Right, so it wouldn’t be the Holidays without people being upset about something. Not being able to find the right gift, trying to clean up the house for relatives when all you wanna do is mix liqour with eggnog and forget life happens. Screaming at the Virgin Mary for being a virgin saint and the focus of everyone’s mixed bag holiday…
This opinion piece is by the Rev. Ruth Everhart, a pastor and the author of two spiritual memoirs.
So….we’re going to have a female reverend complaining about the Virgin Mary.
Church culture tends to be fixated on sexual purity year-round, but during Advent, I’m tempted to blame it on the Virgin Mary. After all, she set an impossibly high bar. Now the rest of us are stuck trying to be both a virgin and a mother at the same time. It does not seem to matter that this is biologically impossible. Can you at least try?
Actually, with invetro fertilization, it is completely biologically possible to be a virgin and a mother.
Why the hell you would go through the “miracle of childbirth” without ever having had the pleasure of sex…I don’t know. But you can in fact do it. If you want to. For…whatever reason.
Secondly, Mary was impregnated by a God. Admittedly, not the nicest God out there, but as far as divine impregnation go, hers doesn’t seem all that traumatic. Or kinky. It’s not like Zeus was involved in this one.
I’ll speak for myself. I was raised in the church and taught to be a good girl, by which I mean obedient, quiet and sexually pure. That worked reasonably well until I was 20. During my senior year of college, my housemates and I were the victims of a home invasion. The intruders held us for hours and took turns raping us at gunpoint. The next year of our lives revolved around the criminal-justice system.
And that’s terrible, I’m not going to lie.
But…what does that have to do with Mary and Virginity?
I mean, if at age 20 our authoress had started hitting up the club scenes and giving it away like beads in New Orleans, sure. I could see where that might cause some problems with religious doctrine. But a home invasion and rape…not really. Typically people are really good about not judging over that sort of thing any more.
Of course, I was traumatized. But what was harder to describe — and more long-lasting — was how the crime became bound up in a sense of sexual shame. I wondered constantly: Did I somehow deserve to be raped? Had the rape ruined me irreparably? Both questions seemed inevitable. After all, what is the opposite of being sexually pure? Sustaining irremediable damage. Being ruined.
To answer the first question: No, she didn’t. I mean, unless she and her friends hung out a giant, flashing neon sign that said “easy lay and riches here” I can’t say there’s anything “deserved” about this. Bad shit happens, and under Christianity, bad shit happens because their god wills it to happen as some sort of learning experience.
As for irreparable ruin…only if she lets it. Which, given the title of this article…she’s certainly leaning towards doing. Also, I’m pretty sure the opposite of sexual purity is sexual iniquity, i.e. being a complete slut who thinks of nothing else. Not a rape victim.
But then again, I’m a Heathen and that’s my opinion.
I’m not blaming my sense of ruin on the Virgin Mary, not entirely. Protestants do not claim Mary in the way Catholics do, but every Advent I feel a sense of kinship. I know what it’s like to be a good girl whose life got upended by what someone did to her body. Of course, her story plot was good and mine was bad. Plus she was, well, a saint. And I’m not.
Well to be technically honest…the Christian God did rape Mary as well. So this “saintly virgin” was also a victim of rape. And later got made a saint because of who her child and its father was (were?).
So I’m not sure how her story is good, because her story is basically that of a village girl who got raped by a king, and then made queen when her son to the thrown. Also, her son got killed by his rapist father under the argument that killing the son would allow the father to forgive everyone of the wrongs they had done the father by refusing to obey his every command (even those people who never agreed to being under his command in the first place). So…yeah. Not sure that’s a good story.
As for this authoress’s story…unless it ended the night of her attack…she can still make of her story whatever she wants it to be. Heck, she could go off and do some stuff and become a Saint as well, if she wanted to. People still get made into saints, last time I checked.
