(Essay) The Sacred Feminine or Goddess Feminism? by Carol P. Christ

Perseus with the Head of Medusa - Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine

Perseus with the Head of Medusa – Sacred Masculine and Sacred Feminine

In recent years “the Sacred Feminine” has become interchangeable with (for some) and preferable to (for others) “Goddess” and “Goddess feminism.” The terms Goddess and feminism, it is sometimes argued, raise hackles: Is Goddess to replace God? And if so why? Does feminism imply an aggressive stance? And if so, against whom or what?

In contrast, the term “sacred feminine” (with or without caps) feels warm and fuzzy, implying love, care, and concern without invoking the G word or even the M(other) word–about which some people have mixed feelings. Advocates of the sacred feminine stand against no one, for men have their “sacred feminine” sides, while women have their “sacred masculine” sides as well.

Nothing lost, and much to be gained. Right? Wrong.

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(Essay 2) Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection of the Control of Women, Private Property, and War, Part 2 by Carol P. Christ

Carol ChristPatriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.*

In last week’s blog, I explained patriarchy as a system in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality with the intent of passing property to male heirs. How did a system that identifies a man’s essence with his property and the ability to pass it on to sons come about? I suggest that the answer to this question is war and the confiscation of “property” by warriors in war. Patriarchy is rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.

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(Essay 1) Patriarchy as a System of Male Dominance Created at the Intersection of the the Control of Women, Private Property, and War, Part 1 by Carol P. Christ

Carol ChristPatriarchy is often defined as a system of male dominance. This definition does not illuminate, but rather obscures, the complex set of factors that function together in the patriarchal system.  We need more complex definition if we are to understand and challenge the patriarchal system in all of its aspects.

Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people.*

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(Essay) “The Language of the Goddess” In Minoan Crete by Carol P. Christ

While the “war against Marija Gimbutas,” rooted in what my friend Mara Keller calls “theaphobia,” is being waged in the academy, her theories continue to unlock the meaning of hundreds of thousands of artifacts from the culture she named “Old Europe.”

According to Gimbutas, the Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures of Old Europe c. 6500-3500 BCE were peaceful, sedentary, agricultural, matrifocal and probably matrilineal, egalitarian, and worshipped the Goddess as the power of birth, death, and regeneration in human and all forms of life.  The cultures of the Old Europe contrasted with the Bronze Age cultures of the Indo-Europeans who brought the Indo-European languages and value systems to Europe and India and to all of the European colonies.  The Indo-European cultures were patriarchal, patrilineal, nomadic, horse-riding, and warlike, and worshipped the shining Gods of the sky.

“The language of the Goddess” includes a series of signs and symbols that the people of Old Europe could “read” as surely as you and I know that a cross on top of a building marks it as Christian or that a woman wearing a star of David pendant is Jewish.  Gimbutas identified the meaning of these symbols through a painstaking process that involved comparison of artifacts, attention to where they were found, and clues from the recurrence of similar symbols in later cultures.  In twenty years of leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete, I have found Gimbutas’ theories an indispensible “hermeneutical principle” which unlocks the meanings of the artifacts we encounter.

tour-goddess12

(Read the remainder of the essay in Feminism and Religion.)

Meet Mago Contributor Carol P. Christ

©Andrea Sarris

©Andrea Sarris

Carol P. Christ is author or editor of eight books in Women and Religion and is one of the Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement. She leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete in Spring and Fall: Early Bird Special until June 15. Follow Carol on Twitter @CarolP.Christ, Facebook Goddess Pilgrimage, and Facebook Carol P. Christ.

A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess will be published by Far Press in the spring of 2016. A journey from despair to the joy of life.

Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology with Judith Plaskow will be published by Fortress Press in June 2016. Exploring the connections of theology and autobiography and alternatives to the transcendent, omnipotent male god.

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(Essay) Reading Plato’s Allegory of the Cave as Matricide and Theacide by Carol P. Christ

When I read Plato’s allegory of the cave as an undergraduate, I was told it had something to do with the idea that the “form” of a table is more “real” than the table itself. I must confess that I had no idea what this could possibly mean.

As a graduate student, I struggled with philosophical and theological ideas rooted in Platonism.  Rosemary Radford Ruether named the flawed worldview created by a “classical dualism” that separates mind from body, spirit from the world, rationality from emotion, and male from female.  Her ground-breaking essay “Mother Earth and the Megamachine” clarified the difficulties I was having.

