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    The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012, 11:15 AM [General]

    The Exterminating Angel Press has released my new book, A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization. It's a history of China's founding clan mothers, shamanesses, village wise women, goddesses, and ordinary heroines, and the alternative communities they have made down to the present time. Here are two reviews about it:

    “This is a very ambitious and timely book, a book that many historians, literary theorists and story tellers who care about China and its “Other Half of the Sky” want to write, but Brian Griffith did it first, with such scope, ease and fun.” —WANG PING, author of The Last Communist Virgin and Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China

    “This book is a most engaging and entertaining read, and the depth of its scholarship is astounding. Griffith vividly describes the counterculture of Chinese goddesses, shows that their fascinating stories are alive and active today, and points us toward a more inclusive and caring partnership future.” —RIANE EISLER, author of The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics and The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future

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    article on "Correcting Jesus"

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010, 6:30 AM [General]

    Here's an article by Terri Myers in the literary blog Like Fire, on the topic of what's on my desk.

    Strata: Brian Griffith

    Brian Griffith is an independent historian with an interest in the culture wars that take place in our world.  Ecology, religion, history… he explores them all.  He has worked in the United States, India, Kenya, and now makes his home near Toronto. In Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story, he fearlessly takes a look at some of the most contentious issues surrounding religion: nonviolence, the role of women, the way that the same words have been used to justify widely differing agendas, and how and why beliefs developed and changed over the centuries. Brian also does a heroic job of keeping his office tidy.

    What does your desk—the bare desk itself—look like, and how did you acquire it?

    Its a big laminated desk. Looks as if it was walnut and has three drawers to each side. It barely fits one side of the solarium. Got it in a box from Office Depot and stuck it together.

    What’s on your desk?

    A copper pot full of ivy with unweeded shoots of tall grass, my wife’s two-volume Persian-English dictionary, a row of editing and style manuals,  pictures of my sister at her Mexican art cafe in Austin, Texas, and of some very good-looking relatives in Iran. The computer nearly fills the remaining space.

    What do you wish wasn’t on your desk?

    I wish there were shelves for the editing books and dictionaries, or the computer could leave a surface space for handwriting.

    Are there artifacts in your office that relate to your current project?

    The coffee mug is slightly relevant. It looks like black marble with the head of a Roman emperor, which recalls our many tensions between authority and friendship.

    Are there living things in your office (besides yourself)?

    Six potted plants left by house guests. But the condominium forbids animals, except maybe birds. A parrot would be good.

    What else surrounds you?

    Two sides of the office are windows with venetian blinds and a tenth-floor view of Toronto’s suburbs. The other two walls are glass, including the sliding door. Since the walls are clear, you can’t pile book shelves against them. The office can be no more cluttered than the adjoining living room, or it would make the living room look just as junky. My history books and notes have to go somewhere else.

    What’s on the walls?

    On the non-glass portions there’s a large framed butterfly from a Brazilian butterfly ranch, a Japanese fan, and a small picture of me and my wife in a Niagara Falls flower garden.

    What have you lost in your office that you really wish you could find?

    Well, my notes. They are handwritten on quarter-page sheets of paper, each with a source reference. And after about 25 years, the notes fill several file cabinets which are scattered in the closets of three rooms. We don’t like file cabinets being visible; they do look stultifying. So anytime I run into a question, like what did various religious leaders say about freedom, it can be slow finding what notes touch on that. But I like the paper note-cards. You can write them anywhere, and then hand-shuffle them into any order when looking for patterns.

    What tools do you write with?

    Hand-written note cards and shoe boxes with cardboard dividers for sorting ideas. I play with book or chapter outlines on the computer screen till patterns in the notes and the outline fit. Then shuffle the cards for each segment into rough order of presentation. I write on screen, separating the notes into used and unneeded piles. After each draft I can see where it needs more research, and repeat the process.

    Is anyone allowed to come in and clean?

    Sure, it’s the family office. My wife has to do her work too.  I get bumped off  the computer and everybody gets cleaning opportunities.

    T. Myers is a writer who could never manage an office with glass walls, although she certainly admires people who can.

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    "Correcting Jesus" is out

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009, 6:48 PM [General]

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    My new book Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story has appeared on some major bookseller websites, so I want to post something to explain it.

