Armstrong's book is indeed short. It's a small book and only 149 pages. I was able to read it in just three evenings in bed right before sleep. ArmstrArmstrong's book is indeed short. It's a small book and only 149 pages. I was able to read it in just three evenings in bed right before sleep. Armstrong's book is a mass market book. Which is fantastic, in that it's highly readable. However, the academic in me was on bullshit-alert throughout. There are very few citations in the book (108 endnotes over 149 pages). And as I read, I was a little anxious about the broad generalizations Armstrong was making that seemed (a) almost impossible to prove due to their global character, and (b) likely to provoke many disagreements over the reading of mythological history. I don't mind that her readings might be considered controversial to some, but the academic in me always wants some kind of evidence for controversial claims. And often, she provided none.
That said, this book would probably be pretty uncontroversial among many Pagans and Goddess worshippers. Hard polytheist Pagans would probably be upset by this book, as Armstrong rightly points out that conceiving of Gods and Goddesses as beings with distinct personalities and mythological stories as literally true is a very recent phenomena. Thus, those that claim to be "reconstructing" the old religion are actually creating a very new, very contemporary religion. Ironically, it's the soft polytheists, who see myths as revelatory of "truths" about what it is to live a human life, who are most similar to ancient Pagans in their beliefs. And it's this soft polytheist position that Armstrong seems to write from.
Additionally, Armstrong makes the argument that Goddess worship came first, as females are the life-givers. Only after a number of technological advancements and civilizational changes does the idea of a male-centric mythology find some traction. The picture she paints of the shift to male gods (and therefore male supremacy) is a tragic one and the axial religions, as she presents them, are seen as problematic in that they get in the way of our ability to understand ourselves in interrelation with the world and other beings. This isolation we experience is further compounded by the rise of scientism. Until finally, we end up in a dead world, treated as though it's expendable and meant to be dominated by human desire. The shift that takes place with the axial religions, compounded by scientism, results in the widespread environmental destruction we're experiencing and the precarious future we've made for ourselves.
Armstrong argues that we need to rediscover myth in order to live a more fully human life in balance with all of the other forms of life in this world. She writes,
"We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those that belong to our ethnic, national, or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the [E]arth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a 'resource'. This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet" (136-137).
And here, I'm inclined to agree with Armstrong. I see the modern Pagan movement (with the exception of the "reconstructionists") as taking up this project of myth making. Making myths that encourage social and environmental justice, reverence for the Earth, for difference, for love and other humanist, Earth-centered values. And so, while not explicitly Pagan, this book is compatible with the Pagan project. And for that reason, Pagans and other Earth-based groups may find this book both enjoyable and useful....more
Thoroughly disturbing book. Displays the vicious and inhuman racism of the south prior to 1950. Extremely unsettling to look at, but very useful as aThoroughly disturbing book. Displays the vicious and inhuman racism of the south prior to 1950. Extremely unsettling to look at, but very useful as a teaching resource, esp. for classes with younger college students who may be unaware of the commonness of horrendous racial violence in the South. The postcard images esp. drive this point home. A useful but chilling book....more
When I read this, I wasn't in a very skeptical place, so I took a lot of it at face value. After reading some of the other reviews on Goodreads, I thiWhen I read this, I wasn't in a very skeptical place, so I took a lot of it at face value. After reading some of the other reviews on Goodreads, I think perhaps that wasn't the right thing to do. However, it's been years since I read this book and I don't remember many of the myths or secrets covered in the book. What I do remember is feeling a sort of enchantment reading the pages--feeling as if another world was out there that I had not before encountered. And, if for no other reason, I think this is an important book. Perhaps Walker's facts aren't quite right. I don't have the expertise to know one way or the other. What I do know, is that this is a fantastic book for young women looking for examples (mythological or not) of strong women, immanent power, and the healing, life-affirming, worldly pagan principles. And since, for many pagans, myths and other stories we tell are important for their meaning--with less concern for literal truth or factual accuracy--I'm relatively untroubled by the controversial nature of Walker's book....more
This book is made up of small snippets of UU writings from ancient times forward. I found it generally unsatisfying, as the pieces were so small thatThis book is made up of small snippets of UU writings from ancient times forward. I found it generally unsatisfying, as the pieces were so small that there wasn't much substance to them. I would much prefer a large, multi-volume set of books that cover a wide range of thinkers that have influenced the UU faith to this short collection....more
I like what Feagin is trying to do in this book (or, at least what I think he is trying to do in this book). However, I wasn't impressed with the actuI like what Feagin is trying to do in this book (or, at least what I think he is trying to do in this book). However, I wasn't impressed with the actual book itself. In Systemic Racism, Feagin attempts to synthesize the structural, ideological, and cognitive explanations of the continuation of white supremacy in America. He tries to offer an overarching theoretical account of the three explanations, which he calls the systemic racism account. Once he describes what this account entails, her turns to surveys, interviews, and journals for three phases of American racism (slavery, legal segregation, and contemporary racism). He rightly points out that there are important and substantial similarities in outcomes for whites and blacks across these three eras. He also rightly wants to keep whites on the hook for perpetuating racist outcomes in America. However, there are a number of problems with this book. First, is that nothing that is being said here isn't said better already somewhere else. His explanations of structural racism and ideologies of race are weak, and as such the book gets off to a weak start. Lipsitz's Possessive Investment in Whiteness/How Racism Takes Place would be better for structural accounts. Second, the analysis of whites and blacks' views on the effects of racism in America has little connection to the structural and ideological arguments in the book. They are all personal anecdotes with no reference to common themes among responses. I an sure there probably were common themes and experiences in respondents answers, and Feagin should have teased those out to be compatible with the structural/ideological aspects of his argument. Bonilla-Silva does a wonderful job of this in his Racism without Racists. Third, his account of whites is monolithic. All whites are the same and all of their racial attitudes are white supremacist. While I agree that all whites have internalized white supremacist ideology, I also believe that whites have internalized egalitarian beliefs. Whites harbor contradictory beliefs about race and racism and it's those contradictions that are interesting to me. Feagin dismisses the contradictions as whites engaging in socially desirable responding to hide their "real" beliefs on race. Finally, Feagin would do well to read Marable's The Great Wells of Democracy for an example of the kind of writing that can enlighten white young people encountering these ideas for the first time and create the space for them to become active agents in the quest for racial justice. Feagin writes for people who agree with him. I happen to be a person who agrees with a lot of what he says, but as someone looking for texts on race to teach, I found myself thinking about how alienating his work could be to some students. There is no reason that we cannot hold white people accountable for perpetuating racial injustice, and simultaneously recognize the tiny minority of whites engaged in social justice work. To inspire white students to take up this cause, we have to say that the cause is not already doomed from the outset. We have to say that "yes, for the vast majority of our history and population, white supremacy is the name of the game. However, there are other ways of being. We have these examples. What kind of white person do you want to be?" If he had done a more thorough job of explaining the structural and ideological aspects, if he had not painted the picture of all whites as necessarily and unconflictingly white supremacist, he could have created the opportunity for critical reflection and the adoption of an anti-racist white identity. One shouldn't coddle white people or deny their culpability in white supremacy--however, one must create the space for a rejection of white supremacy if one wants young people to take up social justice work. I felt like Feagin failed in this respect....more