Jimmy Carter is My Hero

I have always loved and respected President Carter.  My admiration for him increases every year.  If Protestants had saints, he’d be a good candidate.

Losing my religion for equality…by Jimmy Carter

25 JANUARY 2013

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasize the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.

OBSERVER

Jimmy Carter was president of the United States from 1977 to 1981.

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

 

 

Of Gods and Humans

I’m watching Of Gods and Men.  It’s about a group of French Trappist monks who chose to stay in their community rather than flee to safety during the Algerian civil war.  They were kidnapped in 1995 by terrorists, but their death was never explained.  Some have argued that Algerian soldiers killed them during a botched rescue attempt.  The first part of the movie shows the monks selling their own honey and vegetables in the market, offering medical care and advice to the locals, who are mostly Islamic.   When fundamentalists come to their town, the town leaders come to consult with the monks.  When the terrorists come closer and begin to kill all foreigners, the monks refuse military protection.  The Algerian army, in fact, is just as brutal and violent as the terrorists.   This beautiful movie highlights the monks’ incredible forbearance and dedication to peace.  It is a portrait of truly peaceful Christian practice, so unlike the practice of our allegedly Christian, elected representatives, who wage war around the world and who never cease to find reasons to kill and main and destroy in the name of freedom.  But the film also highlights the peace and love that are central to Islam, as well, showing the daily lives of the people, their friendliness, their vulnerability, and their civility.  The terrorists are presented as men at odds with Islam, men who hardly know the Koran and who have a simplistic and militaristic interpretation of scripture.  They are not unlike those among us who vote for bombs and landmines and hatred for people who don’t worship the same god.

Since I have returned from Nepal I have reclaimed my sense that we are all united in a great web of being, of aliveness and no longer identify myself as an atheist.  Love is our greatest resource, the power most essential to our nature as well as the link between us all.  We are not singular and cut off from one another.  We only exist with one another, in relation to one another, and the relationship that we have with one another when we are being true to ourselves is loving.  We are true to ourselves when we treat each other with love and compassion.   Everything else about us—guns, violence, hatred, oppression, war—is against our truest nature.

Since I have embraced this essentially spiritual way of understanding the world, which was always very basic, if buried, in me, my attitude towards other believers, especially Christians, has changed.  I’m no longer angry.    I still dislike the masculinism underlying the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam), the ancient and arbitrary division between Self and Other that recognizes men as subjects and women as objects, but I have given up the burden of burning indignation.  My fury and resentment hurt me more than objects of my fury.  As Donna Farhi relates, “harboring resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

The Dalai Lama was asked how he could feel loving kindness for the Chinese, who invaded his country, destroyed most of the monasteries, murdered thousands of Tibetans, and were continuing to repress and eradicate his people and culture.  He was silent for a long time, and finally answered that he distinguished between the act and the agent.  He could repudiate the actions of the Chinese but still feel compassion for the Chinese agents who brutalized his people.  They are suffering greatly, after all, because they have strayed so far from their true nature.

My true self is not the crazy tangle of thoughts and emotions that continuously run through my mind, nor my ever-changing body, but rather the silent, neutral witness of my experiences in the world.  It is this quiet aliveness, this prana, the shimmering vitality that I share with all other sentient beings, the life-force that courses through the forests, the oceans, the mountains, the rocks, the sun, the fiery core of our planet, the rivers, the plains, all plants, all organisms, even the stars themselves, that is my truest ground of being.  This is what Rainer Maria Rilke calls “the infinite ground of our deepest vibration.”  As he wrote,

Be in front of all parting as though it were already behind you,

Like the winter just gone by.

Because among winters is one so endlessly winter.

Only by over-wintering does your heart survive.

Be and know at that time the state of non-being,

The infinite ground of our deepest vibration

So that you may wholly complete it this one time.

Sonnets to Orpheus, 11.13.

