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3 years ago  ::  Jun 07, 2012 - 12:56PM #1
brian griffith
Posts: 16
A lot of people I know are down on "theism" (or belief in deities), and think this is a major source of social insanity. When I talk about Guanyin (or Kwan Yin) as a marvelous symbol, etc., these people reply that they are sick of belief in supernatural deities out there somewhere, and it's just plain stupid. I wonder how you experience discussing the power of religious myths, and what sort of "reality" you see in them. Here's an initial attempt of mine, which I stuck into "A Galaxy of Immortal Women":

"The greatest deity in China is, of course, Guanyin (or Kuan Yin), the goddess of universal compassion. Unlike most other goddesses of world mythology, she isn’t portrayed as a mother, wife, or image of ideal sexuality. Instead, she is pictured as a fully enlightened world savior. ... A large statue of her stands in a temple courtyard down the street from my home in Toronto. Of course many worshipers see her as a superior being, probably made of spiritual matter, who lives in heaven and responds to prayers. But I like to think of her as a figure of popular literature. As Joseph Campbell might say, a deity is an image of whatever people feel is the highest and best in life. An image like that shapes people’s dreams and goals. In a future planetary culture, it’s possible that Guanyin will be the most widely respected image of female spirituality on earth."

Anyway, how do you see these things?
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3 years ago  ::  Jun 07, 2012 - 7:08PM #2
Frank Burton
Posts: 445

Jun 7, 2012 -- 12:56PM, brian griffith wrote:

A lot of people I know are down on "theism" (or belief in deities), and think this is a major source of social insanity. When I talk about Guanyin (or Kwan Yin) as a marvelous symbol, etc., these people reply that they are sick of belief in supernatural deities out there somewhere, and it's just plain stupid. I wonder how you experience discussing the power of religious myths, and what sort of "reality" you see in them. Here's an initial attempt of mine, which I stuck into "A Galaxy of Immortal Women":

"The greatest deity in China is, of course, Guanyin (or Kuan Yin), the goddess of universal compassion. Unlike most other goddesses of world mythology, she isn’t portrayed as a mother, wife, or image of ideal sexuality. Instead, she is pictured as a fully enlightened world savior. ... A large statue of her stands in a temple courtyard down the street from my home in Toronto. Of course many worshipers see her as a superior being, probably made of spiritual matter, who lives in heaven and responds to prayers. But I like to think of her as a figure of popular literature. As Joseph Campbell might say, a deity is an image of whatever people feel is the highest and best in life. An image like that shapes people’s dreams and goals. In a future planetary culture, it’s possible that Guanyin will be the most widely respected image of female spirituality on earth."

Anyway, how do you see these things?


One of the local Circle of Reason-sponsored reasoning dialogue groups we hold in Minneapolis is called Secular Bible Study, where theists and non-theists gather to discuss the historical and social impact of the Bible, Christianity, and other religions. As part of that ongoing Meetup series, SBS discusses mythology of various historical deities, including the Buddhist incarnation of compassion, Guanyin (and how she was conflated with Mary in Spanish-dominated China).


I think personally that our images and representations of deities reflect traits we possess, and in that sense, would not be surprised to see a resurgence of veneration of Guanyin, at least as a Buddhist symbol of the Dalai Lama's call for compassion. But such a resurgence may be limited by tendendies of asian countries to suppress women's rights -- a more male embodiment of those moral/ethical sentiments may still predominate, until women have full civil rights in most asian countries (after which we may see many female embodiments of religious sentiment become resurgent, i.e., Gaia, Sophia, Guanyin).

Frank Burton
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3 years ago  ::  Jun 08, 2012 - 5:00AM #3
brian griffith
Posts: 16

Thanks a lot Frank.


Of course women have been much oppressed in China for over 2,000 years, but don't you think it's more the Western traditions that have repressed any kind of religions by, for, and about women? Do you figure there's much scope for Western faiths to learn something from other cultures that have religions made by and for women?

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3 years ago  ::  Jun 09, 2012 - 11:59PM #4
Frank Burton
Posts: 445

Jun 8, 2012 -- 5:00AM, brian griffith wrote:

Thanks a lot Frank.


Of course women have been much oppressed in China for over 2,000 years, but don't you think it's more the Western traditions that have repressed any kind of religions by, for, and about women? Do you figure there's much scope for Western faiths to learn something from other cultures that have religions made by and for women?


I see evidence of patriarchal influences in most societies, Brian; which would then include patriarchal suppression of religions (or movements within them) in which females play the central role. I know of only one religious movement started by a woman (Mary Baker Eddy's Christian Science). But I'm no expert, especially regarding eastern cultures and religions.

Frank Burton
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