Give Me That “New” Time Religion! by Susan Gifford


Susan GiffordI want a new religion. I have changed to the point that I cannot be a part of a patriarchal religion and I feel that all of the major organized religions fall into that category. It has taken me a long time, but I can now see that these organized religions were created largely to support the patriarchal culture that most humans have lived in for at least the past 5,000 years.

I started reading Mary Daly, Riane Eisler, Merlin Stone, Carol Christ, Marija Gimbutus and other similar authors in recent years. I was amazed at how much I did not know about life before patriarchy. I was never taught in school that there were cultures – civilized cultures – for tens of thousands of years prior to patriarchy. These pre-historical civilizations were largely matrilineal although not matriarchal.

Women had power in such cultures, but not “power over” others. These cultures were organized as partnership societies, not hierarchical societies. The Divine Presence worshiped was feminine which, of course, makes perfect sense since the female sex is the one that gives birth. As far as I can tell, there is little known about the specific religious beliefs and rituals of these civilizations. However, from the art work that has been discovered, there appears to be a theme of a Great Mother Goddess who gave birth to the world and all that is in it. Although we can’t go backwards to this ancient goddess religion, knowing more about it may open our eyes to other ways of conceiving a Divine Presence.

I would like to go forward to a new religion organized around a Divine Presence that is not exclusively masculine. In this new religion, Divine Presence, while not exclusively male nor exclusively female, is also both. I’ll use the name God/dess. God/dess is love and is omnipresent, but is not omnipotent – an idea adopted from Carol Christ’s book, She Who Changes. The idea of God/dess being omnipresent, but not omnipotent makes sense to me. It allows for free will and an understanding of why God/dess cannot intervene in human affairs.

Another idea from Christ’s book does not align with my intuition. I cannot see physical death as the end of a human soul. In view, all life is eternal – life has always existed and will always exist. It may be that life at some point existed only as God/dess and later was “separated” into other forms of life that evolved into human beings. Each human being has a soul that has always existed (as God/dess) and, once created, will always exist as a unique soul. (This, I think, is true of all life, not just humans.)

Divine Presence may have begun this “separation” and evolutionary process in order to have company – to have relationships with sentient beings. I think of the relationship between a human and God/dess as almost a partnership. God/dess is always changing and evolving and human beings are always changing and evolving, and we have an effect on each other. God/dess changes through relationship with humans, and humans change with relationship with God/dess. I think that this evolutionary process of a human soul continues after the physical death of that human. As part of that continuation, I tend to think that reincarnation is possible for humans, but not a necessity for all humans. I think that learning, growing, becoming more whole, evolving – all continue after death in ways that are beyond my understanding.

I find hints of a belief in immortality in Mary Daly’s writings. Daly discusses “foreground” (our normal reality) and “background” (ultimate reality) as different dimensions of life and suggests that feminists can “spin” into the background and talk with our foresisters who still exist. In an interview printed in the Fall 2000 issue of “Cross Currents” magazine, Daly said: “…for one thing, my idea of time is not as simple as it might appear. I think — I think our foresisters are here now. I don’t believe in linear time. It would be nice to think that what I’ve done, what I’m doing, is a springboard for others to carry on. I think I’m going to carry on too, though. I’m not going to croak and say it’s all over.”

Marion Woodman writes about soul-making. An interview with Woodman in Common Boundary magazine (July/August 1992) quotes her as saying: “For me, soul-making is allowing the eternal essence to enter and experience the outer world through all the orifices of the body – seeing, smelling, hearing, tasting, touching – so that the soul grows during its time on Earth. It grows like an embryo in the womb. Soul-making is constantly confronting the paradox that an eternal being is dwelling in a temporal body.”

I think Woodman is saying that this “eternal being” will not die after its human body’s physical death. Woodman also writes frequently that life is a series of deaths and rebirths, implying that there will be a rebirth into another dimension/level of life after physical death. I know that many people believe that this type of rebirth is an impersonal one. For example, it might mean that, after our death, our cells will become part of the soil, a tree, its fruit and then a bird. To me, this scenario seems to waste an entire lifetime of learning and any wisdom gained is gone.

The new religion that I want would definitely have a concept of an afterlife or parallel life – similar to Daly’s “Background” idea.

I realize my idea of a new religion is quite preposterous and, undoubtedly, I could use a good theologian to tidy up my internal inconsistencies and my spiritual loose ends! However, I am serious about not fitting into any existing religion. Surely I am not the only woman who feels this way.

 

Susan Gifford earned her B.S. from Millersville University and did extensive graduate work in Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado. She worked as a Mainframe Computer Systems Analyst and Programmer for many years, while living in Colorado. She and her husband are retired and, along with their dog, moved to the southern Oregon coast last year. She reads extensively and thinks about what she’s read as she walks along the incredibly beautiful beaches there.

