Category Archives: religion

Religion, Misogyny, and Patriarchy: The Triad of Control in the Throes of Death

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They fear it. The misogynists and the patriarchists, at least most of them do. They are anti-woman and they fear the power of vagina because thoughts of it consume their brains, because they lack the personal fortitude of stronger, more open-minded people, to control their sexual thoughts and urges, they seek to own and control the vagina and, by extension, the women to whom said vaginas belong.  This is not because they do not want to enjoy sex, they just want to be the ones to decide when and where to have it and to ensure that the vagina, like a plot of land to which they have laid claim, remains theirs and theirs alone.

They cannot have liberated women running around, popping birth-control pills, daring to choose their own sexual partners and the number thereof, and  having the audacity to decide if/when they become wives and mothers. This would not only end the misogynists and the patriarchists long held domination of the world, they would also lose the power to own and control the vaginas of their choosing.  A woman with personal autonomy and with access to birth control, education, and careers is a danger to those who are anti-woman because such women, in their eyes, rob them of what they see as their “God” given right to dominate both women and the world.

It’s no small coincidence that the majority of misogynists and patriarchists are extremely conservative and religiously zealous. In the (carefully selected) pages of their religious texts –namely the Torah, the Bible, and the Qu’ran– these “men” find the source of their power. Never mind that these texts were written by men, for men because (facts be damned) God totally wrote them, conflicting information and all. I say that these texts were written for men because the vast majority of the laws on marriage and sex within these texts and traditions were written to control female sexuality and limit it to the confines of marriage and motherhood.

In historical Judaism, for example, ritual purity laws (niddahplaced a greater burden on women than they did on men. The rabbinical laws of niddah, which were  derived from the ritual purity laws found in the book of Leviticus, required a menstruating women to separate from her husband for a period of twelve days, to check her vagina with a cloth for bloody discharge at the beginning and end of her menstrual cycle, and that at the end of the twelve days the woman must take the mikveh. Moreover, the Jewish people placed a profound emphasis on marriage and family, which lead to efforts, that were often intense, to control female sexuality. For example, the laws pertaining to sex and marriage found in Deuteronomy 22:13-29 place expectations for virginity solely upon the woman. What this passage and others, like this one and this one, demonstrate is an attitude toward women that viewed them as little more than a commodity to bought, sold, and discarded as men saw fit.

While laws of ritual purity were abandoned by Christians, early Church fathers and later leaders nonetheless found new an inventive ways by which to control female sexuality. Since as early as the second century A.D. the image of Eve as the harbinger of death and the cause of man’s fall in paradise provided the church with justification for viewing women, the daughters of Eve, as being subordinate and secondary to men. Building upon the Pauline depiction of Christ Jesus as the “new Adam” and the redeemer of the sin which Adam brought upon man, early Christian theologians created a similar parallel between Jesus’ mother, Mary, and Eve. As the Eve/Mary parallel became part of official church doctrine, women’s salvation no longer depended upon their imitation of Jesus, but rather upon their imitation of his mother, the ever-virgin, Mary. By the medieval period, women were either condemned as wicked and sexual in the image of Eve or praised as obedient and sexless in the idealized image of Mary; as a result chastity became the only lifestyle by which women could disassociate themselves from the evil which Eve had come to symbolize. Sex outside of marriage, be it pre-marital or adulterous, was a punishable offense, particularly for women. If licentiousness could be proved then the offending woman would be punished, typically via public humiliation or expulsion from her home and from the church, depending upon the severity of the debauchery.

Similarly to Judeo-Christian traditions, Muslim tradition teaches about male domination and female obedience, blesses men with a measure of sexual freedom by either allowing them to have multiple wives and concubines or turning a blind eye to licentious acts of men, allowed men to divorce their wives with ease while restricting women’s rights to do so (although, they at least had the right, as limited as it might be), and strictly controlled the sexuality of women. As with both Judaism and Christianity, women were expected to guard their chastity and preserve themselves for marriage; women who dared to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage risked punishment, from forced marriages to stoning.

Not all ancient religious traditions treated female sexuality as a thing to fear and control. In a number of ancient religions the vagina, along with the penis, were symbols of power. It was the vagina that birthed new life into the world. It held within it the power of creation, renewal and life. The feminine was depicted as divine, and goddess worship took precedence over that of male gods. But the majority of  human tradition has predominately been based on a patriarchal and misogynistic desire to own, control, and repress female sexuality.

