Some people think of God as an Infinite Intelligence, affirming that our Creator is the infinite Mind behind all creation. When I think about this idea, I feel the need to bring in the Mother side of God by adding: “and Love” to affirm that the Creator is also loving. This issue has been the subject of debate for centuries, perhaps for millennia. In a book I just finished reading, however, Carol Ochs illustrates that my addition may be unnecessary. In her book: Behind the Sex of God: Toward a New Consciousness Transcending Patriarchy and Matriarchy”, she developed a theme which brought me up short, and got me wondering about my perception of God. She is a philosophy teacher at Simmons College, and though philosophy is not my strong suit, she captured my imagination with her approach to the way we view God. She starts by explaining that once the human species evolved from depending on hunting and gathering as nomads, they began to settle in communities, raise their own crops, and tend their flocks locally. Thus, they were able to develop time for culture, including art, music, architecture, and so forth. Their religion centered around the belief that God is a Mother. Thus their religion was called “Matriarchal”. The awareness that women were baby bearers and deliverers, and that human survival depended on the Earth being fruitful, led them to believe that God was a Mother. They prayed to “Mother Earth” to provide them with the sustenance that enabled them to live in settled communities and to develop into more evolved human beings. Ochs uses the example of a mother bear, to explain the religious philosophy of Matriarchy. A mother accepts her “children” as they are, and loves them unconditionally. The mother bear will do anything to protect and nurture her cubs, and don’t get in her way when she does. Mother God was perceived as loving her human children unconditionally, whether they were good or bad. There was no incentive to be good. “I am accepted by faith alone” so why does it matter whether I’m good or bad, I can do what I want. There developed a need to add a moral component to religious beliefs. Carol Ochs, then describes and illustrates how the God of the Old Testament was very different. We read of Yahweh, a father figure who was a stern Judge, who made laws and demanded strict obedience. There are many and varied reasons why the Patriarchal religion came into being, but to look at the philosophical aspect behind the development of this religion, Ochs explained that evolving humans needed a moral and ethical code. To be an acceptable human being, you must try to be good and you must follow these laws: “Love the Lord your God…and so forth. Thus developed a Patriarchal (or dominance of the male figure) kind of religion with God, the Father as a stern Judge. Before going into Och’s explanation of the differences between male and female views of reality, let me remind you of the difference between male and female characteristics. Over time, maleness has come to be associated with rational thought, logic, and different forms of aggression, on a continuum between leadership assertiveness—a good quality-- to cultural and domestic violence, not a quality we want to support. Patriarchy has also encouraged a phenomenon called “hierarchy”. In the Patriarchal social and religious system, a system which has dominated our cultural landscape for the past 5,000 years, there is a hierarchy of power. It goes like this: God, men, women, children, slaves, the environment, and so on down to that which is least valued. This philosophy of judgment tends to put enmity between different people. It encourages “us vs. them” and “them” is not as good as “us”. You can see how this has led to many inequities in our world. Female characteristics tend to be nurturing, compassionate and relational (a focus on relationships). These qualities can also be good or bad: good when it leads to kindness and concern for others, and bad when it leads to adopting victimization as a way of life, and to negating one’s own power. Remember, also, that each of us has both masculine and feminine characteristics within us , though we lean toward one or the other depending on our gender. Ochs develops the point that we have become dualistic in our view of masculinity and femininity, and that two seemingly opposed religious philosophies have developed as a result: Matriarchy and Patriarchy. This leaves us stuck in an either/or dilemma. We have either one or the other. Ochs points out that there are a number of current choices available for us to consider. She poses the question: “In the controversy between Matriarchy and Patriarchy, are we helpless to do anything but recognize our inevitable and unchanging role, and adapt?” Ochs describes several different writers who developed a particular solution to the problem. M Esther Harding describes the archetypal female and sees the central problem as men and woman having to adapt to the masculine/feminine principles which rule them from within, leaving them predestined to roles without much freedom to chose how they will behave and feel. This is not a philosophy I’d be inclined to embrace. Elizabeth Gould Davis, another writer, argues for the primacy and supremacy of women. She maintains that Patriarchy has relegated women to a subordinate role, but that in time women will again predominate. Though I value the Divine Feminine, I don’t think reversing roles and women dominating men would be just or workable. A third idea is promoted by Carolyn Heilbrun. She thinks that the sexes can be reconciled through androgyny, which means developing equal traits of masculinity and femininity. This approach seems improbable to me, and, ruling this one out we still have to deal with the other two. If we consider either of the first two alternatives, however, we have either Patriarchy or Matriarchy predominating over the other. Carol Ochs, the author of this book, challenges the basic assumption of these writers. She disagrees that the distinction between Matriarchy and Patriarchy is real. She alleges that the controversy between masculine and feminine can be re-defined so they are no longer in opposition. The answer to the problem, she says, lies in Monism, which is a belief in the fundamental oneness or unity of Reality. Reality may be known in many different ways, but there is only one underlying Reality. She uses mind and body as an example. Rather than mind and body being separate and in opposition to each other, they are one reality expressed in two different ways. The mind is the “idea” that animates the body. Instead of thinking dualistically: either this or that, we may perceive things as divided, but with one underlying reality which animates all, and that is God. In the past, the relationship between God and this world has been defined in terms of opposition: God is Spiritual, the world is material; God is perfect, the world is imperfect, God is infinite, the world is finite. Och’s position is that God is not separate from reality. Rather, we are All part of the Whole. God is not Father, or Mother, or even Parent, because God is not separate or distinct from creation. If the world is part of God, then God does not end where matter begins. Matter is not opposed to Spirit, but two ways of describing the single reality…GOD. By this we express our belief in a supreme Impersonal Power, everywhere present, manifesting as life, through all forms of organized matter. We are the “life” in which God is present. We are part of God. But in the meantime, we struggle with imbalance in our world. So long as we continue to have wars, to oppress other people, to abuse women and children, or any other being in a lower place on the hierarchal scale, my role seems clear. I will continue to pray that “Mother Bear” will continue her protective nurturing, and enable us to bring a better balance between masculine and feminine ideals, remembering, with religious conviction: “We are ALL part of GOD”. Barbara L. Weeks 11/16/10
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