Sunday, May 21, 2006

Freeing the Magdalene

If anything good is to come from the hype surround the movie version of the "Da Vinci Code," it is perhaps the mystery that surrounds the life of Mary of Magadala, who was arguably the most important disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. Although the movie reduces the importance of the Magdalene to her role as a breeder, the movie's release has given others the opportunity to delve deeper.

In "An Inconvenient Woman," Newsweek's Jonathan Darman, together with collaborator Anne Underwood, offer, in this week's cover story, a succinct yet substantive history of the myth of Mary Magdalene, even as they explore possible historical truths.

"The Da Vinci Code" seems to think that the secret tradition of Mary Magdalene speaks to the carnal. In reality, it tells of something far more subversive: the intellectual equality of the sexes. The current Magdalene cult still focuses on her sexuality even though no early Christian writings speak of her sexuality at all. "Why do we feel the need to resexualize Mary?" wonders Karen King, author of "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala.""We've gotten rid of the myth of the prostitute. Now there's this move to see her as wife and mother. Why isn't it adequate to see her as disciple and perhaps apostle?"


Brown's mistake is understandable. Sex sells in our time, as it did in Gregory's, and probably Jesus', too. Mary remains a prisoner, a mistaken creature of sex. History may yet set her free. There are still undiscovered gospels sitting in unknown deserts or on unknown library shelves. Scholars say it is only a matter of time before some of them surface and upend our notions of Mary and Jesus once again.
Great work.


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Religious left missing forest for trees

This week, the newly formed Network of Spiritual Progressives met in Washington, D.C., to share insights among members and to eke out something like an agenda, according to Neela Banerjee of The New York Times:

[A]t a session on ethical behavior, including sexual behavior, the 50 or so activists talked little about what to tell Congress about abortion or same-sex marriage. Instead, the Rev. Ama Zenya of First Congregational Church in Oakland, Calif., urged them to talk to one another about their spiritual values and "to practice fully our authentic being."

Kimberly Crichton, a Washington lawyer and Quaker, grew impatient. "I think we would be more effective if we focused on specific legislation," Ms. Crichton said. "Are we going to discuss specific policies?"

Ms. Zenya replied: "What we envisioned this time is saying we are a religious voice. More relationship-building, consciousness-raising."

The man in the pew in front of Ms. Crichton translated: "The answer is, no."
Your blogstress humbly suggests that what is missing from this equation is an organizing philosophy, one that would allow the participating members to assess each issue to arrive at a policy agenda. Your Ă©crivaine herewith deigns to direct the attention of progressive people of faith to perhaps the most spiritually sound philosophical treatise to emerge in quite some time -- don't let its secularity fool you: Michael Tomasky's essay on where the Democrats need to go in order to find themselves and get a life. Tomasky has articulated a strong argument, urging Democrats to reorient their perspective and rhetoric to the notion of the common good.From The American Prospect:
The common good is common sense, and the historical time is right for it, for two reasons. First, what I’m trying to describe here is post-ideological in the best sense, a sense that could have broader appeal than what we normally think of as liberal ideology, because what’s at the core of this worldview isn’t ideology. It’s something more innately human: faith. Not religious faith. Faith in America and its potential to do good; faith that we can build a civic sphere in which engagement and deliberation lead to good and rational outcomes; and faith that citizens might once again reciprocally recognize, as they did in the era of Democratic dominance...
This makes sense on a number of levels, thinks your net-tĂȘte, not least of which is the fact that it is an ethically sublime way of assessing the work of politics. It's also shrewd electoral strategy, since many of the priorities long associated with Democrats -- a social safety net, for example -- are shared by rank-and-file conservative evangelicals, even if those who claim to speak for them would leave one to believe otherwise.


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