Thus, in the grand scheme of Western history, the fervor over female reproduction that we are presently seeing within the GOP (Grand Old Patriarchs, for all intents and purposes), is nothing new.  Men have vied for and maintained control over the vagina since time in memoriam. What is new, however, is the society in which such efforts are being employed. The world now is different from the world then. What is different between then and now, is that now men do not have all of the power. What is different between then and now is that strict religious observance and trust in organized religion is on the decline, as are rates of marriage and child-birth. Unlike nearly every point throughout human history, particularly Western history and much of Near Eastern history, women today have more power, and it is growing even globally. We can vote, own property, initiate divorce, control our own reproduction, have sex with whomever we choose, travel where we choose without a chaperon, go to college, cut our hair, and wear pants.

These are different times. The world is changing, and it’s changing fast. The religious zealotry, misogyny, and patriarchy that for so long repressed sexuality, especially female and same-sex sexuality, are on their collective deathbed. What we are witnessing within the GOP is not resurgence of the male-domination from which women have fought so hard to break free, rather we are witnessing the death throes of the Triad of Control.

However, this is not to say that we are safe. Like a wild animal sensing its own demise, the misogynists and patriarchists will not go down without a fight. The GOP’s 2012 platform should be seen as gnashing of teeth and a showing of claws; a desperate attempt to cling to life. In their death throes they are as dangerous and volatile as ever, if not more so. They see the vaginas breaking the bonds of servitude, they know that they are not long for this world, and they’re afraid. Thus it is essential that we not back down. We must push back, and keep pushing back until the Triad of Control has drawn its final breath.  And I must say, no death will ever be a more welcomed, a more beautiful, or a more glorious sight to behold.

(Note: Throughout my undergrad studies I wrote several papers on the role of women in the both the Jewish and Christian religions, over the course of the next few days I shall reformat them and paste them under a new page, which I shall call “Research Papers,” for those interested in learning more about female sexuality and the Judeo-Christian traditions.)

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Confession of an Unaborted Fetus

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What annoys me most about the anti-choice (or as they like to call themselves, “pro-life”) camp, is that in their fight to “save” embryos and fetuses, which they believe are people, from abortion, they assume that the resulting person will embrace life and be grateful for it. This assumption itself also assumes, wrongly so, that every parent will love and nurture their child and that every child will be born into a family that can and will provide for them. Anti-choicers live in a fantasy world of their own imagining; a world in which they ignore the hard truths of the real world, a world filled with poverty, neglect, and abuse.

Truth be told, I would love to live in the world that anti-choicers pretend exists; a world in which every embryo would become a baby who would be welcomed and loved and taken care of. But I do not, instead I live in this world; a world in which millions of children are born into homes that are trapped in poverty or into homes where one or both parents are addicted to drugs or alcohol. In this world, every year millions of children suffer from neglect and/or abuse, be it sexual, emotional, or physical. In this world, every day thousands of children die of diseases from lack of healthcare, from starvation or malnutrition, or from war.

I wonder if anti-choicers have ever once stopped in their self-righteous crusade to consider whether or not these children would have preferred abortion to birth. In all of the rhetoric about the sanctity of life, have they ever once contemplated the quality of the life that unaborted embryos and fetuses might one day live? I don’t think they ever really have. I wonder that if they knew that there were people in this world right now, who, if given a choice, would have preferred abortion to a life of pain and suffering, if they would put as much effort into making the world a better place as they do into filling it with more people?

Surely, at this moment, many of you are thinking that it is highly unlikely, if not wholly impossible, for anyone to think that abortion would have been the better choice for them, and their mothers. But I assure you, there are.  I personally know a few people who feel this way. And I admit that I am among them; something I have voiced to very few people. It is not that I do not love my life, because I do. I have much, especially now, for which to be grateful: a loving and supportive husband, a wonderful and darling child, friends who make me laugh and who are always there for me when I need them, a chance to pursue my dreams of being an Historian, and a roof over my head and food on my table. But I endured *a lot* of pain and suffering to get to where I am today; mostly at the hands of a mother who was not fit to be one. Had she aborted  me I would never have had to watch her self-destruct and drag our family down with her. It took years for me to come to terms with the past; and there are times at which I still struggle to not feel angry and sad because of what my mother put us all through. The repercussions of her terrible choices, of her self-loathing and self-centeredness, have affected not only my life but the lives of my own family as well. For this I cannot even bear to have her in my life because even the mere sight of her makes me want to scream at her, to list every ill that has befallen me and those whom I now love as a result of her actions.