     

    The reason I wrote this book is fairly simple. I grew up going to church in Texas, during the Black Civil Rights movement and the Viet Nam war. And ever since then I’ve pondered the contradictory messages of Christian tradition—concerning basic subjects like women, freedom, violence, nationalism, property, forgiveness, or compassion. In this book I try to trace events over the past 2,000 years, to show how Christian values or ideals have repeatedly changed—sometimes to the point of reversing earlier principles. My method is to compare New Testament accounts with the history of the later church. I try to note the differences, describe how various changes arose, and show their impact on world history. As a basically secular historian, I don’t assume the New Testament accounts are perfect or free from contradictions. I just compare what the various records say, as if I was comparing a human-made national constitution with the record of a human-run government.

    The first subject I explore is Christianity’s relation to Judaism. I try to show how the early church changed from promoting, to rejecting Jesus’ own Jewish religion. I describe how the church switched loyalties—from Jewish-style resentment of Israel’s colonial conquerors, to Gentile-Christian patriotism for the Empire. I show how the Christian story changed almost beyond recognition, as non-Jewish converts altered Jesus’ identity, from a Jewish prophet into a Gentile-style deity. Last, I run through the history of demonization towards Jews and other religious minorities, which has disfigured Christian society down to this century.

    The second topic is Christianity's message of forgiveness, which has varied from proclaiming “every sin will be forgiven,” to insisting that many wrongs will never be forgiven for all eternity. I look at how early churches moved from welcoming drunkards and prostitutes, to expelling people who endangered the movement's reputation. I explain how the stories of Jesus’ life and teachings on forgiveness were increasingly eclipsed by a growing legend of his “Second Coming,” in which he would return on Armageddon Day to destroy all sinners, and reward those who had zero-tolerance for sin. I follow centuries-long tug-of-war for Christianity’s soul between mercy and Pharisaic legalism, which continues full-throttle in modern North America.

    Third, the book turns to women. I examine the roles of women in New Testament accounts, and then the rising backlash to re-impose all ancient Middle Eastern restrictions on females. The story involves an accumulating mass of church council decrees, which became a new holy law for women. I show how the church imposed a Middle Eastern-style sexual segregation on medieval Europe, a mass divorce of all wives and children by the Latin Church clergy in 1074, and a later purge of female leaders in the witch hunts. Last, I show how a revival of female leadership has re-kindled some of the early church’s passion for care and service, in Christian communities around the world.

    The fourth main topic is freedom and equality. I ask what Christianity has taught about freedom, and find the answers have been all over the moral map. I try to trace the first efforts towards order and discipline in church communities, and how these experiments with community government lead to a top-down structure. I explore the struggles over freedom in the churches, in which Augustine prevailed with a doctrine that sinners were incapable of choosing their own leaders. I explore the consequences of this doctrine in a medieval church which was dogmatically opposed to human freedom. For example, by the French Revolution, when seemingly anti-Christian godless revolutionaries proclaimed their slogan of “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality,” both the revolutionaries and their Christian enemies believed that this slogan was diametrically opposed to everything Christianity ever stood for. I try to describe this struggle over freedom over recent centuries through the anti-slavery movements, the fascist-Christian backlash against “rule by the godless rabble,” and the modern wave of church-supported movements for democracy around the world.

    Concerning violence, I give a step by step story in which the Christian movement shifted from proudly practicing pacifism, to tolerating violence as a necessary sin, and finally to praising violence as God’s will. By medieval times, the holy violence against non-Christian foreigners also turned against “disloyal” parishioners within Christendom. This history of Christian violence includes the whole colonial age, the rise of non-violent protest for social justice, and the present voices for a final holy war.

    The book’s last topic is “correcting compassion”. Here I note the New Testament appeals for compassionate charity towards people in need, even to the ridiculous extent of urging people to “give away all that you have.” But I also record the growing logic among Christians that charity is counterproductive, because, as Christian Reconstructionist Gary North said recently, “subsidizing sluggards is the same as subsidizing evil.” The chapter shows how early ideals for communal living led to the great monastic movements. But at the same time, notions of collective property-sharing in the wider society were increasingly labeled a satanic heresy. I investigate a centuries-long development in which esteem for “holy poverty” gave way to a full-blown “gospel of wealth.” I show the worldwide extent of struggle among Christians over whether compassion is a key to a better future, or a counterproductive relic of the religious past.

