Disclaimer: I wrote this last week Tuesday and scheduled it to post today. I forgot about it until just now… If it seems a bit blasé or like it was written with a bit more levity than one might expect in the aftermath of the terror attacks last week, it is. I thought about taking it down and rewriting it, or just holding on to it for a while…but too much levity or not, its something that needs to be said.
You may or may not have noticed, but there’s whole lotta “holier than thou” goin’ on ’round the internet. From Starbucks cups to the literal polytheist vs everyone else match #892 Pagan Blogosphere bitchfest, there isn’t a corner of the internet where someone isn’t thinking someone else is doing religion wrong, while their oh-so-persecuted selves are the only one doing it right.
I have been inspired to discuss my oh, so favorite Delphic Maxim. I call this the “religion is like a penis” maxim. You know how the saying goes (though there are a few variations)…
Look, everyone has an opinion on the nature of the Divine (whether it be one god, many, or none, or something else altogether). And everyone has (or has interpreted) experiences that have convinced them that their opinion of the Divine is the *right for them* opinion of the Divine. But somehow, *right for them* just becomes *right*. And then it seems to follow that since we are *right*, everyone that disagrees with us must have the *wrong* opinion. And of course, if they actually think that their opinion is the *right* opinion, it must be because they have decided that they are somehow *better* than those of us that think in this other way. And if they think they are *better* thank we are, then it follows that we should be personally insulted! And since we have been personally insulted, we must immediately get angry and Defend The Faith.
But I can’t help but think that when we feel the need to Defend The Faith against those whose personal experiences and interpretations of those experiences differ from our own*, that we do so from a place of insecurity. Because if the gods are, indeed, literal and discrete entities with capability that far outstrip those of mankind, then those gods should have the capacity to inform those *wrong* worshippers that they are, indeed, actually *wrong* in a way that they would be heard and understood…but if they aren’t actually doing that, then it seems like it should follow that maybe they (the gods) don’t actually care as much as we do about either orthodoxy or orthopraxy. Else, the people making these sorts of doctrinal tests are really no better than some of the more obnoxious fundamentalist Christian denominations.
When we open our big, fat mouths and proclaim that we understand the substance and nature and desires and will of the Divine for each and every single of the several billion people upon this planet, we look like a jerk. Claiming to know the will of the gods is pretty much the ultimate hubris. Our experiences of the gods are individual experiences. Certainly, they are often shared among people with common beliefs (by the way, there are likely evolutionary reasons for that–both biological and cultural), but there are also differences in those experiences. And if we can’t talk about our religion without waving it in air and whacking people over the head with it, maybe we should keep it in our pants.
So go ahead–long for wisdom** and please, honor providence** (where ‘ere you may find it)! But don’t forget to control anger**, exercise prudence**, and find fault with no one** while you are at it. After all, you are not a god…so restrain the tongue** when you decide to open your mouth, ‘else you might betray your inability to think like a mortal**. Keep your religion in your pants.
*telling someone else that they are incorrect is radically different than telling them that you disagree with them, and why–the first is an argument, the second is a discussion
**yeah, these guys are all Delphi Maxims too 🙂
Its been a while since I’ve done one of these (at least a year, I think), but I came a cross a spot-on blog post on a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and I thought it might be time to bring back Maxim Mondays (not every Monday to be sure, but more often than not at all!).
Originally, I had something of a slightly different tenor in mind. Something lofty, something about being our best selves, something about respecting the individual and collective search for truth of all people, even those we disagree with. Because I think that having respect was something that should be self-evident among a majority of reasonable people. Because I think that religion has become the scapegoat for the behavior of people who are just assholes.
Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged.
Because, when in the presence of the prayers of persons belonging to a religion that is not my own, I take a moment to bow my head, close my eyes, and think of bloody England out of good manners, and respect so that they may have their moment of reverence. Because I was raised to think that a certain level of civility in public discourse is essential to a diverse society and that most people understand that it takes the cooperation of all peoples to maintain that civility. Because I think that we should respect the person as a person, even if we disagree with their beliefs.