I love my life, especially now that I have a family of my own and am becoming the person I had hoped I could be. But a lot of how I have lived my life up to now, the determination to make something of myself and to never let anything break me, comes in part from a need to prove that I am not nor will I ever be her. I’ve gotten better at living for me and for those whom I love, rather than to spite my pain and its source; but that desire to spite it all is still there, deep down, and I doubt it will ever go away completely. Although, I hope it will because I’d rather live life for love and happiness than to spite the pain and self-doubt my mother caused me to feel.

Do not confuse my stating that I think abortion would have saved me from suffering with an adolescent’s temper-tantrum exclamation of,  “I wish I’d never been born,” or with a depressant’s suicidal tendencies. It is not a wish, it is an expression of understanding that life is about more than quantity, more than mere existence; it is about living a good and happy life. And yes, life is not without it’s hardships, but there is a profound difference between difficulty and suffering. Moreover, believing that abortion would have saved me from suffering is not a confession that I want to die because I don’t want to die. I am here now and I have established relationships with people whom I would never want to make suffer the pain of me ending my own life nor would I want to stop living a life that has, because of the choices I have made throughout it, become better and even mostly happy.  Suicide would end a life already established and would hurt the people whom I have come to know and love; whereas having been aborted would have prevented that life from having ever existed at all. I would not know this life. The people in it would never have known or loved me, nor would I have known or loved them. I would simply have never existed. Period. But, since I am here, I will live life to its fullest and I will love, and learn, and be the best human being I can possibly be.

This confession is not to be misconstrued that I think life is a curse because I do not. Life can be, and for many people *is,* wonderful. However, for many of those of us who walk this earth right now, life is pain; often more pain than wonder. We are starving to death. We are living in nations ravaged by war. We are watching one or both parents fall deeper and deeper into addiction (and more often than not depression and attempts at suicide). We are being or have been sexually abused, physically beaten, or emotionally battered. We have been diagnosed with diseases that will prevent us from ever becoming adults. For many of us life is a constant effort to find the aspects of it that make it worth living. Some of us eventually find those aspects and cling to them like a life preserver; holding on to them with every ounce of our being, often worried that they will slip away and plunge us back into the abyss of pain that we fought so hard to not drown in.

I would like for anti-choicers to consider this when they insist that every life is a gift. I would like for anti-choicers to recognize that life, for many of the embryos and fetuses they hope to “save,” will be filled with unimaginable suffering and pain, and that, if they truly wish to “save” life, they start improving its quality while they concern themselves with its quantity.

If there is a sanctity to life, as so many people claim, shouldn’t it be about ensuring that everyone can live the best one possible? I think so.

Chick-fil-hAte: Religious Freedom Has Nothing To Do With It

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By now we’ve all heard about Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy’s stance on gay rights and the subsequent outrage in response to that stance. For many of us the anti-gay beliefs espoused by Mr. Cathy and his company came as a bit of a surprise. Out of nowhere, or so it seemed, social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, were abuzz with posts and comments about Dan Cathy’s statements to The Baptist Press regarding the company’s support of  “the biblical definition of the family unit.” For others, this news was far from out-of-the-blue. In March of last year, the LGBT rights group, Equal Matters published a report about the fast-food chain’s support of adamantly anti-gay groups, like Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, the latter of which is listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In May and September of last year,  LGBT rights activists protested the opening  of Chick-fil-A restaurants in Chicago and Hollywood, respectively; and in February of this year, students at NYU petitioned the university to close its Chick-fil-A franchise.

While, on the surface, the official position of Chick-fil-A and Mr. Cathy regarding gay-rights is, in the opinions of many, antiquated and unethical; dig a little deeper and that position moves from out-dated and wrong, to down-right fucking crazy-scary. Dan Cathy doesn’t just believe in the concept of traditional marriage (whatever the hell that means), he believes that we, as a nation, are inviting the wrath of his God for having the audacity to offer equal protection under the law to all of our citizens regardless of their sexual orientation. Or, as he puts it, for our “prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is.” Dan Cathy isn’t one of those misguided but otherwise benign Christians who is simply of the personal opinion that marriage should be between one man and woman until death parts them…No. He is one of those sinister and twisted Christians, like Robertson and Falwell, who honestly believes that there is some vengeful, wrathful force in the universe that will destroy us all for daring to treat people who differ from us with respect and dignity. That’s some scary shit right there, folks. Scary shit.