     Through all these stories, I try to offer more ways for evaluating what has been helpful or hurtful in our religious traditions. By showing the social results of so many religious movements, I hope to make the track-records of various conflicting ideas clearer. I also hope that some of my Muslim or Jewish friends will write corresponding books to help show the similar level of tampering and revision in Islamic or Jewish history.

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    my book "Correcting Jesus"

    Saturday, September 26, 2009, 12:03 PM [General]

    Hi folks,
    The internet booksellers now have my new book, though they won't start shipping orders till November. Here's what they have on it so far. If you could share this with some friends or colleagues I'd be highly grateful. And if any of my Muslim friends wants to write the corresponding book, "Correcting Muhammad," please fire ahead.
    All the best to you,
    Brian Griffith

    Here's a review from Publishers Weekly:

    Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story
    Brian Griffith. Exterminating Angel (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-93525-902-2
    How is it possible that Jesus’ words have been utilized to justify both pacifist and prowar agendas? Historian Griffith (The Gardens of Their Dreams) is not an iconoclast, but he is not afraid to examine the various ways that Christianity has interpreted Jesus for two millennia. The author wastes no time grappling with some of the most contentious religious issues, such as the role of women in the Church, nonviolence, the celibacy requirement for some clergy and differing notions of what freedom means. Griffith calls it as he sees it throughout history: individuals and groups have twisted Jesus’ message to suit their own points of view. The author is a thorough independent scholar, and his concise writing makes historical facts engaging and relevant. His most important take-home message: it is not verboten for people of faith to ask why beliefs and practices developed in a specific way. In fact, it could even be considered an obligation for healthy, committed believers to do so. (Nov.)

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    Review of Different Visions of Love

    Monday, October 20, 2008, 6:59 AM [General]

    I got a review of my book from Reggie Modlich, a writer for Herizons and Women & Environments magazines. It's an atheist's view of the book you might like:

    Different Visions of Love – Partnership and Dominator Values in Christian History,Brian GriffithOutskirts Press. Inc. Parker, Colorado, pp 498, US $17.95 Reviewed by Reggie Modlich

     

     

    In Different Visions of Love, Griffith provides a well documented analysis of the amazingly schizophrenic history of Christianity. He groups the contradicting identities anchored in the Old and New Testaments into “Partnership” and “Dominator” values. According to his thesis, Jesus Christ embodies all the partnership values which include tolerance, love, non-violence, freedom, justice, forgiveness, sharing and equality. Dominator values, largely rooted in the Old Testament, encompass autocratic rule – always male - intolerance, social hierarchy, retaliation, obedience, punishment often violent.  Griffith paints an eloquent picture of how, throughout the ages, these dominator and partnership values compete, prevail and overlap in the various geographical and social sectors of Christian societies.

     

    The great contribution of Different Visions of Love is its extensive description of how this dualism of Christianity has affected the lives and roles of women. The book gives insights into family, health, social and spiritual issues, rather then focusing on famous battles, rulers or buildings. To this end, the book paints fascinating images of everyday life throughout the ages and nations. We experience a reality that has been widely overlooked, denied and even altered in official histories and documents. It even refers to similar phases in the evolution of Muslim and other religions.

     

    Griffith describes in detail the transitions from the early church that was trying to emulate the partnership values of Jesus, to the dominator church of the Middle Ages, and slowly back towards a partnership institution from the Renaissance to today. The reader witnesses the immense turmoil that resulted when, around the year 1000, Rome imposed celibacy and forced all priests to divorce their families and wives. Gradually, women were purged from all leadership roles in the church and from their traditional healing roles in their communities. “Priests commonly taught that all illness was either a chastisement from God or an affliction from the Devil.”  Thousands of non-conforming women were burned as witches. Women flocked and escaped into monasteries and para-religious communes.  Only the protestant movement and renaissance gradually ended this insanity in the 17th century.  

