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9/29/11

the people who make them.

When studying culture and civilization in my Humanities class we often discuss Zora Neal Hurston’s quote “Gods always behave like the people who make them.” The Greeks, obsessed with the human form made human Gods, complete with man-made foibles: jealousy, rage, passion.
Sumerians, perhaps terrified of a world they did not understand planted wide-eyed prayer figurines in their temples. Ensuring a constant source of prayer to the mysterious and unintelligible heavens. Different worlds, different customs, but always complete with a matching set of Gods.
I don’t care much for the Old Testament God, who alternately destroys and saves at whim. Kill your son, Abraham! Or not. I will take everything away from you Job, but give it back once I win this bet with Satan. Locusts for some children and manna for others.

Then, somewhere along the line, the Judeo-Christian God became a single-parent. What were we thinking, when we gave up our right to the Divine Feminine?

When I start to wonder what redeeming qualities can exist in a species that creates horrific Gods, I remember that amongst all our violent and vengeful Gods, we create kind and loving ones. Patron Goddesses of childbirth, Gods that lead us to enlightenment, Shiva does not just destroy, but transforms. A God who sends his son to save us all. Gods who I must believe still speak to us, in some form or another. If you believe Hurston, believe that people create Gods that behave like their creators, then we humans cannot be all bad.

However, Hurston also warns us that “Anybody depending on somebody else's gods is depending on a fox not to eat chickens.”

 For years, I relied on somebody else’s God. A patriarchal one, who denied blessing to some, changed his mind regarding others, and tells me that one family is better, or more real, than another. He was a scary God. At times, this God seemed less concerned about my soul and more concerned about the number of holes in my ears. Someone else’s God, but I depended on him until my yard was filled with bloody chicken carcasses.  People told me God wanted it this way. We knew this because it has always been this way. Would the God we created ever lead us astray?

But Gods always behave like the people who make them.

We are patriarchal, we change our mind on who receives blessings, and when. We define our families by what is familiar, clinging to stability in an uncertain time. We deify tradition, and culture, and we care a lot about earrings. We make Gods to match our values and shirk change, afraid of insulting our creation.

So when there was nothing left, I remade my Gods. I threw out the carcasses, and I went back for the mother I didn’t know I left behind. I reacquainted myself with the Father who sent his son. I felt peace.

I worry though, often, that my Gods can be no more or less real than the others we create. How do I know the God who created me, the one who made me in their image?

Through raising new hatchling beliefs, I’ve learned that I know I’ve found God by the way I treat others. When I am kind, I recognize some part of God in me. When I forgive, I remember that a divine God forgives, and a man-made God seeks revenge. I am God-like when I love my enemy, transcendent when I choose peace. When I seek out other travelers, sometimes hurt on the side of the road, I am too busy to create a false God.

After all, God was here all along, waiting to be found.






37 comments:

heidikins said...

This is just beautiful, perhaps the most moving and real thing I've read in ages, and something I definitely needed right now.

Thank you.

xox

Femme Facetious said...

This is beautiful, Stephanie, thank you.

Stephanie said...

Thank you both. I need to feel not so alone sometimes.

I'm A. said...

Incredible. Thank you for writing this.

Athena said...

I love your blog - been reading it a while now but never commented. However this post struck a cord with me, and so succinctly sums up how I've been feeling. I'm a Mormon as well, and sometimes the Patriarchal God of the Mormon church feels so distant and judgy.

but exploring my relationship with our Heavenly Mother has brought back some of the magic of faith I used to feel when I was so worn down by the world and jaded.

Thank you!

rossandconnierockon! said...

Stephanie, this is wonderful and so thoughtful. I remember when I realized the Christ I really believe in is the Christ I learned about in college--a Women in Religion course; that He lovingly taught women and children equally. Your writing reminds me of that very significant ah-ha moment. thank you!

Hillary said...

Beautifully done.

Femme Facetious said...

Oh, you are definitely not alone. There are more of us than you think :) (But, I know it can be very lonely sometimes, especially given where you live and the culture you find yourself immersed in.)

TheOneTrueSue said...

I love this Stephanie. Thank you for posting it.

TheOneTrueSue said...

I love this Stephanie. Thanks for posting it.

Katrina said...

beautiful! i'd love to talk to you more about this sometime.

Ru said...

This is beautiful, friend. Thanks for writing it.

MamaBear said...

very well written, i'm so impressed! i've been through some of the same transformation myself. i choose to believe in a God who loves more than he/she judges, who embraces us exactly as we are rather than expecting us to conform. we should strive to be BETTER, but still ourselves. JMO. and i join in those thanking you for sharing. <3

Stephanie said...

@Katrina, we will have to get together again soon.

JustMe said...

I think most people’s view of God changes as they experience life. I have never been able to see God as an angry and vengeful God. My view of Heavenly Father is that of a kind and loving parent who accepts His children and loves us in spite of our flaws. I’m also sure that we frustrate Him and at times, anger Him.

