"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Monday, January 14, 2008

bell hooks Monday: God and Love and All That Good Stuff

Since I haven't responded yet in detail regarding a bunch of comments from my post Can God Be a Feminist?, I thought I would at least offer up a different point of view (than my own) from one of my favorite feminists on god and worship. For bell hooks, what is central to the necessity of a spiritual life is the need to keep our focus on love. It's interesting to note that she moved from being a Christian, to becoming interested in Buddhism and Islamic mysticism, to just keeping in mind that love is where we often find truth.

From Wounds of Passion:
"When I come to college, it does not take me long to realize that the really hip people do not believe in god, that no one talks about religion expect the boring born against. My relationship to god is the most private union. I learn not to speak of it. Although in classes it is always I who can name a scriptural reference. I konw the bible and am not ashamed of this knowing. In fact, it surprises me that everyone in my classes is so ignorant, mostly though they brag about being atheist. That's what is really cool--to not believe in the existence of god. I believe."(pp 152)

I had a moderately different experience in college. I did meet some self-professed atheists in college, but mostly I meet people who claim agnosticism, or a generalized 'spirituality' not unlike what hooks tells us she ends up with. Of course, the atheists I did run across there (some of whom became friends!) were relatively vocal in their atheism not unlike the people hooks seems to be talking about. Hooks, for her part, moves along from her Christianity to look around for other paths:

"Mack finds my devotion to religion strange. I have moved away from the conventional church but I have kept in me the love of the inner life, the need to be one with the divine. I search for the meaning of religious life everywhere. I study Buddhism and Islamic mysticism. In town there is a Sufi meeting. I go there to dance in the circle of love. And that I am learning about the mystical dimensions of religious faith takes me back to the heart, to loving. To be with god is to love. It is required and understood that a man be found faithful. The ethics of being that govern my life are grounded in spiritual life.(pp152-153)"

Who can argue with love, or paying attention to one's inner life? I find it interesting that hooks doesn't seem to explicitly talk about the misogynist aspects of various religions--though I haven't read everything she has written. She does, however, express various ways in which religion has left her wanting--the white Buddhists who say race doesn't matter because we all choose our race, those who try to force their beliefs on others, the difficulties of letting go of the things in this world in order to be more spiritual. In the end, she likes the seeking--seeking seems to be her religion:
"I contemplate my work. I pray for divine guidance. It comes between me and Mack that I am turning from poetry to writing critical essays, on subjects that are more political. He feels I am abandoning the aesthetics of the artists life for the mundane realm of social theory. I am trying to invent a world that can sustain me as a writer, as a woman dedicated to the life of the mind. I want to remain a seeker on the path."(pp160)

I sometimes feel this way about feminism itself, actually. The infighting just kills me sometimes. And, the need for the infighting--there are real problems that need to be addressed--kills me too. When I start feeling like abandoning feminism for, say, humanism or some such, one thing that helps me is to understand the ways in which my relationship to feminism has developed, and the ways in which feminism itself has changed and grown, is to look at it in a similar way to the way that hooks is looking at religion. Seeking a better and better feminism seems to be the way to go--still seeking, even while unhappy with the current path. (Of course, I feel this way about humanism, and anti-racism, and lots of other ways of framing the world.)
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