Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hermeneutics for Pagan folk

Let's be honest. Every religion has its fuzzy wuzzy nutcases.

I have Christian relatives who have homes bedecked in lovingly cross stritched pictures of a very white Jesus, and plaques with Biblical quotes on every wall. The Protestant version tends to cute savings about putting Christ back into Christmas, and finding ways to prove that Halloween is really a holiday about Jesus. There is a Catholic version, as well. My ex-mother-in-law kept a crucifix on every surface of her home, and paintings of a very white Mary gazing at her infant son in every room. Clearly there is a new age equivalent.

However, the Christian community is less embarrassed by its fuzzy side. After all, it has theological schools, scholarly journals, endowed chairs and entire libraries to point toward a more intellectual vision. Pagans, with their new age, blond goddess-worshiping and fairy-loving side, have less scholarship to invoke. I know of no endowed chairs in Pagan theology in the US. So in general, pagans gets touchy about historical proof and orthodoxy, trying to show it has its own brainy side just like more established religions.

You can find this online and in pagan communities. I remember Issac Bonewits calling for pagans to learn Irish and Welsh in order to further pagan scholarship back when he wrote for neo-pagan journals in the 1980's. (I probably still have some of those magazines floating about!) Bonewit's group, Ár nDraíocht Fein, has a path to ministerial ordination. Other groups have "experts" who read extensively in Celtic studies and Indo European mythologies, in an effort to separate from the "fairies are everywhere and they are love" contingent.

Interesting things come from this sudden and unthinking embrace of "scholarship."

Explore pagan sites that urge scholarship, and suddenly you will find Goddesses and women-as-deity missing - again! Hey, God the mother is scary to pagans, too!

Bonewit's group doesn't have a Goddess in sight; Deiuokara, with a link right here on Bridget's Fire, does include Goddesses, but takes great pain to show that real Celts saw Bridget as "the energy and force necessary for Lugus to accomplish his work on behalf of the community." In other parts of their website they compare Goddess energy to Shakti energy: women's divine energy "energizes" God energy. Here is a great quote: "Because in Celtic thought goddesses are primarily seen as sources of energy (equivalent to the Hindu concept of 'shakti'), the distinctions between them tend to blur and to be less clear-cut than in the case of the gods, as many writers on the subject have remarked."


So feminist friends, guys and gals, whatta ya think of that? All over the Celtic world, celebrants chucked their swords and shields into pools named for Celtic female devas/Goddesses/spirits, buy hey, we really are just "blurry" and indistinct energy sources for the boys. The Morrigan, surviving to Christian times to be inscribed by monks, flew about battlefields with their horses and ravens, but they really were just "sources of energy." And hey, women all seem a lot alike, anyway, right?

Clearly what is lacking here is any questioning of scholarship and its purposes. Hey, if an academic says it, it must be true, correct? Especially if that academic is white, straight, male, and "objective." That "scholarship" can further prejudice and inequality in the pagan community is of no interest to the Bonewits of the pagan world. In this regard, pagans start to sound like Unitarian Universalists - hey, we ordain women, so there can't be a sexism problem here. And racism in the pagan community? "Not an issue," even though many pagan groups remain all white.

Christians, thank heaven, can't get away with this so explicitly anymore. 40 years of feminist, Mujerista, Womanist, Latin American, Black, African, Minjung, Eco-feminist, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered theologies have challenged the idea that "objective" religious scholarship is possible. Biblical scholarship now routinely explores the realities of inequity that permeates sacred texts.

And no one has done more from opening up scholarship than my other favourite feminist Christian, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza. Chair of Biblical studies at Harvard University, no one is more legitimate than Schussler Fiorenza. And no one, pagan or Christian, is more radical. (yes, I love Mary Daly, and I consider them equally rad. Bite me.)

Here is Fiorenza on textual religious scholarship:

"A politics of discourse seeks to investigate the links between feminist... articulations and those theoretical, historical, cultural, and political conceptual frameworks that shape biblical as well as feminist christological discourses. Bible, history, and theology are important not only for religious communities. Rather, as "master narratives" of Western cultures, they are always implicated in and collude with the production and maintenance of systems of knowledge that either foster exploitation and oppression or contribute to a praxis and vision of liberation."
-"Jesus, Miriam's Child, Sophia's Prophet, (1995).

Hmmm, quoting boys that say female Celtic deities were mostly "energzing forces for Gods" hardly seems like an objective scholarship, but more a discounting of the realities of sexism in Celtic culture, and an absolute denial of the sexism in the early Christian recordings of centuries older stories. And even should the Christian monks who wrote down what some Celts thought about their own worship practices centuries before be close to accurate, how does that mean an authentic paganism today should relegate women to animating men in modern Paganism? Huh?

I stand with the Christian Schussler Fiorenza: I want a religious practice that fosters liberation. Modern Indo European groups hoping to prove their legitimacy through unquestioned "scholarship" are instead colluding with our culture of sexism, racism, homophobia and every other oppressive practice.

In other words, boys in dresses, pagan or Christian, need to quit perpetuating oppression, even if they ordain women, too. In that sense, the fuzzy wuzzy religious folk, with their commitment to love and fairies and white Jesuses and blond Goddesses, come off as better human beings who at least care about the relationships we humans create than the scholarly pagans do!

I don't care who the god is. Religion should be about freedom and not shackles.

And I talked to Bridget today. She says to tell all the druid groupies, "naughty, naughty." I promise to continue writing about feminist hermeneutics in future days. . .

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