Why be religious?

In recent threads about religion, some people have asked, simply, why? Why be religious? Why put in all of the effort to redefine a feminist Judaism? Why maintain an association with these historically and presently oppressive institutions?

For me, there’s a few reasons that stand out in my head.

First, there’s a sense, for me at least, that I’m not choosing Judaism, per se. I believe in the Jewish God, the Shechina, HaShem, Avinu Malkeinu, Shadai, the God of Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. And I can’t really change that belief because, for me, it’s an internal Truth. And, because I believe in the Jewish God, I follow Judaism. Unlike some religions, which have a focus on spirituality, the predominant focus in much of Judaism is in ritual and community practice. Oh, sure, there’s philosophy and mysticism (Kabbalah!) and focus on becoming a better person (Mussar!) and so on. But, my Jewish practice is in keeping kosher, in wearing tefillin, keeping Shabbat, in praying with a community, in learning Torah, and more, all of which require or are augmented within a community structure.

Which brings me to the second reason: community. When I was at camp, we learned a cute song.

“Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.
You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew.
When you’re not home, and you’re somewhere kind of new-ish,
the odds are, don’t look far, ’cause they’re Jewish too.”

And, for me at least, it’s largely been true. I’ve done a decent amount of traveling, and, almost everywhere, I’ve found people who want to meet me because I’m Jewish and I’m new in town. I’m invited for meals or board games. I’ve been invited out for drinks and met some awesome friends. It’s insta-community. Along those same lines, I’ve been astounded at the support that my Jewish community offers. A couple of my friends have been really sick recently, and it’s been incredible to see the community mobilize around them. And, in my eyes, that’s enormous. As activists, we talk so much about supporting people who are marginalized, and some of the best work that I’ve seen towards this end is through my synagogue. My ill friends were brought food and volunteers ran their errands. They needed volunteers to manage the volunteers. Furthermore, my synagogue offers consistent quiet support to members in the community who have fallen on hard times and may need some meals or financial help. So, when activists talk about how damaging religion is and how we should do away with it, I really worry about that train of thought, because this kind of grassroots support is exactly what we’re trying to facilitate. It seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Of course, this kind of community comes with a price. There are expectations of conformity, particularly in very religious communities. And there’s very real misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia in many religious communities that make them toxic for some members. But I think that’s where feminist religion steps in. How do we preserve the good things about religion, while excising the bad? It’s a hard question, and I understand why some people might argue that we can’t.

Lastly, is a resistance to a kind of imperialism. I feel frustrated when people talk about how I should just embrace spirituality, over religion, because my spirituality comes from my religious practice. It’s a very Christian idea that thoughts and emotions, not actions, are what’s important for spiritual practice. I feel frustrated when people try to separate out my religion from my culture, to say that the culture is acceptable but the religion is not. They’re so tightly knit for me. and, again, I feel like it’s a very Christian, Western idea that they can be easily separated.* So, for the non-Christians in the room, discussions of the compatibility of feminism and religion can be particularly loaded. It’s frequently white, Christian-raised folks who ask this question in the first place. Though someone may have rejected their Christian upbringing, they may still hold onto ideas and prejudices that they didn’t even know were there, because there is privilege that comes with being raised in a Christian household.

So those are my reasons. Now I’d like to hear yours! Why are you a feminist Buddhist? Or a feminist Pagan? Or a feminist Sikh? Why are you a feminist Muslim? I want to hear your stories!

I do also want to hear from Christian feminists, though I’d really like to center non-Christians for this conversation. I feel like every religion thread on Feministe turns into Why-Christianity-Sucks and I’d really like to hear from minority religious practitioners, for once. So, Christian Feminists, feel free to add, but try to keep your privilege in check.

For those of you who disagree with my premise that religion and feminism are compatible, I would prefer not to have that discussion in this thread. Please respect that decision. Feel free to ask questions, but try to respect the identities of everyone posting.

I’ll be monitoring this thread pretty closely until 8:30 Pacific Time, at which point I’ll decide to either leave things open and unmoderated in my absence or close the comments for Shabbat.

*EDIT: As many people have pointed out, this sentence is not quite right and unfairly erases atheist Jews. I sincerely apologize for it.

Author: has written 21 posts for this blog.

Shoshie is one of the 2012 roster of Guest Bloggers.
Return to: Homepage | Blog Index

228 Responses

  1. Nahida
    Nahida August 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm |

    Thank you Shoshie.

  2. Macha
    Macha August 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |

    I’m a feminist Catholic. I really relate to what you’re saying in the post that the culture and religion can’t be separated for me. Even though I no longer accept the truth claims of Catholicism (or Christianity), I still identify as Catholic and always will.

    I’m a feminist Catholic because I come from a very matriarchal family. My late maternal grandmother is practically hero-worshipped in my family. There are reminders of her everywhere in our home, religious objects that my mother inherited when she died. Her husband (my grandfather) died when my mom was 13, at which point Grandma took full control of her life and her family, and my mother learned how to be a leader in the family from my grandma. From both of them I learned to be assertive and outspoken about my beliefs and feelings. Because Grandma was, and Mom still is, a devout Catholic, because their Cathoilicism was characteristically Marian in flavor, I grew up surrounded by evidence of the power and equality of women.

  3. DoublyLinkedLists
    DoublyLinkedLists August 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm |

    Hi Shoshie,
    I’m sure you expected me to show up here at some point. We both know that I’m not the biggest fan of religious Judaism, but I’m gonna try my utmost to be respectful of your requests and stay on topic. If you delete any of my posts, I completely understand.

    i really identify with what you said about Jewish community. Though I wasn’t a big fan of Orthodox Judaism growing up, I attribute the fact that my peers in school (not the Rabbis) were so accepting when I came out as gay because we had such a strong sense of community that meant that they saw me as much more than whatever my sexuality was. Even the homophobic students were still able to see past the part of me they disliked because I was a whole person. I might be idealizing the past a little bit, but that’s how I remember it.

    But the flipside of such a wonderful community is the xenophobia that often comes along with it, like when a member wants to intermarry or bring their non-jewish friend to a seder. Sometimes there’s some really strong anti-gentile sentiment involved in the Jewish community, and that’s just not cool.

    I’m interested in what you mean when you say that you believe in the Jewish God. The God in the Old Testament is very often vengeful and harsh, and I suspect that the God you believe in is not. I’m wondering what the sources of your belief are.

  4. Jen
    Jen August 5, 2011 at 1:06 pm |

    The idea that you need religion for community is plain wrong. There are plenty of secular communities out there, and even explicitly atheistic ones. I’ve found my sense of community on campus by joining Secular Student Alliance affiliates, and I love going to the regular meetings of Seattle Atheists and Seattle Skeptics. I’ve made so many friends through the atheist community (yes, it exists) – friendships that have nothing to do with spirituality or supernatural beliefs (which I would argue against for other reasons, but won’t since you requested us not to).

    And leaving behind supernatural belief doesn’t mean giving up culture – there are lots of groups devoted to people who are cultural Jews but effectively atheists. I’d check out the Society for Humanistic Judaism – http://www.shj.org/

  5. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 5, 2011 at 1:10 pm |

    I often long for the community aspect of Judaism among my fellow Quakers. In many Meetings and Churches it is not as prominent as it was once. It did exist for a time, beginning in the mid-1600’s in England. Our founder boldly believed that we were the true Christians and that other groups had gone astray. The Valiant 60 refers to the sixty influential leaders who grew the faith and established it throughout what would soon become know as Great Britain. But there is a natural impulse to care for each other when you know you may soon be on trial.

    Leading to my next point. We were also heavily persecuted. First generation Friends often spent time in jail. Some were killed for professing and practicing their faith. Some were tortured. Some practiced in secret and were eventually revealed. Jail time usually followed.

    We were strict on ourselves, too. If, for instance, I chose to marry a non-Quaker, I risked being read out of Meeting. This means disowned. This was not an unusual practice. Being read out doesn’t exclude me from participating in Worship, but I do get the scorn of fellow worshipers, and I don’t get a voice in Business Meeting anyway. I am outright barred from attending.

    I am a Quaker Christian Feminist because, to me, Quakerism is a feminist religion. Women were allowed to preach hundreds of years before other groups. Women were allowed to take leadership roles and take an active voice. Margaret Fell, the Mother of Quakerism, lent her house, her money, her name, and her talents to this new movement. And in time, she married our founder, George Fox.

    This was revolutionary stuff and this tradition continued forward into what we now call the First Wave Feminists. Quaker women took a large part. The most influential Friend in that regard is probably Lucretia Mott.

    The way that Friends usually transmitted their ideas was through the writing of Epistles. Fox wrote several. Margaret Fell also wrote several. I am certain if they were around today, these Epistles would be written in blog form and posted for all to see. We keep that tradition, particularly after large gatherings.

    And as for the idea of emotions and heartfelt passions being more important than works alone, Quakers sought to be the purist, most perfect Christians around. There’s a bit of both here. This is why we wore plain dress, to emphasize that all were equal in God’s eyes. It’s the same reason why a small minority preserve that tradition, which is much in line with the Amish. It’s the reason why, back when all men wore hats, Quakers did not take their hats off in front of social superiors. And it’s the reason why we are still not to swear oaths. An oath in court means that lying is punishable by perjury. We are supposed to tell the truth regardless, so why the need for reinforcement?

    I could go on and on, but I’ll stop here.

  6. hlynn
    hlynn August 5, 2011 at 1:14 pm |

    I think religion works because people want community and ritual. It took me a longer time to figure out how to get these two things outside of religion, but when I realized how to do this, I stopped needing religion. No, I cannot prove God does not exist, but you can’t prove he exists, either. If he does exist and is just sitting back on his big Lazy Boy in the Sky, well, what difference has he made in my life? Not what difference as the Christian community made, but what difference has God made? Would the world be any different with or without him? For me, the answers to these questions are ‘no difference’ and ‘nope.’ Back to community. I went to church for a long time because of the specific people in that community, not because I had a true belief in a supernatural god. And while I can see why people stay for the community, I couldn’t justify doing something I didn’t believe in. Now, I still sit in on religious services when asked by my family, and I think the singly and the chanting and the building itself is beautiful because pageantry is appealing; but a lovely service doesn’t make god real.

  7. Keeley
    Keeley August 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm |

    I’m always a little confused by people who profess particular religion, or in this case belief in a prticular god (the Jewish God, as you say), when they simultaneously disavow significant portions of that faith’s teachigns and religious writings, and it makes me wonder how much of the religion needs to be tossed out or ignored before a person stops thinking of themselves as professing that religion.

    I don’t expect you or anyone else to justify your faith to me, but it is something that niggles at me.

  8. Florence
    Florence August 5, 2011 at 1:32 pm |

    There’s this book called “Bowling Alone” that’s a look at how USian culture is becoming increasingly alienated with the advances of technology and industry, preventing us from joining and creating groups that used to sustain cultural ties and networks before — think bowling clubs, softball teams, bridge clubs, church, synagogue, Shriners, etc.

    I’m actually an atheist, but I attended church for a long time as a child through young adulthood, long after I was a non-believer. I won’t go to a church today because it’s so far out of my belief system that it feels disrespectful — both to the congregation and myself — to attend and squirm in the pews the whole time. But I miss the church, the community, the built in network of people you raise your kids with and eat and sing and study with. I could try to insert myself in a dozen other communities that would fulfill this function, but I haven’t figured out what community that would be.

  9. Adena
    Adena August 5, 2011 at 1:34 pm |

    Shoshie, thank you for writing and expressing this!

    Sometimes I feel that there is too much oppressiveness in Judaism (particularly Orthodox Judaism which is what I practice) and wonder what if I am just pretending that I will ever be able to change anything.

    But there is still so much beauty and meaning like you say, particularly in the rituals. I don’t want to know what it would be like to go through a week without knowing that Shabbat would be coming at the end. And for me, it would be impossible to take the things that I like and leave out the things that I don’t. I see it as one big, almost (but not quite) impossible bundle that comes together.

    I also know that at least I live a feminist Judaism and that one day my family will too, meaning that feminist Judaism can and does exist.

  10. Iris
    Iris August 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm |

    An excellent essay on why & how Judaism works for you.

    Organized religion by any name does not work for me.

    What works for me is being pagan & honoring the natural cycles of the moon, planets & seasons. Usually my rituals invoke the Goddess because I relate to that femininity.

    On a spiritual level, I believe in a concept of All That Is of which I am a part and which is a part of me. I believe I am in a perpetual state of grace and it is my responsibility to honor that in daily life.

    How I choose to honor that is entirely up to me. I’m not much for outside authority figures or lack of opportunity to be creative in my spirituality.

  11. nm
    nm August 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm |

    Jen, sure, there are plenty of communities in the world. And for any individual, some number of them will feel (and be) welcoming, supportive, a really good fit. But the things that make the Jewish community a good fit for a lot of people will not be part of any community that doesn’t practice Judaism. Because the way the Jewish community acts (and the ways its members interact with each other) are based on thousands of years of doing things with certain guidelines in mind, and on a long, long history. Good grief, there’s a whole branch of Judaism, Reconstruction Judaism, premised on the idea that belief in the divine is at most optional, but that Jewish practice is necessary for the continuation of the Jewish people and Jewish culture. They really can’t be separated, as Shoshie pointed out.

  12. Angel H.
    Angel H. August 5, 2011 at 1:38 pm |

    The reason that I’m a Christian womanist is because the strength and wisdom that came from my mother, grandmothers, aunts, and great-grandmothers all came from their faith in Christ. My womanism is based on their teachings, which is based in Christianity.

  13. Jadey
    Jadey August 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm |

    Jen: The idea that you need religion for community is plain wrong.

    Which is probably why Shoshie made no claims of that sort. She just talked about the community of her religion, not that no other communities exist without religion.

    Back to the actual post, I’m looking forward to reading everyone’s responses – although I am not a practitioner of any faith or religion (and perfectly content and comfortable not to be so), I find a lot of beauty and peace in reading about other people’s faiths. I’m going to keep my own contribution mum at the moment because, as I said, I do not practice a specific religion and therefore would be not on topic, but at some point soon I do want to talk about, either here or on my own blog, my “atheism”, which I think I experience much more similarly to how many people experience their religious faith than how I have seen other atheists describe their beliefs.

  14. Diana
    Diana August 5, 2011 at 1:45 pm |

    I’m a feminist atheist because I’m a feminist, and an atheist.

    Becoming an atheist happened faster than it might have otherwise because I have been a feminist since the first time I ever heard ‘You’re good… for a girl,’ but otherwise I think it makes all the statements necessary that I don’t need to describe how my feminism and atheism can exist without being mutually contradictory.

  15. matlun
    matlun August 5, 2011 at 1:49 pm |

    Your reflection about spirituality is interesting. Spirituality without organized religion is at its core an individual thing. This is very different that religion in the community sense, which means that if the community and ritual is the attraction, then just spirituality is not a replacement.

    I do not think this is exactly a Christian thing (Catholicism is very much on the community based side of thing), but it is certainly very common in western secularized society.

    @Jen: Sure there are other communities, but if the religious community is the one you have then abandoning it would be a large emotional loss.

  16. sam
    sam August 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm |

    I guess I’m somewhat excluded from this conversation, because I’m a person of no-faith?

    I have a similar experience as Jen – although I’m not especially active in the national scene like she is, my local community has been extremely welcoming and warm. And with American Humanist Association, Center For Inquiry, American Secular Union, Secular Coalition of America… the list goes on and on… I haven’t found that religion is something I’m missing, by any means.

    Even without all that (like I said, I’m not active in any of the national stuff, although I’ve got friends who are trying to get me there), I’ve found scads of other ways to find community wherever I go, without having to use religion as the tie that binds.

    So… why am I a Feminist Atheist? Because I think that there’s a lot of inequality in the world, based on the genitals one was born with, and I don’t think it’s right at all. Even theoretically rational thinkers fall prey to the patriarchal mindset that’s pervaded culture for so long; there’s a lot of work to be done there, and I’m working on my own little corner of it myself.

    I guess I’m a feminist for most of the same reasons other people are feminists… with the exception of not having to take into account any sort of spiritual or religious doctrines that tell me I’m wrong.

  17. EllieMurasaki
    EllieMurasaki August 5, 2011 at 1:50 pm |

    Cynical remark is cynical: religious feminists are religious because atheism and feminism don’t get on so well either. See Elevatorgate, in which (if you haven’t heard) an atheist feminist got dogpiled by atheist sexists for pointing out that a guy hitting on a woman who doesn’t know him in an elevator at four am is being a creep.

  18. Andie
    Andie August 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm |

    Just wanted to pop in and say that I enjoyed your post, Shoshie and although I don’t have much to contribute, as my religious upbringing is pretty much nil and my spiritual belief system is pretty much chalked up to ‘live and let live’ (humanist I guess?) but I’m interested in seeing where this discussion takes us.

  19. matlun
    matlun August 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm |

    As to religion and feminism being incompatible, that surely depends on which religion we are talking about? Saying that they are incompatible in all cases would be saying that there are no religious feminists, which would be absurd on its face.

    (Especially just a few posts after the one about Muslim feminists…)

  20. Momentary
    Momentary August 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm |

    I identify as religious much more strongly than I identify as feminist, although I think anyone observing me would assume the opposite to be true. I don’t care that much about fighting over what “feminist” really means, but I get annoyed when people define religion as supernatural belief.

    I’m an animistic pantheist who was raised in a jumble of religious appropriation by hippies, with a lot of early exposure to both Quakerism and Wicca. I feel some ongoing connection to Quakerism but more as a friendly place to visit than a home — I’m Dionysian rather than Apollonian in my religious feeling and while I appreciate the tea and cookies, I want bonfires and forests and drums and starry skies.

    In the past I’ve found my religious community in one specific Pagan group, but I no longer live anywhere near them and in general I have difficulty finding it in most neo-Pagan groups because they are so completely dominated by recent converts who are busy working out a ton of personal issues with the religion that they grew up in — I’m sympathetic to that but it doesn’t nurture me. So I am often religiously lonely — I don’t know how to find a community of people who experience like I do.

    Religion has nothing to do with ethics or morals for me, it’s entirely experiential.

    The philosopher Nicholas Humphrey has an essay exploring whether there can be an explanation from evolutionary theory for experience of beauty and, in a directly connected way, ecstatic religious belief. One quote from it is: “We love nature because God made it. But I suspect it would come still closer to the
    psychological and biological reality to say: ‘Because God made you, that’s why I love God.’ For, given my argument above, it would seem bound to happen that our experience of natural
    beauty will lead to an erotic infatuation with whoever we suppose created it. Religious ecstasy, aesthetic ecstasy and sexual ecstasy will have become part of the same package.”

    That matches my religious experience, although my pantheism does not separate the creator from the created. But I’m not uptight about projecting an anthropomorphic deity of my choice onto my experience whenever I find it fulfilling to do so. I’m a big fan of metaphor and symbolism.

    The essay mentioned is at http://www.humphrey.org.uk/papers/2010Beauty'sChild.pdf should it be of interest to anyone.

  21. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig August 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm |

    I’m sort of on the fence about this. I was raised in an unchurched family, so we’re all nominally Christian, but none of us go to church regularly. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been in a church since puberty. I sometimes think it would be nice to join a religious community, but.. I’d have to give up nearly all of my political beliefs, I don’t think I’m completely straight,
    I don’t like being around judgemental people all the time and the marriage and kid stuff is right out. So I just feel like I’d end up giving up being me if I wanted to become a churched Christian.
    (And don’t even talk about the atheist community. I hate evo-psych apologists with a burning passion.)
    I should add that I feel that trying to be a Christian feminist would be like trying to run PC software on a MAC. It can work occasionally, but most of the time one or the other system is going to crash and burn.

  22. Ruthi
    Ruthi August 5, 2011 at 2:20 pm |

    So I’ve grown up in Reform Judaism. Because our congregation is very accepting of mixed faith marriage, it was very common for children to have parents with different religious beliefs, to celebrate both Christmas and Jewish holidays, etc. We actually share building space with a church and while the congregations didn’t interact much, it was still part of our identity as a community. Our religious school, which I’ve taught in for years now, teaches what the traditional Jewish beliefs are, but encourages students to think for themselves and figure out their own belief system. I’ve very much been formed by this experience and it has helped shaped my Jewish identity as something that doesn’t need to be xenophobic to be in a community.

    I agree with a lot of the things you’ve said about both local and global Jewish community. In response to some of the comments, Reform Judaism (and in my understanding this is true of Conservative Judaism too in its own way) recognizes that history is not stagnant and that while Judaism emphasizes a connection to the past, it must change with changing times. Some beliefs and practices don’t make sense in modern times and Judaism changes as a religion in response to these. So rather than viewing the Tanach and Talmud as the ultimate authority, Reform Judaism sees them as a guide for viewing the world, which need not be followed to the letter. The idea of restoring the world (Tikkun Olam) plays a huge role in Reform Judaism in that it is both our responsibility and required of us. We need to leave the world a better place, and this is a philosophy in complete alignment with a progressive and feminist view of the world.

    To be clear, I am not speaking for all Jewish beliefs, or even all Reform Jewish beliefs in the above discussion. Really, this is how I have absorbed and interpreted the teachings that have been given to me, so I can’t speak for how others might interpret them for themselves.

  23. Momentary
    Momentary August 5, 2011 at 2:29 pm |

    Thanks Shoshie, I’m very happy to have a little spark of religious community with you =)

  24. Helena
    Helena August 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm |

    This is my first time commenting, and I haven’t read the comments on previous discussions of this topic, so I hope I’m not treading a well-beaten path here. But something you said, Shoshie, made me blink: “They’re so tightly knit for me and, again, I feel like it’s a very Christian, Western idea that they can be easily separated.”

    I’m surprised, because Eastern Christianity (Armenian, Greek Orthodox, and to a lesser extent Russian Orthodox) isn’t at ALL like that. Spirituality and practice are one. The Eastern churches aren’t “Western,” as you say, but they’re certainly Christian, and (since my family left the Greek church when I was very young) I’d be interested in hearing some perspectives from those communities.

  25. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl August 5, 2011 at 2:39 pm |

    @ DoublyLinkedLists re this:

    But the flipside of such a wonderful community is the xenophobia that often comes along with it, like when a member wants to intermarry or bring their non-jewish friend to a seder. Sometimes there’s some really strong anti-gentile sentiment involved in the Jewish community, and that’s just not cool.

    You obviously have a horse in the Judaism race and it’s getting tired.

    I was brought up partially in the Lubavitch community and had a non-Jewish partner who I lived with unmarried for nearly six years and he was invited along with me to Pesach seders. No problem. At all. Anecdata end.

    Being religiously Jewish does NOT require anyone to be xenophobic. It can end up that way but then again nationalism can end up that way. Is it actually possible to have just one conversation about faith/religious communities without you bringing your personal bugbears into it?

    Back on the topic. I find that like Shoshie, Jewish community life is structured on the rituals and actions of the religion. It informs how we are born, marry and die and all the ebbs and flows of life in between. I was at university when my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and apparently according to my sister a well-oiled machine of care swung into action to support my Mum and Dad while she was getting treatment: food, care, counselling, you name it, true gemilut chasidim (acts of lovingkindess) which is a basic tenet of Judaism. In the UK, at least, there is no other type of community other than a religious one that would provide anything approaching a fraction of that.

    That gemilut chasidim (which includes service, Tzedakah (charity), tikun olam, accompanying the dead, to name just four) and learning are the basic two pillars of Judaism and that the fact that it is a pragmatic (and tricky!) religion which actively seeks to find ways to accept modern advances (like transplants, transfusions and the rest) means that as a born Jew, I am also happy to identify as one.

  26. Bridget
    Bridget August 5, 2011 at 2:45 pm |

    Good post. Although I was raised without any particular religion, I have recently seen some examples of community in religion which I find inspiring. One of my aunts is a Catholic nun, and when I visited her at the convent, I saw a really beautiful community of women taking care of each other and trying to do good things in the world. Now, both of my parents were raised Catholic and definitely have some horror stories involving nuns, but what I saw on my visit at least was surprisingly nice.

    My husband is Jewish (though he also identifies as Agnostic) and has taken me to the Synagogue with him. There I also saw a welcoming and warm community. I have agreed to raise our child Jewish. For my husband, this is mostly about the kid learning about the culture and traditions, which his family was, at times, not allowed to practice because of where they lived.

