Eternal Dampnation

Does anybody have Noah’s telephone number? New Jersey has just experienced the wettest winter on record. Since the day records began, we’ve never had this much rain. That fact came home to me yesterday while driving the fifty miles to Montclair in a tremendous downpour. I had just purchased new windshield wipers, but the cap had fallen off the driver’s side blade. Driving on a truck-infested interstate where traffic continued to fly by at above posted speed limits, I realized with horror that at each passing swipe the rubber insert that actually swipes away the moisture was creeping out of the top of the wiper fixture. There it was, just at the top of my field of view, thrashing about like a demon-possessed snake, while my field of view grew smaller and smaller. I was in lane three of an eight-lane highway and couldn’t get over to make adjustments. In a nightmare I envisioned the slippery snake making a terminal bit for freedom and flying over my head as metal scraped glass and I drove blind into whatever lay ahead.

Well, the wiper stayed intact long enough to get me to the university. The rain did not abate, however. Even with battered umbrella and longsuffering raincoat, I was soaked below the knees by the time I squished into class. Unfortunately we studied the flood myth a few weeks ago. A few years back William Ryan and Walter Pitman, a couple of geologists, uncovered the fact that the Black Sea had been flooded by the Mediterranean some 7500 years ago. They posited that this sudden increase in sea-level around the Euxine Sea led to the dispersion of a world-wide flood myth. Their book became a best-seller and even Robert Ballard got in on the search for Noah’s homeland.

Hearing people talk about New Jersey’s incessant rain, I have no doubt that a major sea change was not necessary for flood stories to begin. As water levels rise, perhaps to the delight of whales and other blubber-laden beasts, the rest of us fear being perpetually covered by overwhelming waves. That is enough to start the story of a flood. Especially when your windshield wipers aren’t working on the Garden State Parkway.

Is it damnation or just New Jersey?

The Call of the Apocalypse

In discussing various polemics against religion, such as those by Christopher Hitchens and Bill Maher, I have frequently stated that they have a point, but they have ignored the good that religion hath wrought. It is like an Anti-Julius Caesar – the good is oft interred with the bones. Then the news goes and validates their polemic. The arrests yesterday of the leadership of the Christian militia calling themselves the Hutaree (I’m sorry, but it sounds like a happy Boy Scout gathering) highlights once more the danger that religion poses to an already unstable society. I’d not heard of the Hutaree before, and chances are I would never have heard of them had they not plotted an apocalyptic war against the United States’ government that landed them on the front page.

Few people are willing to admit just how dangerous apocalyptic thought is, or how deeply rooted it is in American politics. Tracing the roots of this form of belief is not difficult – apocalyptic first appears in the Bible when revelation through prophecy met and mated with Zoroastrianism’s dualism. The offspring of this union was the belief that a new, and better (!), age was about to dawn. God would usher in an era of peace, but it had to be precipitated by an era of war. Presidents drawn from the Religious Right have held this belief. Some have even eagerly begun wars in hopes that this ancient Afghanistanian religion would lead to the Christian apocalypse. At least the Hutaree were up-front about it: they believed that armed conflict with the government would flush out the Antichrist and usher in the end.

Last night in my Prophets class student questions indicated just how much interest there is in apocalyptic. We live in an era when information is all-too-easy to find, and yet many otherwise intelligent people believe that a hidden knowledge about the future is available in the Bible. It is not. For those who have ears to hear, Daniel was written about Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Revelation was written about a Roman emperor (perhaps Nero or Domitian) who threatened nascent Christianity. The apocalyptic battle was already underway. The future they longed for was peace. Modern apocalypticists see all of this as future prediction and believe that they must start the war. All of this makes me feel strangely vindicated. The FBI and other government officials are starting to demonstrate an awareness that to prevent religious extremism you must understand it. Now if only universities would catch on and realize that the study of religion is vital to national security I might end up with a full-time teaching post after all.

The original Antichrist

Civil Rights and Science Fiction

I remember reading L. Ron Hubbard’s science fiction before the Church of Scientology was widely known. Not surprisingly, the religious movement began in New Jersey – a state where anything seems possible (except finding a job or having a stable government). Over the weekend, however, a New Jersey Star-Ledger story noted that some former members of the Church of Scientology are trying to sue their religion for violation of labor laws and unreasonable pay. Lawyers predict such a case cannot win in court, and I personally wonder how such cases of enforced labor differ from other brands of organized religion that require that extra push from their members. Doesn’t the church reserve the right to demand, voluntarily of course, that citizens forfeit their legal rights?

