Sunday, July 18, 2010
Review of Barbara G. Walker's "Man Made God"*
I was reading Barbara G. Walker's Man Made God in the car on a long drive (with my spouse at the wheel) to a family reunion out in the deep boonies of Central PA. I considered slipping it into my massive purse to whip out if I could tear myself away to sit on some swings or at a rock by the pond at the campground where the family was having our to-do, or if I was feeling exceptionally anti-social, I might even consider reading in front of people. (I have actually done such things in public, in what I hope wasn't seen as too demonstratively a rejection of further socializing. But damn, I have been known to get bored with small talk.)
But were I to get caught with this particular book, I'd have a little explaining to do if anyone were to inquire regarding the peculiar title: Man Made God. It could be taken a few ways. God is a construct of human beings--a fable, for example. Or, rather, "man", the gender, specifically, created the god most people are familiar with in our western culture. Or, if one were seeing with the eyes of a more apologetic cast, one might see it as a play on a "man-made" god--a fiction negotiated by cultures that naturally falls short of the real (Platonic?) God that could probably actually exist if we were able to properly conceptualize He, She or It.
If I were asked what I was reading by distant family members most probably in good standing in the Catholic Church, my answer that the book was about how the Christian church and its god was a spectacular fraud, derived from older mythology, yet perverted to be especially totalitarian, murderous, and especially misogynistic, would both fall a little short of a proper explanation, and also make me a good candidate for getting my invitation lost on the next go-round. (I kept my book in my bag and managed to deal in small-talk not to terribly badly, with the help of adult beverages and the useful gambit of talking to people about their children.)
But I would not have been too far from right in describing the book that way--and Walker does, in well-researched detail, pile up the sins of the Christian Church by demonstrating the many ways in which it "borrows" from other cultures. (It is a patchwork that openly borrows from Zoroastrianism, the Near Eastern Baal-worship, from the cults of Attis and so on. Persons familiar with her very excellent reference book, The Women's Encyclopedia of Myths And Secrets, which I also highly recommend, will feel themselves on familiar ground. Although, Judaism, from which it is most particularly derived, has derivations from Egyptian and Babylonian mythology, which also crop up in the Christian mythos. And since Islam is derived in part from the Tanakh and Christianity--and also Persian myth to some degree--it's one crazy derivative thing. Whoever said there's nothing new under the sun was spot-on when it comes to religion.)
This book is an excellent take-down of Christianity. There are parts of it I have an issue with--the Inquisition and its numbers, specifically. If we have ascertained that the Church had its share of pious liars, it should present no wonder to us that, depending upon the source one uses, one gets spectacularly different numbers regarding the body count of the Inquisition. As a person who really did look into pagan and magickal traditions on my way to unbelief, the figure of nine million heretics is sometimes used (which might have included the Cathars, the Jews destroyed by the blood-libel, and I don't know who-all else.) Walker gives some figures, but I neither believe nor disbelieve them. The point isn't made by exactly how many people were tortured, or how many were burned or killed via other means. That it was done at all, and that those methods were as good as a textbook for repressive regimes is what is especially repellent. With the disclaimer that people carried out unspeakable acts against their fellow human beings in the name of God and thought these things were good--that, too, is an horrific point that doesn't exactly need a quantitative point to be qualitatively despicable.
I would recommend this book for people who aren't sure how to close the door on organized religion. It will do a number on your ability to sympathize with a history that is mendacious at best, and at worst, is catastrophic in its capacity to do wrong. I think this book especially might hold meaning for feminists, but the essential message, that religion is designed by people to restrict knowledge, freedom, and to create "others" who need to be treated as subhuman (women) or destroyed (heretic and freethinkers) is accessible to anyone.
I pretty strongly recommend it.
(* Atheist and political reviews will still be posted under Strangely Blogged.)