This is part of a series of posts about coming out as a queer, kinky, polyamorous Christian, then Buddhist Christian, then finally leaving Christianity. If you’d like to read the posts in order, start here.
In her book When God Was a Woman, author and historian Merlin Stone names a myriad of cultures where female deities created the world: “Stories that attributed the event to Nut or Hathor in Egypt, Nammu or Ninhursag in Sumer, Mami, Tiamat or Aruru in other parts of Mesopotamia and Mawu in Africa.”
Per Stone’s research, for millennia, goddesses ruled over gods. Goddesses ruled in the Near and Middle Eastern societies that were responsible for the development of agriculture and writing. And in many of these goddess-worshipping civilizations, women ruled, or were heads of the family or, at the very least, ruled alongside men. They owned property and businesses, were able to initiate a divorce, and had a say in the governance of their communities.
Then, beginning around 2400 BC, things changed. Aggressive nomadic tribes (generally known as Aryans) from northern Europe and Asia began to head south and invade the more advanced, but less aggressive, goddess-worshiping communities.
The northern invaders worshiped a male deity: often associated with storms and mountains and light. Coming from the north, they were lighter-skinned, and began to associate light with good and darkness with evil, the possible beginnings of prejudice based on skin color
As they took over communities, the invaders rewrote the conquered people’s myths. Across India, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Sumer, the once supreme Goddess became a less significant wife or mother or was rewritten into an evil — frequently a serpent — to be defeated. “The Goddess, the original supreme deity of the people conquered and ruled by the invading Indo-Europeans,” Stone writes, “was not ignored, but was symbolically included in such a manner that these supposedly religious myths allow us to trace Her eventual deposition.”
It’s now difficult to piece together the history of these earlier communities before invasion since much of the evidence of their beliefs and way of life was destroyed or simply never recorded.
Stone believes there are strong connections between the Aryan invaders and the Hebrew people including connections between Abraham’s family and places associated with Indo-European kingdoms. And when we compare the Old Testament myths with those of the Northern tribes, we see striking similarities:
“The biblical descriptions of Yahweh’s conquest of the primeval serpent may well have simply been another version of the by now familiar tale of the Indo-European male deity defeating the serpent of darkness, the Goddess.”
Now this version of history isn’t universally accepted. For instance, not all historians believe that goddess worship equated to more equitable societies. And not everyone believes the connections between the Aryan invaders and the Israelites. And I have no idea what’s true.
But something Stone points out that is undeniably a part of ancient Jewish history is the tradition of invading and pillaging justified by a male deity. After the Israelites escape from Egypt, the chosen people invade cities, kill entire families except for the virgins, take them to be wives and convert them. The women are punished or killed for reverting back to their original spiritual tradition: worshipping the Canaanite god and goddess: Baal and Ashtoreth, also known as Asherah. Stone writes:
“It was surely apparent to Levite leaders that if a religion existed alongside their own, a religion in which women owned their own property, were endowed with a legal identity and were free to relate sexually to various men, it would be much more difficult for the Hebrew men to convince their women that they must accept the position of being their husband’s property. Hebrew women had to be taught to accept the idea that for a woman to sleep with more than one man was evil. They had to be taught that it would bring disaster, wrath, and shame from the almighty—while it was simultaneously acceptable for their husbands to have sexual relationships with two, three or fifty women. Thus premarital virginity and marital fidelity were proclaimed by the Levite law as divinely essential for all Hebrew women, the antithesis of the attitudes toward female sexuality held in the religion of the Goddess.”
Church history has equated these ancient pagan cultures with base hedonism and immorality. The Old Testament consistently portrays the cultures that the Israelites conquered as doing evil in the sight of the Lord. But how does that equate to forcibly eradicating the beliefs and culture of the people they’re conquering, justified by a racist and misogynistic god?
I’ve never been able to make peace with much of the actions of the wrathful God of the Old Testament. And for so long I’ve justified continuing to be a Christian because the progressive ideas of Jesus were enough.