When I was young and naïve (instead of being old and naïve, as I am now), I took my first teaching job at Nashotah House. I was not yet thirty. It was, of course, a conflicted situation: a bunch of men living in the Wisconsin woods trying to maintain a monastic presence nestled between the sinful cities of Madison and Milwaukee. (And a few women, always the minority of the student body collective.) One of only two non-clergy on the faculty, I was surprised when, in response to what was an unreasonable administrative demand I was told, “When you signed your contract, you gave up your civil rights!” I’m not a lawyer, but I learned an important legal lesson – never mess with the saintly sorts that make up the church administration. Religion is big business. And religious bodies can afford big lawyers.

I feel sorry for the plaintiffs in this legal dispute, but they are in a wide and vast company. Organized religions are human constructs, and human constructs will always favor climbers. Climbers who reach the top will always build fortresses to protect their personal interests. In the church they’ll call it ecclesiastical authority and trace it right back to Jesus handing Peter some metaphorical keys. No, the church is not above the felonies and misdemeanors that secular courts just can’t judge. Potential members should read the contract, including the fine print. And don’t be taken in by the bits that sound like science fiction.

Inventor of new worlds

Heavenly Visitors

With Passover hard upon us, I was a little disturbed to receive a letter on Friday that read, “A heavenly visitor will pass your house…” Having been raised on the sturdy fare of Exodus, I knew that heavenly visitors more often take the form of marauding angels than of jocular Santa Clauses. It seemed an ominous warning. Of course, it came from the Saint Matthew’s Churches that sent me such good wishes of divine promises of prosperity some months back, so I had to assume it was a purely coincidental biblical reference. The folks at Saint Matthew’s Churches are, after all, Bible believers.

Perhaps because of that fateful letter, I dreamed, in good Genesis style, a dream two nights ago. I dreamed that I found a dollar coin on the ground at a family outing. A few feet away lay another. And another. Wherever we went in that Morpheus-bewitched town there were silver dollars unclaimed on the ground. My trousers were being dragged down with the weight of the lucre in my pockets. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! Then I awoke, still employed only part-time, still worrying every minute about whether we can meet all the bills. Perhaps the dream was a message? Should the Saint Matthew’s’ folks be right, prosperity was headed my way. Saturday’s powerball jackpot was in the double-digit millions. I very rarely play the lottery, but since state education in New Jersey needs all the help it can get, I offered up a dollar to see if Saint Matthew’s’ prosperity was at hand.

No. Not even one number came close. Perhaps there is a secret clause in the prosperity gospel contract. Perhaps those who prosper must hold certain conservative views on social issues. The views, say, my mother holds. Yet she lives in a trailer on a severely circumscribed income. That doesn’t seem to be it either. Last night I awaited another dream. Instead, the next-door neighbors were holding a loud party until 3 a.m. Perhaps celebrating Palm Sunday? Or perhaps that was the heavenly visitor passing over for Passover a couple of days early? Either way, I didn’t sleep well last night knowing that something was just outside my window.

Lying Literalists

“I hate, I despise your festivals, and I do not delight in your solemn assemblies!” The words of some godless communist? A disaffected liberal? An angry atheist? No. These stark words come from Amos, the prophet. Each year when I teach my course on the Hebrew Prophets I am struck by how strident their words are. For Fundamentalists and others who take the Bible literally the words belong to none other than the Big Guy. The Primal Y. G-d. God hates the worship conducted in a land where injustice reigns.

Although the basic principles sound correct, it is clear that America cannot really be considered a just society. There are a few too many families without enough to eat, a few too many homeless on the street-corners of our cities, a few too many unemployed. And a few too few filthy rich. There is plenty to go around, and one might naively think prosperity might trickle down. It doesn’t. I’ve always been amazed to see the girth of many prosperity gospelers who inveigh against the unrighteous. A sturdy measuring tape might tell us all we really need to know about righteousness.