  27. alawyer
    alawyer August 5, 2011 at 3:00 pm |

    I’m an atheist, and I’ve got to disagree. I don’t think the Abrahamic religions are redeemable, from a feminist perspective. There’s a lot of misognistic stuff in the Torah—woman as the source of sin in the world, Lot’s offer of his daughters to be raped, the rape of the women of Midan, the laws of Leviticus. The Talmud is not any better. Likewise with the Prophets, the New Testament, and the Qu’ran. I know less about non-Abrahamic religions, so perhaps they are better, but the principal texts of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all overtly misoginistic (and they have other problems as well.)

    Sure, feminist thelogians have been at work re-interpreting these texts, but from the perspective of intellecutal coherence I think this is a doomed project. No amount of interpretation is going to eliminate the misogyny involved in Moses’s command to rape the women of Midan. (Non-feminist theologies also tend to be intellectually incoherent and ignore inconvenient passages, but I don’t like them either.)

  28. Past my expiration date
    Past my expiration date August 5, 2011 at 3:12 pm |

    I feel frustrated when people talk about how I should just embrace spirituality, over religion, because my spirituality comes from my religious practice. It’s a very Christian idea that thoughts and emotions, not actions, are what’s important for spiritual practice.

    I do understand what you’re saying. (Or rather, I should say that I understand what I perceive you to be saying.)

    And my father, for example, very strongly identifies as Jewish, and he’s observant (of the laws he wants to be observant of) although my guess is that his spirituality and belief in divinity approach non-existence. I have tried to explain to non-Jews that this is a very valid way of being Jewish. What counts most is that you observe, not that you believe.

    But for me, personally, without belief, there’s no reason for the observance, except for the connection to the Jewish community.

    (Not that this has much to do with being a religious feminist, except that it’s a problem I no longer have.)

  29. Catherine
    Catherine August 5, 2011 at 3:18 pm |

    Christian here, so not a ton to add to the discussion, but I will say this–I admire a lot of women who demonstrate an integrated, cohesive belief system. It’s been important in my life that I don’t just have feminism in a box over “here” and my faith life in a box over “there,” but that they strengthen each other and form a whole. That’s what “religious feminist” means to me.

  30. matlun
    matlun August 5, 2011 at 3:24 pm |

    alawyer: Sure, feminist thelogians have been at work re-interpreting these texts, but from the perspective of intellecutal coherence I think this is a doomed project.

    As another atheist I will say that you seem to be assuming a literal reading of the texts. In reality, this is definitely not the only approach, and non literal readings leaves much more scope for interpretation. (Whether or not this is “intellectually consistent” or not is beside the point.)

  31. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl August 5, 2011 at 3:28 pm |

    Shoshie:

    I think that it’s important, as religious feminists, to acknowledge places where people have been harmed and people aren’t being kind. In fact, I consider it an important part of my identity as a feminist Jew.

    Oh absolutely, I constantly work and challenge for the position of women and GLBTQ in my work and regular life. But DoublyLinkedLists brought in the very worst example of how a community can become narrow and rejecting at the very beginning of the conversation, before even advancing how it could, can be and is positive. To me that is not engaging with good faith, it is assuming the worst and proceeding from there!

  32. --bill
    --bill August 5, 2011 at 3:28 pm |

    two historical points:

    “It’s a very Christian idea that thoughts and emotions, not actions, are what’s important for spiritual practice.”
    This is a Protestant idea, and not universal across all Protestants.

    “I feel frustrated when people try to separate out my religion from my culture, to say that the culture is acceptable but the religion is not. They’re so tightly knit for me and, again, I feel like it’s a very Christian, Western idea that they can be easily separated.”
    Much of Western culture comes from lived experience, in this case the Wars of Religion in the 17th century. Part of the response to these Wars was the beginning of the idea that religion can be left at home, and not brought into the public sphere.

  33. Kim
    Kim August 5, 2011 at 3:38 pm |

    My views on the intersection of feminism and religion can’t help but be colored by the fact that I converted. Before I came to Judiasm, I was skeptical of organized religion, of what value there could be in following rules laid down by someone else. I’ve since discovered that there is something about the community action of praying together, of observing ritual, that is unique to me. The focus is on action as religious observance, rather than belief.

    I do often struggle with how to be a Jewish feminist, or a feminist Jew. It’s one reason (of many) that I align myself more with the liberal side of the spectrum of Judaism. Like Ruthi, I see the writings as our history that we interpret in the light of the world as we have evolved to see it. The actions I take, my religious observance, are feminist and Jewish as I strive for justice and fairness.

    The often exclusionary and, to be frank, sometimes xenophobic, nature of the Jewish community is troubling to me, and something I actively work to overcome.It goes hand in hand with the common sexism. Some people still don’t consider me Jewish, and I can’t say it doesn’t hurt. But, I persevere by finding my own subset of a Jewish community, one that is accepting and egalitarian. It’s a choice to make as a feminist – do you look for a community where the community beliefs are already egalitarian or do you try to push a community into being more egalitarian? I’ve made mine but don’t pretend that it’s best for everyone.

  34. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 5, 2011 at 3:39 pm |

    It really bothers me to see how wounded, jaded, cynical, and/or skeptical some people are about the very idea of religion. This is not to say that I don’t concede and understand why. I’ve always wondered precisely why the very mention causes some to bare fangs and lash out.

    Why be religious? Because I have felt the Holy Spirit. Because it guides me daily. The Bible guides me. I benefit from the Old Testament because it shows me how little human nature has changed over the centuries. The New Testament provides me a way to live my life as rendered by a radical, leftist rabbi. I have a strong faith that is tangible, even if invisible when held up to scientific scrutiny.

  35. sb
    sb August 5, 2011 at 3:40 pm |

    I’m an atheist/humanist, and I’m also a lifelong Unitarian Universalist; the two are not incompatible. (Note: UUism in the US and Canada =/= Unitarianism elsewhere — Unitarianism is still a Christian sect elsewhere.)

    It’s a community, where people can come together to challenge each others thinking and explore the kind of issues that are often only explored in a religious context in our society. (This is not to say they can’t be explored elsewhere, but they usually aren’t.)

    UUism is not at all incompatible with feminism, and often addresses and engages with gender inequity as a religious organization.

    (I’m also married to an agnostic/atheist Jew, and have felt very welcomed as an outsider walking among the Reform Jewish community, and not found it at all incompatible with feminism.)

  36. Anna Joy
    Anna Joy August 5, 2011 at 3:49 pm |

    I’m a Christian, and a feminist. And, it’s weird because for me it seems my feminist convictions evolved right out of my faith. I know it doesn’t work that way for a lot of women, but this has been my personal experience. The emphasis of Jesus on love your neighbor, no matter who that may be has been important and the focus on “the least of these” seem really underdeveloped concepts among most practitionors. Sometimes, I don’t understand how most of us fail to realize that “the least of these”, are the oppressed. And, no matter what Paul said, Jesus always stood with the marginalized. Today, (as always) that means women, trans* people, queer people, people of color. I feel to be true to my faith, service to social change is required. That’s why I have stayed in my faith. Eh, dunno if that was coherent, my two cents…

  37. ataralas
    ataralas August 5, 2011 at 3:58 pm |

    I am a (mainstream, Protestant, white) Christian feminist PK*, and I found myself nodding along to you, Shoshie, because I also don’t feel like I had a choice. I didn’t choose Christianity; I was chosen for it. And my experience of God is shaped through and by Christian myth and Christian community. The feminism came later.

    But even more, the Christian communities I called home are some of the strongest places where I saw (and still see) feminism being practiced: where I saw women being leaders and teachers and governing congregations, where I saw deep love being practiced, where I was supported when I was confusedly coming out in high school.

    I’m not blind to the abuse and harm that Christianity has perpetuated and continues to perpetuate over the centuries along all axes of oppression. But I was called to be a Christian, and that’s where I’ll be.

    *Preacher’s kid. In this case, my mother.

  38. DoublyLinkedLists
    DoublyLinkedLists August 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm |

    Shoshie, I think you might be talking about Protestantism when you talk about Christianity spreading ideas of religion as thought and faith instead of action. I took a course in college that discussed how the protestant ideas of faith and religious thought impact the way freedom of religion is interpreted in the US: that it is often seen as freedom of thought and not necessarily havign anything to do with religious practice and ceremony.

    @WestEndGirl
    I do “have a horse in the Judaism race” and it’s not tired at all. It lasted for 13 years, and in high school it was 10 hours a day, so I’ve got a lot of endurance when it comes to ignoring people who tell me to stop talking about my experiences with Orthodox Judaism.

    I would actually say that Orthodox Judaism does foster a certain amount of xenophobia unless you are actively trying to prevent from adopting that worldview. You cannot eat at your non-jewish friend’s house without a lot of accommodation, and you usually can’t spend time with non-jews on Saturdays because of Shabbos. Religious Judaism requires a set of practices that can be very isolating from non-Jews.

    I guess my opinion on being religious and feminist, or religious and tolerant, is that these are not things that come naturally. From what I’ve seen of Religious Judaic practice, it does not foster feminist and liberal views in its adherents, but that does not mean that religious Jews cannot be feminist and socially liberal. People like Shoshie are obvious examples of that!

    So kudos to you and people like you, Shoshie, for realizing that while religious Judaism is important to you, so are your values of social justice and feminism, and deciding that its important to try and reconcile the two.

  39. Andy
    Andy August 5, 2011 at 4:03 pm |

    Your writing off of alawyer was antithetical to this post. You’ve been challenged on your religion, so you write a peace defending your beliefs. I don’t see how that closes the discussion.

    I think that’s my biggest problem with religion. I’m glad you’ve come to a better position then traditionalist fundies, but you reduce arguments to “I think God supports x, deal with it”. No point in reasoning or arguing. It’s just as arrogant a stance as the James Dobsons of the world. Why should anyone take your views seriously?

    Alawyer is also right that you can’t unwrite Moses’s commands to rape women. You can’t unwrite Leviticus, or Deuteronomy (much less Kings, and really the whole OT) At best you can excuse them for being okay at the time, which is quite pathetic honestly.

    Someone in this thread mentioned being a catholic and feminist, because they had strong matriarchs in their family and they were also catholic. I have no doubt the matriarchs in their family were noble and great people, but let’s be clear, those qualities are independent of religion, and the religion you support fights tooth and nail everyday to remove your ability to control your reprodutive system.

    I’m glad you’ve accepted progressive ideals, but drop the anchor that is religion.

  40. Aurora
    Aurora August 5, 2011 at 4:10 pm |

    You don’t need religion to have community ( though I’d argue that strong communities often share a lot with religious communities, even if they don’t have a theology). But community IS required for religion ( at least in my view. Say you were a secular humanist who wanted to stay true to your values of social justice and human rights and generally being a good person. You could attempt that on your own, or you could get together with like minded people who will encourage you when you feel it is too hard, and remind you when you stray fro your goals or drift to far from them. Your group would then grow close and maybe have its own songs, clothes and activities -because people need these things to be part of a group.

    For me religion is like that, but my group is not just the people who have common values with me today- but everyone who in the past has struggled with the issues of how to live a moral life through the same texts and wisdom literature- so I am less alone. The ultimate purpose of religion may be social justice but the path is through ritual and community.

  41. alawyer
    alawyer August 5, 2011 at 4:21 pm |

    matlun: As another atheist I will say that you seem to be assuming a literal reading of the texts. In reality, this is definitely not the only approach, and non literal readings leaves much more scope for interpretation. (Whether or not this is “intellectually consistent” or not is beside the point.)

    I’m completely open to figurative or otherwise non-literal readings of the texts. You can be a Jew or Christian without being a young-earth creationist by adopting a non-literal reading of Genesis 1. But how can a non-literal interpretation of the rape of the women of Midan make that story anything other than misognistic?

  42. Zula
    Zula August 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm |

    I’m a very laid-back pagan feminist who was raised in a very laid-back Episcopalian family. I left the church, even though I have a great fondness for its rituals and teachings, because I do not believe in the divinity of Christ; no matter how much I tried to convince myself, to make myself accept it as Truth, it just wouldn’t happen. While I understand that some people are comfortable being a part of a religion even if they don’t believe in its religious tenets (and this isn’t just a Jewish phenomenon; there’s a persistent minority among Christians too), this felt dishonest to me.

    My current religion can hardly be called as much; it’s more a philosophy that grounds my understanding of the world. Unlike Christian doctrine, I have felt the Truth of the interconnectedness of all things, of the reality of nature’s spirits, on a very primal level – some times more intensely than others, and those intense moments are among the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced. It affects my environmentalism, my understanding of animal rights, my diet (I’m a conscientious omnivore), and my feminism as well.

    I don’t really “do” ritual as most people understand it, even though I admire the comfort and strength that it brings other people. I do perform magick on occasion, which I view as a ritual to bring me comfort as much as – if not more than – a way to actually affect my surroundings. I know full well it’s silly to think that burning candles of a certain color and so on will affect my ability to land a job, but I don’t really care.

  43. Tom Foolery
    Tom Foolery August 5, 2011 at 4:22 pm |

    And, because I believe in the Jewish God, I follow Judaism.

    This is where it breaks down for me. I’m interpreting this as “I believe in the Jewish God, as described in the Torah,” so if that’s not the case, then what follows is a nonstarter, but I don’t see why anyone would worship any of the gods as they are described in the Abrahamic traditions. Even if the god of Abraham revealed himself, I would have serious qualms about venerating the being who wiped the slate of humanity clean with the flood, who ordered Joshua to put Jericho to the sword and exterminate the Canaanites, the being who sanctioned slavery, etc. etc.

    So I get the desire for community and belonging. I just don’t get putting such a problematic entity at the center of it.

  44. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow August 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm |

    I’m a feminist pagan, of the non-deistic variety.

    For me, my religion is riding the Wheel of the Year, celebrating the turning of the seasons and the sabbats that mark them. Gods and Goddesses are metaphors we use to focus.

    I’m pagan because I am a feminist. Because the faith I was raised in had no space for an intelligent, independent, mouthy, queer woman. I muted all of that for many years, renounced feminism and generally did my best to conform.

    Sometime around 40, as many women do, I chucked all the conformity and became myself again. And I accepted the female could be spiritual, could have an actual connection with things around her rather than being an isolated appliance in her husband’s house.

  45. chingona
    chingona August 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm |

    alawyer: But how can a non-literal interpretation of the rape of the women of Midan make that story anything other than misognistic?

    You assume that we are supposed to read it as a good thing or that its inclusion in the text means that we must endorse it as a good thing.

    I’m hesitant to even say this because I don’t want to go even further on the derail, but it’s often strange to me how atheists, who believe religion to be a human construction, then turn around and say it can only be constructed one way. Atheists who make that kind of argument are basically siding with the fundamentalists.

  46. chava
    chava August 5, 2011 at 4:46 pm |

    For God’s sake (hah), Shoshie explicitly asked that the conversation not a) center on Christians or b) degenerate into the “eh, why do you believe in this BS anyway? Check out secular humanism. You iz not feminist.”

    And who do we have posting? Arrogant-ass atheists and a whole passel of Christians. Color me unsurprised.

  47. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl August 5, 2011 at 4:47 pm |

    @DoublyLinkedLists

    I do “have a horse in the Judaism race” and it’s not tired at all. It lasted for 13 years, and in high school it was 10 hours a day, so I’ve got a lot of endurance when it comes to ignoring people who tell me to stop talking about my experiences with Orthodox Judaism.

    I would actually say that Orthodox Judaism does foster a certain amount of xenophobia unless you are actively trying to prevent from adopting that worldview. You cannot eat at your non-jewish friend’s house without a lot of accommodation, and you usually can’t spend time with non-jews on Saturdays because of Shabbos. Religious Judaism requires a set of practices that can be very isolating from non-Jews.

    I’m not how I can say this without being impolite, but do you not realise that there is a pretty HUGE difference between being allowed to eat – or not, or with accommodation – at a friend’s house and xenophobia? There is also a difference between being isolated from non-Jews and xenophobia. And if this is sometimes true for Judaism it is similarly true for Islam, Jainism, Hinduism and other religions where food and ritual is strictly observed. And re: the Sabbath, I recently invited a Christian friend who is a Pentecostalist to a mid-afternoon Sunday event which she couldn’t make because she goes to church all day from 10am to the end of the evening…and so? There are many potential clashes with the mainstream or a different stream as a religious person, but just as many ways of resolving them easily.

    There also are many ways of being a religious Jew, but my point is, you are choosing to keep bringing in an extremely negative and narrow definition of what a religious Jew is. I work with a woman who goes to the mikveh, is shomer Shabbat, keeps home and etc who is the most open-minded, active careerwoman and feminist I know. I also know plenty of atheist, homophobic, xenophobic people, but I certainly don’t ascribe it to their atheism! I think perhaps you need to get some perspective and, yes, get off the tired horse.

  48. Joseph Caine
    Joseph Caine August 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm |

    It’s not really fair to ask commenters “Why be religious?” in the title and then tell the non-religious that “This isn’t about you”, and their reasons are “attacks on others’ beliefs.” We asked ourselves the question too, and sometimes that answer is “I’m not religious because I see a lot of misogyny or gender issues espoused as tenets of the religion that can’t be ignored.” No one is saying that you can’t be religious and a feminist, they are giving their answer to “Why be religious?”

    Also, conflating atheism and the pseudoscience masquerading as evo-psych is an unfair strawman. There are plenty of atheists who criticize bullshit sexism that pretends to be evo-psych.

  49. chava
    chava August 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm |

    I think its worth pointing out that a fair number of observant Jews don’t are atheists and/or don’t “believe in the Jewish God” in any “Torah true” sense.* Some keep the traditions because they feel a strong connection to the community that those traditions build, and/or feel a deep love of the rituals themselves. Others have a mystical/historical/philosophical connection to the “Jewish God.”

    * Which is, fwiw, something invented pretty recently. The Torah is foundational but it is only one of many Jewish writings about the nature of God.

  50. IrishUp
    IrishUp August 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm |

    chingona; I was about to make a similar point. The Abrahamic traditions assume that humans don’t get it right. We fuck up, we misinterpret, we execute badly. CULTURALLY, we KNOW that one of the most pervasive aspects of misogyny is the systematic erasure of women’s contributions, and the creation of narratives that support misogyny as the “Way the World IS”.

    To assume that religious texts – and the misogyny therein – cannot be reinterpreted or interpreted through a different lens, challenged, even expunged is to buy into inerrancy. While completely understandable in someone who self-describes that way, it seems a very odd positioning for someone coming from outside that belief system.

    On the other hand, if you view your religious texts as the imperfect translations of (Preferred Name) by humans who had specific cultural mores, axes to grind, biases, prejudices, etc., then the quest to align your feminism within your religious understanding not only becomes “legitimate” (for lack of a better word), but in some ways imperative.

  51. Marlene
    Marlene August 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm |

    I feel frustrated when people try to separate out my religion from my culture, to say that the culture is acceptable but the religion is not. They’re so tightly knit for me and, again, I feel like it’s a very Christian, Western idea that they can be easily separated.

    In addition to the historical information Bill gave, I’d like to also point out that for Jews in the United States the tradition of maintaining cultural identity while rejecting religion and spirituality has a long and important history.

    I am a third generation Socialist Jew. When I was little, my mother said “When they come for the Jews, they will be coming for us. That’s what makes us Jews.” I am no less a Jew for being an atheist. I resent your assertion that it is a Christian idea that religion and culture can be separated, especially considering the deep intertwining of Red Scare politics and antisemitism in the mid twentieth century.

    You are unaware of a great deal of relevant history and “history has always been my weakest subject” does not feel to me like an adequate response.

  52. matlun
    matlun August 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm |

    alawyer: I’m completely open to figurative or otherwise non-literal readings of the texts. You can be a Jew or Christian without being a young-earth creationist by adopting a non-literal reading of Genesis 1. But how can a non-literal interpretation of the rape of the women of Midan make that story anything other than misognistic?

    Well, many Christian churches get around it by basically throwing out the whole of the OT and then ignoring the parts of the NT that they disagree with. At the end of the day the religion is what the practitioners agree that it is and whether that makes sense or matches the actual text of their holy books is largely irrelevant. You can argue that the Bible justifies sex slavery and genocide, but that is not the actual religion of mainstream Christianity.

    Look at the very liberal Christian churches or theological thinkers like Karen Armstrong. As another example, the last Christian Church of Sweden had an archbishop who did not believe in the virgin birth or that Jesus walked on the water.

    Epistemologically, religion is not about rational belief so this type of radical reinterpretation is possible and not that uncommon in practice.

    (I am discussing Christianity here mainly because that is what I am most familiar with, but the principle is general)

  53. tree
    tree August 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm |

    Comrade Kevin:
    It really bothers me to see how wounded, jaded, cynical, and/or skeptical some people are about the very idea of religion.This is not to say that I don’t concede and understand why.I’ve always wondered precisely why the very mention causes some to bare fangs and lash out.

    obviously, i can’t speak for anyone but myself, but i know i’m not alone in my experience. i’m wounded, jaded and cynical about religion for the same reasons i’m wounded, jaded and cynical about alcoholism: it damaged me. it taught me fear and mistrust and to hate myself. it moulded me and no matter how much i resent it and try to disassociate myself from it, i can’t escape it.

  54. stonebiscuit
    stonebiscuit August 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm |

    ataralas: *Preacher’s kid. In this case, my mother.

    Hey hey, ataralas, me too. To be perfectly accurate, Mom was the DCE (Director of Christian Education), so I was basically a PK with none of the perks. :D

  55. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni August 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm |

    @westendgirl:

    I was at university when my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer and apparently according to my sister a well-oiled machine of care swung into action to support my Mum and Dad while she was getting treatment: food, care, counselling, you name it,[…] In the UK, at least, there is no other type of community other than a religious one that would provide anything approaching a fraction of that.

    Please don’t generalise. In your part of the UK? Maybe. In my part? People have suffered, are suffering, but are in it together for the long-haul. Kids are surrounded by ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ who may not be blood, but who care for them, educate them, look after them and even feed them. If someone is ill then food will appear, lifts to the hospital will be given, there won’t be a shortage of visitors to your hospital bed.

    Need your car fixed? Ask Bob, who’ll do it for you, no charge. Can’t get out of the house to cut your grass? The boys next door will do it. Live on your own, old, ill or just lonely? The community centre has drop-in sessions all day, every day for counselling, chess, or just a cuppa. They offer hot food daily, locally sourced and grown, either at the centre or delivered to your door – three courses for £4, for anyone who wants it.

    Don’t have a computer? Pop to ****** House and they’ll give you free lessons, or help you order your grocery shopping or a present for your grandkid. Oh no, you’re snowed in and can’t get to work! Oh, wait, here’s Kev with a spade and some salt.

    Youths can attend free social events, learn to DJ, do apprenticeships, and help out in the community allotments and gardens. There are free adult literacy and numeracy classes, free childcare groups, free ‘Meet a Mum’ sessions for women who are struggling and need mentorship.

    Anyone is welcome, as long as they don’t cause trouble. That’s what a community is. People are dirt poor, struggling with illness, poverty, grief, boredom, their sexuality, whatever – but they have banded together to turn this place into a proud, vibrant village.

    Not a church (or any other religious institution in sight). In fact, most of it has been put in place over ten years by my brother-in-law, who wanted this village to be the place it was back in his childhood. Yeah, we’re stuck in the 60s or 70s here in many ways, little public transport, neglected by the local council, but the last five years have shown that we don’t need them anyway.

    Compared to my religious upbringing full of snobbery, judgement and hate? It’s a dream.

  56. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig August 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm |

    To the commenter who posted on slavery (God’s stance on it) I’d like to point out that slavery in the ancient world was quite different from slavery as practiced in the 1600s-1800s. It was quite simply, based on luck rather than race. I’m not saying it wasn’t problematic, but please keep in mind that slavery as practiced in the time of the Old and New Testament was a different beast entirely from slavery in the American South or the Carribean islands.

  57. Politicalguineapig
    Politicalguineapig August 5, 2011 at 6:12 pm |

    Shoshie: I get that some people can make Christianity and feminism work, okay? I’m just saying that for me, an outsider, it seems untenable. And as for religion: if I could see a way to join a religious community without having to make myself into an entirely different person, I’d be in church every Sunday. But at this point, I just can’t see it happening.

