Catholic, I never was indoctrinated in the idea of the “one true faith.” But what really changed me was the issue of language itself. When I lived abroad, I learned a new language, and discovered that I was paying more attention to concepts in the new language that didn’t exist in the old. It was then that I realized the use of the terms “god” “god the father” “lord” “savior” and “master” were just inappropirate for me. As I became more powerful in my idea and being as a lesbian feminist, I simply didn’t like heteronormative places. Churches are filled with the heteronormative, and I wasn’t really interested. So there was more cultural dissonence; I simply wasn’t getting anything at all from these places.

    Mary Daly was such a powerful foresister to me, and I fell in love with her ideas. I loved every minute of her heroic fight to present an uncompromised view of women’s freedom; she was the consumate lesbian feminist. So after Daly, there was no going back.

    I don’t know why women continue to support instututions that are womanhating to their core, and I think it has to do with the fact, that heterosexuality is a powerful draw. Women want connection and community, and churches provide this. Belief in a male savior god is still attractive to heterosexual women, when I find male anything off putting at best and horrifying at worst. I feel nothing in the company of the heteronormative. Corporations are freer of this, there are no children running around, we are adults. Churches are filled with children, filled with heteronormtive chatter, and the endless sound of the phrase “my husband.”

    I’m convinced that patriarchy has a powerful hold over women married to men, and women who are male identified. So they put up with a lot. Because I don’t have men living with me, and have a pretty male free existience, their world shocks me when I am in it.

    I ceased to believe in any of it, and yet I do find profound belief in the cause of free women.
    I find the depth of love I feel for my lesbian sisters a kind of spiritual belief. And since most traditional religious belief is simply about “families, children and indoctrination” that’s what works for them. Most women are conservative by nature, and patriarchy is very powerful. The entire culture is saturated with woman objectifying and heteropatriarchal images both secular and churchy. And now women have a new industry, feminist religious studies, and theology, so their jobs are dependent on this. It’s where the jobs and money are as pastors, as professors etc. The thing is, it is about belief, and women believe by and large that men can be redeemed and that a male savior in Jesus is there. I don’t believe that men can be redeemed and that it is futile to persist in this. I wrote them off, just as I wrote male saviors off a long time ago. I persist in my passionate love of women who have broken free of men sexually, spiritually and materially. So while Carol the scholar figured this out theologically, there was simply nothing in the heteronormative nature of churchiness that attracted me anymore.

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    • This helps to explain what Marie Carter was talking about in her recent blog, “Baby, you’re my religion.” From what you write, I can see that we could say that about heterosexual women as well! The difference being that one religion based in love enshrines women’s subordination, the other tried not to.

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  10. Carol,

    This is an important post, and I hope some of the feminists on this blogsite who have remained in their birth religions will respond as well. My reasons for leaving my birth religion evolved over time. When I was a child I wanted to be a minister, but by the time I was 9 I realized that following that path would not be possible for me as a girl. When I was 19, I left my Calvinist tradition in order to be sexually active with the man who eventually became my husband. I knew at that time that my Christian God would punish me for sex out of wedlock, so the best thing for me to do was to drop him, not my love. But that left a hole in my heart. So at 28 or 29, I discovered Goddess spirituality and felt immediately that I had come home.

    Why? 1) No original sin! It still brings tears to my eyes when we dedicate children in my Unitarian Universalist congregation, and the minister says, “We do not use water in this ceremony to wash away any supposed sin. We believe that children come into this world with all the promise and limitations of our species, but that they are born innocent.” I believe in some deep way that the belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins is highly dysfunctional in our lives. It’s like advertising: first define a problem (original sin) that has a solution that you can sell (Jesus’s death redeems us). 2) Goddesses and Gods. Since I’m a feminist woman in a committed heterosexual relationship, I need a symbol for both the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine. 3) Polytheism: As one deity among a polytheistic pantheon of Gods and Goddesses, the Goddesses represent active tolerance within a sacred multitude. 4) Sex is seen as sacred, not dirty or to be restricted in religiously sanctioned ways. 5) The immanence of my religion: a) Goddess as the central symbol of Wicca is both the creator and the creation. I am a part of the sacred whole, She is a part of me. b) This way of viewing the divine also makes it much easier for us to see all of creation as sacred, and this ecological understanding seems extremely important at this time in history. c) Immanence also gets rid of the mind/body, spirit/matter split that I think causes great difficulties within our culture. 6) Goddess as power-with and power-within: Instead of the power-over divinity of Christianity, the Goddess represents the sacred spark within me that motivates me to create a better world in my own small way and the co-creative power of my interaction with the world, human and non-human. These are some of the reasons that I am glad that I left my birth religion.