     

    What stunned me about this book is that Griffith, is also the author of “The Gardens of their Dreams.” In that book Griffith provides amazing evidence how all over the world societies’ religions reflected and evolved within the context of their social, material and natural environments. However, Griffith stops short of including the very creation and definition Gods/s, namely the forces beyond human powers and currently human understanding, as a social constructs. He also pays little attention to how the human survival instinct has evolved into today’s competition for material wealth and power. Griffith looks at Christianity as a Christian. May be that is the reason, he doesn’t mention the rise of Marxism/Communism/Socialism, a reflection and outgrowth of Christian partnership values in the age of industrialization. Many groups and nations who have tried to live by this ideology have also morphed to dominator values, as brutal and dictatorial as the Medieval Christian Church.

     

    Griffith’ optimistic belief in a future where partnership values prevail is definitely more convincing for a believer. As long as humans compete for wealth and power, especially in the light of looming climate change – caused by this competition - the prevailing of partnership values is not be a certainty.  Still, Different Visions of Love, is definitely a worthwhile and fascinating read, especially for women interested in understanding the duality within Christianity.    

     

     

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    What do you mean by dominator and partnership Christianity?

    Tuesday, May 6, 2008, 5:10 AM [General]

    I think each religion has a dominator and a partnership version.  And I they are different partly because they are answers to different questions.

     

    The main questions in dominator style religion are, which authority do I obey? What master do I serve? Then of course we ask what the higher authorities require of us, and what are the rewards or penalties for obedience or disobedience? I’m not being original or anything to say this, but dominator religion is mainly concerned with enforcing a chain of command, and it often seems to imagine God like an ancient despotic emperor. But it’s not just a matter of top-down control, it’s also a matter of drawing social boundaries that exclude outsiders. Because if we see outside groups as obeying different authorities, then mixing with them may seem a kind of treason, or even a sort of cultural pollution.

     

    Then we have partnership versions of religion, which are mainly concerned with the quality of our relations. The main question there is, how good can our relationships get, with God and our neighbors?  In partnership Christianity, and Judaism or Islam, all souls were proclaimed equal before God, and the challenge was to achieve that equal regard for each other.  In practical terms it generally meant seeking mutual benefit with others, instead of struggling over who’s on top.  And partnership morality has often involved reaching over our boundaries to expand the circle of who we care about.

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    Riane Eisler's Foreword to "Different Visions of Love"

    Wednesday, April 23, 2008, 5:13 AM [General]

    I believe people of every culture are divided over which ideals and loyalties should be primary in their lives. And though some visions for the future seem to be “secular”, our choice of core values is always profoundly religious. As a historian, I have tried to uncover patterns in our divided hopes and dreams over the whole course of human history. From the early Neolithic “age of the goddess”, to the rise of military empires, down to the present struggles over corporate agendas and “fundamental” values, I believe we have witnessed a great divide in human aspirations. It is a divide over what we respect, what we obey, and what we hope to become. Karen Armstrong recently described this division as a “battle for God”, now unfolding on a truly planetary scale. I believe that this “battle” is a potentially creative and non-violent contest. Basically, it is a matter of choice between values appropriate to partnership, and those appropriate to domination.

    In my own books I have explored the tension of partnership and dominator values, and part of that research has concerned my own Jewish heritage. For example, through the pages of the Old Testament we find a dramatic contest between different actors — prophets, kings, lovers, and warriors. Some voices claim God’s sanction for the conquest and enslavement of outsiders, the subordination of women, unconditional obedience to higher authorities, and death for noncompliance. Beside all this, we have words and deeds of unbounded compassion, liberation from oppression, and the courage to risk forgiveness. In these stories we see the power to intimidate and control contending with the power to nurture and inspire. It is obvious to me that Jesus made clear choices between these utterly different values. In his disputes with the authorities of his day, he stood as a prophet of real partnership between souls.

    Brian Griffith has followed this theme forward through the whole history of Christianity, from the primitive Jesus movement to present struggles over the fundamentals of faith. His narrative moves like a searchlight over each phase of church history, illuminating the visions, options, and choices behind events. He traces the rise of a dominator version of Christianity, in which the primary concern was a chain of command to be followed, with rewards or punishments according to the degree of obedience. And beside this he illuminates another face of Christianity, concerned with healing all divisions between “loved and unloved” people. The story Griffith presents is often deeply disturbing, as in his unstinting accounts concerning “the gospel for women”, or the age of holy wars and witch hunts. But ultimately his story offers solid grounds for optimism. He shows that all contention between different religious visions can be a process of building partnership. As Griffith points out, Jesus himself wished to debate his opponents openly, not to silence or eliminate them. He was not afraid of real encounter, or the potential of creative conflict.

