Jimmy Carter Edits the Bible

An astonishing bit of news from former President Jimmy Carter on behalf of a group called the Elders:

“The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

In short: don’t believe everything you read in the Bible.   What’s more, because the Southern Baptist Convention does in fact find the discrimination of women “acceptable” (i.e., biblical, so just do it) Carter has ended his association with that influential group. Let me remind you that the Southern Baptists are  15 million strong—second in size only to Catholics in the USA.

The astonishing part is the reason Carter gives for deeming this practice of discrimination unacceptable:

“The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.”

Wow.   President Carter rejects certain verses because they can’t be direct orders from a divine Being despite the fact that they are in a holy book. Why can’t they? Because there is a higher authority than what some guy thousands of years ago wrote down on a piece of papyrus, a higher authority that lies within each of us: Reason. If a practice like slavery causes suffering to a whole class of people, it cannot be just or what God wants us to do. If half the population is reduced to a kind of sexual slavery because of a certain verse on an old parchment passed down from father to son for a couple of millennia, then toss that verse in the trash can of oblivion and let’s live according to a different standard: the Greater Good based on the rights of all human beings.

Carter’s welcome apostasy opens up the door to a room we so badly need right now in the world: the editing room, a place where so-called holy writ is analyzed and large sections consigned to the dustbin, from Balaam’s ass to the virgin birth. People have been busily at work in this room since Epicurus first wrote that the gods have no interest in us mortals, so lets get on with finding the best way to enjoy our lives together. It’s a room where Socrates, Hus, Bruno and a host of others have labored until overwhelmed by the forces of the dark side.

President Carter’s declaration means we should think about each and every verse in the Bible and every other holy book, asking ourselves “is this a keeper?”  and the gauge can be found in the precepts of Humanism.

For more on this subject try “Sam Harris to Muslims: Edit Your Sacred Texts!”

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More on Sexual Attacks in Germany

Some of my German students returning to the US from their holiday break told me firsthand about the frightening events that occurred on New Year’s Eve.   One young woman said she was out with friends at a club and found themselves surrounded by 20 men, threatening them, some with knives. This happened not just in Cologne, but in Stuttgart, Bielefeld, Hamburg,… The most disturbing thing about these events is that they seem to have been planned by Muslim men from North Africa and the Middle East, some of them refugees who recently entered the country.

The German newspaper Die Welt reports that in Arab countries something called “taharrush gamea” is common. It means “coordinated sexual harassment” or sexual harassment planned and carried out by groups of men, ranging from molestation to rape.   It has never before been found in Germany. Now it is.

In the wake of these events, the German press is trying to get a handle on what is behind all this.  What is it like for women in their homelands? Die Presse from Austria interviewed four women from various parts of the Middle East. One woman from Iran recounted how at 16 she was accosted by a man on the street near her house who grabbed her breast. She ran home in tears but her family decided they wouldn’t take it to the police, because in all likelihood it would end up being worse for the victim than her attacker.   A woman from Iraq said the best part about living in Austria was that she could walk around freely, without men constantly in her face, badgering her, demanding her cellphone number.  In Baghdad she had to be home by 5 PM for her own safety. Others in IS-controlled Syria spoke of the fear of Islamist fighters killing them if they did not cover themselves with the hijab.

In short, these women are not free to live their lives.   Fear follows them wherever they go even if they are encased in their prison clothing.   Now women in Germany are afraid too.   Sales of pepper spray are up. Right-wing protestors are in the streets. No one knows how it will end.

 

 

Sacrilege in Köln (Cologne)

There is a song I’ve always liked by Georges Brassens, the unofficial poet laureate of France, called “Le Grand Pan”  (“Pan, the Great”). In the second verse he tells us how in the old days, the gods would rush to the aid of two lovers as soon as they heard a single “I love you,” and with their aid….

La plus humble amourette était alors bénie

Sacrée par Aphrodite, Eros, et compagnie.

L’amour donnait un lustre au pire des minus,

Et la moindre amoureuse avait tout de Vénus.

 

Even the most humble romance was blessed

Made sacred by Aphrodite, Eros and company.

