Book club in 1 week

img_6232Hi everyone! We are here sending you this update from lovely California (where we are finally making good on our parental obligation to show our daughter Disneyland) because we can’t wait to see you all 1 week from today when we will be Amusing Ourselves To Death — or at least talking about the book by Neil Postman at the usual place (LaFleur house) and time (7 PM).

If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t despair. The audiobook is only about 4 hours long, or at least that’s what Kendrick gleefully exclaimed when he downloaded it on audible.

If this is the first you are hearing about the new book, it might be because I’m a delinquent emailer, or it might be because you haven’t yet checked out our new schedule for the coming year, which is right here.

See you next week!

 

The beginning of a much larger work

Presentation5

The take-home message in the book Tribe by Junger is that modern societies are really really bad because we don’t feel enough of a sense of community, which is really really important to humans. (Surprise!)

The author illustrates this premise by showing us how happy Native American hunter/gatherer societies were before they were mowed down (and out-bred) by the comparatively more miserable but higher-tech Europeans, by showing us how happy people are in times of catastrophic disasters like wars and earthquakes (Londoners loved the Blitz), and by showing us how miserable our returning veterans are because they don’t feel useful or valued by society. (Frankly, neither does an increasing proportion of non-Veterans feel useful or valued. That’s what it means to be disenfranchised.)

I don’t disagree with any of it. In fact, I’ve actually read it all before: in Guns, Germs, and Steel by Diamond; in Sapiens by Harari; in Genesis by someone claiming to be Moses; and even in The Feminine Mystique by Friedan, where the emphasis was not on the misery of men, but the misery of women.

My theory is that the reason this book is so short is because it is only the premise of a much larger work that the author is, apparently, still working on. I kept waiting for him to propose solutions, but – spoiler alert – he has none. As I read about the utopia of early Native American societies, I thought for a minute that he was going to come out in favor of becoming hunter/gathers again,1 but he didn’t. That kept happening to me. I kept asking myself: Is he pro-war? Is he pro-veteran? Anti-veteran? Anti-welfare? He has no solutions to propose.

Somehow, we are just magically supposed to care about each other more, to stop speaking of others with contempt, to quit tolerating it when greedy financiers steal money from our retirement accounts, to demand that CEO’s quit taking a disproportionate share of the profits, to do a better job of honoring veterans, such as by hiring them and not giving them benefits (unless they really really need them), etc. But, none of these “suggestions” is a solution. Each is really just a restatement of what we already know is a completely intractable problem.

In order to solve these problems it will require us to become, suddenly, very wise, and very capable of achieving a considerable amount of consensus – to an extent that is likely impossible to achieve with our under-funded (anemic) education system, our tightly-gerrymandered oligarchy “democracy” (that prevents us from having anything that a majority of us supports), and our large population of theocracy-seekers whose belief in a type of cosmologically evil boogeyman prevents us from recognizing the evil in ourselves.

Maybe I’m a cynic, but frankly, if the problem requires a greater level of understanding than can be communicated with a pithy internet meme, we are doomed.

Consensus simply ain’t happenin’.


1 Too bad. This is a great idea, one that would bring humans a lot of peace and happiness — but only until the food-producing societies decide they want our land.

Books we’re reading now

11/3/18 The Feminine Mystique Friedan B The classic feminist manifesto by Friedan in which she describes “the problem that has no name,” the insidious beliefs that undermines women’s confidence in their intellectual capabilities.
12/15/18 Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business Postman N A book about the ways in which the media shape our lives: television has conditioned us to tolerate visually entertaining material measured out in spoonfuls of time, to the detriment of rational public discourse and reasoned public affairs.
2/16/19 The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men Pearson CL Pearson shows that the ghost of polygamy remains in  Mormon doctrine, haunting the living, assuring women of their diminished value relative to men, and leading many to lose faith in the church and in God.
4/20/19 Myths to Live by Campbell J Joseph Campbell explores the enduring power of the universal myths that influence our lives daily and examines the myth-making process from the primitive past to the immediate present
6/15/19 The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains Carr N A compelling exploration of the Internet’s intellectual and cultural consequences. Inferences from what’s known about how human thought has been shaped through the centuries and recent discoveries in neuroscience, Carr explains how the internet is remaking us in its own image.
8/17/19 Faith Beyond Belief: Stories of Good People Who Left Their Church Behind Johnston MP Stories of an ex-Catholic, a former Mormon, and a clandestine Muslim apostate, for whom trust in human capacity for reason led them to make the necessary (and intermediate) step in faith development, giving up a literal religious interpretation; stories of people at the ‘mystic’ level: those who see paradox in truth.
10/19/19 Sapiens Harrari S The story of human history over the last 100,000 years, about how we evolved to be more cooperative, and about how we came to believe in gods, nations and human rights; to trust money, books and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables and consumerism.
12/21/19 Rough Stone Rolling Bushman R Richard Bushman, an esteemed cultural historian and a practicing Mormon, moves beyond the popular stereotype of Smith as a colorful fraud to explore his personality, his relationships with others, and how he received revelations.

