|by Tom Bohache
The older I get, the more I realize how much I don't know. Moreover, I realize that it's OK not to know. Maybe that's why I have always been so taken with feminist theology: Women, because of their second-class status for most of recorded history, have seen the dangers of asserting that there is only one right way; thus, they are more open to considering and evaluating a range of possibilities. So, as we are in the midst of Women's History Month, I would like to suggest that "his/tory" (perceived as the only way of acting, seeing, and being) might need to yield to "her/story" (the idea that change is possible, desirable, and doable) in these times of trial for people of faith and conscience.
Beginning in the 1970s, women joined together politically to assert their equality to men and to demand and pass equal rights legislation, a movement popularly known as the women's liberation movement or the second wave of feminism. This new consciousness carried over into every area of daily life, including religion; thus, many women took their experience in the political realm and put it into practice in churches and synagogues, resulting in a thorough-going critique of traditional faith systems. Since women's oppression is embedded in the very structure of religion and society, many feminists believe that only when male reality is deconstructed can it be reconstructed in more human terms. Mary Daly, a pioneer in the women's religious movement, called for traditional religion to perform an "exorcism" of all the images of women that do not promote wholeness, insisting that "radical surgery is required" in theology, particularly regarding the maleness of God, giving rise to her famous statement that "if God is male, then the male is God." In her view, any attribution of human characteristics to God, whether as Father or as Mother, is not only unnecessary but downright dangerous; rather, she insisted that God must become a verb of dynamic energy so that our human becoming may continue. (Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex, 1968; Beyond God the Father, 1973) The presentation of a feminist systematic theology which Mary Daly had begun came to fruition in the work of Rosemary Radford Ruether, whose major contribution to feminist studies in religion has been her contextualizing of the problem of patriarchy within history and the realization that patriarchy can be found as the source of any pattern of domination and subjugation ("sin," "chaos," "samsara"), whereas wholeness ("salvation," "enlightenment," "nirvana") comes through the undoing of social categories of oppression. (Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk, 1983) In the past twenty years, a new generation of feminist religious scholars has developed these initial suggestions, with the result that today there are feminist explorations in all of the major world religious traditions. (Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai, 1990; Rita Gross, Buddhism After Patriarchy, 1993)
Additionally, some women have concluded that established religions are irredeemably sexist and have therefore articulated their own faith systems, often generating "theologies" that involve earth traditions and veneration of the Divine as Goddess. (Starhawk, Truth or Dare, 1988; Naomi Goldenberg, Changing of the Gods, 1979) Recently, Carol Christ has built a bridge between traditional theology and non-theistic philosophy in her wonderful book She Who Changes: Re-Imagining the Divine in the World (2003), in which she utilizes the concepts of process philosophy in order to explain how humanity might retain its belief in a Power greater than ourselves, while nevertheless not ceding all of our power to a being that is a "holy terror" who keeps us in bondage through guilt and suffering. Rather, Christ sees Goddess/God (as she prefers to refer to the Divine) as the source of all goodness in the world, one who does not cause suffering but suffers with all lifehuman, animal, or vegetative. The entire universe is the Body of Goddess/God; since we are all in Goddess/God, a part of Him/Her, we are all responsible for the way the world is conducted. Human choice, rather than divine capriciousness or unsympathetic goodness, is what determines whether beings attain fulfillment or not. This applies to how we live as spiritual people, for ultimately every decisionwhether ethical, medical, political, or socialbecomes a spiritual one, once we acknowledge that every choice we make affects Goddess/God and all of His/Her creation for all eternity. No one religion or church or spiritual leader can provide all the answers or even THE Answer, for all of us have a say in how the questions are posed. As Carol Christ concludes, "If this is so, then we are all engaged in creating new syntheses within religious traditions, [which] frees us to re-imagine the divine and the world from the perspectives of our own experiences" (p. 215).
I believe that She Who Changes should be required reading for anyone who is concerned with the way our world is progressing, disturbed that war is portrayed as unavoidable and the environment as irreparably damaged, and indignant that some faiths or countries are sanctified while others are scapegoated. Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from Women's History Month 2005 is the legacy of our sisters in faith who dared to suggest that the predominant way of doing, speaking, and believing was not the only way. As George Bernard Shaw prophesied so eloquently in Major Barbara (1920), "We are all children of the same [Parent], but we are too busy calling each other names to hear it."
Next Issue: I will explore the ramifications of process philosophy by examining the "six great errors" of traditional, theistic religion.
The Rev. Tom Bohache, Pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Rehoboth, is a speaker, teacher, and writer on the intersection of sexuality and spirituality. E-mail him at email@example.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 2 March 11, 2005