Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I've been reading lots of opinions lately online (things are still slow at work). It strikes me that so much of the huffing and puffing that goes on about religion these days comes because we are arguing about apples and oranges: religion (any religion) as perceived by the people who don't believe it, and that same religion the way it exists in an individual believer's head. I suppose there is also a third thing (plums?): a specific religion as it is formally codified by the institutional version of it. Do you see what I'm getting at? (Grammatically correct: Do you see the thing at which I am getting? LOL, sometimes I just crack myself up).

I'm thinking this up as I type, so bear with me here.

When I was a junior in college, I took a course on feminist literary criticism. At that point I was still a dedicated evangelical Christian, and I was also a feminist. But because of the way I interpreted my religion, I didn't see any conflict. In my head, there was no problem. That will seem impossible to some, and obvious to others. Anyway. I wrote a paper about some 19th century novel (I can't even remember which one at the moment) in which I argued that God was not male, but existed outside human categories of gender. It seemed absurd to me then (as it does now) to think of God as an infinite, omniscient being but with a penis and Y-chromosomes. I backed up my argument with quotations from the Bible in which God is referred to as female or at least as having female attributes (there aren't many, but there are enough to make a valid argument). I then concluded that any misogyny exhibited by people in a Christian society at any particular point in history (including the novel I was discussing) wasn't based on the reality of who “God” is (which none of us can fully comprehend), but on the cultural practices and expectations of the times. That was just the start of the paper, but the rest of it is irrelevant (and I can't remember it, anyway).

You probably won't be surprised to hear that this went over like a ton of lead bricks with my professor. He didn't even bother to argue with me, he simply said something to the effect of "This is hardly an accurate representation of Christianity" etc etc. and gave me the lowest grade I ever received on a paper. Of course, in an academic setting, he was right and it was a great lesson for me about what one can and cannot argue in an academic paper. To an academic, Christianity IS the historical and institutional entity that must own all of the actions it has produced over the past two millennia. And although any academic would acknowledge that Christian beliefs have changed over time, my individual interpretation of Christianity is meaningless as an academic argument-- though it might provide an interesting paragraph or two. But it points out the distinction I'm trying to make here: there is a (sometimes vast) difference between the formal existence of a body of Christian theology and history, and the way that all gets interpreted by a particular individual (in this case, me). Not to mention that, although I don't know for sure, I suspect I was also dealing with the professor's opinion of what Christians believe, which is that Christians are patriarchal and misogynist.

to be continued.... I got half of the next story written and had to stop, so I'll just save it for the next post.


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