 

Books we’ll get to eventually

Title

Author

Brief description

The Divine Comedy Alighieri D Dante’s classic recreation of the depths and heights of human experience, beginning in the first year of the 12th century.
The Story of Latter-Day Saints Allen J and Leonard G A candid and historically accurate history of the LDS faith through 1975
Meditations Aurelius M The philosopher and Roman emperor describes his insights as he struggled to understand himself and to make sense of the universe.
Religion in an Age of Science Barbour IG A comprehensive examination of the major conflicts between science and religion in today’s world.
Servants of the Map Barrett A A collection of short stories ranging across 2 centuries from western Himalaya to an Adirondack village.
Ship Fever: Stories Barrett A A 1996 National Book Award-winning collection of short stories about the love of science and the science of love in the 19th century.
Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard Arrington, 1971-1999 Bergera GJ An account of the first LDS Church Historian’s ten-year stormy tenure, full of controversy.
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women Bessey S Through a thoughtful review of biblical teachings and church practices, one woman shares how following Jesus made a feminist out of her.
The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine and Feminine Bly R A Jungian interpretation of a primordial folktale about the reunion of masculine and feminine. The Maiden King is a tale of an absent father, a possessive stepmother, a false tutor, and a young man overwhelmed by a beautiful maiden.
Mormon Women Speak: Collection of Essays Bradford M A collection of essays by Mormon women, in the style of the essay “Lusterware” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith Brodie FM A classic biography of Joseph Smith, written by David O. McKay’s niece, who was later excommunicated. The book eventually became a source for the church-sanctioned biography of Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling by Bushman.
The Rhetoric of Religion: Studies in Logology Burke K Burke demonstrates how language and religion and language affect eachother. Religious systems are systems of action based on communication in society.
Dead White Guys: A Father, His Daughter and the Great Books of the Western World Burriesci M A father’s and daughter’s experience with reading 26 great books, from Plato to Karl Marx.
The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work Campbell J Campbell describes his monomyth, or “the one great story of mankind,” which he posits is the backbone of every story.
The Power of Myth Campbell J Campbell describes the mythology of heroes and applies it to recent history, such as the murder and funeral of John F Kennedy.
The Awakening Chopin K One of the first feminist novels ever written, in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity.
Why I am Not a Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto Crispin J A critique of modern feminism.
The Origin of Species Darwin C The classic volume in which Darwin explains his theory of natural selection and challenges orthodox thought and belief about creationism.
The Second Sex de Beauvoir S The classic volume of de Beauvoir’s groundbreaking observationsa bout the inequality and otherness of women.
The Red Tent Diamant A A novel about the biblical figure Dinah. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood.
All the Light We Cannot See Doerr A A blind French girl and a German boy struggle to survive the devastation of the war in occupied France.
Notes From the Underground Dostoyevsky FD (To be added)
The Story of Philosophy Durant W An account of the lives and ideas of the great philosophers, from Plato to Dewey.
The Name of the Rose Eco U In 12th-Century Italy, a Franciscan monk investigates bizarre deaths using the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, and the empirical insights of Roger Bacon.
How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee Ehrman, BD The claim that Jesus is God is not what the original disciples believed or what Jesus claimed. Ehrman explains how this belief came to be.
Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible and Why We Don’t Know About Them Ehrman, BD A compelling account of the central challenges faced when attempting to reconstruct Jesus’ life and message This book addresses the larger issue of what the New Testament actually teaches, and it’s not what you think.
Identity and the Life Cycle Erikson EH Erikson’s insights into the relationship of life history and history, beginning with observations on a central stage of life: identity development in adolescence.
The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook Ferguson N A brilliant recasting of the turning points in world history, including the one we’re living through, as a collision between old power hierarchies and new social networks.
Bread Not Stone: The Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation Fiorenza ES This book explores the ways in which women can read the Christian Bible with full understanding of both its oppressive and its liberating functions.
Man’s Search for Meaning Frankl VE Frankl’s memoir of his experience in Nazi death camps and lessons for spiritual survival, such as that we cannot avoid suffering, but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.
Grendel Gardner J Beowulf’s most terrifying monster tells his side of the story.
The Literary Message of Isaiah Gileadi A Gileadi suggests that the ancient writings of Isaiah bridge the gap between the Old and New Testaments.
The Language of the Goddess Gimbutas, M The goddess is the most potent and persistent feature in the archaeological records of the ancient world. In this volume the author resurrects the world of goddess-worshipping, earth-centered cultures, bringing ancient matriarchal society to life.
Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity Givens TL An account of the Mormon fath’s foundations in 19th-century restorationist thought and the subsequent influence of that foundation on the modern church.
Outliers: The Story of Success Gladwell M What makes high-achievers different? Gladwell says we can’t know by paying attention to what successful people are like; we have to pay attention to where they are from: Their cultures, families, generation, and idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringings.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference Gladwell M The tipping point is the magic moment when an idea, trend, or social bheavior crosses a threshold and spreads like wildfire.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion Haidt J As America descends deeper into polarization and paralysis, a social psychologist has done what seems impossible: challenged conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion in a way that speaks to everyone on the political spectrum.
Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin Hardy N In her memoir, Hardy describes the crossroads she encountered when she aged out of LDS YSA wards and came face-to-face with the discordance between the life she’d envisioned and the one she was living.
The Mormon Church & Blacks: A Documentary History Harris ML, Bringhurst NG Thirty official or authoritative Church statements on the status of African Americans in the Mormon Church and an analysis of how they reflect uniquely on Mormon characteristics in the context of history, race, and religion.
One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly: The Art of Seeking God Hoiland AM An exploration of the complexities of faith in everyday life, with a particular focus on the Mormon faith.
The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Midlife Hollis J A book that uses Jungian analysis to show us how we may travel the Middle Passage consciously, thereby rendering our lives more meaningful and the second half of life immeasurably richer.