Western philosophy, described by Alfred North Whitehead as a series of footnotes to Plato, had gotten off on the wrong foot. At its very beginnings, western philosophy had attempted to sever mind from the body and nature, alleging that “man’s true home” was not life in the body on planet earth. Platonic ideas spawned the ascetic movements of late antiquity and early Christianity.  They are also at the root of the modern scientific worldview that alleges that the body and nature are “mere matter” “without soul” to be entirely controlled by the rational minds of men.

Ruether pointed out that women were identified with the despised body and nature and the realms of emotion and feeling.  She called upon feminists and ecofeminists to restore the severed connections between mind and body, spirit and nature, reason and emotion, male and female.  These ideas have informed all of my work.

It was not until I began to write She Who Changes that I realized that the Platonic worldview can accurately be said to be rooted in matricide (mother murder) and theacide (Goddess murder).  I am not exaggerating.

In the allegory of the cave Plato describes human beings as prisoners shackled to the walls of a cave in such a way that they cannot see the light at its mouth, but only the shadows flickering on its inner walls.  Socrates himself interprets this allegory for his student. Its meaning, he says, is that the light of reason is shackled by the “prison house of sight.” The meaning of this, we are told, is that the world we see—the physical world we sense through our bodies—is not the real world. The “real” world is an “intellectual world,” a world of ideas untainted by the body or nature, and to this world Socrates asks his pupil to turn.

Like Socrates, many teachers ask their students to question conventional ideas about the meaning of life. As a feminist teacher, I ask my students to question the inevitability of patriarchy. Am I not following in Socrates’ footsteps?  Why then do I insist that the allegory of the cave is matricidal and theacidal?

On the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, from which I returned only a few days ago, we descend into caves where the ancient people of Crete lived, buried their dead, and poured libations to the Source of Life.  We understand that the ancient Cretans honored mothers as the source of human life and Mother Earth, Sky, and Sea as the Source of All Life.  For them caves were the womb of the Mountain Mother, place of emergence, return, and transformation.

When they lived in caves, people sat around fires and told stories of their ancestors.  Surely they saw the shapes of deites, humans, and animals who featured in their stories in the lights and shadows cast on the stalagmites and stalactites and the cave walls.  This tradition must go back to the origins of human life; it is clearly documented in the Upper Paleolithic (50,000-10,000 BCE) .   As this painting of a pregnant horse shows, the rituals of the Upper Paleolithic were not only ”hunting magic,” but also expressed a desire to communicate with the Source of All Life, human and animal.

(To read the rest of the article, click here: Feminism and Religion)

(Essay) Shadows of the Goddess in Greek Orthodox Tradition: Easter and the Dormition of the Virgin by Carol P. Christ

While I would not wish to argue that Greek Orthodoxy is in any way a “feminist” tradition, the shadow of the Goddess falls long over the two great festivals of spring and midsummer.

In Greek Othodox tradition, there are two major spiritual holidays– Easter in the spring and the Dormition/Assumption of the Virgin at midsummer.  The Panagia, She Who is All Holy, also known as Mother of God, Virgin, and Mary, is a central figure in people’s faith–dethroned neither by the Reformation nor by Vatican II.  Indeed when I speak of the need for the “rebirth of the Goddess” in Greece, I am often told, “the Panagia is our Goddess.”  This may not be theological orthodoxy, but it expresses a truth of practice.

In Greek Orthodoxy, the birth of Christ, while celebrated along with the arrival of the Kings in early January, was not a central holiday until the coming of capitalist consumption only a few decades ago. The real celebrations of the Greek year are at Easter and on August 15.  These are the times when families gather in their ancestral homes.

The Greek Easter celebrations are called the “Divine Drama,” and the reference to Greek tragedies is clear. The highlight of the Easter celebrations for many is not the resurrection, which happens at midnight Saturday, but the death of Christ which is experienced on Friday night.  On Thursday and Friday nights the women of my village enter into a state of mourning as intense as if it were their very own sons who died.  When I first witnessed this, I was puzzled and slightly horrified.

Now I have come to see women as major and perhaps the central players in the Divine Drama. For the four Fridays before Holy Week begins, the liturgy is dedicated to the “Saying Goodbye” of Mary to her son. Though they are prohibited from uttering the holy words reserved to the male clergy, on Fridays the women express their identification with the suffering of Mary, which helps them cope with the losses in their own lives.

Women come to fore again on Holy Thursday night when the icon of Christ is hung on the cross. After going home to change their clothes, the women return to the church to perform an all-night vigil, during which they decorate the coffin into which the icon of Christ will be placed. Traditionally the coffin was decorated with spring wildflowers collected from the fields.