  58. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl August 5, 2011 at 6:17 pm |

    Paraxeni

    I am very glad that your brother in law has (re-)created a community in a village. It sounds fantastic.

    But you know what? You know that old comment about how the exception proves the rule? You are just proving it in spades.

    Go on Paraxeni. Swear to me that that situation is usual, typical, frequent or even achievable for the other 63 million people in the UK not living in a ’60s or 70s’ village.

    1) Most people in the UK don’t live in small villages stuck in the 60s and 70s. Over 8 out of 10 people in the UK live in urban areas and a full third of the UK population live in just 10 major urban areas and that is based on figures from the 2001 Census. All indications show that this figure will have increased due to a variety of factors including mass immigration to cities and shifts in the types of industries operating in the UK and where they operate.

    2) Creating a closely community of the type you describe in urban areas is much harder, with larger numbers of people, more diverse types of people and larger social problems including poorer, scarcer housing, violent crimes levels, longer working hours, stronger drugs, among others. I know this, because this is my job, working in grass roots community development in Kings X. There are bonds that can be made and, as many as there are, there are just as more breaks and schisms that can’t just be imagined away, particularly at scale.

    3) I didn’t say there was no community in the UK and for sure pockets exist, but the fact that the ConDem Government has decided to socially engineer more of it in their Big Society shtick indicates to me that some things are needing to majorly fixed. And the efforts of your brother in law natch.
    The Big Lunch, all of that, are attempts by people to recreate the community that has disappeared over the last 50 years which used to be organised via the traditional church. And the thing is, religious and to an extent ethnic communities (which typically overlap with relgious communities as in Greek Orthodox, Armenian Xtian, Italian Catholic Church goers) don’t have to do that recreation do they?

    Good Lord, talk about disingenous.

  59. sadiejane
    sadiejane August 5, 2011 at 6:26 pm |

    Joseph Caine:
    It’s not really fair to ask commenters “Why be religious?” in the title and then tell the non-religious that “This isn’t about you”, and their reasons are “attacks on others’ beliefs.” We asked ourselves the question too, and sometimes that answer is “I’m not religious because I see a lot of misogyny or gender issues espoused as tenets of the religion that can’t be ignored.” No one is saying that you can’t be religious and a feminist, they are giving their answer to “Why be religious?”

    Also, conflating atheism and the pseudoscience masquerading as evo-psych is an unfair strawman. There are plenty of atheists who criticize bullshit sexism that pretends to be evo-psych.

    THIS. THIS. THIS.

  60. anna
    anna August 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm |

    Question: Do you as religious feminists (this is meant for Shoshie and all religious feminists here) see/refer to God as male? Why or why not? I think of God as genderless- I mean, what would it mean for God to be male, that He somehow has a penis? And the greatest being of all being male is a pretty big damper on the role of women in the universe if you ask me.

  61. victoria
    victoria August 5, 2011 at 6:53 pm |

    Coming from a christian/catholic faith background, i’m going to hold off on sharing from my personal p.o.v. on this topic, but i do want to say thank you, Shoshie, for this post and for trying to create a space to hear from others.

  62. Jen
    Jen August 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm |

    I don’t see how you got that “It’s a very Christian idea that thoughts and emotions, not actions, are what’s important for spiritual practice.” The Bible says that we are to be “the hands and feet of Christ,” and that means getting out there and doing things. I also belong to a very tight-knit Christian community, who does many of the things you spoke of your community doing.

    I get the feeling that (and forgive me if I have the wrong idea here), you have seen only those Christians that are out there in the media, the ones who rail against homosexuality, who are predicting the End-Times, and all that.

    Recently, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (my branch and denomination) had a falling-out with our more conservative brethren (the Missouri Synod Lutherans) over allowing the ordination of LGBT and female pastors. I study the Bible and I think critically about what is an Earthly text. I feel completely accepted in my church, and I do not feel that feminism and religion are at all incompatible.

    Anna: I believe that God is above gender. I use “He” to refer to Him because it’s the most gender-neutral pronoun that English has that’s for a person (singular “they” is too awkward).

  63. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni August 5, 2011 at 7:19 pm |

    Westendgirl – actually, communities like this one exist all around this region. I lived in an urban, industrial town growing up in the 80s, and it was very much like this one. Community life was great, I felt safe and loved, and we were never short of things to do or places to go. It was the religious facets of my life that were filled with shame, indignity and exclusion for daring to be who I was.

    Whatever you say, whatever David fucking Cameron says, the south is not the be-all and end-all of England, and the country does not end in Manchester or Birmingham. The Tories were the ones who ripped the heart out of this community, and this entire region, and just as we were daring to get back on our feet – here they are again. His party are the reason this place became a hellhole in the first place, the reason the city of my birth went from a centre of industry to a ghost city. The fact that anyone has any dignity left at all is nothing short of a miracle.

    Do not talk to me about his bullshit ‘Big Society’ either, his way of saying “We’ll steal from you, and gut you, and you’d better hope someone else is there to pick up the pieces because we won’t, and the NHS and social services won’t exist anymore, suck on that povs!” He didn’t invent community get-togethers, they’ve existed for years, he’s just seeing them as a way to justify cutting social services.

    You’re picking fights all over this thread, trying to prove the lived experiences of everyone else wrong. You’re accusing anyone who has a different experience of Judaism than you have of being wrong or biased, you make claims about there being no community other than the Jewish one in the UK who provide support and help to people, and get pissy when you’re called on it

    And we’re the disingenuous, biased ones? Pffft.

    @Shoshie – this is a brilliant place. Like I said, life is challenging here. It’s rural, impoverished, and home to some of the most marginalised people in the country, but even as a newcomer, a purple-haired dyke one at that, I was made welcome from day one. Even better, not one person has ever claimed that I’m queer because I had “bad times with men” (haha, what men?) or that I’m disabled through lack of faith.

  64. Jen
    Jen August 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm |

    Shoshie: Simply put, I got it from interacting with Christians. Who I have, in fact, interacted with outside of on television or on the Internet. I’ve frequently had Christians question the importance of my “archaic” rituals, and they tend to be pretty dismissive when I say that, for example, I can’t be somewhere because I don’t drive on Saturday or something like that. Maybe it’s more that there’s a skepticism towards ritual? Or what’s viewed as excessive ritual?

    Ah. If you’re speaking to Protestants (of all kinds), there may well be a distrust of what are viewed as “archaic” or “excessive” rituals. The foundations of Protestantism came from Martin Luther, who was outraged the old Roman Catholic church was demanding indulgences (money) for the salvation of Christian souls. He accused the Catholic church of being ostentatious and putting far too much emphasis on outer pomp and pageantry. It seems like we’ve swung too far to the other extreme: Believing that any ritual means you are “worshipping an idol.”

  65. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 5, 2011 at 7:38 pm |

    How can there be any other reason ‘why’ one follows a religion other than one truly and completely believes in it’s tenets? If you have to justify the bits you don’t believe in, then you’re not really following the religion. I would never ask someone ‘why’ they follow a religion, it seems almost as insulting as asking ‘why’ someone is gay. You can’t help what’s going on in your head.

  66. CBrachyrhynchos
    CBrachyrhynchos August 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm |

    sb:
    I’m an atheist/humanist, and I’m also a lifelong Unitarian Universalist; the two are not incompatible.(Note: UUism in the US and Canada =/= Unitarianism elsewhere — Unitarianism is still a Christian sect elsewhere.)

    More an occasional UU here rather than a lifelong one. I’m struggling to figure out how to label myself (secular buddhist? religious humanist?), but the distinction of atheist or religious no longer makes sense to me.

  67. annalouise
    annalouise August 5, 2011 at 8:29 pm |

    I agree with Fat Steve (well sort of). I am a Christian because I believe the Jesus Christ is God incarnate who came to earth to as expression God’s incredible love for his creation and is coming again to inaugurate a new, healed world where God and humanity are together. Everything else is just window-dressing.

    I am strengthened by a connection to the women who came before me, but I don’t share their faith merely because I admire them.

    These beliefs are huge, and intense and personal and do not exist in the world of rationality and argument. I think if we start getting too into the window dressing we cause more problem than we solve. The window dressing becomes things that are worth arguing about, and the deep faith I think we should only respond to with respect.

    A lot of liberal Christians like argue that Judaism is a religion of laws and Christianity is a religious of love, and that’s nonsense. But I think people cling to that nonsense because it’s somehow embarrassing to acknowledge that Christians and Jews believe something very different at a deep, faith level about the nature of the Messiah. But it’s okay to believe really different things about great, unknowable mysteries.

  68. licious
    licious August 5, 2011 at 8:40 pm |

    In looking at the comments, I didn’t see anyone who actively identified as Buddhist, and I certainly don’t speak for all of us, but it motivated me to share.
    I certainly cannot separate my faith from my feminism. Buddhism teaches me to appreciate and respect my body. To engage in social justice. To reach out and create community with people. To recognize the true good in all people. To live with mindfulness and compassion. To open my heart and mind to all the possibilities of the day. These are, to my mind, equally Buddhist and feminist teachings.
    Furthermore, while there are certainly patriarchal and oppressive practices, assumptions and language in Buddhism, the very teachings of Buddha encourage me to call attention to those practices.

  69. Kyra
    Kyra August 5, 2011 at 8:53 pm |

    For me, the decision to be religious is one of desire: the desire for love—to be loved by a loving Deity (or lots of Them); to love others in complete safety, knowing that those I love cannot be destroyed or torn from me forever; to rest in certainty that however I might fuck up my life or someone/something else might fuck it up for me, it isn’t all I’ve got, and my mistakes aren’t permanent; to be comforted that everyone I might feel empathy for, whose life has been tragic or unkind—every murder victim, star-crossed couple, starved child, abandoned pet, uprooted tree, or lost toy can be restored, healed, loved, and find the happiness that they weren’t given, or didn’t keep, this time around the wheel of life.

    It is a conscious decision to believe, fueled by what it pleases me to call logic: I might be right or wrong; it might or might not matter. The only thing guaranteed to me is this life, however long it might be. If I’m wrong and there’s no God and no afterlife, there’s no prize for being right, no penalty for being wrong, and I would do best to spend my life the happiest I can be, which means believing in a loving Deity and filling my life with expressions of love, toward myself and others. If I’m wrong and there is a God and Zie rejects me for not believing or acting right, then I’ve refused to waste my life as stakes in the guessing game of Which Is The One True Faith when the best I could hope for is a place in someone else’s Heaven at the price of spending eternity as someone I don’t want to be, and still risking eternal damnation pretty much as much as I do with a faith I choose. Or I could be right, and God is Love, and for everyone.

    I believe that God (omniscient and omnipotent) exists, and that God loves, unconditionally and universally; everything else I believe springs from those two assumptions: Universalism from the unconditional love; a sort of polytheism from the recognized diversity of people, who could not all be be the same happy if God showed them the same single face, and from respect for all the world’s people and the religious beliefs they hold in good faith; an afterlife as a place of joy, reunion, and healing; a universe that is playground and storybook and challenge and source of perspective and means of appreciation, of all the things to which the evils and trials of the world are contrast.

    I believe in a God—and at the same time, Gods—who are just what is suited to the bisexual, polyamorous, kinky, fragile-and-strong-by-turns, wise, scatterbrained, empathic, selfish, creative, beauty-adoring, shy, kind, mercurial, deep and shallow, arrogant and uplifting, determined and lazy, cautious and foolhardy, imperfect-but-doing-something-approaching-my-best woman that I am. And I believe in the same for everybody else, to whatever extent that they want Hir.

    I believe this is not an excuse to think oneself perfect, but an invitation to accept oneself imperfections and all and to be as good as one can be, because both They and oneself whom They love are worthy of it.

    So, basically, I believe what I believe because I am an optimist, and because I love myself enough to give myself what I need. I value, immensely, the concept of God and the hope of infinity in life and love.

  70. JDP
    JDP August 5, 2011 at 9:18 pm |

    There should be a distinction made between atheist and Atheist. Belief or disbelief in a deity is pretty unremarkable. Those who say disbelief ought to be life-changing are just as scary, imo, as those who say belief should be life-changing.

    “i am a Jew” is, to me, a statement of identity and a statement of practice, and perhaps a statement of values. It isn’t a statement of belief.

  71. The Flash
    The Flash August 5, 2011 at 9:49 pm |

    This is such a weird, post-mid-twentieth-century discussion. I don’t mean to force my perspective on this, so: Why am I a Jew? Because I’m a Jew.

    Hannah Arendt was opposed to the development of the mushy idea of “human rights” in the wake of World War II, and for good reason: people do not treat each other, writ large, as having human rights. If reality is in any way instructive, then “human rights” just tears down the rights that discrete groups of people seize for themselves as badges of group identity. The reason that Jews worldwide welcome each other into their homes is that Jews are always treated as *others* by their surrounding society, and so they have an affinity that sets them apart; it is not “human rights” that leads to the capacity for Jews to work to make each other safe, comfortable, and welcome, but rather a distinct idea of the rights and needs of the Jew. And in the modern world, we’ve enshrouded these ideas in law, leading to phrases like “Hey man, I’m an American, I’ve got rights!” There is no world government defining the rights of all humans– the UN can make all the declarations it wants because it is impotent, and impotence leads to frivolity. Hannah Arendt’s point was that the survival of the Jews in Europe couldn’t be by generating an idea of “human rights” and then letting the Jews in as peopleless individuals, but by welcoming the Jews back to Europe with an idea of the distinct rights of the Jews, which would include not being led into Auschwitz. And, lo and behold, now, in Europe, when Muslim youth violence makes being Jewish a Very Dangerous Thing, governments aren’t particularly interested in protecting their Jews (except against drunk fashion designers) because it might cause riots. Because those governments aren’t invested in protecting Jews *as* Jews, even though those people are being attacked *as* Jews.

    We don’t live in a post-racial world, and nobody ever says “why are you Black?” or “why are you Italian?” But everyone in progressive ideological and intellectual communities thinks “why are you Jewish?” is a real question, as if centuries of Jews didn’t try converting and changing their names to enter polite society, and then still saw horrendous prejudice wrought upon them. You’re Jewish because it’s what you ARE. And you can convert to become Jewish and take on this experience, this wealth, this pain, but, in a very real sense, until you have Jewish children whose lot you are cast in with irrevocably, you have not joined in it, and once you are of it, you cannot convert away from it. Not everything in life is a choice, and the masquerade of identity construction has a, perhaps less detailed, real and innate face behind it.

  72. Matt
    Matt August 5, 2011 at 11:28 pm |

    I’m not choosing to believe that women are inferior to men, its just an internal truth.
    Not really, but maybe you get my point. You believe that because you were taught as a child and you haven’t run into a significant enough counter influence. Children generally learn what they are taught. As long as something is an internal truth just because you grew up with it, feminism is going to fail. As long as people refuse to accept the reality supported by the facts, that men and not better than women, and that religion is ridiculous and archaic, nothing is going to change except at a glacial pace. The ironic power in your post in regards to the people’s beliefs shall fuel my soul for many a day. I thank you.

  73. Queen Maeve
    Queen Maeve August 6, 2011 at 12:09 am |

    Why is “community” an ok reason for a feminist to be religious, and “faith” doesn’t seem to be? I could find “community” in lots of places, not least of which activist groups. I believe in my religion because I believe that its teachings are true. Not because they have the best donuts or the best Tuesday bingo or because they’ll pick up your electric bill if you lose your job. Because it’s true.

  74. abby
    abby August 6, 2011 at 1:13 am |

    i love your mention of the internal Truth of your god for you. i feel the same way; i’ve been a mystic for as long as i can remember. i know my gods and my saints, and they know me.

    i was the first female altar server in my parish (i grew up catholic), and the pope officially declared that both men and women could serve at the altar four days after my eighth birthday — i was at crafts club with my mother, our favorite nun, and a handful of elderly ladies when the announcement came on the radio, and i’ll never forget the joy and hope in all of their faces when they looked at me. sister norah was our favorite for many reasons, among them the time my mother told her how much the constant bake sales and golf outing ticket sales and raffles in the narthex annoyed her. sister norah, a sweet little scottish woman, said softly, “well, at times like these, i really just wish to emulate our lord — and FLIP OVER THE TABLES and yell ‘you have made the house of my father a DEN OF THIEVES!'”

    so when i tell people i hung out with nuns a lot as a little girl, the lessons i learned are the opposite of what they expect: i learned to trust what i heard god saying more than what the priests told me god said, and that it was “absolutely silly” to think that i was less capable of understanding or serving god than boys were.

    i left the institutional church because i couldn’t cope with being part of an organization with such bass-ackwards policies anymore — or, to be honest, with the way those policies made people think of me. i felt like a faith i had to stick eight thousand disclaimers on (oh no, i’m not one of THOSE catholics! for heaven’s sake, i’m queer! i’m the liberal, angry kind of catholic! i’m pro-gay marriage and anti-child abuse! ad infinitum) wasn’t really the place for me. but the reason i sought out my current temple was because jesus told me to. it felt more like learning a new language to talk about what i’d always known than it did like changing my religion.

    that’s my super-long-winded way of getting around to the fact that i feel like being religious and being feminist (and anti-oppression in general) are deeply rooted in me and tangled up with each other.

  75. chava
    chava August 6, 2011 at 1:57 am |

    I think it’s the ritual. I get that all the time from (lapsed or not) Protestants, but not so much from Catholics or Anglicans/Episcopalians. They also seem to have more trouble understanding how “Jew” can be a cultural signifier–probably because (in the US) their culture is the dominant one and thus doesn’t appear as “culture” per se, just the way things are.

    Shoshie: Simply put, I got it from interacting with Christians.Who I have, in fact, interacted with outside of on television or on the Internet.I’ve frequently had Christians question the importance of my “archaic” rituals, and they tend to be pretty dismissive when I say that, for example, I can’t be somewhere because I don’t drive on Saturday or something like that.Maybe it’s more that there’s a skepticism towards ritual?Or what’s viewed as excessive ritual?

  76. chava
    chava August 6, 2011 at 2:06 am |

    Wow, really? The OP hasn’t “run into a significant counter influence”? I must have missed the last thousand years of history.

    If an internal truth/faith isn’t harming others–and in fact, often helps them–then why does it matter if it is objectively verifiable?

    And for what its worth, I was brought up as a staunch atheist. My father still checks in periodically to “make sure I haven’t gone off the deep end” of monotheism.

    Matt:
    I’m not choosing to believe that women are inferior to men, its just an internal truth.
    Not really, but maybe you get my point. You believe that because you were taught as a child and you haven’t run into a significant enough counter influence. Children generally learn what they are taught. As long as something is an internal truth just because you grew up with it, feminism is going to fail. As long as people refuse to accept the reality supported by the facts, that men and not better than women, and that religion is ridiculous and archaic, nothing is going to change except at a glacial pace. The ironic power in your post in regards to the people’s beliefs shall fuel my soul for many a day. I thank you.

  77. matlun
    matlun August 6, 2011 at 2:44 am |

    chava: They also seem to have more trouble understanding how “Jew” can be a cultural signifier

    Isn’t this just semantics?
    “Jew” is an ethnicity as well as some who follows Judaism, so there is some ambiguity. Many people self identify as “Atheist Jew” which actually makes sense in a way that “Atheist Christian” would not. (I do have some friends who use “Muslim” in the same way. Ie you are Muslim if you come from a Muslim family, regardless of your religious beliefs)

  78. matlun
    matlun August 6, 2011 at 3:12 am |

    Matt: As long as people refuse to accept the reality supported by the facts, that men and not better than women, and that religion is ridiculous and archaic,

    Men not being better than women is not a fact. In fact it is a false statement for many definitions of “better” (for example “better at heavy physical work”). Read in the way I assume you mean it, this is instead an ethical value judgment. We do not believe in equality and human rights because these are “facts” but because we accept them as moral principles.

    The counter force to religion in this case (regarding feminism and gender relations) is not science, it is secular moral and political development.

    For feminist work within a religious society you have a tension between different approaches which was discussed quite a bit in the Muslim feminist post. You can
    1. Work against religion and for secularism, or
    2. Try to reform the religion from within

    My understanding of the religious feminist is that this is someone who, for varying reasons, has chosen the second approach. While the claims of (at least most of) the religions are factually false, this can still be very valuable work that is worthy of respect.

  79. Raja
    Raja August 6, 2011 at 3:28 am |

    Religion is a very monotholic thing and the way you interpret it varies from person to person. I don’t see why someone can’t be feminist and belong to a religion as well. Oh yeah why the fuck would God have a gender? Gender as its most basic is for biological organisms that need to reproduce. For an entity like God; this is irrelevant.

  80. chava
    chava August 6, 2011 at 3:43 am |

    AWESOME.
    I think people tend to forget that many early European feminist figures were nuns, abbesses, and prioressess. It was one of the few paths to literacy and (some) political power–not to mention avoiding death in childbirth, subjugation to a husband, etc.

    That isn’t to say that the system wasn’t flawed–subjugation to the Father–and male clergy– is, to say the least, problematic. But I think it’s important not to forget the long history of women’s voices being heard from within religion itself.

    abby:

    i was the first female altar server in my parish (i grew up catholic), and the pope officially declared that both men and women could serve at the altar four days after my eighth birthday — i was at crafts club with my mother, our favorite nun, and a handful of elderly ladies when the announcement came on the radio, and i’ll never forget the joy and hope in all of their faces when they looked at me. sister norah was our favorite for many reasons, among them the time my mother told her how much the constant bake sales and golf outing ticket sales and raffles in the narthex annoyed her. sister norah, a sweet little scottish woman, said softly, “well, at times like these, i really just wish to emulate our lord — and FLIP OVER THE TABLES and yell ‘you have made the house of my father a DEN OF THIEVES!’”

  81. Becca M
    Becca M August 6, 2011 at 3:59 am |

    I am a Jew because as a Jew my history stretches back over 5000 years. I am a feminist because Judaism is passed down through women and carried by us.

    I am Jewish because my mother is Jewish, and my grandmothers are Jewish and all my great grandmothers… I am aware of the accomplishments of my great grandpa (which were many and impressive), but I KNOW the smell of my great grandma’s perfume from the embroidered head scarves handed down to me. When I cook and eat a distant relative’s recipe I not only know what she served her children, but through the spices and ingredients I can trace my history to Greece, Spain and Morocco. I sing songs women wrote, read family trees in women’s handwriting, embroider challah covers from women’s patterns.

    I am a Jewish feminist because the strongest bonds I’ve formed with girls (now women) have been through synagogue and youth groups. Because I was always taught Torah and philosophy on an equal level to the boys. Because I was never given cause to feel ashamed of being female, even when I had to cover my head in stricter synagogues.

    I am a Jewish feminist because I was raised Reform. I remember learning a new version of the Avot that had been changed to include Sarah, Rivkah, Leah and Rachel. In our prayer books I remember how all male references to G-d were whited out in favor of gender neutrality. All through highschool Synagogue was my refuge from homophobia. Gay weddings were held in our chapel. I remember how every Purim our Rabbi dressed as Esther and would go by the name Esther-Chester as he led services.

    I am a Jewish feminist because for me they have always been the same thing.

  82. Matt
    Matt August 6, 2011 at 6:25 am |

    matlun: Men not being better than women is not a fact. In fact it is a false statement for many definitions of “better” (for example “better at heavy physical work”). Read in the way I assume you mean it, this is instead an ethical value judgment. We do not believe in equality and human rights because these are “facts” but because we accept them as moral principles.

    The counter force to religion in this case (regarding feminism and gender relations) is not science, it is secular moral and political development.

    For feminist work within a religious society you have a tension between different approaches which was discussed quite a bit in the Muslim feminist post. You can
    1. Work against religion and for secularism, or
    2. Try to reform the religion from within

    My understanding of the religious feminist is that this is someone who, for varying reasons, has chosen the second approach. While the claims of (at least most of) the religions are factually false, this can still be very valuable work that is worthy of respect.

    Ah, I am certainly happy to see someone deconstructing the word better, so many people refuse to do that. I am defining better as possessing more inherent worth, although perhaps that is also inaccurate. I am not really interested in such a discussion at this point, as I think you know what I meant.

    What I was really interested in pointing out, was that the idea that you just are jewish, is logically consistent with just being “a person who has certain views on the role of women.” So if you don’t consider Judaism a choice, why would you try to claim that believing in the ideas feminists are working against is any less a solid part of a person?

