I have been reading a book, a religious commentary, being a feminist look at a male dominated Holy Bible, and specifically The New Testament. The aim of the editor of this book is stated by the her, being put into my own words: for the writings it contains to assist in liberating and broadening the present scope for experiencing religious awareness. The feminist angle of the book prefers a Lady Wisdom figure over a Father God figure; and hence the liberation and broadening experience is being offered primarily if not exclusively to women.
The commentary’s approach deprecates the historical suppression of women and of women’s voices and of women’s rights concerning positions of leadership and authority in the Church. This suppression and silencing of women runs historically from the very beginnings and earliest writings of The Yahwist and of The Priestly writers of The Old Testament; and runs right through The New Testament and into Constantine’s adoption of Christianity for it to become The State Religion of The Roman Empire. Moreover it has run historically right up to and into the present time; and the commentary’s aim is to disrupt this malignant status quo and to posit a broader more enlightened one; being an inclusion or maybe a superposition of a Lady Wisdom alongside or over above The Lord God.
I am not clear at all whereabouts such a task of such magnitude is able to begin? How does one root out millennia of Patristic culture and history and in its place set up a more equitable and more feminist figurehead of a Lady Wisdom; a sort of totem of the Matristic society which is the one to be desired.
The commentary’s editor does not make clear her understanding, if it is clear to her herself, whether a Father God is to sit alongside a Maternal Lady Wisdom figure as an equal; our whether a Father God is to be overthrown utterly by a Lady Wisdom coup; or whether a Father God is to be subservient to a Lady Wisdom figure?
There is a great obstacle so far as I am able to see things, and it obstructs the way in any such attempt as this book makes to claim status and position, recognition and respect for women, by way of examining history and historical records. The technique seems to be that somehow one should reinterpret these historical things in the light of a continuous and continual suppression and silencing of women over millennia. The big stumbling block is indeed that for better or for worse, this male hegemony has been our actual history; and pervades all our extant historical documents; and any reinterpreting them as a whole will not change this historical fact of almost ubiquitous and continuous Patristic hegemony.
Given this brute historical fact that even the feminists agree on; that more or less all history and all historical documents partake of and have partaken of this Patristic hegemony; then whereabouts does one begin to unravel the inevitable redactions, the omissions, the falsifications the misapprehensions the biases, the lies the prejudices, suppressions, exaggerations,slurs, presumptions, malignities, the truth even; together with the sheer universal wrongheadenesses of wall to wall masculine traditional Patristic outlooks?
Is it not a task akin to an attempt say to rebuild an ancient building such perhaps St Peter’s in Rome, wholly anew and from the foundations upwards; and in a post modernist style of architecture; and yet with The Pope, his Cardinals, and his retinues and Curia and art treasures etc etc all still in situ in the present St Peter’s building and dwelling there and situated therein, and all doing everything just as before the time the new building had begun; all the same duties, tasks, pastimes, admin, meals, cleaning etc etc, and without these persons and their activities allowing for or tolerating any let or hindrance from those builders and planners of the new post-modern building; and for all this and even so the architects etc are yet expecting perfection; and no farrago of a half-cocked edifice to be the completed and wholly new Papal Palace?
The logistics are just too, too, entangled; and are too too entangled within themselves; interrelated, interwoven, interleaved, interdependent; for any generally acceptable and accepted method of approach or success in such a method to be had.
I mean not success in a transformation of how we see God as being male and Fatherly to seeing her as female and Motherly; that can be done by sheer propaganda and marketing. I mean success in paving the way to such a change in outlook adequately by means of mining and in doing so trying to undermine history itself. There is going to be no common consensus available , say, amongst scholars and those competent to judge, men and/or women, feminists and old school; and to be had from such a massive archaeological shindig in basement libraries western Christendom.
How for instance does a scholar identify a redaction from an error, from a typo, from a lie, from a genuine (what might be a genuine?) line or verse in The New Testament or in The Annals of Rome or in The Victorian Fathers? The layers upon layers of overlay and fogs are immense and largely are indistinguishable in their particulars. In the early part of the 20th century there was a scholarly theological movement abroad in search of The Historical Jesus; which had scholars busy for decades paring away at items here and at items there from scripture and from one another’s works; sifting and weighing, weighting and discarding, omitting and re-evaluating; and a grievous mess they dug themselves into. It was a classic story of paring away of the layers of an onion; and ending with a final layer pared away and nothing left, no core or kernel visible or substantive to see or to hold onto.
This quest to set up Lady Wisdom out of the scalpings and siftings of Christian religious and other western history is very similar, and parallels this quest for Jesus; except it is much much more involved and crazy. There can be no hard core, no bedrock, no common or commonsense consensus come out of such a ludicrously over-ambitious and slightly megalomanic endeavour.
