As I was reading Anne Baring and Jules Cashford’s The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image for background information as I look forward to writing my dissertation about one of the most celebrated godesses in Western civilization, I was struck by the vehemence of their criticisms of the “patriarchal” traditions of the West, particularly the records of its two primary monotheistic faiths, Judaism and Christianity.
This is not to say that our traditions have had a spotless record, especially in regards to the treatment of women and ideas of the feminine divine, but to wonder at this tendency of contemporary Western intellectuals to be so critical of their own traditions.
And it’s not just intellectuals who are critical of the West.
In a recent post, Glenn Reynolds (AKA Instapundit) wrote that it seems the BBC “reflexively sides with the enemies of Western Civilization.” He cites a Little Green Footballs’ post finding that government-owned broadcasting agency “in trouble . . . for once again allowing ugly antisemitic and anti-Christian slurs to remain posted at the BBC 5 message boards, while instantly deleting any criticism of Islam.” Anti-Semitc remarks where allowed to “remain for a week” while the BBC “immediately deleted” an individual’s comment that “No one can surpass the Muslims for denial of their role in Terrorism and Suicide bombing.”
It is the very openness of the Western tradition which has allowed writers like Baring and Cashford to criticize its doctrines. At the same time, Western governments, by and large, protect the rights of journalists to report information critical of or embarrassing to the government and those of individuals to offer opinions at odds with state policy.
To be sure, Baring and Cashford do not mention the Islamic tradition. Iff they did, they might have to acknowledge that Judaism and Christianity have shown a greater openness to female ideas of the divine than has that faith. At least since the Council of Ephesus in 431 C.E., when it proclaimed Mary Theotokos, God-bearer or Mother of God, the Church has recognized the divinity of Mary. Jewish Mystics have long talked about the Shekinah, the female presence of God. Many Christian congregations today welcome women as spiritual leaders while Jewish seminaries of the Reform and Conservative traditions ordain women as rabbis.
Even while recognizing some of these facts, Baring and Cashford remain critical of the “patriarchal” faiths. And yet it’s these very faiths which have demonstrated an ability to respond to criticism and change their attitudes toward women — and the female divine.
Perhaps, it’s that in highlighting some of the flaws of their own tradition, they come to see the tradition for its flaws while ignoring its strengths.
But, it does seem that in many cases, this criticism of the flaws of the West, both in its religious traditions and in its treatment of minorities, has lead some on the left to reflexively criticize Western civilization, even to the extent of, as Glenn noted, siding with its enemies. One wonders why they hate their own civilization so, especially when that civilization has given them the freedom to criticize it.
UPDATE: I sometimes wonder if maybe my title was a bit harsh for although Baring and Cashford were on occasion contemptuous of the Western monotheistic traditions, their book did serve as good introduction to ideas (and images) of the female divine. But, there are many in the academy who constantly deride Western Civilization. Should I perhaps have title the piece, “Why do Some on the Left Show Such Contempt for the West?”