Theological Violence toward the Divine Feminine: Praying for an end to Rape Culture

Essay by Rev. Roger Wolsey on 26 October 2017 7 Comments

If you have a Facebook account you are no doubt abundantly aware by now of the “Me too” campaign that has been taking place. It’s a powerful way for women to convey to the world that they have been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault at the hands of men. It is quite clear that nearly all women have experienced either of those – some on a daily basis. They’re trying to show us the great extent of this problem by simply posting “Me too.” My initial response was simply this: "I believe you and it's not OK."

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After reading your essay, “The Way Home for the Prodigal Species,” last week, I was left with a desire for further clarification. What would you say is the heart of your message — the essence of what you’re sharing with secular and religious audiences these days?


Dear Reader,

We are living in a time of unprecedented evil, yet we don’t see it; we can’t see it. Not only has industrial civilization lost the ability to distinguish good and evil, we typically confuse the two and casually treat things that are downright anti-future as good.

Q: Wow, that’s a bold claim. Can you give some examples of things that are accepted and standard today that you actually regard as evil?

As I said in my essay, it is not just immoral, it is evil to pursue one's own short-term personal or institutional gain in ways that diminish or destroy the long-term future. Here are some examples…

* It is evil to use renewable resources faster than they can be replenished.
* It is evil to use nonrenewable resources in ways that harm and rob future generations.
* It is evil to introduce substances into the environment that are not food for some other life form.
* It is evil to alter the climate and devastate habitats in ways that drive millions of other species to extinction.

All these things, and more, are patently anti-future and thus evil. Yet religion — the one institution charged with the responsibility of naming as “good” that which promotes personal wholeness, social coherence, and ecological integrity, and as “evil” that which diminishes or destroys the same — is asleep at the wheel.
Why? Anthropocentric idolatry.

To speak religiously, if measuring progress and success in human-centered ways casts us out of the Garden, measuring progress and success in Gᴏᴅᴅᴇ-centered (bio-centric or eco-centric) ways is our way home.

My mentor Thomas Berry regularly reminded us that “The universe is primary; humans are derivative.” In mythic language, “Reality rules—i.e., Gᴏᴅ is Lord” That’s a fact, not a belief.

When we honor primary reality as primary — as more important than us — our species can thrive. But when human wellbeing is put ahead of the health of the air, water, soil, forests, and life, we ensure the condemnation not only of our grandchildren but of generations centuries to come. It turns out that the Judgment Day is real; it’s just not otherworldly.

Q: Can you offer any hope?

Surely! Those of us who sacrifice our privilege, power, and conveniences today for the sake of future generations may be revered not reviled. To my mind, that’s what being a Christ-ian means. It’s got nothing to do with “believing in” ancient miracles and supernatural entities so that I get to avoid everlasting torment and go to some special place when I die. It’s got everything to do with whether I continue living in an anti-future (anti-Christian) way, or whether I choose to follow Jesus and live with a commitment to save the future and thereby redeem humanity.


Deep Sustainability Resources

Click here for links to text and audio files ...

William R. Catton, Jr.: Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change
Tom Wessels: The Myth of Progress: Toward a Sustainable Future
William Ophuls: Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail; Plato’s Revenge; Sane Polity
John Michael Greer: The Long Descent; Dark Age America; Not the Future We Ordered; The Retro Future; Collapse Now and Avoid the Rush; After Progress
Richard Heinberg: The End of Growth; Afterburn: Society Beyond Fossil Fuels; A New Covenant with Nature
Nate Hagens: Youtube — Blindspots and Superheroes; Guide to Being Human in the 21st Century
Thomas Berry: The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; The Universe Story (w/ Swimme); The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth
Joanna Macy: Active Hope; Coming Back to Life; World as Lover, World as Self
Bron Taylor: Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future
James Howard Kunstler: The Long Emergency; Too Much Magic
Robin Wall Kimmerer: Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants
David Fleming: Surviving the Future; Lean Logic: A Dictionary for Surviving the Future
The Dark Mountain Project: Walking on Lava: Selected Works for Uncivilized Times
Richard Adrian Reese: Sustainable or Bust; Understanding Sustainability
Michael & Joyce Huesemann: Techno Fix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment
Charles A.S. Hall: Energy Return on Investment; Energy and the Wealth of Nations (w/ Klitgaard)

~ The Rev. Michael Dowd


Bishop John Shelby Spong Revisited

The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt - Part 4


Is it accident, coincidence or strange fate that Christianity has managed to preside over centuries of history in which physical punishment has been the primary means of discipline in so many parts of our society? Or is there something within the Christian story itself that pushes us toward abusive behavior? These are the questions to which our study of biblically justified corporal punishment now drives us.

The idea of God as a punishing, heavenly parent figure is certainly present in the heart of the Christian story, though originally it was not nearly so prevalent or rampant as Church history and practice might lead us to believe. The picture of God as the judge assigning people to the eternity of hell with its ever-burning flames is surely found in the gospels, but it was never a major theme. It is not mentioned in Paul or in John. It is introduced to the New Testament by Mark by having Jesus say that if any part of one's body - the hand, the foot or the eyes - causes that person to sin, then that body part must be removed lest the whole body go to the unquenchable fires of Gehenna or hell (Mk. 9:43-48). A 3rd century Christian theologian of enormous influence, named Origen, took this Marcan text quite seriously and had himself castrated. Origen never revealed just how it was that his male organ caused him to sin! Matthew is the only New Testament writer who gives hell more than a single reference.

Yet the uncontested idea that permeates the Christian story as it enters history is that human beings are fallen, baseborn and in need of rescue, and without that rescue they are doomed. How punishment is to be dispensed properly is a major Christian theme.