    And Carol, in this post of yours I’ve discovered yet another similarity in our lives. I, too, wrote my dissertation about Nazi Germany. Mine was entitled: “Motherhood for the Fatherland: The Portrayal of Women in Nazi Propaganda.” The last time I relayed this information the woman I was talking to gasped, “How could you spend years studying that?” Good question, isn’t it?

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    • Nancy – You have voiced my sentiments exactly! I also felt like I had “come home” when I discovered women’s spirituality and the Goddess. Immanence is a concept that seems to be very difficult for mainstream religious types to understand, but it makes so much sense to me! Many also have difficulty with the concept of “power-with” as opposed to “power over,” too. And “sacred pleasure” is REALLY beyond the powers of many people’s comprehension. I think it’s so important for us to use these words often and in as many places as possible, so that people can begin to expand their awareness and begin to understand that there is another way – a better way – than patriarchy and the miseries it has spawned.

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  11. Re: Robert’s statement that “for a Jew belief in God was not required as long as he or she followed the law” … how can someone completely follow “the Law” (big L), if the first four commandments specifically have to do with “God”? I’m not a Jew or a Christian … I’m just curious how he qualified that?

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    • I think this has to do with the fact that Judaism evolved as a religion that focused on practice and community based in common practice rather than belief. Jews do not have to recite a creed. But if they mixed the meat dishes with the milk dishes–well that would separate them from their community.

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  12. A very interesting examination of motives and feelings. I never had this particular issue in my life. My parents raised me agnostic – I was never baptised, etc. However I identified myself as a Pagan with Athena as my Patron Goddess by age 3. My Mother and Father were raised as Roman Catholics, but my father was molested by the parish priest, so he became an Atheist. My Mother, was at best, a lapsed Catholic, as we both grew older she began to be interested in my religious and spiritual beliefs. I studied as an Historian and Archaeomythologist under Marija Gimbutas, PhD and Miriam Robbins, PhD, because of my continued interest in the facts about Ancient Religions, Goddesses, etc. As such, I never could understand why women would not only buy into religions that made them second class citizens [or worse in some cases], but also be the indoctrinators and tormentors of their own children for these religions. Like you, I could not understand my feminist friends, and some are self-identified Jew-Witches, continuing to celebrate holidays such as Passover, Hannukah, and Rosh Hashanah. Holidays which essentially degrade ancient Pagan Cultures and their Goddesses and Gods. They tell me it is only a cultural celebration, and not a religious thing. To me, it shows that deep down their former religion still has it’s claws in them. For to celebrate ritual is to recreate sacred time, and this is what they are doing. It is their thing to do as they will, however I cannot support them in it, as I percieve a disconnect that needs to be addressed. Until they address that disconnect, they are still under the power of a Vengeful Masculine Archetype and the thousands of years of oppression of the Female by those who promote that Archetype. IMHO. To each their own, but I do understand where you are coming from.

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  13. As always, I love your post!

    I’m a little late to the conversation, but wanted to remark on two things. First, another shout-out to the UU church. Participation with their Women and Religion resources represents a pivotal point for me on my own Goddess path. My daughter had a “naming ceremony” in the UU church as an infant and is I believe the only child in four generations of my family to have any religious “affiliation” in childhood. While various aunts and uncles have taken various roads, I feel like I’m in the somewhat unusual situation of having been raised in an “areligious” manner with a long legacy. In four generations on my maternal side and at least three on my paternal side, we are a non-church-going, not-religiously-affiliated, skeptical/agnostic type of family. Even my great-grandparents were not members of any church. We joke/laugh about my going to a church, even though it is a tiny UU church, and in becoming a priestess and pursuing my D.Min degree. In its way, perhaps this is a religious “rebellion” of sorts too, though in a different direction and certain with a different symbol system!

