Have you ever woken up on a Sunday morning immediately after your most recent suicide attempt and said, "God...are you out there? I don't know if you are or you aren't, but if you're not,...well, you ought to be."...?
Oh, were you perhaps expecting something like "Theory of Prayer"? I'll theorize a bit, eventually, but it is a tradition of radical feminism that theory derives its authority from felt experience, and it is an American tradition with regards to prayer, at least among its believers, that you testify from personal experience to its power, so who am I to defy two convergent traditions?
It was 1980; I was just on the verge of becoming 21 years old at the time; and although once when I had been a kid of about 11 or 12, I had prayed to this God in whose existence I neither believed nor disbelieved, asking that my parents not hear about something I was really ashamed of--and for a little while after that I had believed in God--that had been a long time ago, and I had long since relapsed into my neutral agnosticism.
So I continued--
I can't live this life that I've been living, everything is all wrong. I have always liked girls and have been wanting a girlfriend for a long time. But the other boys, the violent and pushy and mean ones that didn't like girls in elementary school, they are the ones getting girlfriends (and still being violent and pushy and mean and hurting the girls) and they laugh at me and call me queer and faggot and say that I'm not man enough to get one, that I'm not dominant and predatory enough, that I'm not enough of a "badass". I'm almost 21 now and I've never had a girlfriend except as a kid and it feels like I never will, but I don't want to be like those other boys, any more than I want to live the rest of my life without being in love.
And after a moment I continued again--
Back in Junior High School it looked like my life was going to be all different, that things were going to get so much better. The hippies and flower children were so sure we could have a world where people trusted and shared and we could get rid of the old ugly competitive "uptight" ways of being in the world like chasing money and fighting for power over other people and hating and having wars and all that, and I thought this was the future of the world, but now it seems like all that has been dismissed as a 60s fad and now everything is as competitive and mean as it could be. The whole world is becoming an institution and the people above you control you and the ones above them control them, like George Orwell's 1984. I don't want to live in a world like that, not now, not after having glimpsed the vision of how it could be! How could the good ideas and the love and the vision just die? You are God. If you're out there you're supposed to care. Is this what you want your world to be like? Everything is dominance and submission, in world politics and in personal sex, and I hate it.
But that sounded awfully arrogant to me, in my desperation, and I wondered if I had any right to those feelings! After all, here I am cussing out God for the condition of the world that I'm expected to live in?
So I paused, then said--
Maybe there is something wrong with me, for wanting the world to be this other thing that it is not? They all say there's something wrong with me, I've been laughed at all my life and called things, are they somehow right, is it me? But I don't want to be like them, the men for whom the principles that this world seems to operate on are expressed in their personality. I can't be me and be like that! Well, is the world just a bad place where bad natural forces and natural laws govern it, with cruel domination running everything?
(so much for my moment of humility!) I continued, again in angry desperation--
You are supposed to CARE! You can't be GOD and want the world to be this way, you CAN'T! Are you out there? Are you? Are you? How is it "supposed to be"? Jesus is supposed to come back and save the world. According to the Christians, the religion in which I was raised. So we're supposed to wait and wait and wait for generation after generation until you decide it's time to send him again to finish the job? How about us, aren't we suffering? Don't you care what WE are going through? What are you waiting for? Send Jesus again and make the world the way it's supposed to be! Or...I guess you and Jesus are supposed to be one and the same, right? So... "be" him, then, come down here and fix things! "Someday" is fine for some future people who have the good fortune to be alive when you decide to save the world, but we're suffering NOW!
Oops. Like the pendulum of a clock, my mood swang back to apology and desperate need. Wonderful. Here I am yelling at God and saying get your butt down here, great way to petition the almighty for mercy and so forth.
Emotionally, I am being buffeted on huge tidal waves, the strongest and most vivid and desperate feelings I've ever felt. This is it, this is everything. I really can't go on without answers, I just can't.
It isn't just me. I know I'm selfish, I want a good life for me and I'm alive now. But there's an entire world out there, billions of people. Please. Am I doing this wrong? Should I have paid more attention to the rules for invoking God? The "born again" believers who say they know God personally and talk to God and hear back from God, they say that "in order to be saved you should ask Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior". Is that what I should do? But...I don't know what that means! It's just words! I will say those words if it will help, 'Jesus please come into my heart as my personal Lord and Savior'. But why should you want me to say words that I don't understand? Jesus--
I think of Jesus and what I know of him and decide that I like the things he said about loving and forgiving and trusting and sharing and all that. Yes, that's the world I want. But savior? And all this "rose from the dead" stuff? And "personal Lord and Savior"? Teach me! If you are God and it is important to you that I know and understand these things, then TEACH ME! I really WANT to know what you want from us, from me. I wasn't uninterested in the subject as taught by preachers and testifiers and proselytyzers, I just couldn't understand what they meant, they just seemed to be repeating phrases that they'd heard from someone else. God, if "Jesus" is important to you, you are going to have to explain it all to me. I agree with him as a person but I don't understand what it means to know him to be anything other than a person the same as any other person.
