Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Patriarchy, Violence, and the Battle for the Soul of World Religions: The Case of a Catholic Theologian and Jewish Rabbi

I read openly gay German Catholic theologian David Berger describing his experiences with some fellow Catholics after he came out of the closet in 2010, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach talking about his similar experiences with fellow Jews after word got around that he had written a book with the title Kosher Jesus, and I realize I'm reading two versions of the same story.  One is Catholic, the other Jewish.  One chocolate, the other vanilla.

But the underlying thing of which the two separate stories are alternative flavors is the same thing: hatred and violence spun forth in the name of God and holiness.

Here's what some fellow Catholics told David Berger in emails and other communications after he came out of the closet, according to Rudolf Neumaier in Süddeutsche Zeitung*:

People like you don’t have a right to live. 
・And this Christmas message: Mr. Berger, you are a disgrace to our holy church!!!!  Stop badmouthing our church in the media!!!!  I’m warning you!!!!!  I know some people who want to do something to you in the near future!!!  So apologize to the church, and take back what you said!!  Understand me? 
・And this, which came with a video showing skinheads jumping up and down on the head of an African man they had shoved to the ground:  This is what we will do to you.

And here's what some fellow Jews (rabbis, for the most part, he thinks) have told Rabbi Shmuley Boteach after they got word that he intends to publish a book arguing that Jesus was an observant Jewish teacher whose teaching is rooted in traditional Judaism.  The following are comments posted online:

[Boteach] has to be crushed to a pulp, as he deserves
Shmuley, if I ever see you I will throw rocks at your car, spit on you and chuck dirty diapers at your house
The soton (Satan) has in every generation someone in who he dresses up to do his work
It is time for boteach to print a book with the name THE KOSHER CHAZER (PIG) 0- and to put his picture on the front cover. 
SB needs to be crucified with yoshke (Jesus). 

What elicits such hate, such threats of violence in the name of God, I ask myself?  Part of the answer, which is increasingly clear to me (particularly after a weekend spent fielding one ugly comment after another here by a married heterosexual white man incensed by my analysis, vis-a-vis Tim Tebow, that white heterosexual American men may well imagine God as a big version of Themselves in the Sky all they wish, but this isn't going to make God one of them):

Part of the answer is that, for a variety of historical and cultural reasons, at this moment in human history religion has become a channel of the violence of men intent on destroying anything and everything that stands in their way, as they assert their claim to supremacy--solely because they are men and ostensibly heterosexual--over anything and anyone else in the world.  We live at a moment of human history in which violence is being released in an unprecedented way in the service of patriarchal values.

Well, perhaps "unprecedented" is a stretch. History has, after all, seen similar eructations of testosterone-fueled violence in the name of God.   Those previous periods of violence, however, often had a religion vs. religion intent.  The violence in those periods was more often acted out by one religious group against another, so that it had the character of interreligious violence rather than pan-religious violence against a demonized Other despised by all the religious groups acting in concert.

What we see today, by contrast, and this is true even when tensions continue to exist between Christianity and Islam, is the growing coalescence of patriarchal males across religious groups willing to stoop to violence to keep women (and gays) in their place.  And so it's entirely predictable that evangelical Protestant leaders who once held Catholics in disdain would endorse right-wing Catholic Rick Santorum in the presidential race.  Or that powerful right-wing Catholic political leaders would endorse right-wing Mormon Mitt Romney in the same race.  Santorum and Romney both being, it's clear to anyone with much political acumen at all, on the right side of the misogynistic-homophobic line, no matter how much tea party activists question Romney's conservative cred.

What remains constant is the intent to deploy violence--at first rhetorical, then outright--if women and gay men insist on claiming their full range of human rights in the world today.  What also remains constant is the willingness of each of these religious bodies to rewrite its core religious teachings--all of which center on mercy, justice, and practical compassion--to assert that those teachings are all about setting gender roles in stone.  And enacting violence in the name of God against anyone who questions their presuppositions about gender.

One of the most significant cultural battles of this period of history is the battle for the soul of the world religions.  At an official level, the religions of the world are, to a great extent today, being hijacked by patriarchal extremists who want--in the case of Judaism and Christianity, for example--to rewrite the scriptures of world religions to make them all about God's intent concern to divide humanity between male and female, and to assure the subjugation of the latter to the former.

The battle for the soul of world religions centers around the need of the many adherents of various religions who know better--who know that the core of their religious tradition centers on mercy, justice, and practical compassion, and not writing female subordination in stone in God's name--to reclaim their hijacked religious beliefs and their hijacked religious bodies.  And this is not going to be easy, when so much cultural power continues to reside, almost everywhere in the world, among men--and, in particular, men who are heterosexual or profess to be heterosexual, and who are intent on keeping women and gay men in their place.

P.S. In case it's not clear from the preceding discussion how Shmuley Boteach might fit into the intra-Jewish battle about human rights for gay folks, see here, here, and here.  This is just a sampling.  Boteach's willingness to defend the human rights of those who are gay is front and center in the violent reaction some of his fellow observant Jews have to his thought.

*I'm relying on a translation that Alan McCornick of the Hepzibah blog site has generously made available.

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