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  14. Nice to know Cakes for the Queen of Heaven and Rise Up and Call Her Name are inspiring younger women. The issues they raise are not “dated” for those who have not yet understood that God can be Goddess with very different understandings of body, nature, and power. And our culture still does its best not to provide that understanding to us. Thus the subversive nature of these courses.

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    • I, too, am glad to hear that _Cakes for the Queen of Heaven_ and _Rise Up and Call Her Name_ (two UU feminist spirituality curricula) are inspiring younger women today. I created my recording _Chants for the Queen of Heaven…and Earth_ in response to the Cakes curriculum and was the musical consultant for _Rise Up_. In the 1990s, the Cakes class was one of the major reasons for the growth of Wicca. I hope these classes continue to introduce women to the Goddess.

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  15. Much of your reaction, Carol, fits my reasons for not continuing to be Presbyterian – a gradual discomfort and inability to say parts of the creed, etc. But Christianity is a big enough tent to find some nurturance for those willing to ramble. After a stint with the UU (where I appreciated the minister, who was trained in mysticism, until he retired and a self-proclaimed athiest took his place), I landed with the Quakers, of the silent worship persuasion, which was a real home-coming for me. Any part of the Christian tradition or Biblical heritage that is nurturing, I can keep, but Quakers don’t have a creed. Instead, we have “testimonies” – sometimes listed with the SPICE mnemonic (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality). The Quaker practice of corporate silent worship can be a powerful experience of immersion in a living presence that is shared intimately but also beyond us (fully immanent, but also transcendent to the extent that it calls us to grow past our current limits). Early on (1970’s, probably) my local community had a women’s group that explored feminist spirituality, and I did my dissertation research on Goddess religion in the 1990s – it all felt congruent. There are a couple of marvelous Quaker/Pagan blogs that do a nice job of fusing feminist/nature spirituality with Quaker practice as well. Just sayin’ – there are options out there. Not to speak of something that has recently been blowing my socks off, which is the feminist Mormon community, where women (and men) are reconnecting with the roots of their 19th century belief in the Heavenly Mother (you know, the Heavenly Father’s wife), making explicit connections to Goddess spirituality.

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  16. Here’s an interesting debate on the state of the Catholic church: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZEWZaJpTIs

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  17. Carol,

    Thank you for posting this article.. I found it very insightful and paralleling much of the same problems that I (a heterosexual male) have been having with the Protestant church. I find it increasingly unappetizing to attend a service that, at its base, just does not jive with my understanding of a what a moral asexual creator being would promote. I recognize that the people that still attend are not purposely promoting a world-structure that has become worn and tired, but are sincerely trying to please God: the problem is not the sincerity. However, knowing this doesn’t make attendance something that I feel the need to promote any longer.

    As I think of these images, I see how far short they fall from capturing what we now understand about humanity and the cultural/material universe in which we live. However, rather than walk away from it all, my response has been to simply begun to consider these images as in a bubble: particular images, given by an extremely intelligent creator being, to a hostile, sexist, and violent species at a particular time in their social evolution. I ask myself, would our ancestors have understood anything else as clearly? This has allowed my images to be redefined and updated to reflect, what I think is, a more accurate universe. In doing so, I have salvaged my faith with no more than a burden lifting shift towards agnosticism. In fact, I have surprisingly found myself with even more room for contemplation of the divine, than I had before.

    I guess this is all just to say that I personally have felt no need to leave behind Christianity: I ask myself why would I need to? My core belief of the uniqueness of humanity and it’s troubles has not changed. I have merely been challenged to admit that I may have gotten the details wrong. The benefit is that I can now grow up and put these “childish things” behind me. While I suppose this squarely pushes me out of the mainstream Christianity, it honestly makes me feel like more of a Christian.

    Thank you again for your article and the (unexpected) desire that it gave me to take the time to express my journey as well. I wish you the very best.

    Jim

    .

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  18. The Holy Roman Empire wasn’t converted by Constantine as during that time it did not exist. The Holy Roman Empire covered most of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Czech Republic and northern Italy. It was the result of Germanic invasions of the Roman Empire.

