Thursday, July 24, 2014

Richard Rodriguez, Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography: "Until the Desert Religions See the Woman as Father, the Father as Woman, Indistinguishable in Authority and Creative Potence," They Will Continue Opposing Homosexuality

I'm reading Richard Rodriguez's book Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography (NY: Viking, 2013) right now. A theme running through the book is the distinctiveness of the monotheistic "desert religions" — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — all of which were born in the same desert crucible, are closely genetically related to each other, and focus on God's self-revelation in scripture (and there's significant interplay between the sacred books of all three desert religions). As a gay (and practicing) Catholic, Rodriguez is interested, in particular, in the jealous, vengeful maleness of the deity of the desert religions, and their seeming imperviousness to gay people (which is, he argues, intrinsically connected to their obvious allocation of second-class status to women).

As a taste of his thought-provoking, well-written book, I thought I'd offer you a string of quotes from it that have caught my eye, exploring the preceding ideas:

Does the dry, dogmatic religion that springs from the desert make warriors? Rodriguez asks:

Dogma strives to resemble the desert: It is dry; it is immovable. Truth does not change. Is there something in the revelation of God that retains—because it has passed through—properties of desert or maleness or Semitic tongue? Does the desert, in short, make warriors? That is the question I bring to the desert from the twenty-first century (45).

To Rodriguez, it seems that there is a bellicose strand built into the three desert religions, built right into their fierce monotheism with its assertion of the jealousy of their male deity:

There is something in the leveling jealousy of the desert God that summons a possessive response in us. We are His people becomes He is our God. The blasphemy that attaches to monotheism is the blasphemy of certainty. If God is on our side, we must be right. We are right because we believe in God. We must defend God against the godless. Certitude clears a way for violence (46).

But other strands in the thinking of each of these three religions emphasizes that God always completely surpasses every dogmatic formulation, every box and prison, in which we seek to contain and control the divine:

Desert is the fossil of water. . . . Is dogma a fossil of the living God—the shell of God’s passage—but God is otherwise or opposite? (47).

And so we have the paradox of a God who is clearly spirit, who is beyond gender, who names Godself in Jewish and Christian scripture as the non-gendered I am, being spoken of in the "default setting" as male:

"He" is the default setting in scripture—Jewish, Christian, Islamic. The perception, the preference, the scriptural signifier, the awe of the desert religions, is of a male God. Father. Abba. Lord. Jesus refers to God always as Father, though he insists that God is spirit. Yahweh is unnameable but for the name He (as I was going to write) gives Himself: I Am. There is no "He" in I Am (112).

As a gay practicing Catholic, Rodriguez links the resistance of the Catholic hierarchy to women's aspirations for personal autonomy and human rights to their attack on same-sex marriage — they attack same-sex marriage because they fear autonomous women:

The prospect of a generation of American children being raised by women in homes without fathers is challenging for religious institutions whose central conception of deity is father, whose central conception of church is family, whose only conception of family is heterosexual. A woman who can do without a husband can do without any patriarchal authority. The oblique remedy some religious institutions propose for the breakdown of heterosexual relationships is a legal objection to homosexual marriages by defining marriage as between one man and one woman (113).

And so he proposes that, until the desert religions can come to terms with the aspirations of women to be treated as full human beings, they won't shift their repressive attitudes towards homosexuality: 

It is clear to me that civic attitudes toward homosexuality and gay marriage are changing. In countries we loosely describe as Western, opinion polls and secular courts are deciding in favor of the legalization of gay marriage. Nevertheless, the desert religions will stand opposed to homosexuality, to homosexual acts, unless the desert religions turn to regard the authority of women. And that will not happen until the desert religions reevalute the meaning of women. And that will not happen until the desert religions see "bringing into being" is not a power we should call male only. And that will not happen until the desert religions see the woman as father, the father as woman, indistinguishable in authority and creative potence (116).

For a previous brief discussion of Darling, which focuses on some the themes discussed above and links to Lesley Hazleton's review in SFGate, see this posting. And for a discussion of Rodriguez's relationship between the opposition of patriarchal religious groups to same-sex marriage, their hostility to women's rights, and the proposition 8 battle in California, see this previous posting.

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