It reminds me of that great hero Don Quixote whose mind was so utterly turned and of how this led him to ‘tilt at windmills’ and anachronistically out of time to become a knight errant and do doughty deeds of service for the sake of his fair lady Dulcinea. His mind was turned utterly by his overmuch interminable reading of thick and neverending fantastical medieval romances of chivalry and of dragons and quests and tourneys. Is it Montaigne or Bacon who says that much reading subdueth the spirit?
In addition I take exception with this same lady editor’s intended programme of action with history; by which means she hopes to lay a basis for overturning that same history. She interprets ever in a materialist politico-economic fashion; and in her takes on the actions and policies of Constantine typify how methodologically she attempts to reduce motives and reasons for actions and movements, trends and waves of history. This reductionist method appears to be this editor casting an almost universally cynical Machiavellian-like weather-eye towards expediency an expediency for herself and for her agendas, and expediency as all the motive in the historical actors and thinkers she discusses . Her own plans and subtexts ect, as expressed in her introduction would not appear so noble and so generous under interrogation under the same lampshade of a similar Thought Police.
An enlightening example of this editor’s version of history runs like this; she offers this analysis regarding Constantine’s decision for an adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire.
Constantine wanted a ‘glue’ to ‘glue’ the disparate peoples, ethnicities, creeds and cultures of the Empire.
He wanted a ‘glue’ which would require submissiveness of his peoples to it; and thus to himself as Christianity’s State sponsor.
He had 50 copies of the Scriptures made by Eusebius The Early Church historian and Bishop; made for use in public readings from them so as to help effect these aims.
The Epistles and other Scriptures were tailored (not sure but I think the editor means redacted) to better suit these aims of Constantine
The idea of Christ as Imperator was beefed up by Constantine to forward this “means of controlling” agenda he wanted to effect
One gets the gist of the editor’s approach to Constantine and to history in general from these five bulletted items which she claims are the historical case.
Strikingly it is a version of history which carries no allowance for the action of Divine or Providential events; no room for any metaphysic to be considered; and merely reduces all human politics to machination and to expedient actions to suit current ends
From proposing this political expedience of ‘interference’ in/with the Scriptures and their message allegedly ordered by Constantine, the book’s editor goes on to consider the canon of The New Testament; as this developed and became more fixed historically; and considers why some books were chosen for inclusion and some rejected from it; and she laments all the way the hegemony of male influence in this act of selection and in the items selected themselves.
Again this New Testament canon is wholly analysed by her in terms of actions being done merely for contingent political expedience; and all being based on a dominant oppressive agenda run by males and which excludes and deprecates the women of The Early Church and of the Scriptures. The lady editor does not make clear whether she believes this exclusion and deprecation of women was consciously or semi-consciously or unconsciously perpetrated by males; which consideration is important in regard to the strength of the moral case women might have for wanting to right such wrongs. It is also important as a consideration regarding the levels of aggression or else of persuasion, which might be justified for this enlightening approach she wants to take.
The lady editor posits that the Apocryphal New Testament writings and other analogous writings might be considered, and reconsidered for including in (I am presuming) a larger more liberal, more amorphous and fluid feminist canon; here thus enters her agenda for broadening and liberalising religious experience for people; chiefly for women.
Once again she is opening a ‘can of worms’ here, just as she was with the airbrushing of history I talked about earlier; a can of worms which is like that one opened by ‘Incrediboy’ – “Buddy Pine” in fact – in Disney’s movie ‘The Incredibles’; and who says regarding super powers: “One day everyone wil be super – and then no-one will be”. Such an extension of a canon envisaged by this woman editor would dilute severely any religious message it might contain; not just dilute but confuse, conflate and generally make even more anarchic the field of Religious studies and Christian beliefs than it is today. We shall be left with a mess; possibly worse contentions-wise than us having no clear guidance at all on what actually happened in ancient days in Jerusalem etc, etc.
The woman editor’s attitude is uncompromising and is avowedly destructive to male hegemony. I believe it is equally destructive towards Scripture and to Christian life. I think it is meant to be so.
The insidious thing about the commentary and its intentions, is that it intends to use an ideological approach to its work, and towards history, towards Scripture, towards the canon, towards Patristic hegemony; and towards all of the commentary’s plaints and themes; an ideological approach which is ever absorbent, like Capitalism, of it oppositions; so as to have a capacity to draw these oppositions into itself and so make them explainable, explain them away, by that same ideological dogma.
Thus is created a restricted and closed circle for explanation of phenomena; providing an answer for everything; but always and only in the terms of the approach of reductive empiricist militant feminist politics. More: this ideological approach being used is one which utilises a bland and restrictive, a materialist and political, foundation for its feminist interpretations of every feature of life.