Kalidas’s House

As soon as I moved into Kalidas’s unhappy house, I realized that I had had it with Nepal.  I like Kalidas, in spite of his domineering ways.  He looks me straight in the eyes, which Sugandha rarely did.   And he shows the pain of their terrible loss.  Not five months ago, they lost their 19 year-old daughter to cancer.  He told me directly that the reason he wanted me to live with them was to keep his wife company and to teach her English.  I feel sorry for them, but I also think they expect too much from me.

I needed a place where I could relax and recover from the long, hot days.  Communal dinners with the other volunteers living at Sugandha’s house provided a wonderful respite.  There was much laughter, usually because Brendan was entertaining everyone with silly impersonations of redneck, gun-toting Americans trying to speak Nepali or interacting with foreigners of any kind.  He has a gift for jokes—they just tumble out of his mouth.  The Brits found him hilarious and insisted that he should be on TV.   At Kalidas’s house, I was the entertainment and the teacher at once.  Dinner was an exhausting ordeal of answering personal questions or dodging obvious traps such as the following:

Kalidas: We Nepalis have such a relaxed way of life, whereas you westerners are rushing around all the time.

Me: Yes, we live to work, while you work to live.

Kalidas: Who has the better life, Nepalis or Westerners?

Me:  Um, well, it depends on which Nepalis and which Westerners you’re talking about.  Do you mean Kathmandu street children?  Do you mean wealthy businessmen such as yourself?

Kalidas, ignoring my efforts to complicate the question entirely: Which lifestyle is healthier?  Who has the better life?

Me:  I really couldn’t say. I’m sorry, I just can’t seem to decide.

Kalidas: We Nepalis have the better life….

And here would commence another long lecture about the superiority of Nepal.  After two days in his house, Kalidas had convinced himself that I would soon see the light, marry a proper Nepali man, and settle here, in Pepsi-Cola.

It was awkward.  I had to get out of there, and did.  After a week at this house I rode my bike to Boudha.  The ride home that night was hilarious and harrowing. I will write about it in a separate post

Why We Blame the Patriarchy

And if you’re wondering why we continually blame the patriarchy, read this:

12 year old Yemeni girl drugged, raped by 50 year old husband

Filed under: ChildrenCivil RightsHodeidahWomen’s Issues — by Jane Novak at 10:30 am on Sunday, August 7, 2011

Seeks a savior

Hodiedah: In an interview with Marib Press, 12 year old “Hanadi” said she was forced into marriage by her impoverished father to pay a debt. Her husband tried repeatedly to rape her, her tears were no deterrent, and he threatened to beat her. After three days, he drugged by her with sleeping pills in her juice. She woke up bruised, confused and bleeding. The child ran away and is currently in the Hodiedah CID, appealing to Human Rights Organizations to save her. A medical exam proves the child was violently raped. The father and husband were interviewed by police. The father asserts the husband promised not to engage in intercourse until she was older. The husband says he didn’t touch her.

“12 year old Hanadi launched a distress call to the Ministry of Human Rights and human rights organizations demanding urgent intervention and to direct the security agencies to arrest the looter of her childhood and to investigate him and refer him to the judiciary.”

The issue is where is she going to go live. And its questionable if either the father or husband will be charged with a crime. There is no law in Yemen designating a minimum marriage age. Without publicity, she might have to go back. If she does not return to her husband, the father’s debt is still in force because she was basically sold like a slave. Children are frequently used as chattel. At least half of all marriages in Yemen occur before 16. Unsurprisingly, Yemen’s youthful female revolutionaries are quite determined to overthrow the system.

On the way home, part 1: Nepali Sexual Politics

On my way home, part one:

I have not been able to write for a while because I have had very limited access to the internet.  Also, my last days here in Nepal have been richly complicated and busy, and I have not had the energy or ability to post.  Right now I’m sitting in a delightful garden café at the Shechen Gompa, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery near the great stupa called Boudha.

There are magnolia and mango trees, and swooping bushy hot pink and orange bougainvillea vines, hibiscus bushes, marigolds, impatiens and countless other shade and sun flowers I cannot name.  I have spent a lot of time here in the last week.

