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One year ago, as buds opened on the star magnolia on my front lawn, troops under the stars-and-stripes marched into another sovereign land. Those who launched the war claimed their intention was to protect us from imminent attack by malevolent enemies. They marched to war, they said, to protect what made our society unique. To protect America, "land of the free."
But as I write this, America feels less free than it did last year, in those first dire weeks of war. Thousands are held in jail without counsel or contact with family. Minions of the powerful rail against anyone who dares hold an opinion contrary to the rulers. Many fear that free elections will be tainted by use of computers manufactured by friends of those in power. These are strange times for an allegedly free country.
Beyond my general fear that the adventurously egalitarian social organization called representative democracy will not survive, I have special fears. For more and more frequently in public discourse, I hear that "America is a Christian country." Ignoring the fact that America is not a country but a continent, there is reason to argue with this view, for the Founding Fathers were more inspired by the secular vision of the Enlightenment than by the Puritanical Christianity common to their era. They were not unreligious men when they wrote that this would be a land with no established church; they were men who had seen the devastation that sectarian strife had caused in their home country, strife that they wished to avoid. Thus they planned that our state would remain forever separated from any church. First the constitution was written, and then our laws were crafted, to ensure that separation.
And so the United States was from the moment of its creation a secular country, one where no religion could be established by law. I used to think that a good thing, a protection from those who prefer to narrowly define this as a Christian country. I believe -- and I believe our founders believed -- in pluralism, in diversity of religion as well as culture and color. And if I once believed that the secular rule of law protected the unorthodox from the threatened orthodox, it was because I always knew myself unorthodox. Those witches burning? Never again. Secular government would protect us from that. I took comfort in that.
But lately I have come to wonder if the dream of the Enlightenment was deeply flawed. For people are religious; they have always been religious; it is a natural part of our humanity. Having established a world where religion is sharply separated from government, these brilliant Founding Fathers cast what Jungians would call a "shadow." Energy, repressed, finally will burst forth; so it is with the sacred in America. Such energy is all around us now, from the New Age shopper to the Bible-reading homeschooler. And that energy finds no place outside the limits of the church community itself. And so the religious person in America (of whatever faith) feels left behind by a culture that heralds no values beyond power, prestige, possessions. Those of us who yearn for a spiritual base to our lives find that our institutions -- not only government but education, media, law, marriage -- exclude our souls.
I recognize the yearning to make sacred our ordinary lives that fills the voices of frightened Christians. But I know they would refuse to make common cause with me, because they wrongly define this as a Christian land. To do so, they must pretend their Christian ancestors arrived on a continent devoid of spirit. They must ignore the presence of all the thousands of goddesses native to this land. White Buffalo Calf Woman, Akira, Sedna -- all were here long centuries before the first image of Christ was brought ashore. Like any land, like every land, America was a land of the goddess before monotheism arrived with its exclusion of the feminine from the realm of divinity.
Polytheists know that the divine fills the universe and that divinity is everywhere and anywhere. Traditional American religions were polytheistic: the land was sacred, as were the moon, the stars, the sun. This was no simplistic nature religion ready to be replaced by a more sophisticated monotheism. Rather, it was a profound spiritual understanding that the spirit cannot be corralled into one form. Spirit is neither male nor female; it is neither old nor young; or rather, it is and can be any of those. And thus spirit can express itself through the teacher, the scientist, the lawyer, just as readily as through the priest and his church.
The religions that call themselves monotheistic are actually dualistic: they create evil by separating "god" from "not-god." Whatever is not-god becomes by definition evil: nature, the flesh, sexuality, and of course women all tempt humanity (read: male humanity) from the way of righteousness (read: the way of repression). Secular humanism holds no answer to this monotheistic tendency, for it only further limits where the divine can reveal itself.
As a woman of the goddess, I frighten Christians. I represent all those dreaded rejected powers. But they frighten me more. For in their world-view, my beliefs must be eliminated in order to make the world pure and safe. Pluralism is impossible for the true believer. And so we have launched a crusade (a word that tumbled from our selected leader's lips so readily) against the land where Inanna once ruled serenely. When gods go to war, the goddess is crushed. Finding a way to sustain her presence, here in the deep shadows cast by those well-meaning men of the Enlightenment, will be a challenge to us all.
has just completed a sequence of poems on the subject of women and war,
entitled Homefront. It is available from Foothills Press's Poets
for Peace series (http://foothillspublishing.com/).