This blog is part of an on-going discussion between me and my friend Jewish feminist theologian Judith Plaskow about the differences in our choices to stay in and leave traditional religious communities, which is part of our forthcoming book Goddess and God since Feminism: Body, Nature, and Power.
When you (Judith) discuss the reasons I left Christianity while you stayed Jewish, I think you hit upon a crucial difference between us when you say that I am more “idealistic” than you are. I agree that this does not mean that I am more ethical than you are. When you say that I require more “purity of thought” or perhaps more accurately more “purity of ritual symbolism” than you, I think you have hit the nail on the head. I simply cannot participate in a religious symbol system that I feel has done and continues to do great harm in the world.
I reiterate that for me this “problem” is not limited to the ways in which the maleness of God justifies male domination—including violence against and rape of women. Equally important to me are the ways that religious symbolisms justify the violence of warfare and conquest. I simply will not and cannot participate in religious rituals that justify domination and violence in the name of “God.” If that makes me a “purist” or an “idealist,” I am willing to accept those terms.
John Lennon wrote, “Imagine all the people living life in peace. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you will join us, and the world will live as one.” Those words well express my standpoint. I note that my recent genealogical research indicates that the dream of a more ideal religion may in part be a family inheritance, as I have ancestors who were Puritan and Lutheran, Quaker and Christian Science, along with others who remained Roman Catholic. No, the dreamers didn’t succeed in creating a better world, but I stand with them in their willingness to try.
On the other hand, I think you get it wrong when you say that I put “purity” or “idealism” above “community.” You are right that the path I chose was “out of” Christianity. But when you speak of my “unwillingness to remain part of a community with which [I] had serious disagreements” and add that for you “community trumps consistency,” I think you overstate your case. When you say that it “seems as if your disagreements with other feminists were more vivid for you than a sense of engagement in a shared project,” I think you get it just plain wrong.
Your statement would be true if the choice had been between “the courage of my individual convictions” and “feminist community.” But that was never the choice as I saw it. I chose to leave Christianity, but I did not make that decision on my own. There were many other women – both inside and outside the academy – who were making it with me. Mary Daly, Naomi Goldenberg, Anne Barstow in her writing about Catal Huyuk, Merlin Stone, Karen McCarthy Brown, Rita Gross, Starhawk, Z Budapest, Ruth and Jeanne Moutaingrove, Hallie Iglehart, Kit Havice, Christine Downing, Charlene Spretnak, Mara Keller, the women in my ritual group Rising Moon, the 500 women who came to The Great Goddess Re-emerging Conference, and all the women who told me after my talks that my words had changed their lives. I counted these women as “my community.”
You may also remember that my “disappointment” with Christian feminists in the academy was not primarily over the fact that we chose different communities of faith. I worked for many years in the Women and Religion section of the American Academy of Religion to promote dialogue among feminists in religion. My disappointment was not that Christian feminists failed to “join me” or “follow me” in leaving the church. My disappointment came when large numbers of them decided to focus their discussions “in house.” The day the women walked out of the Women and Religion section in order to hear a male liberation theologian speak (in a section in which no women were invited to speak) was a watershed moment for me. But that moment would not have mattered if it had not represented a trend among feminists in the field to close ranks as Christians.
When our differences are viewed primarily in terms of you choosing community and me choosing purity of faith or symbolism, several other key factors are left out. As we have both noted, profession of belief is not required of Jews. This is not true in Christianity, which means that “not agreeing with” core doctrines is problematic, especially if you are teaching theology. I feel somewhat jealous that you had more freedom in this regard than I did. If I had stayed Christian, I would have been forced to state acceptable views on the incarnation, the trinity, and salvation through Christ. But I don’t agree with any of those doctrines. I find it interesting that many feminist Christian theologians have written books on Christology and Trinity–I suspect because they were asked about their orthodoxy in a seminary context.
Moreover, when you became a feminist, the Havurah communities were already developing among counter-cultural and leftist younger Jews, which meant that you did not have to rely on larger, older, and generally more conservative synagogues to find Jewish community. Moreover, while Jews are generally liberal politically, the same cannot be said of Christians.
Finally, a comment made by Nancy Vedder-Schultz in response to your discussion of the reasons you stayed Jewish seems pertinent: “I think it’s difficult for those of us who grew up in the hegemonic religion, i.e. Christianity, to understand the power of being an outsider religiously. Although this was not your main point, it leaks through in every paragraph. I believe that to leave one’s oppressed minority religion would be very difficult. But to leave the hegemonic religion when you realize how oppressive it is—especially when you see it oppressing you personally—is easy.”
I am not sure leaving Christianity was easy, but it seemed possible, true to my self, and the right path for me.
Carol P. Christ has just returned from a life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she led through Ariadne Institute. The culture of ancient Crete, the last flowering of Old Europe, is one of the wellsprings of her spiritual vision. 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.