In fact, I even had it written and scheduled to post tomorrow morning. And then I deleted it all. Because I’m sick of some people use their religion as a shield for being an asshole. (really, you should go read this, because the entire post is going to be a rant about it)
Wide differences of opinion in matters of religious, political, and social belief must exist if conscience and intellect alike are not to be stunted, if there is to be room for healthy growth.
Let me first say that this event comes as no surprise (particularly after a similar event a few weeks or so ago). Let me secondly say that I strongly feel that religion has no part in governance, not even in invocatory prayers. If you need to pray to do your job, do it on your own time like every other wage earning member of the public is forced to do. But, with that being said, if we are to acknowledge and continue the tradition of invocations in the legislature, or any other place of civil governance or official state-sponsored event, then it must be open to everyone.
Sure, those who disagree with an invocation certainly have the right to walk out or turn their back or heck, to stand upside down and sing a song. Actually doing so makes them an asshole with no manners. And, in this case, an asshole with no manners using their religion as the scapegoat for their bad behavior. If you are a Christian that feels the need to turn your back in protest for an interfaith prayer, you are not “being like Jesus” or showing strength of conviction, you are only showing that you are so insecure in your beliefs that you can’t manage basic civility, and you look like an ignorant bigot. You’d have been better not to show up at all (and hold your own prayers privately.
If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.
Religion is a tool. It can be both beneficial and benign, but it can also be destructive; it all depends on the heart of the person using it. When one’s heart is bound with hate and darkened with ignorance and fear, religion becomes a tool that divides and destroys. Respecting someone’s expression of their religion does not mean allowing bad behavior to pass without comment. Respecting religion does not mean tolerating incivility and intolerance. Respecting religious freedom is not a free pass to allow ashattery to run unchecked.
If we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.
~John F. Kennedy
I don’t care what name (or names) are used to address what one believes to be divine in this universe, how our how often one prays, what books one reads, holidays one celebrates, or what dogma (or lack of it) they claim represents that power; I care that one treats others with the same compassion and respect that they would wish for themselves from someone whose beliefs are different from their own.
And if they can’t manage that, then they should at least learn to use some good manners.
The Delphic Maxims mention “evil” twice, first as something to be hated, and secondly as something to be abstained from.
But what, precisely is evil?
Old English yfel (Kentish evel) “bad, vicious, ill, wicked,” from Proto-Germanic *ubilaz (cf. Old Saxon ubil, Old Frisian and Middle Dutch evel, Dutch euvel, Old High German ubil, German übel, Gothic ubils), from PIE *upelo-, from root *wap- (cf. Hittite huwapp- “evil”).
“In OE., as in all the other early Teut. langs., exc. Scandinavian, this word is the most comprehensive adjectival expression of disapproval, dislike or disparagement” [OED]. Evil was the word the Anglo-Saxons used where we would use bad, cruel, unskillful, defective (adj.), or harm, crime, misfortune, disease (n.). The meaning “extreme moral wickedness” was in Old English, but did not become the main sense until 18c. Related: Evilly. Evil eye (Latin oculus malus) was Old English eage yfel. Evilchild is attested as an English surname from 13c.
source: Online Etymology Dictionary
According to Merriam-Webster, evil is an adjective to describe something as “morally reprehensible” or “causing harm”, and a noun for “the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrong doing” or the something that causes it. Extreme moral wickedness…or just the stuff we don’t like. What is or is not evil seems awfully personal.
Back in November, I discussed Delphic Maxim #136, Gratify without harming, and touched on the idea of evil:
Evil tends to be an interesting subject in Pagan communities. Views of what constitutes “evil” as a definition and as an action or behavior vary, but tend to emphasize the “I know it when I see it” subjectiveness of the idea of evil. Of the many discussions (online and IRL) that I have encountered on the topic, my favorite definition comes from an essay on the Wiccan Rede from Proteus Coven–evil is a rip in the fabric of empathy.