King Leopold’s Ghost Hothschild A A true story of the man who enslaved a nation and of those who fought him: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust.
The Varieties of Religious Experience James W William James’ classic text on religion, which he defines as “the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine.”
From Housewifwe to Heretic: One Woman’s Spiritual Awakening and her Exommunication from the Mormon Church Johnson S Awakening feminism brought Johnson into conflict with church leaders, who excommunicated her for promoting false doctrine. Her husband wanted to divorcer her because he was “tired of working on our marriage.” An account of Johnson’s progression from self-denial to activism.
The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric Joseph M An American nun explains the rules, definitions, and guidelines of language and the pathway to becoming a liberal artist.
Man and His Symbols Jung CG The first and only work in which the world-famous Swiss psycholotist explains to the layperson his enormously influential theory of symbolism as revealed in dreams
French Lessons Kaplan A Three Americans set off to explore Paris with a French tutor. As they traverse Paris’ grand boulevards and intimate, winding streets, they uncover surprising secrets about one another and come to understand long-buried truths about themselves.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin Larson, E A mild-mannered professor from Chicago brings his family to Germany in 1933. At first they are enamored of the New Germany. But as evidence of Jewish persecution mounts, they become alarmed. The novel ends in a climax of violence and murder, revealing Hitler’s true character.
The Great Divorce Lewis CS An allegorical bus ride through heaven and hell that producees insights about the nature of good and evil.
Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny Manne K An exploration of misogyny in public life and poltics by a moral philosopher.
The Road McCarthy C A post apocalyptic novel about a father and son who walk alone through burned America observing the ravaged landscape and fighting to preserve the light they cherish.
Sexual Politics Millett K An expository view of patriarchy as a socially conditioned belief system masquerading as nature.
The Sociological Imagination Mills CW Mills calls for a way of looking at the world that can see links between the apparently private problems of the individual and important social issues.
King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine Moore RL A book of four Jungian archetypes about manhood, masculine energies from myth and literature
To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism Morozov E This book urges us to abandom monolithic ideas of “the Internet” and to show how to design more humane and democratic technological solutions.
Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History Prince GA A biography of the first and only professional historian to lead the Mormon church in its history division.
Becoming Human: A Servant of the Map Randall MM Essays about author’s journey to discover how to reshape his existence as a “servant of the map.”
At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women Reeder J and Holbrook K Hand-picked by Reeder and Holbrook, 54 speeches given by LDS women from 1831 to 2016.
Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness Reeve WP The 19th century Protestants’ view that Mormonism represented a racial departure from the mainstream, and the 200-year church response to fight that view.
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) Ruiz DM Ruiz reveals the source of self-limiting beliefs that rob us of joy and create needless suffering. Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, the agreements are “Be impeccable with your word,” “don’t take anything personally,” “don’t make assumptions,” and “always do your best.”
Confessions Saint Augustine A 4th century philosopher explains his theological and philosophical questioning of God’s nature and what it is to be human.
Exploring the Connection Between Mormons and Masons Scharffs GW Why did Joseph Smith become a Freemason? Who introduced Freemasonry into Nauvoo, Illinois, in the early 1840’s? Do the Masons really descend from the stonemasons who built King Solomon’s temple? Is there a relationship between the Masonic lodge rites and Mormon temple ordinances?
Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error Schulz K The editor of Grist magazine explores what it means to be wrong and why humans tend to assume and insist that they are right about almost everything. This book covers the history and psychology of error, from Socrates to Alan Greenspan.
The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods Sertillanges AG This classic by the 17th-18th century French Catholic philospher Sertillanges recommends habits of the mind for aspiring scholars.
The Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters Sillito J and Staker S Biographical essays from Mormon dissenters who were troubled by some aspects of church history, doctrine, policies, or politics. Some left and some stayed.
The Big Disconnect: The Story of Technology and Loneliness Slade G Using technology to replace face-to-face interactions is not a new phenomenon. The history of the phenomenon explains why we use technology to mediate our connections with other humans.
Mormon Midwife Smart D A 1997 Evans Handcart Prize-winner, the compliete diaries of Patty Sessions, details the early life of early Mormons from Illinois to Utah.
Why Religion Matters: The Fate of the Human Spirit in an Age of Disbelief Smith H The human spirit is being suffocated by the dominant materialistic worldview of our times.
Religion as Metaphor: Beyond Literal Belief Tacey D Despite what tradition tells us, if we “believe” religious language, we miss religion’s spiritual meaning. Religious language was not designed to be historical reporting, but rather to resonate in the soul and direct us toward transcendent realities.
The Darkening Spirit: Jung, Spirituality, Religion Tacey D Jung predicted the demise of secular humanism and claimed we would search for alternatives to science, atheism, and reason; he said we would experience a new and even unfashionable appetite for the sacred.
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder Taleb NN One of the foremost philosophers of our time, Taleb’s book tells us about systems that benefit from disorder. A blueprint for how to behave — and thrive in — a world we don’t undersand and which is too uncertain for us to even try to understand.
A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 Ulrich LT The never-before-told story of the earliest days of the women of Mormon “plural marriage,” whose right to vote was given by a Mormon-dominated legislature as an outgrowth of polygamy.
Well-behaved Women Seldom Make History Ulrich LT A volume about women in history who achieved power and influence.
Bonds that Make Us Free Warner CT Why do we get trapped in negative emotions when it’s clear that life is so much fuller and richer when we are free of them?
The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For? Warren R A non-Mormon Christian view of life’s meaning.
Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion Winell M Psychologist Winell outlines what people can do to reclaim a healthy human spirit after beginning to question literal belief.
Leaving My Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity Woodman M A book about the process required to bring feminine wisdom to consciousness in a patriarchal culture, a struggle presented by the personal journeys of three wise women whose lives can serve as maps.
The Evolution of God Wright R A sweeping view of archaeology, theology, and evolutionary psychology that unveils an astonishing discovery: there is a hidden pattern that the great monotheistic faiths have followed as they have evolved. Spirituality has a role today, but science actually affirms the validity of the religious quest.