Bible believers do not believe in the Bible. They accept the message they wish to hear, that God loves those who are rewarded with wealth, but the message of Amos they have little time for. They miss the part where the prophet calls them cows of Bashan that are fat for sacrifice. Yet when they flip out their iconic Bibles the theologically illiterate follow them to the polls. The more they pound their Bibles the more they are beating innocent victims. Be careful before becoming a Bible believer – it is not always a comfortable place to be!

Two Mites for the Truth

“Abuse scandal puts heat on Vatican for more transparency,” runs a headline on the front page of today’s New Jersey Star-Ledger. The reference, of course, is to the recent divulging of alleged abuse that implicates the brother of the Pope. The wording of this particular headline, however, contains the kernel of a very important religious preserve. Like the X-Files, religious structures thrive on secrecy. If the mystery were removed from religion, what would be the motivation to believe? Science provides facts and theories that do not require as much belief as they do acquiescence. Religion, on the other hand, deals with intangibles shrouded in murky darkness.

Religions cannot be transparent. “Naked business” models simply do not work when the wealth of the ages is at stake. Few religious believers ever question how or why the leaders of their traditions hoard wealth and valuable objects and real estate. The great medieval European cathedrals, as magnificent as they are, represent loss, pain, and toil on the part of a great many faithful. Those with severe consciences will always drop an offering in the plate, basket, or tray when divine pressure is laid upon them. Even if they really cannot afford it. Two mites for the salvation of an eternal soul is a real bargain!

No one can truly claim to have comprehended the whole of a religion. After all, many religions have centuries of accumulated lore and tradition that must be passed along in ways opaque to the general issue believer. If glass walls were erected around every seminary and religious training institution, those who have not had the experience of being involved in clergy instruction would find the sight blinding. No, religion will never be transparent. Nor will it ever be extinct. It is simply far too easy to believe what one is told.

Two mites, and then some

Jesus Lets Himself Go

Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper

Carpentry is hard work, as Jesus must have known. The occasions when I head to the basement and chew through wood with an electric saw and nail boards together through pre-drilled pilot holes always leave me feeling like I’ve burned a few calories. Not to mention walking everywhere. No Hondas, Volkswagens, or Smart Cars in those days. A guy could sure build up an appetite. My wife pointed me to Newsweek’s blog this week, where a story about the portion sizes portrayed in paintings of the last supper over the past millennium is posted. The conclusion drawn: the food servings have continued to escalate in size as food production and acquisition have become easier.

This is not so surprising, given that what people value is what they portray in art. As I’ve mentioned before, Stephen Prothero, in his book American Jesus, demonstrates that portraits of Jesus reflect the self-perception of the society in which they are produced. Few attempt to make a life-like representation, largely because no one knows what Jesus might have looked like.

Jesus as an ordinary guy

A few years back, Richard Neave, a retired medical artist from the University of Manchester reconstructed, based on forensic research, what he believes Jesus likely looked like. The portrait is not handsome, and to be fair, not based on the actual skull of Jesus which has been missing for a couple of millennia. I used to ask my students in Intro to Christianity what difference it would make if Jesus was not good-looking. They tended to react strongly – particularly those of Christian disposition – there was an inherent blasphemy in suggesting that Jesus might not have been drop-dead handsome.

Now, if we gently push his chair back into that fateful table one more time, we might wonder how an overweight Jesus might appeal to those who struggle with weight issues. More of him to go around, as the saying goes. I’ve viewed much religious art in my time, but I’ve never seen a love-handled Jesus, let alone a chunky savior. And perhaps that is the biggest miracle of all, given that he eats more each passing year.

Mournful Metaphor

Sometimes the concept is great but the results disappoint. Those who have followed this blog know that a unifying concept over the past half-year has been the often hidden relationship between religion and monsters. Certainly this fascination has its roots in my refusal to admit that I’ve grown up, but with the popular media pushing the undead into our collective consciousness on a daily basis I feel a happy vindication. I posted last week about Seth Grahame-Smith’s new book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Well, now that I’ve finished the book I would say that the jarring concept of our most honored president leading a secret life was fun to wrestle with, but the book failed to win me.

Lincoln’s great contribution to our nation is still echoing through a society slow to admit the equality of all. Perhaps that fact alone would render any book trying to throw some comic relief on a deadly serious issue mute before it even begins to spin its yarn. That, and I didn’t like the portrayal of the vampires. I’m no undead purist, and I’m aware that vampires have changed form and character over the centuries, but having masses of them in one place felt like being the proverbial cat-shepherd. Giving them political ambitions, with a nod to Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was too much. The issue of slavery, clearly the metaphor being utilized by Grahame-Smith, is hard to smile about. Lincoln’s personal suffering is difficult to lighten with his career as a vampire hunter. The story just didn’t work.

