Sunday, July 5, 2009

Quick 101 / Turning From Religion: Of Gods and Men

This is derived from reading Marilyn French, particularly Beyond Power, although it comes up in From Eve to Dawn. I also found it in a book called When God Was A Woman.

I have been expressing it in many ways in order for me to really condense it into something more cohesive and so I don't fucking stutter when I talk about it, but the theory does come up often. Namely, what do the Patriarchy, monotheistic religion, men, and power have to do with each other?

So, it's posited that way back when, the earliest civilizations were matriarchal and worshipped an Earth Goddess.

The Earth Goddess is irrevocably tied to the Earth and all phenomena on Earth - she waxes and wanes with the moon, with the seasons, with stuff that humans do on her soil.

Back then, women giving birth was a specific gift, magical, because nobody had figured out how men figured into the whole thing yet.

I'm guessing at some point they did, but nobody really gave a shit. A child belongs to the whole community, after all.

Then for some reason, some men decided they needed to make themselves distinctive from women.

This is why the gender binary (masculinity vs. femininity) is complicated; on the one hand, it's useful in helping us negotiate our identity. On the other, it's wrecked some nasty-ass shit on our cultural psyches. Particularly with what happened, and what still happens.

The concept of a Sky God was created - All-powerful and could affect anything on the Earth. More importantly, transcendent - not of the earth, therefore not affected by nature, not affected by anything.

For some men, who possibly had small roles then and wanted more, wanted to be more important, wanted to validate themselves (but this is all conjecture), this must have seemed a pretty damned good deal: being able to affect nature without being affected by it?

Women wouldn't be able to be part of this exclusive club because women were affected by nature, as evident in their menstruation. Men had no such limits.

Eventually, somehow, this transcendence, which all men could aspire to, began to be a huge draw. Being able to wield power over others without anyone holding you accountable for your actions?

It still is resonant today.

In fact, it continues to be the main driving force for many - to be able to be free from people telling you to do shit, while at the same time being able to affect others. It's pure positive liberty, and complete negative liberty, while everyone else you fancy messing over has no such freedom from your actions, nor freedom to retaliate.

Because as much as people wax poetic about how Man is made in God's image, nobody thinks about what kind of godliness it is we're aspiring to.

1 comment:

  1. Ehhh.

    I don't particularly like speculations about the past that include some kind of archetypal Golden Era that is overturned because of evil evil religion.

    It's not just you, mind; I remember a time when I disputed another dude's speculation that religion arose because there were a small group of people -- the elite, as it was -- who wanted to control a large group of people, so they made up religion.

    Hell, even if I wrote something like this you'd see me cringing and telling people OMG this is all speculation; plz plz plz is only example. Which is what I'm hoping you're doing now, I guess.

    I mean, I can get the desire for people to speculate about how religion shapes and is shaped by society. But looking for simplistic explanations about how power and oppression arise in people...

    I mean, your story ends there: patriarchy arises because Marduk conquers Asherah, establishes a priesthood, oppresses everyone until modern days, when humanity learns to throw off their shackles and walk into glorious, naked future.

    It generally ignores the second religious upheaval (the Axial age), when people stop following religion because it keeps the world running, and start doing it because of moral imperatives (however wrong-headed it may be).

    And even that ignores the development of "personality-less" religions and mysticism, which focuses on the religious experience over "this is what God says, follow it".

    And even that ignores the fact that not all societies uniformly became theistic, or even patriarchally so. For an example I can pick up right now because it's so close by: the Minangkabaus were uniformly Muslim, and yet they were matriarchal and matrilineal. Another close example: Chinese syncretic religions and Korean shamanism, which existed even well into and past the agricultural revolution.

    I mean, to me, patriarchy (or kyriarchy) was, to a large degree, a self-organizing artifact that arose due to the rise of agriculture, which demanded that societies become orderly and conservative. Which is fine when your economy is all agriculture, and it works up to the point where your surplus can no longer maintain your society (hence the rises and falls of empire after empire... even what we all know as the Golden Age of Islam).

    When your society can scale to the level it does now (thanks to industrialization, yes, even despite the ecological damage it wrought), and roles no longer need to be based on heredity or gender... how long can you hope to hold on to something like patriarchy? When better medical knowledge and treatments exist, how long can "mutations" like homosexuality and transexuality be considered anathema?

    And so on, and so forth.

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