Challenging the Order?

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Salon.com interviews gay Catholic author Richard Rodriguez about gay marriage, the “Desert religions”, and the power of women in religious life. What is striking about the piece, from my perspective, is how close he gets to endorsing a shift away from monotheism (or at least male-oriented monotheism) while discussing religion.

“The desert religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are male religions. Their perception is that God is a male god and Allah is a male god. If the male is allowed to hold onto the power of God, then I think we are in terrible shape. I think what’s coming out of Colorado Springs right now, with people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, is either the last or continuing gasp of a male hierarchy in religion. That’s what’s at stake. And women have a determining role to play. Are they going to go along with this, or are they going to challenge the order?”

While Rodriquez talks about how the traditional monotheisms feel “threatened by the rise of feminism”, he seems unable to look outside the “desert religions” and see that millions of women are indeed challenging the order by leaving it entirely for a variety of faiths that are more egalitarian in outlook. From Wicca and modern Pagan faiths, to various New Age spiritualities and heretical Christian off-shoots, to the post-creedal and post-Christian Unitarian-Universalists, more and more women are simply opting out of a system that they feel oppresses them. Rodriquez seems almost blind to these shifts, and believes that feminism will continue to produce incremental changes within institutional Catholicism and other male-dominated monotheistic religions.

“The Episcopal Church in America is now under the leadership of a woman. Feminism is going to change a great deal. The most radical people in the Roman Catholic Church are women. They’re challenging everything from the priesthood to the male God to what it means to be married. I don’t expect to see gay marriage enter these conservative institutions in my lifetime. But I do see change.”

The problem with these proposed incremental changes is that they aren’t really working as feminists and other activists intended. The Episcopal Church is slowly splintering, the Catholic leadership is maintaining a hard line against feminist reforms, and anti-gay religious coalitions are becoming more strident. In fact, one could argue that not much progress has been made since some initial breakthroughs in the tumultuous 1970s.

I may be biased, but perhaps the best way to challenge the notion of a solitary male-defined deity is to stop participating in the systems that perpetuate it. The dominant monotheisms know how to handle dissenters and heretics, indeed the very history of monotheism is a history of heretical behavior, but empty pews are another matter altogether. If you want to see change, you have to hit them where it hurts, at the collection plate. Reform comes only when the Vatican can’t afford Benedict’s designer clothes. In the meantime, I advise Richard Rodriguez to investigate the wonderful word of polytheism. We have all the women priests, female deities, and gay-friendly rites you could possibly hope for.