Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Females in Religion

I am currently re-reading a fascinating book, Resurrection by Tucker Malarkey. Less publicized than Dan Brown's works, Malarkey really enriches the mind and questions the soul. She takes the reader on a journey of both discovery and re-discovery. For the main character, Gemma, it is both because she is re-discovering herself and her female qualities in a post-World War II world while at the same time on a threatening trail of papyrus documents in hopes of discovering her recently deceased father's work. For the reader, the book allows discovery in the great depth of information that is given on the Nag Hammadi Gospels and in the history of Christianity itself. Still, this path of knowledge is somehow also a re-discovery for the reader, for he/she is retouching any and all questions that have ever arisen in regards to faith. For the world, Malarkey has discovered a branch of fictional literature that brings together spirituality, history, and a great story. At the heart of what is gained by the world, is the way this story captures the re-discovery of ancient texts and long forgotten Christian ideals, all parts of the book which are based on actual events, findings, works, etc.

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In my own soul searching, faith questioning, and life re-evaluation which this book invokes, I cling to a subject which I often find to be distasteful. Gender relations is a subject of history that I have made a career of avoiding, yet while reading Resurrection, I find myself drawn to the history of female involvement in religion. Malarkey argues that it was Christianity that took power away from the female. Prior to the creation (by man) of this particular lasting strain of Christianity, women were a source of great power, strength, and religious meaning.

My first reaction to this argument takes me back to a course that I took in my first undergraduate experience, "Old Testament/Hebrew Bible." In this course, I received the first real hurdle in my faith. The reality of the Bible being written by people other than who they claimed to be, illuminated the fact that religion was created by people, and the Bible was just another primary source. The Old Testament speaks to the limitation of women, especially in Genesis and Leviticus. Quickly I came to the conclusion that Malarkey has forgotten the guidelines of the Old Testament, and its innate sense of crippling women. For goodness sakes, women were not even allowed into the walls of the temple, only the in the courtyard. Because Christianity derives from the Judaic religion, it of course follows the same sense of dis-empowering women.

As I delve deeper into the ideas of women and the impact which Judaism made on the ancient world, I realize that so many more religions were indeed embracing women. The multitude of powerful female goddesses seemed to have such large roles in the lives of their people. Even a place like Athens, where women were known to not have a particularly powerful or even meaningful role in society, the patron deity was Athena, goddess of wisdom. There is not a single powerful female figure in the New Testament, other than the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth mother of St. John the Baptist, both of which are essential in the mystical deification or canonization of these characters. The Old Testament, though still not fully embracing women as normal holders of power, presents many strong female figures including Ruth, Ezra, and Esther just to name those who have books named for them.

Malarkey's most controversial yet moving message is one of sexuality. It is well thought that many "pagan" religions embraced the act of sexual intercourse as transcendental and even sacred. Malarkey brings to the forefront that sex was the tool with which women gave men power, even in societies which had stronger male rulers. This idea really makes sense when you break it down. A man steals a woman' s virginity because there is something gained for him, and somehow I know it is more than just the momentary pleasure. The act of rape is so brutal because it is the act of taking power away. According to Malarkey, it was a sin in the time of Jesus to be celibate. She delineates from this fact that he therefore was most likely not celibate. The underlying question here is, why then does Christianity take all dignity, power, and beauty from women and at the same time preach celibacy?

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