  83. Matt
    Matt August 6, 2011 at 6:41 am |

    The OP has not lived those last 1000 years of history, so that doesn’t apply to her. You could make that argument for those who were Jewish in the periods you are trying to talk about, and I would be happy to talk about that.
    I don’t think you understand what a significant counter influence would be. See, certain events cause some people to change certain beliefs but not others. Because any single even has to be understood in the context of all the influences ever exerted on a person, to be truly understood.

    As for not harming anyone, I submit to you the feminist theory of rape culture. Not all ideas have incredibly direct affects on the person holding them, or the people around them. Just because you don’t understand why something is harmful, doesn’t mean it isn’t. When my friends and I were sitting around in highschool, telling this joke and others:
    “What do you tell a woman with two black eyes? Nothing, you already told her twice!”
    There was no direct consequence. None of the girls there happened to be physically abused, no guy had raped a girl, none of us considered that joke to be anything but an amusing association of ideas juxtaposed against popular american culture. That doesn’t mean that telling jokes about physically abusing women, and the very fact that that particular web of ideas creates an association which is amusing, as opposed to say:
    “why do monkeys like red? cause they aren’t turtles!”
    doesn’t harm women.
    The problem I have is that the poster is claiming that some ideas are intrinsic parts of a person, whereas other ideas which are ingrained in the consciousness in an identical manner, are something you can just change. I don’t care if someone believes in a magical sky man or not, but the fact that they do, and that people consider that normal, makes me sad for our species, because considering one ridiculous idea as acceptable opens the doorway to a lot of other ideas being accepted, and not just anti-female ideas, but racism and other isms. Ironically, ancient Jews were the epitome of racist. To say that you don’t choose Judaism, or Christianity, but that you DO choose to be misogynist, or racist, is the worst kind of magical, illogical, oppression perpetrating thinking.
    Feminism is supposed to be about examining and questioning social norms, but this poster is just saying, I don’t have to question my Judaism, and you shouldn’t either, it just is, and the wondering why no one questions all the injustice perpetrated on women and minorities and disabled people, etc.

    chava:
    Wow, really? The OP hasn’t “run into a significant counter influence”? I must have missed the last thousand years of history.

    If an internal truth/faith isn’t harming others–and in fact, often helps them–then why does it matter if it is objectively verifiable?

    And for what its worth, I was brought up as a staunch atheist.My father still checks in periodically to “make sure I haven’t gone off the deep end” of monotheism.

  84. chava
    chava August 6, 2011 at 7:00 am |

    Matt:
    The OP has not lived those last 1000 years of history, so that doesn’t apply to her. You could make that argument for those who were Jewish in the periods you are trying to talk about, and I would be happy to talk about that.

    I don’t even….ugh. Someone else field this one?

    Matt:

    I don’t think you understand what a significant counter influence would be.

    Oh! How kind of you to ‘splain it to me!

    Matt:
    There was no direct consequence. None of the girls there happened to be physically abused, no guy had raped a girl, none of us considered that joke to be anything but an amusing association of ideas juxtaposed against popular american culture. That doesn’t mean that telling jokes about physically abusing women, and the very fact that that particular web of ideas creates an association which is amusing, as opposed to say:
    “why do monkeys like red? cause they aren’t turtles!”
    doesn’t harm women.

    Sorry, what? Aside from the tacky nature of using rape jokes as an example with which to make your point….you seem to be straining to say “all religion is rotten at the root, and to boot harmful to women, therefore it must be thrown out.” Okay. This is debatable. Religious feminists disagree with you.

    Matt:
    To say that you don’t choose Judaism, or Christianity, but that you DO choose to be misogynist, or racist, is the worst kind of magical, illogical, oppression perpetrating thinking.
    Feminism is supposed to be about examining and questioning social norms, but this poster is just saying, I don’t have to question my Judaism, and you shouldn’t either, it just is, and the wondering why no one questions all the injustice perpetrated on women and minorities and disabled people, etc.

    YES! A tefillin wearing, queer, fat, chemist Jewess TOTALLY isn’t engaged in an ongoing process of questioning her Judaism! I see it now! Jesus fucking Christ, did you miss the whole point of this and D. of. Z post?

    And no, you don’t (well, usually) “choose” to be Jewish. You can choose to be observant or not, etc. Can you choose to have faith or not, which is the point under discussion here? No, not really.

    I strongly disagree with the line you are trying to draw from ANY kind of faith–religious or not–to racism, misogyny, etc. You are effectively saying that anyone who believes in anything they cannot prove is aiding and abetting rape culture because they “open the door” to irrationality. I repeat, wtf?

  85. Ashley
    Ashley August 6, 2011 at 7:07 am |

    I’m always surprised at how willing progressives are to buy into fundamentalist, dogmatic understandings of religion. Why in the world would you accept fundamentalist claims of inerrancy in religious texts, the possibility of “literal” interpretation, or the idea that the only “real” members of a tradition are the ones who adhere to the current orthodoxy? Why would you even accept the idea that it is POSSIBLE to adhere to a single orthodoxy? I’ve never met two members of a faith who believe exactly the same thing. It’s just weird to me. Progressives are supposed to be more flexible in their thinking, and I think they usually are, but sometimes on this subject, the opposite seems to happen. All of the rigidity of right-wing extremists is swallowed as if it’s truth.

    So I’m a feminist because I believe in feminism, and a Buddhist because the four noble truths make sense to me. There is no contradiction between the two. Those who know me well can attest to the fact that meditation has made me a more effective activist, although that’s not really the point.

  86. Ashley
    Ashley August 6, 2011 at 7:41 am |

    “I’m not religious because I see a lot of misogyny or gender issues espoused as tenets of the religion that can’t be ignored.”

    Also, conflating atheism and the pseudoscience masquerading as evo-psych is an unfair strawman. There are plenty of atheists who criticize bullshit sexism that pretends to be evo-psych.

    The idea that the only REAL science is the kind that isn’t anti-feminist strikes me in exactly the same say as the idea that the only REAL Christianity is the kind that isn’t violent, or the only REAL Islam is the kind that doesn’t hate women.

    It’s the same logical fallacy (or the same truth, depending on how you look at it). There is feminist science and anti-feminist science. There is feminist religion and anti-feminist religion. Metaphysical beliefs need not take on oppressive or violent trappings, but they usually do, because people are like that.

    I have a coupla degrees in ecumenics, and the tenets of the major religions, as I understand them, are:

    1) Scientific Materialism: Only the material and measurable is real, and the scientific method is the only way to know true reality.

    2) Christianity: God sent Christ to teach humanity. Love your neighbor as yourself.

    3) Buddhism: Life is suffering. The cause of suffering is attachment and aversion. You can escape suffering by changing your mental habits. Love your neighbor as yourself.

    4) Islam: There is no God but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

    5) Judaism: You shall love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your breath. Love your neighbor as yourself.

    6) Hinduism: Brahman/Atman takes myriad forms, as do the paths to it. Love your neighbor as yourself.

    That really is about all I can come up with that is not negotiable, and even then, it’s iffy. Nothing about those beliefs contradicts feminism. In fact, only scientific materialism comes up against the nihilistic dilemma, which really does contradict feminism. Not that that can’t be resolved in some way, but it’s always there.

  87. matlun
    matlun August 6, 2011 at 8:09 am |

    Matt: Ah, I am certainly happy to see someone deconstructing the word better, so many people refuse to do that.

    A question of semantics, but one that is admittedly one I find annoying. I do not really believe in the principle that “all humans have equal value” or the same “intrinsic worth”. The reason for this is that I do not believe it is possible to assign an objective value in any general sense, which makes this type of statement meaningless. And if you do choose any such measure, it will presumably give differing values for different people anyway…

    Matt: What I was really interested in pointing out, was that the idea that you just are jewish, is logically consistent with just being “a person who has certain views on the role of women.

    I have never denied this, and I missed that anyone else was denying it. Perhaps I was missing some post you were responding to?

    However, I would like to point out:
    Being Jewish or not is not really a binary choice. You do not accept everything or nothing from the full set of Jewish dogma (whatever you see that as being). While being misogynistic is not inconsistent with Judaism, being a feminist Jew is also possible. (There are problems with misogyny in Judaism, but that has been honestly faced in the OP as well as later comments).

    I see now that some people do seem to argue for religion not being a choice, which sounds strange to me:

    chava: And no, you don’t (well, usually) “choose” to be Jewish. You can choose to be observant or not, etc. Can you choose to have faith or not, which is the point under discussion here? No, not really.

    I would say that you most certainly choose your religion.
    As opposed to your “ordinary” beliefs about reality, religion is a lot about the actual choice to believe. Indeed, faith is at the very core what it means to be religious. So you can definitely choose whether or not to be Jewish in the religious sense (though not in the ethnic/racial sense, obviously).

    Ashley: I’m always surprised at how willing progressives are to buy into fundamentalist, dogmatic understandings of religion. Why in the world would you accept fundamentalist claims of inerrancy in religious texts, the possibility of “literal” interpretation,

    Obviously an atheist is not buying into the inerrancy of the text, but why are you disputing the possibility of a literal reading?
    As an atheist I do not believe there is any true version of religion, and to me the interpretation of Islam by Osama bin Laden is just as true as that of my friendly Muslim neighbors.

    The idea of a “true” version of a specific religion can only be meaningful for someone who is a follower of that religion.

    I would say that the current orthodoxy (however you measure that) defines what the religion is. It is simply a generalization of the ideas and culture of the believers of that religion. The history, dogma, and texts are relevant insofar as they influence the believers.
    This means that there are many versions of Christianity, Islam, or Judaism. It also means that the nature of a religion is not a static thing but is open to change.

  88. matlun
    matlun August 6, 2011 at 8:18 am |

    Ashley: The idea that the only REAL science is the kind that isn’t anti-feminist strikes me in exactly the same say as the idea that the only REAL Christianity is the kind that isn’t violent, or the only REAL Islam is the kind that doesn’t hate women.

    Good point. I would however say that real science is not anti-feminist and neither is it feminist. Science by its nature is descriptive and not proscriptive.

    Ashley: That really is about all I can come up with that is not negotiable, and even then, it’s iffy.

    Very iffy indeed. Didn’t you just do the error you attacked in the first paragraph? Ie saying that the only true form of the religions are the good ones by adding “Love your neighbor as yourself” everywhere…

  89. igglanova
    igglanova August 6, 2011 at 8:55 am |

    Ashley: The idea that the only REAL science is the kind that isn’t anti-feminist strikes me in exactly the same say as the idea that the only REAL Christianity is the kind that isn’t violent, or the only REAL Islam is the kind that doesn’t hate women.

    *Driving by*

    The thing that boots crappy evo-psych into the ‘pseudoscience’ category isn’t that it’s anti-feminist, but that it’s inaccurate and based on dubious experiments. I’m only delurking to say this because it annoys me greatly when people talk about science and religion as if the two have anything meaningful in common.

    The fact that religion has easily accessible source material makes claims of inherent misogyny much stronger than if you were to call science misogynistic. At the request of the OP, though, I’ll truncate my argument here and continue to lurk.

  90. Momentary
    Momentary August 6, 2011 at 9:16 am |

    I’m sad to see Matt managing to dominate and reframe this thread back into the same old interrogation of religion. I hope that instead we can hear some more voices of different women talking about their religion and their feminism, especially religions that haven’t been heard from much.

  91. licious
    licious August 6, 2011 at 10:52 am |

    Momentary:
    I’m sad to see Matt managing to dominate and reframe this thread back into the same old interrogation of religion.I hope that instead we can hear some more voices of different women talking about their religion and their feminism, especially religions that haven’t been heard from much.

    Agreed, its very disheartening to me that a call for space for religious feminists, especially one designed for those of us who are so often not heard in a predominantly Christian society, is being so blatantly ignored.
    Though I understand that there are many people who have been hurt by (institutional?) religion, many of us have not and/or we are actively working to seek an end to religious injustices. Maybe if our space to talk with one another, especially in an interfaith setting, was respected we might help address some of the concerns of those who have experienced injustice.

  92. Miss S
    Miss S August 6, 2011 at 11:34 am |

    shoshie, I’m really glad to see posts centering around religion on the blog.

    I grew up in an African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and faith was taught to me at an early age. I don’t have problems reconciling my faith and feminism because I don’t often identify as feminism. I don’t think black women have as much to gain by that label as other marginalized groups.

    That said, I do identify as womanist, and I don’t have a problem with the religion I was raised in as much as I have a problem with some of the actual churches I have visited. I do know there are churches out there that do preach what I believe, so I’m okay with that.

    I’ve learned alot about Judaism from the last few posts on here. I never had a Jewish friend until college, and I spent Passover with her and her family. One thing that stood out to me was the sense of community I felt while there.

    RE: rituals. Catholics do tend to be more ritualistic than Protestant in my experience. Going to a Catholic sermon or funeral is still a little jarring for me since I’m used to a completely different style of worship. At my home church, there’s alot of singing, praising, and often loud worship. The choir might sing a completely different song than the one planned, or sing 3 instead of 1. The pastor might deviate from the planned sermon, etc.

  93. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 11:42 am |

    Let me preface this by saying that although I am a non-observant, agnostic, woman of trans history, and had no formal religious education, I am, and always will be, Jewish, like my foremothers and forefathers before me.

    And I do find it very interesting that so many of those who reject the possibility of Judaism being compatible with feminism or progressive politics seem to take exactly the same approach to the religion as the most bigoted of fundamentalist Christians — simultaneously bashing the Hebrew Bible (legalism, wrath, etc., etc.) and insisting that it be interpreted literally.

    I guess I should expect nothing else in such a Christian-centric society as this one, where even the most fervent non-Jewish atheist (and some Jewish ones) are seemingly imbued from birth with Christianist notions of Judaism.

    I do wish, especially in a thread like this one which was specifically intended not to be Christian-centric, people would refer to the Hebrew Bible (or the Tanakh, including the Torah), not the “Old Testament.” Which is not a chronological description, but refers to the alleged obsoleteness of the Hebrew Bible, and its having been superseded by the “new” message of the New Testament. It sometimes seems that Christians appropriated the Hebrew Bible largely to condemn it — when they’re not busy rewriting the whole thing as a prophecy and allegory for Christianity (as in, the Song of Solomon = the love of Christ for his church, or fabricating the story that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in order to fit within Messianic prophecies) — instead of to try to understand it. Since Christians of any stripe aren’t about to give the Hebrew Bible back to the people from whom they stole it, I wish they (and Christian atheists) would, at least, ignore it in their internecine struggles, and stick to their own Scripture.

    And that’s wholly apart from the fact that Christians who condemn the “Old Testament” do so almost entirely without reference to the Talmud (or to any Jewish scholarship at all), and assume they’re qualified to offer opinions on its meaning without even bothering to see how Jews have interpreted and applied it over the last 2000 years (including the interpretations of Reform Judaism and feminist Jewish scholarship.) There’s a reason it’s called rabbinic Judaism, that its history is based on disputation arising from diversity of opinion, and that most Jews are not Karaites — living as if the Talmud and Talmudic scholarship had never existed.

    After all, even if you go back 1,000 years and considerably more, you can find (to give a few examples) Talmudic discussions condemning spousal abuse and corporal punishment of children, and concerning concepts that would be quite familiar to people here, such as the idea that any initial coercion invalidates later alleged consent to sexual intercourse. Obviously there are countervailing currents. But to make statements like “the Talmud is no better” than the “worst” aspects of the so-called “Old Testament,” and to argue that it’s impossible for “Judaism” to be anything other than xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic,* transphobic, etc., demonstrates nothing but ignorance.

    Donna

    * One wonders how much medieval Jewish homoerotic poetry such people have read. Not to mention the fact that the condemnation of lesbianism is pretty much entirely a Christian phenomenon, with zero support in the Torah and virtually none in the Talmud. (I realize that the reasons for that are problematic, and undoubtedly based, at least in part, on the view that what women do is of lesser importance. Or perhaps, like Queen Victoria in the famous story, it simply never occurred to the people who wrote the texts condemning male homosexuality that women could possibly do such things with each other. Whatever the reason, though, the fact exists. “Expressio unius, exclusio alterius,” as we lawyers like to say when we’re being pretentious.)

  94. Liz L
    Liz L August 6, 2011 at 11:58 am |

    “Simply put, I got it from interacting with Christians. Who I have, in fact, interacted with outside of on television or on the Internet. I’ve frequently had Christians question the importance of my “archaic” rituals, and they tend to be pretty dismissive when I say that, for example, I can’t be somewhere because I don’t drive on Saturday or something like that. Maybe it’s more that there’s a skepticism towards ritual? Or what’s viewed as excessive ritual?”

    I’ll give the dead horse one more thwack. The above might accurately describe your interactions with a small slice of (Protestant? American?) Christians, but in no way holds true over what is a wide and complex field of belief that shares only a very few tenants in common.

    Why be religious, as opposed to spiritual w/o affiliation? Same reasons you gave, in many ways. Catholicism, writ as a set of sacraments taken regularly, is entry into a worldwide community who provide comfort, support, and a structure in which I can try to be a better person than I was the day before. I also feel tied to the tradition, especially through my mother (a Catholic who insisted on raising me thus), great-aunts who served as nuns, and all of the women religious who taught and inspired me. Men have had a largely negligible impact on the development of my Catholicism, despite their overwhelming privilege within the Church.

  95. Literata
    Literata August 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm |

    New commenter here; I apologize in advance if I am unaware of any of this space’s conventions.

    I’m a Wiccan and a feminist, and I’d like to point out a couple of things that have been thrown around in this thread (not by the OP) as broad generalizations that are very false for me. Other people have said it, but it’s worth repeating: faith is not at the core of religion for all religions. My understanding of Wicca focuses on practice. There can be atheist Wiccans, and moreover, they can coexist and cooperate perfectly well with hard polytheist Wiccans, if they agree on the practices they’ve chosen.

    Second, this one hasn’t been mentioned as much, but to me it’s very, very important that (most of) my deities or spirits have gender. The Morrigan, Aphrodite, and Brigid are all distinctly female; they are female in different ways, but they are emphatically female. Athena is more interesting to me because she’s female and crosses/blurs the normal gender distinctions in her society of origin, for example.

    Saying that “God is beyond/above gender” as if that’s a definitive statement for everyone (and solves all problems) erases non-monotheists and is false, especially when we’re talking about religion and feminism.

    There are some fascinating and challenging discussions going on in various parts of the Pagan community about deities and gender, and what that means for us, especially trans* folk. It’s an exciting place to be a religious feminist.

  96. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm |

    Muslim feminist here.

    It get tiring having to explain to folks how these two fit together, but they do, along with being a socialist.

  97. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan August 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm |

    Though I understand that there are many people who have been hurt by (institutional?) religion, many of us have not and/or we are actively working to seek an end to religious injustices. Maybe if our space to talk with one another, especially in an interfaith setting, was respected we might help address some of the concerns of those who have experienced injustice.

    Huh, I thought that your religious spaces were this wonderful community where you could freely discuss things like that? I thought that religious feminists were trying to work from within the system to change it, and to reduce the misogyny in it… Surely this blog on feminism is not the only space in which you religious folk have discussions with each other, is it?

    …So how is non-religious participation in this thread preventing all that good work, and preventing you from addressing concerns? We’re certainly not interfering with those religious spaces. We’re not even really interfering with this space, aside from a couple off-topic posts. And we’re certainly not the reason that there aren’t many “interfaith settings” available — that is the work of people who like to, among other things, magically wish damnation on each other for silly reasons. (Atheists don’t believe in damnation, so I promise you’re safe from us! :p)

    Please don’t blame the few non-religious feminists that exist in this world for the state of your religious discussions; blame the vast majority of the world (all religious) that is an actual barrier to your religious feminism. It’s not because of atheists that religious feminism has made so little headway over the millennia, it’s because of your fellow believers. Our skepticism is the least of your problems — in fact, if “address[ing] some of the concerns of those who have experienced injustice” is a goal of yours, our voices are vital to this discussion.

  98. Athenia
    Athenia August 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm |

    I think there are two important concepts for religion–Sacred Places and Sacred Time.

    I can see how even if one does not describe themselves as of a certain religion, they still do because they cannot give up Sacred Time and the Sacred Places. For example, I will not give up Christmas even though I don’t go to church a lot anymore. It is too much tied into my family, it’s too much tied into my life—which sacred time and places tend to do.

    Of course, one can make their own sacred places and sacred time, so I suppose that doesn’t really answer your question. I’m probably not the best person to comment on this matter actually.

  99. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm |

    I think this whole ‘athiest Jew’ and ‘ethnic Jew’ stuff is a bunch of nonsense. I don’t consider myself an ‘agnostic Jew’, I consider myself an agnostic. If I was to tell a 50 Orthodox rabbis ‘I don’t believe that there is one god, in fact I don’t believe in any god, I don’t keep kosher, or follow the Torah in any way, nor has anyone in my family in my living memory, but I have possibly descended from people who did.” the ask the question “am I a Jew?” All 50 would say no. Yet, if I was to ask 50 neo-Nazi/kkk/aryan nation leaders the same thing, they would say ‘you are a Jew.’ I’m not going to define my own identity based on the opinion of racist idiots.

  100. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 3:41 pm |

    Fat Steve, your ignorance is showing. First, all 50 of those Orthodox rabbis would, in fact, say that yes, you are a Jew.

    And by equating Orthodoxy with “true” Judaism in the first place, and entirely disregarding other branches of the religion, you’re defining identity yourself based on the opinions of people you view as racist idiots.

  101. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |

    Amended to add: they would say you are a Jew as long as your mother was one, regardless of your state of observance. In my case, I can trace my maternal ancestry back to my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother, who died in Emmendingen, Baden in 1777. Each of them was a Jew. I am as much a Jew, culturally, ethnically, and historically, as any Orthodox rabbi.

  102. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm |

    Amended to add: they would say you are a Jew as long as your mother was one, regardless of your state of observance. In my case, I can trace my maternal ancestry back to my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother, who died in Emmendingen, Baden in 1777. Each of them was a Jew. I am as much a Jew, culturally, ethnically, and historically, as any Orthodox rabbi.

  103. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm |

    @DonnaL

    I freely admit that I am extremely ignorant of much of Jewish theology. When I was a kid, my parents sent me to a reform synagogue when I wanted to learn Hebrew (I was and still am a bit of a language geek though of the 4 foreign languages I learned the only one that never stuck was Hebrew.) So, yes, perhaps my ignorance is showing. But I think you are being disingenuous in failing to acknowledge my original point, which is: that to call someone a Jew, purely based on their racial makeup, is racist.

  104. chava
    chava August 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm |

    I don’t think the religious feminists around here are blaming you for the global state of women’s rights and its intersection with religion. We’re blaming (some of) you (in this online community) for being sarcastic, dismissive assholes.

    Bagelsan: Huh, I thought that your religious spaces were this wonderful community where you could freely discuss things like that? I thought that religious feminists were trying to work from within the system to change it, and to reduce the misogyny in it… Surely this blog on feminism is not the only space in which you religious folk have discussions with each other, is it?

    …So how is non-religious participation in this thread preventing all that good work, and preventing you from addressing concerns? We’re certainly not interfering with those religious spaces. We’re not even really interfering with this space, aside from a couple off-topic posts. And we’re certainly not the reason that there aren’t many “interfaith settings” available — that is the work of people who like to, among other things, magically wish damnation on each other for silly reasons. (Atheists don’t believe in damnation, so I promise you’re safe from us! :p)

    Please don’t blame the few non-religious feminists that exist in this world for the state of your religious discussions; blame the vast majority of the world (all religious) that is an actual barrier to your religious feminism. It’s not because of atheists that religious feminism has made so little headway over the millennia, it’s because of your fellow believers. Our skepticism is the least of your problems — in fact, if “address[ing] some of the concerns of those who have experienced injustice” is a goal of yours, our voices are vital to this discussion.

  105. Iris
    Iris August 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm |

    Bagelsan: Huh, I thought that your religious spaces were this wonderful community where you could freely discuss things like that? I thought that religious feminists were trying to work from within the system to change it, and to reduce the misogyny in it… Surely this blog on feminism is not the only space in which you religious folk have discussions with each other, is it?