    I want to congratulate Brian Griffith on this masterful, controversial, and highly readable account. His book offers hope in a divided world, where reaction against globalized “godless corporate secularism” meets with a “war on religious fundamentalism”. I hope to see other writers do comparable work in highlighting the partnership and dominator visions within their religious traditions around the world. — Riane Eisler, author of The Chalice & the Blade, Sacred Pleasure, Tomorrow’s Children, The Power of Partnership, The Real Wealth of Nations

     

    Different Visions of Love is published by Outskirts Press and is available from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and as an e-book from the publisher website at http://www.outskirtspress.com/briangriffith.

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    My hero # 3, the great Joseph Campbell

    Wednesday, April 16, 2008, 3:28 PM [General]

    In my reading over the next several years I grew increasingly grateful to a third hero of my life, the late Joseph Campbell. Campbell was a lapsed Catholic, who proposed a rather simple explanation for the seeming “double nature” of our religions. In the Bible, he says, we see a series of commandments to love the other as oneself. But the ancient hearers of this message tended to apply this only to the limited circle of “their own people”. Toward those they regarded as outsiders, they often claimed that God required a virtually opposite standard: “You shall put all their males to the sword, but the women … you shall take as booty to yourselves.” (Deuteronomy 20:13–14). Likewise in early Islam, Campbell explains that the world was divided in two — into the realm of Islamic peace where the law of brother love applied, and the realm of war beyond. Perhaps this was the basic double standard: one “law” for insiders, and another for outsiders. The lines of such division appeared quite naturally in the limited horizons of ancient times, when boundaries between families, tribes, “enemies”, and the sexes, seemed God-given. But now, as Campbell argues, we know the world is one seamless circle. Any lines dividing “insiders” from “outsiders” are drawn inside our minds, by ourselves.[i]

     

    I believe Jesus knew this 2,000 years ago — not that the world is round, but that we make our own social boundaries and double standards. If the divisions between “us” and “them” are inside our minds or hearts, then perhaps Jesus was dealing with a very personal matter. It was a matter for introspection and, in modern terms, psychology. He was dealing with the boundaries of love in our hearts, or the lines we draw between the loved and the unloved.

     



    [i] Campbell, Joseph, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, 16.

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    How Riane Eisler helped me understand the Bible

    Monday, April 14, 2008, 7:31 PM [General]

    Another person who helped me reclaim my heritage is Riane Eisler, a Jewish woman who is most famous as author of The Chalice & the Blade. Eisler spent her early years in a genteel Vienna society, just before the Nazi takeover of Austria. When the Gestapo seized her father, Eisler’s mother stood up to them, risking her own life by demanding his release, which miraculously she finally obtained. The family then fled as refugees to Cuba. In Havana, Eisler attended a Catholic school, receiving a full dose of old-fashioned Christian education. Her Cuban neighbors were vibrant, deeply religious people, in a country where corporate corruption and family violence seemed traditional. “I learned,” she wrote later, “that what people consider ‘just the way things are’ is different in different places. And I learned that not every cultural tradition should be preserved”.[i]

     

    Eisler’s somewhat traditional parents taught her to pray every night for all her relatives and friends back in Austria. When she learned what happened to them under the Nazis, she temporarily lost her faith in God.