Now, to take matters from the scary to the mindbogglingly terrifying (yes, I am this freaked the hell out by this next bit), Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A are not merely funding groups that oppose same-sex marriage, (oh if only it was that bad) the two are funding a group that appears to support the systematic murder of homosexuals. In 2010, Family Research Council (FRC) gave $25,000 to lobby Congress to vote against a resolution, dubbed  “Res.1064Ugandan ResolutionPro-homosexual promotion” by FRC, that would denounce Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. Now, it would be disingenuous to insist, without irrefutable evidence, that Dan Cathy or the rest of the company knew about the FRC’s efforts to influence Congress’ vote on the resolution; but given that FRC is on the SPLC’s list of hate groups and considering that stories about the FRC’s lobbying efforts have been on the internet since 2010, it seems unlikely that Dan Cathy was unaware of it.

Contrary to what some people, particularly supporters of Chick-fil-A, might think, the outrage being expressed does not merely pertain to Dan Cathy’s statement to The Baptist Press, nor is the boycott indicative of an anti-Christian plot to destroy religious freedom. Yes, for those of us who understand that sexual-orientation is neither a sin nor an abomination, the position of Chick-fil-A and its president is offensive; but our outrage actually goes deeper than that. A lot deeper. We’re not just angry that some religious, rich dude disagrees with same-sex marriage, we’re angry that he thinks the rest of us need to agree with him. Dan Cathy believes that same-sex relationships and our support of them are going to cause his God to destroy this nation. Dan Cathy believes that his religion should get to define marriage for us all. And Dan Cathy and his company have provided substantial financial support to organizations that not only aim to impose theocratic laws on us all, but that appear to support policies in foreign countries that would kill gays and lesbians.  This is why we’re outraged.

We’re not telling anyone to change their opinions, we’re telling them that under no uncertain terms do they have the right to use their personal beliefs to dictate how other consenting adults live their lives. Just as they want to be free to believe whatever’s floating around in their head, so too do those of us who have different beliefs or positions. If one expects one’s personal beliefs to be respected and protected then that person *must,* as a member of a democratic and secular society, extend that same respect and protection to everyone else.

I want to make something perfectly clear to the religious right, to Dan Cathy and his ilk, and I’m asking the rest of the reasonable people in America to join me in saying it: We don’t want your world; it’s a sad, lonely, hateful place. Personally, I don’t give a flying-monkey’s ass what anyone believes or thinks. Have at it, it’s your life. I do, however, care when your ilk tries to tell me and those whom I love and respect how to live their lives. Then and only then do your beliefs become my problem. Your beliefs are your beliefs, nothing more and nothing less. Keep it that way.

The Doctrine of the Scapegoat: A Parallel between the Devil and Jesus

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 We are all, or at least we should be, familiar with the concept of the scapegoat. In the modern world the term is typically associated with an individual or group of people on whom all of the blame for society’s ills is placed. This person or group is then ostracized from the larger community or even put to death. A fantastic example of this in action is right-wing opinions of homosexuals and feminists, on whom they place the blame for the decline of western society and the degradation of marriage.

Our modern concept of the scapegoat has its roots in Biblical times, both literally and figuratively.  In its literal execution, during Yom Kippur, the Jewish “Day of Atonement,” the high priest would lay the sins of people upon a goat’s head and loose it into the wilderness. Sad as it was for the goat, I am more interested in the figurative execution of the Biblical scapegoat.  Most specifically, in two particular figures, who are, arguably, the most important figures in western religion: The Devil and Jesus. Undoubtedly, many of you are wondering how I could possibly draw a parallel between The Devil and Jesus; one is the manifestation of all evil and one is the manifestation of redemption and God’s eternal love for humanity. If you missed the answer within that description, then read on…

First, let us explore the generally accepted images of the Devil and Jesus in Christian theology and mythology (yes, Christianity has a mythology):