Books we’ve read

Title

Author

Brief Description

The Power Alderman N When teenage girls suddenly have the power to cause agonizing pain and even death, not only do we see how the world would change if power was in the hands of women, but we also find an exposition of our contemporary world.
Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings Brooks J, Steenblik RH, and Wheelwright H (eds) A collection of works by Mormon feminists
Daring Greatly Brown B Researcher Brené Brown offers a powerful new vision that encourages us to dare greatly: to embrace vulnerability and imperfection, to live wholeheartedly, and to courageously engage in our lives.
Goddesses: Mysteries of the Feminine Divine Campbell J A collection of Campbell’s lectures on the figures, functions, symbols, and themes of the feminine divine across cultures and epochs.
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype Estés CP A collection of Jungian archetypal stories about injury, healing, love, forgiveness, and self-discovery.
Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning Fowler JW Building on the contributions of developmental psychologists, Fowler draws on a wide range of scholarship, literature, and firsthand research to present expertly and engagingly the six stages that emerge in working out the meaning of our lives.
The Crucible of Doubt Givens and Givens A careful, intelligent look at Mormon doubt and some of its common sources, the challenges it presents, and the opportunities it may open up in a person’s quest for faith.
The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life Givens T, Givens F The Givenses draw on the works of philosophers and poets to explain Mormon theology.
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants Gladwell M A look at the complex and surprising ways the weak can defeat the strong, the small can match up against the giant, and how our goals can make a huge difference in our ultimate sense of success.
Siddhartha Hesse H The classic tale of a young man discovering enlightenment.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging Junger S A critical look at post-traumatic stress disorder and the reasons that many of today’s returning veterans suffer.
In Quiet Desperation: Understanding the Challenge of Same-gender Attraction Matis F and Matis M A Mormon couple describe their path to reconciling their the chasm between their faith and the love and understanding the feel toward their gay son.
Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map McConkie W Theories of adult development applied to faith, with a particular focus on the Mormon religious culture.
When God Was a Woman Stone M The story of the archeologically-documented religion of the Goddess, under which women’s roles were richer than in patriarchal Judeo-Christian cultures.
Native Son Wright R A novel that illustrates the impact of poverty and racism in the lives of inner-city black Americans.