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Categories: Belief, Major Feminist Thinkers in Religion, Mary Daly, religion, Spirituality, Women's Voices

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22 replies

  1. Thank you for your post Susan, and for the Mary Daly and Marion Woodman quotes. Separation has a necessary function – inter alia that things can come together again. Separation and the dualistic world view that we’ve lived under for so long has done us damage but now is the time that they can come together and become more whole.

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  2. No, you are not alone Susan. I don’t feel any need for life after death, for me it would be enough to know that the world I so love will go in and through others for a good long time–though sadly even that is not assured.But there are a plurality of beliefs about life after death or not in women’s spirituality, and yours certainly is one of them! Keep on keepin’ on. More power to you.

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    • The world – which I also love – does seem in dire trouble! I read just a few news web sites yesterday and the headlines seemed worse than ever, with looming catastrophes everywhere! It seems almost selfish for me to talk about a human afterlife when the life of the earth itself seems in jeopardy. But I do care deeply about both.

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  3. Thank you for your thoughtful post, Susan. Like you, I also chafe at “patriarchal religion.” Your write, “…I can now see that these organized religions were created largely to support the patriarchal culture that most humans have lived in for at least the past 5,000 years.” I feel that all our institutions are patriarchal. Where can one go without swimming in those waters? The authors you mention (and others) “resist” the status quo and the “givens” in our society through a variety of methods. I am hopeful that global consciousness will gradually shift.

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  4. Thanks Susan. Very beautiful, and powerful really, this understanding in such magnificent depth. I think even if we follow a conventional religion we interpret what we believe privately in our own way, so that every one of us actually follows a unique spiritual path, and which itself then keeps evolving.

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  5. I remember well the moment I understood that “god” is not omnipotent! Glad not to be alone in that anymore Susan! I think that particular fallicy was invented so we people could have someone else to blame for our own stupidity.

    I think the “new time religion” you desire is already among us. It’s not loud or abrasive like Fox News, or coniving, ignorant and malicious like our Harper Government in Canada. Rather it is the still, small voice within us that demands the freedom to think about and experience the Great Mystery rather than enshrine It and consign it to a Museum where It won’t interfere with our way of living.

    Some of the other books I love are by Elizabeth Johnson: Quest for the Living God (the boys in the Vatican were greately upset by this book so it’s sales went through the roof. If you publish and want your book to succeed just get banned by the Vatican!) Ilia Delio, I believe she is a Franciscan. I’ve not read any of her books but heard her speak at a conference in Victoria.

    Well, we are blessed with some outstanding people who refuse to be boxed and put on a shelf. The LIVE among us. Like yourself for example.

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  6. Brava! Two song titles come to mind. “Gimme That Old-Time Religion” and “Everything Old Is New Again.” We can all, women and men, live happily in the lap of the Goddess.

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  7. Thank you so much for this profound and, for me, timely post, Susan! This desire to formulate a spiritual practice untainted by patriarchy/kyriarchy have been weighing heavily on my mind of late. I feel that it is at the heart of my spiritual frustration. I am Pagan and have attended a Unitarian Universalist church for a few months after having a falling out with the local Pagan scene (long story short: their VP raped me, the other leaders urged me to “kiss and make up” so the group could be one happy family, and I bailed). As wonderful as the UU is in encouraging people to find their own truth and share it with others to gain a fuller understanding of Truth, I nevertheless feel spiritually restless.

    Just last month a friend and I had a discussion in which I professed a desire to amputate all the patriarchal nonsense from spirituality and get to together with feminists and fashion a new religion of equality, peace, self-love, others-love, and a view of Deity as partners who may be beyond us in many respects, but are not “over” us like masters. And then you write this wonderful piece that reflects a lot of those desires, and now I don’t feel like such a weirdo. It’s encouraging to see others yearning for the same things that stir me, and gives me new hope that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to make this happen and allow women to have an enriching, fulfilling spiritual practice that affirms and celebrates who we are.

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    • Jean – I’m so sorry for your experience in the pagan community. I’m a UU and we just started a “women’s group,” and a trans woman (who has not yet transitioned – still looks and talks like a man) asked to join us. This has brought up all sorts of issues, including “who is a woman?” and “how inclusive can we be?” Many of us long for women-only space, where we can feel safe, and where we can explore the Divine Feminine. It can be challenging to decide who can participate in that space.

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      • Hi Katharine,

        Thank you so much for your kind words. The pain is still fresh, and I am still healing, so perhaps this colors my view of things.

