Tag Archives: Catholicism

The Papacy and the Penis

Christianity isn’t the only religion to have relegated women to the back rows and lesser positions in the church (if any) but Catholicism definitely rates high on the list of religious groups that discriminate against women. All those religions who begin with Adam and Eve see the world in a certain light. As the Genesis story goes, Eve was tempted by the serpent to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The other tree was the tree of life. Eve made the choice and then convinced Adam to take a bite.

Pope Joan, women in the church, Catholicism

Pope Joan was obliterated from the Vatican’s history. Wikimedia commons.

And so, through time it’s the woman’s fault for the fact that the man was weak, couldn’t make his own decision, followed in her footsteps and has never ever lived it down? Interestingly, humanity’s “flaw” was originally that Eve chose to know about good and evil, to be self-aware, that had them kicked out of a never-changing (and possibly boring) paradise. After all, we must never forget that although God made us in its/his/her own image, humanity was also given the ability to choose, not obey mindlessly.

The original sin, therefore was choosing to know. But Christianity was spawned out of Judaism and older religions and a time when women were already considered the lesser being of the race by some cultures. As it developed from a cultic following into a religion the church fathers slowly puffing up on their own importance until they ruled over kings and ordained what was to be with the mortal soul. They also put women in their place.  Whether this was because of some repressed homosexuality or woman hating or weird issues of control, we’ll never know for sure. It seems at least that St. Peter was very jealous of Mary Magdalene and didn’t like women.

By the fourth and fifth centuries Christianity was much more theologized, philosophized and codified. There were women priests and deacons but the tides were turning against them. Part of the reason was that church doctrine, run more and more only by men said that the original sin and the downfall of “man” was not seeking knowledge, but was Eve’s fault and that that original sin was sex. Yes, sex, something that is part of almost all species  in the continuation of a race. But it was slowly relegated to stricter and stricter guidelines as the Church sought to control people and gain wealth. No sex on Sundays, no sex on feast days, sex only after dark, no fun sex, sex only for propagation because the more you had sex the farther you were from being a perfect being. Of course if the church succeeded 100% with having everyone abstain from sex (a somewhat unnatural form for any living being) then they would have been so good the human race would have ceased to exist. Would that make Christianity nihilistic?

In the highly male dominated church world, where woman were the seductresses and whores, the sensual and lascivious, the emotional and the simple, there came a secret that the Catholic church has tried to hide ever since but there is enough evidence that it truly happened. People lived in a world dominated by the penis, whether the mace carried in parliament, the rod and scepter of royalty or the holy rood of the church, the phallic emblem indicated power to wield over others.

But in the 9th century there was a young woman who learned keenly and intelligently. Her name was Johanna. Through many different travels she managed to work her way up through the church, disguised as Brother Johann. In the days of the middle and dark ages, men and women wore similar garments, long robes. A slim woman or one who bound her breasts, who wasn’t particularly feminine looking (remember they didn’t wear make-up or push-up bras then, could easily look like a man. So it was with Johanna, or Johannus.

She fooled the Roman Catholic church enough that she became pope. After a short reign on the papal throne she was discovered when she gave birth on a papal procession and was either stoned to death, deposed or died of the birth. There were two Pope John XIVs, and there might have been a Pope Joan in the 11th to the 9th century. Or perhaps it is made up, just a fiction. One thing is for sure, the Church would want it to be a fiction, to not support it with fact and to hide any information that could be construed as truth. And why? Not be cause it doesn’t follow what’s true but because it would mean a woman rose to the highest station  possible, and if one woman could do it, why not others? They wouldn’t then be inferior creatures, would they? The penis would begin to wilt and not be quite so mighty.

Some Catholic women have begun to petition and protest to the Vatican insisting on ordination for women. Whereas many branches of Christianity now have ordained women, the Roman Catholic Church resists change and equality with a ferocity that Peter would be proud of. You have to really wonder, what are they so afraid of? If women really are the inferior creatures talked about by the Church, then why did Jesus reveal his resurrected self first to a woman, and Eve wouldn’t have chosen knowledge over eternal life.

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I Don’t Get Religious Coverings

I should title this “I don’t get religious head coverings” but in essence it applies to any covering. Now I imagine this post will probably get me in the bad books of a lot of religions, but let’s just say I’m not against a religious covering in one religion or necessarily all religions. I’ve actually put off writing this for a long time, not out of fear but because I thought I should educate myself more. But there are a lot of religions and no matter how much I read I’m likely to miss some crucial element somewhere. And like every layperson out there I have questions that probably only a scholar could answer.

So, let me frame my confusion with this statement: I am an egalitarian. I expect and believe that everyone should be given an equal opportunity, whether in jobs, lifestyle or religion and that one group is not made to do differently than another because of gender or race. I have a huge problem with any religion that allows priests/clerics/spiritual leaders to be of only one gender. And there are many. Catholicism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism. There are sects in these religions that often allow for female leaders but overall, the pope can only be a man, the Dalai Lama (only one sect of Buddhism) is always a man, Jewish and Muslim leaders/holy men seem to only be men. Hinduism does seem to be one religion that has no leader over others though different sects might worship a female god or a male one. Paganism likewise has both male and female priests but again there are sects that are male or female exclusive.

But when it gets down to the clothing and the headgear I ask why does one person wear it over the other and how does this treat all human beings as equal? Jewish men wear the yarmulke/kippah (as well as the pope and other ranks in Catholicism), Sikh men wear the turban, Tuareg men wear the veil/turban but the women don’t. Muslim women wear the burka or veil, but the men don’t. Catholic nuns (some of them wear the wimple) but the men don’t though they wear a mitre or kippah on their heads. Why?