Love gave a lustre to even the worst of losers,

And the least of women in love had all the qualities of Venus.

This is the sacrament of sexual union.   To sense those mutual feelings of attraction swirling, forming, taking over two “imbéciles heureux” as Brassens says, is to know what the Divine is all about.  And it’s there for everyone to experience, even the most humble of us.

But the important word here is “mutual.”   Those supernal energies that send us to the farthest reaches of happiness only operate when love is requited. Failing that, love withers and dies, or leaves only lust, and lust can lead to the Dark Side.  Men are programmed by their DNA to look aggressively for partners, and in the not-too-distant past, they took them by force if necessary. Civilization gave us romance and a moral compass, empowering women by diverting the genetic drive of the male to reproduce.  (I know, I know–women have this drive too, but the danger comes primarily from men).

The veneer of civilization washes off quickly, especially when lubricated by alcohol, and especially when people turn into packs. The horrific events in Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve illustrate yet again how frightening life can be for women, even in the most civilized of countries. We don’t know all the details yet, but what we do know is bad enough: hundreds of drunken men encircling women, groping them, assaulting them, making them fear for their lives. It calls to mind events in our own country in 2000 when at the Puerto Rican parade in New York City the same thing happened, or the so called “Eve teasing” in India that can lead to the most terrifying sexual assaults imaginable.

What do we do about this?   Mothers and fathers! Your first duty to your sons is to teach them that sexual union is sacred to whatever gods you serve, or if you have no gods, sacred to what it means to be human, sacred to all that life on this planet means, sacred period.  Women are reflections of the goddesses and in motherhood they are heroes, bringing new life to the world at the risk of their own.   We owe women so much. They need our respect.  Teach your boys!

 

Women Saving the World: South Sudan, Kunduz and Hillary Clinton

As others have said before, notably the Dalai Lama , perhaps the only way to save the world is through women. This really hit home recently because of the juxtaposition of three events.

The first was a talk I heard from a young American woman who is working for an organization called Nonviolent Peaceforce in South Sudan. For those of you who missed it, our newest nation in the world has completely disintegrated, rivaling Syria for chaos and suffering.   As always, it is most dangerous for women. Men and children in war zones are subject to starvation, disease, and death but women are also in danger of being raped.

One of the points the speaker made was that the fighting in South Sudan is no longer just an ethnic conflict or the same kind of cattle raids that have occurred for ages. Things have really fallen apart. Because of the chaos created in the initial stages of the crisis, there are now armed bands of youths traversing the country under no one’s command. They want cattle and they want women. In her refugee center of Bentiu there are now 125,000 displaced persons with UN peacekeepers protecting them. They have their food airdropped in because as soon as you try to grow food, you are targeted by armed groups. But you can’t cook without fuel, and that means women need to go out and forage for firewood. After many months, they have to walk all day to find any, and then carry it in heavy bundles on their heads back to the camp. There have been many attacks and rapes, kidnappings and killings, so the women are naturally scared to leave the camps. The peacekeepers wouldn’t accompany them at first because it’s too dangerous: you’re making your way through grass that is taller than you are, a perfect hiding place for ambushes. So this brave young woman and others from her organization, accompany the African women on their foraging expeditions, prepared to confront any armed youths who show up, and warn them off by saying “We’re humanitarians, and if you attack us it’s a crime!”

For those whose initial reaction, like mine, is incredulity at their naïveté, let me add that apparently in that part of the world, saying you’re a humanitarian actually carries some talismanic weight with it, particularly because Nonviolent Peaceforce makes it a point to get to know all the players involved in a conflict zone and makes it clear that they take no sides. Still, with so many young men with guns, so much chaos, you can’t help but feel it’s more foolhardy than brave to put yourself in the position of these young women out in the bush. Certainly Boko Haram or IS would laugh in your face.  Nevertheless, they stand shoulder to shoulder with their African sisters, risking their lives to protect them, and, in the end, the UN peacekeepers were persuaded to start patrolling where the women were foraging.

