No one religion has the franchise on God. Arguably the oldest of the Western “Religions of the Book” is Judaism, and Judaism shares its foundational texts with both Christianity and Islam. Jews, Christians, and Muslims revere the Ten Commandments, which appear twice, in two slightly different forms, in the Pentateuch. For the connection between Islam and the Ten Commandments, please see I. A. Arshed’s webpage ”Islam Supports Bible’s TEN Commandments,” http://www.islam101.com/religions/TenCommandments/tcQuran.htm; Dr. Arshed shows very clearly that the Ten Commandments are also central to the Quran. In both the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions of the Ten Commandments, however those Commandments are numbered, one of the first commandments in the list is “Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thousandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus 20:3-5 and Deuteronomy 5:7-9, JPS translation, 1917).
It is not so difficult to refrain from making physical objects that represent God; it is much more difficult for human beings to resist creating mental images of God. The commandment quoted here, like all of the Ten Commandments (except the first one, depending on the numbering system one’s religion uses) is behavioral, meant to dictate behavior rather than thought or emotion. However, when we focus exclusively on whatever our mental image of God is (an old man with flowing white beard, a fierce warrior God hurling thunderbolts, a shepherd watching over the sheep, a divine Father…), we are–Dare I say it?–committing idolatry in our hearts. Whatever image we conceive God as, God is beyond that. It is our nature as human beings to think about the Unknown in familiar images, but it is also incumbent upon us to check our image-making tendency by the constant realization that God is more than whatever we imagine. For example, God is not one gender or the other, though monotheistic humans have represented God in the past 5,000 years as male, and mainstream Christianity teaches that Jesus is God incarnate. In my experience, God can be either gender, or both genders, or completely beyond gender altogether.
It has been my own experience that God often leads human beings in the direction it is best for each of us to go, if we pay attention, and that best direction is not necessarily the same for one person as for another. Often that leading comes by way of what we experience from other people or even in the natural world. As I said before, no religion has the franchise on God. Religions are what humans create after we have experienced the Numinous and those religions are, as all human creations, inherently flawed. Carl Jung suggested that the forces that humanity has attempted to control through the practice of religion are ones that require control or at least mediation for the protection of individuals, whether these forces emanate from outside spiritual forces or from the unconscious (Carl Jung, “The Autonomy of the Unconscious Mind” in Psychology and Religion, Yale University Press, 1938, 1966). I’m thinking that I need to re-read this particular Jungian essay; it has been a few years since I looked at it.
I converted to Judaism after a deeply personal and very powerful experience with God. Judaism is the best religious expression for me, though I will be a different Jew than all other Jews, but Judaism may not be the best religion for another person. People experience God differently, and none of us are capable of rendering our experience completely accurately, even those who have been divinely inspired. Western religions for the past 5,000 years have had some commonalities also shared by some non-Western religions, particularly a patriarchal focus. In the book The Chalice and the Blade, Riane Eisler writes that
[w]hen our ancestors began to ask the eternal questions (Where do we come from before we are born? Where do we go after we die?), they must have noted that life emerges from the body of a woman. It would have been natural for them to imagine the universe as an all-giving Mother from whose womb all life emerges and to which, like the cycles of vegetation, it returns after death to be again reborn. It also makes sense that societies with this image of the powers that govern the universe would have a very different social structure from societies that worship a divine Father who wields a thunderbolt and/or sword. [...] This theory, which I have called Cultural Transformation theory, proposes that underlying the great surface diversity of human culture are two basic models of society.
The first, which I call the dominator model, is what is popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy–the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model. In this [second] model–beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female–diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority. (Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade, 1987, p. xvii)
Jung also suggests in a different essay, “The Sign of the Fishes,” that the Christian fish symbol is based on an astrological understanding of Jesus’ birth under the sign of Pisces, and that Pisces in particular is a symbol of two opposing forces in conflict–the Christ and the anti-Christ–which has defined the Christian age (Carl Jung, “The Sign of the Fishes,” in The Collected Works of Carl Jung, Vol. 19, Part 2, 2nd ed, Princeton University Press, 1968). Jung goes on to say that the new age that begins under the sign of Aquarius, literally the Age of Aquarius, will bring about the union of the opposites (Jung, “The Sign of the Fishes”). Jews and Christians have an expectation of a Messianic Age when contradictions will be resolved, though our ideas about the Messiah differ. Actually, there are many different Jewish ideas about the Messiah. I personally do not believe that the opposing forces of Christ and anti-Christ will be joined in a union of opposites, and I’m not too sure about the astrological possibilities that Jung and others have explored, though I think the idea is interesting. I do think, however, that the world may be entering a different age–Western industrial civilization has been in a Christian Age for the last 2000 years or so–and the one we are going into seems to be somehow post-Christian, though certainly not devoid of Christianity. I am not sure I can categorize it yet, but I hope it will be the much-awaited Messianic Age, though I am hoping this from a Jewish perspective. I would like a world where justice is the norm, and all people have access to the wealth and comforts once reserved for kings, and in which war is no longer a threat so we can all sit peacefully under our fig trees, or sour cherry trees, as the case may be. I think we have seen the beginning of change in the last ten years.
