by Conor Friedersdorf
A reader writes:
If I had to pick one book out of the thousands I have read, it would be When God Was a Woman, by Merlin Stone.
I was nearly 40, a single mom for ten years, holding a bachelors and a masters degree and yet working two jobs to make ends meet. I was a nominative, semi-engaged Christian, but for personal reasons I had become a seeker of more spirituality than churches seemed to offer. So one day I picked up this book at the local used bookstore.
It was a revelation to me, the idea that the Bible still contained the remnants of the goddess. I felt that cool water was rushing over me. For the first time in my life, I felt that there was an open door for me to approach a "god" who looked like me, whose accessibility wasn't confined to the men in the congregation. But that was just the beginning. The opening of the door. I didn't become a pagan or a goddess-worshiping rabble-rouser or even an atheist. After reading this book, I went on to read other feminist theologians and Bible historians, but it didn't stop there, either. Within another year I had remarried and gained a new family, and I began to take college courses in history and religion, focusing on archaeology, the Biblical "higher criticism," and modern theological thought. I learned to separate fact from folklore and fundamentalism and to see the Bible in its original historical context. At first, the knowledge was devastating, as anyone who came from a "church" perspective to an academic perspective can tell you. I was most angry, however, at the fact that my educated former clergy, those enthusiastic ministers, all knew the facts but continued to push the fiction on me anyway. Now, the continuing pursuit of knowledge of the historicity of the Bible and the distortions promulgated by Christianity are my pastime as well as my passion.
I re-read Stone's book once about ten years ago. I still find it interesting, although somewhat dated, and I'm not sure parts of it still hold up. Be that as it may, the path it sent me down has lasted for 20 years, and I haven't regretted a minute of it. Its effect on my perspective is ongoing. For example, here in Phoenix, the local Catholic bishop recently revoked the Catholic status of St. Joseph's Hospital for performing a life-saving termination of pregnancy on a near-death mother of four. The hospital's decision saved her life and returned her to her family and young children. It was a devastating life decision for the family, as you can imagine. Bishop Olmsted, however, decided he was not only a priest but also a doctor and God, to boot. He declared the life-saving procedure to be an abortion that was illegal under Catholic doctrine. The hospital official who made the decision was a nun, whom Bishop Olmsted declared "had excommunicated herself" by saving the mother's life. I see this religion v. ethics flap for what it is, an example of the Catholic Church's historical war against women that goes back to the very day that Paul of Tarsus began his preaching to the Roman elite rather than to the Jews from which Jesus sprung. Roman contempt for women permeates the historical as well as the modern Catholic Church. This bishop, had he been in charge, would have sentenced the mother to death, and her newborn as well as her other four children and their dad to a life without their mother. Recognition of the Goddess and her role in our spiritual life would help to shed value on the life of women and ameliorate these situations, difficult as they are.
As for me, I still live within the Judeo-Christian environment, but I try to bring feminine Goddess-consciousness to all of my spiritual decisions, and I continue to add dozens of books every year to my collection of factual insight into the folklore collection that is the Bible. The facts are much more compelling than the fundamentalist fantasy. Thanks, Merlin Stone, for breaking me out of my American Christian blinders, and thanks, Conor, for asking.