The second event was the rape of a city: Kunduz in northern Afghanistan in early October. The Taliban managed to infiltrate and take over long enough to pillage anything they wanted, and what they especially wanted was to send a message to women’s group to shut up, shut down, and get back to the 7th century where you belong. Those noble women who ran shelters for abused wives had to flee for their lives or they would have been hanging from the lampposts in the city squares.   Scaring women into submission is apparently one of the main goals of the Taliban, and if anything could galvanize half the population into serious opposition to them, it would be the knowledge that under a Taliban regime, women can expect to be locked into the hijab once again, respected as breeders of men, but not as human beings. Try to break out of that mold and a horrible death awaits you.

The third event was the tour de force of Hillary Clinton in the first Democratic debate.   Whatever you think of her politics she showed the world what a woman can do, a woman with brains, ability, and moxy. Let’s hope her example can reach the women of Africa and Asia and give them some much-needed encouragement in what will be a long, hard road to equality.

Legal Prostitution vs. Sacred Sex

One of my students wrote an impressive paper recently arguing for the legalization of prostitution. There are certainly some points to be made in favor of this proposition, but my response, in keeping with the themes of my book, was that we should not treat sexual union as a commodity, we should recognize it as a sacred moment—a sacramental act reserved for your best beloved. Here’s why.

When two people have discovered a spiritual bond that draws them into an increasingly intimate relationship, and this joining of the spirit—of the mind and the heart—then becomes a physical relationship as well, the power of the moment defies description. It is ineffable, the word we use to describe our holiest experiences, where words fail us and we discover only the Transcendent.   We leave this world for a few brief moments, and live in another dimension altogether.

Of course, every sexual encounter with a loved one cannot be described in this way.   Sometimes it’s just nice, sometimes not so nice.   But there is a solid, practical reason for thinking of it as primarily a sacred act.   If we go to the other extreme, we would consider it a mere appetite, to be quelled whenever the hunger hits. This is what animals in the wild do and our Austrolopithecine ancestors did. It’s in our DNA, especially the male DNA, to continue to walk this path, knuckles dragging on the ground, taking our mates whenever we can, by force if necessary.   Some cultures have modified this rape-approach to sexual relations in forced marriage, and through religious strictures that deny women much of a role in decision-making. In doing so they have reduced women to mere receptacles.

Women in many parts of the world are under siege. They always have been. They are fighting back more than ever, demanding an equal place with men, and the men are hitting back.   The current imbroglio in India over the film India’s Daughters is just one example of how difficult life can be for one half of the population of the world.

Legalizing prostitution plays into this mentality. Even if women want to become prostitutes, even if we thereby get rid of the pimps in the background buying young girls to groom, and gangs of men trafficking in female bodies, even so, treating sexual union as a service to be paid for categorizes it as a commodity. It makes it more likely that men will continue to view it as something that life owes them, something that can be taken at will if you haven’t got the cash. A commodity is an object, and prostitution is all about the body as object, the female (or sometimes the male) as anatomy, not as a sentient being.   The problems of street harassment and rape would not be changed with legalized prostitution, and since it is doubtful that there would be enough women willing to make it a career, there would continue to be pressure to funnel young girls into the profession from unscrupulous dealers and traffickers.

Our biological urges are powerful, but to take a line from the Island of Dr. Moreau, “Are we not men?”   In that Jules Verne tale, the doctor transforms various beasts into people, and they are taught to abandon their animalistic urges by repeating a mantra “Are we not men?” as they review the behaviors they must abandon. This is what civilization is all about, but we still have a long way to go until we are “men”—that is, humane human beings.   If we taught our children that sexual union was a sacred act, not an entitlement, that self-restraint, respect for your partner, a deep sense of connection at the spiritual level are all part of the path to our higher selves, then all our daughters could breathe easier at night, and we would be on our way to making the world a better place.

I have no illusions. It would be practically impossible to make this change in the world. Even if we did, it would not be a panacea. But it would help, so let’s try.

