Myths to Live by

Gods churn 2


cropped-screen-shot-2017-03-13-at-4-09-41-pm.pngThanks to those of you who attended book club last month. Based on a consensus among attendees, we have decided to modify the reading schedule for the remainder of the year. The corrected schedule can be found here. In a nutshell, book club members suspected that the book The Shallows would be too similar to Amusing Ourselves To Death, and opted to skip it. Next month’s book will be Faith Beyond Belief, and we’ll meet on June 15th at 7 PM.


As always, we had a wonderful discussion, though it was sometimes only marginally related to the book, Joseph Campbell’s Myths to Live By. A lot of us had a hard time reading it, especially under time pressure, which mostly seemed to be due to Campbell’s tendency to not say what he means. Campbell uses myths to hit his conclusions home — metaphor — rather than just saying what he means directly and in English.

For example, in the first chapter titled “The Impact of Science on Myth,” Campbell makes the case that science undermines our cultural religious beliefs, but that we should persist in it anyway. He says that science undermines belief by giving us concrete explanations for phenomena that previously required magical explanations. In doing so, he posits that the moral fabric of our society is threatened. That’s why, he says, we have so much badness in our current culture. To clarify, the “current culture” that Campbell was referring to is the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when our society’s discourse tended toward angsty disarray over fears of the changes that the the civil rights and women’s movements were anticipated to bring us — which may or may not have been realized, depending on your particular bias. Of course, fifty years later, this is still the big fear that most religious authorities are still harping on about.

Although Campbell is a great advocate for science, rather than rejecting that theory outright, Campbell ends the chapter in the telling of the Samudra Manthana, a Hindu  origin myth. In the story, the  gods and the antigods all agreed to set aside their differences and join forces in the churning of the primordial Milky Ocean, with the goal of harvesting the secrets to immortality. They used Mount Mandara as a churning rod and the serpent Vasuki for a twirling-cord, and they started stirring away. The first thing to emerge from the Milky Ocean was a gas that was so toxic that it threatened to destroy all of creation. Fearing destruction, they immediately stopped churning, and then approached Shiva  for protection. Shiva was powerful enough to swallow the toxic gas, enabling the gods and antigods to get back to work, stirring the cosmic waters, until they yielded up all manner of good things.

From this, we are supposed to understand that Campbell’s opinion is that we should keep right on churning — keep pursuing and relying on scientific explanations for observed phenomena — until we get past the era of toxic effects, and we can begin realizing the benefits of science move fully. Campbell’s style is to never quite make those points explicitly, and so his text requires a close reading and analysis. This can be a challenge for casual readers (like us).

Book club on Saturday the 9th!

The ghost of eternal polygamyHi everyone! I hope you’ve been enjoying our latest book, The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy by Carol Lynn Pearson! I also hope you’re planning on coming to book club at the LaFleur house on Saturday night at 7 PM.

The book is an easy, quick read, with a lot of interesting stories — both historical and current — about the toxic effects of polygamy on people’s lives, past and present.

We hope to see you Saturday!

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

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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

6/15/19 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.
8/17/19 Women Who Run With the Wolves Chapter 5 – Hunting: When the Heart is a Lonely Hunter (the Skeleton Woman story) Estes CP Skeleton Woman began as a living woman, who suffered brutally from the hands of former lovers/loved ones. Destroyed, she sinks to the bottom of a body of water and her flesh rots away. Later she is discovered by a fisherman, and it becomes a tale of healing and love.
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

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 Housewife 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.
The Wise Heart: A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology Kornfield J An accessible, comprehensive, and illuminating guide to Buddhist psychology.
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.
Why Won’t You Apologize?: Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts Lerner H Renowned psychologist sheds new light on the two most important words in the English language — I’m sorry — and offers a unique perspective on the challenge of healing broken connections and restoring trust.
The Great Divorce Lewis CS An allegorical bus ride through heaven and hell that producees insights about the nature of good and evil.
Her Body and Other Parties: Stories Machado CM The author blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism, giving literal shape to women’s memories, hunger, and desire.
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.
Love Warrior: A Memoir Melton GD A memoir of betrayal and self-discovery that chronicals a beatufiul, brilliant journey to find deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life
Sweet Lamb of Heaven Millet L A young mother escapes her cold and unfaithful husband, who chases her from Alaska to Maine as they go into hiding.
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?
A Course in Miracles Schucman H A complete course used by three million students worldwide teaches forgiveness as the road to inner peace and the remembrance of God.
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.
Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts Tavris C A revelatory study of how lovers, lawyers, doctors, politicians — and all of us — pull the wool over our own eyes.
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.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma Vanderkolk B A world expert on trauma uses scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain.
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

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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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

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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.