After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of the World Religions, edited by Paula M. Cooey, William R. Eakin, & Jay B. McDaniel

At this point in my reading of this book I got bored with the apologists for the big, irritatingly misogynistic organized religions — so I jumped a few articles ahead, to the two chapters which I knew were dedicated to alternative religious perspectives. I found them startlingly more rewarding than I'd expected.

The Apache: already there

I've written previously of Inés Talamantez' lyrical description of the Apache menarche ritual. Her article in this book, titled "Images of the Feminine in Apache Religious Tradition," further reviews Isanaklesh, the Apache Mother Earth. However, the thrust of this article is to strongly encourage women not to struggle fruitlessly against patriarchally-inspired religions, but rather to turn for inspiration to religions which have been matrifocal and woman-respectful all along. As she wisely notes, "an emphasis on ritual and ceremony that empowers girls and assists them into positions of leadership will be critical in a post-patriarchal age. Furthermore, the society and family that surrounds and sustains these girls and the women they become must take seriously the nurturance that an emphasis on ritual and ceremony requires" (Talamantez, p. 132). In a nutshell: for healthy changes in the cultural view of women to occur and stick, the culture itself must change — so it will support and maintain this regained respect for the wisdom, leadership, and divinity of the female.

Biophilia & spiritual free-thinking

I really loved Emily Culpepper's "The Spiritual, Political Journey of a Feminist Freethinker." Throughout all my studies I have repeatedly seen class sisters occasionally exclaiming about how strongly this or that goddess resonated for them. Indeed, I've even had a fellow class sister mention wistfully to me that she wished that would happen to her — and seen it subsequently occur several months later. I've never felt that comfort for myself, though… until now.

Never before have I had so many, "YES! Yes, that's it exactly!" moments as I had with this article. I suppose it is a sign of my somewhat, um, eclectic spiritual search that it was not so much a particular goddess as a spiritually seeking state of mind which so resonated. As an example, here's one of the quotes which spoke strongly to me:

[A]s adamant as freethinkers often are in our actions, we do not intend for everyone to act in an identical way. We suffer from a palpable sensation that patriarchy acts to shrink universes of meaning into a pitifully limited, homogenized, proscribed set of opinions…. These are not altruistic acts undertaken from some sense of noble moral superiority. Bluntly put, we feel concretely and cosmically safer the more difference and diversity human beings are able to celebrate with each other. Nothing makes us sadder than for someone to say, 'How courageous you are, I could never do that.' Contagious freedom is our intention. (Culpepper, p. 159; italics mine)

Culpepper's description of biophilia practically sings to me; I too wish to develop an identity which "channels anger and ecstasy into creativity" (Culpepper, p. 156). If I were forced to limit my spiritual journeying and growing understandings to a single-word description, I think biophilia would be it: a joyful recognition that "the whole world was a sacred text [which] I had a lifetime to learn to read" (Culpepper, p. 151) coupled with a burgeoning love of the entire, eternally changing organic cycle of life, death, and rebirth.

Buddhism & feminist values

Thus fortified by such fascinating reading, I next went back to the printed order of the articles, and read "Buddhism after Patriarchy?" Once again, upon reading Rita M. Gross, I found myself surprised and pleased by the sharp clarity of her thought. As she points out, the greatest (and in some cases, most determinedly ignored) challenge currently facing the modern patriarchal religions is "whether, stripped of sexist privilege to men, patriarchal hierarchies, and androcentric interpretations… anything remains of the religion" (p. 65). Though Buddhism is often taught as an inherently isolationist and anti-worldly religion — as freedom from the world — Gross demonstrates that once again inherently egalitarian teachings, described as freedom within the world, have been overlaid with a later veneer of misogyny (Gross, p. 67).

Gross believes there is a dramatic future possible for post-patriarchal Buddhism — since a Buddhism of freedom within the world offers the possibility of sacred meaning in both ordinary community life and in meditative retreat (Gross, p. 81). Indeed, one of the "Three Jewels" or basic premises of the religion is the sangha or community of fellow practitioners. Currently this particular Jewel is somewhat denigrated by the religion's dominant masculinist perspectives (Gross, p. 74-75). However, should feminine values of relationship and community be recognized as equally spiritual, and applied to the sangha, Gross feels the religion could truly blossom with potential for more personal and interpersonal peace and understanding, and an ensuing recognition and respect for the earth herself.

Finally, the Buddhist goal, which current teachings claim is really only achievable by dedicated monastics, is apparently "seeking wholeness and balance in lifestyle and values… seeking to avoid extremes" (Gross, p. 82). I found myself intrigued: apparently the Buddhists seek isolation to discover balance — but according to Talamantez, the Apache simply live in balanced harmony. Perhaps the Buddhists would do well to heed Gross' suggestions, and more easily discover balance and harmony through a more matrifocal perspective?

 

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