Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Jesus and the Patriarchy; or, Christ and Antichrist

All my life I've been confused about two different aspects of God that are described in the Bible. These two aspects march side-by-side from cover-to-cover, sharing the same name throughout. One of them is God-as-misogynistic-Nazi; the other is God-as-love – what might be described as Christ and Antichrist. Lately I've been reading a book by Leslie Feinberg called "Transgender Warriors," and the reason for this is starting to come into focus.

Good book. I highly recommend it. S/he tracks back history, and, in Part II (Chapters 5 – 8), starts talking about where bigotry comes from. Of course, the Bible being such a big part of history, he has to relate things from it, like Deuteronomy and Leviticus, where lots of laws forbid cross-gender expression. Interesting stuff. It puts those laws in the perspective of the times. And from it, those two aspects of God begin to emerge as distinct through the fog of "infallibility," "divine inspiration," and "perfection."

One aspect – the misogynistic Nazi, or Antichrist – was created by male priests (or someone) to establish laws and customs that would break down the ancient order of gender equality, and establish a patriarchal system that enabled an elite to emerge, holding both wealth and power over subject classes. The Bible start relating this aspect in Genesis 2:4, the Adam and Eve creation myth. This was part of the Agricultural Revolution, when "civilization" began and it became possible to hoard and amass wealth, especially in the male realm. Prior to this, people nearly everywhere lived in matrilineal groups or cultures, and cross-gender expression was common – thus the laws in Deuteronomy and Leviticus forbidding cross-dressing and drawing very distinct fashions appropriate for men and women. The contest was fierce for many years, pitting worshippers of Yahweh against worshippers of goddesses such as Baal. In this context, it was essential for the patriarchy that was overturning the natural (matrilineal) way humans had lived for the entire period of human evolution to discredit the old goddesses and the old systems; and it was a bloodbath. Merlin Stone spoke of this struggle in her book, "When God Was a Woman." This rise in Patriarchy came in tandem with a new system that allowed, for the first time, wealth to amass in the male social sphere; and it was an effect of men establishing an order to hoard that wealth to themselves, not to the matriarchs and matrilineal clans that society manifested to that time.

The other aspect – God as Love – comes through this political indoctrination again and again. The Bible starts with Her in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3, and she is mixed in with the Antichrist God in Revelations. This is the God of Jesus, who preached, "Love your enemies," and "Judge not, lest ye be judged," and "lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven;" and who taught women with the men, praising Mary for choosing to abandon the assigned role of woman to sit at his feet while Martha toiled alone. This aspect is also seen strongly in the Old Testament, in passages such as Ecclesiasties 3, where the Preacher says of mankind "that they might see that they themselves are beasts" – no better or worse than the other animals, implying as well that women are equal with men.

Now consider how radical Jesus' mission was! His tender care for the oppressed (the poor, women, lepers, etc.), coupled with the powerful miracles he did again and again, threatened the entire patriarchal order – which was still relatively new at that time, and much less entrenched than it is now. It was not the Jews who crucified him, per se – it was the Patriarchy, represented by the Pharisaical priests.

This conflict has continued for two thousand years, and it goes on today. Constantine pre-empted the budding following of Jesus, transforming Christianity into service of the Patriarchy in 313 CE by making it a state religion. The Catholic church crushed opposition from pagan peasants for years, up to and after Joan of Arc. Mary Baker Eddy chipped at the Patriarchy when she started Christian Science.

And then came WWII, and women first re-entered the modern mainstream economy. Gandhi revolutionized revolt with ahimsa, and defeated the British Empire without firing a shot. That was followed by the Cultural Revolution of the '60's. Women rejoined the workforce and began to accumulate wealth, obtained contraceptives, and started the Feminist movement. Minorities took to the streets and challenged the established order. Everywhere the oppressed masses were rising in revolt. Trans woman Sylvia Rivera kicked off the Stonewall Riots, and the Gay Liberation was begun.

This is not a digression. This relates directly to what is going on now, as the the wealthy elite that continues to hold sway over all our economic lives harnesses modern Christians to continue to divide the people, using the Antichrist aspect of God as their figurehead to justify the oppression of women and sexual minorities.

I have no doubt that that statement will offend many Christians. It is not intended to. I say it because I believe it, because it makes the most sense based on my study of religious texts, history, economics, politics, quantum physics, and anthropology, and my own experience and reasoning, over the course of almost half a century of life, and the 28 years of my quest for Truth, from the time I was "born again" in 1981 to the present. I intend it to start a dialogue. I ask, therefore, that before casting judgment you read the books mentioned above; study economic history and the history and anthropology of the Biblical era, preferably from primary sources; and, perhaps most of all, compare those passages in the Bible that seem to condemn people with the words and actions of Jesus and the political and social context of the times.