The priests are home sleeping during the women’s vigil, but return to the church in the morning to take the body down from the cross, where it is placed in the coffin or “tafos” the women have lovingly prepared. On Friday night, the coffin and its tabernacle, or “epitafios,” is paraded through the streets. The priests are followed by women (and men and children) who sing songs of death.

(Read the rest of the essay Here, Feminism and Religion.)

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the fields of women and religion and feminist theology. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute. She has lived half of her adult life in Greece and is a dual citizen and bi-cultural hybrid.

(Essay) Remembering Merlin Stone, 1931-2011, by Carol P. Christ

“In the beginning…God was a woman.  Do you remember?”  Feminst foremother and author of these words Merlin Stone died in February last year.

I can still remember reading the hardback copy of When God Was a Woman while lying on the bed in my bedroom overlooking the river in New York City early in 1977.  The fact that I remember this viscerally underscores the impact thatWhen God Was a Woman had on my mind and my body.  Stone’s words had the quality of revelation:  “In the beginning…God was a woman. Do you remember?”  As I type this phrase more than thirty-five  years after first reading it, my body again reacts with chills of recognition of a knowledge that was stolen from me, a knowledge that I remembered in my body, a knowledge that re-membered my body.  My copy of When God was a Woman is copiously underlined in red and blue ink, testimony to many readings.

Though I could then and can now criticize details in the book, the amassing of information and the comprehensive perspective When God Was a Womanprovided was news to me when I first read it.  Despite having earned a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from Yale, I did not “know” that Goddesses were worshipped at the very dawn of religion.  I had not heard of the theories of Indo-European invasions of warlike patriarchal peoples into areas already settled by peaceful matrilineal, matrifocal cultures in Europe and India.  I had written my undergraduate thesis on the prophets, studying their words in the original Hebrew, but I did not understand that their constant references to the Hebrew people “whoring” after “idols” and worshipping “on every high hill and under every green tree” referred to the fact that many of the Hebrew people were choosing to worship Goddesses in sacred places in nature.  Nor did I understand that the Genesis story which I had studied and taught took the sacred symbols of Goddess religion– the snake, the tree and the fruit of the tree, the female body—and turned them upside down.

(Click to read the rest of the article in Feminism and Religion.)

(Essay) Does Belief Matter? by Carol P. Christ

In recent days I have been pondering the fact that some people and some feminists seem to see the issues of religious faith and belonging to be rooted in birth, family, and community, while for others the question of belonging to a religious community hinges on belief and judgments about the power exerted by religious institutions.  What accounts for this difference in the way we view religious belonging?

Recently I watched The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholicsa film featuring Roman Catholic feminists and ethicists who dissent from the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s views on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality.  At the beginning of the film those interviewed state almost univocally that for them being Catholic stems from having been born Catholic. These Catholic dissidents continue as Catholics, even though they disagree with major portions of Roman Catholic teaching.  It may have been because they were not asked, but most of them did not name reasons of belief for remaining Catholic.

Thus the viewer did not learn the theological reasons these progressive Catholics stay in the church.  I wondered: Do they believe that salvation occurs only through Jesus as the Christ? Do they believe in original sin? How do they feel about the God of Exodus and the prophets who achieves his will through violence or the Christian doctrine of hell?  I also wanted to know how they justify being part of an institution that, as June Courage stated on these blog pages, is responsible for the deaths of women and children through its contraception and abortion policies just as surely as if it were bombing their homes in an unjust war.

I suspect that the answer these Roman Catholic theologians and ethicists would give begins something like this, “If we do not stay to challenge the church hierarchy, who would?”

I know that my answer to this question is: “I cannot.  I cannot ally myself with a church that is doing so much evil in the world, especially since I do not believe salvation comes through Christ, that the world is mired in original sin, or that the Bible sheds any particular light on the problems the world faces today.”

Of my four grandparents, two were Roman Catholic.  My recent genealogical research has revealed that three of my eight great-grandparents were Roman Catholic, while the other five were most likely descended from Huguenots.  Huguenots were French followers of Jean Calvin who were driven out of France in the late 1500s.  My presumed Huguenot relatives settled in Lorraine and Saarland in the Palatinate, in Belgium before moving on to Sweden, and in Mecklenberg, Germany, with another branch of them stopping briefly in Holland and England before moving to the British Colonies in America in the early 1600s.

