Archive | March 2014

An even quicker than average review of “Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians”

Bulletproof faith(The book can be found here, though it’s also available through inter-library loan at the Sacramento County Public Library)

Like most Americans, I have colleagues, friends and family who are gay or in same-sex relationships.  Most of these are explicitly non-Christian, though a vague spirituality is much more common than overt atheism.  Ever since doing a project on the Metropolitan Community Church as an undergrad, I’ve been fascinated by the gay-Christian movement, and I was initially attracted to this book after seeing a review in the Huffington Post (“why homosexuals should never argue scripture“). To her credit, Chellew-Hodge does an excellent job of providing means of “bullet-proofing” GLBT Christians. Many of the conservative individuals she has encountered clearly don’t deserve a response: someone shouting “dykes go to hell!” obviously doesn’t need a response so much as a restraining order. When it comes to discussing the issue “can I be a good Christian and a good homosexual,” her record is much more mixed. She has has a plan for developing a thick skin, but not a deep faith. When encountering someone who reasonably and calmly disagrees on God’s view of homosexuality and really tries to understand her, her advice boils down to repeatedly asserting “I don’t agree” and moving along when the other person becomes shrill or tires out. She clearly thinks that finding common ground with her opponents is best, but it is also obvious that “common ground” is small indeed: “we all agree that Jesus doesn’t like haters” (and that’s it). True, even thoughtful conservative Christians I know can agree with this, but little else. I suppose this is a recipe for civil peace, but not for policy or communion (in or out of churches).

From a theological perspective, Chellew-Hodge has drunk deeply both of post-modernism and higher criticism. Something is true because she knows in her heart it’s true (something Mormons, ironically, would agree with). Questions are asked because questioning is good, not because we actually want answers (many 3-year olds would agree). Biblical arguments (such as Romans 1) are dealt with by deconstruction: St. Paul was just a guy, not a very bright one, and we can disregard him at our leisure. Christians no longer approve of slavery and oppression of women, and this is the same (no argument necessary, since the victim is always right). Conservatives want us to repudiate our sexuality, while not repudiating their own heterosexuality (though the more thoughtful ones insist that Jesus DOES want heteros to do this, e.g. Mark 8:34-37 and/or Mt 5:27-30); if you’d like to disagree with Jesus, fine, it’s a free country, but no one appreciates being misrepresented. SUMMARY STATEMENT: if you’re gay and Christian good luck with that, and be thankful you’re not Muslim. Chellew-Hodge can help you deflect superficial criticism, but if you’re hoping any cognitive dissonance you have when talking with thoughtful, educated, conservative Christians will go away, you’ll be disappointed. She does have a thoughtful bibliography and recommended websites, however. I am going there next.

A quick review of “The Goddess in Every Girl” (M. J. Abadie)

The goddess in every girl cover

Cover of “The Goddess in Every Girl”

(This is intended as the first of a series of reviews of books which show up in the “new” section of the Elk Grove Public Library.  In general, I am impressed with their services and titles, especially given the chronic under-funding of the system.  Some of their acquisitions seem a bit odd, however.  Here is one such offering.)

As the title suggests, here is a book about goddess worship aimed as at early teenage girls.  Having some background in goddess narratives, there was very little surprising in it for me.  What was surprising was the overt encouragement of narcissism along with a hefty dose of lightweight spirituality, pseudoscience and historical revisionism.  But again, this is not terribly surprising if you have any familiarity with the goddess/Gaia/wicca/women’s spirituality movements.

The basic narrative, which this book rehearses in its opening chapters, is this: there was a Golden Age long ago (30000 years seems  the favorite figure) when societies freely worshiped the Great Goddess. They were affirming of women and women’s power, they were pacifists, egalitarian, respectful of nature, and lived without fear or uncertainty in the world.  However, these societies were also powerless against a rising patriarchal, warlike cult of the sky-god, who put these societies to the sword and absorbed them wholesale, to the point where today, goddess worshipers are seen as an oddity or even a danger. Though these patriarchal and misogynistic societies are common wherever you look, the worst tended to be the male-centered monotheisms, first Judaism and later Christianity.  Reclaiming this Edenic goddess culture is one of the tasks of this book.

In light of this narrative, certain things are true about all women in general: they are  powerful repositories of the goddess, able to contact her at will (indeed, they are her) and can expect healing and wholeness to result, not only for them but for the world.  Anyone who tells you that you that you need to change, or who tries to tell you what to do, especially if they are part of this patriarchal culture, is out of touch with the truth and needs to be politely resisted.  This process of undoing millennia of societal programming and appreciating the glory and splendor of the goddess who lives inside of you occupies the bulk of the book. It includes numerous experiential exercises common to many sort of self-help spirituality books, with a goddess spin, including everything from journaling to self-touch exercises and meditation and altar-making.