The Devil, once called Lucifer according to many versions of this Christian myth, was God’s most beloved angel. Lucifer’s high rank and closeness to God made him prideful, believing himself special in all of creation he rebelled against God. When God created humanity, Lucifer saw how much God loved them and he became envious. So, Lucifer devised a plan to turn God against His new creation: he takes the form of a serpent, sneaks into Eden and, well, we are all familiar with the story of the fall (if not, read it here). God, who is enraged at Lucifer’s rebellion and trickery, then strips him of his rank and title and throws him into the bowels of hell. From then on, so goes the story, the Devil and his minions move among humanity, planting seeds of sin within our hearts and minds and tempting us to go against God’s word.

Conversely, we have the image of Jesus as it is generally accepted in Christian theology, which is that of  God in the flesh, who has come, according to 1 John 3:8, to destroy the work the Devil by leading humanity to the ultimate path to salvation. And, ultimately, how is Jesus to accomplish this? Well, that answer lies in another of Jesus’ images, one that is, for the purpose of this post, the most important image of Jesus in Christian theology,  that of the lamb of God. Now, for those of us who are familiar with ancient Judaism, the sacrifice of a lamb was, among other things, an important element in the Jewish ritual of atonement.  The symbolism conveyed by referring to Jesus as “the lamb of God” is of course intentional. Jesus, according to Christianity, was meant to die for the sins of humanity

While it seems, at least at first, that each of these figures serves a drastically different purpose, if you look more closely, they have something profoundly important in common. Each of them is a figurative scapegoat for humanity’s sins. We place upon each figure the responsibility for the sins of humanity and then we sacrifice them, in one form or another. In the case of the Devil, humanity would have never fallen if not for his manipulation of Eve in Eden, and so we blame him; throughout Christian history, every ill to befall or to be committed by human beings was deemed the work of the Devil. As a result, the Devil is doomed to exist through all of eternity as an outcast, exiled from his home and stigmatized by his fellow creations.  In the case of Jesus, all of humanity’s sins, every infraction and ill-deed against God is placed upon his head as he is sacrificed, in death, for the atonement of humankind.

Both the Devil and Jesus are symbols of humanity’s inability to take full responsibility for our actions and our unwillingness to reflect upon those misdeeds and overcome our individual shortcomings so as to grow and become better people. Why assume responsibility when the Devil made us do it and then Jesus, ever so kindly, paid the fine?

Creating God

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Anyone who knows the Bible, who has either read it or merely heard about it, knows the Genesis story of creation’s claim that God created human beings in its own image. This belief is problematic for several reasons. For one, it is not an idea unique to the Abrahamic religious traditions, as most of the known religions throughout human history have held the belief that god/s created humanity, granted via different means, in their own images. One such example is that of a Greek creation myth (note: the Jews,  and subsequently early Christians, were highly influenced by Greek culture), in which Zeus instructs his two sons, Prometheus and Epimetheus to create humans and animals; Prometheus took the task of creating humans, whom he made in the images of the gods. Moreover, the Genesis account is not original to itself, as it has much in common with many Near East creation myths, such as the Babylonian creation story of Enuma Elish. And, for two, God appears to be extremely flawed and bizarrely human.

It is this latter point that I find most problematic. What is interesting and disconcerting about most of the creation stories is not only fact that they all claim that humans were created in the image of God/s,  but that the way in which our deities behave(d) is very much like how humans behave. From the gods of the Aztecs to the God of the Zoroastrians, humanity’s deities, while not always human in appearance, have been ascribed a wide range of  human emotions. They have been prone to love, hate, wrath, jealousy, vengeance, sadness, regret, and everything in between.

For the sake of time I will not discuss every emotion in detail and will, because of geography, focus upon the Abrahamic God.  Now, let us examine a few of the attributes of this deity.

1) Love:
It is not unreasonable to assume that the deity that created the universe (assuming that deity is real) has a capacity for some form of emotional connection to its creation; however, love is often an erratic, unreasonable, and irrational emotion. It might be more logical to insist that the deity of creation possess a capacity for compassion, such as empathy, which unlike love is more rational. I say this because love is difficult to define, it is an intense feeling that often defies any tangible reason for existing. How often are we asked, “Why do you love whom you love?,” and our response is, “I don’t know…” as we then proceed to list various attributes that we like about the person. Empathy, which is not wholly unlike love, is easier to explain.

