Notes on the Cycle of Faith: Learning

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Part 1 of 6 of the "Cycle of Faith" series, which is an exploration of "faith crisis" by way of personal experience, insight, and opinion.

To download a PDF copy of the series (so you don't have to read post by post), click the image below.

"What was once a river is no longer a river, the mountain no longer a mountain." - Rob Bell

My deep exploration of faith began with the study of witches.

Notice I did not say witchcraft. You may relax now.

Witches have always been fascinating characters for me. I read a book on the recommendation of a fellow writing friend on the topic and my life changed. Through this book and many subsequent others I learned a history of women I had not known before.

The story goes that in early cultures women were respected members of society, participating differently yet equally in the care of their communities. Their knowledge, insight and intuition, love, and ability to bring new life were greatly revered. They had voice, opportunity, and influence.

When conquerors came with new customs and traditions, hierarchies were established. With time, the value of women in society was lessened. Instead of exercising their particular talents in their communities, women were relegated exclusively to home life. They became a necessary burden and were traded man to man with dowries. Stripped of rights and robbed of voice, history remained silent in their regard for thousands of years with few exceptions. This absorption and exercise of power in favor of men is referred to as "patriarchy".

*Because patriarchy is such a loaded feminist word these days, I'd like to define what patriarchy means and looks like to me. Patriarchy is a societal hierarchy that places men above men and men above women. It places white above color, rich over poor. It values the distinction of gender, race, class, and uses those distinctions to build walls instead of bridges between people.*

Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino) ~ Virgin of the Rose, 1516

Women who did not fit society's idealized description of how women should look, speak, and act like were singled out and excluded from society. Misfits were usually women who were unmarried, widowed, outspoken, ugly, orphaned, had unpopular interests or opinions, or were generally disagreeable.

Hysteria surrounding witchcraft grew enormously in Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. People began blaming illness, death, and misfortune on witches. Soon, they began to look for evidence of witches around them, and it was found in the outcasts of society. Midwives and cantankerous widows were the first to be put to death. Tens of thousands of women followed.

This massive witch hunt was never mentioned in any of my history books at school. Until seven months ago I believed biblical history was history itself. I was completely ignorant of other cultures, other beliefs, other stories - the stories of the conquered. The stories of women.

When I discovered this new perspective, I was angry. Well, that's not entirely accurate.

I was enraged.

Tens of thousands of women murdered on accusations of witchcraft? Most of my ancestors are from England where witch hysteria peaked. I have been unable to confirm if I am descended from any of the accused, but the numbers alone suggest my ancestors were at least aware if not involved. These are my mothers. These are my grandmothers. These are my sisters. The thought of anyone being drowned in a cage or burned at the stake is enough to make me weep. That it may have been my mothers' fate is unbearable.

Franz, Gottfried (1846)- Woman  Being Burned at Stake

The witch hunts ended but patriarchy did not. Generations later here I am, living in a country where I can vote, speak in public, work, sign a lease, play sports, and wear a bikini if I want to. I also live in a country where I grew up hearing that a woman will never be president because "she'd probably bomb another country while she was on her period", where my sisters are blamed for their own rapes and abuse, and birth is heavily medicated and regulated.

I looked at the world around me and saw how far it has come and how far it still needs to go.
Then things got personal.

I saw that living in a hierarchy was affecting me in big and small ways.
I saw that some of my beliefs about marginalized people were painful to them.
I saw that certain beliefs about women were painful to me.
I saw these beliefs active and thriving inside the religion I loved.

I saw
and I could not unsee.

Church became painful for me. I was conflicted. I had built my faith on the foundation of Jesus Christ, but it was framed by the LDS church. My foundation was still firm, but I no longer trusted the framework.

I asked,
Where is Heavenly Mother?
Why are only men ordained?
and a few questions about the temple.

I saw inside my own heart and in church the evidence of patriarchy, of one above another, and I was ashamed.

"Where do I go from here?" I asked a trusted friend.
Neither of us knew.

© Channing B. Parker. Design by FCD.