On Being a Woman in a Universe Ruled by the God of Male Supremacy

Photo for blog


The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.

When he prepared the heavens, I was there.

I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.

Blessed [ashre] is the man that heareth me.

                                              — Proverbs 8


I came across Joseph Campbell’s book of lectures on the goddesses at a time when I was in a faith crisis precipitated by the realization that my participation in a religious organization with an all-male priesthood had caused me to internalize misogyny that I had not previously been aware of.

How I discovered my internalized misogyny

One of the (many) moments that helped me discover that I had internalized misogyny was when I was sitting in Relief Society (RS) and our president was showing a video of an interview with Marjorie Hinckley, the late wife of one of our former ‘prophets,’ Gordon B Hinckley. The interview revealed her to be witty and clever, every bit as sharp as her beloved husband, and very much his equal. As I watched, I asked myself, how had this woman lived and died and I never knew how terrific she was?

The answer came to me almost as quickly as I asked it: because our religious culture does not regard women, especially women over 30, as having anything of value to offer (except, perhaps, their ability to bear children, take care of children, and cook for others). My first thought was curse the patriarchy! But then, as I continued to watch and I saw that she was a white-haired grandmother with pearl earrings, I realized that I, too, would have had the same thought. probably thought that she had nothing of value to offer. In that moment I dissolved into tears; that was the first time I realized that I had internalized ideas that diminished me. Someday, I too would be a grandmother with pearl earrings, a grandmother with nothing of value to offer.

How I had internalized misogyny to begin with

My understanding of this concept was enhanced later when my husband began to watch the series Law and Order: SVU on Netflix during his morning workouts. My husband loves crime shows, and this one had several seasons, so he was excited to have something entertaining to watch in the mornings when he was on the elliptical. I don’t much care for crime shows, so I didn’t watch it with him. I just continued to go about my morning dress and grooming routine each day in preparation for work. However, after a few weeks of this, I began to become conscious, every morning, that there was some woman’s dead body that was serving as the basis of my husband’s morning entertainment. (For those of you who don’t know, ‘SVU’ stands for ‘special victims unit,’ and the ‘special victims’ are the victims of sexual violence. More often than anything else, these victims are women or girls.)

After a while, I said something to my husband about how I didn’t really care for the show. He said he understood because, as a clinical social worker, he had taken a training on sexual violence against women, and he understood that there were arguments about this show, good arguments on both sides. On the one hand, yes there is a lot of sexual violence against women. But, on the other hand, the show’s narrative was about how our society abhors these crimes — that’s why the fictional detectives were so committed to finding the bad guys. And, in one sense, I knew that this latter argument is true. If I sat down with my husband and watched one show in isolation, I would see that, yes, sexual violence is regarded as a terrible thing, yes the victims are treated with compassion and humanity, and yes the good detectives are showing our culture’s abhorrence of such things. However, each morning I still had to encounter some dead woman’s brutal and violent murder, which did seem to normalize violence against women. It made violence against women seem, somehow, just background noise in our society.

As the weeks went on, and as my husband continued to work his way through the seasons, I finally figured out how I could help him to understand my complaint. I asked him to imagine that he lived on an island, and that every morning on that island a dead woman’s body washed up on the shore. (I chose this particular image because it did feel to me like a dead woman’s body was washing up on the shores of my consciousness every morning.) I said, imagine that every morning you have to make a decision about how you will deal with that reality. You might decide to drag the body to some burying ground every morning. You might decide to cook and eat the flesh. (I hope not!) You might decide to ignore the body and leave it there, letting bodies accumulate on the beach over time, and eventually avoiding that part of the island. You might make any of those choices, but every day you would have to make a conscious choice about what to do about the fact of the daily dead woman.