    …So how is non-religious participation in this thread preventing all that good work, and preventing you from addressing concerns? We’re certainly not interfering with those religious spaces. We’re not even really interfering with this space, aside from a couple off-topic posts. And we’re certainly not the reason that there aren’t many “interfaith settings” available — that is the work of people who like to, among other things, magically wish damnation on each other for silly reasons. (Atheists don’t believe in damnation, so I promise you’re safe from us! :p)

    Please don’t blame the few non-religious feminists that exist in this world for the state of your religious discussions; blame the vast majority of the world (all religious) that is an actual barrier to your religious feminism. It’s not because of atheists that religious feminism has made so little headway over the millennia, it’s because of your fellow believers. Our skepticism is the least of your problems — in fact, if “address[ing] some of the concerns of those who have experienced injustice” is a goal of yours, our voices are vital to this discussion.

    Wow – win people over much with your snarky comments and unabashed, deliberate derailing of this thread as a response to a request for people not to do that?

    Nope – your voice is nowhere near vital to this discussion.

  106. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 4:07 pm |

    I obviously disagree. To label someone as a Jew based on ancestry if they didn’t self-identify as such, i.e., imposing the identity upon them, probably would be racist. But I don’t think a person self-identifying as Jewish based on ancestry — or, more accurately, on a history and culture they share with their Jewish ancestors — is any more racist than a non-religiously practicing person born in the U.S. identifying as Italian (or as an Italian Catholic) based on similar reasons.

  107. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm |

    @DonnaL

    To label someone as a Jew based on ancestry if they didn’t self-identify as such, i.e., imposing the identity upon them, probably would be racist.

    I clearly stated that I don’t identify as a Jew. My exact words were ” I don’t consider myself an ‘agnostic Jew’, I consider myself an agnostic.” So yes, I do feel that you are imposing this identity on me solely because of my matrilineal DNA. Suppose your great great great great Grandmother (the one from Baden,) had married a Muslim, and converted to Islam, by your rules, that would make you a Jew. It’s completely ludicrous defining people as part of a sect they don’t belong to based on matrinlineal (or patrilineal) heritage.

  108. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm |

    @DonnaL

    To label someone as a Jew based on ancestry if they didn’t self-identify as such, i.e., imposing the identity upon them, probably would be racist.

    I clearly stated that I don’t identify as a Jew. My exact words were ” I don’t consider myself an ‘agnostic Jew’, I consider myself an agnostic.” So yes, I do feel that you are imposing this identity on me solely because of my matrilineal DNA. Suppose your great great great great Grandmother (the one from Baden,) had married a Muslim, and converted to Islam, by your rules, that would make you a Jew. It’s completely ludicrous defining people as part of a sect they don’t belong to based on matrinlineal (or patrilineal) heritage.

  109. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm |

    Eek, double post AND spelling/typo fail in last sentence…hope it doesn’t distract from my point.

  110. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 4:40 pm |

    Wait a minute. I’m not labeling you as anything. You started out by saying that if a non-practicing person of Jewish ancestry asked 50 Orthodox rabbis if he were Jewish, they’d all say no, and that it’s ridiculous to define Judaism by anything other than religious practice. All I did was point out that you’re actually wrong, and that they would identify you as being Jewish if you asked them. (And why would you, unless you wanted to be considered Jewish?) Now, you’ve turned around and taken that statement as evidence of racism through imposition of identity.

    Nonsense. No rabbi, Orthodox or otherwise, would purport to force an identity upon you that you didn’t want. And nobody here would try to do so.

    My point was about people like myself who do voluntarily identify with being Jewish regardless of the degree of religious practice — not solely based on ancestry, by the way, but on shared cultural and historical heritage — and nothing else. No matter how much you’re seemingly trying to misrepresent my point and trying to use it as evidence of your dubious contention that cultural Judaism is racist. Which certainly wasn’t what this thread was about, and constitutes thread-jacking in my opinion.

  111. vanessa
    vanessa August 6, 2011 at 4:47 pm |

    I am a feminist Unitarian Universalist. I was a feminist first, and part of the reason I joined the UUs was because it fit so neatly within my political, social and moral beliefs. Although there are certainly problems within the UUs, I find us to be, on the whole, welcoming and kind. I do not have to struggle to reconcile the two the way I think I would if I were part of another religion.

    It’s hard, I think, to disengage from something as profound as religion, especially if you’ve been raised in it. And I think, too, that it is really important for us to remember that religion really can be a tremendous force for good. Evil, too, but also good.

    Thanks, Shoshie.

  112. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm |

    PS: in the small villages in southwestern Baden where my maternal grandmother’s family lived from at least as far back as 1700 until her parents (my mother’s grandparents) were deported to concentration camps on October 22, 1940 along with the rest of the Jews of Baden (at a time when she and my grandfather were still trying to figure out a way of escaping from Berlin), I’m afraid there weren’t any Muslims to marry, either in 1770 or in 1940. And if any of my maternal ancestors had decided to marry a Christian, they would have had to convert to Christianity. In which case, I’d never have been born, would I? And if I had, I wouldn’t be Jewish by any definition.

  113. Fat Steve
    Fat Steve August 6, 2011 at 4:54 pm |

    DonnaL:
    Wait a minute.I’m not labeling you as anything. You started out by saying that if a non-practicing person of Jewish ancestry asked 50 Orthodox rabbis if he were Jewish, they’d all say no, and that it’s ridiculous to define Judaism by anything other than religious practice.All I did was point out that you’re actually wrong, and that they would identify you as being Jewish if you asked them. (And why would you, unless you wanted to be considered Jewish?)Now, you’ve turned around and taken that statement as evidence of racism through imposition of identity.

    Nonsense.No rabbi, Orthodox or otherwise, would purport to force an identity upon you that you didn’t want.And nobody here would try to do so.

    My point was about people like myself who do voluntarily identify with being Jewish regardless of the degree of religious practice — not solely based on ancestry, by the way, but on shared cultural and historical heritage — and nothing else.No matter how much you’re seemingly trying to misrepresent my point and trying to use it as evidence of your dubious contention that cultural Judaism is racist.Which certainly wasn’t what this thread was about, and constitutes thread-jacking in my opinion.

    Please don’t accuse me of thread-jacking. But because I happen to be overly sensitive to this issue, I will step out of the discussion. As the great-grandson of two atheists killed in the Nazi Germany for being ‘Jews,’ I over-react to anyone talking about ancestry and who is and isn’t a Jew, so I will leave you to it.

  114. timberwraith
    timberwraith August 6, 2011 at 4:55 pm |

    Agnostic/atheist here.

    To my fellow non-theists, Shoshie made quite clear what boundaries she wished to exist within this discussion:

    Why are you a feminist Buddhist? Or a feminist Pagan? Or a feminist Sikh? Why are you a feminist Muslim? I want to hear your stories!

    I do also want to hear from Christian feminists, though I’d really like to center non-Christians for this conversation. I feel like every religion thread on Feministe turns into Why-Christianity-Sucks and I’d really like to hear from minority religious practitioners, for once. So, Christian Feminists, feel free to add, but try to keep your privilege in check.

    For those of you who disagree with my premise that religion and feminism are compatible, I would prefer not to have that discussion in this thread. Please respect that decision. Feel free to ask questions, but try to respect the identities of everyone posting.

    There have been many discussions on this site about why people reject religion. I want to give a voice to people who don’t reject religion, particularly people who ascribe to minorities religions. Again, this perspective is often unheard within progressive, feminist spaces, and I am trying to give it a forum. Please respect that.

    So, could we just respect her stated boundaries and back the heck off during this thread? Even if religion gives you the creepy-crawly-willies, could you do this just as a matter of common courtesy? I’m quite certain there will be plenty of other opportunities to discuss the merits of atheism (and agnosticism) during other threads.

    And honestly, after 20+ years of being a non-theist, I too am bored with the “religion sucks and let me tell you why” conversations that take place so often in progressive circles. I actually want to hear feminist religious people’s perspectives and learn why they value their faith without the usual interruptions. Why? Crazy thing really: being an agnostic/atheist has led me to place where I’m fascinated by the ways that people–progressive people in particular–practice their various faiths. It’s really difficult to explore that topic when people are engaging in the usual games of intellectual dodge ball that so often transpires when religion is discussed in progressive spaces.

    So, just for the duration of this thread, could we just sit and listen?

    Maybe we’ll learn something new.

    And even if you doubt that, there is the whole matter of respecting a person’s stated boundaries. Seems like a feminist notion to me.

  115. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 4:56 pm |

    I’m done. It’s obviously impossible to discuss the specified topic here without having a lot of people come in and do their best to derail the discussion. (Just as it’s impossible to discuss trans issues here without a lot of comments derailing the subject and de-centering the concerns of trans people.) I apologize for any part I may have played in derailing the subject here, in trying to respond to Fat Steve.

  116. timberwraith
    timberwraith August 6, 2011 at 4:58 pm |

    Oh, I forgot to mention. The emphasis in the last blockquote was added by me.

    Carry on…

  117. Ashley
    Ashley August 6, 2011 at 5:02 pm |

    it annoys me greatly when people talk about science and religion as if the two have anything meaningful in common.

    The ideology of scientific materialism, as distinguished from the practice of science, is something I would characterize as very close to a “religion.” Admittedly, there is no clear definition of “religion,” but acceptance of metaphysical assumptions is an important element of religion. Ritual is another aspect, and culture is another. If you throw out the standard imperialist assumptions about “religion” only being “religion” if it is theistic or involves certain types of ritual, the fact that scientific materialism makes unprovable metaphysical assumptions (i.e. the only thing that is real is the material) and is a reflection of a specific culture (post-enlightenment/post-colonial) could characterize it as a religion.

    why are you disputing the possibility of a literal reading?

    Because we cannot know what people meant when they wrote many of the religious texts that are important to the Abrahamic faiths. And besides, would a “literal” interpretation mean reading the words as what they meant at the time, or what they mean to us currently, or what they meant a hundred years ago, or what they will mean in a hundred years? What if a word has two meanings? What about translation issues? If we can’t be precisely perfect in translation, how can we be precisely perfect in interpretation? And then, interpreting rules is one thing, but what about stories? Poems? What about descriptions of mystical experiences? Do those have a literal meaning?

    In Non-Abrahamic traditions, texts are generally not viewed as inerrant, or a closed corpus, so they just don’t have the same meaning to practitioners.

  118. timberwraith
    timberwraith August 6, 2011 at 5:12 pm |

    Hey there DonnaL. I hear you. I’m trans too. Although it didn’t dawn on me until you mentioned it, perhaps the way I’ve seen trans related threads derailed on so many blogs is also one of the reasons why I’m bothered by the way this thread has soured.

    I’m sorry this has turned into such a mess.

    Shoshie, can I make a suggestion? Would it be possible to close this thread and start a new thread on the very same topic? Only this time, maybe Feministe’s moderators could strictly moderate any derails? Before the mess erupted, it seemed like a pretty good discussion was taking place. It would be a shame for that to end, as such discussions are far too rare on big progressive blogs.

  119. Momentary
    Momentary August 6, 2011 at 5:34 pm |

    Sympathy to DonnaL and much appreciation to timberwraith. I think Shoshie will be back to moderate within a few hours (Three stars in the sky and then comes the smackdown? We can hope!) so perhaps it’ll get better from there.

  120. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 6, 2011 at 6:40 pm |

    anna:
    Question: Do you as religious feminists (this is meant for Shoshie and all religious feminists here) see/refer to God as male? Why or why not? I think of God as genderless-I mean, what would it mean for God to be male, that He somehow has a penis? And the greatest being of all being male is a pretty big damper on the role of women in the universe if you ask me.

    Which god? Why do you assume that all religious people are theists, and that all theists are monotheists? I’m an Hellenic-Eclectic solitary Wiccan. Dionysos and Pan and Hermes all have penises as much as they have any body parts. They certainly perceive themselves as having penises. Hekate and Demeter and Hestia have vulvas. Gaia and Rhea and Hera and Athena and Artemis and on and on . . . there are as many goddesses as gods. Your understanding of theology is centered on Abrahamic religions. There are lots of others.

  121. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl August 6, 2011 at 6:46 pm |

    Ok, well back from after Shabbos and it’s still as fractious as ever. Did manage to eat my bodyweight in chopped liver and challah though :-)

    Paraxeni 8.5.2011 at 7:19 pm
    Westendgirl – …

    Whatever you say, whatever David fucking Cameron says, the south is not the be-all and end-all of England, and the country does not end in Manchester or Birmingham. The Tories were the ones who ripped the heart out of this community, and this entire region, and just as we were daring to get back on our feet – here they are again. His party are the reason this place became a hellhole in the first place, the reason the city of my birth went from a centre of industry to a ghost city. The fact that anyone has any dignity left at all is nothing short of a miracle.

    Um, long time Labour voter thank you here and no fan of either David Cameron or his party. I merely gave the examples of the Big Society and the Big Lunch and all the various other initiatives that are being suggested at the moment across the political spectrum, and indeed started in the New Labour years as a response to the fact that community cohesion is, and has been, breaking down for a number of years due to a variety of factors including the deindustrialisation of the Midlands, South West and North generally and the breakdown of institutions, in particular the Church. Oh and my Mum’s family are all Northerners and I have both lived and worked in Northern and Midlands cities ta very much.

    Do not talk to me about his bullshit ‘Big Society’ either, his way of saying “We’ll steal from you, and gut you, and you’d better hope someone else is there to pick up the pieces because we won’t, and the NHS and social services won’t exist anymore, suck on that povs!” He didn’t invent community get-togethers, they’ve existed for years, he’s just seeing them as a way to justify cutting social services.

    Um, hello, work in front line service provision in a deprived urban community facing the brunt of those cuts…? Anyone? Reading people’s posts accurately at all? Bueller? Bueller?

    You’re picking fights all over this thread, trying to prove the lived experiences of everyone else wrong. You’re accusing anyone who has a different experience of Judaism than you have of being wrong or biased, you make claims about there being no community other than the Jewish one in the UK who provide support and help to people, and get pissy when you’re called on it

    Well, why hello hyperbole, thy name is Paraxeni. I called out one poster, DoublyLinkedLists, whose personal experiences of Orthodox Judaism have clearly affected hir greatly and negatively, but rather than respond to the actual OP decided to bring their prejudices into this thread, specifically and only about Judaism. Funnily enough as a Jew, who has had to put up with a lot of anti-Semitism about how we are “xenophobic”, “prejudiced”, “impolite because we eat differently, “isolate ourselves for negative reasons” and all the rest of it, I’m actually a bit sick and tired of it. If DLLs had decided to say, fundamentalist religion in hir experience has a tendency to get isolated and tribal, nary a peep would zie hear from me. So sue me. Maybe DLLs experience of feeling different in the US might have something to do with it. In the schools I visit which have children talking different languages, praying at different times and in different ways, eating different foods, celebrating different gods and different festivals. nothing about Orthodox Jewish practice would raise an eyebrow let alone paroxysms of negativity.

    And, oh yes, I also responded to one other unbelievably narky poster, you. Who misread my comments about faith communities in general and not solely about Judaism at all “In the UK, at least, there is no other type of community other than a religious one that would provide anything approaching a fraction of that.” And that is true. There are other institutions that in the past filled in that role, for example, mining communities had terrific institutions. But once the mine vanished, sadly the bonds of community weakened. Unlike that specific scenario, I can walk into any town or city in the world and be welcomed into a Friday night dinner and be helped if in need and those people do not even know me. The way that same system works when it is your own community can maximised by a thousandfold.

    So, anyway that’s two people I disagreed with (and now Fat Steve too!). And one of them is you oh famous stropper of strops. Since, you’re always in a permanent state of offence, on that basis it doesn’t really count and – bearing in mind this strop was based on a fundamental lack of comprehension about what I actually wrote, assumption about my political views and lack of UK socio-economic and geographic knowledge – I’m just going to stroll on past and smile gently at your rage. Have a lovely rest of weekend!

  122. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 6, 2011 at 6:50 pm |

    Raja:
    Religion is a very monotholic thing and the way you interpret it varies from person to person. I don’t see why someone can’t be feminist and belong to a religion as well. Oh yeah why the fuck would God have a gender? Gender as its most basic is for biological organisms that need to reproduce. For an entity like God; this is irrelevant.

    Religion is not monolithic. Some religions may be, but many are deeply varied and polymorphous. And, again, most ofmy gods have genders, whether you think they “need” them or not, the same way most of the people around me have genders.

  123. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 6, 2011 at 7:03 pm |

    I’m a Wiccan and a feminist, and I’d like to point out a couple of things that have been thrown around in this thread (not by the OP) as broad generalizations that are very false for me. Other people have said it, but it’s worth repeating: faith is not at the core of religion for all religions. My understanding of Wicca focuses on practice. There can be atheist Wiccans, and moreover, they can coexist and cooperate perfectly well with hard polytheist Wiccans, if they agree on the practices they’ve chosen.

    YES! Wicca is a religion of praxis, not belief. I am a Wiccan because I use the basic structure of the Wheel of the Year, because in my rituals I cast Circle and invoke Elements and Deities. I can join in the rituals of many other Wiccans with whom I have vast philosophical and thealogical differences, because we have similar praxis.

    Second, this one hasn’t been mentioned as much, but to me it’s very, very important that (most of) my deities or spirits have gender. The Morrigan, Aphrodite, and Brigid are all distinctly female; they are female in different ways, but they are emphatically female. Athena is more interesting to me because she’s female and crosses/blurs the normal gender distinctions in her society of origin, for example.

    Yay! Somebody did get here before me.

    There are some fascinating and challenging discussions going on in various parts of the Pagan community about deities and gender, and what that means for us, especially trans* folk. It’s an exciting place to be a religious feminist.

    Yes. There are a fascinating array of conversations about gender going on in Pagan communities, and I am happy to be able to take part in many of them.

  124. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 6, 2011 at 7:10 pm |

    Oh, hey Literata, didn’t catch that that was you until after I’d hit “submit”! Hiya!

  125. Literata
    Literata August 6, 2011 at 7:32 pm |

    Hey, MadG; like I said, have been reading the posts but not commenting for a long time. Nice to see you!

    Your point about some deities being very specifically male is an excellent counterpoint to what I said. Thanks!

  126. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan August 6, 2011 at 7:53 pm |

    Yeah, I’m sorry about the derail & I promise I won’t continue; that bit I quoted just really got my goat* because it sounded like licious @ 111 was getting pretty blamey. I’m a little tired of atheists getting told off for hindering religious feminism when we’re such a tiny minority of the world population, and have virtually zero influence on religious organizations. We are loud on a couple blogs (and some of us are being too loud on this post) but we’re seriously the least of religious feminism’s problems in the “real” world.

    *dammit, I was gonna sacrifice that goat to the FSM! >:D

  127. marnijane
    marnijane August 6, 2011 at 8:15 pm |

    DonnaL, i hope you’re still reading to see this comment b/c i enjoyed reading you and wished you had a clickable name so i could keep reading you.

  128. Angelia Sparrow
    Angelia Sparrow August 6, 2011 at 9:47 pm |

    What Literata and Mad Gastronomer have said.

    Of course, God is male. Of course, he comes with a penis. Herne and the Green Man, Hermes and Odin all definitively have penises and all have legendarily used them. (Let’s not even talk about the usual depictions of Coyote!) We celebrate the use of them at several sabbats.

    Just as Goddess is female. Of course she comes with a vulva. Frigga, Hera, Juno, Aphrodite, Ceres, all have given birth.

    And yes, there are gods who fall in between. Hermaphrodite, the child of Hermes and Aphrodite who is both male and female. Asushunamir, rescuer of Inanna, is neither male nor female. Loki who frequently alters to a female form (once getting pregnant in it)

  129. licious
    licious August 6, 2011 at 10:38 pm |

    Bagelsan: Huh, I thought that your religious spaces were this wonderful community where you could freely discuss things like that? I thought that religious feminists were trying to work from within the system to change it, and to reduce the misogyny in it… Surely this blog on feminism is not the only space in which you religious folk have discussions with each other, is it?

    …So how is non-religious participation in this thread preventing all that good work, and preventing you from addressing concerns? We’re certainly not interfering with those religious spaces. We’re not even really interfering with this space, aside from a couple off-topic posts. And we’re certainly not the reason that there aren’t many “interfaith settings” available — that is the work of people who like to, among other things, magically wish damnation on each other for silly reasons. (Atheists don’t believe in damnation, so I promise you’re safe from us! :p)

    Please don’t blame the few non-religious feminists that exist in this world for the state of your religious discussions; blame the vast majority of the world (all religious) that is an actual barrier to your religious feminism. It’s not because of atheists that religious feminism has made so little headway over the millennia, it’s because of your fellow believers. Our skepticism is the least of your problems — in fact, if “address[ing] some of the concerns of those who have experienced injustice” is a goal of yours, our voices are vital to this discussion.

    It is precisely this type of discussion that I have an issue with. I apologize if you thought I was being ‘blamey,’ as that certainly was not my intention. I have ZERO issue with atheists, and am surrounded by wonderful, respectful atheists in my love. I am simply calling for this space to respected, as there are a lot of posters coming in and being very hostile for reasons that I simply do not understand. I also never said this WAS the only space, but it was specifically identified as a space for a productive, RESPECTFUL discussion, which I feel is not happening in a lot places.
    Please try not misread my comments in the future. I was simply lending my voice and support to what I perceived to be the minority of the discussion, which was non christian religious feminists sharing their experiences of the relationship between feminism and faith.

  130. licious
    licious August 6, 2011 at 10:45 pm |

    Also, as a general follow up, thanks specifically to Iris and Chava for what appears to be understanding what I was trying to say, and universal love to everyone commenting on this post, especially those who are opening their hearts and minds to the gracious sharing from both religious and non religious feminists and womanists alike.

  131. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 6, 2011 at 11:01 pm |

    marnijane:
    DonnaL, i hope you’re still reading to see this comment b/c i enjoyed reading you and wished you had a clickable name so i could keep reading you.

    Thanks, marnijane; that’s very kind of you to say. I don’t know from clickable names, but if it means that it gives you a link to someone’s blog or website, that wouldn’t help in my case because I don’t have one. I don’t post much here, either. I do post quite a bit at Shakesville. And at a private trans-related message board.

  132. Miss S
    Miss S August 6, 2011 at 11:15 pm |

    Is there a point in Judaism where one has to profess their beliefs/faith? Or is it just assumed because of your mother’s religion?

    I’m just a bit confused. At some point, I professed that I believe that Jesus died for my sins, etc. This is called getting saved (at least my church). Is there something similar in Judaism?

    Also, (and maybe there isn’t a simple answer to this and that’s why I can’t find one), if you’re ethnically Jewish, can you not be religiously Jewish? In other words, if you’re religion and ethnicity are the same thing, how do you separate them? Or do you identify as a different ethnicity?

    Sorry is this is a derail. Like I said earlier, I’ve learned alot about Judaism from the last few posts on here. I had to google alot of words though :)

  133. Vic
    Vic August 7, 2011 at 12:31 am |

    I live in the Philippines, which is a predominantly Catholic country. From grade school to college, I’ve been studying in Catholic institutions (mostly out of circumstance). When my faith was starting to wane towards the end of high school, I told myself “Maybe I can get it back with Theology classes in college.” It was the opposite. I started out as an agnostic then became an atheist after finishing one theo course.

    Now I’m trying to be feminist, atheist and Zen Buddhist. But the big problem with me is that it seems so hard to find communities to share with.

    In Ateneo, the university I’m studying in, we have organizations, but none of them cater to the beliefs that I want to nurture. But on the other hand, we have a host of faith-based orgs (all Catholic).

    The nearby secular university, the University of the Philippines, has a better fare. They at least have a Filipino Freethinkers chapter. But my problem with this group is that it seems like they focus too much on criticizing the church, and perhaps little else. (But to be fair, they’re fighting a just cause. Privileged patriarchs are doing us a lot of harm here.)

    So why did I choose Zen? To find peace, mostly. I was getting sick to the gills of (mostly) Western ennui about alienation, dehumanization, and ideological struggle and absurdity.

    Like one Zen teaching I particularly love is that there is no difference between the self and the other. When I judge the church, I tell myself: “I judge the judge. The judge judges me.” Also, if I empty myself, I can see how similar I am to my religious peers: “yes, I also feel a need for community,” “yes, I also fear what happens after death,” and so on.