I’ve had enough bumps in my own life to eschew easy categorization. Even my current career must be listed in the TBD category. Nevertheless, I wasn’t sure if what I was reading was a serious attempt at a novel or a humorous exploration of a funny idea. I found the book catalogued in humor, but its narrative seems to have the earnestness of a determined novelist. When the story ended I felt as if I’d read a dime-store novel I’d purchased at Comedy Central. And with the headlines the way they are these days, I’d been hoping for a good laugh. Instead it seems that I have been bitten by a vampire wearing shades.

Two heroes, no smiles

Naughty Religion is Bad Science

In the continual struggle of Fundamentalist Christianity against the rest of the world, new Creationist grounds have been made in Connecticut. Connecticut is not exactly the first state to spring to mind when it comes to extremist conservative religion, but Fundamentalism knows no bounds. Perhaps the largest disappointment, from the point of view of a student of religion who knows the Fundamentalists a little too well, is that otherwise intelligent people simply accept what their clergy tell them. Having been a seminary student and professor, however, I know the kinds of training clergy receive and if the whole wide world knew things would be different.

Clergy of all stripes of all denominations of all religions are just as human as the rest of us. They do not have special physiognomic features in their brains or hearts or cellular structures that allow them to receive private messages from God/the gods. Many are trained in special schools where people like myself teach them, often against the blustering of their clergy supporters back home, what we factually know about the Bible and other aspects of religion. Many successfully block out what they are forced to hear and emerge just as ossified, if not more so, as when they entered. In other words, their “education” has been an exercise in learning to ignore the truth. They are then made into clergy who continue the deception. Even worse are the clergy who receive no training at all, frequently fresh from an overly-heavy-dinner-induced religious experience, who claim that the biological responses to overtaxed gastric juices is some message from beyond.

The average citizen naively accepts the religious credentials of their clergy, supposing that this “holy” person has had some special word from on high. That word is often factually wrong, especially concerning evolution and the origins of life, but it is accepted as gospel truth and disseminated among unsuspecting children. Religion is a matter of belief, not of fact. As America lags farther and farther behind even developing nations in science education, Fundamentalist clergy give a self-satisfied smile. They have become the gods of a nation that was once able to land some of its citizens on the silvery moon in that great literal dome that surrounds our flat earth.

Grounds for Sculpture

Few people would deny that religion and art share a common heritage. Some of the earliest human art was religiously motivated (I would contend that cave paintings and Paleolithic figurines were religious objects), and much of the contemporary art scene derives its inspiration from religious motifs and constructs. Not all art is religious, however, and not all religions are friendly toward art. Nevertheless, there is a tangible connection.

This weekend was uncharacteristically warm and sunny for a New Jersey March. This led us to take our visiting family to Grounds for Sculpture, one of New Jersey’s often overlooked treasures. Built on the remains of the old State Fair grounds in Hamilton, this park houses an impressive array of outdoor sculpture that is contemplative, innovative, puckishly funny, and even a little weird. It reflects the human experience. My family and I have been there multiple times, appreciating the sculpture from new angles, discovering new pieces, and seeing it all through the eyes of others.

Taste in art is highly personal and individualistic. Just like religious sensibilities. Both art and religion seek to make the human soul accessible to others through profound expression. Several of the sculptures in this unique garden bear biblical titles or suggestions, but they may be enjoyed as secular pieces of expression as well. Here is where art is superior to religion: it does not insist on any single way of expressing the truth. Sometimes, it seems, art may actually attain what religion only aspires toward.