Then I asked him my key question: What would you begin to think that the universe was trying to tell you about women? His immediate reply was ‘that they aren’t very important.’ And, that’s when he began to understand what I was telling him. It’s also when I began to understand how I had unconsciously internalized beliefs about women that were demeaning to me. It may be true that an overt message we are receiving, based on the story’s narrative, is that we think that violence against women is bad. But the backbone of the show, week after week, is a new act of violence perpetrated against a new woman every week; This illustrates that the other message that you begin to receive is that violence against women seems normal, that it’s entertaining, and maybe even that’s what women are for. You most likely would not even be conscious of the fact that this is the message that you are internalizing, which probably makes it even more insidious.

I then applied the same logic to what had happened to me over the years in my religious practices. Year after year I had attended church meetings in which the leadership was all male and in which women weren’t even allowed to pray for many years. When our church had biannual conferences, the lineup of speakers was dominated by men. When there were sessions for women only, men spoke, but in the meetings dedicated to men, no women spoke. All of the decisions about the church were made by men. The calling of males to the highest leadership levels were life-long, while the callings of women to the highest leadership positions that women can occupy (leadership over the auxiliary organizations for women and children) were made for a comparatively short term (about 2 years). Males in the highest levels received six-figure ‘stipends,’ while women in the highest levels (to which women could be called) received no stipends at all. Every woman serving in any capacity in the church answers to a long line of men above her; for many years, no man answered to any woman. (Arguably, that may still be true.) While it’s true that, on the overt level, I was being told repeatedly that we care about women by men speaking over the pulpit, on most other levels I was being told repeatedly that women don’t matter.

Why is god’s order patriarchal?

My journey to understand that led me, first, to ask why a benevolent god who regards me as having as much worth as any of his other children would ordain a social order that diminishes women. I turned first to the scriptures, but I quickly realized that there was very little in them about women. Most of the women in the lives of the men in our church’s canon are invisible, or they are the victims of violence, or they are mentioned (along with animals) as the belongings of men. Consequently, I had always read the scriptures as if I could look through the eyes of the protagonist and internalize the protagonist’s experiences as if they applied to me. But then I began to realize that this may have been the wrong way to approach the scriptures. Maybe some of the stories applied to me, but maybe others were meant only for men, and I had somehow failed to get the secret decoder ring that told me which ones.

I then looked in other places in our ‘approved’ church repertoire: church magazines, the teachings of church leaders, and manuals for teaching. The answer was not in there. That’s when I started looking outside of the church’s ‘approved’ information sources, such as Mormon Feminism, When God was a Woman, Women Who Run With the Wolves, The Feminine Mystique, and this book by Campbell. I also began interrogating myself about my own experience with the ‘divine,’ and I was able to come to the following answer to the question ‘Why would god ordain a social order that diminishes women?

The short answer is that he wouldn’t. Only man would demand such a social order. The longer answer comes from a careful reading of history, theology, mythology, sociology, and psychology. Organized religions have always reinforced somebody’s power. In the case of the Judeo-Christian religions, that that power has often been patriarchal. This is evident when we discover how our cultural myths, particularly the Judeo-Christian myths, were built upon prior myths. For example, the story of Cain and Abel is about the tension between the agricultural and herding societies, which were encountering each other in the historical era during which the bible was written. Campbell said that Cain, a farmer, represented the agricultural society and Abel, a herder, represented the herding society. They each brought their offering to the male god, and that god preferred the meat to the grains. Cain then killed Abel out of jealousy. Campbell said that this was basically a rewrite of an older myth in which the two offerings were presented to the goddess, and she chose the grains over the meat. The biblical rewrite was about setting supreme the male god of the herding society and erasing the goddess altogether. Campbell gives many more examples of the ways that the bible erases, demotes, or evilizes the goddess, reinforcing the power of the herding society over the agricultural society and reinforcing the power of men over women.

What’s true about the feminine divine?

The other question I asked on my journey to process the misogyny I had internalized during my participation in a patriarchal religion, was this: If god were a goddess, what would that look like? I asked that question because of the unsatisfying answer that I’d heard bandied about in Mormon lore every time that the question of why we don’t know our heavenly mother came up. The typical Mormon answer was that god loves his wife so much that he wanted to protect her from the pain his children would cause her if they knew about her existence. After all, you see how they take his name in vain? This is an unsatisfying answer that simply doesn’t make sense. Where in nature is there anything like that? In nature, most living beings are much more likely to be cut off from their fathers than they are to be cut off from their mothers. What mother hasn’t been hurt by her children? It’s simply an implausible explanations. (Not to mention that it’s infantilizing to women.)

