Welcome to the second half of the trainwreck. Part One was yesterday. First I have some news, then we’ll get down to brass tacks.
On a COMPLETELY UNRELATED note to everything said yesterday or about to be said today, Romancenovel.tv is having a day of Samhain authors guest-blogging. My blog should be up at 3:30 EST; it’s three things you didn’t know about me. Really. Go on over and check it out–Dierdre Knight is guestblogging too, and Angela James has given some awesome interview.
Yesterday JT noted that I was bitter and working with a broad brush. In a world that treats me, at bottom, as property, of course I’m bloody bitter. Just look at
Peter’sPaul’s screeds against women in the Bible. From what we can tell, Christ (if he existed at all) had no problem with women, and considered them equal members in divinity. PeterPaul didn’t feel this way, and his misogyny married to regular old misogyny in classical antiquity has poisoned our view of half of humanity ever since. And lest you try to drag out a red herring and say that other religions and cultures are misogynistic too, I agree wholeheartedly. My agreement, however, does not constitute an acceptance of this as something that should or always will be.
As for painting with a broad brush, well, I have only so much time and room here for a blog post. Last but not least, the idea that “Christ was sinless but we’re not, so you should forgive us carte blanche,” only goes so far. (Steven Barnes said over dinner, “The point of Christianity or Buddhism is not to create Buddhas or Christs. Society doesn’t want those people. They can’t be controlled.” Truer words, my friend…) Forgiveness does not equal bending over, and it does not equal stupidity in not checking identification.
Anyway, the second half of my train of thought centers on the persistent thread of body-hating in a lot of religions. The body, of course, being conflated with “matter”, “darkness”, “pollution”, and–you guessed it–”female”. The way to get out of the prison the body represents is by going upward into the sterile white (male) light of detachment/holiness.
This is such a basic assumption in Western culture that it creeps even into Western appropriations of other cultures. Even in Feuerstein’s book (which has started me thinking about these issues) he discusses verticalist (we have to get up and out of our bodies), horizontalist (concerned with material things), and integral approaches. Tantra, he says, incorporates the integral approach; but pages later he is still talking about the prison of the body. The concept soaks our worldview so thoroughly it’s difficult to break away from.
We still see God as bright, white, rational, logical, and male. (And before you start saying that God has no gender, just consider this: God may have no gender, but when you say “God” in our society, the assumptions and baseline concepts that flash through our heads is MALE. God is referred to as “he” and seen as “he” even when political correctness tries to remedy that in rewrites of the King James.) The body is a prison holding our soul back from that bright white light of rational maleness. (Which is neither truly male nor exclusively rational, like any concept.) This leaves the body–and the woman–out in the cold.
They told us Eve ate the apple, so we have to pay for it. Over and over and over again. Raped, or worn out in childbirth, or denied proper safe contraception, or beaten by those who claim to love us, or denied the right to own property (since we are largely seen as property ourselves), the unspoken assumption is that we’re paying for that bite of the apple. It’s in the media our society’s built on–let’s just examine the misogyny in the Bible, or in Shakespeare (both relics of their time, yes, but both informing ours) or even in our modern movies or television shows.
Like the sitcom where the guy can be fat, but his wife/girlfriend can’t be above a size 2. (Her place must be made small so he can shine.) Or the principle of the Bad Girl in movies, which I’ve noticed and noted before. Any woman who controls her own sexuality in a movie must either have that sexuality co-opted by the (male) hero, die, or be horribly disfigured in some way. I’ve seen ONE movie in my life that flaunted that unspoken assumption, and it never made a lot of money.
Feuerstein goes on to note that most of Tantra is an integral approach. The body is part of All That Is, so it’s sacred too. It is just as much a playground for Shakti and Shiva as the “subtler” realms. (And the division of the “subtle” realms high up and the “coarse” realms down below in the mire of physicality…telling, isn’t it. To be fair, it’s not Feuerstein’s distinction; he’s just reporting it.) This is a revolution sadly lacking (or pulled out of) a lot of radical reimaginings of religion, or even bureaucratized out of originally radical religions. (Like Christianity itself.)