This is a commonplace means which arguers from a one-eyed perspective like to use because such a means and its usage acts to demean and to make little of even the most beautiful and sublime, valuable and transcendental features of existence and of life. Everything, literally everything, is metaphorically tarred with the same brush by use of such crude approaches; and sadly even those agendas which a book such as this commentary advocates and wishes to see arrive; they likewise become tarnished and appear low and are seen as being mere self-interest and a going always after the main chance.
Yet this ubiquitous tarbrush choice of approach is in fact and ironically the only one which is able viably to be put forward by the lady editor in her attempt to forward her purposes. Let me correct that statement from ‘viable’ to ‘the one with the best appearance of viability’. As I have said, for this editor, all of history, not its interpretation only, but the brute fact of it as well; over a course of millennia has been a male hegemony. And she has to ransack, demolish, make dross out of it, in order for her hopes to begin to seed and bear fruit for her purposes.
Thus she has to use an ideological basis which ubiquitously is capable of tarring all such history with a single brush; a brush which leaves it devalued and belittled and reduced to a crass formula of fairly stereotypical oppressions, ruses, and dominations; all which have been lowly and surreptitiously applied.
In short her approach smacks of that same ugly type outlook which Lenin had and used; employing any ugly means to defeat his enemies and yet he thought he could remain free of corruption and stain in his building of a new world order.
It is not the problem of the oppression of women and their rights to equal freedoms etc to which I am objecting.
I am objecting to the usage of a self-contained materialist, empirical reductionist ideology with complete ubiquity; which use means that for consistency and integrity of approach, even the sacred truths of the gospels and of Christ himself would by necessity have to be eyed and analysed after such a method; which thought strikes me as an appalling way to go about things, and close to being blasphemous.
A short digression here. I have found when watching TV in particular that presenters of programmes which one might consider categorised as non-fictional; history shows and science shows almost exclusively; there has been consideration of the subject matter of their shows made by presenters after the following formula.
The presenter is an academic; s/he is a specialist in the topic about which the TV show is a series or a one-off broadcast. S/he is very enthusiastic about the topic; s/he is so enthusiastic s/he is often partisan about it in several ways. Firstly it is commonplace for an academic on TV in such s a programme to have ‘an agenda’; thus using the TV exposure to promulgate what is essentially a political or social issue current and under consideration in the media.
Very often with women academics it is simply women’s issues; for example – a woman academic lately ran a series of programmes on the Queens of Ancient Egypt; and of course they were portrayed to a woman as being the powers behind the throne; or else as being tough rulers in their own right. Femininity and secular power were bigged-up and in this respect the series was a one-horse affair.
I believe a lot of these academics see themselves as ‘redressing the balance’ with an eye to catching early viewers who are those most malleable; say the young or students; and attempting to sow a seed of social change by use of positive discrimination which emphasises the political or social issues which presenters view as being in need of correction/adjustment.
Lately we had a guy on TV; another historian expatiating eagerly about and extolling the Muslim world and its (enormous and formative) contributions to Western civilisation. The guy was not Arab or Asiatic; but seemed a born and bred native Brit. He looked pretty much Anglo-Saxon in heritage; and had he been obviously a native of a Muslim nation I believe there would have been nothing much to say or to wonder at.
The guy had all the fervour and energy of a proselyte; whether to Islam or to Arab culture I do not know. Yet with a clear disdain for western civilisation he managed to big-up Arab civilisation by belittling European civilisation. By making European civilisation seem to be abjectly dependent historically on the fact of Arab civilisation
Of course there’s a limited case to be made here for the debt westerners owe to Arab scholars and their learning; but this guy went the whole nine yards.
Again we have academic scholars who are scientists presenting programmes on geology; and on colours; and on ‘life, the universe and everything’; and on mathematics and so on; all actual topics recently seen on TV; and all presenters claiming, like the Arab culture guy; that everything we have in our civilisation right now utterly depends for its existence, and on its existence in the form we have it, on the history of whatever is the topic of the programme.
People used to say things like ‘I was literally….’ or else ‘I’ve told you a million times..’ until these idioms were shut down by pedants and by savants; but this claiming that ‘I am the real one with the secrets of our civilisation…’ which these academics on TV peddle – this ought to be shut down.
At best it is sheer engaged enthusiasm for their topic; at worst it is a limp projection of the ego of the presenter; an ego which is demanding greater honour and attention than it presently is able to draw to itself. Look at me it says – I have The Answer.
Well the lady editor of the commentary I feel was a similar kind of personality; one who was projecting her own sense of (personal?) injustice and grief at the deplorable suppression of women in the Patristic cultures of the west and over the course of millennia. I believe she too was attempting to ‘redress a balance’ by means of ‘positive discrimination’; and maybe she was going further – since there were no male contributors in her book and her eye seemed to be exclusively on a female readership for it – I think maybe she was going for a total overthrow of Patristic culture and substituting for it in the west a Matristic one ? She came across as fiercely uncompromising.