There is much to report, much to record, and much more to consider.  For now I’m going to upload some thoughts that I wrote during my transition from the last post to today.  During that period bedbugs drove me out of Sugandha’s house and into what Sugandha called a palace.  It was a nice, upper middle-class Nepali house.  I lasted less than a week and ended up here.  Brendan moved over with me a few days ago.  We’re sharing a well-appointed room at the Tharlam gompa and have had many adventures and conversations.

25 July, 2011

I’m having a difficult time adjusting to the new house.  First of all, I miss Brendan.  I don’t like having breakfast and dinner without him, and I liked getting to say goodnight.   Second of all, I have a lot less privacy here.  Every move is scrutinized.  Not so much by the wife, Nirmala, as by the husband, Kalidas, a traditional Nepali man.  When trying to make conversation on the first day, I asked Nirmala what she liked to do.  Did she like to garden?  Yes.  She told me about her garden.  Did she like to cook?  She hesitated, and then Kalidas interrupted, practically shouting, “Cooking is her duty!”  It didn’t matter to him whether or not she liked it.   He asked lots of personal questions, as Nepalis tend to do, and quickly discerned that I was divorced, a status that most Nepalis find disgraceful.  He makes me uncomfortable.

I don’t have the nice view from the room that I had at Sugandha’s house, and I can’t hear the frogs chirping in the fields at night.  I can’t sleep because the bed is super-hard and the machine that recharges the battery intermittently fires off a round of zaps like a machine gun.  This noise goes on from about 9 pm to 2 am.

Kalidas does not approve that I get up at 7 in the morning.  He likes to inform me that he gets up at 5.  He plays badminton with three other Nepali businessmen, who come over afterwards and drink tea on the front porch.  They keep the front door wide open so when I come out to take a shower they are all there gaping.

At meal times, Nirmala serves Kalidas, then me, and hovers at the table to see if we want any more vegetable curry or rice.  I am so sick of dal bhat. Somehow I have got to persuade her not to pile the rice into a mountain on my plate.  If I say “pugyo,” or “I am full,” when she wants to give me more, Kalidas suggests that I do not like the food.  Nirmala sits only after Kalidas has had his second or third helping.  I want to wait for her to finish her food before leaving the table, but Kalidas gets impatient and wants me to bring my dishes to the sink as soon as possible.  He barks at me to get up, so I do.  He is used to ordering women around.  I find this unsettling.  I like Nirmala and am willing to like Kalidas.

Nepali sexual politics are difficult for me.  There are four ways to address a person in the language: the very, very formal “You” (hajur) used for kings and magistrates; the ordinarily formal “You” (tapaai); the very familiar “timi” used for children and between friends; and the very low “ta” which is used for dogs, lower beings and between intimates.  Kalidas says “ta” to his wife but she says “tapaai” to him.  He addresses her by her first name.  She always and only says “tapaai” to him.  “The husband dominates the wife,” he explains to me as she sits beside him smiling and agreeing.  Nirmala never leaves the house.  Her sister-in-law comes over with her 18 month-old during the day and they watch t.v..  Nirmala keeps a relatively clean house—but the bathrooms are not nearly as clean as mine back home.

They are Brahmin and not particularly religious, which is somewhat of a relief after Sova’s morning puja, which began loudly at 5 with the same version of “Om Nama Shivaya” on the stereo, and concluded at about six with a long and vigorous ringing of a bell and the blowing of a horn.  I will try to adjust to this new dwelling.

Rough Day with Margaret leads to Ephesus and the Myth of Temple Prostitution and the Anxiety of Some Really Scary Folks

What a day!  I was storming out the door, fuming for no reason in particular, on my way to the library, finally, to get to my writing, my real work, and then stopped, stupidly, on the sidewalk as soon as I saw her and remembered.

Margaret, good old thing, 25 years old, sitting bleakly at the curb, neglected, dirty, and flooded.  Still beautiful, of course.  She’s a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, Limited, with wood sides and shiny burgundy finish, all-leather tan interior, a fully loaded (for 1985) 4- to 10- seater with all-power everything (for 1985), four-wheel drive, and 8 cylinders of ma-jo (as opposed to mojo).  And that’s not what’s good about her.  She’s my legacy, the only car on the planet now that has held my mother, my father, my sister, my brother and me all together at the same time in it.