Then again, it’s not like being a Saint is really all that amazing…
Still, I study her this time of the year — always dressed in blue with downcast eyes — and want to ask: “How was it really? And how do you feel about what the patriarchy has done with you?”
I was not aware the Orthodox Church had done much of anything to her…
We’re talking about a Jewish girl who was probably in her mid-teens if she was lucky, who got raped by her God, impregnated with a demi-god, and who was going to get stoned to death if her fiance at the time hadn’t been terrified into marrying her by an angry angel threatening doom upon his head! Jesus Christ (pun intended) but seriously lady, if you’re going to pick on someone and scream about how they make your life harder because your a Christian woman who got Raped…you could certainly find a better candidate for your ire!
The Patriarchy didn’t do shit to Mary. Hela’s grace, but let’s be honest, the “Patriarchy” probably did the best the could with a bad situation, which was sympathize with the poor girl and try and give her some of the respect and honor she was denied by her own God!
I’m convinced of this: Mary is not responsible for what we’ve done to her story. Church culture has overfocused on virginity and made it into an idol of sexual purity. When it comes to female experience, the church seems compelled to shrink and distort and manipulate.
Well duh. I mean if they flat out admitted “yes, we worship the son who is the god who goes around raping teenage girls so that they can give birth to divine children so we can murder them in order to forgive the slights our omni-potent ass could probably have forgiven anyways,” there would literally be no one going to that church but crazed lunatics.
We’re talking about a deity who, if you look at both his physical actions and the metaphysics behind them, makes the Greek Pantheon look like a normal, well adjusted family, and the Norse Pantheon look like a bunch of fluffy Wiccans! Of course they’re going to shrink, distort, and manipulate the story so that both their God, his son, and Mary come out looking a lot better than what actually happened!
I mean, come on! Most Christians have an image of their God and his angels that comes straight out of European Paganism, but when you look at the actual descriptions both their God and his angels sound more at home in a Lovecraftian horror story of eldritch abominations who drive men mad with the very sight of them. Heck, that’s actually how their God is described. Only one man (Moses) was ever able to look at their God and he basically started looking like a dude covered in cosmic radiation from a comic book. Everyone else either went mad or burst in to instant death.
Maybe that’s why, more than a decade after I was raped, I became a pastor. I had to face down the demons. To do that, I had to live inside church culture. I had to come to terms with Mary’s story, and so many others. What is the gospel call for women? I believe it’s more than being a good girl.
I think the appropriate phrase here would be “face down the saints.”
Seeing as it’s a Saint she has a problem with…not any of the demons.
As for what is the “gospel call for women?” Well, while I’m not a Christian, I would say that it would be “accept Christ as your savor from a list of actions deemed bad by his Lovecraftian father.” But…that’s me. And my knowledge of Christianity isn’t the most in depth.
And judging by what’s been written so far…I can say that the Reverend has most certainly not come to terms with either Mary or her story. If anything, Mary would reasonably be a source of comfort, as an example of one rape victim overcoming what happened to her. But apparently she’s more a source of jealousy and resentment.
For starters, I believe it’s impossible to be a good girl — meaning unblemished and pure — and also inhabit a body. It’s certainly true if you’ve been sexually assaulted, and may also be true if you are fortunate to not have been.
Honestly, this sounds like some Grade A projection here.
I mean, sure, that’s going to depend on one’s definitions of “Good Girl” and “purity,” but hey: Mary was raped and impregnated by an eldritch abomination known for driving men mad and killing his own child, and she’s held up as a shining example of purity.
Honestly, if there’s hope for her, there’s hope for anyone. Plus, being “good” typically just means not being too much of a dick to someone. And while I am hopelessly evil on that front, to insist that no one is capable of being a nice, kind, forgiving person simply because they’re a woman, or they’re a woman who happened to have been raped, well…
I honestly feel bad for any rape victims in this woman’s congregation. “You’re dirty, you’re always going to be dirty, and I as a dirty filthy whore resent any woman whose raised up as a beacon of purity and goodness.”
