Western civilization has taught us many things including how not to look at the larger picture of any issue and keep separate, myriad dots that beg to be connected. Mainstream and even alternative media is replete with myopic statements like "Should the pope resign? Should there be a formal investigation by the Vatican of the global epidemic of priest abuse of children? What did Benedict know and when did he know it?"
A fundamental lack of historical perspective and an inability to place the sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in the context of the inexorable collapse of industrial civilization leaves us asking meaningless and absurd questions. Therefore, if we are going to make sense of this latest crime against humanity perpetrated by organized religion, it is crucial that we explore both these issues.
Historical and Current Perspectives
First, even a cursory understanding of church history provides numerous clues regarding the inevitable outcome of the initial agenda of early church fathers. Of course the word fathers signals the birth of patriarchal religion in the West which even beyond male domination is synonymous with a way of life based on power and control. Shortly after the birth of Christianity and as the Christian church became an organized system in the Western world, the top priority in its agenda was to exterminate paganism and its indigenous roots and influence. The supreme irony, of course, is that Christianity had deep roots in paganism and could not have congealed into a viable religion without it.
The significance of the disavowal of paganism cannot be overemphasized. The word "pagan" originally meant, country dweller or rustic and implied that the pagan had an intimate relationship with the earth. It was that relationship, more than anything else about paganism, that made it so repugnant to the custodians of official church dogma. Moreover, the earth and the female gender were clearly associated in the minds of early church fathers with irrationality, defilement, chaos, and evil. St. Tertullian wrote to women: "Do you not know that you are each an Eve? With the sentence of god on this sex of your lives in this age, the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil's gateway. You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law. You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant to attack. You destroyed so easily god's image, man. On account of your desertion even the son of man had to die."
Researchers of the
early Christian Gnostic sect, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy in their book
Jesus and The Lost Goddess, point out that in the early stages of
Christianity, a protracted struggle between literal and symbolic interpretation
of sacred texts continued until the literal interpretation triumphed in roughly
the 5th century. In the earliest stages of Christianity, many pagan
converts to the religion believed in a Christian goddess, and indeed this
teaching became an integral part of Gnosticism. As the church became
increasingly male dominated, church bishops "vigorously suppressed the idea that
there was a Christian goddess." Ironically, in 431 at Ephesus, which had
previously been the site for worship of the pagan goddess, a church council met
and "bestowed the title of the ousted goddess upon Mary, the mother of Jesus."
The larger significance of this action is that it "put an end to Gnostic ideas
of equality between the sexes." (44)
The Gnostic Christian sect struggled valiantly with the official church hierarchy to modify the church's perceptions of women and nature, but ultimately, the church prevailed, and Gnosticism was declared heresy. The subsequent history of church leadership reveals a burgeoning pattern of male hierarchy distancing itself from the earth, from the feminine, and from matters of the heart, thoroughly preoccupied with intellect and domination. Medieval scholar, Lynn White comments on the Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis:
While many of the world's mythologies provide stories of creation, Green-Roman mythology was singularly incoherent in this respect. Like Aristotle, the intellectuals of the ancient West denied that the visible world had had a beginning. Indeed, the idea of a beginning was impossible in the framework of their cyclical notion of time. In sharp contrast, Christianity inherited from Judaism not only a concept of time as non-repetitive and linear but also a striking story of creation. By gradual stages a loving and all-powerful God had created light and darkness, the heavenly bodies, the earth and all its plants, animals, birds, and fishes. Finally, God created Adam and, as an afterthought, Eve to keep man from being lonely. Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man's benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man's purposes. And, although man's body is made of clay, he is not simply part of nature: he is made in God's image.
White's analysis of the Christian doctrine of dominion over the earth illumines how it institutionalized an attitude of disconnection from nature and the fundamental philosophical underpinning of Western civilization, namely that humans were superior to other species and therefore had the inherent right to dominate them. Notable exceptions to this pattern were mystics such as St. Francis of Assisi, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich who wrote and taught prolifically about their own and humanity's relationship with nature. Christian mystics always held a decidedly feminine perspective and were marginalized accordingly.