        Personally I think there is room for a multiplicity of groups within a single religious space: one that is for biologically female (cis) women only, one that is for trans* women only, and one where all women come together to bear witness to shared pains and celebrate shared joys. I say this not to discriminate, but to emphasize that each group has its own concerns and issues that the other will never experience by virtue of biology. Trans* women will never have to deal with unwanted pregnancy or menopause issues, while cis women will never have to worry about “passing”, or being discriminated against for bathroom use. We can all identify with being looked down on and considered lesser because of being women.

        I too long for female-only spaces in light of historical discrimination females have experienced at the hands of males, and I think we are well within our right to want that space and even to establish those spaces. Joining together with trans* women can also broaden our perspective and experience of what it means to be a woman.

        It’s such a complex issue, but I think mutual respect and affirmation of each other’s dignity can help navigate it. I by no means have all the solutions, but at the moment this is how I feel and what I think.

        Bright blessings to you.

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      • Well, I had wanted to remain anonymous, but my mobile autofill thwarted me.

        My given name is Rebekah but I prefer my chosen name, Jean. Just clearing up some possible confusion…

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    • I wonder if we could fashion such a “religion” online since we are so spread geographically?

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  8. Susan, you are definitely not alone! Thank you for this wonderful post.

    You remind me of my own journey, how twenty years ago I came across the female writers you mention and felt I’d found kindred spirits. One thing I love about all the women I’ve met and/or read during the years is that I rarely felt like they were trying to assimilate me (unlike patriarchal religions) — instead, I felt like they were simply helping me open up to my own heart, mind and soul. Thus, I’m quite happy not to have any “religion” at all, but to, instead, rest in what I call my Barefoot Spirituality. This path has led me to write my own perceptions of Spirit … through books of contemplation, memoir, and fiction … writing that I hope will show my nieces an alternative way into soul-making and spiritual joy that is not dictated by patriarchal religions or culture.

    Bountiful Blessings!

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  9. Susan, you are sooo not alone. I think we each walk with a sense of spirituality, and the object is not really to form a new religion, but to gather amongst others who walk in an accepting spirituality. I am reluctant to call this gathering a “church” or “synod” or “temple”, or anything else that has been associated with organized religion. I am at the moment part of a circle of women who meditate and sing and dance and move, with each gathering facilitated by someone different. We have made labyrinths and goddess gardens and zen gardens and resonated with bells. Above all, we are very accepting (NOT “tolerant”, but accepting) of each others beliefs. This is growing into a deeply spiritual time for me, one that I have searched a long time for. I hope that you might find such a gathering too.

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  10. Mary Ann – Thanks so much! I would love to find a similar group of women! Unfortunately I haven’t yet. I have several long-distance friends and online friends that I can share with though. And, I’m really grateful for finding this web site.

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  11. While I find Marija Gimbutas’ work and conclusions compelling, too, and love what Riane Eisler spun from her ideas, I feel I must point out that the matrilineal Goddess cultures you cite are in no way factual. Their existence is posited, but there is little proof, and most archaeologists dispute Gimbutas’s conclusions. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about that ideal, wonder what it would be like to live in such a world, and of course, imagine such a world as a possibility to strive for, but I feel care must be taken when referring to them as real places and times. Gimbutas brought fresh eyes and a profoundly female point of view to old digs, artifacts, and ruins, and she definitely woke everybody up, but at this point her ideas are just that–ideas. I own and have read most of her books, but I do think it’s important to remember that her interpretations can’t be called facts.

    That said, ancient cultures, including the hyper-masculine Romans, always included the female principles and recognized that any system of worship and ritual absolutely had to deal with women’s particular needs. Roman soldiers were sent off with the invocation, “Mars and Bellona bless you,” because even in battle it wasn’t enough for just Mars to look out for you–you needed his sister’s help as well. What is unique in human history is the Judeo-Christian lone, male god that is both omniscient and omnipotent, and the notion that women don’t even have a proper place in his worship and rituals. It is no surprise that we women hunger for a spirituality that includes, even celebrates us. Whatever else it is, it is also ridiculous, the idea that the divine is solely male.

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  12. Susan, I, too, finally decided no current church would do. Despite some denominations’ attempts to move beyond patriarchy, all of the liturgy and rituals are firmly rooted in patriarchy. The entire church structure would have to be dismantled, destroyed, re-imagined, and rebuilt in order to remove the patriarchal foundation. I don’t see that happening.

    I lean toward panENtheism/pantheism. Our earth, the universe, multiverses, and whatever else exists are part of an intetconnected web of life. I would say nature, the cosmos, is the only god I know, although I rarely use the word god since I do not imagine a separate entity that I need to worship. Specifically, I don’t believe in anything supernatural. All that exists exists within the bounds of the natural world, within the laws of physics.

    The cosmos had no gender, and yet it has every gender. It is the ultimate source of all that ever was, is, or will be.

    Amy

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