At one time in all these cultures’ histories, their robes were the style of the time. Then the religion became codified and traditionalized, setting like cement in time and never more to have the clothing change. Why do Christian priests wear cassocks and the nuns wear wimples: because it was the style when the church finally gained its true strength. Clothing wasn’t part of the religion and then it was. And suddenly, what was cultural dress became symbolism for faith. I can understand a faith that says your hair or head needs to be covered under the eyes of God (or whatever) but then it shouldn’t be a veil for women or a turban for men while the other gender gets to wear nothing or little. I also wonder why, if God created us, in all these religions, why he should want us to then hide? Shouldn’t we shine with the glory of his/her creation?

I’ve attended Native/First Nation sweats where a man could go in, in shorts but a woman had to be covered from neck to ankle and to wrist. Why? Because  a woman might be enticing? So, does that mean a semi-nude man isn’t enticing and why is it the woman’s responsibility for a man’s reaction? To me that says that men are animals, wild and uncontrollable and if that’s the case, they should not be in charge of anything, should they? The sweat was pitch black and so hot you didn’t want to touch yourself let alone anyone else and the farthest thing on anyone’s mind was sex. But still the women had to carry the brunt of this bigotry.

So why is a woman made to wear a burka or cover her hair? Why doesn’t a man have to do the same? Is a woman’s hair too beautiful and God is jealous? Are men going to turn into ravening, covetous animals? Shouldn’t they be chained and hobbled then? Is a man’s hair too boring to be enticing? How is it fair in any religion where a god or gods treats one half of his/her creations better or worse over the other? That already sets up a hierarchy of favoritism just based on gender. Not very good grounds for believing if you’re the underdog in the religion.

It is not the belief or faith, or tenets of the religion itself, where the pursuit is spiritual enlightenment that bothers me. It is the strictures and restrictions on only certain groups within the religion (or those outside of it) that disturb me greatly. Albeit, in all these religions, and the ones I haven’t mentioned there are sects, and a range of tolerance from acceptability to fundamental condemnation, and I use the word fundamental with all its horrid connotations. Fundamentalism in any religion is a sign of intolerance and fear, without a willingness to believe that people are different. But people should be able to choose, not be shamed, guilt-tripped or subjugated into the role of religious unworthy in their belief system.

If a religion requires a robe or a headcovering, then make it the same for everyone, not of two different levels depending on whether you’re blessed or only slightly blessed. I would find it hard to follow/convert to any spiritual belief where my god already saw me as a lesser being than my fellow believers. I’m waiting for someone to enlighten me.

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Book Review: The Word of God

You might think this is a religious book and in a way it is. The Word of God, or Holy Writ Rewritten, by Thomas Disch, (Tachyon Publications, San Francisco, 2008) was written not so much as a refutation to other religions, but, as Disch puts it, to establish himself as a deity. He begins his book discussing that the only way to talk to many religions, especially the fundamental ones, is to argue on their own level and point out that he too is a god and what his religion looks like.

It is witty, scathing, funny, illuminating. In part this is an autobiography of Disch’s life, but as a pastiche, not as a whole. It is part philosophy and condemnation of many conservative religions, especially Christianity. Disch was raised a Catholic and was publicly gay and since this is his “holy writ” it of course talks of religion in many guises quite a bit.

The book is also a collection of some poems and short stories, interspersed to give examples of birth, afterlife, reincarnation and judgment: “The New Me,” “Room Service,” “The Second Coming of the Christ,” “A Man of Mystery” “A Ranch House on the Styx,” “The School for Traitors,” “On the Road” and “Deus Ex Machina” almost all string together (some continuations of the same story) and of course all do touch on religion and the events that came together to create Thomas Disch. He was the illegitimate child of Thomas Mann, the prolific German writer and Nobel prize winner, though you will not find this listed in either Disch’s or Mann’s Wiki entry (and his father is missing altogether in his entry).

Many of these stories have Philip K. Dick in them, as a sort of antiChrist and in hell. It’s hard to tell from this if Disch had always hated Dick (since he wrote a poetic eulogy for Dick, which is in the book) or if he only came to despise Dick’s right-wing, bigoted, perhaps drug-induced opinions later, when Dick reported Disch to the FBI as a subversive. What the outcome of Dick’s confabulations were is unclear.

Thomas Disch was known to the SF community and was nominated numerous times for awards (and won some), but he also wrote a great deal of poetry, criticisms and other works, and had earlier aspirations in architecture. The book starts out in the present, around Christmas of 2005 when he began to write it, and he finishes on February 2nd, his birthday. Disch lived with his long time partner, Charles Naylor who died in 2005. Disch himself suffered from several illnesses and had a string of personal setbacks, besides being depressed by his partner’s death.

He took his life in July, 2008, just months before Word of God was published. It is somewhat ironic to read his words in this book that proclaims his deity and see where he was at and where life took him to. This is not his last book as I believe a posthumous work will be published this year. I enjoyed Word of God and it gave me a new look at Disch, his mind and his life. I had read his works, On Wings of Song and The Priest which was pretty scathing to the Catholic church while at the same time being deftly written enough for you to care for the very corrupt priest.

And if nothing else, I’m very curious as to what went on between Philip K. Dick, a great experimenter of drugs, married five times, and Thomas Disch, an openly gay man, all those years ago. They were both brilliant writers and characters in their own ways. Here’s to the god Disch and his ascension to his own heaven. Word of God, definitely worth a read, informative and entertaining throughout.

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