Friday, December 31, 2010

“Putting the Mother Back in Mother Church”: A Review of Put the Blame on Eve: What Women Must Overcome to Feel Worthy

“Putting the Mother Back in Mother Church”: A Review of Put the Blame on Eve: What Women Must Overcome to Feel Worthy, Melinda J. Rising, PhD (Larson Publications, 2010; ISBN: 978-1-936012-47-3

Put the Blame on Eve is a survey of two at-first-glance distinct histories that have actually developed on parallel tracks—Christianity and Women’s Rights, and the book is organized accordingly. The first part is a thoroughly researched and fascinating history of the creation and codification of Christianity and women’s ill treatment at the hands of the Church’s founding fathers in their historical and persistent (mis)representations of Eve, Mary Mater, and Mary Magdalene. The second part is a report on the state of women’s status in modern society using the results from focus groups and Federal government departments and other reports.
Rising’s treatment of the subject evolves from three primary sources: Joseph Campbell, Elaine Pagels, and Paul Johnson. Campbell’s work on the usurpation of the Goddess’s prevalence in early cultures by the patriarchal priest classes of various religions is perhaps best stated in his Power of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers a few years before his death. Pagels and Johnson are well known for their scholarly works on religion and history.
Rising covers a great deal of historical ground in a concise, engaging manner and isn’t afraid to interject an edgy editorial comment every now and again along the way. It’d be all but impossible in this review to cover in any kind of detail the many psychological, physiological, philosophical, and theological components that went into the suppression of the Bible’s best-known women and the distortion of such epic events as The Fall of Eden, the Virgin Birth, and the reconstitution of Mary Magdalene from chief among Jesus’ advisors to Rehabilitated Whore.
Some of the Big Bad Wolves in all of this are the Emperor Constantine, St. Augustine, and Thomas Aquinas. If we keep in mind that Constantine was controlled by his mother Helena and killed his wife in a boiling bath for accusing his first-born son of trying to seduce her (factoids that do not appear in the book) and that Augustine was a recovering sex addict (which does appear in the book), it quickly becomes clear that the founding fathers of the Church were projecting their own weaknesses onto the fairer sex. Although seen as pillars of early Church thought, both Augustine and Aquinas were far off in their conceptions of the nature of the Soul and consequently pushed forth the view that women were far inferior to men.
At the heart of it all is one word, three letters: SEX. Hence Eve as Temptress, Mary Mater as Virgin, and Mary Magdalene as Whore. These pointedly conceived and cruelly marketed roles thrust upon these women are, sadly, the obstacle course with which modern women still must contend. Regardless of their very different politics, both Sarah Palin and Hilary Clinton were judged more on their looks and dress than they were on their politics, and every gesture and emotional response they make is microscopically dissected to a degree far surpassing that of their male counterparts. Although they are not referenced in the book, biologist Rachel Carson and ethologist Jane Goodall were treated abysmally by colleagues and dismissed by the press as nothing but “hysterical” women who had no business in the Sciences.
Rising takes us through the Albigensian Crusade, the Inquisition, and the global Witch Hunts, all of which did further damage to the position of women. It’s hard to remain calm reading these accounts of rampant power in the guise of Divine mandate.
Some of the more disturbing remnants of these patriarchal ploys is the continued ban on women’s ordination in the Catholic Church and the current Pope’s decision to put attempts at instating women priests on the same level as sexual abuse of children.
Rising’s recounting of the Women’s Movement from its beginnings in the mid-1800s through modern times is another excellently presented historical survey that covers the major subjects of Suffrage and birth control/abortion, and brings to light the differing philosophies that began pitting women against women in their fight for equal rights—an ongoing rift that now includes the Stay at Home Mom versus the Career Woman.
The final chapter is a “Report Card and Prognosis for the Future,” drawing on statistics and reports from various governmental departments and human services organizations. In a nutshell, progress is being made, but there is still a ways to go. The so-called Glass Ceiling and large disparities in pay for the same work between men and women are still major issues that bleed into all other areas of life.
Rising ends the book with many recommendations for continuing the fight for equal rights for women. This is the practical, hands-on portion of the book and there are plenty of important ideas.
No book is perfect, so I feel it fair to point out the following: there is one major editing error, where AIDS is spelled out as Acquired Immune Disease [instead of Deficiency] Syndrome. Also, and more importantly, it is clear by the end that this book is targeted overwhelmingly toward women. That’s kind of like preaching to the choir. Although there is so much excellent information here that women should of course read it, it is really the males of the species that would most benefit from seeing where Church, political, and sociological policies have led us all.

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