Star Trek and the Culture of Rape

Shocking news out of India. Remember the brutal torture and gang rape on a bus of a 23-year old student in 2012? She died of her injuries and the perpetrators were tried and sentenced to hang. Now a British filmmaker has interviewed the men in prison, interviews that make you wonder if there is any hope for the human race.  Some of these men are completely without remorse, in fact they cannot fathom why people are so upset by their actions. She shouldn’t have resisted, was how their thinking goes. “A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” People had a right to “teach them a lesson.” One man confessed to having raped a 5-year old girl in the past. When asked how he could go through with it, listening to her screams, he looked at the interviewer like she was crazy and said, “She was a beggar girl. Her life was of no value.” There are more comments like this in the BBC report.

The documentary film, India’s Daughter, by Leslee Udwin has created a huge controversy in India. It was banned from airing because the police argued that it contained language offensive towards women and could create a public outcry.  Some women in India agree, it seems, but others do not and want this loathsome mentality out in the open so something can be done about it.  Protests are underway and we’ll have to wait to see what happens.

This has been a theme I’ve written about in this space before, and in my book as well, under the Sacrament of Sexual Union.  We can look at the sexual act in several ways:  as a biological urge that needs to be met whenever that urge arises, or as pure fun, or as a sacred act, reserved for the intimacies of a loving embrace between two people who care deeply about each other.  I have argued for the need to treat it as a sacrament, precisely because of the attitudes proudly proclaimed by the rapists in their cells.  Unless we sanctify what should be something beautiful, and can get the entire planet, especially the male half to regard it in this light, then the female half will always be in danger.  Our daughters will find it difficult to be out at night, difficult to travel unaccompanied, difficult to claim their full rights as human beings.  All of us have to do what we can to combat these heinous beliefs and to create a world where women are safe and fully empowered.

But here we run into the Prime Directive of Star Trek.    For those of you who have forgotten, as the Enterprise wended its way among the galaxies, the crew was bound to adhere to this Directive.  What the Ten Commandments are to Alabama,  the Directive was to the Federation.  Here it is:

As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Star Fleet personnel may interfere with the healthy development of alien life and culture. Such interference includes the introduction of superior knowledge, strength, or technology to a world whose society is incapable of handling such advantages wisely. Star Fleet personnel may not violate this Prime Directive, even to save their lives and/or their ship unless they are acting to right an earlier violation or an accidental contamination of said culture. This directive takes precedence over any and all other considerations, and carries with it the highest moral obligation.

In other words, no filmmaker from the UK is allowed to go to India and tell the men there to treat their women better. They have to “evolve” culturally to that point on their own.  And not just India.  Any culture that treats their women like mindless  breeding machines should be allowed to do so.  Anthropologists might very well support this Prime Directive as they study the various cultures of the world.  If women walking around at night are viewed as fair game, if honor killings are part of the culture, if rape is acceptable in the eyes of the rapist, then let’s observe it, note it, and publish a journal article about it dispassionately.

Leslee Udwin has taken a different position.  She’s tossing the Prime Directive aside, taking the activist route to make the world safe for all women.  Though cultural differences can be quaint or intriguing in some cases, when it comes to the rights of women there can be no doubt that we are heading for an ethical position of equality for women that must be observed universally.   It will only happen if women of the world unite and demand their rights and if mothers teach their sons and daughters to honor the Sacrament of Sexual Union.

Women as Witches and Sluts

The appalling conditions women face in the world is made abundantly clear in two articles reprinted in the Utne Reader. The first is from Ghana, where over 28,000 women and 12,000 children since the year 2000 have been condemned to live in “witch camps.”  These poor souls are  accused of doing black magic, sometimes tortured, driven out of their homes and homelands by greedy neighbors who want their land, or who have a grudge of some kind, or for any number of trumped up reasons, and are forced into one of seven camps where they can barely survive. The government is working to end this practice but there is a long way to go (Npong, Francis and Emily Rems. “Inside Ghana’s Witch Camps” from Bust).

The second article is from Jordan. As it becomes more common for women to get out of the home and into the world, a culture of harassment has developed that is new and frightening.   As one woman interviewed for the article put it: “In a patriarchal society like Jordan’s, ‘a man feels that any available woman is his.’ …Men bear no responsibility for their actions, whereas women are considered to blame for whatever happens to them.”  Women walking down the streets alone are sluts.  It has become socially acceptable to harass them, and it’s difficult to stop because reporting it is taboo. (Whitman, Elizabeth “The Silent Scourge.” The Nation.)

