Occidental Exile (baculus) wrote,
Occidental Exile

the last dualism

Last night I attended a talk by noted feminist religion scholar Carol Crist at the Feminine Divine in Cross-Cultural Perspective conference. She presented on the topic of Life and Death as "the last dualism." She expressed her surprise and disappointment that feminists and neopagans are still attached to the concept of "life after death." According to Crist, denial of birth and death are necessarily linked, and are symptomatic--or perhaps even causative--of the sort of "dualistic thinking" proper to patriarchal oppression.

While I enjoyed her talk, I was not at all convinced that she had herself transcended the particular dualism of Life and Death. She repeatedly stressed the idea that "death is a part of life," so she prioritized life. At no point did she suggest that we might consider life to be a part of death! In the Q&A afterwards, in fact, she went so far as to assert that the Divine ("Goddess," in her parlance) is certainly deathless, in contrast to the mortality of humans. In this connection, she also expressed her antipathy for forms of spirituality that assert in the manner of Valentine Michael Smith, "Thou art God/dess." She insisted, "I'm not Goddess! I am not perfect or eternal." It seems to me that with the emphasis on change and transformation, that Goddess ought properly to be considered omnimortal, i.e. dying every moment. Indeed, the gist of the talk suggested that death is neccessary to life.

The talk also stressed the extent to which death represented a dissolution of individuality, and thus a source of fear and anxiety for members of an acquisitive, individualistic culture. Yet she entirely neglected the rich and well-documented mystical traditions in which the aspirant is instructed to attain to that same dissolution of individuality before bodily death as the signal spiritual attainment. Although to do so would have perhaps involved some troubling compromise with sets of ideas that Crist has written off as epiphenomena of "dualistic thinking," I think that consideration of these traditions was imperatively relevant to the central theological conundrum that she chose to take up.

Even if I found fault with her presentation, it still provoked me to a nearly ecstatic appreciation of the extent to which death is a vehicle of life AND life is a vehicle of death. The two can be seen as complementary phases of a single curve, the warp and woof of a fabric both human and divine.
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