If one begins with the definition of human life as a fallen creature who deserves punishment, then the system will surely develop a cure for that diagnosis. That is what has happened in the way the Christian story has been told historically, so the need for punishment entered the tradition and found a compatible dwelling place.

The way the Hebrew myth of creation, which opens the Bible, was interpreted in Christian history served to place this definition of human evil squarely into the Christian arena. That story was traditionally understood to say that human beings are not what God intended. We are fallen, willfully disobedient sinners who deserve divine wrath. Listen again to that story.

In the beginning God created a perfect world, but human life, endowed with the unique qualities of freedom and self-consciousness, disobeyed God and plunged God's perfect world into sin and evil. In that fall, the definition of human distortion and depravity developed. Not only were we fallen, but we also had no power to rescue ourselves from these self-inflicted wounds. Even our attempt at virtue only exacerbated our sense of being separated. As direct descendants of Adam and Eve, we bear the stains of their disobedience as our birthright. The sin of the fall showed up in the biblical narrative time after time. It was seen when Cain killed Abel (Gen.4:8), when people decided to build a tower so high it could reach into heaven where they might be restored to God (Gen. 11), in the story of the flood in which every living creature on the earth except for the righteous Noah and his family was destroyed (Gen.7,8). Presumably given the sense that God is just, human beings must have merited that destruction. Yet even that divine effort to eradicate the evil so endemic to human life failed. The Bible says that it was manifested in Noah's drunkenness after he disembarked from his boat (Gen.9: 20). Next the Bible says that God intervened to give people the law (Exodus ff.), to raise up prophets and finally to enter human history in the person of Jesus, who was understood to be the divine life who accomplished the rescue by paying the full price of human sin with his death on Calvary. The operative assumption in the biblical story is that human life is flawed; that this flaw is the source of evil; that only God can save so evil a creature and that the price of that salvation is costly indeed. It involves punishment even if it is done vicariously. To know oneself, according to the way the Bible has generally been read, is to know that one is evil, to experience guilt and finally to stand in need of punishment.

I want to return now to the biblical story of our beginnings as a human species to examine the definition of human life as fallen and sinful that is found there.

As the tradition developed this founding myth was seen as an attempt to explain adequately aspects of the human experience and to answer human yearnings. Why am I not content to be who I am? Why do I seek more? Why am I inadequate? Why do I experience guilt and jealousy? Why am I separated from God? Why am I victimized by sickness and pain and ultimately, why am I mortal? Why do I die? Accepting the reality of the human fall from God's grace, religious leaders began to organize the world so that human beings would recognize the necessity for our punishment and the human need constantly to implore God to save us, to rescue us from our sins and to redeem us. The stated goal of the Christian life was to live forever in that divine presence from which our ancestors had been banished in the Garden of Eden. Proper punishment for our sins thus becomes the prerogative of the heavenly parent and was necessary if we hoped to achieve our goal. Moderate suffering here and now was a blessing to be endured as necessary, if sinful people wished to avoid eternal suffering in the world to come. To state it bluntly, human beings were taught to understand themselves as the children of God who deserved God's punishment.

Though most of the educated people of the world now dismiss this biblical story of Adam, Eve and the Garden, with its interpretation of human origins, as a myth not to be literalized, that story has nonetheless continued to set the tone of the way our religious systems relate to human life in our world. Christianity, in both its Catholic and Protestant forms, has been constructed around its presumed unique ability to deliver forgiveness and thus to rescue hopeless, lost sinners. Enhancing guilt thus became the necessary prerequisite for the maintenance of institutional power once the Church had convinced the world that it was the sole place through which the gift of forgiveness was obtainable. Auricular confession, required as one of the seven sacraments, kept guilt ever visible in each human life. The minute ecclesiastical rules with their emphasis on such things as days of solemn obligation and the prescribed set of inescapable religious duties made guilt inevitable and thus proper punishment from God mediated through the Church as penances became the essential means of salvation. The power of religious guilt is hard to overestimate.

In Protestant Christianity the sense of human depravity was portrayed perhaps even more graphically. Human life was denigrated by the revival preachers as wretched, miserable, worm-like and hopeless so that the glorious grace of the rescuing deity could be more fully appreciated. When the 18th century Protestant revival in America known as 'the Great Awakening' swept across American life, led by the noted Massachusetts evangelist, Jonathan Edwards, it was ignited by his portrait of God, dangling sinners by the singed hairs of their heads over the fiery pits of hell. It was preaching designed to elicit a proper confession and to win a full rescue. The head of the evangelical Moody Bible Institute in Chicago repeated the mantra of his religious conversion in a radio broadcast with me some years ago, as he stated this theme of depravity over and over again: "The one thing I know is that I stand condemned before the throne of grace." The power found in the phrase "Jesus died for my sins," used in some form almost every Sunday in evangelical circles, is located in this same source of our human depravity. We, though the children of God, are disobedient children who deserve to be punished. This was the 'Word of God' heard regularly from the Church.

Human beings in both Catholic and Protestant Christianity were defined as deserving sinners, standing in need of punishment. A righteous heavenly parent figure was presented as the judge prepared to be the disciplinarian. That message is at the heart of Christianity, which makes it easy to understand why the sinful child standing before the parent prepared to apply corporal punishment is so neat a fit in Christian history. We raised our children with a style modeled after our understanding of how God was relating to us. That is also how violence and an unconscious sado-masochism entered the Christian story, causing a major religious emphasis to be the neurotic need to suffer.

To that story we turn next week as the next segment in this section on "The Bible, Corporal Punishment and Human Guilt" unfurls.

~ John Shelby Spong
Originally published July 7, 2004




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