Huguenot Calvinists believed in total depravity and divine predestination, doctrines I find repugnant.  But they also believed in a more direct relationship between God and the individual than their Catholic forebears.  They put their “belief” before birth, family, and community.  They were willing to distance themselves from family and even to uproot themselves from the places of their birth, because of their beliefs.*

In this I am their heir. I have followed my own inner light and in so doing have cut myself off from home, family, and community.  Belief and following my own inner authority are important to me.  I do not believe in original sin or salvation through Christ, and I find too much to disagree with in the Bible to ally myself with it.  My choices have sometimes felt lonely. But they are the only choices that I in conscience could make.

I wonder if there is a Huguenot temperament or a Huguenot gene** that I have inherited. If so, it is a gene or temperament that finds it difficult to compromise belief or to ally oneself with religious institutions with which one disagrees.

*Thanks to Cristina Nevans for a conversation that helped me to clarify which aspect of the Huguenot story I identify with.

**I do not mean there is a gene that creates Huguenots, but rather suggest that there may be enculturated or inherited tendencies to be uncompromising, to look for certain kinds of clarity, or to be unwilling to defer to authority.

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS.  Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.

This essay was originally published in Feminism and Religion

(Essay) Forgiveness or Truth: Which Is the Best Remedy? by Carol P. Christ

What happened to you really was bad. This should not happen to any child. It should not have happened to you.

In our culture there is often a rush to forgiveness that precedes acknowledging the harm that has been done. When I was a child and my father yelled at me or withheld love, I was told by mother, “He really does love you. He just does not know how to show it.” She sometimes added, “Even though he will never say he is sorry, you should forgive your father, because he did not really mean what he said.”

As a child I “learned my lesson well.” I came to the conclusion that women must “read between the lines” of the behavior and words of men, because men cannot and do not express their true feelings. This “lesson” did not serve me well in my life. Quite the opposite. When I loved a man and he did not treat me well, I remembered my mother’s words. “He does love me,” I told myself, “he just doesn’t know how to show it.” My mother passed on a very good recipe for accepting abuse.

“Hold on,” I can hear you thinking, “Your mother was only trying to protect you.” Of course she was, but her words had exactly the opposite effect. Instead of helping me to deal with life, my mother’s words confused me. My mother taught me that where men are concerned the word “love” does not have its ordinary meaning, the one I learned from her love for me. Where men are concerned “love” is complicated and mysterious: what does not look or feel like love really is love. Sorry Mom, but that was bullshit! I know you wanted me to find love and happiness and were often puzzled when I didn’t. You wondered if it was anything you did. Despite your best intentions, it was something you did.

breaking-down-wall-silence-liberating-experience-facing-painful-alice-miller-paperback-cover-artPsychoanalyst Alice Miller was in her sixties when she finally recognized the truth that set her free. In Breaking Down the Wall of Silence, she writes of “the liberating experience of facing painful truth.” She states that not only parents but also therapists and religious leaders are all too often afraid of facing painful truth. What is the truth they are afraid of facing? In my family it was simply this: “No father should treat his children like that. Your father should not treat you like that.” If I had heard these words, Miller explains, it would have been painful. But it would have been the truth. It would have been difficult for me to accept that at times my father really was abusive and cruel. It might have been even more painful for my mother to acknowledge that her husband really was abusive and cruel to her children. But the alternative was more painful and in its own way more abusive and cruel.

Where is the abuse in being told a “white lie” about abuse? The child who is told a lie about the pain she is experiencing is being told to suppress her feelings. She is being told that her valid feelings that “this hurts” and “this should not be happening to me,” are wrong and cannot be acknowledged or expressed. In other words “feeling your own feelings” is not OK. If all or most children are raised not to feel their own feelings, it is no wonder that adults who have been raised not to feel their own feelings continue to be afraid to face painful truths. We allow ourselves and those around us to be abused and then we cover abuse up with white lies. Alice Miller asks:

“Why should I forgive, when no one is asking me to? I mean, my parents refuse to understand and to know what they did to me. … [My forgiveness] doesn’t help my parents to see the truth. But it does prevent me from experiencing my feelings, the feelings that would give me access to the truth.”

Alice Miller was in her sixties when she finally discovered that “The truth about childhood, as many of us have had to endure it, is inconceivable, scandalous, painful.” She was not talking only about sexual and physical abuse—which we now know are rampant. She was also talking about a kind of psychological abuse that is even more widespread: parents who expect their children to do as they are told and not to do what they feel like doing are abusing their children. These children are being taught to suppress their feelings in order to please their parents. Often the feelings that are being suppressed are not even anger or resentment but simple joy and excitement about life.

