Tuesday, July 12, 2011
My friend Kristen Wolf has a new book out - it is called the Way. If I had to explain what it is about without giving away the story, I'd say it is both a feminist and deeply feminine take on the moving and inspirational story of the life of Christ.
You can learn more by watching:
Twitter: TheWayNovel, Facebook: The Way Novel
I read the book some months ago - in that wonderful state called an advance copy - it was a treat. It was the kind of book you wish you had read when you were a young woman growing up in India and Burma and Germany and wondering why all religious traditions seemed to be so dismissive, if not downright offensive to women. Alas, we don't have enough of those kinds of books or, for that matter, those kinds of faiths.
In fact, there are very few feminists who are also able to joyously and openly affirm that they are women or men of faith. In part, I believe this is because most religious traditions feel compelled to reassert the dogma of patriarchy - unable on some fundamental level to get the beauty and miracle of life itself and totally incapable of reconciling it with the miracles that have come to us as a result of science and reason. Instead, particularly in the three largest monotheist religions, humans have confused the sense of awe or wonder that does and should overcome us when we see a gesture of great love, a sunset, or the Grand Canyon, with the notion that these are the personal lego creations of an old man sitting on a throne somewhere in the sky tugging at his beard like Albus Dumbledore in a Harry Potter movie.
That is not surprising given how bizarrely inaccurate and surreal the most basic stories about creation are within three of the dominant religions in the world - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In all three, there is agreement that the old man (the Creator) dreamed up a garden, created man in his own image (no colour or race specified but gender is clear complete with penis and testicles) and then, when that being was "lonely", took a rib out of it's side and created Eve. As a result, she is immediately considered inferior to the first being having come second and being created out of him. Next, she is blamed for "tempting" him to check out "the fruit from the tree of knowledge" after having been persuaded by a talking serpent that "knowing" is better than "unknowing". Of course, that immensely superior "first" being does not have the guts or gumption or brains to actually decide to taste or not to taste - its her fault for even suggesting the idea! And, then lastly, when they get thrown out of Eden and suddenly know shame instead of reveling in their rather nice bodies, they discover, (oh horror!) the joys of sex. Presumably, this had all been unknown to them until this point and they had just been playing scrabble or foursquare like platonic buddies in the garden till then. All very confusing! And, it just gets worse - I've always wondered why uptight conservative evangelicals don't ask how it was that 2 people could go on to populate the earth without there being some serious incest involved.....?
But, if you think growing up in a religion like mine - Hinduism - complete with a nice Shiva Shakti balance and full-on goddess worship makes for less craziness or less patriarchy around religion - read on. Our creation myth is not one but many, just like our gods and goddesses - not one but many. Actually, our understanding of the various gods and goddesses is super complex - they are all seen as aspects of the one divine which is formless, faceless, of no one gender or another. At least one of our creation stories acknowledges that male and female are intrinsic to the creation and preservation of all life. In a country with 1.2 billion people, perhaps it is harder to sell "immaculate conception". We know virgins don't have babies. We know how babies come to be. All babies. We've worshipped the lingam or phallus for just as long as we have worshipped the yoni or womb. And, in every Shiva temple, the lingam is always set within the yoni - contained in it, so to speak. We are in no doubt about the physics or mechanics. We grew up on stories like the one where Shiva's partner, and full equal in power, the Goddess Parvati/Shakti, creates a child by playing with clay by a river and breathing life into the little Ganesh to keep her company while her husband is off doing his various asectic endeavours. Ganesh is her creation - entirely - Shiva was not even there....You'd think this, combined with goddesses like Kali and Durga who are shown riding tigers and lions and wearing skulls of demons who got in their way would bode well for women in the Hindu faith. Wrong!
Instead, Hinduism, as it is practiced in far too many homes (although to be fair, not all!) has all but snuffed out the joy and power of the divine feminine. It is complicit in the daily oppression of millions of women across India and in the devaluing of female life from the time of conception. Girls are routinely considered "less than" and the birth of a girl child is bewailed and considered deeply inauspicious. Check out my TED talk on this topic for more details. Nothing about modern day capitalism or 8% rate of GDP growth seems to have shaken this deep conviction in the all-consuming son preference that has led to some of the most skewed gender ratios in the world. It ain't pretty. Not by a long shot.
And, so it goes. Nonetheless, reading The Way, made me hope that we might begin to retell our creation stories and the stories of our teachers and prophets in ways that include rather than exclude half the world's population. Considering that women birthed every prophet from Moses to Buddha to Krishna to Jesus to Mohammed – suckled them, nursed them when they were sick, believed in them when everyone else said they were nuts, you'd think we'd get a little more RESPECT. Here's to a Third Way that can offer us a more inclusive vision of the world as one.