This is the kind of mentality found in much of  the world. I saw it in Paris when I lived there in the 1980s and my female friends had to learn to assume a “frozen face” as young men followed them in the streets, teasing them, harassing them, even touching them sometimes.   The groper-and-catcall phenomenon is found on the Japanese subways, on buses in Mexico to the point where they have women-only buses in some areas, and of course on the streets of most American cities.   Women have a hard time just going about their business without some idiot getting his thrills from whistling or throwing rude comments at her.   Maybe some would argue that it’s natural—just the hormones men are born with strirring around in their blood, part of a mating ritual gone awry as we left the wild, and settled in cities. That is not good enough. Men are able control this behavior, but the problem is recognizing that there is a problem.

This culture will never end until the 50% of the population that is able to give birth unites in a campaign to crack down on this perversion.  Mothers have to take the first step. A youtube video recently went viral that purports to show mothers in Peru disguising themselves and then catching their sons in the act of harassing them. Snopes.com tells us that this was a staged public service announcement, not the real thing, but that’s OK—the point is that they’re getting the word out that this is making women’s lives miserable, and it has to stop. Mothers have to lay down the law to their sons at an early age, and get their husbands in on it too. It’s not easy to create a cultural shift, but it can and must be done. Otherwise women will continue to be treated as chattel rather than as human beings.

It all ties in to what I call the Sacrament of Sexual Union. Read the book!

  What Women Face: Three Examples from This Week

The uphill battle that women face worldwide in gaining the same rights as men was illustrated with appalling clarity in three news reports this week, the first from Saudi Arabia : in some restaurants there are now signs that unaccompanied women are no longer welcome. Too much flirting going on apparently. Shades of Gilbert and Sullivan! (In case you’ve forgotten, in The Mikado the Emperor of Japan decrees that anyone found flirting in his realm would be beheaded) Flirting is the woman’s fault obviously, that’s why they’re banned and not single men. If only they weren’t so beautiful, so irresistible, so flirt-worthy! And this in the country where women have to wear the hijab or risk being lashed or imprisoned, so the allure of the Saudi women is so powerful that the veil is not enough to keep it from being unleashed. What’s the solution? Iron masks?

The second report came from President Erdogan of Turkey who made it clear last week that women and men cannot ever be equal. The problem here of course is the meaning of “equal”. People tend to get mixed up about this, so pay attention. Of course women and men are not equal physically! ! No one needs to be reminded that women can have babies and men can’t or that you wouldn’t ask a pregnant woman to do everything a man does in certain jobs.   What we’re talking about in the Western World is equal rights and equal chances.   Erdogan’s heart is in the right place—he wants to protect women but he’s going about it wrong. He’d be all for the restaurant ban on single women I suspect. Cover that face and that body with burqa and hijab or men will be so enflamed by a woman’s curves, and the beauty of her countenance that they will be unable to control their biological mandate to be fruitful and multiply. So if women don’t cover up, it’s their fault if bad things happen.

But this is to get it exactly backwards. We have animal bodies and impulses, but we have that extra layer of brain that is there specifically to control our impulsivity. Instead of imprisoning women in coverings and banning them from public places, we should be making sure that boys and men get the message that women are people too, not second-rate human beings, not prey, but fully empowered with the same rights as men. If they’re not getting that message at home, then the state (that’s you, President Erdogan!) has to be the purveyor of this message, and they should make sure everyone gets it: we’re not beasts anymore, we’re aware of a higher dimension to life, where women and men come together in a beautiful, divine Oneness called sexual union and marriage. The road to that sacrament is not banning and covering, but freedom and respect.