She’d been giving me trouble for weeks.  Yesterday she petulantly choked up and refused to start.  I couldn’t let her rust there.  If I didn’t take her in to Bruno’s now, she could die.  So I lurched back into the house, called triple-A, and  spent the rest of the morning waiting on people to help me with her.  I was remarkably serene about it, considering that I really had hoped to get away from family responsibilities and dog-care-taking for a change.  God, I needed to get some work done.

The triple-A guy was nice enough, friendly, cordial.  He locked my keys in the car, though.  Also had a surreal radical Christian show playing loud on the radio.  Some Australian guy, fairly articulate too, ranting on about the debauchery of Ephesus.  The people of Ephesus and their gods were soooo debauched that they actually had temple prostitutes, “male and female.”  Imagine that, having sex and calling it communion with God.

It really bummed me out.  I wanted to ask, “you don’t really believe this twit, do you?” or say, “you know, it’s true that some religious practices associated with fertility gods in that region seem to have involved some kind of sexual rituals that have been called “prostitution,” but whatever they were–and we really don’t know–they were nothing like the practice of today.”  It wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have with him, actually.  I couldn’t see the point.  Some people just believe anything they hear on the radio, especially if the speaker’s a preacher.

But still, I kind of wish I had engaged him.  He struck me as reasonable and decent.  Had four children.  And he liked Margaret.  Kept going on about how sturdily she was built, how the doors closed, click (not true, but the myth made him feel better about having locked the keys in), and how she was the kind of car that would keep on going long after all the newer models died out.  I liked him so well I really thought about giving it a try.

Anyway, the incident brought me to think about how long we have been agitating and protesting patriarchy, which is enforced by the nicest of men, for thousands of years.  Gerda Lerner says it was invented as a system of social organization around 3000 B.C.E. but did not get fully institutionalized until about 600 B.C.E. Biblical and ancient Mesopotamia scholars have been documenting the religious practices of the regions, many of which involved fertility goddesses and gods, for a very long time now.  Early Christians, like their Hebrew predecessors and contemporaries, conflicted with these religions and obviously won the public relations war.  In the long run, they got to say that the other, bad guys’ followers were prostitutes and pimps and tricks, which is how these guys liked to describe idolatry, the worship of false gods.  The Whore of Babylon (pictured above in an 1800s Russian engraving) is the last in a long smear campaign.

So when I got home today I did a little looking into Ephesus, which was the second largest city in the Roman empire during the time of Constantine (the Emperor who converted to Christianity because he thought he’d have more military victories).  Although the story of temple prostitution is so widespread as to be a commonplace in the radio pulpit, Christian scholars do argue that

the current view rests on unwarranted assumptions, doubtful anthropological premises, and very little evidence.

That’s S. M. Baugh, associate professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, who also notes that

the Anchor Bible Dictionary…has no discussion of either cultic or secular prostitution in the NT world. Perhaps the editors could not find enough material for an article?

Tongue in cheek aside, he’s serious about the job of proving that no form of temple prostitution–the exchange of sex for money that might go to the temple–in Ephesus or in an other major city during the New Testament Era.

Baugh reminds us to distinguish this practice of cult prostitution from erotic or symbolically erotic activity in rituals or mystery rites. Moreover, he cites and then interrogates ancient sources–there is actually only one–of evidence of cult prostitution during the New Testament Era.  What he finds out blows me away.  There are only two things to say about the only source we have, the Greek geographer, Strabo (ca. 64 BC-AD 21):

  1. Strabo was talking about a period 600 years before his time, and therefore was relying on oral stories, hearsay and myth; and
  2. All Strabo says is that the temple devoted to Aphrodite was reputed to have “had,” as in “owned,” prostitutes, who may have been male or female, and who may or may not have conducted their trade on temple grounds.

