“We will not listen to the things you’ve said to us in the name of YHWH. On the contrary, we will certainly do all that we’ve vowed. We will make offerings to the Queen of Heaven, and pour libations to her as we used to do - we and our ancestors, our kings and princes in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem - because then we had plenty of bread and we were satisfied, and suffered no misfortune. But since we ceased making offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pouring libations to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by sword and famine. And when we make offerings to the Queen of Heaven and pour libations to her, is it without our husbands’ approval that we make cakes in her likeness and pour libations to her?” – Jeremiah 44:15-19, translation by Graham Harvey, from the Hebrew text of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, excerpted from “The Paganism Reader.”
Leaving aside the “separate but equal” theory of religious gender roles for a moment, one has only to look towards the headlines to see how dangerous the idea of female empowerment still is within the world of faith and belief. The New York Times reports that a committee of American bishops have accused Catholic theologian and nun Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson of violating church doctrine, issuing a lengthy critique of her book “Quest For the Living God” due in part to her suggestion of using female imagery for God, an idea (among others) the Committee on Doctrine says “contaminates” traditional Catholic understandings of God. “Contaminates,” what an interesting and unintentionally apt choice of words! Because reading that critique you can see the fear of contamination dripping from its sentences, hoping against hope of placing (in the words of the NYT) “the study of the male and female aspects of God [...] substantially off-limits,” lest women once more start making offerings to the Queen of Heaven.
Look at any religion’s myths, stories, or scriptures, is there room there for a female god? Does she exist? Art historian Merlin Stone, who passed away earlier this year, stated that “at the very dawn of religion, God was a woman. Do you remember?” Millions, perhaps billions, still do, and more awaken every day. They cast off the constricting “equality” of the dominant monotheisms while men from religious committees promote this spiritual amnesia as fast as they can. The conception of goddess, of a female divinity, undermines a religious and cultural power structure built on men. It asks too many questions, it makes too many demands, it voices the secret fear emblazoned on so many bumper stickers: “My Goddess gave birth to your God.”
If the goddesses are suppressed, if they are erased from history, reduced to lesser roles, or turned into demons, then there is no divinity that reflects the female experience. Instead of being the originators of life, subduers of injustice, and the source of all sovereignty, women are instead bearers of the “original sin.” No sane philosopher or theologian can claim this doesn’t change the very nature of a culture, or the way we perceive gender. Imagine for a moment how different the ever-raging debate over legal access to abortion, or even contraception, whether for or against, would be if women were seen as the final holy arbiters in the matter of creating life. I can only guess we’d see something very different from the parade of old white male politicians exclaiming about “moral” issues and threatening basic health care for women in the process. Once you open your mind to that first exercise in a world with goddesses it’s hard not to think of dozens, hundreds, more. Female priests and feminine divine pronouns would hardly skim the surface.
Finally, I want to ask people to think about equality. The great defense of the religions without goddesses is that women hold honored roles that are separate from men, yet equal in standing. But who, or what, is the arbiter of equality in this discussion? Who decided what was equal? God the Father? God the Son? The prophets? The holy books written by the hands of men? The all-male priesthoods? It quickly becomes clear that “equal” is what men within these patriarchal institutions say is equal, and women who stray outside the boundaries of this carefully designed equality are usually punished, ostracized, or worse. If there were a Goddess to balance God, what would be different? What if there were many goddesses and many gods, many ideas and conceptions of equality to choose from? Would Jimmy Carter have then uttered those words?
| Apr 13, 2011 1:04 PM