We can blame the Catholic Church for getting rid of our Heavenly Mother. That’s an entirely different conversation. However, when I first heard the concept of “Heavenly Mother”, I though that it was the most logical thing I’d ever heard. It was a belief and a concept that came quite easily to me.

If your concept of God doesn’t change as you experience life, then I would have to wonder how much of life you have actually experienced.

Thanks for sharing and thank you for letting us see you evolve.

UK Yankee said...

Lovely, lovely, lovely!

Brien said...

Great thoughts - thanks for sharing. These conversations leave me thinking that it should be perfectly acceptable for some people to not create any gods at all without derogation. If someone (AKA some church) can create a god that supports their doctrine, it makes sense that such freedom should be extended to everyone. The reason it isn't, I suspect, is because when a church or person creates a god, they create a god that in turn deems that its (the god's) creator possess absolute truth. What a mess...

Jessica said...

Thank you for the poignant thoughts. I too, keep going back to the base belief that God loves us all. He is kind and caring. And anything I do to expand those traits are good things.

Jenna said...

Thank you for this profound post. It does feel lonely sometimes, especially in the Mecca of Mormanity. I am currently remaking my gods, including my divine feminine. Let me just say it is not an easy process, but it is a necessary one. Other peoples' gods no longer work for me.

Andrea said...

Thank you for the beautiful post. I've spent the last 18 months remaking God and finding Mother. Not done yet. It does my heart good to see I'm not alone. Thanks.

jen said...

Lovely last paragraph. I want to print it & post it somewhere to remind me. Thanks.

zozo said...

This is a beautiful post, and I admire your willingness to leave behind someone else's God for one you've made.

One suggestion I'd throw out, without intending in any way to demean what you've done--it's only one more step on the process of getting past someone else's god to transcend the one you've made too.

Maybe what you need isn't the God in you so much as just you.

Stephanie said...

@zozo: Interesting, and something I to think about...

Alyssa Rock said...

Very well expressed, Stephanie.

I apologize in advance for leaving such a long comment, but I want to respond to what an earlier commenter said about the Catholic church (aka the Apostasy) being responsible for getting rid of the theology of Heavenly Mother. It's not my desire to be contentious, but I want to point out that this idea is not supported by the historical or archaeological record. The removal of female goddesses from Judeo-Christian theology could instead be traced to Old Testament times---specifically to the period in which Jews were in Babylonian captivity beginning around 600 BC. Most Biblical scholars agree that it was during this time period when the theological concept of monotheism (one God and no other Gods) was first developed.

What is important to know about the Iron Age is that they had a very different concept of God than we have today. Most cultures during this time (including the Jews) believed that each kingdom (each nation/group of people) had their own god. That god was believed to fight with them in battles with other nations (other gods). When your god won, it meant your god was superior to their god. It was also customary for defeated nations to stop worshiping their nation's god and begin worshiping the god of the victorious nation.

The god of the Jewish nation-state was Yahweh. But it is important to note that the Jews would not have believed Yahweh was the only god. Not only did they believe other nations had their own gods, but the Jews also believed in other minor gods whom they worshiped. (Such as female goddesses.)

All of this changed in 586 BC when the Jews were defeated and captured by the Babylonians. The Jewish priests and scribes did not stop worshiping Yahweh like they were supposed to. They retained their own religious traditions and theology in captivity. It was during this time that they developed the idea that Yahweh was the one and only god. And the Jews reasoned Yahweh had allowed them to fall into captivity because he had been angered by their worship of false gods. And so Jews began to strongly discourage their worship of other gods (such as female goddesses). That's why the Old Testament has so such so many proscriptions against worshiping false idols throughout it.

I know it's uncomfortable for Mormons to think of Judeo-Christian theology as being something that evolved over time (continuing revelation?). And it's equally unsettling to imagine that the Bible wasn't really written in Moses' time but rather in David's/Isaiah's time, but that's what the general consensus is among Biblical scholars and archaeologists.

It is the memory of my recently deceased Catholic grandparents that motivates my desire to make this comment. They lived in Utah from the 1950s until this year. Unfortunately, they were often badly mistreated or maligned by their Mormon neighbors---in large part because of strong anti-Papist sentiments that existed in Mormon culture (fueled by frankly wrong-headed statements from LDS leaders from the 1930s to the 1980s).

I should also mention that I recently attended my Catholic grandmother's funeral and I listened intently as a priest recited the prayers of the rosary on my grandmother's behalf. Most of the prayers in the rosary are offered to the Virgin Mary. Although she is regarded as a Saint (not a God), Catholics pray to her for intercession and as a model of holy femininity. I can’t help but feel that Mormons lack something their Catholic sisters have. Mormons have a female goddess in our theology---but we are not allowed to pray to her or to even speak about her in public. There is something to be envied in Catholicism.

When we speak of the Apostasy, I hope we will be sensitive to our fellow Christian brothers and sisters---even if they do not always extend the same courtesy to us. I think we would be better served by building theological bridges rather than theological walls.

Stephanie said...

@Alyssa Rock

Thank you for such an awesome comment. I didn't know about the history of Jews and female goddesses.