    It’s a means of reconnecting with the other. When most of the people–the folk I meet everyday in the streets–in my poor country are religious, I find too much despair in splitting myself, us and them. One cannot leave samsara without the other.

  134. BR
    BR August 7, 2011 at 12:55 am |

    And is the ritual of circumcision a beautiful tradition too? I mean it is a gathering of the community to celebrate something or other, isn’t it?

    Please let me know if I’m wrong here, but it seems like circumcision is practiced among many types of Judaism, in the name of tradition or whatever. Cutting babies’ genitals is always wrong (unless for medical reasons which is clearly not the case with ritual cutting), and shame on you for defending any religion that practices this, whether it’s your personal belief or not. Shoshie, you are part of the problem.

  135. chava
    chava August 7, 2011 at 2:53 am |

    I was wondering how long this would take.

    BR:
    And is the ritual of circumcision a beautiful tradition too? I mean it is a gathering of the community to celebrate something or other, isn’t it?

    Please let me know if I’m wrong here, but it seems like circumcision is practiced among many types of Judaism, in the name of tradition or whatever. Cutting babies’ genitals is always wrong (unless for medical reasons which is clearly not the case with ritual cutting), and shame on you for defending any religion that practices this, whether it’s your personal belief or not. Shoshie, you are part of the problem.

  136. chava
    chava August 7, 2011 at 3:12 am |

    Look, I get your confusion–but do you think you could 101 yourself a bit? I don’t know about the other (atheist, secular, obsv, whatever) Jews here–but I have had to “explain” this one SO MANY TIMES. Try Google.

    Miss S:
    Is there a point in Judaism where one has to profess their beliefs/faith? Or is it just assumed because of your mother’s religion?

    I’m just a bit confused. At some point, I professed that I believe that Jesus died for my sins, etc. This is called getting saved (at least my church). Is there something similar in Judaism?

    Also, (and maybe there isn’t a simple answer to this and that’s why I can’t find one), if you’re ethnically Jewish, can you not be religiously Jewish? In other words, if you’re religion and ethnicity are the same thing, how do you separate them? Or do you identify as a different ethnicity?

    Sorry is this is a derail. Like I said earlier, I’ve learned alot about Judaism from the last few posts on here. I had to google alot of words though :)

  137. chava
    chava August 7, 2011 at 3:38 am |

    In the interests of actually contributing instead of just being cranky:

    I find the discussion of gender in Wicca really fascinating. To me it resonates with the Shechina and the idea that God is all genders and none. But none of those are embodied in quite the same way, and I can see a deity that is unquestionably, bodily female as very powerful.

    As far as Buddhism, I can see the appeal of the dharma, no joke. A key point someone upthread hit was that Buddhism, too, has gender work to be going on with. I think denying this is denying its lengthly history as a full fledged religion, with all the good and bad that implies, in different cultures.

    As a feminist, I am both aware of how much better things have gotten in liberal Judaism, and still sensitive to how much needs to be done. For example, every time I attend a shul that doesn’t add the Matriarchs, I wince. There is just something deeply alienating about acknowledging your forefathers and not your foremothers.

    Female clergy in Judaism have come a long way, but there is still SO FAR to go. We expect too much of them, we treat them like our daughters, our girlfriends, or our mothers. And then we’re surprised when they burn out at a huge rate. So supporting our female clergy is another sticking point of feminist Judaism for me.

    Secular *and* religious Judaism have the niggling problem of the “Jewish mother” and the “JAP” sterotype. Advocating loudly against these is another important cornerstone of being both feminist and Jewish (again, for me).

    Why be religious, specifically?
    Well, the community is a huge part–both for its secular rewards and the ability to share your own spirituality with a large group of like-minded people. The structure observance gives you to deal with your own humanity. And becuase I find the spiritual aspects deeply appealing and very, very human–not in spite of, but because of how flawed they are. If religion was easy, I don’t think I’d be as interested.

    Long post is long.

  138. matlun
    matlun August 7, 2011 at 4:14 am |

    chava: Look, I get your confusion–but do you think you could 101 yourself a bit? I don’t know about the other (atheist, secular, obsv, whatever) Jews here–but I have had to “explain” this one SO MANY TIMES. Try Google.

    To be fair to Miss S, this is a bit complicated as being a Jew can be either just an ethnic denominator or specify a follower of Judaism. We just have to accept that different people mean different things with the word “Jew” (or “atheist”, or “feminist”, or …).

    @Miss S: In traditional Judaism the Bar/Bat Mitzvah fills much the same function as the Christian confirmation ritual. In Reform Judaism there is also sometimes a confirmation ritual – I do not know how common this is.

  139. Natalia
    Natalia August 7, 2011 at 4:22 am |

    I’m Russian Orthodox. I came to it early, at the time my parents were getting hip to the whole religion thing (this was during the perestroika). I obviously didn’t “get it” at age 5 – but I had a strong desire to be baptized, which surprised my parents at the time.

    Years later, I got disillusioned with the church – as a lot of people do.

    Now I’m still disillusioned with church leadership – but I’m back in a capacity that is available to me. I can’t say I’m part of a defined religious community, but the religion plays a big role in my life.

    Religion is a weird, mysterious thing, and a very powerful force. The lives of the Orthodox saints are a fascinating read. It makes me glad to be part of this faith. It has been “a light in dark places, when all other lights go out,” if you know what I mean. It’s an irrational, beautiful counterpoint to my feminist politics. I think the two go well together – inside of me. Incidentally, I see a lot of feminist atheists around me whose daily lives embody Christian ethics so much better than many of the Christians I know – and I think there’s a lesson in it as well.

    Religion also is a paradox – and I suppose that’s also what makes me stay with it.

    I’m glad I had a second, religious ceremony to mark my wedding – and we plan on baptizing our son in it as well. Whether he will stay with it will be up to him – but I hope that he does.

  140. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 7, 2011 at 4:46 am |

    To me it resonates with the Shechina and the idea that God is all genders and none.

    I can see how it might for you, and that’s valid, but it kind of makes me twitch to hear you say it. My gods are, collectively, all genders, and some of them are no gender, but generally they are individuals, and are not “all genders and none.”

    Which is not to say that you shouldn’t say it.

    And not all Wiccans and pagans see the gods as individuals; many see them as facets of a whole, and maybe your comment wouldn’t bother people who hold that view.

    I dunno. I think I just get tired of false equivalences (which your comment is not) and poor similes (which your comment is also not) with monotheistic religions, and anything that gets close to that starts to bother me.

  141. Historienne
    Historienne August 7, 2011 at 8:39 am |

    I have recently (in the past few years) trying to figure out the relationship, for me, between my spirituality and the Catholicism in which I was raised. My grandparents were profoundly religious, my parents – not so much – though we still celebrate Christmas and Easter, go to the memorial mass for my grandfather, and accept with thanks my great Aunt’s offers to pray for us.

    I came to Wicca at an early-ish age, heavily inflected with Irish mysticism. For me, reconciling that/my system with feminism isn’t difficult at all – something that I think is helped significantly by the lack of a Church Structure or hierarchy. Recently, though, I have experienced a desire to, ritually at least, re-connect with the Catholicism of my relatives. I do not believe that anyone died for my sins, but I do cross myself when I enter a church. I think that for me, ritual is at the heart of this – I like the idea of performing the same gestures and saying the same words that people in my family have been doing and saying for hundreds of years. I constantly struggle to find a way to honor and connect with that past without disrespecting those who believe wholeheartedly with the tenets of Christianity that don’t work for me, and without condoning or supporting the Catholic hierarchy. Of late, a solution has been to talk to nuns and other people who actively devote their life to god through “good works,” and doing a lot of thinking about how what these (mostly women) people practice gels or doesn’t with the Wicca that I practice.

    At any rate: Why be religious? Because it connects me with both the near and distant past, and because faith feels right for me. When I tried to get rid of it, I felt like a less complete person.

  142. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 7, 2011 at 9:18 am |

    matlun:

    @Miss S: In traditional Judaism the Bar/Bat Mitzvah fills much the same function as the Christian confirmation ritual. In Reform Judaism there is also sometimes a confirmation ritual – I do not know how common this is.

    Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are extremely common for Reform and Conservative Jews.

  143. chingona
    chingona August 7, 2011 at 10:49 am |

    I’m not trying to make you un-walk back your statement about religion/culture/thought/belief and Christianity versus Judaism, but I think it’s more correct than not.

    Being Jewish can be a cultural and ethnic identity that doesn’t require belief in God, but Judaism is a religious culture and the content of our cultural and ethnic identities are at least partially formed by religion, even if we ourselves don’t practice or believe.

    That there are third generation atheist Jews speaks to this. It would make no sense for someone to describe themselves as a third generation atheist Baptist.

    My husband grew up in a conservative evangelical Christian home (son and grandson of preachers). Once he stopped believing that Jesus Christ was God’s only begotten son and that Jesus Christ died for his sins, that was it. He wasn’t a Christian anymore.

    Judaism doesn’t work like that.

    Certainly, many, many Jews believe in God, but many others Jews, including practicing Jews, don’t really believe in God or have a pretty vague notion of God. Certainly, in Judaism, you are supposed to believe in God. But also, in Judaism, correct action matters more than correct belief. It’s more important to observe Shabbat and not believe than it is to believe and not observe. In Christianity, correct belief is very important. Some Christians have cultural identities that are deeply tied in with Christian practice, but theologically speaking, there is a real difference between Judaism and Christianity here.

    I’m Jewish and grew up very secular and atheist. As an adult, I started practicing, but I’m not sure that I believe in God. I certainly don’t believe in God as some sort of definite entity that does things. But the first time I fasted at Yom Kippur, I felt … something. I don’t know what that was (the skeptics would say it was low blood sugar), but sometimes I feel it when I daven, too. And sometimes I don’t. But I still daven and I still fast and I still observe Shabbat (in the lax and liberal way I do).

    For me, Jewish practice ties me to my family’s history and reminds to express gratitude and awe, to recognize that it is not entirely by my own effort that I have food to eat and a house to live in, to check out of technology and work and focus on my family and friends one day a week instead of arguing with people on the Internet. Jewish ritual is very meaningful to me. I value the community that Judaism gives me. I also care about preserving a Jewish way of being in the world after so many attempts to stamp us out.

    I heard someone put it this way once: Christianity is something you practice because you believe it’s true, and Judaism is something you practice because it’s yours. Of course, that’s a generalization and won’t always be true of everyone, but in my own life and in the lives of many people I know who either grew up Christian or are Christian, that has been true.

  144. matlun
    matlun August 7, 2011 at 11:22 am |

    DonnaL: Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are extremely common for Reform and Conservative Jews.

    Sorry, unclear phrasing by me. In Reform Judaism there is a confirmation ceremony (wiki link since I found nothing better) that is different from the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. That is the ceremony I do not know how common it is.

    Shoshie: Also, to be clear, it’s not a declaration of faith or anything like that. It’s a right of passage that occurs with or without ceremony.

    Ok, I am not Jewish and unfortunately it seems I had misunderstood this.

    I thought it was at least connected to quite a bit of religious studies beforehand, and is connected to participation in the service (doing some reading), but it appears this is not generally true (even though it is common practice).

    I did some reading now and I see that the ceremony can differ quite a bit between congregations, and the concept of “Bar/Bat Mitzvah” does not even require any ceremony at all but just marks the coming of age.

    Anyway: This is probably just another derail…

  145. chava
    chava August 7, 2011 at 11:35 am |

    @ Matlun…
    OK, so you’re not Jewish, you’re not Muslim, and you’re clearly not particularly well informed on either….why have you continued to ‘splain these religions on both this and the Muslim feminists thread?

    @ Shoshie–
    I really enjoyed some those links on circumcision. Thanks!

  146. PG
    PG August 7, 2011 at 11:44 am |

    I skimmed the discussion and it looks like no one has discussed this from a Hindu perspective, so my two cents:

    I identify as a Hindu agnostic in what seems a way similar to many atheists and agnostics who still identify as Jewish, i.e. I acknowledge the effect that my rearing in a faith — even though I’m not a believer — has had on me.

    While many people have tried to convert me to Christianity (oddly most of these experiences were in public schools, though I attended an Episcopalian elementary), it never quite squared with what I thought the universe was like. Although I thankfully was not raised with caste prejudice, in other respects karma just made sense to me: no one else can take on the burden of how you’ve wronged others. Reincarnation made sense too: most people aren’t fit for heaven or hell based on a single lifetime, so you keep living until you shake out as someone suited for Nirvana (or not).

    Hinduism as practiced in the past few centuries is lacking in feminism. Unlike the distinctions drawn between African/Arab/Persian/etc. culture and Islam, it’s really hard to draw a line between Indian culture and Hinduism. (I’m hoping to learn more about Balinese Hinduism, which I only recently encountered but is clearly even further distinct from Indian Hinduism than the various practices of Hinduism within India are distinct from each other.) There’s a kneejerk tendency in India to defend inequitable practices as “our tradition” and to see calls for reform as merely knuckling under to Christians and Westerners again, so that whether the tradition is a religious one gets ignored.

    Some practices like child marriage are just typical of poorer communities all over the world and of various religions. You can see those “traditions” being dropped by wealthier and more educated people who, even if they still evaluate daughters’ value by marriageability, don’t think that value consists solely in her fertility but might be amplified by her being educated. Dowries are still too commonplace in India but aren’t really an issue for people raised in the West.

    However, the attitude underlying dowry still overhangs. Even though I married a non-Hindu, my parents still treated my in-laws in a not-just-friendly but very nearly subservient way. It was so terribly easy to get my mother to back off demanding something if I just said, “Fiance/in-laws won’t like that.” In some ways this sort of awe of the son-in-law is useful, because my parents aren’t otherwise great with boundaries, but I also hate using it because I think it’s the wrong way to feel and somehow toxic for the long term health of family relationships. Also, of course, I resent my spouse’s opinions being treated as more worthy of respect than mine or my sister’s.

    It was particularly frustrating because certain aspects of Hindu tradition with regard to engagements and weddings were so unfeminist that they made my fiance uncomfortable. He didn’t like the inequity between my family and his. I felt hypocritical for having to defend my family’s culture in its unfeminist aspects, while simultaneously sticking strongly to feminism on everything else. So we had a Hindu ceremony in which my parents literally washed my husband’s feet and two priests probably said a lot of Sanskrit about my being a good baby-making machine; and then a civil ceremony where I insisted that *both* parents walk each of us to meet each other, that my vows not be gender-differentiated from my husband’s, that I keep my last name.

    Even putting aside sati — which was not practiced in my family’s area of India anyway — the restrictions on widows definitely still exist and affect my family. My maternal grandmother was widowed when she and her children were still young, so my mom grew up in one cousin’s household where there was a man in charge, and my aunt and uncle in another, while my grandmother didn’t live full-time with any of them. My grandmother still takes a subservient attitude with her sons-in-law (but not with her daughter-in-law, though she doesn’t act like a tyrannical lunatic from a film either), which can be practically annoying as she won’t eat at the same table as my dad and uncle-in-law.

    I don’t feel a daily conflict between Hinduism and feminism, but that’s mainly because there’s little external Hinduism in my day-to-day life. E.g., I don’t go to temple on a regular basis, so I don’t have to confront the prohibition on menstruating women. I would especially like to hear from someone who is a genuinely-practicing Hindu (i.e. practicing without getting prodded by her mother) how she copes with the unfeminist aspects of Hinduism.

  147. Shalom
    Shalom August 7, 2011 at 11:47 am |

    Great post.

  148. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm |

    chingona:
    For me, Jewish practice ties me to my family’s history and reminds to express gratitude and awe, to recognize that it is not entirely by my own effort that I have food to eat and a house to live in, to check out of technology and work and focus on my family and friends one day a week instead of arguing with people on the Internet. Jewish ritual is very meaningful to me. I value the community that Judaism gives me. I also care about preserving a Jewish way of being in the world after so many attempts to stamp us out.

    Thanks for this, because it very much captures my own feelings. Even though I haven’t belonged to a temple since my marriage ended 11 years ago, when my son was 10. (My former spouse was very involved in the congregation at the time, and I couldn’t take the embarrassment of continuing to show up. Since I transitioned 6 years ago, I’ve been tempted to join the LGBT congregation in NYC, Beth Simchat Torah, but it isn’t conveniently located to where I live, and even though it’s supposed to be trans-friendly, and I’d hardly be required to disclose my history in any event, I still feel conflicted and can’t help wondering how trans-friendly it really is, given the substantial transphobia and trans ignorance that still exists in the gay and lesbian communities in general — not a topic for this thread!)

    And, as I said, I’m very much an agnostic. (I don’t have the certainty to call myself an atheist. If I believe in any kind of God at all, I suppose I believe that God is good. Or the converse.)

    Still, I view things like saying the Kaddish for my mother on her yahrzeit, and lighting a candle for her, as a religious act. (She died 36 years ago, when I was 20, after we were in a car accident, and I still remember her saying in the hospital, shortly before she died, that she wished there was a rabbi for her to talk to.)

    I view the family history research I’ve been doing since my son was born as kind of a religious act, reclaiming the names of the dead from oblivion, a “lighting a candle in the darkness” kind of thing every time I say out loud the name of a family member that probably hasn’t been spoken or thought of for 100 or 200 years or more. Especially given the loss of my family, and the Jews of Europe in general, within living memory.

    When I visit places where family members lived, and put stones on their graves — to the extent the cemeteries weren’t destroyed — I view it as a kind of religious act.

    I hope nobody considers this too much of a derail, but this is something I posted recently on another blog about my recent trip to Berlin with my son (I got back four days ago), which might give some idea of my feelings about all this:

    “Even afterwards, it’s still a little hard to absorb the fact that I actually went there, the city where my mother was born in 1923, and where she grew up and lived until she left on 1 Dec. 1938 on the first Kindertransport several weeks after Kristallnacht, and where her father’s family had lived since the 1870’s. The city where nobody in my family had returned in more than 70 years, since my mother’s parents were finally able to escape in June 1941, after somehow getting a visa to Portugal; they were among the last Jews to be able to leave Berlin before the borders were closed and the mass deportations on cattle cars, to the East and murder, began a few months later, in October 1941. According to what my mother told me, her parents were careful never to sleep at home for some time before their departure, because the Gestapo always came at night.

    I have no anger anymore towards individual Germans. It isn’t like I felt the only other time I visited Germany, with my mother and father, in 1972 when I was 17, when we were in Switzerland and visited Baden for a few days (where my mother’s mother’s family came from) – it was my mother’s first and only trip back to Germany after she left at the age of 15 (she died in 1975 after we were in a car accident), so that we could meet her favorite maternal uncle and aunt (who lived in Paris) for the first time since 1939. It was obviously a lot more difficult for her than it was for me to return to the country where 11 members of her immediate family were murdered along with countless more distant relatives, but it was still very hard for me, knowing what I knew, to look at anyone over 50 without wondering what they did, and how many Jews they might have killed or denounced. It was hard to visit my maternal grandmother’s ancestral village of Sulzburg (south of Freiburg), where the family had lived for hundreds of years, and where the cemetery still stands, and to see the synagogue, which was still in the ruined condition the Nazis had left it in; it had been used as a stable. (It has since been beautifully restored, and I want to visit it someday.) It was hard to hear an elderly woman lean out of a window on the Hauptstrasse and say to my mother in German, “Jews? I remember our Jews. We were good to our Jews.”

    It was hard to see “unser Haus,” as my mother called it, in the family for more than 200 years before it was confiscated by the Nazis when my mother’s grandparents, aged 78 and 85 respectively, were deported from Sulzburg on 22 October 1940 to French concentration camps in the Pyrenees (along with all the other Jews of Baden). My great-grandfather survived only four months in the cold winter of 1940/41 before he starved/froze/died of typhus on 13 March, 1941; my great-grandmother survived for 3 ½ more years in the hope of seeing her children again (four of seven were killed), surviving until a few weeks after Liberation in 1944. The West German government paid minimal compensation for the house in the 1950’s, after some 11 years of litigation, as well as 600 Deutschmarks paid to my great-grandfather’s heirs in 1956 as compensation for what happened to him – calculated as 150 DM per months x 4 months (Nov. 1940 – Feb. 1941), with compensation for partial months (Oct. 1940 and March 1941) denied, and compensation entirely denied for my great-grandmother because she technically survived the camps.

    Now, though, almost 40 years later, almost all the perpetrators have thankfully died. (I promised my son in advance that I wasn’t going to push any nonagenarians into traffic, and kept that promise!) The Holocaust education in Germany, and the acknowledgement and coming to terms with what happened – without ever asking for forgiveness, because only the victims have the right to forgive, and they can’t do so – have been very impressive. There are reminders and memorials, some of them very effective, all over Berlin, and I do feel that for the most part it isn’t just lip service. Most young Germans (more so than Austrians, in my son’s experience in both countries) do seem to comprehend what happened.

    So Germany isn’t like countries like Latvia and Lithuania, which are literally soaked in Jewish blood – including that of my family – but have paid (at best) lip service for their own people’s often-enthusiastic participation in the Holocaust, which still appear rife with popular anti-Semitism, and where I will never set foot unless things drastically change.

    But Germany feels different to me. And in a sense, this was kind of a pilgrimage for me, an attempt to pay my own tribute to my mother’s childhood, and the history of my family, in Berlin. Not just during the Holocaust, but before, and not just their deaths, but their lives. So in addition to all the wonderful museums we saw (and they rival those of New York, Washington, D.C., London, and Rome, to list some of the places my son and I have been) – including the Neues Museum, the Gemäldegalerie, the Pergamon, the Bode, the Berggruen, the palace at Charlottenburg, and the Jewish Museum itself, the first two of which we visited multiple times – we visited the site of the apartment building in Prenzlauer Berg (no longer standing) where my mother was born. We visited each of the four still-standing apartment buildings where my mother and/or her ancestors lived (there are some 16 more addresses where she and/or other relatives lived, where the buildings, and sometimes the streets themselves, no longer exist). The four included the address on Jablonskistr. in Prenzlauer Berg where she lived from the age of 2 until she was about 9, the address on Landsberger Allee in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg where her father lived as a small child in the 1890’s, the address on Leuschnerdamm in Kreuzberg (formerly Elisabeth Ufer; there used to be a canal in the middle of the street) where her great-grandmother lived as a widow in the 1890’s, and the address on Niersteiner Strasse in the Grunewald where she lived from about 1936 until she left, and where her parents continued to live after her departure, until 1941.

    At each building, we took pictures of the exterior (with me and my son standing by the door), as well as the ground floor area inside when people let us in; some have been renovated, while others clearly still have things like the original doors and light fixtures and windows. The same doors my mother and her parents and sometimes grandparents and great-grandparents touched, so long ago in what was really a vanished world.)

    We also spent most of a day in the Weissensee Cemetery, still the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe, with > 115,000 people buried beginning in 1882, which the Nazis never got around to destroying (although East Germany came close to doing so in order to build a highway, and would have if not for the international protests that ensued). It was the third major Jewish cemetery in Berlin after Jews returned there in the 1670’s. (This doesn’t count the medieval cemetery in Spandau, with many still-legible 13th and 14th century Jewish tombstones later used as building materials, since discovered accidentally and now on display – the oldest date is 1245, the same date as the earliest reference to Berlin itself. So there were Jews in Berlin at least as long ago as, and probably longer than, there were Germans, given that the name “Berlin” is of Slavic derivation and the place was once a Wendish settlement. So much for Jews as an alien cancer on the German nation, etc. The Jews who settled there were probably fleeing from the mass murders of Jews in Western German towns along the Rhine during the Crusades. Of course, there were plenty of mass burnings, dismemberments, etc., in Berlin itself later on, long before the Holocaust.

    Weissensee is so huge and forested (there are many photos on the Internet, and the trailer for a documentary film about the cemetery at http://archive.archivauskunft…. gives some idea what the place looks like) that some Jews were able to hide there for long periods during the War, sometimes inside empty graves that had been dug and were covered with stone slabs, sometimes inside crypts.

    In addition to spending hours wandering around in general, we were able (based on research someone did for me about 15 years ago), to find the tombstones of two of my great-grandparents and four great-great-grandparents and a number of collateral ancestors, dating back to 1882, and take pictures of them. Unfortunately, the tombstone for my mother’s paternal grandparents, from 1917, which was intact 15 years ago, has since been knocked over, hopefully just from natural causes. We were told that there’s no money to fix the thousands of stones that have toppled (or been toppled), but they gave us a list of local stonemasons in case I want to hire someone to lift it up.

