This post is the second in a series, prompted by the book Calling the Circle by Christina Baldwin:
Context is the social, political, cultural, and spiritual force that shapes the life of a person. Every person lives within society’s context–whether we live comfortably in the middle of this collective force or straining at the edge. In every society there are seekers whose role is to push the borders of accepted experience and whose thoughts and actions expand the cultural context. Ideas and social norms pass through a culture, coming first from the edge and, as they are accepted, moving to center and becoming the ‘norm.’ …
Context is the collective atmosphere inside which something is seen and understood…
Context is amazingly important. Pushing the context is how a culture changes, both in expansion and in reaction against expansion. As groups of ethnic and racial minorities, women, homosexuals, the physically challenged, and others have struggled for social rights, each group has expanded the contextual edge, insisting that the culture make room, rewrite laws, and get used to living with these changes. (p. 21)
One of the college classes I teach in human services is called, “working with groups.” However, in all of my classes we talk about systems theory and our core person-in-environment outlook. Every person is inextricably embedded it a network of larger systems and we cannot full understand people without understanding their systemic context. Essentially, behavior is logical to context and human behavior is very often group behavior, no matter how much Western culture likes to point fingers at individuals and individual responsibility. When considering the issue of past social atrocities like those committed by the Nazis, I think about the concept of fundamental attribution error–people’s tendency to ascribe the behavior of others to personal flaws rather than context/environment. We all like to think that we wouldn’t have been a Nazi, or that we wouldn’t drink the Kool-Aid, or that we wouldn’t be the person in the experiment who keeps increasing the electric shock…but, in reality, these situations all involved regular people, who were powerfully influenced by group dynamics. Those dynamics continue to be afoot in the modern world.
As I’ve written before, the sociocultural value of a divine presence that validates women’s bodies cannot be overestimated. Indeed, I believe that patriarchal religion in its most destructive way grew out of the devaluation and rejection of female bodies. A religious context that rejects the female body, that places the male and its association with “the mind” and the soul rather than the earthy relational connection of body, is a religion that easily moves into domination and control of women. Reclaiming Goddess, reclaims women’s bodies—names them not only as “normal,” but as “divine,” and this is profoundly threatening to traditional Judeo-Christian belief systems. In Carol Christ’s classic essay, Why Women Need the Goddess, she quotes feminist theologian Mary Daly (Beyond God the Father):
If God in ‘his’ heaven is a father ruling his people, then it is the ‘nature’ of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male dominated. Within this context, a mystification of roles takes place: The husband dominating his wife represents God ‘himself.’ The images and values of a given society have been projected into the realm of dogmas and “Articles of Faith,” and these in turn justify the social structures which have given rise to them and which sustain their plausibility.
As I wrote in a prior post for Feminism and Religion:
…as Rush describes in Politics on page 384: “It stands to reason after so many centuries of brutal religious persecution, that women today should have a deep fear of conceptualizing our own spirituality. Women who try are severely penalized…Because of all this, it is essential that we do create our own spiritual practices. Our spiritual beliefs define what we respect, what we love—and what we ultimately perceive as our highest values. For a feminist, or for any woman, to perpetuate a patriarchal religion and to worship a male god is for her to deify her oppression” [emphasis mine]. This is powerful stuff, the impact of which cannot be denied or ignored. The symbolic value of ritual is extremely important as well. To many women traditional religious rituals and symbols have lost meaning and feel hollow or emotionless. I feel that women’s spirituality rituals bring heart, soul, and passion back to what has become rote in modern practice. Women’s rituals usually honor women’s bodies and women’s feelings and the phases of a woman’s life. They also typically use feminine images of divinity and Goddess language and imagery, which is a powerful antidote to the patriarchal culture in which we live. While on the surface or from afar, a woman’s ritual may seem like an innocently simple affair, in the context of patriarchy it is a radical and subversive act and statement for change.