The Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Our Mother Whose Body Is The Earth

This was originally posted on March 11, 2013

This prayer came to me recently in waking sleep:

Our Mother whose body is the Earth,

Blessed are you,

And blessed are all the fruits of your womb.

You give us this day our daily bread,

And we share it with others.

Our Mother whose body is the Earth,

We love you with all our hearts,

And our neighbors as ourselves.

“Our Mother Whose Body Is the Earth” is a creative synthesis of elements of the Hail Mary, the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus’ two great commandments via Charles Hartshorne, Hebrew blessings via Marcia Falk, process philosophy, and the central principles of earth-based religions, gratitude and sharing, that I discovered on Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete.

“Our Father who art in Heaven” becomes “Our Mother whose body is the Earth.”  Transcendence of the earth and the body are replaced with immanence, suggesting that the earth and the body are good.  Our mothers’ bodies are the source of our lives.  Our Mother’s body is the Source of all life on our planet. The earth as the body of the Mother is a very ancient conception.  Process philosopher Charles Hartshorne says that the earth as the divine body is the best rational model for understanding the intimate relationship of God to the world.

Continue reading “The Legacy of Carol P. Christ: Our Mother Whose Body Is The Earth”

A-mazing Grace by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ photo michael bakasA few days ago I received a message out of the blue on Facebook:

Thank you for your accepting my friend request. I am fighting to find my way out of depression during a life transition as I move into retirement from my years of work as an educator. I look forward to your book this spring. I have long called myself a Goddess feminist having struggled with patriarchal Christianity since my youth, but have felt abandoned by the Goddess for many years now. I’m not sure how I found you today. I stumbled onto a blog from you on your book while googling something else. Your words gave me a spark of hope. Laurel

In my blog I said that when I began to write A Serpentine Path, I felt abandoned by the Goddess. I wrote back, hoping that sharing what I had learned on my journey would be helpful.

The short answer is that the Goddess has never abandoned any of us. However, She does not have the power to make everything turn out as it could be or should be or we wish it would be. Hers is the power to inspire but not to control. If you have been unhappy, She is with you, She understands your pain, and She will be with you as you seek to find your way. I hope this doesn’t sound too preachy. It is from the heart of my experience. Take care of yourself.

I immediately received an answer back.

Thank you. Those were just the words I needed to hear with my heart. I am “too much in my head,” having spent a life in academia.

This interchange got me thinking about how we import toxic ideas from traditional theologies into what we believe are new religious worldviews. In this case the toxic idea is omnipotence—the idea that the Divine Power is in control of everything. It follows from this that the Divine Power can answer our prayers. If the Divine Power does not answer our prayers, there must be a reason. The reasons we give are many, including: because we are sinful and unworthy or because the ways of God are not our ways. We sometimes conclude, as Laurel and I did: the Divine Power simply does not care about me.

The prominence of magic in Wicca, the most widely known form of contemporary Goddess religion, can contribute to this feeling of abandonment. The Western occult or magical tradition teaches that there are practices, including rituals and spells, through which we can manifest our wills and achieve our deepest desires. In Goddess practice rituals and spells are directed to or through the Goddess. In this situation, it can feel logical to blame the Goddess when, after working very hard and doing every ritual and spell we can think of, our will or desire is not manifested. “Why me,” the child within us asks. “Why has the Goddess abandoned me?”

In the story I tell in A Serpentine Path, I felt precisely that. What I learned was that the Goddess had never abandoned me. She had been with me all along. Where I went astray was in believing that the world could become as I wanted it to be.

The world is made up of a multiplicity of wills, including my will and the will of the Goddess, but also the wills of every other individual, human and other than human, who has lived or is living now. If individuals, human and other than human, have the power to affect the world, then even the Divinity cannot have all the power. This means that Her power (and our power) is the power to influence the world, but not to determine or control it. This is one of the key metaphysical insights of process philosophy, but it is also an existential truth.

The Divine Power is not omnipotent. And neither am I. It may seem odd to put these two statements together. Yet they are mirror images: both ideas deny the reality that a multiplicity of wills have shaped and continue to shape the world we experience. The world really is not at my beck and call. Not even the Goddess gets that.