One thing that I came across in my search was this fascinating article by a Dan Peterson, a well-respected Mormon apologist. In that article, Peterson explains that a story in our very own Book of Mormon suggests (if you believe the Book of Mormon to be a ‘true’ historical account) that Nephi understood more about the divine feminine than do modern Mormons. His statements that Jews in 600 BC, Nephi’s era, were still highly likely to be practicing the old goddess religions, in addition to the new father-god religion, corroborated statements made in When God Was a Woman and in this book, Joseph Campbell’s Goddesses. Peterson also explained that Asherah and the feminine divine were personifications of the divine attribute wisdom (see Proverbs 8:22-34).

Joseph Campbell’s lectures were very helpful to me in answering this question about the feminine divine. At first I was a little put off by the idea that the only thing that seems to be divine about women is their life-giving capacity, but then Campbell pointed out that the ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ constructs are man-made, and the gods and goddesses are ways that we make sense of powers that are in ourselves and in the world. Women are not meant to be wholly defined by our understanding of the goddess. The truth is that these stories are meant to be understood as metaphors about the powers that are in ourselves and in the world. To interpret them literally is death.

Most of the answers

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The Crucible of Doubt by Givens and Givens is a terrific book for anyone who is struggling with doubts about the LDS faith. It covers a lot of areas where questions commonly arise, such as how a benevolent and omnipotent God could allow so much suffering, how a person can continue to participate in a religion despite the flawed leadership and despite the frustratingly dogmatic and uncritical ways that members often express belief, and how belief is a choice that we can make even if we don’t experience the transcendent affirmations that are the hallmark of ‘testimony’ in the LDS church. Everything they say is terrific, but where they lose me is in failing to recognize that continued participation means having to swallow — and financially ‘sustain’ — a whole lot of stuff that is rather unpalatable, especially the idea of a divine mandate for male supremacy.

Maybe they’ll cover that in the next book.

Simultaneously enjoyable and agonizing

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The Power by Naomi Alderman was a simultaneously enjoyable and agonizing bit of feminist literature. Alderman illustrates for readers what it is like to be a woman in today’s world by flipping it on its head and imagining a universe where women are becoming the dominant sex, thanks to the development of a new biological power that renders men’s greater average muscular strength to be irrelevant. Because of its graphic descriptions of some terrible human atrocities, this book is sure to terrify anyone with a reasonably developed sense of humanity. But it will be particularly terrifying to men’s rights activists (MRAs), who are likely to miss the point completely. The point is that all of the terrifying things that are happening to men in this book are things that are currently happening to women all over the world, and yet most of us are just going about our business as if it doesn’t matter. Maybe we should be tearing it all down, as the MRAs in this book try to do.

The bizarro Alderman mirror also introduces some interesting feminist concepts. For example, her story suggests that women are not actually the more innately gentle and kind sex, as has been posited by the ‘benevolent sexists’ who think it helps women to put them on a pedestal. This book takes the position that women have only committed fewer atrocities than men because they have lacked the power to commit as many. As for benevolent sexists, popularizing a narrative in which women are supposed to be better than the typical human actually hurts women. That’s because, once a woman is revealed to be an ordinary flawed human, we perceive it as depravity when we contrast it against our image of what women are supposed to be. We are prevented from having empathy for flawed women, and because they’re all flawed, we have difficulty seeing all women clearly. (This is why we can’t tolerate flawed women, and yet we bend over backwards to regard even the most morally-vacant men as heroes.)

Her story also suggests that the reluctance of people today to believe that there ever could have been a place and time in which there could have been a matriarchal order is more a result of our tendency to look at archeological evidence through the lens of our current culture than it is a fact of history. In truth, several authors have pointed to other evidence:

  • In When God Was a Woman, Stone gives the archeological evidence suggesting that early agricultural societies worshipped a supreme mother goddess and her husband, a male god, was secondary. (Interestingly enough, in some of these societies, the male god was killed for the sins of his people every year and then resurrected by the goddess 3 days later.)
  • In his lectures on myths about the goddesses, Joseph Campbell corroborates many of Stone’s conclusions and points out that the Old Testament is replete with stories about the tension between two societies: the goddess-worshiping agricultural societies and the god-worshiping herding societies. (For example, the myth about Adam and Eve is a story about the agricultural revolution, the adoption of farming, and the evilization of the goddess religion’s symbols and the demotion of their goddess.)
  • In Guns Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond points out how male-supremacist societies came to dominate the earth over the last 2-3 thousand years. The presence of domesticated milk-producing mammals enabled them to wean their children years earlier than societies without them. This resulted in a change in the birth interval that led to the herding societies’ ability to out-breed everyone else and, consequently, to spread their god around the world. (Knowing this, it’s interesting to re-read the Bible’s myth on the agricultural revolution and note the curse that the god will ‘multiply’ Eve’s conception.)

