I Am a Progressive because of Not in spite of My Feminist Spirituality by Carol P. Christ


Feminist spirituality is often disparaged in academic feminist and progressive communities. Many of the strongest critics are Marxists, but there is a general agreement that religion is the opiate of the people, a false belief system that diverts energy from the difficult work of creating justice in this world. This view is rooted in the habit of thought known as classical dualism in which spirit and nature, spirit and body, and this world and the next are viewed as antithetical. From this, it would seem to follow, feminist spirituality focuses attention on an imagined spiritual world as opposed to the material world in which real people live and interact with each other. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Feminist spirituality is rooted in a strong critique of classical dualism, which sets mind above body, spirit above nature, and male above female. Feminist Goddess spirituality asserts that the female body has been especially disparaged in traditional theologies rooted in classical dualism. This can be seen in the image of the naked Eve as the source of evil, sin, and temptation. In contrast, Goddess spirituality is inspired by images of the female body of the Goddess as a symbol of the Source of Life. Goddess spirituality understands nature (or the world) to be the body of the Goddess and affirms this world as our true home. This world is understood to be an interconnected web of life shared by humans and other than human beings.

According to anthropologist Clifford Geertz, religion is a system of symbols that inspire long-lasting moods and motivations, creating our understanding of the world. Our religious symbols tell us what is true and what is just, and thus frame our political visions and choices. My feminist Goddess spirituality tells me that before the world that we know to be shaped by patriarchy, domination, violence, and war, there was a different way. Old Europe and ancient Crete, egalitarian matriarchal societies such as the Iroquois, the Mosuo, and the Minangkabau, and many indigenous cultures around the world show us that a different way is possible.

We do not have to live in a “dog eat dog world,” which by the way is not the world in which dogs live, nor do we have to understand nature or ourselves as “red in tooth and claw,” an point of view that leaves a great deal out. We can instead, as the Minankabau do, take the good in nature as our model and throw out the bad. We can base our culture and our religion or spirituality on life and the nurturing of life. We do not have to accept patriarchy, war, and the myriad injustices of our world as “the way things are and always will be.” We do not have to accept that the rich will get richer and the poor will always be with us. We do not have to accept that men will always rule and that white will always be right.

Goddess spirituality is a worldview that enables us to radically critique the world in which we live. Because we can imagine and know that a different way is possible, we do not have to accept injustice and violence. Because our bodies are ourselves as feminists have insisted, politics must be intersectional. We must fight against racism, sexism, and homophobia. No one should be made to feel they are less than others or denied opportunities to thrive because of their bodies or bodily choices. We must also recognize that the rights to food, shelter, and health care are basic human rights. If bodies matter, then caring for our bodies and those of others must be a priority. We must recognize environmental destruction as a threat to life on planet earth—for human and other than human beings. We are interdependent in the web of life and if we destroy the environment, we are destroying ourselves. We must also end war and the violence it inspires when soldiers return home. No one’s body will be safe until we do.

These days I am mourning the loss of a dream—a dream that Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders would win the Democratic primary and then the national election and that we could set about radically changing our country and our world.

Yet I remain convinced that we must believe that a different world is possible and strive to make that dream reality.

Goddess spirituality is the foundation of my hope.

 

Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who will soon be moving to Heraklion, Crete. 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.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.



Categories: abuse, Activism, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Goddess Spirituality

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17 replies

  1. I loved the cartoon. You have mentioned goddesses in your write-up. Have you ever had a chance to read Indian scriptures? Goddesses are an integral part of Indian culture, and the serpent power as Kundalini is the ultimate aim of every Yogi.

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    • The Hindu Goddesses have inspired many. I put feminist in front of Goddess spirituality because I understand that Goddesses have been molded in patriarchal contexts to serve patriarchal interests. This occurred in Greece and in India following Indo-European invasions. However, the original meaning of the Goddesses could never be fully suppressed and continues to bubble up through the patriarchal overlay, like an underground spring.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Kali has been one Hindu Goddess who has inspired me. She embodies the cycle of both life& death – representing more than the limited view of Goddess equals only mother. As I understand it, we live in the Age of Kali. The Dharma (laws constituting how to live an ethical way) is in it’s in it’s final stage of deteriorating. As a feminist I choose to see this as the final deterioration of patriarchies. If we assert our vision of a better way, we can bend the next Ways toward justice, peace, & love. “Magic is Alive,” as Buffy St.Marie. 😉💚🌱🐇

        Liked by 1 person

      • Read above Shiva and Shakti. They are separate but still one. They have different manifestations but still cannot survive without each other.