I would never have said that I believed that the world revolved around me. Stating it so baldly makes it clear how silly idea that idea is. For me “enlightenment” came when I realized—really understood—that the world is not “about me.” Once I gave up having to have what I thought I needed to have, I found, felt, and experienced love and beauty all around me. This truly is a-mazing grace. To feel love and beauty is not to deny suffering. Yet much of our suffering is caused by ideas about how life should be, as Laurel recognized, by living too much in the thoughts of our heads.

Email from Laurel Tangen-Foster, Ph.D.

Carol P. Christ is author or editor of eight books in Women and Religion and is one of the Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement. She leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in Spring and Fall. Photo of Carol by Michael Bakas.

A Serpentine Path Cover with snakeskin backgroundA Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess will be published by Far Press in the spring of 2016. A journey from despair to the joy of life.

Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology with Judith Plaskow will be published by Fortress Press in June 2016. Exploring the connections of theology and autobiography and alternatives to the transcendent, omnipotent male God.

Birth, Death, and Regeneration: Why I Am Only a Kind of a Buddhist by Carol P. Christ

In a recent blog describing conversations with my friend Rita Gross, I said that I think of myself as a “kind of a Buddhist” because I have given up a great deal of the ego(tism) described by Buddhists. I also remarked that “I must be a Buddhist after all” because I accept my finitude and do not fear death. At the same time, I said that the idea of a relational world coheres with my experience and is more satisfying to me than the Buddhist theory of nondualism. When I speak of a relational world, I am referring to the worldview of process philosophy.

One of the central insights of Buddhism is the concept of “dependent origination.” This means that “no thing” exists in and of itself:  “all things” are related to and dependent upon “other things.” One of the key assumptions of western philosophy is that “things” exist in and of themselves: all things have an single, unchangeable “essence” or “nature.” Buddhism considers this assumption to be false: if all things are dependent on other things, then they cannot finally be separated from the web of dependence in which they exist. Buddhism insists, moreover, that the interdependent world is in flux. This means that what a thing-in-relationship is in one moment changes in the next.

Process philosophers, including Whitehead and Hartshorne, recognized that Buddhism affirms a central truth that western philosophy has denied: the truth that life is in flux and that no individual exists apart from or independent of others. Continue reading “Birth, Death, and Regeneration: Why I Am Only a Kind of a Buddhist by Carol P. Christ”

Relationship, Freedom, Change, and Interdependence in the Web of Life by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ photo michael bakasMarjorie Suchocki says that feminist theology needs a metaphysics, a coherent world view that can hold together what we might otherwise be seen as a series of unrelated assertions made by feminists. Metaphysics is one of those terms that make most people cringe. If they have any idea at all what the word means, they might categorize metaphysics as the most abstract and out of touch with reality aspect of philosophy. In the Platonic tradition where ideas precede reality, metaphysical truths are revealed by rational contemplation of transcendent principles that precede the world. “I think, therefore, I am,” Descartes said. This notion of metaphysics makes me cringe too.

In process philosophy metaphysics refers to the fact that the world is governed by and expresses certain fundamental principles. This does not mean that ideas are more important than reality. Quite the opposite, metaphysical principles are conclusions reached through paying close attention to the world. Continue reading “Relationship, Freedom, Change, and Interdependence in the Web of Life by Carol P. Christ”


carol-christLast week I wrote about Protestant Neo-Orthodoxy’s deification of male power as power over.  This week I want to ask why the relational Goddess or God* of process philosophy has not been more widely embraced, both generally and in feminist theologies.

Could it be that a relational God just isn’t powerful enough? Are some of us still hoping that an omnipotent God can and will intervene in history to set things right?  Do we believe an omnipotent God can save us from death?

Process philosophy provides an attractive alternative to the concept of divine power modeled on male power as domination.  According to leading process philosopher Charles Hartshorne, the power to coerce, power as power over and domination, is not the kind of power God has.

The concept of divine power as omnipotent (having all the power) leads to what Hartshorne called “the zero fallacy.”  If God has all the power and can dominate in all situations, then the power of individuals* other than God is reduced to zero.  In effect, this means that individuals other than God do not really exist, but at most are puppets whose strings are pulled by the divine power.

Moreover, as Hartshorne argued, the power to coerce is not the kind of power Goddess “should” have.  Although many have been forced to submit to them, tyrants and bullies do not empower others.  Should we not understand the “highest power in the universe” as empowering of others?

