Author’s Note: Today’s post is the 4000th FAR blog post! I first became aware of the Feminism and Religion blog when participating in a symposium honoring the life and work of Carol P. Christ in October 2021. I was inspired to write a piece on Christ’s contribution to ecofeminism, that was posted in the FAR blog a year ago today. I wanted to post another piece on Christ on the anniversary of that first post. I’m delighted that it is the 4000th, and so fitting that it is written in honor of Carol Christ, who was such an important part of the FAR blog.
A while ago, a friend asked me what spiritual reading I’d been doing lately. I told him that I’d been revisiting classics from the past. When he asked me who specifically, the first name I mentioned was Carol Christ. Even though he was a minister, he had never heard of her. Sadly, I suspect the same would be true for the vast majority of ministers, priests, rabbis, theologians, and other religious leaders. Yet, I can think of no one who has had a greater influence on my religious and spiritual thought and beliefs.
My first introduction to Christ’s work was in the anthology she co-edited with Judith Plaskow, Weaving the Visions. Her piece in that volume, “Rethinking Theology and Nature,” created a paradigm shift in me. Reading her lines, “There are no hierarchies among beings on earth. . .”[i] shattered any remaining illusions I had continued to hold of humans being superior to other animals and animals to plants and plants to rocks and water and soil. I have walked through the world differently ever since. Her eloquence in describing the intrinsic beauty and value in every being cemented my understanding of the divine as immanental – within all beings on earth and the earth itself.
In that volume, Christ introduced me to thinkers and concepts that have shifted and shaped my understandings and perceptions. Though already familiar with several of the authors, the weaving of these together with those new to me caused them to build upon and illuminate each other. Weaving the Visions deepened and broadened my understanding both of how feminist insights could be used within mainstream patriarchal religions to be more inclusive of women and feminist values — through inclusive language, broader notions of the divine, feminist ethics, and deeper understandings of the past — and of feminist alternatives to those patriarchal religions — specifically, goddess spirituality.
In Weaving the Visions, Christ introduced me to so many aspects of the feminine divine – the indigenous Old Spider Woman, Corn Woman, White Buffalo Woman; the goddess-oriented cultures of Old Europe; the Chicana Coatlalopeuh/Guadalupe; the Japanese Amaterasu; the Greek Artemis, Demeter, and Persephone; goddess as mother and as metaphoric image of the energy within.[ii] But it was especially Christ’s piece, “Why Women Need the Goddess,” that affirmed my need to immerse myself in the study, language, and invocation of the goddess/es. As Christ wrote, “Because religion has such a compelling hold on the deep psyches of so many people, feminists cannot afford to leave it in the hands of the fathers.”[iii] That hold is created particularly by the power of the symbolism of the male divinity of God the Father that continues to operate even in those who consider themselves fully secularized. Christ argued that because religion reaches people at such a deep psychic level and fulfills such important needs to cope with suffering and evil, birth and death, it functions at a symbolic rather than a rational level. The God the Father symbol continues to have an effect because “…the mind abhors a vacuum.” She continued, “Symbol systems cannot simply be rejected, they must be replaced. Where there is not any replacement, the mind will revert to familiar structures at times of crisis, bafflement, or defeat.”[iv] Her piece gave me the permission and the motivation I needed to replace all references to God as male, father, lord, king with goddess as female, mother, and sister within in language and imagery, and as recipient of my prayers.
Christ, who persistently pursued the questions, continued to push my thought. Her She Who Changes caused yet another paradigm shift in me. In it, Christ thoroughly and systematically explored what Charles Hartshorne identified as the six theological mistakes of classical theism: 1) God is perfect and unchangeable; 2) omnipotence, 3) omniscience, 4) God’s unsympathetic goodness, 5) immortality; and 6) revelation as infallible.[v] While I was in complete agreement with her arguments that the divine is not omnipotent, omniscient, nor unsympathetic, the notion of divine as changeable rocked my world. It both made sense and no sense at all. Wasn’t the divine this one constant in the world – this unceasing loving presence? And yet, as is so often said, the only constant in life is change itself.[vi] Hadn’t my own conception and connection with the divine changed so many times in my lifetime? The notion of the divine as “she who changes” was both unsettling and expansive. The more I pondered, the more liberating it felt to understand the divine as always in process, allowing for becoming. At the time I read She Who Changes, I had only recently become aware of the process philosophy in which Christ based her work, but for years I had been engaging in process psychology. “Trust the process,” my therapist would say. I had learned to put my faith in the process. Was this not the notion of the divine as changing – trusting that the process would bring me to the divine within?
And yet, Christ also described her own experience of the divine as “always there.”[vii] In being with her mother in her dying, Christ had discovered “that a great matrix of love had always surrounded and supported my life.”[viii] Her words gave expression to my own experience. Christ explained this constancy of the changing divine through Hartshorne’s concept of “dual transcendence” — that while the divine is always in a process of change, co-creating with a changing world, the nature of the divine remains the same. In this, which I believe would more appropriately be called “transcendence in immanence” or “immanence in transcendence,” Christ succeeded in breaking and blending the very dualisms she had sought to transform.[ix]
I will be forever grateful to Carol Christ whose careful and thoughtful exploration of the nature of the divine inspired my own. Her open sharing of her process in her expansive and illuminating works has been a gift to the world.
Christ, Carol P. 1987. Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess. San Francisco: Harper & Row.
______. 1997. Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality. New York, Routledge.
______. 1989. “Rethinking Theology and Nature.” In Plaskow, Judith and Carol P. Christ. Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco. 314-325.
______. 2003. She Who Changes: Re-Imagining the Divine in the World. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Christ, Carol P. and Judith Plaskow. 2016. Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
[i] Christ, “Rethinking Theology and Nature,” 321.
[ii] Paula Gunn Allen, “Grandmother of the Sun”; Marija Gimbutas, “Women and Culture in Goddess-Oriented Old Europe,” Gloria Anzaldúa, “Entering into the Serpent,” Rita Nakashima Brock, “On Mirrors, Mists, and Murmurs,” Christine Downing, “Artemis,” Charlene Spretnak, “The Myth of Demeter and Persephone,” Sallie McFague, “God as Mother,” and Nelle Morton, “The Goddess as Metaphoric Image,” respectively.
[iii] Christ, Laughter of Aphrodite. 118.
[vi] This saying is first attributed to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus. Who Said “the Only Thing Constant Is Change”? (reference.com)
[vii] Christ & Plaskow, Goddesses and God in the World, 261.
[viii] Christ, Rebirth, 4.
[ix] See especially her Rebirth of the Goddess, 98-104.
BIO: Beth Bartlett, Ph.D., is an educator, author, activist, and spiritual companion. She is Professor Emerita of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. She also served as co-facilitator of the Spirituality Task Force of NWSA. She is the author of numerous books and articles, including Journey of the Heart: Spiritual Insights on the Road to a Transplant, Rebellious Feminism: Camus’s Ethic of Rebellion and Feminist Thought, and Making Waves: Grassroots Feminism in Duluth and Superior. She has been active in feminist, peace and justice, and rights of nature and climate justice movements, and has been a committed advocate for the water protectors.