I could say more about living in a female body, but it might be helpful if you just checked in with your own body right now. Is your body feeling quiet and clean and pure at the moment? Or is it hungry or noisy or smelly? Does it have needs?
That’s what I suspected. Bodies are like that. Even bodies that don’t bleed or ovulate or lactate. Bodies have needs.
I’m sorry, but since when did one needing a shower or being hungry invalidate one’s “moral purity?”
I mean, sure I’m even more of an asshole when I’m hungry, but I don’t suddenly feel immoral simply because I haven’t had a square meal or a shower. One’s morality or inherent goodness is not defined by being sated and washed. If it did, this whole world is filled with people who are bad people because they’re going hungry and unbathed.
Forget what the Patriarchy did to Mary, what the hell did this woman just do to Morality?
Don’t get me wrong — I love having a body. A body is super convenient for getting around in. It is a gift from God.
Well you certainly are shitting all over that gift.
If you’re a woman, it’s a complicated gift. But why does Mary’s story have to oppress women when it could liberate us? What would it look like if the church celebrated Mary’s story as a hymn to the beauty of incarnation? (Admittedly, we Westerners could learn a few things from the Eastern Orthodox traditions.)
Oh no, you don’t get to complain about what the Patriarchy did to Mary, and then go off and say we could learn from the Patriarchy!
I mean seriously, the only one I’ve seen using the story of Mary to oppress women is…this woman writing this damn shit show! Also, feeling bad about yourself is not OPPRESSION! That is on you, doing something to yourself.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, the Christians have oppressed a lot of people and genocided dozens of cultures, but the story of their first saint is not something that oppresses women.
The fact that God chose to send Jesus to inhabit a body is powerful. Let’s not assume this basic fact. The incarnation is one of the unique aspects of Christianity. Incarnation means that it’s not a bad thing to inhabit a body. Even Jesus’ body was ushered to earth via a birth canal.
Incarnation is not unique to Christianity. Incarnation is in fact, very, very common. Hel, a lot of Eastern religions are about Reincarnation. Not to mention, there are some theologies in Heathenism that have reincarnation of parts of the soul.
Hel, it’s so common in various places, that even Marvel comics got in on the action. There’s one point where some pastor is trying to talk to Volstagg about Jesus, mentioning how he’d come back from the dead. Volstagg’s response?
“Good for him, but I’ve known lots of people who have done that. What makes him special?”
Incarnation is nothing new or Christian.
See, there’s “birth canal” in the same sentence with Jesus. To some that will be a problem. Why? Because to some people, vaginas are inherently dirty. They can never be purified. And isn’t that the definition of hopelessness? Does it bother you that half of the human population is condemned to hopelessness because their body parts can never be pure?
Like to our authoress here. Who apparently has problems with female bodies and their ability to be good and pure.
Which I think says more about her than it really does about anyone else.
What exactly is purity, anyway? Some things are not intended to be sparkling white. Bleach is no panacea; it can burn holes in your underwear or strip the enamel off your teeth.
Purity must have alternate meanings. It does not have to mean unused, or sparkling white. Maybe the church could ask body-owners to weigh in about their experiences. Most people have thoughts and feelings about their sexual selves. Having a body is complicated. It involves trial and error. I’d wager that most body-owners have made mistakes. We need to forgive ourselves, and each other. Sometimes our bodies are at the mercy of others because the truth is that bodies are uniquely vulnerable, especially our sexual selves.
Well, given that the Christian Church has had about 2000 years to figure out what they mean by purity, and last I checked actually had a definition…just go with that.
Oh, that’s right, their definition means you’re a piece of crap, doesn’t it. And now, instead of just accepting what they say, or moving on to some other religion that doesn’t say that about you, you want to go in and change 2000 years of theology all for the sake of your feelings. You want to have your cake and eat it too. And who cares if you insult, slander, and demonize a Saint who was also the victim of rape to do it.