And if the True Religion is something entirely different, something that I know and understand even less? What then?
No. You are God. Religion comes from God. If there is something important that you need me to know in order to understand you correctly, teach me. Don't expect me to get it from other people. They aren't in agreement with each other and there's too much to sift through. And the only sifter I've got is me, what if I reject the wrong things?
God? Are you out there? I am going to keep doing this until I either get a response or give up and make arrangments for a more effective suicide...
I shall discuss results shortly, but I feel the need to approach this entire experience with theoretical tools, lest the atheists among my hypothetical readership get any more restless.
In an earlier section, I poked some fun at both those who attempt to establish that there is a divine entity, God, by arguing that the reality of prayer proves there is a God to listen and answer it; and those who counter-argue that since there is no such creature as this entity God, prayer has to be a phenomenon explained away as mass hallucination, or internal wish fulfillment, or unfounded folk superstition. I pointed out at that time that prayer could be a real phenomenon and that this does not prove that the entity God, postulated as the reason prayers are heard, is necessarily real; prayer could work for some other reason. (I have already given a description of the God in which I believe, but it is not the traditional entity God that exists apart from the natural world). I also pointed out that a healthily cynical disbelief in that same entity God is no proof that prayer is a nonreal phenomenon, just because God was postulated as the reason prayers are heard; prayer could work through some other explanation that does not require reference to such an entity.
I kept putting off this section on prayer because I did not want to be misconstrued as arguing that the process of prayer is just an internal psychological mechanism in which emotional intensity pushes the mind to deliver answers faster or with more difficult-to-establish conceptual connections in place, rather than being a spiritual process of communion with God and an integration of the individual self with the will of God.
Because I think prayer is an internal psychological mechanism in which emotional intensity pushes the mind to deliver answers faster or with more difficult-to-establish conceptual connections in place which constitutes the spiritual process of communion with God and an integration of the individual self with the will of God. Such a statement rendered prior to my exploration of identity and God would have made less sense to many people, I expect. (It may still be a bit murky, and you can blame it on my unclear first-draft prose, which I tend to polish and rewrite over time; but hopefully you can muddle your way through even given its present condition).
Because meaning exists not in "things in and of themselves", but in interactions and relationships, and because all things exist separately only as we impose categorical divisions on the Singularity which is God and includes all other things as subsets, communication with God (prayer) is communication with the self, but not the limited everyday self so much as a superset that includes more (everything) and emphasizes our individual singular self's relationship with the rest of our identity (which in its extended form, is God).
Because awareness and meaning are ultimately emotionally-informed processes, in which the preverbal process of cognition is responsible for the elementary recognition of patterns in all things and, therefore, how they fit into previously known patterns, it makes sense that the most profound and dynamic efforts to understand things are powerfully, awe-inspired, vividly dynamic emotional efforts, not plodding, recipe-following, procedurally mechanical efforts. If this one thing were not so, I would not waste my time migrating "feminism as social theory" to "feminism as religion". But because it is so, and because there is a need for a mode and means of understanding and sharing of understanding, this migration presented itself to me as meaningful, potentially productive, and theoretically valid.
The natural is NOT mundane--there are mysteries and details and secrets embedded in its folds that should inspire awe in you! And that God is something of which you are a subset, and not something external and superior, is this any reason for contempt for God? Only, I think, if you persist in maintaining contempt for yourself, and perhaps your own self has mysteries, secrets and details of which you are not yet cognizant.
I am no academic dilettante trying to "explain away" religious phenomena in the languages that my cohort will accept as their own; if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm no more welcome in academia than in the orthodox religions establishment. I say all of these things as a person not particularly welcome in either institution as an independent person testifying as to what I understand to be the true state of matters (and energies) in the world in which I live.
Ah, but I sort of left you hanging, didn't I? I didn't speak of what happened as a result of the prayer that I reconstituted and shared with you above, did I? At the time I first wrote this piece, I wasn't specifically aware that I was doing that--the results were apparent to me, and as I often do, I overlooked the fact that they might not be apparent to anyone else. The short version is that I did receive answers and those answers are what you have been reading for the time that you have been reading the theory papers on my web sites.
I would awaken in the middle of the night with a very clear and new understanding of some aspect of the matters I had prayed about, and would grab a pencil and jot down some diagrams and observations, and would pace and jump about with excitement and write some more, then go to bed; in the morning, I'd discover that the ideas still made clear and cogent sense to me, and I'd often try to share them with my friends and associates. Perhaps days or weeks later, it would happen again--another piece, another aspect of the matter, would sort of click into place, fitting in with the previous revelations, and again I'd be excited and would attempt to put it into words or symbols.
I was aware that I could not prove (even to myself) that the answers came from God rather than from my overwrought imagination. Indeed, I kept expecting that I was suffering from some sort of breakdown and that ideas that seemed compellingly explanatory at 3 am would be incoherent or ridiculously simplistic or would just be restatements of things I had always understood and known with nothing new about them. So whenever I spoke of this as an experience of religious revelation, I said that I had prayed to God, and believed that I had received a message from God in reply, although, being human and therefore fallible, I could be wrong about that, but that ultimately the content of the message should attest to its source.