This message is not getting through, and bad things are happening. Harassing women is a kind of sport for some men, and women are free game. Last month in Offenbach, Germany a brave young woman named Tugce Albayrak prevented a group of 18-year old boys from harassing two girls with tragic consequences. The boys had been hanging out at a McDonalds late at night, bothering people, especially women.   They made their way down to a bathroom and screams for help from the girls ensued. No one did anything so Tugce went to help them.   Later in the parking lot, one of the men became infuriated by her interference and hit her.   She went down hard, fell into a coma for two weeks and died on her 23rd birthday. Tugce Albayrak has become a hero throughout Germany, someone who dared stand up and fight on the front lines of this war against women, a war whose end will not come by banishing women from public view or refusing them career opportunities or marrying them off as soon as they reach puberty, but when we all teach our sons to respect them.

Women as Meat: Nigeria and the USA

The translation of “Boko Haram” is “Western Education is sinful” or “forbidden, taboo”. An interesting side note is that this word “Haram” is also the root of “harem”—that place where it was taboo for anyone to go except the man of the house.   Now Boko Haram is making a name for itself creating harems for its fighters.   Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, has indicated that the 219 schoolgirls who were stolen in Nigeria have now converted to Islam, memorized two chapters of the Koran and been married off. He also indicated that he is not negotiating a cease fire with the Nigerian government because “God said we should not.”

So Shekau claims to have a direct line to God. It would be valuable to poll different parts of the world, or even focus on our own country to find out what people think of this statement.   Should we turn to Boko Haram for all future decision making?   I mean this is God we’re talking about. Or is this the reason Richard Dawkins wrote the book The God Delusion, a form of mental illness so powerful it can move armies and ruin not just the lives of individuals, but of entire provinces, or even nations. It’s one or the other.

There can be little doubt about what it means to be married off. Others might call it “forced into sexual slavery” and many of these poor girls must by now be carrying children of Boko Haram members in a breeding program to produce future fighters and wives, loyal to the cause.

If you had Mr. Shekau alone in a room without his guns, could you ever convince him that what he was doing was wrong? Or convince any of his followers? Do they in fact believe they are in touch with God? Or are they simply thugs, bent on taking whatever they want and using Islam as a cover? Or does it even matter which? Isn’t the point that they are still out there, doing whatever they want with impunity. No one seems to know where they are headquartered, where the girls are, where they get their supplies and ammunition. One of the most arresting points about this whole sorry story is that there seems to be nothing our technologically-focused militaries can do to root these people out, unless it’s a case of not wanting to harm the innocent. We look helpless in the face of these killers. Or is it that Nigeria doesn’t want us involved? So many unknowns.

We’re at a major crossroads in world history. One of these two propositions is wrong, and wrong for all people, not culturally, not relatively, but absolutely wrong.

1) women and men have equal civil rights

2) men are superior to women, and women must do what their husbands and fathers and religious leaders tell them

If no. 1 is correct we have to figure out how to convey that to the part of the world that doesnt accept it.  That’s the road to peace for half the world’s population.  But if no. 2 is correct, then women were made for men to take at will, useful only for breeding up new warriors, there to be herded together and sold off. Boko Haram are cattle rustlers, and the cattle are women.  Sadly, with proof from a viral video, we know that walking down the street of any major city in the US can make a woman feel like they’re living in a hell that resembles northwestern Nigeria.

Thoughts on the Santa Barbara shootings and misogyny

 

This tragedy is just the latest turn in a spiral downward.  Too many men see women as fair game.  Around the world women are harassed in the streets as they go about their business.  In Seven Sacraments for Everyone there is a section on the indignities and dangers women face in Mexico, Japan, France, Egypt, India… where are they safe?

In a state of nature, men simply took women at will.  Later, daughters were property, their bodies exchanged for improved relations with other tribes or neighbors.  Those primitive forces are still at work.  In the military, on college campuses, and in high schools males are looking for mates, but failing that, they are simply looking TO mate, however that can happen.  The dangers to women and girls have never been clearer than after this shooting.

What is the answer?  Mothers and fathers, teach your sons that the desire for sexual union is not an appetite to be sated, but an avenue to our higher selves, our most generous selves.    It is a sacrament.  Teach your daughters that sexual union is a Mystery, a private thing, and the intimacies that go with it are not to be taken lightly.  Teach your children to respect this Mystery by refraining from crude sexual  humor and crass comments.  We must all work to change this culture that degrades women.