    To those familiar with Jewish tradition, we left stones on each of the family gravestones we found. Including on some of the tiny stones in the children’s section, although the inscriptions were so worn that we couldn’t find the specific stone for my grandfather’s older brother Leopold, who died as a baby in 1892.

    One of the most emotionally affecting parts of the trip for me, and my son too, was the Gleis [track] 17 memorial near the Grunewald train station, which we saw when we went to the Grunewald to visit the Niersteiner Str. address nearby. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B… and http://fcit.usf.edu/holocaust/…. It’s the place from which the Jews of Berlin were deported on cattle cars, beginning in Oct. 1941, to ghettos in Poland and Latvia, to Theresienstadt, and, eventually, directly to Auschwitz. My mother’s aunt — my grandfather’s younger sister Lucie — and her two children, my mother’s first cousins Ruth and Adolf, one of them 18 and the other 21 at the time, were deported from Gleis 17 on 5 Sept. 1942 to Riga in Latvia, where they were murdered several days later, on approximately 8 September. We put stones on Gleis 17, too.

    Sorry for going on so long about this, but it’s difficult to convey the meaning it all had for me.”

    Whether people accept my feelings as religious or dismiss them as some kind of “ancestor worship,” I don’t really care. The fact remains that they play a large role in my considering myself a Jew, now and forever.

    Donna

  149. M Dubz
    M Dubz August 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm |

    Shoshie, thank you for this post. I always appreciate the chance to talk about my faith and my community and the ways in which it supports and maintains my feminism.

    @MissS: The thing about Judaism is, at least as I have experienced it, there isn’t really a central tenant the way that Christianity is Christ centered, so it’s a little bit difficult to have something akin to “being saved”. The closest thing that we have to that is a prayer called the Shema, in which Jews profess that Adonai (the most common Jewish term for God, and a stand in for God’s four letter name, which Jews don’t say aloud) is God and One, and that you should love God with all your “heart, and soul, and breath.” It is said by the entire congregation at every service, and is not necessarily meant to be the transformative event that I’ve heard being saved described as.

    @DonnaL: I live in New York, and I have good friends involved in queer Judaism here. The CBST community is, as far as I know (as a cis-person, so I might have missed some things) trans friendly, although the population seems to skew more towards families with children, which may or may not be something to keep in mind. I have definitely seen trans people attending events there. I also know that there are trans and genderqueer people who attend the Town and Village Synagogue in the East Village, so that might be another place to check out.

    As for why I am religious and a feminist: it is one of my deep personal Truths that God exists and that the purpose of life on Earth is to serve God through acts of lovingkindness to my fellow human beings. A lot of my personal theology comes from the prophets and also kabbalistic mysticism, so it focuses on social justice and equality, while also imbuing every day acts with spirituality and meaning. There is a concept in kabbalah that every being and every action has a spark of holy energy, and that the purpose of living is to go through life with the proper intention in order to “raise up” the sparks and make the world a more whole place. That includes eating, and praying, and sex, and social justice work. In my view, feminism and equality politics are holy acts, and this view grew out of what I understand Judaism to be.

  150. matlun
    matlun August 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm |

    chava: OK, so you’re not Jewish, you’re not Muslim, and you’re clearly not particularly well informed on either….why have you continued to ‘splain these religions on both this and the Muslim feminists thread?

    Really? I am certainly wrong sometimes (specifically in this case), but who isn’t?

    I do not believe I have reason to be ashamed for my comments – a question you clearly do not share. If you see any errors you would like to point out, feel free to do so.

    As to my interest: As many atheists I have spent a lot of time studying religion, and the phenomenon interests me greatly. Mainly because I do not really understand it on an emotional level.

  151. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil August 7, 2011 at 5:29 pm |

    in Reform Judaism there is a confirmation ceremony (wiki link since I found nothing better) that is different from the Bar/Bat Mitzvah. That is the ceremony I do not know how common it is.

    It’s quite common for Reform congregations to have such ceremonies. The percentage of the youth who are affiliated with the synagogue and who participate varies. There are pretty good explanations here and here.

  152. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 7, 2011 at 5:37 pm |

    I do not believe I have reason to be ashamed for my comments – a question you clearly do not share. If you see any errors you would like to point out, feel free to do so.

    As to my interest: As many atheists I have spent a lot of time studying religion, and the phenomenon interests me greatly. Mainly because I do not really understand it on an emotional level.

    Ahem. ‘Splaining is when is a privileged person condescendingly explains something to a less-privileged person who knows more about it. Originally the coinage was mansplaining, but ‘splaining comes in all flavors.

    ‘Splaining is rude, privileged, assbiscuitish behavior. You demonstrably know very little about Judaism and Islam, but you are trying to explain both to groups that include Jews and Muslims, people who obviously know far more about it. You should shut up and listen, and learn something, not try to tell people who know more than you do.

  153. matlun
    matlun August 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm |

    MadGastronomer: privileged person condescendingly explains something to a less-privileged person

    Yes. Are atheists a privileged group? That is certainly debatable.

    MadGastronomer: You demonstrably know very little about Judaism and Islam

    No.

  154. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 7, 2011 at 5:51 pm |

    matlun: Yes. Are atheists a privileged group? That is certainly debatable.

    No.

    Atheists in the US are privileged about Muslims in the US. Atheists and Jews are non-exclusive groups.

    And you demonstrably know a lot less about either of them than Jews and Muslims do about each, and you are talking to Jews and Muslims. So, again, try listening instead of talking, and maybe you’ll learn something.

  155. Ruchama
    Ruchama August 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm |

    You demonstrably know very little about Judaism and Islam

    No.

    Not understanding the purpose and meaning of a milestone that every Jewish person goes through certainly qualifies as knowing very little about Judaism. Perhaps you should let the people who have actually done all that study you mentioned be the ones to answer the questions about the religion.

  156. suspect class
    suspect class August 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm |

    Shoshie, I’m glad you wrote this post, and I have been enjoying both your moderation style and what you have to say. I am not, of course, saying that there is only one good way to moderate a thread on Feministe, but I do find the approach you’re taking to be useful to the subject matter of this thread.

    DonnaL, as a trans man pursuing conversion to Judaism, I have really appreciated reading your contributions here.

    As to my religiousness and feminism, I’m not sure I have much I want to share here, particularly if this is a thread intended for religious women specifically. But I wanted to speak up and say I was reading and appreciating the contributions.

  157. igglanova
    igglanova August 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm |

    Well this thread has certainly gone to hell.

  158. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 7, 2011 at 7:58 pm |

    FashionablyEvil: It’s quite common for Reform congregations to have such ceremonies.The percentage of the youth who are affiliated with the synagogue and who participate varies.There are pretty good explanations here and here.

    In my limited experience with one congregation I belonged to and another that my former partner belonged to, the percentage of kids who have sufficient interest to continue their formal Jewish education after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and go on to have a confirmation ceremony (I didn’t realize initially that that’s what Matlun was referring to) is rather low.

    By the way, Ruchama, not every Jewish person is Bar/Bat Mitzvahed. As I think I mentioned, my parents never sent me to Hebrew/religious school at all, so my formal Jewish education is nil. And my son went to Hebrew school, but dropped out when he was 10 after my former spouse and I separated. It was difficult enough for him to cope with regular school.

    But we’re both still Jewish.

  159. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 7, 2011 at 8:09 pm |

    igglanova:
    Well this thread has certainly gone to hell.

    I’m not sure what you mean, but am sorry if I’ve contributed to to that. Even though I may not be a “religious” Jew in the sense people normally think of, I’ve done my best to explain what being Jewish (and “practicing” in the very limited way I do) means to me , although perhaps I should have mentioned that it includes leading an ethical life consistent with my principles, which do include being a feminist — despite my having reached adulthood during a time when anti-trans “feminism” seemed to be universal.

  160. Macha
    Macha August 7, 2011 at 8:10 pm |

    anna:
    Question: Do you as religious feminists (this is meant for Shoshie and all religious feminists here) see/refer to God as male? Why or why not? I think of God as genderless-I mean, what would it mean for God to be male, that He somehow has a penis? And the greatest being of all being male is a pretty big damper on the role of women in the universe if you ask me.

    I don’t see god as male (feminist cultural Catholic here), and I agree with what Shoshie said about gendered portrayals of god being problematic (but I’m open to embracing portrayals that are both male and female, and everything in between). But your question brought up a different point for me, that is, how even more problematic it is for me to picture/envision god as a parent figure, as so many religions do. Sue Monk Kidd points out, “Many have suggested that having only parental models of the Divine works to idealize and overemphasize our role as children, fostering dependent and infantile patterns rather than full, responsible personhood.” A parental god infantilizes all people as much as a male god infantilizes and demeans women.

    Anyway, the question of a male god also reminds me of a strain of feminist theory that says the only way for the oppressed group to gain liberation is for the roles to be reversed (that is, not seeking an egalitarian model, but a female-dominated society) I wonder if it is better to raise up the divine feminine above the masculine model that has reigned supreme for centuries or to embrace a picture of the divine that is both male and female and emphasizes balance and complement.

  161. FashionablyEvil
    FashionablyEvil August 7, 2011 at 8:18 pm |

    the percentage of kids who have sufficient interest to continue their formal Jewish education after the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and go on to have a confirmation ceremony (I didn’t realize initially that that’s what Matlun was referring to) is rather low.

    Yeah, my understanding is that the overall percentage is pretty low, but that most Reform congregations offer it.

  162. rmb
    rmb August 7, 2011 at 8:27 pm |

    I’m an atheist Jew, raised in the (American) Conservative movement; I’ve never believed, I occasionally observe. I didn’t major in religion in college, but I did take quite a number of classes in the history of Christianity and the history of religious philosophy. My very strong impression is that Shoshie is right, there are very distinct Jewish and Christian approaches to religion; it’s not just a matter of Protestants vs. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox groups. Some of the very earliest debates among Christians (in the process of transition from a bunch of communities of people who believed in some sort of divinity of Jesus of Nazareth to something that could reasonably be called Christianity) were about whether the Father and the Son were of the same substance, or merely like substance. This is totally baffling to anyone raised in rabbinical Judaism as it’s been practiced for about 1500 years. We argue about how one should live, not about the nature of God. Our sages are rabbis – teachers and interpreters of the law – not theologians.

    I remember realizing as a child that while I knew that Christians believed in some sort of Trinity and they believed in heaven and hell, if someone asked me what Jews believed, I would have absolutely no idea what to tell them. There were the stories we read in Hebrew school three afternoons a week, but no one actually believed in them (except maybe the teachers). The teachers and the rabbi believed in God, but that was it (not even the families whose children went to Schecter (a religious day school affiliated with the Conservative movement) thought you had to believe in God). No one ever talked about heaven or hell; they told stories or talked about giving to tzedukah or observing mitzvot or the liturgy.

    Before I took my first class on Christianity, I assumed the debates would be all about canon law – what else would you argue about? I was completely confused until a lapsed Episcopalian friend got exasperated by the confused Jews and told us that the interesting questions were about metaphysics, not law. I still find it frankly bizarre that Christian groups splinter based on whether they think bread and wine are transmuted in their substance but not accidents into flesh and blood or not, and if not, whether it’s just a symbolic ritual to recall the Last Supper or whether it’s some unexplained transmutation that has nothing to do with Platonic philosophy. Or that a major source of tension between eastern and western strains of Christianity has traditionally been about whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, or from the Father and the Son. I realize that schisms are not just about theology, they’re also about power and group identity and practices. But the equivalent Jewish public debates would be about whether you have to avoid eating meat on Fridays. It’s not that different Jewish groups absolutely wouldn’t shun you or kick you out for expressing an opinion (Spinoza was certainly kicked out of his community, and I imagine that most Orthodox groups today wouldn’t be too thrilled with someone who went around espousing atheism). But no one splits off over whether chicken counts as meat for the purposes of kashrus (the consensus is that chicken is meat); if you decide chicken is actually pareve (since chickens don’t have milk to cook their calves in), at most people who care will refuse to eat food from your kitchen.

    I still have no idea what Jews “believe”. But the point isn’t what you as an individual believe, the point is the community and how you observe. The Judaism I was raised with emphasizes that Abraham argued with God; that the rabbis decided they didn’t like capital punishment so they set impossibly high standards of evidence to impose it; that one can and should write ketubahs so that women can get divorces; that the important part of the Yom Kippur morning service is reading Isaiah 58, and atonement is a matter of asking forgiveness from the people you wronged; that the Moshiach is a fuzzy metaphorical symbol who will come when we’ve made him unnecessary.

  163. Ruchama
    Ruchama August 7, 2011 at 8:29 pm |

    By the way, Ruchama, not every Jewish person is Bar/Bat Mitzvahed.As I think I mentioned, my parents never sent me to Hebrew/religious school at all, so my formal Jewish education is nil. And my son went to Hebrew school, but dropped out when he was 10 after my former spouse and I separated.It was difficult enough for him to cope with regular school.

    But we’re both still Jewish.

    According to most Jewish religious traditions, every Jewish person becomes a bar or bat mitzvah when they turn 13 (or 12), whether they have a ceremony or not. (A quick Google couldn’t tell me whether this is the Reform interpretation, but I know it’s the Orthodox and Conservative one. If someone knows how the Reform movement interprets this, I am really curious to know now.)

  164. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm |

    Anyway, the question of a male god also reminds me of a strain of feminist theory that says the only way for the oppressed group to gain liberation is for the roles to be reversed (that is, not seeking an egalitarian model, but a female-dominated society)I wonder if it is better to raise up the divine feminine above the masculine model that has reigned supreme for centuries or to embrace a picture of the divine that is both male and female and emphasizes balance and complement.

    Female divinity as supreme has been tried — google “dianic wicca,” frex — and it sucks. It’s still frequently gender-essentialist and gender-role-essentialist, and can get pretty ugly to women who don’t conform to the preferred profiles and stereotypes. It tends to be associated with RadFem, and to have all the same problems. Balance and complement has also been tried — check out “british tradition witchcraft” — and is often heterosexist and also gender-essentialist. Fortunately, these are not the only approaches.

    A theology that does seem to work in polytheism is to view (at least many of) the gods as equal regardless of gender, and as having their own, independent but frequently overlapping, areas of influence, many of which do not conform to modern ideas of gender roles at all, and for people to take these divine roles as archetypes they can pattern themselves after. Many pagans choose multiple gods to pattern themselves after, varying by parts of their lives corresponding to divine areas of influence.

    For instance, while I am a devotee of Hekate, and pattern myself after her in my personal life, I own a restaurant, and at work try to pattern myself after Hestia, goddess of hospitality. When I am crafting, I model after Athena, and when I am engaged in more . . . joyful . . . activities, I am engaged with the image of Dionysos.

  165. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 7, 2011 at 9:53 pm |

    @Macha
    Also, Christian complementarianism is . . . deeply sexist and creepy, but is the kind of thing that tends to result when “balance and complement” are part of the theology.

  166. invisible_hand
    invisible_hand August 7, 2011 at 10:55 pm |

    While there are many atheist Jews out in the world, from a historical perspective, I do not think you are wrong in labeling the separation of faith from culture as a Christian turn. Daniel Boyarin writes about this at length at the end of his “Border Lines,” about ancient Jewish and Christian identity, when he talks about the decoupling of ethnos and religio in ancient Christianity.
    This is not to say atheist Jews are crypto-Christians but rather that they are, like many other Jewish streams, including Orthodoxy, drawing from a trend with Christian origins.
    If one is allowed to wax normatively here, then I would go so far as to say the Jewish system of halakhah (however interpreted), much like the Muslim system of Sharia (again, however interpreted), does advocate against such decoupling, in which every aspect of life, no matter how minute or seemingly secular, is considered significant and potentially sacred.

  167. invisible_hand
    invisible_hand August 7, 2011 at 10:59 pm |

    Re: community, while I agree that it is not strictly to be found in “religious” worlds (esp. when the term “religion” bumps up awkwardly given its western connotations), I would venture to say that religious communities are ones in which there is a certain … thickness lacking in the secular world (again, these terms are hopelessly problematic).
    Contra Bob Bellah’s work on “Bowling Alone,” a true community is not just a group of people one does things with but is rather a mimni-cosmos that structures one’s very sociality. If (G?d forbid) a loved one passes, the community is there to support one. If one gets married, the community are the ones to whom one announced and the ones with whom one celebrates. One shares in a sacred history with a community (indeed, in the Jewish calendar, it is almost tisha be-av, the commemoration of the destruction of the Temples; and in the Muslim calendar, it is Ramadan).

  168. PG
    PG August 7, 2011 at 11:06 pm |

    A theology that does seem to work in polytheism is to view (at least many of) the gods as equal regardless of gender, and as having their own, independent but frequently overlapping, areas of influence, many of which do not conform to modern ideas of gender roles at all, and for people to take these divine roles as archetypes they can pattern themselves after. Many pagans choose multiple gods to pattern themselves after, varying by parts of their lives corresponding to divine areas of influence.

    That’s interesting. When we were little, my sister once asked my mom why we prayed to so many different gods and goddesses. My mom replied that it’s difficult for humans to grasp the totality of the divine, thus Hinduism conceives of it as a huge, diverse, overlapping group of divinities.

    I quite liked this because it seemed weird to me then that one would pray to a single god for both the big altruistic things like an end to the Gulf War, and little selfish things like doing well on an exam. To have a goddess to appeal to for peace and a different one for successful education made sense to me.

    We asked Mom another time why we needed to pray at all if the gods knew everything anyway, and she said we weren’t doing it for the gods’ benefit but to clarify in our own minds what we cared about.

    Even now that I don’t believe, when my mom prods me into a few minutes in a prayer closet, after I light a stick of incense I do think sincerely about what I’d most appreciate some help with in my life.

  169. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 7, 2011 at 11:23 pm |

    I quite liked this because it seemed weird to me then that one would pray to a single god for both the big altruistic things like an end to the Gulf War, and little selfish things like doing well on an exam. To have a goddess to appeal to for peace and a different one for successful education made sense to me.

    We asked Mom another time why we needed to pray at all if the gods knew everything anyway, and she said we weren’t doing it for the gods’ benefit but to clarify in our own minds what we cared about.

    Yeah, both of those ideas are present in neo-paganism and Wicca as well. Although a lot of Wiccans don’t do intercessory prayers (prayers for intervention or help) for most practical things, because Wicca is also a magical system, and the practice generally encourages spells over intercessory prayer (not that spells don’t include prayer; they often do).

  170. M Dubz
    M Dubz August 8, 2011 at 12:23 am |

    Something I’m interested in is if there are people on here whose feminism has been reinforced/born of the theology of their specific religions. I hear a lot in religious feminist circles about people re-adapting theology to fit feminist purposes, but I’m wondering about people who specifically frame their feminism in terms of a teaching from their religion (for example, I think about social justice in terms of “raising sparks,” a concept from Jewish mysticism.) For me, I became religious around the same time I was becoming a baby feminist, and I’m wondering if other people had religious and feminist awakening interact in a similar way as me.

  171. chava
    chava August 8, 2011 at 3:41 am |

    I *think* they see it the same way currently, but don’t quote me on it–e.g. you are a bar/bat mitzvah, you don’t “have” one, etc. If I recall, few Reform congregations were offering bar/bat mitzvah at all before 30/40 ys ago.

    Ruchama: According to most Jewish religious traditions, every Jewish person becomes a bar or bat mitzvah when they turn 13 (or 12), whether they have a ceremony or not.(A quick Google couldn’t tell me whether this is the Reform interpretation, but I know it’s the Orthodox and Conservative one.If someone knows how the Reform movement interprets this, I am really curious to know now.)

  172. chava
    chava August 8, 2011 at 3:58 am |

    If it isn’t too frustrating to answer–how does a feminist Wicca deal with depictions of female gods? For example, most historical depictions of Aphrodite are in line with the beauty ideal (blond, thin, etc). Are there artists who depict her outside the beauty norm? In other words, when you’re working with an embodied deity, how do you choose to depict them?

    It seems to me that actual images are an incredibly powerful way to work with our internal images of what is “divine.” The Jewish God isn’t supposed to have a gender or a form–but lord knows that doesn’t keep most people from a very specific mental image. (not to draw an equivalency between Wicca and monotheism, just speaking from my own experience).

    MadGastronomer:

    A theology that does seem to work in polytheism is to view (at least many of) the gods as equal regardless of gender, and as having their own, independent but frequently overlapping, areas of influence, many of which do not conform to modern ideas of gender roles at all, and for people to take these divine roles as archetypes they can pattern themselves after. Many pagans choose multiple gods to pattern themselves after, varying by parts of their lives corresponding to divine areas of influence.

    For instance, while I am a devotee of Hekate, and pattern myself after her in my personal life, I own a restaurant, and at work try to pattern myself after Hestia, goddess of hospitality. When I am crafting, I model after Athena, and when I am engaged in more . . . joyful . . . activities, I am engaged with the image of Dionysos.

  173. Momentary
    Momentary August 8, 2011 at 4:45 am |

    chava:
    If it isn’t too frustrating to answer–how does a feminist Wicca deal with depictions of female gods?For example, most historical depictions of Aphrodite are in line with the beauty ideal (blond, thin, etc).Are there artists who depict her outside the beauty norm? In other words, when you’re working with an embodied deity, how do you choose to depict them?

    It seems to me that actual images are an incredibly powerful way to work with our internal images of what is “divine.”The Jewish God isn’t supposed to have a gender or a form–but lord knows that doesn’t keep most people from a very specific mental image.(not to draw an equivalency between Wicca and monotheism, just speaking from my own experience).

    There’s some fantastic goddess imagery in “The Folk of the Air” by Peter S. Beagle. It’s not identified explicitly with Aphrodite, but it’s consistent with my understanding of that goddess: I am a black stone, the size of a kitchen stove. They wash me in the stream every summer and sing over me. I am skulls and cocks, spring rain and the blood of the bull. Virgins lie with strangers in my name, the young priests throw pieces of themselves at my stone feet. I am white corn, and the wind in the corn, and the earth whereof the corn stands up, and the blind worms rolled in an oozy ball of love at the corn’s roots. I am rut and flood and honeybees. Since you ask.

    Another great line from that novel: The flesh of her outstretched arm sagged like a raincloud.

  174. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 8, 2011 at 4:59 am |

    M Dubz:Something I’m interested in is if there are people on here whose feminism has been reinforced/born of the theology of their specific religions.

    Oh, definitely. I started coming into my feminism around the same time I started practicing Wicca, and each reinforces the other for me, then and now.

    There’s a strong tradition of feminist Wicca in the US. Starhawk’s books were one of my earliest influences, and she had out at the time two books (Truth or Dare and Dreaming the Dark) specifically about Wicca as political activism (especially feminism and environmentalism). There are certainly problems with her work, particularly as the books I’m talking about were written in the 80s, but there’s a lot of good stuff there, too. I still teach out of her book Spiral Dance, when I teach, although I annotate it heavily.

    chava: If it isn’t too frustrating to answer–how does a feminist Wicca deal with depictions of female gods? For example, most historical depictions of Aphrodite are in line with the beauty ideal (blond, thin, etc). Are there artists who depict her outside the beauty norm? In other words, when you’re working with an embodied deity, how do you choose to depict them?

    Nah, ask away. This kind of question, I don’t mind answering.

    A) Wiccan, not Wicca. Wicca is the religion. (OK, there are some Wiccans who use it that way, but they are in the minority, and it’s a pet peeve of mine.)

    B) A female god is a goddess.

    C) Some Renaisance depictions of Aphrodite are blonde, but not Classical ones — as far as I know, the Classical depictions of her are all dark-haired, because that was the standard of beauty then and there. And sure, she’s depicted in whatever way the artist finds most beautiful, because that’s part of the point of a goddess of beauty: she is what each person who perceives her understands as beautiful. But there are certainly depictions of her that don’t match current beauty standards. Say this Greek frieze, this Roman statue, or this statue from Knidos.

