Monday, January 08, 2007

From Jesus's Mom to the Queen of Heaven

Richard Hooper is one of the UPI columnists I read every week. Today's article struck a nerve. Who is Mary and how does her veneration keep women in a subordinate place within the traditional church?

There are many reasons why the Virgin Mary became popular in Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, but the early Church initially used the myth as a theological bone which they threw to the women of the Church to distract them from noticing that the Church fathers were systematically eliminating every vestige of the divine feminine from Christian theology. More importantly, by also denying Mary Magdalene's apostolic authority as the first apostle of Christianity, the patriarchs were able to deny power and authority to all women in the Church. When the votes were all in, God the Mother had been replaced by the Mother of God.

But hasn't the myth of the Virgin actually helped women in the Church? It has certainly helped to keep them docile. For many modern Catholic women, mother Mary has become the "Queen of Heaven," even part of an expanded Trinity. But the women of the Church are still just as powerless today as they were 2,000 years ago.

It's easy to understand why the earliest Christian women were sold on Mary. The image of a Virgin holding a divine (male) child is an ancient archetype. Besides Jesus, nine other (male) divine beings were also born of virgins. The Hindu avatar Krishna was born of the virgin Devaki. Gautama the Buddha was born of the virgin Maya. The Egyptian god Horus was born of the virgin Isis. The Phrygian Attis was born of the virgin Nama. The Babylonian Adonis was born of the virgin Ishtar.

His take above fits with some of what I learned in my doctrine class when we studied the Council of Ephesus.

Hooper doesn't pull any punches nor does he allow for much ambiguity (speaks with confidence about his position). I don't mind if someone wants to make an apologetic on behalf of Mary that takes his assertions to task in the comments section. For my part, I find his research and thinking persuasive.


TiaDavidandOurLittleChickens said...

Oh the irony!!! I've had thoughts pouring through my head the last 24 hours or so at how LIBERATING as a woman I feel the inclusion of Mary (and all the female saints) to be. Coming from a tradition in which women were increasingly invisible, and in the latest church, bound into the tightest role box I've known, it is amazing that there are women held up and venerated and VISIBLE. If the goal was to somehow use Mary as a sedative for women while they purged the female power presence, I would think the protestants, with their idea that she not much better than the rest of us and only to be brought out at christmas were far and away more sucessful than the EO or RCC with her inclusion.

I'm freewriting now I guess because I've spent the morning ready to explode on some of this stuff. But when men venerate a female, for her purity, for her holy the case of the saints, many of which are revered and canonized for roles beyond motherhood and wifery, they are different men than their patriarchal counterparts. Women have abilities and powers not thought of in other places; when the babies grow, if they never marry, etc. They are human souls rather than in gender boxes. At least that's a lot of the fresh perspective I'm getting right now. The EO has women in the diaconate from what I understand; deacons there are not anything like what I've seen in protestant churches.

I see a rich and vibrant and free female presence where before I saw only glimpses and most of that, unhealthy. Mary has become my liberator; I'm not sure what would have to happen for me to see her as otherwise.

Just a freewrite comment; sorry if not very cohesive.

julieunplugged said...

All for freewriting!

That's why I invited comment from another perspective.

I agree with you that the Protestants (conservative varities) keep women invisible. I'm just not sure for me if it's an improvement to put woman on a pedastal! I want to be normal, a full part, not relegated to saintliness or submission.

my15minutes said...

Is it then the concept of saintliness that you object to? Of elevating Mary or anyone (female?) to an elevated status? I'm not asking this to challenge so much as to understand when you say you just want to be 'normal'. I'm thinking of Mother Teresa here... she just wasn't 'normal' and so the church treats her as elevated because of her unique goodness. So much more Mary, whose unique goodness brought forth God (if you believe in the divinity of Jesus).

I guess my experience more closely mirrors Tia's, especially the part about how a man is changed when he venerates a woman.

Your quoted writer diverged immediately from my thinking by invoking 'myth'; so based on his understanding that the virgin birth, the sanctity of Mary, etc. was a myth, I guess I understand his conclusions making sense and his explanations resonating with you.

julieunplugged said...

I remember one time when I read that women are either diminished through dimsissal or through elevation. When we are put down, we can be trod under foot. When we are elevated, we are "handled with care."

The elevation of Mary, for me (I know you understand that I speak only for me here) is a way of putting women in a damned if you do, damned if you don't status. We are honored as long as we are exceptional yet not trustworthy enough to bear the same workload or spiritual service as men.