Monet listens attentively to a dilettante

Evil Echinoderms

Ever since I can remember, I have longed for the ocean. Not a good swimmer, and not one to eat the myriad creatures that fill its immense waters, I find myself nonetheless drawn to its endless pounding surf and salt spray. Even before I’d read Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us, discovered the eternal fascination of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, or had even heard of H. P. Lovecraft, I knew that I belonged to the ocean. It need not compete for my affection. It had already won. With family visiting this weekend and with an unseasonably warm March weather-system, we went down to the Jersey Shore yesterday to visit my old friend. Sandy Hook is a peninsula that juts up from New Jersey toward New York City, a sandbar of undeveloped free ocean access administered by the National Park Service. During the summer it can be intensely lined with fishermen and sun-worshipers, but in March it was a reasonable place to be. Sea creatures are abundant when left alone, and we saw our first harbor seal of the season, along with a galaxy of sea stars. These echinoderms had eluded me thus far; we’ve been to the shore several times during our Jersey days and had never discovered any. One large sea star had been stranded in an evaporated tide pool. Compassion overcame me and I carried it down to the surf to offer it a chance for continued survival.

Miserable sinner?

Recently I reread Jonathan Edwards’ horrific yet classic sermonic masterpiece, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Vividly depicting a furious deity barely capable of restraining his repressed wrath directed toward wicked human beings, but for an uncommon dose of misplaced compassion, Edwards suggests we all deserve ghastly destruction. Edwards underscores one of my recurrent observations about religion – it is a means of control. The great Puritan divinity only accepts penitent Puritans, all others go directly to Hell, not passing Go, not collecting their two-hundred dollars.

As I held that helpless sea star, destined for the cruel, drying rays of an unclouded sun, I did not think of its multiple transgressions. Murderous predators, sea stars consume other sea creatures, including their own kind, in the constant struggle for survival. This one had obviously had a successful run and had grown to an impressive size. I felt no rage, no desire to destroy this killer. Instead, I saw a radiant example of a being evolved to live in an environment that I can not even comprehend, just doing what it needs to get along in its undersea world. And I recognized the wrath of God for what it really is – one man’s unfulfilled plan to decide the destiny of his fellow creatures.

Be Careful Little Hands

“Time is always against us,” Morpheus informs Neo in The Matrix. Of course, this is a paradigm for life spinning out of control, an allegory of having been taken over by forces against which there is no defense. It surprises no one that as time continues its inexorable march there will be generations that see the same phenomenon in very different ways. In last week’s Time, Nancy Gibbs’ essay addresses the differences between the millennial generation and those of us who are, well, not to put too fine a point on it, older. Her observation on their religious sensitivities is worth noting: “millennials” are just as religious but less conventional, with 1 in 4 having no religious affiliation. They nevertheless remain a deeply spiritual bunch.

Neurologists continue to study the “hardwired” aspect of religious belief, finding that human brains possess a genuine need to believe in something. Why not god? It is, after all, our cultural matrix. As I read this I reflected on ancient religion. Often students ask me what ancients believed. We don’t really know. Religion as a belief system only arises when monotheism emerges: if only one religion is correct, then it is possible to believe in the wrong one. There is no empirical way to test religious claims (yet) and so modern people equate religions with belief systems.

Ancient folk were much more practical. Religion was a matter of praxis, not belief. If you did what your local gods demanded, you’d get along for another day. Modern people peer deeply into the divine realm and make long-term plans based on the assurance of correct belief. Neither method, however, ultimately works. The millennial generation may be on the right track back to that old time religion. According to Gibbs what they’ve lost is faith “in the institutions that claim to speak for [God].” The idea of an all-powerful guy out there purposefully keeping us guessing while refusing to demonstrate the truth plainly for all to see is strangely outmoded. Religion becomes a matter of correct practice, as the old children’s song goes, “Be careful little hands, what you do – for the father up above is looking down in love, be careful little hands, what you do.” Millennials may rightfully wonder who this “father” is, but there is no question that there is someone out there watching what they do. Or else our own neurons conspire against us. The more we learn about the nature of religion, the less we know.

Asherah in Australia

It has been one of those weeks dominated by a lady from my past. Asherah. Just when I thought I could forget her and get on with my life, she has reappeared with a fury. The problem is, I haven’t kept up with where she’s gone over the past few years and we all know what kinds of problems society has out there. Turns out she’s in Australia. At least according to a comment left on one of my old posts about Asherah. The author of the comment provided a tip that led me to, a conspiracy theory website. One of the threads is from Brian Leonard Golightly Marshall, a man who claims to be the messiah – apparently he’s returned with his spouse Asherah, in her form of Mary Magdalene. Also, he states, Prince Charles is the anti-christ.