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        • Yes.😊 Fairly familiar with Shakti. Too often western scholars haven’t not given this full attention. I’m inspired by diverse goddess & many other sources (including real women, myths, folktales, , etc…). I’ve long
          resonated to women’s sacred yoni power🔻❤️ – from my own feminist way -including my study & activism on menstruation.)
          ❤️🔻🧜🏾‍♀️🧜🏿‍♀️🧜‍♀️
          PS: Of course, like Carol, as a feminist – I acknowledge that my responses are not the same as what these sources mean to someone for whom it’s their tradition.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Indian philosophy puts a lot of stress on: ‘we shouldn’t be attached to this body‘. This body is perishable, temporary and attachment to anything that is temporary can only bring sorrow. Shakti is given as much importance as to Shiva, may more in certain aspects, in our sphere. Disrespect for women seeped in, in the society, and increased, after the advent of Islam in India.

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          • To Sadomina:I believe that the only life we have is in “this” body. I have argued in other places that the idea that we need to rise above this body to a “higher” state is matricidal insofar as it assumes that the life that comes to us through the bodies of our mothers “just is not good enough” because we are destined for something “better.” I would attribute this idea in HInduism to the Indo-European warrior culture that came into India c. 1500 BCE. If boys were going to sacrifice life in this body in war, then they would have to be told that there is something higher and more important than this life. I would assume that the earlier religion of Old India like the earlier religion of Old Europe was this life and this body affirming and not warlike.

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      • key point…. when goddesses are molded in patriarchal contexts we get the usual distortions…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As usual, a wonderful post…

    “Goddess spirituality understands nature (or the world) to be the body of the Goddess and affirms this world as our true home. This world is understood to be an interconnected web of life shared by humans and other than human beings.”

    You describe goddess spirituality so succinctly… how many times have I watched/listened to folks disparage the goddess without having the faintest idea of what we are talking of here – like this is some kind of cult.

    Why do you suppose that there is so much resistance to learning about this way of being in the world?

    Is it immanence that we fear? The belief that patriarchy is a destructive system? Understanding that women are people too? That all nature is interconnected? all of the above and?

    I read your words and feel the sanity flowing through my body/mind much the way I do while walking or sitting by the brook.

    Like you my hope lies with goddess spirituality – a different world IS possible.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Brava! Yes, we can hope. And maybe we can put our hoping to work, move it into action, especially in the elections and vote for more women. Thanks for writing this post. It’s just what I need on a gloomy Monday morning in SoCal.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you Carol for having the courage to speak this. I’ve been trying to make this point for sometime but it often falls on deaf ears. Reconciling our spirituality and politics is crucial. Your post says it so well and I pray centrist or moderate Democrats who are actually more Republican-lite, give this some thought and shift left and not buy into this being too “far”. It’s where we used to be when the party worked for everyone and not just the corporatists.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As always your wisdom and smarts rekindle the fire of the goddess in my mind and heart. We will do the work no matter who might think (he) is in charge. We know that SHE is still our benevolent guide.

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  6. I am a progressive because of not in spite of my feminist spirituality. Yup, me, too. I had those intense discussions with Marxists in the 1970s and 1980s, but I don’t think they’re a practical part of the conversation nowadays. They no longer have much credibility in the U.S. Even then.

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    • Would that you were right, but I don’t see religion/spirituality as being a big part of feminist or progressive discussions. And I do find we are still often viewed as escapists.

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      • I agree that we are often seen as escapists, but it’s not the Marxists who are leading that charge today. I also think it’s difficult to talk about the politics of religion in the U.S. today when those who are wielding their religious beliefs as a political cudgel are right-wing Christians.We have to begin with a disclaimer that our religion is different from theirs, and that’s always a difficult position to start a conversation. Right-wing Christians have polluted that water. I’ve found that the secularism of politics lets us enter on the same level with others.

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  7. I was so pleased that you spoke about the illusion of dualism. It was a major turning point for me when I realized that the idea no longer made sense to me. It was almost as difficult to say, I don’t believe in dualism” as i had been say, “I am not a Christian.”

    My rejection of dualism led me to see that the concept of “opposites” was equally illusory. I once bought into the metaphor of the spectrum, in which “opposite” ideas/states/attributes exist on one end or the other. I’ve since replaced that metaphor with a Möbius strip.

    I think this discussion applies to psychology as much as to theology and politics.

    As you said, Goddess spirituality embodies alignment with the rest of the natural world and nothing in nature is truly opposite because everything is connected.

    Like

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