Take your time. Thinking deeply on it, with an open but skeptical mind.

If my argument stands up to your reason, it will inform your faith; if it does not, your faith will be stronger. And who knows? Maybe you'll blast holes in my argument, and I'll change my mind.


David Carrel said...

Well Seda, you have once again brought up a topic that I am not well studied in and one that I do not fully understand the argument. There are a couple of things that I did pull from the blog to comment on.
First, God is a Spirit, not a He or a She. I use He when I refer to Him, not because I think that He is masculine, but because I do not like to use "it," and probably because there are more fatherly references to Him than mother. I guess the Bible would appear to seem as though He is masculine rather than feminine.
I think that the Bible's teachings do not teach the superiority of men. It does teach that men should have the roles in leadership in the church, but I do not think that means they are superior. I am taught by the Bible to love my wife and submit to her as well as she is taught to submit to me. And in many ways, at least most everywhere I have ever seen, we all know that the mother runs the house. A mother has much more influence than a father.
The Bible also gives validity to the words of a woman contrary to the culture of the time. In Jesus' time, the testimony of a woman did not count, yet God still had women discover the empty tomb and see Jesus before any man did. He could have easily had men see Jesus first and thus make the ressurrection story more "valid" at that time, but it was women.
I know that my sister and my wife are two women that would say that they are inferior in any way by being a housewife and having that responsibility. And you wrote a blog about how Kristin is an equal part of the team and something about getting a tax break or something official if you guys were to ever be separated. And we have the same views as far as the importance of my wife in our family. (to the point where she is probably more important to me, and more vital to "success" in our ministry). I do not think that the Bible is against women, but rather that they are equally used for God's glory in the story of the Bible.
Hopefully I did not totally miss the point of the post and just ramble for a while. ha.

Seda said...

One of the limitations of blogs is that some ideas, like this one, need enough supporting and background information that you just can't take the time to express them adequately.

At root, what I'm trying to say is that the Bible was written over many hundreds of years by many different people. Some of these people (perhaps most) were motivated not by spiritual insight or inspiration by God, but by base politics, and they skewed the real God (the God of Jesus, Elijah, etc.) away from a God of Love to a wrathful tyrant. The intent was to consolidate power in the hands of a certain group; the result was a system of patriarchy that oppresses women and "others" - minorities, other nationalities, gay, queer, and trans people, etc.

In this post, when I speak of the Nazi aspect of God (the wrathful tyrant) vs. the love aspect, I don't mean that both are true. They are not. The love aspect is true, it is the God that Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, etc. all expressed. The wrathful tyrant is a political creation. I'm trying to draw a separation.

However, the Bible, written by a multitude of hands over a multitude of years, weaves the two together (probably a political intention). This was probably necessary for the ruling classes; if the God of love was not at all present to succor the suffering masses of the oppressed, no one but the rulers would have any interest or desire to follow the edicts of the wrathful tyrant. And then it would be extremely difficult to divide and conquer the poor, women, and LGBT people, as the church, and, since the Industrial Revolution, capitalists have done.

To the God of love (the true God), women and men are and have always been coequal - and trans people, too. I think that's at least part of what Jesus was trying to say when he spoke of motes in people's eyes and "judge not" and stuff like that. Hell, that was his whole ministry - tending to the poor and the oppressed!

"God is a Spirit, not a He or a She."

I agree, David. I tend to call Her "She," because one's as good as the other, "it" is too impersonal (even though God is impersonal), it better expresses the mother-love God most exemplifies, and it challenges the patriarchy and the many who see God as a masculine figure.

I also think that when the Bible teaches that men should be spiritual leaders, that is from the patriarchal, wrathful tyrant, political part warp of the Bible, and not the loving God weft. I think your own sense of the value of your sister and wife show how the feminist movement has eroded the patriarchal teachings of the past. And that's a good thing.

anne said...

Hey girl,

Have you read the Essenes or the Gnostics? I highly recommend "King Jesus" by Robert Graves. What most people don't realize is that when the Jews came back from slavery in Babylon, they became patriarchs but kept their matrilineal social structure. The story of Rachel is particularly telling. Rachel was a Dove Priestess and considered to be the matriarch of the modern Jews. Her sons, Benjamin and Joseph are considered to be the only "legit" of the twelve tribes of Israel and Jesus was considered her direct descendant through Mary.

The story to which I'm referring is the story of Rachel having to hide the articles of her ceremony of worship by putting them with her menstrual clothes.

The Patriarchs pretty much rewrote the Torah after returning from Babylon, as much in reaction against that culture as in protecting their own. They picked up typical suppression rites like circumcision and set up outlandish marriage rules which even the Koran discourages.