All of this really leads me to sometimes think that either everything might be evil (either that, or nothing is)–after all, everything has the capacity to directly inflict harm and misfortune on someone, somewhere. No one lives in a vacuum and even the most altruistic of acts is going to have a downside somewhere down the line (Newton’s Third Law–every action has an equal and opposite reaction, sometimes I think it applies to more than physics). And if everything is evil, perhaps it all cancels out, and nothing is more evil than the next, except in the context of the beholder.
When I ran these two maxims through Google Translate, the result I got was “hate wickedness” and “abstain from wickedness”. Wickedness certainly is implied in the dictionary definitions for “evil”, and indeed, definitions of “wickedness” include the description of “evil”. But I like the word “wickedness” better than that of “evil”–it isn’t as loaded of a term. When we think of evil in its usage, it often to carry an additional subtext–either as an absolute that is part of a moral dichotomy (good vs evil), or as some Supernatural Big Bad Being.
Ultimately, I have to say that evil isn’t supernatural. It isn’t a moral absolute, or the opposite of good. Evil isn’t a specific action or person or event. Evil can’t be defined. But it does exist. Evil happens, and it isn’t everything, or nothing.
Evil is a rip in the fabric of empathy.
Now…I guess I just need to take the time to discuss what the heck that means!!
Ancient Greece was no feminine paradise. Women knew their place, as was all too apparent 200 years after Sappho, in the city that gave birth to one of the greatest political experiments of all time. You could argue that what happened here in Greece gave us the building blocks of Western civilization–a belief in democracy, a belief in freedom of speech, and a fixed and firm notion that women were very definitely second class citizens. Women were often not allowed out during daylight hours. Some had their faces completely veiled. Only a few were educated and a woman’s greatest celebrated virtue was her silence.
~Historian Bethany Hughes, in the BBC’s Women and Religion series, “Priestess: Handmaid to the Gods” (episode 3)
There is but one Delphic Maxims I really and truly have a problem with, and it is this one. I try very hard to meet a culture on its own terms, to not perpetuate presentism, and so, I understand and fundamentally disagree with Delphic Maxim #95–Rule your wife (Γυναικος αρχε). And, seeing as this is the first Monday of Women’s History Month, it seems a fortuitous time to tackle this particular maxim (seriously, I did this by accident, not design). The roles of women through out history is complex. In many civilizations of antiquity (and clear through until modern history), the overall role of women has been one of secondary to men, with the occasional person that seems to be an exception until one takes a better look at the events surrounding them.
Lets start with this poem by Semonides for an idea of the views of women as wives in Greek society. According to Semonides, women are made by the gods in the image of (or perhaps from) the sow (fat and slovenly), the fox (fickle and sly), the dog (nosy and yapping), from the sea (unpredictable and it will get you in the end), the donkey (easy, but works hard), the skunk (an unattractive slut that will steal anything not nailed down), the dainty mare (a gold-digger with a pretty face), and the monkey (pure ugliness and evil), and the queen bee (the only good one among the lot, and impossible to find). At the end of his poem, Semonides proclaims, “Zeus made this to be the greatest evil–women.If they seem to be helpful, they prove in the end to be an evil for whoever has them. He never goes the whole day in cheer,that man who has a woman.”
But, wait! You might say…judging an entire culture by a comedy writer? Imagine what people will say about us if all they had to show was the celebrity roast series!!
True. And I would hesitate to judge an entire culture on the work of one poet if it wasn’t actually representative of the culture’s views of women as a whole. Instead, we have the creation of Pandora as a punishment, the poet Hipponax who describes the day a man marries and the day he buries his wife as the only two days when a woman is pleasurable, the reduction of rights for women through development of the Greek state, the myth of Medusa who was punished by Athena for being raped, the common place and accepted rape of a number of mortal and immortal women by Zeus, the view of Aristotle that a woman is “a defective by nature” and equivalent to an “infertile male” (the Greeks also thought that it was only the male sperm that was responsible for creating a child and women were just vessels for babies). I could go on, but its sort of depressing.