Just go ahead and raise up the plight of rape victims by demonizing and humiliating a rape victim, simply because people treated her better than your horrible attitude means they treat you!
We want to hide from this truth, especially that last line. We don’t like that our bodies can be preyed upon. We want to protect ourselves and our daughters. We want to pretend sexuality is something we can lock in a box and keep on a shelf. But a lockbox won’t work. Neither will a chastity belt or a purity ring. Certainly not the abstinence pledges they make young folks sign.
Speak for yourself, there’s lots of religions out there that are perfectly fine with sexuality. Hel, I’m part of one. We don’t lock it in a box, we celebrate it. We have Gods and Goddesses of it.
Look, I’m not a fan of the whole purity culture and I do think purity rings are stupid. And I thought chastity belts were nothing more than kinky sex toys. Of course, I also think that waiting until marriage to have sex is stupid. But then I’m pretty good friends with a Christian guy who is waiting till he’s married to his fiance (my saying I could marry them before Odin so they could go ahead and have fun was welcomed, but declined). So while I’m not a fan of it…I’m also not going to beat people up and demonize them for practicing what they believe.
Unlike this Christian Reverend, apparently, who is absolutely going to insist that Christians give up their emphasis on chastity because it makes her unhappy she can no longer be chaste. Even though she can still be chaste and pure after having been Raped. I know this, because there’s accounts of women being raped in historical records who went on to be come nuns and saints! A one time tragedy does not instantly invalidate everything for everyone!
Fortunately, what does work is the precise thing that we find in large supply in the gospel: Redemption.
Lady, if you believed in redemption at all, we would not be having this conversation.
Maybe I was fortunate to be ruined. Because it set the stage for me to appreciate redemption. God worked on me gradually, of course, the way God does. The three primary avenues of healing can be named by the roles I acquired: wife, pastor, mother.
And it was all rendered meaningless by your fourth role: “defamer and attacker of a rape victim known as the Virgin Mary.”
Seriously, “God may have worked on you” but so far he’s done a really, really shit job of it. Which, given everything, is not a surprise because said God tends to do a really shit job of whatever he sets his mind too. Seriously, the Bible is nothing but a record of a series of failures by that God to accomplish anything. Tries to make perfect humans, fails. Tries to start his own people with an old dude and his barren wife, fails. Gets mad at the old dude for trying to find a solution, it fails. Tries to get his people going, fails. Has to bail his people out of slavery. Then, he tries to get his people back home, fails, has to kill them all off and wait for another generation. then watches as generation after generation ditch him to go worship Pagan Gods who aren’t absolute dicks to the point where he wipes out 9 of his 12 tribes. Then he has to rape a girl in order to have a kid so he can “forgive” the remaining 3 tribes for being complete idiots. In the process, he unleashes a chain of events that causes his people to lose their homeland and get scattered all over a foreign empire. Then he has to spend the next several hundred years trying to keep his original people from being wiped out completely, while butchering his way through every pagan religion he can find, because the instant he leaves one alive, everyone will dump his incompetent ass and go worship Gods who are both nice to their worshipers and not incompetent loons!
Decades of being a wife taught me healing touch and faithful love. Decades of being a pastor taught me to wrestle with scripture, where some women were healed by Jesus, and others were torn limb from limb. Decades of being the mother of daughters made me want to pass along the lessons that are so hard to articulate — that I want you to be modest and good, yes, but also confident in your own skin.
And all you’ve managed to do today was make me feel sorry for your husband, your daughters, and your congregation. Because you’ve spent the entire time insisting that people can’t be pure, that Mary is an Oppressor, and that when you look at your daughters you start hissing about their “Dirty Pillows” or something.
The world still needs to hear from Mary. What Mary gives us is the gospel — not a gospel of sanitized sexuality, but the gospel of incarnation. Or as it says in John: “The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory.”
“and then I vilified his mother because she dealt with her rape better than I did.”
And that folks, is one of the many reasons I’m a Heathen.