I gave The Power 5 stars on goodreads. It’s true I have a tendency to rate books higher than most of my more critical friends, but I love books and I give a high count of stars to any book that helps me develop a greater understanding of my experience. (That’s ‘education,’ as John Dewey and Tara Westover say.) This book certainly did that. That said, Alderman does a great job of keeping the action moving. She adds her opinions to our culture’s ongoing conversation about male-supremacy without once lapsing into a long and boring treatise about her philosophy (à la Ayn Rand).

One

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Native Son was a terrific book by Richard Wright that does an excellent job of artfully illustrating the ways that all humans are connected. One common criticism of this book is that it tackles racism by using, as its case study, a murderer and rapist. However, that is an unfair criticism of the book. There are plenty of books that combat racism by giving examples of exemplary people of color; that’s not what this book is trying to do. The goal of this book is to illustrate how everyone unwittingly contributes to the violence and hate for which the main character was condemned. The author does this deliberately by using a main character that is so repellingly ‘other’ to most law-abiding readers that we won’t be distracted by the character’s best qualities. Any good qualities that the character might have had are irrelevant to our shared humanity. In that way, this author has set out to accomplish a remarkable feat, and he has succeeded.

I recently had a conversation in which an associate told me about her ‘christian healthcare club,’ which she described as a way of sharing risk only with her christian friends who she “…knows will take care of themselves.” (It struck me as bizarre that she took it as a premise that christians are healthier than non-christians, but I’ve since learned that there are a lot of publications in christian periodicals about christian-funded research that shows that they are.) I told her that I hoped her christian friends wouldn’t let her down, but something about that conversation continued to bother me many months later. I was able to process part of it when I wrote my post on Fowler’s Stages of Faith, but this book helped to put it further into context.

The problem with the christians-only healthcare club is that it is based on the premise that we can shut out the suffering of others. She is trying to cordon-off her wallet from others’ ailments. She doesn’t want her premiums to go up because (as she sees it) they don’t have the light of truth to guide them on the path to greater health. So, by joining a christians-only healthcare club, she can meet the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to be insured, while not sharing risk with those who she perceives as ‘other.’

Here’s the problem: if we exclude people who are ‘other’ from our healthcare plans, then they have to go somewhere else. As that happens, those ‘somewhere elses’ become increasingly expensive, and soon we have a lot of unhealthy and uninsured people who are feeling disenfranchised. If we are lucky, then the government will step in and provide coverage for those individuals, but then it hits us in our tax budget. If we still insist on trying to shut out the suffering of others, then we might be grateful for partisan gerrymandering that enables the votes of the ‘other’ to count less than ours, so that their voices matter less, and then we can insist that those people don’t get government-sponsored healthcare coverage, further disenfranchising them. Of course, the next step is that disenfranchised people, people who don’t have a voice or a stake in our society, become increasingly angry, increasingly vocal, and ultimately (as we saw in the French revolution), violent. In that case, instead of spending that money on sharing in a risk pool with the ‘other’ or on contributing to a public solution to our healthcare crisis, we will be spending that money on steel bars for our windows, security systems for our houses, guns for our ‘self defense,’ and armed guards for our schools. And all of this because we couldn’t see the ways that we are all connected.

My associate can shut her door to the suffering of others, but then it will come in through her window. She can shut her window, but then it will rise up through the floor like an overflowing septic tank.

I think this is what Jesus was trying to tell us when he said that we should care for the orphan and the widow and that we should take care of the ‘other’ (as in the story of the Samaritan). I think most of us misunderstand it. The most common interpretation of those teachings is that caring for others should be voluntary, rather than a tax obligation. (This is the most common reply that my christian friends give me when I point to Jesus’ teachings as the reason why I vote with the Democrats on things like welfare: it should be voluntary. I can’t find where Jesus said that it in the New Testament. But, frankly, we all know it’s a cop out. These are people who just don’t want to be connected to the ‘other’ in any way.)

But, that’s the wrong interpretation of what Jesus was trying to say. He wasn’t saying ‘hey, it would be really nice if we were all one,’ he was saying that we are one. It is fact. It is a law as immutable as gravity. We might try to live as though we were not one, but if we do we will be ignoring the proverbial lighthouse and breaking ourselves against the rocky shore of our shared humanity.

We are one with the christians who sit next to us on the pews. We are one with the people in our community who mow their lawns on Sundays. We are one with the homeless in our city. We are one with the homeless on the other side of the world. We are one with the Muslims, the Jews, the Hindus, and the Buddhists. We are one with the atheists and agnostics. We are one even with the racists and the sexists. We are one.

Until we can realize that truth, that we are one, then we will continue to be unwitting creators of all the violent forces that we fear.