But wait! What about Spartan women? And Sappho, and…
Unfortunately, in much of history, the exceptional woman proves the rule. First of all, most women were not educated beyond what they needed to do to do their job. And their job was to oversee the home and produce children, preferably male children. Earlier in Greek history, women (mostly aristocratic women and women in wealthy families) had rights, and even had responsibilities outside of the home…allowing wealthy aristocratic women like Sappho (an admired contemporary of Solon the Wise, one of the purported maxim authors) to be married and run schools for unmarried women to prepare them for marriage and to write poetry. Among the Spartans, women were given incredible (at the time) freedoms, precisely because Spartan women gave birth to Spartan men*–their fitness and intelligence giving rise to fit and intelligent males, and because someone was needed to oversee the home and the slaves while the men were off earning glory in battle (BTW, the clip from The 300 is actually a quote from Plutarch and attributed to the Queen of Sparta, Gorgo).
Just as the democracy of ancient Greece echoed down and influenced history, so did its misogyny. While women in Rome were allowed more freedoms than women in latter Greek antiquity, their role was still restricted. And when women were the exception to this second-class stature or were allowed to deviate from the restricted gender norms, they still prove the rule (for example, the Vestal Virgins and the festival of Bona Dea). It is interesting to note that part of the reason for the early success of the Christian cults was in part the comparative egalitarianism. In the (very) early Christian church, women were considered more equal in measure to men than in the majority culture (though still not equal)…at least until Augustine decided that women were responsible for men’s lust because he was miserably trying to control his libido to keep his vow of chastity. And from there, for the next ~1700 years, women have been treated like crap, with religion as part of the reasoning of why it was acceptable.
In some ways it seems like we’ve come so far, right? I mean…we can even vote.
But then there are blog posts like this (don’t bother with comments unless you like the feeling of the steam streaming out the ears). Not to mention movements like Quiverfull** and “Christian domestic discipline”, a good portion of music from rap to rock, the current defunding and restriction of women’s reproductive rights, the difficult in passing the Violence Against Women Act, the the ideas of “real” rape, the idea that society’s ills can be traced back to women voting, the emphasis on the looks of women in politics rather than their abilities, the sexualization of little girls, the pinkification of everything made for women and girls, the marginalization of teachers, and the shooting of the little girl in Pakistan. I could go on, but it depresses me as well.
I like the Delphic Maxims. Most of them can be read in a way that is illuminating within their historical context and can be applied to modern day life. Most of the few that cannot be read this way can be reinterpreted to have meaning in a modern context. This one cannot. Ruling one’s wife (or being ruled as a wife) may have been an important part of many ancient cultures, but AFAIC, that is something to learn from and to resist. I am not a child, I do not need to be governed by my husband. I do not need to submit to him as an example of my femininity or worth as a woman. And he is man enough to not want a woman that needs to be defined and governed by him. And since I don’t belong to a faith that demands obsequiousness to old words carved in stone or scratched onto parchment, I feel completely and utterly comfortable throwing this one out the metaphorical window.
Rule Your Wife?
*Spartan culture is a bit more complicated than this, and is quite interesting, in how this idea of men as warriors and women as the head of the household and makers of those warriors was carried out. Wives were chosen primarily for their character and their physical fitness. Because male children were raised communally in the agoge, and because of the emphasis on physical perfection biological paternity was not particularly important and divorce was allowed. For a woman, honor was found in childbearing–as with a man that died in battle, her name could only be inscribed on her gravestone if she died in childbirth.
**This one links to a really good blog by a former Evangelical Christian raised in a homeschooling Christian Patriarcy/Quiverfull family…I’ve followed her blog on and off over the past few years, and it is incredibly interesting. I refuse to link to a CDD site though, if you want to know about Christian Domestic Discipline, Google it!