But what if I don’t want to be associated with the god of Jesus — the god that might’ve helped invent racism and misogyny or at least the god that justified rape and mass murder? Where does that leave me?
Historically, Feminist religious scholars have been divided into two camps. One group — the reformists — believe that the Judeo-Christian tradition can be redeemed through re-envisioning or revising the tradition through a feminist lense.
The other group, radical religious feminists, do not believe there is something to be redeemed and that we should move on (or revert back to pre-patriarchal Goddess worship).
I’ve always been a reformist, but after reading Stone’s book, I started wondering if I was in the wrong camp.
Two things hold me back from simply turning my back on the entire Judeo-Christian lineage.
1. The Jews
Believing that the entire Judeo-Christian lineage should be abandoned is anti-Semitic, which I’m not comfortable with.
After reading When God Was a Woman, I was curious what Jewish scholars had to say about the destruction of goddess worship during the foundation of Judaism, and I stumbled upon Jewish Theology scholar Melissa Raphael.
Raphael believes there has continued to be a lineage of Goddess worship throughout Jewish history, and there are now postmodern Jewish feminists who blend the two traditions together:
“These women take what they perceive to be nourishing from the tradition and blend that with those sexual- political and ecological qualities of feminist spirituality in which Judaism is believed to be deficient. In practice this can mean that postmodern Jewish feminists customize what remains comfortable, meaningful, and useful from the tradition of their foremothers and fathers. It is in this way, and for these women, that thealogy—which elaborates on women’s experience of the divinity of women as Goddess and on the political and ecological ramifications of that experience—can become something of a Jewish conversation with Judaism.” (1)
She quotes feminist Jewish scholar Jenny Goodman who says, “We read in the Torah stories of a holy war against the Goddess—and the woman in us screams in pain. How do we live with this tension. . . ? My answer—very Jewishly—is we grapple with it.”
Raphael writes, “Goodman ‘raises her voice’ against Jewish misogyny, speaks out for the Goddess, and holds on to her Jewish identity by arguing that Abraham’s original mystical vision of the interconnectedness and Oneness of God must include the Goddess.”
2. Queer, Feminist and Liberation Theology
I also struggle with the idea of leaving behind those doing queer, feminist, and antiracist work within Christianity. Those scholars like James Cone, Kelly Brown Douglas and Marcella Althaus-Reid — or even N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg — that have shaped my idea of justice.
And my peers, as well. Folks I’ve met through queer Christian activist communities that have befriended and loved this queer, kinky, sex-positive religious seeker and social justice activist.
But am I really walking away from them if I no longer believe that Christianity is the faith tradition that best serves me?
The truth is, when I pray, it’s no longer to Jesus’s Abba. Not exactly. Because I no longer believe that Jesus’s God is any more powerful or more real than the Divine Feminine of the Mesopotamians or the Tantric concepts of Shiva-Shakti.
The only things I’m sure of is that humankind has always and will continue to abuse and manipulate the idea of god for its own purpose. But there’s also some loving and justice-seeking force we can connect to and learn from that’s bigger than our understanding of it.
I think that Jesus tapped into this loving force. I think that many of the Old Testament scholars did, as well. And so do Jewish feminists grappling with their dual traditions. And so do some Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Pagans and those in African and Native American traditions. So do agnostics and anyone else seeking it.
I continue to believe in Jesus’s vision of a world where those who mourn and are persecuted are redeemed. And the work that queer, liberation, and feminist Christian scholars is doing will continue to inform my own ideas of justice.
But I don’t think I can any longer call myself a Christian, because I can no longer say that I agree with any of the Christian creeds.
So where does this leave me? Although I’ve taken refuge as a Buddhist, it feels wrong to just call myself a Buddhist because I don’t feel one path contains the whole truth of the Divine or the one right way to connect with it. Instead, I feel nomadic and on a journey of finding just what spiritual practices help me to best connect with the Divine Justice-Loving Force.
- Raphael, Melissa. “Goddess Religion, Postmodern Jewish Feminism, and the Complexity of Alternative Religious Identities.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions , Apr. 1998, pp. 198–215.