We feel empathetic toward other people because suffering bothers us, it bothers us because human beings have an innate biological drive, like all living things, to preserve our species, and because we know suffering first hand. We all know the feeling of hunger, thirst, physical pain of injury, and the sadness of loss. Since we know how these things feel, and we desire to not feel them for ourselves, we are able to empathize with others who feel them and thus are driven to compassion. We can think through the suffering we witness and come to the conclusion that: since hunger is unpleasant and we need food to survive, therefore I should ensure that my fellow tribes-person/citizen/human (the concept of whom we help is evolving as society does, but that’s a discussion for another time) has food to eat. Empathy essentially results from observation, experience, and sound deductive reasoning.

If a deity, like the Abrahamic God did indeed create the universe, and is indeed all knowing, then it should stand to reason that that deity knows (even if it does not understand) our need for food, water, shelter, companionship, and knows, by observation, the negative affect the lack of such things will cause us. Therefore, when we lack those things and suffer as a result, said deity would feel empathetic toward its creation. However, even this requires one to assume that God, if real, is similar to humans in any way.

2) Jealousy:
This one in particular has always been one of the most problematic of all of God’s ascribed attributes. Even more so than love, jealousy is completely illogical. While we cannot adequately define love, we do at least understand why humans feel it. Love drives us to form human bonds and connections that improve our overall quality of life and encourages us to protect our family/tribe/society from undue harm. But jealousy, which is often erroneously seen as a byproduct of love, is blind and serves no purposes to the preservation of one’s self or loved ones. Jealousy drives us to do terrible things to others. When we are jealous of another’s possessions, we steal them; even worse, when we are jealous that a lover is with someone else, we fly into a fit of jealous rage, sometimes resulting in murder.

According to the Abrahamic tradition, God is capable of such fits of jealousy. In the Genesis story of Noah, for example, God, who is angry that humanity is not worshiping it, floods the world. In fact, in Exodus 20:4-5, God is said to have described itself as being “a jealous God.” This supposed aspect of God’s “personality,” drives it to do some downright awful things throughout the Bible, including threatening to wipe humanity “from the face of the earth.

Again, if we are to believe that a deity exists that is capable of creating the universe, an act which requires a capacity of logic that exceeds human capabilities, then how can we also believe that the exact same deity is capable of such irrationality as jealousy?

3) Vengeance:
This is, in my opinion, the worst of all of God’s ascribe “personality” traits. Vengeance is a highly irrational response to having been wronged. According to the Bible, God exacts vengeance upon anyone and everyone who it feels has wronged it in some way. In fact, vengeance and retribution are common themes throughout the Bible; culminating in the ultimate act of vengeance, the destruction of the world and all who did not conform to the Bible’s idea of goodness, who will suffer eternal torment in hell, as this passage from Isaiah states.  In Genesis God floods the world and destroys the sister cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, killing every man, woman, and child. In the book of Numbers, God kills a group of rebellious Israelites for daring to question God’s choice for the Jewish promised land.  Even the New Testament teaches that the wrath of God will one day befall humanity, such as in this verse from the gospel of  John and this one from the book of Revelations.

So the question remains, why does God have human emotions? Why love, jealousy, or vengeance? Why attribute something as irrational and inexplicable as human emotions to a deity that supposedly created everything?  It should stand to reason that if a deity existed that was capable of creating the entire universe and everything therein, a universe governed by the laws of physics, then that deity possess a capacity for logic and reason that surpasses anything of which the human mind is capable of producing or even conceiving. Love, for example, is a human emotion; therefore, at its core it is a chemical reaction to physical human interaction. It does not stand to reason that a deity that lacks any physical form, as the Abrahamic God supposedly lacks, could be capable of such feelings.

The “personality” traits that are ascribed to the Abrahamic God by its followers have been ascribed to various other deities throughout human history. For example, the White Buffalo Woman of the Plains tribes of North America, was not only human in appearance, she was described as being nurturing and protective, like a mother. Likewise, the gods and goddesses of the ancient Greeks were ascribed a wide range of human emotional traits, with each one possessing certain ones in more abundance than others,  for example:  Zeus was wrathful, lusty, and, at times, compassionate; Athena was wise, brave, and highly protective of those faithful to her.