They may have been concubines or slaves owned by the temple for income in a relationship of dependency not unlike working in incredibly sexist capitalist workplaces,  where women (like men) are regarded as things that make money for the institution, and where women are regarded as the least valuable or worthy things, which are also often the biggest money-makers for the institution.  Whether or not temple prostitution existed during 600 B.C.E., is not so interesting.  The really big news is that there are many good reasons to suspect that if it did, it DID NOT survive into the first century, B.C.E, when Paul was living in Ephesus.

This blows me away. Wide-spread, bald rumors about temple prostitution at Ephesus (for which there is no evidence!) on Christian talk-show are another totally obvious example of the rewriting–Pierre Bourdieu calls is “dehistoricization”–of history by men in order to make women look bad.  Worse yet, it’s another example of the way that group that got control of the early Christian movement demonized members of different religious groups by denouncing them as debauched indulgers of carnal sex for money. You’ve heard this before:

They were so evil then, and we are so evil now, brothers and sisters.  We have to remember that we are sinners, that we were born in sin and dwell in sin except that Christ our Lord save us and cleanse us.  And once we humbly admit to our Lord and Master that we are humbly sorry for the sorry state of our souls, and begging for His help to correct ourselves, and overcome our weaknesses, then, and only then, and only with much continual scrutiny and soul-searching, and constant vigilance, we may be, MAYBE, saved.

This is the Protestant mindset.  I know it intimately.  I was born into it and I love it although I have spent my entire life trying to unwind myself from it.

I don’t know.  It is actually kind of interesting.  Every believer is feminized, put into a position of subordination to a figure who is supposedly neither male nor female but who has for so long been referred to and represented as male, as a father, and governor that the deity has been effectively gendered male.  Think, for example, of John Donne pleading with God to beat and “rape” him.  Sometimes this Father-God is a war-monger who scourges his enemies muscularly.  His human children have wives and concubines.  This kind of prostitution is okay, because it ultimately serves the right God.

I think the paradox of Christianity is that Christian men are supposed to be all strong and powerful in governing their wives and children and family compounds (like Abraham’s) and states (like David’s), and yet, in relation to God, they are women: weak, subordinate, suppliant.  This is a problem because in mainstream and traditional Christianity, as in mainstream and traditional Judaism and Islam, masculinity is lauded, celebrated.  It is the mode of being that is most like God, the best, the strongest, the most powerful, while femininity is denigrated as the worst way to be, or trivialized at best.  That’s because masculinity can only define itself in terms of what it is not, of course.   But contemporary Christian men can never really be confident in their masculinity because they are always made to feel–as they think about it–like wimps in relation to God, who still exhorts them to be “men.” God as Coach, as Army Sergeant, or, for the more new-agey types, God as therapist, guru, teacher, Abba.   He helps them to be men even while He’s constantly reminding them, sometimes by screaming it at them, that they are women.

So in the theological and social hierarchy that Christianity embraces, men are higher, more dignified, and more powerful than women, okay?  It’s not good to be a woman in this world.  Especially if you are a man.  This is not an easy place to be–and while this conundrum makes a lot of thoughtful Christian men really lovely human beings, it and lots of other pressures in our society make a lot of other Christian men very scary, very domineering and aggressive men.  They are especially scary and domineering when they lower their voices into a soft, intimate tone.  Have you all seen The White Ribbon?

I think the guys who go round spreading the rumor about temple prostitution at Ephesus in order to prove that Christianity was somehow the better religion have been doing this for a long time because, as  bizarre as it may sound, men have been under a lot of pressure to conform to a rigid notion of masculinity that is not at all human, or Christ-like, for that matter.  The war-mongering Contantine, who is said to have introduced the symbol of the cross to Christian iconography after he saw it in the shape of his sword handle, did not help matters.  It’s all one big game of men playing “who’s got the biggest.”

We are not evil.  If there is a God, and if that God is good, and that God created us, then we must also be good, like everything that would come from an all-good God.  You could say that what has happened is not the fault of God, but rather the fault of the human beings who invented these stories, these paradigms for understanding the world, and who have gotten trapped, like the limed thrush, in their own shit.