I was in my forties when I began to understand this. I often thought that since I was rarely hit (though often spanked) and never sexually abused, nothing “really bad” ever happened to me. I now understand that being told not to express my feelings but to suppress them so that I would not upset my father or other adults really was abuse. It is no wonder that my feelings were a mystery to me as an adult and that it took years of therapy before I began to experience and trust them.

After my mother died, she came to me in a dream that had the force of revelation. In it she acknowledged the painful truth of my childhood and my brothers’ childhoods. She asked for my forgiveness and warned me never to love a man so much that I would allow myself to deny the harm he is doing to others. In my dream I thanked my mother for finally telling me the truth, and I did forgive her. As for my father, I do not hate him, in fact I wish him well. But I do not forgive him for something he has never acknowledged he did. This is the painful truth of my life.

As a teacher and as a friend, I hear and have heard many stories of abuse. My response is to look the person telling me the story in the eye, take her hand, and to say these simple words: What happened to you really was bad. This should not happen to any child. It should not have happened to you.

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute

This essay was originally published in Feminism and Religion (http://feminismandreligion.com/2012/03/05/forgiveness-or-truth-which-is-the-best-remedy-by-carol-p-christ/)

(Essay) Goddess as Love: From Experience To Thealogy by Carol P. Christ

If theology is rooted in experience, how do we move from experience to theology? In my life there have been a number of key moments of “revelation” that have shaped my thealogy. One of these was the moment of my mother’s death.

In 1991 my mother was diagnosed with cancer. While she was being treated, I realized that I had never loved anyone as much as I loved her. When I wrote that to her, she responded that “this was the nicest letter” she “had ever received” in her life and she invited me to come home to be with her and my Dad.

My mother died only a few weeks after I arrived, in her own bed as she wished. She was on an oxygen machine, and I heard her call out in the dark of early morning. When my Dad got to the room, he tried to turn up the oxygen, but it didn’t help. Then he called the doctor who reminded him that my mother did not want to go to the hospital under any circumstances.

My Dad then sat by my mother’s bed and held her hand.  As my mother died, I felt that the room was” filled with love.” I sensed that my mother was “going to love.”

Before that moment, I had often felt that I was not loved enough. These feelings intensified whenever my love affairs broke up. I would feel helpless and abandoned and could think only that “no one loves me, no one will ever love me, I might as well die.” Although my life continues to have its ups and downs, and I still have not found my “true love,” from the moment when the room filled with love as my mother died to this, I have never doubted I am loved.

Prior to my mother’s death I was also unsure of who or what I thought the Goddess is.  I was sure that God did not “act in history,” a  view I had adopted from Gerhard Von Rad’s biblical theology while in college and abandoned while writing my dissertation on the holocaust.  I had grown up with the notion that God is love, and I had also experienced the presence of God in nature, a view largely denied by my theology professors and theologians of the twentieth century.  I turned to the Goddess because she is a woman like myself and also because she represented the life-force in nature and its seasons and cycles.  But I was not sure if Goddess is a personal presence who loves and understands or the life force itself.  Because of this uncertainty, I had been unable to complete my Goddess thealogy.  After my mother died, I came to understand Goddess as “the intelligent embodied love that is the ground of all being.”

The experience I had as my mother died did not come with any words except “filled with love” and “going to love.” I did not feel Goddess loves me or God loves me or that my mother was loved by Goddess or God. I also did not feel that my mother was entering into eternal life. I simply felt the palpable presence of love in the room as she died.

Reflecting on this experience, I came to the conclusion that Goddess is love. This is not primarily an intellectual interpretation of my experience of my mother’s death, though it is that as well. Most importantly, it is a feeling that permeates my daily life which was made possible by the experience I had when my mother died. I feel the Goddess as a presence who understands and loves me and the whole world. I feel that love is everywhere and that, as Alice Walker’s Shug told Celie, everything wants to be loved.

I recognize that the power I call Goddess may also be called God. However, the word God is too bound up with images of war, violence, and domination for me to feel comfortable using it in my prayers and meditations. I acknowledge that I have had troubled relationships with my father and fathers, while in contrast my relationships with my mother and grandmothers were full of love. This makes it easy for me to imagine the loving arms of Goddess embracing the world.

This is an excerpt of a draft of a book I am writing with Judith Plaskow, tentatively titled Goddess and God After Feminism: Body, Nature, and Power.

Carol P. Christ, a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement, has been active in peace and justice movements all of her adult life.  She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute

(This was first published in: http://feminismandreligion.com/2012/09/24/goddess-as-love-from-experience-to-thealogy-by-carol-p-christ/)