Upon examination of the human attributes associated with various deities worshiped by humans, there seems to be good reason to assume that humanity, in an effort to understand the universe and its possible, if highly improbable, deity/deities, projects its own self images onto other beings. Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud called this “psychological projection.” And it makes sense. Not only have groups of people, via religious doctrine and practice, created humanesque deities, individuals also create their own ideas about God based upon their personal experiences. For example,  one who was raised by a harsh and an authoritarian father figure is more likely to view God as being a harsh and an authoritarian figure than someone who was raised by a more compassionate and libertarian father.  Similarly, someone who may have been abandoned by their father is more likely to view God as being aloof or non-existent than someone with a strong father-child bond. Even our political ideologies influence our perceptions of God; someone who is politically conservative is more likely to view God as being pro-capitalist and anti-socialism (“God helps those who help themselves”), while someone who is liberal is more likely to view God as favoring a socially egalitarian society in which people’s needs come first.

Given the tendency of humans, across time and distance, to not only ascribe human characteristics to their deities, but to also make assumptions about God that are based upon their own personal beliefs and life experiences, it is  far more likely that people create God in our own image, not the other way around.

Religious Freedom: America’s True Heritage

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The idea that Christianity, namely the Puriticanical version, founded America, which is an assumption made by religious and non-religious alike, is inaccurate. This is an assumption which overlooks the religious pluralism that actually existed throughout the colonies, as well as ignores the fact that a few colonies were actually founded on the principle of religious freedom. For example, Pennsylvania, which was founded by the Quaker William Penn, allowed all manners of worship from Anglicanism to Judaism to Native traditions; and Rhode Island, which was founded by Roger Williams, who gave Jefferson the idea for “a wall of separation between church and state“, and Anne Hutchinson, also promised religious freedom to all residents. As time progressed more colonies, like Maryland, which passed itsAct for Religious Toleration in 1649, began to allow religious freedom; although many did so only in practice and not by law.

When America became a nation, religious freedom was among the primary concerns of the people and the legislators alike, leading to fierce debates over what relationship, if any, should exist between state and religion. These debates eventually culminated in the ratification of the First Amendment, which effectively established secularism of state as the law of the land. Ironically, most of the chief proponents of religious freedom were churches, like the Anabaptist, the Methodist, and the Quakers all of whom petitioned their colonial, then state and federal, legislatures to uphold the truth that religion exists solely between a man and his god and that no government, least of all a republican one (as in a Republic, which is what we are), should attempt to coerce any citizen to believe what his heart and his mind have not determined for himself. In fact, in both the Journal of the Virginia House of Burgessand in the Journal of the House of the Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are a multitude of petitions from the mid-1700′s, following the height of the First Great Awakening, through to 1786 when Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom was enacted as state law, all from the various religious groups demanding religious freedom. There was one petition that even went so far as to argue that religious freedom must also include the “Moslem” (Muslim), who, like the Christian, does also believe that his religion is true. Futhermore, numerous letters were published in various colonial newpapers, such as theVirginia Gazette, throughout the late colonial and early Republican periods, which were written by Americans who argued in favor of laws which protected religious freedom for all.

Therefore, historically speaking, religious pluralism, and thus freedom, is the true foundation of this nation. We must stop perpetuating the lie that Christianity, in any single form, is the foundation of America because it is not. As stated in the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, it never was and never will be.

Originally written by me, Karen Lyn, and published on “Take Back America Movement” on August 15, 2011.

Common Streams

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As I have mentioned, I have no religion. At best I am a spiritual humanist, who teeters on the brink between Deism and Agnosticism. I have, over the course of my life and my college studies, struggled with the concept of organized, doctrinal religion and the dogma that typically comes attached to it. Nevertheless, while I have come to reject religion, though I maintain a sense of faith, I still find religion, from Christianity to Zoroastrianism and everything in between, fascinating. For better of for worse religion, in all of its many forms, has had a profound impact on the course of human history; and, for that reason, it deserves our respect, careful study, and understanding.

This is one of the reasons why I study it, as an aspiring historian I recognize that of all of our various social constructs, religion has been the most destructive, the most inspiring, and the most pervasive.  Religion has been used as tools of manipulation, oppression, and war.  Religion has been the inspiration for most of the world’s most iconic and beautiful pieces of art, literature, and music; it has been the source of inspiration for many early scientists to study the natural world, and it has moved people to revolt for social reform.  Religion, from the philosophical to the doctrinal, can be found in every society throughout recorded, and possibly even pre-recorded, human history.