     

    Years later, in thinking through the seeming wreckage of her world, she felt both re-inspired and newly troubled by the different strands of tradition she found in Jewish history. On one hand stood a great line of prophets and teachers who upheld justice, freedom, and universal compassion as the ultimate concerns of Judaism. For these leaders, the law of life was a law of mutual love. It went roughly like this: As I would not be robbed, so I would not steal. As I would not be killed, so I would not murder. As I would not be punished for the crimes of another, “Fathers shall not be put to death for sins of sons, nor sons for the sins of their fathers”. (Deuteronomy 24:16) As I would not be sold into slavery for debt, so Nehemiah said, “Speaking for myself, I and my kinsmen … are advancing them money and corn. Let us give up this taking of persons as pledges for debt”. (Nehemiah 5: 10) Some Jewish leaders extended the law of compassion to all members of their community. Others would extend it to the world:

     

    "When an alien settles with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. He shall be treated as a native born among you, and you shall love him as a man like yourself, because you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:33–34)

     

    But these were not the only kinds of teaching recorded in the holy books. The Bible also recorded arguments for “traditional” divisions between social groups and the clear ranking of certain people over others. Concerning the “God-given” authority of males over females, some verses instructed fathers to kill disobedient women. According to one tradition cited in Deuteronomy, a girl who fell in love with a boy of her choice (before her father gave her in marriage to the man of his choice) had to be stoned to death for the crime of unauthorized love. (22:13–21). Other voices in the Bible claimed that God ordered the extermination of enemy populations, that He required “visiting the guilt of the fathers upon the children” (Exodus 20:5), and even that God upheld blind obedience as the primary tenet of morality. For example, in a passage describing God’s punishment of the Hebrew’s worship for other gods, we are told that Moses instructed the Levites (the priestly class) as follows:   

     

    "Jehovah the God of Israel says 'Get your swords and go back and forth from one end of the camp to the other and kill even your brothers, friends, and neighbors'.  So they did, and about three thousand men died that day. Then Moses told the Levites, 'Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of the Lord, for you obeyed him even though it meant killing your own sons and brothers; now he will give you a great blessing'." (Exodus 32: 27–29)

     

    So in reviewing her history, which was the whole history of the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas, Eisler found deep traditions of both real fellowship and fearful cruelty. She grew convinced that chronic cruelty has never been simply “the way it is”, or “God’s will”. Cruelty has always been a human choice. And where cruelty is justified as a moral choice, we have a human invention of what Eisler calls “dominator morality”. In “dominator ethics” according to Eisler, morality lies in subordinates obeying superiors, and inferiors knowing their assigned places. Such morality requires an imposed order of ranking ― “man over woman, man over man, race over race, and nation over nation, that can only be maintained by inflicting or threatening pain”.[ii]  All this can appear quite inevitable. If people accept that someone or some group must be on top in every situation, then the main questions are (a) who the top dogs will be, and (b) how their dominance will be enforced. So throughout Western history, Eisler found the same sort of  “dominate or be dominated” fear, that drove the Nazis her family fled. She grew convinced that there has always been an alternative to such “realism”. The Bible amply testifies to such an alternative, which Eisler calls “partnership”.

     

    By “partnership”, Eisler means relations of mutual support and mutual gain. In partnership, power is “power with” others, not “power over” them. It is the positive power to nurture and stimulate life rather than the power to control or destroy it. Morality from a partnership view means honoring people as fellow souls, not ranking them as superior or inferior beings. Of course Eisler recognizes that different people have different degrees of influence and ability. There are valid “hierarchies of actualization” in personal growth and accomplishment, which should not be confused with “hierarchies of domination”. Some people in every situation are teachers and leaders, while others are learners and followers. But in a context of partnership, the leaders and teachers try to raise the others to greater selfhood — not to keep them permanently subordinate.[iii]

     

    From her studies of history Eisler came to see our whole civilization as caught in a tension between partnership and dominator values. Both kinds of culture and morality competed through the pages of the Bible, as they did in the pages of other history books. Eisler undertook to disentangle the strands of these traditions, to clarify her spiritual choices, and create her own vision to live by:We need standards for what traditions should be strengthened or left behind. Slavery, serfdom, and public stonings of women once were, and in some places still are, cultural traditions. They are cultural traditions appropriate to maintain dominator relations. So when we look at cultural traditions, the key question is what kind of relations do they maintain? … We should ask if a cultural tradition promotes cruelty and abuse or caring and respect.[iv]

     

    Though Eisler was always more concerned with society in general than religion in particular, she felt an inescapable need to confront and reclaim our religious heritage:Sorting out partnership from dominator teachings in our scriptures is one of the greatest challenges. It isn’t easy. There is much opposition, both inside and outside of us. But if we do nothing, we can’t successfully counter the religious hate-mongering regaining strength today in both East and West. … We need to expose those who use the name of God to perpetrate cruelty, violence and pain. [And] We need to counter those who would indiscriminately discard all religious teachings.[v]Concerning the Jewish heritage she wrote,