The thing that most puzzles me about Christianity is that Jesus was a REFORMER in the Jewish community. He actually did have a claim to the throne and, thus, was in a position to be a powerful voice for a new Jewish paradise. The fact that his followers split into two camps is not surprising; that's happened in every major religion, even Buddhism. The fact that the church, now giddy with power under Constantine, was able to smash all sects over a 400 year pogrom in order to put forth their own brand of Romanized Christianity and people still buy this as the ONLY Christianity is pretty sad.

We've talked about Paul of Taursus not wanting to give up the Jewish legacy and dragging it back into the reform of Jesus, yet the Reformation should have put fort another lesson in that there are the words of Christ and there is the Church and often the two are incompatible.

The Celts were a huge group of peoples to the north of Rome and Greece. They had a mixed culture, somewhat patriarchal, but with women's rights and no stigma against gays and cross-people. When Rome conquered them, the Romans were able to strip women of property under their own marriage laws. However, the suppression of women's rights in the church continued all through the reign of terror from 300-700 (900 in Britain) INCLUDING a new-found bond of celibacy in the church which spread into a genuine hatred and fear of women that seems Oriental to me, not Western.

The fact that we have rights at all is because the Church was not successful in Britain. They still honored queens there and women of rank could still own property.

Among the Vikings, gay behavior and cross-dressing was not illegal although it was frowned upon. The repression of gays and trans people did not come about until this reign of terror where the Church was trying to put across the Roman dogma and squash viable sects like the Gnostics.

What you see as one movement has been a series of power ploys by the church over a long, long time, beginning with the Patriarchs and ending with the Republicans. Is it any wonder that conservatives should be drawn to the words of other conservative reformers: the Patriarchs? If you want power, you have to take it from someone and finger pointing is a way to justify it.

David, you might really enjoy King Jesus as well. The history of the Essenes and the controversy of the Merovingians is fascinating. Like Buddhism, Christianity is a reform religion/philosophy and to make it work as a power structure requires digging back deeper into parts of the Old Testament. Note that we still don't have the books of Tobit and Judith and other material "forbidden" by the later Church.

Quite a tangled history--lots of victims in the bloody wake.

Go with the voice of reform and love, Seda, not with the Patriarchs.


Seda said...

Hey, Anne, thanks for that context and comment. Interesting stuff. I'll put King David on my reading list...

I see patriarchy here as a social system, not particular to any specific movement, so it works right in with what you say. Really, I have a problem with any domination system or oppression.

Definitely, I vote for reform and love - NOT patriarchy!

Jill said...

I like this post. It shows the two conflicting sides of God and religion. I grew up Lutheran, which tends to focus more on the grace and love of God. I now am attending a somewhat Babtist church which tends to focus on things like "3 steps to fill in the blank". I am in the process of really deciding my own beliefs. I know I desire the grace of a loving and compassionate God, but find myself at a loss when feeling confronted with the "angry" God. I agree that religion has politically been used countless times over to supress people. All kinds of people. And the frustrating thing is, that if you look at Christ, he was almost anti-religion. Definetely anti-oppression. As a woman in the church, I am frustrated by the guilt and fakeness which seems to come with being a female Christian. They feel guilty about everything. They are taught to wait and save their virginity for men. While men, though taught the same thing but not expected to do the same thing, can mess around. They are taught about being a "Godly Woman". Taught to hide their true selves and their emotions. They may desire marriage or a loving relationship, but feel completely guilty for this desire. I do agree there are things that are right and wrong. That you can't walk all over people or treat them badly. However, I do not think we were meant to be in a constant state of guilt. We live and we learn. There are so many Christian books about being a godly man or woman. When it should be books about being Godly. I have learned many times over that the MORE you focus on DIFFERENCES the more it seperates the one from the other. Men and Women need respect, love, acceptance, grace, compassion, trust, and relationship. When we realize that, it makes it so much easier to love and accept one another. You need forgiveness like I need forgiveness and in the long run we are not so different after all. We all need love. We all make mistakes. That is what has the power to bring us together. It is what makes us human. Many things, including religion and the Bible, have been used in an effort to silence this common bond. It is a bond that cannot be silenced.

Seda said...

Hey, Jill, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I wish I could have more confidence in religion, but so often religion seems to be more about social control than love or God or spirituality at all. Religion is also a good place to find community, a number of people to mingle with and connect with who usually have similar values - at least, on the surface. It provides a common language.

I think that's my issue with the Bible - the religious, social manipulation and control aspect is interwoven with the beauty and truth, sometimes even in the same sentence. And there is so much contradiction. Everyone who relies on it chooses which passages to believe and follow, and ignores those that contradict. Yet so many present their individual (or collective) interpretation of their chosen Bible passages as the infallible single interpretation and commandment from on High.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our