    Not believing in God, but still following His law is nonsense. It would be like saying I follow the laws of the state I live in but do not believe that that state exists. I suspect that the person who said that is a Talmudic (and thus antichristian) jew and not a correct God-fearing Karaite jew as he should be.

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  19. Wow, soooo many wonderful ideas here and in the comments! Lots to ponder and process. The only knee-jerk reaction I had to your article, Carol, was early on when you said that the Nicene Creed was accepted by all Christians. (Ack! No!) But I was only momentarily distracted. [grin]

    As a guy with almost any privilege one can think of, I am only beginning to understand all the ways Patriarchy has harmed females. I’m working on it. I can readily see how a female deity could feel more healing and loving.

    What I’m faced with analyzing is my movement away from a male deity to a nonanthropomorphic Sacred without embracing the feminine. I have no problem, intellectually, with calling the Divine a female, but since I dropped the idea of an entity with intention, I find that just as limiting as a male god, if gentler

    What I’m hoping, is that my rejection of a female entity is for the same reasons I rejected a male one. I’m investigating! Do you think dropping “personhood” without fully exploring goddess worship is premature?

    Right now, I maintain that genderless references are the best way to go, unless one chooses to believe in a goddess. I find statements some people make such as, “Well, I know the Sacred is beyond gender, I just like feminine metaphors.” as problematic as the Patriarchy’s insistence that “God isn’t male, we just talk like that.” Perhaps someone who is wounded needs the healing provided by female imagery before moving past gender altogether? I certainly would not deny any person that.

    I look forward to a continuing conversation.

    I’m facilitating the exploration of non-gendered Divinity in a new blog: http://www.godisnotaguy.com. I would love to hear some feedback from you and others about what you find there, if you get the time.

    Thank you for your work!

    David

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    • Hi David —

      I’m glad to see a feminist ally who is a man really digging into the questions raised here. Here’s some feedback that I gave earlier in reply to another post that touched on this subject:

      In the early days of the 2nd wave of feminism, we all thought that it was best to use non-gendered language, thereby opening a space for women in our linguistic constructions. But in the absence of specific language our culture assumes masculine by default. When I read the studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s that showed this, I began to use female-gendered language whenever appropriate, saying with my language that we women are here, you need to deal with us. I think the same thing is necessary in religion. We need to say Goddess. We need to say God, She. Otherwise, even those Divine characteristics that are feminine will not be raised up, because under patriarchy the culture not only demeans women, it also demeans kindness, compassion, and mercy, care, love, and any other attribute that our society unnecessarily categorizes as feminine.

      The problem we’re facing here is the problem of hierarchical dualisms. Our language structures things in this way, and it’s a straightjacket that’s hard to get out of.

      I remember when my daughter fell in love with “Peter Pan.” I kept trying to get her to play Peter (a role her best female friend monopolized). But she kept telling me that she wanted to be Wendy. Why? Because Wendy was a girl. I finally realized that my daughter liked being a girl. That was the good part. But the bad part was that as a role model for girls, Wendy was sorely lacking. What did she model? Mothering. Now don’t get me wrong, being a good mother was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But in today’s world, most girls are not going to grow up to solely be stay-at-home mothers. So the role modeling needs to be broader than Wendy could provide. I was lucky, I guess, because I saw Mary Martin play Peter Pan, so I knew that Peter could be a girl.

      A few years later, a friend of mine was having troubles with her daughter. Why? She looked down on the other girls, dressed like a boy, had only boy friends. She wanted to be a boy. I realized then that it was probably better to have my problems than my friend’s, because at least my daughter wanted to be a girl, and we could expand what that meant as she grew up.

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Trackbacks

  1. Thursday Thealogy: Stories | Theapoetics
  2. Deciding to Leave or Remain in the Religion of Your Birth – Part II by Judith Plaskow | Feminism and Religion
  3. Mysteria Misc. Maxima: May 31st, 2013 | Invocatio
  4. Losing My Religion: The illusion of choice in religious leave-taking
  5. Deciding To Leave the Religion of Your Birth–Or Not « WiccanWeb

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