The internet has provided a forum not only for the serious exchange of ideas that help shape the future, but also a soapbox more massive than any other. In general I don’t believe conspiracy theories – just this week my daughter came home from school with news about Disney’s alleged subliminal smut, leading me to recall the hysterical claims made about the New World Order. The more things change, the more predictable they become.

So, is Asherah down under, waiting for a new apotheosis, or has the collective imagination of the internet just taken over? I’m not the one to judge. Nevertheless, while doing a little web research on Asherah I discovered that Asherah greeting cards are now available. They’ll have to wait until I find a job, however. Maybe once that happens I’ll also be able to afford a trip to Australia to see the goddess I’ve researched for so many years.

Biblical Outlooks and Science Fiction

Alumni magazines depress me. Between my wife and I, we receive a half-dozen every month. I thumb through and see the cheery faces of classmates, most of whom I don’t know, who’ve gone on to great things – writing books, world travel, scientific breakthroughs. They’re not on the couch Saturday afternoons in New Jersey watching 1950’s sci-fi and wandering what went wrong. Especially bad is Bostonia, since I attended Boston University with many noteworthy individuals. Being forced from academia early in my career because of petty religious differences, I just want to bury my head and grab the remote. An article in this month’s BU shame-fest, however, pictured a professor, younger than myself, who joined the school of theology after I left. The title of the piece is “Biblical Sexuality.” Well, the connection with this blog couldn’t be more obvious.

Dr. Jennifer Knust is a professor of Christian Scriptures at BU who has written a couple of books on sexuality and the Bible. I’ve read widely on this topic in the Hebrew Bible, and was curious as to what the post-Jesus crowd was saying these days. The article specifically addresses homosexuality, but I did applaud one of Dr. Knust’s statements: “My main argument is that biblical texts do not speak with one voice.” Amen. Bravo. Goal! Our society is so imbued with the bibliolatry of the Religious Right that it is difficult for most Americans to understand that the Bible was written by many people over a few centuries and these people did not always share the same outlook. The Bible is an exercise in multiple voice-overs. Specific religions, as many denominations of Christianity testify, have harmonized these divergent voices into a coherent, if biblically untrue, theology. Some voices must be stifled so that others may dominate.

We live in a religiously plural world. There are about as many religions as there are believing people. We experience the world through our own lenses and within our own gray-matter. Our perspectives are uniquely our own. And yet religious leaders bend, worry, and force views closer to their own so that they might have a theological quorum, a consensus that one viewpoint is right. They silence the Bible’s divergent voices and claim they do not exist. I wish Dr. Knust well. She’s got the right perspective, in the opinion of my own weary gray-matter. And speaking of gray, where did I put the remote?

We Still Need Asherah

A very prominent documentary-making company contacted me today. It is in the research stage of planning a documentary on Asherah. I am overwhelmed that I have been asked for advice and that the old girl has finally received some public interest. Scholars are generally accustomed to spinning in smaller and smaller circles of specialization that have little draw for the wider public. Having said that, Asherah is, my own interests aside, a most fascinating deity.

One of the greatest obstacles to modern readers on ancient religion is the fact that gods don’t neatly fit into predetermined categories. We like to think of deities as the “god/goddess of –” where the blank is filled by some natural phenomenon. This is a fallacy that I once whimsically coined the “divine genitival construct.” It is easy to think of Baal as the god of rain, but he is so much more than that! I tell my students that they must think of deities as “persons” first; they are fictional characters, and like good fictional characters they have many aspects to their personalities. They are complex, multilayered, and often conflicted. This is especially the case with Asherah. She is a goddess who represents the royal female. Kind of hard to picture. Not queenship, but the power behind the throne. She is more familiar in the form of Hera in Greek mythology – the primary spouse who tries to keep a philandering husband in line. She is, however, a powerful goddess. She is mother of the gods, the character without whom no other lesser deities would exist. By extension, she is the producer of the gods who make our world possible.

Publications continue to emerge claiming all manner of hypostases for Asherah, many of which are unfounded. I believe it is because we all need the sacred mother, the female authority figure. Our society, still hopelessly patriarchal, yearns for the goddess who understands. Unfortunately, that is not this historical Asherah, it is the Asherah of the modern imagination. If she helps to assuage some of life’s inequities, however, even a mythical Asherah may still serve a valuable function today.

Not Asherah, unless you need her to be