For process philosophy Goddess is understood to be the most sympathetic or empathetic of all relational beings.  Continue reading “GODDESS WITH US: IS A RELATIONAL GOD POWERFUL ENOUGH? by Carol P. Christ”

Whose Children Are Our Children? Whose Children Do We Care About? by Carol P. Christ

mharrisperrycarol p. christ 2002 colorMelissa Harris-Perry created a media flurry when she stated that if we as a society considered “all children” to be “our children,” we would spend more money on childhood education.  Critics at Fox News and other pundits called Melissa Harris-Perry a communist socialist Marxist, accusing her of wanting the state to take children away from their parents.

Some commentators framed their critique of Harris-Perry using the model of “ownership,” insisting that parents own their children, not the state.  To this charge Harris-Perry responded by quoting Kalil Gibran’s poem which rejects the idea that parents and by extension anyone else can “own” children:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

The poem continues:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.

This makes it clear that Gibran is telling parents that children have their own minds and individualities and will make their own choices. Children do not exist to fulfill the needs and wishes of their parents.

While in my opinion Gibran’s statement is true, this is not the main point Harris-Perry was making when she asked us to consider all children as “our children.”  Harris-Perry was asking us whose children we care about.  She was asking us to care for all children–not only the children in our own families and not only the children that look like them.

I saw this as a “teaching moment” in which process philosophy comes to the rescue—providing a way beyond a dead-end in the thinking that shapes US political debates and discussions. Continue reading “Whose Children Are Our Children? Whose Children Do We Care About? by Carol P. Christ”

Our Mother Whose Body Is The Earth by Carol P. Christ

carol p. christ 2002 colorThis prayer came to me recently in waking sleep:

Our Mother whose body is the Earth,

Blessed are you,

And blessed are all the fruits of your womb.

You give us this day our daily bread,

And we share it with others.

Our Mother whose body is the Earth,

We love you with all our hearts,

And our neighbors as ourselves.

Continue reading “Our Mother Whose Body Is The Earth by Carol P. Christ”

WHAT DOES “GOD INTEND”? by Carol P. Christ

Indiana Republican candidate Richard Mourdock’s statement that pregnancies resulting from rape are “something God intended” not only shows an appalling lack of empathy and distain for the experiences of raped women, it also is bad theology.

The controversy ignited by Mourdock provides a good opportunity to discuss the theological mistake of “divine omnipotence” also known as the “zero fallacy.”  Mourdock’s belief that God intends the pregnancies of raped women is rooted in the notion that “whatever happens” is the will of God.

The theological category of “divine omnipotence” means that God is all-powerful.  It also means that God has all the power. From this it is said to follow that everything that happens must in some way be the will of God.  Such views are held not only by many devout believers, but also by everyone else who asserts that “there must be a reason” when bad things happen.

The notion that a good God is responsible for all the events that occur in the world is rendered questionable by every bad thing that happens–particularly by bad things that happen to good people. This was the question of Job, and there has never been a satisfactory answer to it. If God can intervene to stop the innocent from being harmed, why does he not do so?  God’s failure to stop rape suggests that either that God is not good, or that a good God chooses a really bad outcome, or that God is not the cause of everything that happens in the world.

Charles Hartshorne called the notion of divine omnipotence the “zero fallacy.” Continue reading “WHAT DOES “GOD INTEND”? by Carol P. Christ”

SHE WHO CHANGES* by Carol P. Christ

She changes everything She touches and everything She touches changes. The world is Her body. The world is in Her and She is in the world. She surrounds us like the air we breathe. She is as close to us as our own breath. She is energy, movement, life, and change. She is the ground of freedom, creativity, sympathy, understanding, and love. In Her we live, and move, and co-create our being. She is always there for each and every one of us, particles of atoms, cells, animals, and human animals. We are precious in Her sight. She understands and remembers us with unending sympathy. She inspires us to live creatively, joyfully, and in harmony with others in the web of life. Yet choice is ours. The world that is Her body is co-created. The choices of every individual particle of an atom, every individual cell, every individual animal, every individual human animal play a part. The adventure of life on planet earth and in the universe as a whole will be enhanced or diminished by the choices we make. She hears the cries of the world, sharing our sorrows with infinite compassion. In a still, small voice, She whispers the desire of Her heart: Life is meant to be enjoyed. She sets before us life and death. We can choose life. Change is. Touch is. Everything we touch can change. Continue reading “SHE WHO CHANGES* by Carol P. Christ”

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