A few quotes will give you any necessary further information:

  •  “Some 30,000 years ago, the Goddess reigned supreme over all the Earth’s people” (xii) and “remember that for some 4 million years the social relationships modeled by the Goddess women were cooperative” (86)
  • “As Nature and All There Is (sic), (the goddess) was not an impossible ideal of some far-removed, judging deity who decided everything and who was to be worshiped by ‘sinners’” (2); “the images produced by your unconscious are invariably true” and “the unconscious knows all and does not lie” (113)
  • “You can bring about the changes necessary to erase the oppressive laws and customs….Claim your Goddess power and use it well.  Be a Goddess Girl!” (9)
  • “In (your Goddess journal), write a short essay, story or poem on how you feel about the patriarchal system that suppresses women and makes girls feel inferior”(12)

 

The book proposes a modern interpretation of paganism, centered on an immanent goddess-figure who is ultimately discovered in the unconscious of every person (especially women).  All that is in touch with the goddess is good, whereas all things that oppose her discovery and expression are to be opposed.  Abadie self-consciously sees this book as an agent of both grand social change and a tool for use by young girls who feel like they don’t “fit” in the world as it is.

I was a bit surprised to learn something of Abadie’s biography.  She was (she died in 2006) not a newcomer in the goddess movement. She had an extensive background in both astrology and psychotherapy and was a personal friend of Joseph Campbell.  I say ‘surprised’ because this level of learning is not obvious in the text. There is a fair bit of pseudoscience thrown around rather casually: human civilization existing on some level 4,000,000 years ago (most anthropologists would squirm at 100,000), “every cell in your body replaces itself every 7 years” (145) (perhaps on average; many cells never get replaced, while others are replaced daily), and of course there is a fair debt to astrology.  Her ignorance of science is only exceeded by her ignorance of religion, with Christianity open to particular scorn: Paul was “a woman hater” and “evidence suggests that Paul was a homosexual” (41) who believed “women are good only for childbirth….Let them give birth until they die of it!” (42).   The Adam and Eve story was “propaganda” and any ancient prophetic concerns about ritual prostitution were of course written by men intent on oppressing women.  It’s clear that Abadie was well-read in goddess/wicca/astrology literature, but rarely stepped outside of it, and her knowledge of Christianity apparently stopped when she graduated from Catholic schools half a century ago.

The single biggest weakness of the book is that so much of it is simply made-up.   The ancient-Edenic-Goddess-society narrative has largely been modified and qualified out of existence by more recent and less agenda-driven archaeology; the best that can be said is that there may have been some cultures with a greater appreciation for goddesses than gods, and there is little evidence that life for these people was anything other than nasty, brutish and short.  Abadie does obliquely confront such criticisms with the two techniques common to much goddess literature: any criticism comes from patriarchal vested interests and therefore can’t be trusted and if any criticism turns out to be valid, it doesn’t matter since the truth of the goddess lies within each girl: the proof is in the subjective experience anyway.

The most disturbing thing about the book is not its factual problems, but in the way that it seems to self-consciously appeal to some of the worst characteristics of adolescence.  Yes, being a teenage girl in today’s world is not easy, and there are many lies out there, about girls’ bodies and minds and lives and futures.  Avoiding this ditch by driving into the one on the other side of the road seems to be Abadie’s prescription: you, as a teenage girl, are great, you’re a world-changer, a goddess in embryo, a priestess and queen in the new world that is arising who is wise enough now to reject a society that is intent on keeping you down.  There are many recommendations for teenage mental health out there, but “think more about how great you are” is not generally one of the better thoughts. The cure for poor self-esteem is realistic self-esteem, not a Pollyanna affirmation of everything inside you.

The book is intended for the already-convinced.  The typical girl who picks this up and gets beyond the first few pages is probably already hungry for what it says and won’t be interested in other views.  It’s obvious that Abadie is writing out of great wounds she herself experienced in earlier life, and assumes that this is equally true of the girls reading her book. Perhaps for this reason is the book to be despised: it sells faith-cures to the sick and, in some cases, actually seems to inoculate girls against anyone who might tell them the truth: that they are valuable people, that God doesn’t make junk, but that nonetheless they are not perfect and looking deep within themselves they are as likely to discover the dark and terrible as the bright and shining.  It’s no coincidence that many cultures with goddesses, from the ancient Greeks to modern Hinduism, are aware that there are terrible and frightening aspects to the goddess as well:  Kali or Artemis is just as likely to step on a mortal woman as to welcome her.  Abadie, of course, sees this as mere propaganda, and even if it isn’t, it doesn’t matter, since her experience tells her otherwise.  If I know a girl who is avidly reading this, I would have probing questions for her, but more importantly I would see a girl who feels disconnected from community, from good teaching about her world and herself and who needs to hear a truth that isn’t just speaking to her baser instincts of self-importance and self-righteousness.  The cure isn’t to burn this book, but to laugh at it and to pity its self-deluded boosters.

I guess my patriarchal war-god side is showing.  My bad.