The answers included the contents you see on these very web pages--answers to the questions of what God is and how one prays--and included as well a simple approach to this matter of how one knows whether or not the answers one gets when one prays come from God or not, which is a page to which I have not yet specifically sent you, so I will do so now. (I think of it as a benediction of sorts--it seems like a good note to end on, so I will probably place another link to it towards the end of this section on feminism as religion and spiritual experience).
The answers I received began by addressing my more personal questions about myself, my personality, and my maleness and sexuality, then within months expanded and included the essential truth of radical feminism in relationship to patriarchy, which answered my larger questions about what had gone wrong with society and the values that seemed to hold sway in the world, and what needed to be done to save it.
I presume that anyone who has familiarity with the conventional body of religious tradition, especially the American-edition Protestant Christianity with which I was most familiar at the time, can tell that the content of the response that I received is different from the content that those traditions would lead one to expect me to receive. If such people are reading up to this point here, they may well be saying that these revelations cannot have come from God because the content is all wrong; God does not tell believers who pray that radical feminism is the will of God, or that we need a society with a different structure entirely and should seek to change the world in such a political fashion, or that Jesus was the son of God in the same sense that everyone is a son or a daughter of God, and that God is in all of us and all of us direct manifestations of God; God does not tell believers who pray that patriarchy is evil and that sex role conformity pressures have made heterosexuality as we know it considerably more perverted than lesbian or gay relationships in their current form, and that feminism is the key to a loving and natural solution; God does not tell believers who pray that it is not important to God that you go to this church instead of that church or that you go to any church at all, so long as you pursue the voice of God as it speaks to you from within yourself, and that you listen to others when they speak and seek to be heard. And God does not tell believers who pray asking when God might send a Messiah to make the world as God intended it to be, "Well, my child, we take volunteers, you see..." !!!
But such people defend the authority of revealed wisdom on the basis of how it was sought and acquired! No recipe-follower I, I was nevertheless desperate and very intense and entirely sincere when I prayed to God as I have described above, and it is my claim that the manner in which I prayed was entirely within the hallowed tradition of the religion espoused by my culture and advocated by their street-corner proselytizers and testified to at great tent revival meetings as The Way You Get To God. So I, in my desperation, tried it and it WORKED...so to reject my testimony on the basis that they are uncomfortable with the content is a bit much, don't you think?
I have freely admitted that I am human, fallible, and might be wrong. To any religious person who wishes to engage me on these matters here, I say that if you, in all of your references to wisdom that comes from God, will state similarly that you and anyone you quote or refer to are human and might be wrong about anything being the will of God, I will be happy to have your company, and we shall discuss what God wants of us, and how and where feminism fits in with the will of God. But if you cannot agree to such terms, I say you are putting some authority above the authority of God; you are not religious, whereas I am; and so that you cease to defile the corridors of Holy Communication with your temporal and worldly trappings of mundale authority, I ask you to leave. And for all such people in any place who declare that what they do or represent constitutes religion, hear me: You are an abomination in the eyes of God! It was said in warning a long time ago that "You shall see the evil one standing in the one place where he should not be!" I say you have no business occupying a pulpit and trying to establish an authority concerning God higher than God. I am so angry when I see what is effectively done by organized religion! First you instruct the people that there is a God and that God answers prayers and sends visions, messages for the people through those who have drawn close to hear them; but you do not explain that such people are still essentially ordinary fallible people, and that it is their interpretation that it was God who said these things to them, oh no! Instead, you point to all such revealed truths and declare them "infallible", and as often as not deify the messenger as well, so that people do not see that they are indeed fallible. Then you control the content, this content of revelation which by your instructions you have put above the people and denied them any role in questioning it, contradicting your original premise, that the content is divine and infallible and should not be questioned because it comes from God! Because you have institutionalized the process and stand as experts in what God does or does not say, you have left no path for a person to deliver the word of God as revealed to them, and as interpreted, fallibly and humanly, by themselves as messengers. You have tried to take God to a taxidermist and you assume to have God stuffed and mounted on the walls of your church, temple, mosque, while your clergy and institutional leadership speak for God and stand in God's place! There are many individuals who have been among your leaders and acted in good faith, tried to provide us with leadership and tried to live godly lives, and many branches and sects and denominations among you have tried to open the process and allow more room for questioning, but nevertheless, what a pit of vipers you are!
So...what do you suppose happened when I first attempted to put all of this into words, trying to explain to friends that I knew who I was and was ready to "come out", trying to explain to the feminist groups on campus that I wanted to join them and had theoretical contributions to make, trying to testify within some of the religious groups on campus that I had prayed for and apparently received a message from God, and sending letters to individuals in society whose brilliance and wisdon I respected the best description I could manage of what had apparently been revealed to me?
Yep. I got invited to go talk to the "nice doctors" over at the nuthouse.
I ask you to go read my Benediction if you have not already done so. The next section on this site, a three-part essay concerning feminism, deviance, the mental health system, and the question of social order, is available here.