Monday, 8 December 2008

in the beginning...


Rather than debating the points raised by Infra here and here one by one, I want to expand on my principal point and see if I can make clearer, both to others and to myself, what it means.

I say clearer to myself because it was not an idea that came to me as the result of deduction but one that came, as it were, "fully armed". It was neither a road to Damascus nor a Eureka moment but more of a slipping into place, an "of course". It explained many things that had long puzzled me. It is an idea that I have held, now, for a long time but never fully articulated so I am glad of the opportunity to begin doing so. It is based on my own individual journey and as such may only be relevant to those for whom it has resonance. Any comments are welcomed, and will only be deleted if they are gratuitously abusive or libellous - unless, of course, they accord with my own personal prejudices :-)

I have always been interested in how things work. Well, to be more precise, how societies and individuals work - since mechanical things hold little interest for me. Central to the functioning of both collectives and individuals is belief and the sets of values that is articulated with that belief. I was also engaged in a search for some sort of inner meaning. Both these led me naturally to an interest in religion. I tried hard to become a Christian - both because I found much to admire in many christians I met and also, frankly, because somehow, somewhere, I had acquired a fear of hell. This fear eventually came to rule my life to the extent that often the gates of hell threatened, literally, to open before my feet. Despite this ever-present fear of damnation, however, I found it impossible to embrace Christianity. I turned to other faiths and, although finding much to admire in them, could not accept them either. Nowhere in the spiritual paths that I explored, could I find a home. It was a very scary few years.

And the reason that I could not accept them can be summarised in one word - "misogyny". For this is what I found as a fundamental component deep within the core of each . Although as an overt characteristic it was less obvious in some paths than in others, it was still present everywhere I looked. In all these paths authority was male. Even where temporal authority was exercised by women it was still in the service of a male divinity or teacher. And I could not accept that this was right. For, in my admittedly limited experience, I had learnt far more from women than from men. I read the scriptures. I read the church fathers. And the more I read the more misogyny I found. Until I came to believe that the entire christian edifice was built solely upon a desire to subjugate and denigrate women.

An extreme position, admittedly. And I have modified it somewhat in recent years - recognising that many individual christians far exceed me in selflessness and acceptance of others. They have found what eluded me and that it was there to be found is evidence that my earlier blanket condemnation was wrong.

The question of misogyny, however, remains. It is there right from Genesis and continues until Revelations. It is the Alpha and the Omega. It was therefore the question that demanded an answer. Why? Why was it felt necessary? Why did men so order their vision of divinity that, by the time of the protestant reformation, it had lost all vestiges of the female and become totally male? The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Truly immaculate conceptions! Unsullied by female anatomy. (I am,by the way, aware of the true nature of the Immaculate Conception dogma). And if we were unsure of the vile nature of female anatomy we will be reminded often over the next few weeks, as we listen to the carol "Adeste Fideles" (O, Come all ye faithful) in which it is a sign of Jesus' salvific qualities, and God's miraculous grace, that he "abhors not the virgin's womb". This implies that such abhorrence is, of course, normal, understandable and, in the absence of grace, almost mandatory.

So, what do we have here? We have the elevation of male gods (or, lest I be accused of heresy "persons"). A garden where a male creates a male from earth and then from that male extracts a rib and then fashions a female. An immaculate process. No messiness of blood. No piss nor shit. A clean, manly, story. A grotesque co-option of the power of creating new life. From the action of one male upon another the female is born and it is from her that all the troubles then commence.

So the power to create life has been taken by the male. Whichever of the two stories in Genesis is read, the prime mover in creation is male. A male who acts upon a strange, and unexplained, "deep" and divides earth from sky, night from day etc. The very title of the book, "genesis" being from the Greek for birth. The male has given birth. He has taken something that only the female can do but sanitised it and then denigrated and condemned the sex he has usurped.

One only steals from another what one envies. And a good way of dealing with the knowledge that one has stolen is to treat the previous owner with contempt. The reason I have focussed on the physical capability to give birth - to apparently create something from what amounts to nothing- is because that is where the Abrahamic myth leads. To the male's envy of the ability to create life and symbolic usurpation of that power while condemning to secondary status the real holders.

Where we go from here is something I cannot really say here except that, whatever it is, it must be built on a recognition of the full humanity of all human beings and not the dominance of one over another. The path is not easy - for one thing the dualism of night/day, male/female, heaven/hell, virgin/whore etc, set up very poetically in the bible and powerfully reinforced countless times thereafter - most lately in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings - informs all our thinking. It will continue to trip us up.

5 comments:

Livia Indica said...

"The very title of the book, "genesis" being from the Greek for birth. The male has given birth. He has taken something that only the female can do but sanitised it and then denigrated and condemned the sex he has usurped."

This is right on.

Back in college I wrote an essay about womb envy and my fellow students, male and female, were so entrenched in this Abrahamic downgrading of women and so uncomfortable with the idea that they felt the need to laugh it off. But I showed them. I wrote a kick ass essay and then got it published!!

That said, I think you captured the essence of the situation far more succinctly. Like you, I've always wondered where, when and how this first began. When did men cease to be satisfied and feel the need to create something that only they could: misogyny? Probably in some cave somewhere. I hope that perhaps one day, with the help of men like you, this will stop.

Infra said...

Thanks for clarifying your position. We'll still have our differences, I'm sure (especially regarding textual redactions, interpretations, etc. -- it's a side effect of being raised by an ex-nun and hanging around a lot of clergy in my youth), but it's good to understand where you're coming from.

As for myself, it's more along the Heraclitus, Phyrro, Spare and Chumbley line. Which probably explains some things. :)

Anyway... all the best toward your further explorations.

Infra said...

Phyrro = Pyrrho

(It's just been one of those typo nights.)

mahud said...

As I see it, this is the problem of viewing reality mythically as "Father Sky above and Mother Earth below," where the heavenly is understood as the source of all things spiritual (hence the idea of a transformational re-birthing through the Father as found in Christianity), while the physical earth is devoid of spirituality, reducing the physically process of birth as merely "of the flesh.".

Overall, mythically it can paradoxically work both ways. not only can spirit (the heavenly) can give birth to matter, but matter (the earthly) can also give birth to spirit.

Despite being born into a misogynistic patriarchal religious society, there are a number of instances where Jesus treats woman on an equal level as men, although I'm sure he couldn't entirely escape the anti-feminine religiosity of his time, as it was no doubt deeply distilled in him from birth. The same goes for Paul, who likewise believed in a divine infrastructure of the Jewish scriptures, viewed men as superior to woman (being primordially born of a man), and yet at the same time, could say, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (!) (As you say: "The path is not easy - for one thing the dualism of night/day, male/female, heaven/hell, virgin/whore etc, set up very poetically in the bible and powerfully reinforced countless times thereafter.. ...will continue to trip us up." if we take mythologically based ideas too seriously). Paul, Unable to deny the authority of the Jewish scriptures (furnishing the new teaching with some credibility), that had long ago eradicated the goddess, or rather, absorbed the female aspect of the divine into the divine male, was unable to resolve the contradiction of equality and non-equality in his own mind, because he took his religious writings (though understandably) too seriously. And the problem persists.

Brian Charles said...

Thanks for all your comments. I feel this question of masculinity and gender privilege is deep at the heart of the problems of our civilisation.
There are many things that I would like to say in response - to carry the debate on - but would like to leave it for a while to give me time to integrate a few things in my life.

I am so glad to be able to talk about such stuff!!!