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.