January 12, 2011


One of my favorite writers on women’s issues is Barbara G. Walker the authoritative author of “Myths and Secrets,” a huge tome of information on women’s mythology, anthropology, religion and sexuality which took 25 years to complete. Her writings are full of pithy information. She points out, for example, that early Christian authorities rejected the institution of marriage, thinking it a misguided carry-over from Goddess-oriented religions. St. Augustine, St. Jerome and St. Ambrose declared marriage a sin. (“A Short History of Marriage,printed in “Freethought Today” pg. 14, Nov. 2008) and railed against the institution. What’s more, Walker reminds us that marriage has no meaning in heaven (Matthew 22:30 and Mark 12:25). In conclusion, she writes:

          ” For many centuries therefore, marriage remained outside the church under the auspices of common law.”

Given the history of the institution (and, I hope, without stepping on too many toes) I have to wonder why so much argument exists today about the definition of marriage. Its original intent under common law was to settle property between families. In some parts of the world where dowries prevail, one could argue it still is.  

Given the history of languages (etymology) scholars tell us the true definition of a word doesn’t exist as its meaning is always changing – some even develop diverse interpretations. lrshad Manji in her book, “The Trouble with Islam” writes that in ancient Aramaic the word for virgin and raisin was the same — which leads to a certain ambiguity in the case of martyrdom. In heaven does one receive 70 virgins or 70 raisins for blowing oneself up in a crowded market place? Another writer complains the disparity is meant to apply to the sex of the martyr.

           “Now do you understand why I got frustrated with the Muslim paradise?  There was no promise of hunks!  Nothing!

           … Do you know what we women got promised?  We got grapes, Grapes!” (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, speech printed in December “Freethought Today” pg. 13)

What I wish to emphasize here is what we already know: languages are fluid. Meaning shouldn’t be hardened and used to divide us. Humanity is greater than its etymology. We would do better to listen to our hearts rather than to our words.