    I don’t choose to depict my gods, generally. I sometimes use reproductions of images, but in my head, they’re the way they look when they turn up, in visions or dreams or whatever. And every god I’ve ever worshiped has shown me multiple faces and forms. Hekate has turned up as a huge black marble statue, an old woman, a motherly figure, and a teenager in a yellow top and skintight jeans drinking a Coke and wanting to dish. I don’t get a lot of options in the matter. My altar images of her are mostly reproductions of Hellenic ones, although I do keep this modern statue, largely because the artist worked in a bunch of symbolism I like, and a plate one of my girlfriends made for me in the red figure style that shows Hekate with her torches.

    There’s also a tradition in Wicca of invoking gods into human vessels who then embody them, in which case the gods look more or less like the priest/esses holding them.

  175. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 8, 2011 at 5:17 am |

    Heh. Chava, I posted a whole thing in response, but it was full of links, so it’s caught in moderation until Shoshie gets a chance to look at it.

  176. Literata
    Literata August 8, 2011 at 7:39 am |

    My coven and I were talking about something related yesterday. We have a ritual dedication/blessing of the meal in our liturgy that emphasizes interaction, and it is done by two people. It can use God and Goddess imagery, and usually does since all of us right now are straight or bi, but we often have a woman doing the “God” role, because we’re mostly female, too.

    We have explicitly agreed that what matters is not gender polarity, but the idea of interaction and interrelation between two people/beings, and the way that plays out in the cycles of love, life, death, and rebirth. So we’re still working on this, but that’s where we are right now; it’s not about strict equality or complementarianism, it’s about the interaction and continuing to mix up the possibilities.

    As far as images go, many women I know like to work with images like the Venus of Willendorf and other prehistoric “goddess” figures that directly contradict today’s beauty standards. Diversity also helps here – using multiple images helps me remember that beauty comes in many forms.

    Finally, Wicca also has practices/ideas that emphasize how the divine is present in each of us, and at times a priestess can be the embodiment of the divine. That is an incredibly powerful affirmation.

  177. chava
    chava August 8, 2011 at 8:28 am |

    Cool FWIW, I actually meant “Wicca” in the sense you mention (i.e., a “feminist Judaism/Hinduism/Wicca”).

    MadGastronomer:

    A) Wiccan, not Wicca. Wicca is the religion. (OK, there are some Wiccans who use it that way, but they are in the minority, and it’s a pet peeve of mine.)

  178. chava
    chava August 8, 2011 at 8:40 am |

    Dude. That is AWESOME.

    Momentary: There’s some fantastic goddess imagery in “The Folk of the Air” by Peter S. Beagle.It’s not identified explicitly with Aphrodite, but it’s consistent with my understanding of that goddess:I am a black stone, the size of a kitchen stove. They wash me in the stream every summer and sing over me. I am skulls and cocks, spring rain and the blood of the bull. Virgins lie with strangers in my name, the young priests throw pieces of themselves at my stone feet. I am white corn, and the wind in the corn, and the earth whereof the corn stands up, and the blind worms rolled in an oozy ball of love at the corn’s roots. I am rut and flood and honeybees. Since you ask.

    Another great line from that novel:The flesh of her outstretched arm sagged like a raincloud.

  179. Jen in Ohio
    Jen in Ohio August 8, 2011 at 9:03 am |

    (Spinoza was certainly kicked out of his community, and I imagine that most Orthodox groups today wouldn’t be too thrilled with someone who went around espousing atheism)

    Ever since I learned about him, it has seemed to me that his expulsion from the Jewish community was perhaps nominally (and perhaps not even nominally*) about atheism**, but more substantively about the threat his emerging epistemological approach represented to the local institutionalized religious/political powers. The ideas he was developing were about how it’s possible to understand the universe and one’s place in it independently, in a sort-of almost intuitive fashion, without ever dealing with religion or religious laws. Ethics and more democratic forms of government were central focal points of his work; he believed the religious authorities of his day were abusing their considerable power; and he advocated for the removal of all political power from religious institutions.
    _____________
    *“Without providing details, the writ of excommunication accuses him of ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’. It then levels a series of curses against him and prohibits others from communicating with him, doing business with him, reading anything he might write, or even coming into close proximity with him.” cite

    **There’s good indication that he resented his reputation as an atheist, and that this term was only wielded at him like a weapon because most people understood it to mean “evil” in general. Spinoza was a monist who theorized that everything that exists altogether=God. Personally, I think he is amusingly described as the ultimate pantheist, since my read of his work is that he “finds God” in literally every particle of existence. Whenever I am asked what religion I am in a context in which I fear I will be judged harshly for saying “none”, that’s what I say instead: “Spinozist pantheist.”

  180. RVCBard
    RVCBard August 8, 2011 at 9:55 am |

    M Dubz:
    Something I’m interested in is if there are people on here whose feminism has been reinforced/born of the theology of their specific religions. I hear a lot in religious feminist circles about people re-adapting theology to fit feminist purposes, but I’m wondering about people who specifically frame their feminism in terms of a teaching from their religion (for example, I think about social justice in terms of “raising sparks,” a concept from Jewish mysticism.) […] I’m wondering if other people had religious and feminist awakening interact in a similar way as me.

    I most certainly do. I won’t say that my religious and political awakening coincided, but I have become more radical as I’ve gotten more deeply religious.

  181. Miss S
    Miss S August 8, 2011 at 11:51 am |

    Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer my questions.

    Chava, next time I ask a question that you don’t want to answer, don’t respond. I said pretty fucking clearly that I couldn’t find a clear answer, so obviously it’s something that I tried to find an answer to.

  182. DoublyLinkedLists
    DoublyLinkedLists August 8, 2011 at 11:58 am |

    What’s really amusing, and by amusing I mean really frustrating and irritating, is that you are exactly what I’m talking about when I relate my experiences of xenophobia and bigotry (AND bigotry. So maybe address that point too next time you decide to dismiss my life experiences) in the orthodox Jewish community.

    People like you who listen to what happened to me and how I was discriminated against by the Jewish community (along with many other people at my school, women especially, since the rules that govern orthodox Judaism are both homophobic and misogynistic) and tell me that since the ugly truth of my life doesn’t fit in with their rosy picture of community and holiness, I need to shut up and sit down.

    Well fuck you. You’ve been so full of community love and support for me regarding my victimization at the hands of the orthodox Jewish community. You’ve really demonstrated through your speech and actions the truth of the warmth and caring of your Jewish community.

    I find it to be particularly insulting that you have tried to cast my experiences as generally “negative” instead of calling them what they are, codified bigotry and discrimination. I also think it’s really terrible how you’ve tried to cast me as an outsider perpetuating Jewish stereotypes about being closed-off and Xenophobic when I lived almost exclusively within that community for the first 18 years of my life and just last February went to my brother’s orthodox Jewish wedding. Unless you too attended an orthodox Jewish institution for 13 years or can read biblical hebrew and aramaic, I’m sure my knowledge of Jewish texts and law far exceeds yours.

  183. Sheelzebub
    Sheelzebub August 8, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    But I miss the church, the community, the built in network of people you raise your kids with and eat and sing and study with. I could try to insert myself in a dozen other communities that would fulfill this function, but I haven’t figured out what community that would be.

    Florence, have you looked into Unitarian Universalist congregations? I’m an atheist, and I attend one. You don’t need to believe in any higher power (my church has a fair number of atheists) and there is no dogma–it’s just a free and responsible search for the truth.

    There are also humanist congregations out there, if that would be more your cup of tea and if it’s within a reasonable distance of where you live.

  184. Rare Vos
    Rare Vos August 8, 2011 at 12:49 pm |

    Are atheists a privileged group? That is certainly debatable.

    Of course they’re not. But, don’t forget, privilege unexamined is insulating – ANYTHING you say, as an atheist, is an insult. ANYTHING.

  185. Feministe is on Fire! « Tiny Cat Pants

    […] lots of good stuff over at Feministe today. Great (if contentious) discussion about religion and feminism. Another about abuse. And a third about […]

  186. chava
    chava August 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm |

    I get that it can be a tricky question for someone outside the community. What I think gets missed is that we (at least the Jews of my acquaintence) get asked that particular question *all the time,* and that there is no way to answer it to the questioners satisfaction.

    In my experience, when I have taken the time to answer, people are looking for a reason to point out how your response doesn’t make any sense, and if some don’t totally believe, why not just leave the community, be a “real” atheist, not hypocritical, etc.

    So…that’s where I’m coming from on that one. You may not have had those intentions, but it seemed important to point out that maybe, this is one of those issues where people need to learn more before expecting a member of the community to explain it to them.
    Sorry if it came off harsh.

    Miss S:
    Thanks to everyone who took the time to answer my questions.

    Chava, next time I ask a question that you don’t want to answer, don’t respond. I said pretty fucking clearly that I couldn’t find a clear answer, so obviously it’s something that I tried to find an answer to.

  187. chava
    chava August 8, 2011 at 1:12 pm |

    Ugh. I know so many people with similar experiences. I can count on one hand the number of people I know who escaped Orthodox education unscathed. (related: if I could ban Lubavitcher day schools, I would).

    I think it is really important to acknowledge that both progressive and non-progressive Judaisms have a problem with non-normative bodies, family structures, and identities. The frustrating flip side to this is that the few Reform congregations I know who make a go of really stamping this stuff out, do not have the kind of solid grounding in halacha, Aramaic, and Hebrew that you describe. And I believe that that grounding is really important to progressive Judaism.

    Anyway. I think you bring up a really critical point–that the flip side (Mobius strip?) of community is, a priori, the non- or partial membership of some in that community. Which can all too easily turn into xenophobia, sexism, and bigotry.

    DoublyLinkedLists:
    What’s really amusing, and by amusing I mean really frustrating and irritating, is that you are exactly what I’m talking about when I relate my experiences of xenophobia and bigotry (AND bigotry. So maybe address that point too next time you decide to dismiss my life experiences) in the orthodox Jewish community.

    People like you who listen to what happened to me and how I was discriminated against by the Jewish community (along with many other people at my school, women especially, since the rules that govern orthodox Judaism are both homophobic and misogynistic) and tell me that since the ugly truth of my life doesn’t fit in with their rosy picture of community and holiness, I need to shut up and sit down.

    Well fuck you. You’ve been so full of community love and support for me regarding my victimization at the hands of the orthodox Jewish community. You’ve really demonstrated through your speech and actions the truth of the warmth and caring of your Jewish community.

    I find it to be particularly insulting that you have tried to cast my experiences as generally “negative” instead of calling them what they are, codified bigotry and discrimination. I also think it’s really terrible how you’ve tried to cast me as an outsider perpetuating Jewish stereotypes about being closed-off and Xenophobic when I lived almost exclusively within that community for the first 18 years of my life and just last February went to my brother’s orthodox Jewish wedding. Unless you too attended an orthodox Jewish institution for 13 years or can read biblical hebrew and aramaic, I’m sure my knowledge of Jewish texts and law far exceeds yours.

  188. Donna L
    Donna L August 8, 2011 at 2:08 pm |

    The only comment I’ll make on this is that someone’s concededly superior familiarity with the corpus of Jewish texts and laws doesn’t necessarily connote superior familiarity with texts (and historical studies) extrinsic to that corpus, on the subject of how Jewish people in general (and women in particular) have actually governed and lived their lives in various geographical areas over the last thousand years or so. To give one example, see this interesting article (at least to me) discussing what surviving documents such as wills, contracts, and property transactions reveal about the financial activities of women in medieval Egypt (based on the Cairo genizeh), Spain, and Umbria (based on notarial deed archives, etc.), showing that “the reality of Jewish women’s financial autonomy did not always mesh with rabbinic admonishments,” and that the picture presented by a study of Jewish law alone (including medieval responsa) is a false one: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/9249w3hr;jsessionid=BDDBB696EB77C799E88E58A79E772CC1#page-7

    Not that I claim to be an expert on this subject, either. But I know something about it.

    In addition, I keep getting a feeling that there’s a distinct undercurrent of opinion here (which could, of course, be entirely my imagination) that Orthodox Judaism as currently practiced by some of its most reactionary exponents is somehow the only legitimate form of Judaism, by which the religion as a whole must be judged — and condemned, to the same extent as that form of Orthodox Judaism, as inherently misgoynist, homophobic, etc.

    Which, I think, shows excessive deference to Orthodoxy, and seems awfully dismissive of non-Orthodox Jewish scholarship.

    Separately, speaking of Jewish texts and law, is anyone familiar with this book?: http://www.geschkult.fu-berlin.de/e/judaistik/forschung_und_projekte/talmudbavli/publications/reviews/index.html

  189. WestEndGirl
    WestEndGirl August 8, 2011 at 2:12 pm |

    Shoshie and to an extent Chava

    I totally understand the difference “between someone outside the community making accusations of xenophobia and stuff because of kashrut and whatever and someone who was driven out of the community talking about their experiences.”

    Not confused at all. I too am not the partially Lubavitch/Modern Orthodox woman I could be, due to issues with the role of women in particular, although not issues with outsiders. (In general it is only extreme sects like Satmar that aren’t integrated into the wider community in the UK).

    However I can’t see the *primacy* of experience when people feel ‘driven out'; mine is very different. I am distant and not frum any more, but I am not prepared to throw Judaism under the bus due to disillusionment or anger. I prefer to fight for it. And really, I am just so very very very tired that the quite literally the first thing that is brought up about Judaism, is Orthodox Judaism (and therefore Judaism and Jews by extension, please NB), and not just Orthodox Judaism but the very worst aspects of it, at its worst.

    I do voluntary work with an amazing Orthodox organisation who works with Jewish and non-Jewish children with developmental challenges from a specifically Jewish perspective. In the angry and aggrieved world, this just doesn’t count, this experience, this charity is erased. It just doesn’t matter. Put it this way, it strikes me that there are far more many people willing to hear the very worst about Judaism than there are wanting to hear anything good about it.

    Psychologically it is very different to be a European Jew or from the wider/smaller communities compared to the US and Israel. For you, perhaps it is easy to toss such stinging and accusatory words at Judaism generally, for me here (and generally among my friends), we don’t feel we have that luxury. Half my family are pogrom/Holocaust survivors and half expelled from Syria. Nevermind that no-one can decide what tunes to sing on Friday night, the impacts of anti-Semitism are still felt on both sides of my family. Security barriers outside our schools, shuls, community centres, I could go on.

    So really pardon me, if people using terms and tropes that have been used to stir up anti-Semitic hatred over the millennia pushes my buttons back.

    That there are things to criticise about fundamentalist Judaism is quite clear as there is about any fundamentalist religion and when there is a balance on this topic, you sure won’t hear me protest. But in this space, there isn’t balance, so if necessary I will protest!

    Although not at the moment, I am loving hearing about people’s other religions and their diversities and experiences.

    and p.s. not day school but 12 years of Lubavitch taught cheder and came out eating chorizo, munching on chopped liver and happily interacting with that world and without it

  190. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan August 8, 2011 at 2:17 pm |

    Anyway. I think you bring up a really critical point–that the flip side (Mobius strip?) of community is, a priori, the non- or partial membership of some in that community. Which can all too easily turn into xenophobia, sexism, and bigotry.

    Thanks, chava. I would really love for the other religious posters on here to comment on this flipside a little more. In the OP this was mentioned:

    And there’s very real misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia in many religious communities that make them toxic for some members. But I think that’s where feminist religion steps in. How do we preserve the good things about religion, while excising the bad? It’s a hard question, and I understand why some people might argue that we can’t.

    but I haven’t seen a lot of non-atheist commenters addressing it. Except for DoublyLinkedLists, who got yelled at for doing so. :p

    Access to a religious community is access to a glorious privilege — when you “in” you’re golden, and when you’re “out” many communities could not care less if you died in the street outside their door. Many people on here are talking about how good it feels to be religious, and how helpful and fun it is, and I don’t doubt that for a second, but I would appreciate more discussion of the effects this can have on people who are not similarly blessed with acceptance into the religious majority (or who are accepted, but find it anything but a blessing.)

    The most obvious example to me, thanks to my upbringing, is Catholicism (and other forms of Christianity) because even if a believer is the most feminist feminist that ever feministed, their very presence in the Church and their financial contributions to it still are used towards policies they likely strongly disagree with. My mother, for example, is a staunch Episcopalian and never fails to donate to the church, and it’s her money and faith so I stay quiet, but inevitably some of that money goes towards exclusionary (or at best frivolous) practices. Her faith is between her and her god, but her money is having a real effect on people around her.

    Obviously some people deal with this by leaving the religion altogether (despite often still believing in its tenets,) but how do y’all feminists who stay/participate in religious communities reconcile your tacit financial/physical/moral support* of sometimes-damaging religions with your feminist beliefs? Is acknowledgment of this support sufficient — like any acknowledgment of privilege, or harm done — or do you guys have specific strategies for dealing with this issue?

    *to be clear, I likewise “tacitly support” crap like the USA’s many stupid wars by paying taxes and filling out a census and having a job in the US; no one’s innocent of this! :p

  191. Literata
    Literata August 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm |

    Bagelsan, Mad Gastronomer addressed some of that when she referred to Dianic Wicca and British Traditional Wicca. Both of those traditions have a variety of issues of exclusion, erasure, phobias, and more, especially about GLBTQ folks. In particular, Dianic groups can be misandric and transphobic, and British Traditional Wicca was originally designed to be extremely heteronormative and essentialist about the gender binary.

    How do I deal with this? Well, I choose to work with and participate in groups that are GLBTQ friendly. When I lead public rituals, I try my damnedest to be inclusive. I speak out to my coreligionists on these topics, and do other kinds of work to bring about a better world.

  192. suspect class
    suspect class August 8, 2011 at 4:09 pm |

    Miss S, if you haven’t looked at it, you might find jewfaq.org helpful for your questions about the basics of Judaism, at least as a starting place. It’s pretty accessible to non-Jews, IMO.

  193. abby
    abby August 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm |

    chava: If it isn’t too frustrating to answer–how does a feminist Wicca deal with depictions of female gods? For example, most historical depictions of Aphrodite are in line with the beauty ideal (blond, thin, etc). Are there artists who depict her outside the beauty norm? In other words, when you’re working with an embodied deity, how do you choose to depict them?

    i’m not wiccan, but i am polytheist (specifically, kemetic orthodox). my statues are reproductions of ancient ones, so they look pretty much like the ones you see in museums, but one of the most popular conversations on my temple’s forums year after year is “how do you picture the gods?” there are always dozens of different answers, and they’re all right, even if they contradict each other. i know a lot of artists who represent the gods in all kinds of different ways, from one who lives in korea and paints on papyrus to the exact specifications of the paintings found in tombs to one down the street who makes little sculpey figures to hang on necklaces. i love it.

  194. MadGastronomer
    MadGastronomer August 8, 2011 at 6:26 pm |

    @Bagelsan
    As Literata points out, I addressed it, thanks. And, like her, I won’t associate with exclusionary groups. I don’t participate in any groups as a regular member, but the public rituals I go to are always welcoming and open, and when I hold rituals for others, they are as open as the constraints of the ritual allow (i.e., sometimes I hold women-only rituals, but “woman” is defined as “woman-identified,” and sometimes stretched beyond that, if someone really wants to come).

    I, too, speak out to other pagans, and tell people off pretty thoroughly sometimes.

    There’s not a lot of uniform theology in Wicca, much less paganism in general, and rituals are rewritten all the time, so there’s not the kind of work to do that there is in religions with longer histories, of the slow fight against old, sexist theology, or the modification of traditions to include women. It can give us the freedom to direct our religious efforts into feminism, rather than our feminist efforts into religion, if we’re lucky.

  195. Bagelsan
    Bagelsan August 8, 2011 at 11:21 pm |

    As Literata points out, I addressed it, thanks.

    Sorry, I certainly wasn’t meaning to exclude you! I actually did get the impression of this:

    There’s not a lot of uniform theology in Wicca, much less paganism in general, and rituals are rewritten all the time, so there’s not the kind of work to do that there is in religions with longer histories, of the slow fight against old, sexist theology, or the modification of traditions to include women.

    from what you wrote earlier, and that made sense to me, so I suppose I should have addressed my questions more towards the feminists who include themselves in the religions full of “old, sexist theology” because that’s the intersection I have the most trouble understanding and am curious about hearing opinions on. :p

  196. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 8, 2011 at 11:49 pm |

    WestEndGirl:
    Shoshie and to an extent Chava

    And really, I am just so very very very tired that the quite literally the first thing that is brought up about Judaism, is Orthodox Judaism (and therefore Judaism and Jews by extension, please NB), and not just Orthodox Judaism but the very worst aspects of it, at its worst.

    Thanks — that’s exactly my feeling, as I expressed it at almost exactly the same time you did. It’s always nice to know that something I perceive isn’t entirely a product of my imagination!

  197. chava
    chava August 9, 2011 at 1:56 am |

    Yeah, I get tired of that one too. It does feel like people aren’t interested in a real discussion, just damned if you are hasidic, damned if you’re not, cause then aren’t you being racist and hypocritical and all this horrible stuff *and you don’t even believe*! Horrors. (As if belief would make this hypothetical racism better…)

    That’s a really frustrating conversation to have with non-Jews. It also happens (IMO) with Jews who have decided hey, its Orthodoxy or nothing, so I choose nothing, because anything else is a half-measure.

    On the other hand, I think its important to hear & bear witness to the negative experiences of people like DLL. FWIW, I do have the impulse not to discuss these things outside the community. Some of that is legitimate, some of it isn’t. But if someone hurt by fundamentalist Judaism brings it up in a public forum…well, I think it would be fairly morally bankrupt to deny their experiences.

    DonnaL: Thanks — that’s exactly my feeling,as I expressed it at almost exactly the same time you did.It’s always nice to know that something I perceive isn’t entirely a product of my imagination!

  198. chava
    chava August 9, 2011 at 2:04 am |

    Well, I don’t give money to shuls that support things I consider morally bankrupt. There isn’t the equivalent of a Vatican in Judaism; your dues stay in your particular community. I think there may be a dues fee to, say, the central organization for that denomination. Again, however–there are more than one.

    The problem for me lies with things like Birthright and Israel Bonds. They have certain positive aspects, and certain (very) negative ones. Most shuls don’t fund them directly, but they do support them and ask people to give money/go on the trips, etc.

    Bagelsan:
    As Literata points out, I addressed it, thanks.

    Sorry, I certainly wasn’t meaning to exclude you! I actually did get the impression of this:

    There’s not a lot of uniform theology in Wicca, much less paganism in general, and rituals are rewritten all the time, so there’s not the kind of work to do that there is in religions with longer histories, of the slow fight against old, sexist theology, or the modification of traditions to include women.

    from what you wrote earlier, and that made sense to me, so I suppose I should have addressed my questions more towards the feminists who include themselves in the religions full of “old, sexist theology” because that’s the intersection I have the most trouble understanding and am curious about hearing opinions on. :p

  199. Sacred places and times « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

    […] reading a Feministe post entitled Why be religious? (and, painstakingly, all of the comments to the article), I learned a lot of […]

  200. CDub
    CDub August 12, 2011 at 12:21 pm |

    As an agnostic from a Christian (mixed Catholic/Anglican) background, I’m always interested in this debate. But actually I’m not going to get into it because it’s Friday evening and I’m sleepy and I don’t feel I have anything of great value to contribute anyway. That said, have you read Of Human Bondage? It takes an interesting angle on the idea of escaping the religious foundations of what you think is an independent moral code. That and Somerset Maugham is a phenomenal prose stylist.

  201. Sacred Places and Times | Wheat and Tares

    […] reading a Feministe post entitled Why be religious? (and, painstakingly, all of the comments to the article), I learned a lot of […]

  202. Pia
    Pia August 13, 2011 at 3:42 pm |

    Thanks so much for choosing to cover this topic – I’m a first-generation woman and feminist who also identifies as Catholic. I get a lot of shit for this, and even thinking about some of the things that have been said to me by my fellow “leftists” makes me too upset to relate my stories here.

    To sum it up: I personally am finding it very hard to get respect for both identities at once and to find people willing to understand how the identities aren’t contradictory but actually inform and construct each other. So, thank you. Thanks for making me feel included and not crazy for being religious as well as being a dedicated feminist.

  203. What We’ve Been Reading « The Bennett Commentary

    […] guest-blogging at Feministe, has an interesting post on why she is religious, in a feminist […]

Comments are closed.

The commenting period has expired for this post. If you wish to re-open the discussion, please do so in the latest Open Thread.