This tallied so much with my half-articulated notions that I had to stop several times in the ensuing explanation to sit and really, really think about what had just been said.
When I was less than half as young as I am now, I decided I didn’t want to go to Heaven. Hell appeared just a fiction to scare people into doing what the church wanted. I had come across the concept of the Summerland, where souls went to rest before a rebirth. Before the rebirth they would look over the lessons they’d learned, and choose what they wanted next time–subject, of course, to luck. Bad luck could mean that they didn’t get around to lessons they planned on, and so they would revise their curriculum. Human rights is a way of cutting down on that bad “luck”–as well as cutting down on the distressing tendency human beings have to just be bloody nasty to each other.
I’d go on and on here about violence, but that’s another blog post.
It’s not a perfect theory. I am aware of gaping holes in it. But it works for me, and the essential part is this: I don’t want a heaven and I don’t want a hell. I like it here just fine, and I like having a body. I intend to stick around for a few billion years and see what shakes out. If everyone else enters some detached, sexless nirvana/heaven, that’s fine. I’ve got all the nirvana I need here. Yes, this place is maddening, full of accident and hurt and people being nasty to each other. Life is suffering, as the Buddha noted.
But it doesn’t have to be, and I want to do my part and be a decent person so maybe, somehow, a little of that suffering can be ameliorated. Don’t think the carrot of heaven or the stick of hell will make me jump the fences of organized religion.
If this is truly my intent, the body becomes an ally and a glory instead of a trap and something to be flogged and controlled. It is an altar to the sacred instead of something I have to starve and beat to make it match the airbrushed ideal. It becomes MINE, instead of belonging to some big male.
I don’t say it’s perfect and I don’t say I’ll never revise what I think. The problem with religion, especially when it comes to human beings, is that people decide they know everything and they stop thinking. They stop admitting when the evidence doesn’t fit their theory. Common sense dies on the vine.
To slightly change the subject, I think a lot of violence is tied up with our attitudes toward the body and toward the female. When half of humanity is the Other, and subject to intimate violence (and the threat of violence) on a daily basis just by virtue of having no dangly naughties, and we all deep-down hate our bodies anyway, it makes it a lot easier to apply that “you are the Other and therefore disposable” sticker to everyone, not just women. This is by no means the sole reason for violence. I think, however, that it is the necessary prerequisite for a huge amount and type of violence we see worldwide. I’m fully aware that there’s a broad brush at work in this particular point too. I’m just…thoughtful.
Last but not least, there’s the legislation of what I can do with my body by various “moral” and religious “authorities”. Pharmacists can use their belief in an invisible sky fairy to deny me properly-prescribed contraception. Viagra is a sacrament but RU-486 is immoral. Abortion is killing babies, when the same people who campaign against it don’t care what happens to those babies once they’re outside the womb–and PROVE they don’t care by campaigning against social programs, universal healthcare for children, or even contraception itself. Because I was born with a uterus, I am automatically property and cannot dispose of said uterus in the fashion I deem fit. And let’s not even talk about the clitoris–a word so unsafe Google has to filter it. (”Penis”, however, is just dandy).
To those “authorities”, all I can say is this. (Warning, that link is so not safe for work. And it may offend you. Click at your own risk.)
This kind of endemic cultural conditioning is hard to work against. I suspect I’ll be kicking around these issues the rest of my life. However, the working out and the thinking-out-loud are both helping. I also, I am fully aware, live in a privileged position as a citizen of the richest country on earth, in a social class where I have the leisure to think about these things when the basic needs of survival are taken care of. That privileged position does make it incumbent upon me to examine my attitudes and do what I can.
So now comes the part where I ask you a question, dear Reader, considering that you’ve hung with me for this long through the ramble. What unconscious attitudes toward the body do you see? What do you think is the way out of the mess?
Let’s talk. And as usual, be nice in the comments. Disagreement is fine. Rudeness and trolling are not. Check the comment policy if you have any questions.
 I am not doing justice to Feuerstein’s definition and explanation by half or even a quarter.
 It wasn’t even an effing apple. It was a FIG.
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