25 December 2005

A Christmas post

As Christmas approached, I started to think again and again about what the various religious traditions mean to me, and to society, and how my view of them changed this year. Although I don't claim to be a student of theology, what I've found out and concluded have profoundly changed the way I approach religion, society, and God (or as I shall say, Goddess).

It is part of human nature to want to know why things happen, from simple daily phenomena such as sunset to more complex concepts such as the afterlife. Religions try to explain them, and until the development of modern science, religions were the only way to explain many of the phenomena. (Even now, science can't quite cover the afterlife.)

Early religions tried to explain more basic phenomena such as astronomy, weather and climate, and human physiology such as childbirth. Because women were the ones giving birth, they were seen as the more powerful sex, and as a result, early religions (and human societies) tended to be more matriarchal. Under these belief systems, such events as winter solstice, which just passed a few days ago, held significance. In many of these systems, the Earth itself was the Mother Goddess in many ways, as the nurturer of the human race.

Then the society became more sophisticated, and polytheism started to take over, in the form of Greco-Roman mythology and Hinduism. Men started to take more value, as the more powerful sex better suited for labor. At first, the likes of Greek Goddess Demeter continued to carry the Mother Goddess theme, but eventually, the more powerful gods emerged as male, such as Zeus. Powerful goddesses such as Athena were known for their masculine, belligerent traits as well.

Then the society evolved more, patriarchy took firm control, and monotheism took over, primarily in the form of Judeo-Christian beliefs (and its extension, Islam). Here, God was an all-powerful figure able to create and destroy at will, and most importantly, male. Such stories as the Book of Genesis, where Eve's tempting of Adam established women's wickedness and relegated them to serve their men for life, ensured that the new patriarchal order would hold. (At least holding Adam accountable for eating the Fruit of Knowledge ensured that men were sinners too - and by making everyone sinners, the Church could use guilt trips as a powerful motivator. But the fact remained that women were more evil than men.) With a strict hierarchy between men and women, anything that threatened this hierarchy, such as feminism and homosexuality, became lethal sins. And to ensure that this would continue, the Judeo-Christian (and Muslim) belief system evolved in a way that would reward the spread of the faith, and severely punish nonbelievers. (In fact, Christmas is today, not because Jesus was actually born on December 25th, but because Christians wanted to quash and replace the earlier religions' winter solstice festivities.)

Judaism offered one glimmer of hope in the form of a Messiah who would come to cleanse people of the sin of Adam and Eve. Christianity established that Jesus was that Messiah, but it didn't do away with the gender hierarchy at all, and in fact, the Book of Romans continue to establish strict hierarchy, gender roles, and moral laws. Christianity also kept requiring that its believers do everything to spread the "salvation" of Jesus, and convert as many nonbelievers as possible. Islam's path to salvation also requires conversion of as many nonbelievers as possible, among other things. This requirement to conversion made Christianity and Islam the two largest religions on Earth, and by extension, their hierarchy and sexism have become part of the legal and social infrastructure of the West and the Middle East. The West is only starting to undo the hierarchy now, with the US lagging well behind Europe and Canada thanks to its stronger Christian traditions.

In Asia, Buddhism, and to a lesser extent Confucianism, have become the main forces of belief and morality. Buddhism centered around salvation as well, but did not require its believers to go out and convert nonbelievers. While the main figure is Buddha, there are lots of bodhisattvas to pray to as well. As for Confucianism, it's more of a philosophy than a religion, but it was a powerful philosophy, establishing a strict hierarchy of ageism and sexism in its own way. It is no friend of women either.

I've never been a big follower of organized religions, where heretics could easily be executed, people had to "know their place," and preachers would dictate what I needed to believe and not believe. This, combined with the Christian influence on sexism and homophobia, caused me to leave the Christian belief system. I feel liberated by this, as many say that even Jesus himself would hardly recognize modern-day Christianity, especially the neocon variety in the United States that screws over the weak and the poor. I decided not to tie myself to a particular belief system, such as paganism or Wicca, for now. However, I feel that the earlier religions' Mother Goddess model fits my own set of beliefs the best. At least it keeps me more mindful of the environment around me, unlike neocon Christianity, which tries to destroy the environment to hasten the Rapture. I expect religion to make the world a better place, and by punishing the weak and the environment, neocon Christianity fails that test.

As I spend this Christmas and face the new year, I want to take this spirituality and develop it further, so that my life will be a more enriched one.