     

    "… much in Western Civilization that is humane and just was derived from the teachings of the Hebrew prophets. For example, many of the teachings of Isaiah, from which many of the later teachings of Jesus derived, are designed for a partnership rather than a dominator society. Nonetheless, interlaced with what is humane and uplifting, much of what we find in the Judeo-Christian Bible is a network of myths and laws designed to impose, maintain, and perpetuate a dominator system of social and economic organization."[vi]

     

    In the New Testament also Eisler found contrasts between teachings of mutual love, and other words requiring obedience as the primary virtue for inferiors, women, and slaves. With comments inviting further inquiry she said,[Jesus] rejected the dogma that high-ranking men — in Jesus’ day, priests, nobles, rich men and kings — are the favorites of God. He mingled freely with women, thus openly rejecting the male-supremacist norms of his time. And in sharp contrast to the views of later Christian sages, who actually debated whether woman has an immortal soul, Jesus did not preach the ultimate dominator message: that women are spiritually inferior to men.[vii]

     

    I read Eisler’s book The Chalice & the Blade in 1988, after returning from seven years of village development work in Africa and Asia. Her insights helped me make sense of the painful situations I saw in those countries. During my years outside North America I had turned my back on organized Christianity. I saw it as a religion of colonial conquest and racism. When I finally came to reexamine that tradition, I was, like Eisler, both re-inspired and freshly horrified by the history of my faith.

     


    [i]Eisler, Riane, The Power of Partnership, 124.

    [ii] Eisler, Riane, “Spiritual Courage,” Tikkun, January/February 1999, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 16.

    [iii] Aitken, Robert, and Steindl-Rast, David, The Ground We Share: Everyday Practice, Buddhist and Christian, 156.

    [iv]Eisler, Riane, The Power of Partnership, 131, 125.

    [v]Eisler, Riane, The Power of Partnership, 195.

    [vi] Eisler, Riane, The Chalice & the Blade, 94.

    [vii] Eisler, Riane, The Chalice & the Blade, 121.

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    How my Muslim friend helped me reclaim my religion

    Sunday, April 13, 2008, 10:20 AM [General]

    Okay, I'm gonna post some bits from my book in hopes of generating some discussion. There are three main friends who got me going on it. One was a Muslim woman, a second was a Jewish woman, and the third was a lapsed Catholic man.

     

    Here is the bit about friend number 1, the Muslim:

     

    My friend Nina is a Muslim woman who taught me a lot. She was a divorced mother who faced some harassment from certain Muslim men. And the way she responded changed my relation to Christianity. She mentioned one day that several men at her mosque were complaining about her.  She had noticed these men several times, watching her from the doorway as she prayed in the women’s area. She is, after all, a beautiful woman. But after watching her pray, these men complained to the community elders. They said Nina was inspiring sinful thoughts in their house of prayer. 

     

    I asked Nina why she put up with it. Why did she remain in a community where this kind of bigotry seemed to pass for morality? But Nina dismissed those men’s prejudices, and mine, saying such people know nothing of Islam. The women in Muhammad’s family included a trading company manager (Khajida), an army general (Aisha), and a major religious leader (Fatima). What, Nina asked, did self-righteous bigots against women know of the real Islam?

     

    It seems Nina responded to those men differently than I. When they posed as guardians of fundamental Islamic values, Nina did not believe their claims. She felt that she was the real Muslim. I, on the other hand, was ready to believe these men. If they claimed to represent what a Muslim should be, I would probably accept their words as accurate. And this kind of gullibility had plagued me before. While I was a teenage Christian in Texas during the 1960’s, my town had its fair share of bigots, who commonly insisted that their prejudices were fundamental Christian values. And basically, I believed them. I thought, “If you’re the real Christians, then I want none of it”. I accepted their claims to own the Christian heritage, and yielded them the field. What if I responded like Nina?

     

    -- From "Different Visions of Love: Partnership and Dominator Values in Christian History"

     

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