It is this latter observation about religion that has lead me to Religious Studies in college, in addition to studying history. Prior to college, as I first began to question my religion, which was evangelical Christianity, I had read a few books about other religions, and was fascinated by how many common streams flowed throughout each one, such as those that are shared between Taoism and Judeo-Christianity.

The basic principles of Taoism – the Tao is everything, everything has its time and place and to do without acting for self satisfaction- have a lot in common with the basic principles found in Judeo-Christian teachings. I am in no way saying that Taoist traditional is identical to Judeo-Christian tradition, only that they share similar principles.

In Judeo-Christian tradition, God is everything, everything is from God, and everything has a purpose made by God from the beginning; for example, Ecclesiastes 3 ,“there is a time for everything, and a season for every action under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to sow and a time to reap, a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…” and Romans 1:20, “for since the beginning of creation God’s invisible qualities have been seen, being understood from what has been made.” This is similar to Taoist teaching in that there is a natural order which flows from the Tao to all things: the sun shines in the morning and the moon at night; spring, summer, autumn, and winter each have a purpose and come when the time is appropriate: “The way of nature is clear to anyone who looks.”

Taoism teaches that trying to bend, mold, or force the Tao to our will only hurts us in the long run, and that desire can lead to our separation from the Tao. According to chapter 1 of the Tao Te Ching one should free oneself from desire and “live within the mystery of creation…” when one becomes caught up in desire all one will see is the manifestations of that desire. In chapter 74 we are taught that when one tries to take the “Master Carpenter’s place” and use “the Master Carpenter’s tools” one only cuts one’s own hand. These are concepts which are also taught in the Bible; for example Romans 1:25-26 when people “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the created thing rather than the creator…God gave them over to their shame…and they received in themselves the penalty for perversion.” According to both the Tao Te Ching and the Bible, when one lives against that which is pure and natural one is left to suffer for those choices, but when one follows the flow, the path, the way, one finds peace. Of course, what is considered pure and natural is a matter of debate; however, the basic principles remain the same.

Taoist teaching also emphasizes the importance of wisdom over knowledge. Wisdom comes from experience and observation of natural order, it shows us when to act and when to follow; whereas knowledge is the memorization of facts and statistics which force us to dissect and analyze the Tao, reducing it to unrecognizable fragments strewn about until life loses all meaning and joy. This idea is also supported in Ecclesiastes 7:12 “wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.” Knowledgeable people run about talking all the time, puffing themselves up like a hot-air balloon, showing off their knowledge to all who will listen. Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching has this to say about such people, “the mouth becomes exhausted if you talk too much. Better to keep your thoughts inside of you.” And Proverbs 10:19 in the Bible tells them, “The more you talk, the more you are likely to sin. If you are wise, you will keep quiet.” Both the Tao Te Ching and the Bible teach that true wisdom comes when one lives in harmony with the natural order.

Taoist teaching also emphasizes the value of humility, as does that of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Chapter 76 of the Tao Te Ching says that those who are soft and yielding will thrive, a concept also taught in the Bible; for example, Psalms 37:11 “the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace,” and Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Through humility, not pride, one finds comfort; by acting without selfish endeavors one will succeed.

Though I cannot help but find the similarities between Taoist principles and Judeo-Christian principles to be quite interesting; what I most respect and appreciate about their common streams is what they can teach us about our place in the world and what they imply: that everything is connected, that peace and happiness come from living within the natural flow of things, from which everything comes and to which everything goes. This a drastically different idea than that which we have been taught in the western world, especially in America where what is good or real or beautiful is that which is most useful; whereas, in the common streams, everything is good and real and beautiful because everything is everything else.

We, in the western world especially, treat life as if it is a race only to reach the finish line and realize we should have walked instead of ran. We spend so much time worrying and working only to miss out on the things that truly matter and, as a result, never seem to be happy with the fruits of our labor. We see everything in terms of how it can be used for personal gain, as a result we pollute the earth and create drastic disparities in income thus creating a society in which people are valued by how much they own rather than for the sheer fact that they are living, breathing, feeling humans. Perhaps we would do ourselves some good to wade a bit in the common streams and reevaluate the things we value.