She too was like the TV presenters I describe, and she was placing all the ills of the world at the feet of the history of male domination of the world; and conversely all her griefs and offended feelings seemed like they could be mended simply by the world adopting her Matristic regime. This digression ends here.
Another important consideration concerning all such self-contained and all-embracing ideologies is one which concerns such regimes making an almost absolute exclusion of metaphysics; and taking only an empirical expedience approach. I suspect that if one is going to disallow in one’s world any view or symptom of a Hand of God at work in any history; for instance, in those events and deeds which occurred during the time of Constantine; when he decreed Christianity the religion of the Empire; then one has to apply this razor-like rule of self-contained exclusion which one has used on Constantine with all consistency and thus say that no metaphysical events occurred in Palestine in the early first century AD. Jesus the Christ reduced to Jesus the soothsayer; Jesus the rabble-rouser etc etc.
Yet I am persuaded I am able to make a case here for the necessity of metaphysics in human life and thought; not a psychological necessity only, but more importantly in this regard here perhaps, an empirical necessity. Thus doing I am meeting for battle this woman’s commentary and her outlook head on and on her own terms. Such a proposal might sound fantastical to you and you won’t believe such an empirical proof of the necessity for metaphysics is possible to be had. Well I believe I can get very close to it if not actually to it. Read on.
Now I believe that if I am able to formulate a question which is at once empirical and so valid to be asked in the eyes of scorners of metaphysics; and yet which question by its being asked of necessity opens up a field of speculation for consideration in which answers to it might legitimately be looked for – necessarily empirically asked – necessarily opening a field for speculation – then the closed-ideology of materialist empiricists is brought into doubt. It cannot be a true image in thought of the actual nature of existence.
Such a question I believe is this:
“Why is there the world, the universe, things in existence in general; and there is not nothing?”
It is an undoubted fact that something exists. Most of us tend to believe the world and the universe outside us exists. Even a very odd person who does not believe this is so would have to admit something exists – a simulacrum or a mind image or some such phenomenon at the least. The question thus refers to what is there and it does so in materialist empircist terms. It is an empirical question.
Yet it is unanswerable without resort to metaphysics; and this is because it is an empirical question on the cusp of things which exist and it is also a question outward-facing on this cusp into a region of speculation wherein empiricism, materialism and science are unable to help with an answer.
Thus this question of mine is the question which demands that a further sphere of mental exploration be acknowledged as being necessary and legitimate to refer to for its answering.
Now as regards this question being on the cusp between existence as we observe it and another realm (of metaphysics) to be mused upon; there is another instance of an incident recorded as having occurred empirically and materially; and which incident was and yet remains on the cusp between what we see, hear, and freely admit to exist, and a metaphysical realm.
This other instance is perhaps the more important of the two instances I have mentioned; this instance is the full and final Revelation by God of Himself as seen in the Incarnation and Life Death and Resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ. This is an instance of two worlds meeting; our commonplace everyday world as we know it and that world which is at once beyond us and yet encompasses us, and our world. This is an this instance which is that single definitive ‘clue’given to humankind across all human history – an empirical event which confirms as best as can be confirmed the fact of a metaphysical realm being actual; a realm to which otherwise we would not be privy; a world which is here around us and is within us and yet also beyond us and everywhere.
In the parable of Dives and Lazarus as Jesus tells it in the gospels, Jesus says about such belief and faith:
“If they will not believe Moses and the Prophets they will not believe even were one to come back from the dead”
Now ask yourself a question and answer it truly. Be ruthless. Find no favour with either side of the matter. What might evidence look like to you which confirms you in a belief in a metaphysical realm? What might have to happen in the world for you to believe in such a metaphysical world; if you do not believe in one already?
Now consider: Is there anything which has not been done already and which you believe could or ought to be done to prove such a metaphysical world exists? Think about Jesus as Divine Revelation; on his life and his Incarnation; on the gospel narratives as historical documents; and think on the question about ‘why is there not nothing but definitely something here and in existence?’ What further is needed,what do you hope to see or hear, which might clinch the question for you? Or are you a closed book? Too entrenched, dyed in the wool, too long in the tooth to make the shift?
I am going to write next time I hope about a branch of what might be termed Intelligent Design theory; a theory which imputes order and a purposeful overall shaping of our existences and of the universe. Intelligent Design gets a bad press because, its detractors say, it cannot be proven, and it is unscientific.
To finish up here now I am going to suggest that we should in my next essay look at the role of coincidence in what I prefer myself to call The Creation (The Universe) – indeed of multiple and colossal coincidence, layered layer upon layer within the very nature of things. Interwoven, interactive, interdependent and interrelated.
Thank you for bearing with me.