On September 11, 2001 various sites in the United States were attacked by fundamentalist Islamic terrorists, including the World Trade Center Twin Towers, which were a symbol of American commercial success, and the Pentagon, which is a symbol of American military might. Other targets in Washington, D. C., our nation’s capitol, were targeted that day but not attacked, due to the courage of passengers on a highjacked aircraft who retook control of the plane and crashed it in a field in Pennsylvania rather than allow it to crash in Washington, D. C. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost as a result of those attacks, and our national economy and morale went into a tailspin because of what happened. As a nation and as individuals, we still grieve. There is talk of making September 11th officially a national day of mourning, as it already is unofficially.
Consider the picture of the Twin Towers as The World Trade Center was being attacked on September 11, 2001 (Here is a link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lestudio1/4977269040/). Just looking at this makes me nauseous and makes my head and heart hurt. I have linked the picture anyway because I have noticed something about it, especially in light of the rescue of the trapped miners in Chile last week. This image of the Twin Towers being attacked by the airplanes hijacked by terrorists is a symbol of Destruction. Moreover, the Twin Towers themselves appear to be a powerful symbol of patriarchy, of buildings whose tops reach into heaven; in fact, they are twin phallic symbols. I am not saying this in any way as a justification of the crimes against humanity that the terrorists committed. I see the Twin Towers more as symbols of the Age.
I am deliberately contrasting this image to the healing images of the miners being rescued that the world saw last week (Here are some other links: http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/10/13/chile.miners.rescue/index.html?iref=obnetwork, http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/10/rescued_from_a_chilean_mine.html). In the various videos and pictures of the rescue of the miners in Chile, I see many images that are more matrifocal (not matriarchal). The picture of the first miner in the capsule being raised from the inside of the mine to the escape passageway looked very much to me like an image of birth, or possibly re-birth. This type of imagery was ubiquitous in Neolithic religious expression and has even been retained by some native people around the world (the Hopi traditional religion, for example, has an image of a man being re-born out of the earth). But clearly, it was an image of moving from a dark, womblike area through a narrow tunnel up into the light. The capsule that the men traveled in looked more like part of one of the Apollo rockets, distinctly phallic, but when I looked at the closeups of the news footage after each man had made it to the surface and was being released from the capsule, it actually looked more like a cradleboard with a covering for the infant’s/miner’s face. A cradleboard, of course, is how many American Indian peoples carry infants for the first couple of years. The board is usually straight, promoting strong and correctly-formed backs, and the infant is swaddled in using blankets, which makes him or her feel secure. Most importantly, the cradleboard supports the baby’s neck until his or her muscles are strong enough to hold the head up. I don’t know if the native people of Chile also use cradleboards, though I wouldn’t be surprised to find out they do. On the CNN television footage, I also enjoyed the panoramic views of the rescue operation. The giant winch with the wheel that was raising and lowering the capsule looked like a very large spinning wheel, which has often been used a a symbol of female industry. These are all feminine images, though the image of each man being greeted joyfully by his loved ones seems both like an image of birth and an image of the importance of family.
Whatever other people make of the images of the Chilean Mine Rescue, it was extended footage of Hope and new beginnings for those men. When I consider it in contrast to the images of 9/11, the hopefulness of what we saw from Chile became clear: The images of the World Trade Center being attacked by hijacked planes, the Pentagon being attacked by hijacked planes, and the hijacked planes being deliberately crashed by the passengers are all images without hope. They are destructive images of what people do when there is no hope, or when self-destruction seems to be the only answer to a situation. The images of the winch being created by science and engineering, the image of people who had done mine rescues in other countries consulting with the government of Chile, the image of the president of Chile and his wife staying at the mine until the rescue was completed, the image of the wives and girlfriends of the miners getting their hair and nails done in preparation for the return of their men, the beautiful image of the capsule leaving the mine each time with a human passenger aboard and then breaking safely to the surface are all images of how people behave when there is Hope, Responsibility and Cooperation. And when many of the miners came out of the capsule into the free air, they acknowledged God and kissed their wives or girlfriends or parents.
The rescue of those miners something that many of us needed very badly to see, especially after the horrors of 9/11. Perhaps we are now going to be moving into an age where the feminine or the combining of feminine and masculine will be honored, where money will be spent on making things better rather than on making war, on healing instead of causing further hurt. Kein y’hi ratzon…may it be so.