I agree, we will be much better served by building bridges instead of walls.

Trav and Lizzie said...

Woah woah woah, this seriously blew my
socks off. I wish I could say it just like this.
Cause I feel it, too.
Well done, MCB.

Danielle said...

Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Thursday said...

A friend recommended this post to me; this is the first time I've visited your blog. I'm so glad I clicked over! I love what you've said here, and it's definitely given me a lot to think about. Thanks!

Eliza R. Snitch said...

Beautiful, beautiful post, Stephanie. I love it. Thank you.

And thank you Alyssa Rock for setting the record straight on who really squelched the feminine divine. Although the Catholic church has very real issues with sexism, I love that Catholicism has kept the divine feminine alive with the Virgin Mary and the female saints, avatars of the divine that a person can pray to and have a relationship with. In certain cultures and at various times in history, the Virgin Mary was (and is) waaaaaay more important than the Trinity-- not doctrinally, but in the spiritual practice of the laity and even the clergy. That's pretty phenomenal.

Jenna said...

I've never felt more God-like than when I am creating. Creating life, creating beauty in my home, creating intelligence through my formal education, creating wealth through budgeting and frugality, creating peace through forgiveness, creating friendship, creating charity through Christ-like service.

THIS is the Mormon God (and his Wife). The judgy, distant God we so commonly associate ourselves with is not.

Jessica said...

The idea of a Heavenly Mother has always seemed so familiar to me. Perhaps it stems from my love of hymns. I believe that Eliza R. Snow knew exactly what she was talking about in the 3rd verse of "Oh My Father". Families wouldn't be so important on earth if it wasn't a mirror of our Heavenly Father. When I was younger I asked my Mom one day about Heavenly Mother and I've always liked what she said. She said that Heavenly Father loves and respects Heavenly Mother so much that He wants Her name to always be sacred and special and not slandered or taken in vain like His. That has always made sense to me especially as I've gotten married and had children and they don't always treat you respectfully, but I always know that my husband is there to help teach them respect not just to others, but also to me, their Mother. Hopefully they learn soon. :)

geoffsn said...

Since you said you weren't aware of the Jews' female goddesses, I thought you might enjoy this article by Daniel Peterson about more or less THE female goddess of the Jews and how she appears in Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon. Really, when you learn the code names for the feminine divine, you see her everywhere.

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/?vol=9&num=2&id=223

cathycan said...

thank you.
Yes.
Amen!

Ryan said...

Not enough dudes post comments, so I'll just say that reading this post reminds me a little bit of staring off the edge of a cliff, although it sounds as though you've made it more like looking into the horizon. Good on ya.

dr.brian said...

At a past symposium or perhaps Unitarian gathering I heard about a class to help you create your own god. I would love to have a group of like minded individuals get together and discuss what we would like our god to be like, then draft several mythical stories to pass on to our children as teaching tools.

Stephanie- it was great to meet you earlier this week. A true pleasure.

Whit said...

I remember finding God on my knees at a time I so desperately needed Him. I would pray for hours on end not asking for anything, not expressing gratitude for anything, just sitting and feeling His love. I remember having the feeling that if I just opened my eyes I would see Him and see His arms around me, but knowing if I opened my eyes I'd probably lose the feeling and so I would kneel in prayer and try to be as still as possible in order to just feel His love.

Stephanie, you are such a talented writer. This post, especially was just what I needed. Thank you for sharing.

Kimberly Wilson said...

Not that you need more validation for this post, as you have definitely touched a lot of hearts. But I can't NOT comment. I haven't followed blogs in a long time, in the midst of a heartbreaking move (i.e. moving away from a bff who humors me being mormon and also inspires me to be a better person all at the same time) and then getting used to a new state.

Today I was scrolling backwards through your blogs, and have so many comments, just like the first time I found you and read backwards all the way to your very first blog (which took me hours).

So, first comment first-- I didn't even know that 1) you had miscarriage/s, 2) that you have a baby now, that you had sort of left the church (I know your rants well, though), or that you ever had your ADD under control (tips please??).

I kind of thought you might not have a baby just on principle to stick it to all the people who judged you for working and NOT being a SAHM like you are for the moment (until your maternity leave is up, of course). Cool that you did have a baby, as it looks like it was something you and hubby desired, and she's adora-freakin-tastically cute. Clara Alice is a beautiful name. : )

2) I don't know if this particular post is one of your post-mormon posts or pre-leaving-mormon posts or -kinda-comin'-back mormon posts, but your logic implies that there is indeed a god, despite man (and woman's) natural tendencies to hate, hold grudges, judge, seek revenge, etc. : ) I just love this paragraph:

"Through raising new hatchling beliefs, I’ve learned that I know I’ve found God by the way I treat others. When I am kind, I recognize some part of God in me. When I forgive, I remember that a divine God forgives, and a man-made God seeks revenge. I am God-like when I love my enemy, transcendent when I choose peace. When I seek out other travelers, sometimes hurt on the side of the road, I am too busy to create a false God."