There are saintly men and evil men, but that doesn't prvent them from pursuing ministry or the priesthood etc. Women may have Mary as a symbol, but what does she symoblize? For me, she has been used as a reminder of saying yes to the role chosen for her... which is often the message of the church to women - obedience to the church's idea of what women may and may not do.

I hear what you are saying about men being changed by Mary. I just don't know what that looks like particularly. How do you see Mary changing how men see women?

julieunplugged said...

Btw, I totally get how off-putting Hooper may be. I was just saying to Jon that what is hard for me with the Jesus Seminar types is that they speak conclusively without any hedging or "from the research I've done, I draw this conclusions" or "some evidence points to the idea that Mark may have created a narrative..." Something that would at least allow for some uncertainty, some openness to revising conclusions as more info comes forward.

In that way, the JS guys sound similar to the evangelical theologians who spoke with the same kind of conviction. I don't hold these ideas as firmly as he does, but I do find some resonance with the approach to how Scripture was written.

anj said...

Julie- I was RC, and left when I realized that I would always be on the bottom rung of a hierarchical church. To me, either venerating a human woman, or demonizing one have the same impact. We, all of us women created in the image of God, are lessened in our humanness and giftings. It is quite clear that the church Fathers did eliminate every vestige of the divine feminine from church theology. "When the votes were all in, God the Mother had been replaced by the Mother of God. " And we all, male and female, have suffered greatly for this error.

Carrie said...

This is one of those things I ahve a hard time commenting on. hooper is coming at this from such a totally different angle than I do, that, while his main point may have merit, I'm getting tripped-up in the reasoning. Since it is obvious he feels Christianity is just one more myth, I wouldn't even know where to start to talk about his complaints or his proofs.

So-- the idea that women on a pedestal can actually be a tool to oppress women is an interesting topic. Whether that's what has happened in the EO/RCC, and that it was done deliberately is something more difficult to talk about, much less "prove." It's difficult to discuss something when you are starting from two totally different points (Christianity is one more myth vs. Christianity is part of the True Myth of which all others are echos.)


Ampersand said...

I've been thinking about this since you posted it. I've been asking myself why it is equally offensive to dismiss or venerate women.

While I intuitively agree with the sentiment, I think the reason behind its offense is that neither perspective views women authentically. Both miss the whole point of the powerful and imperfect creatures that women are.

Anonymous said...

I think you should verify the facts. Lord Krishna as well as Buddha have biological parents unlike Jesus. People here in this part of the world are not that foolish to belive in the stories of Virgin mothers.


julieunplugged said...

Bharat, I didn't write the article. I simply posted it and stated in one of the comments that I felt that the writer stated his view without much room for other opinions. Glad to have yours.

Dave said...

Just incidentally, I was watching an old Cecil B. DeMille production tonight "King of Kings"... the 1927 silent version..! So interesting to see how the two Marys are portrayed in that film. Mary Magdalene is not only a harlot, she's a ultra-sophisticated, rich and gaudy temptress who sets out to seduce Jesus, only to have the seven deadly sins cast out of her when she tries to make her move on the Nazarene carpenter. Mother Mary is of course the very ideal of piety and reverent submission, quietly working a loom until a poor blind child comes in, seeking her son for healing, to which Mary reverently directs the waif.

Quite revealing to see these iconic images and depictions of the feminine polarities played out so vividly. Even though the movies are rather old in cinematic terms, I think they reflect some pretty deep-seated mythic images that carry a lot of residual weight to this day.

julieunplugged said...

Dave, that's fascinating that you watched that movie just last night! What prompted you to pick that one? 1927 qualifies as early cinema. I like what you said about the way certain images still control how we se these two women, even though today everyone would be quick to nuance them further.

Dave said...

"King of Kings" is a Criterion Collection release. Criterion is like the cream of the crop for cinema on DVD. I happened to see it on the shelf at the library and took it home because I wanted to see what it was like. It's quite a production - Cecil B. was doing his "cast of thousands" thing decades before he produced "The Ten Commandments." The beginning portion was even in color!

Apparently, I am really not well-versed in the older cultural stereotypes surrounding Mary Magdalene. I knew of her older reputation as a whore who was "cleansed" by Jesus (since refuted in the DaVinci Code and mainstream scholarship as well) but I was pretty surprised at the opulence of this film's depiction, which I figure has to match up with the popular imagination of the time on some level. She's all decked out in drapery-like fabric, elaborate braids and adornments, a strange spiral beaded thing covering one breast, ordering her servants to fetch her zebra-drawn chariot ("a gift - from the King of Nubia!") so that she can go find this Jesus... So over the top, it's amazing! And everyone talking in their thee's and thou's...

America! What a country to produce stuff like this! :o)