Archive for March, 2013

Hey wait a minute…

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

That sounds kind of familiar.  In my perusing of our readings I thumbed across Humanae Vitae and Pope John Paul II’s words on the human body.  I read on to find myself experiencing a sort of deja vu.  In the words of the pope himself “the body is the very oldest sacrament, instituted by God at the dawn of creation.”  The body is apparently the “primordial sacrament.”  What an incredible emphasis on a corporeal object.  It was my understanding that Christian peoples looked to more abstract ideals like salvation or grace. How interesting that the Pope stresses the importance of Christians’ physical manifestations.  The deja vu stems from hearing about this emphasis on the body from an earlier culture.  Ancient Rome.  I often forget about the influence ancient Rome and Hellenism had on current Catholicism.

Your average Roman wrestler.


Ancient  Rome was hell bent on citizens with good health.  Healthy athletes were admired, and most boys were pushed into some form of physical activity or another.  not only does this attitude funnel into muscular Christianity, but Christianity’s focus on the physical body in general.

Oh indeed, Christians other than Catholics emphasized a pure and healthy body.  Though they may try to disguise it with PSAs about the potential fatality of drugs and alcohol, but I believe what Christianity is doing echoes the views of the Holy Roman Empire.

Genocide, sterilization, and procreation all rolled into one.

Monday, March 25th, 2013

During the 1970’s a variety of movements came to a head surrounding birth control and contraceptives.  The Catholic Church as well as the Black Nationalist movement came out against these so called methods of birth control.  Though for completely different reasons, these two organizations, an unlikely pair, created quite the national debate surrounding the use of contraceptives and the notions of procreation.  For the Catholic Church in the reading Humanae Vitae the use of contraceptives raised questions of morality and the nature of procreation.  In Humanae Vitae the Pope had undertones of accepting the nature of the human sexuality, while he was also  making a far stretched cry against certain technologies.  The Pope stated, “If we can make it, does that mean we should do it?”  This question, later followed by commentary regarding the nature of in vitro fertilization raised an important moral debate within myself.  I could not help but think of the development of certain types of weapons that have done very little good to help the world.  But more of a contemporary example, and one that I deeply believe will become more of a national issue is physician assisted suicide.  The same commentary made about birth control is being made against those choosing aided suicide.  The commentators state that it will be a death panel, that the poor will use this more, and your dear old little grandma wont have a chance once the grandsons have their way.

However, it has been to quite the contrary has occurred.  Most of the patients using physician assisted suicide are middle and upper class white males choosing to end their suffering from a prolonged struggle with cancer or other illnesses.  Thus why do I draw this parallel, I do this to show how even to this day though the debate has changed to a certain degree away from genocidal commentary in the black community the vast majority of commentators will still fear a new medicinal development as long as it deals with the true nature of birth and death and deciding if and when they occur.  In the Theology of the Body by Paula Jean Miller she raised an interesting question that  “will scientific advance make us more human?”  Will humanity progress or regress in true humanness?'”  I draw upon this question to show that the Catholic Church when it began to feel as if it was loosing the fight on abortion and contraceptives changed its tone to be clear- though medicine may change, the authority of the church will remain absolute on issues of marriage and procreation.  As seen in the ‘heterosexual’ lifestyle, sex was not limited to exclusive procreation due to the nature of the development of contraceptives.  Thus, for the Pope to rail against the use of contraceptives and abortion became the backbone of the Catholic agenda in 1970’s America.  Roe v. Wade hit the national stage and with a bang, multiple groups began debating their notion of birth control versus genocide and sterilization as method of population control.    Though at this point the Eugenics movement was on its way out the door.

Lastly, the remaining article that I thought was of particular note was the one by MLK Advice for the Living in which Dr. King gracefully and tactfully summarized years of debate  into this neat sentence, ” natural order is given us, not as an absolute finality, but as something to be guided and controlled.”  This was in essence his argument for the use of moderate birth control.  Though later he goes on to state some anti-feminist theory I believed he did well in his one liner.  On a certain level, I believe that Dr. King was using birth control as an economist would, that typically families with one and two children are better off financially than those with three or more.  Hence, for Dr. King the use of birth control could possibly be used a method for raising the standard wealth of the African American community.

Procreation and the Human Family According to Humanae Vitae

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

In reading passages like Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae and “The Theology of the Body,” it becomes obvious that as humans, we are completely unique and separate from the rest of the animal kingdom.  As “The Theology of the Body” asserts, “God created us in God’s image with a body,” meaning that we are a means through which God visually expresses His unconditional love.   Further, the article suggests that a body is a way of visualizing what cannot be seen: the spiritual and the divine.  Finally, the article makes the comparison between the Trinity and the family.  Two persons who come together to create a child is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit; the love between husband and wife created a new life.  This mirrors the love among God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, a Trinity which acts as a model for the human family.

That being said, the Church has some rules regarding the ways in which that family acts.  While the child is an innocent in the relations between two people, the parents are responsible not only for their children but for their sexuality.  Paul VI in Humanae Vitae was very clear about the roles that the parents must fulfill, outlining what “responsible parenting” looks like and how to keep a marriage procreative. The article dictates that artificial contraception is immoral because it eliminates the procreative nature of the marriage, which, if we are comparing the human family to the Trinity, goes against the godly state of a marriage.

What I found interesting, however, is that women are noticeably absent from Paul VI’s testimony.  Women are only mentioned a couple times, mostly in argument against contraception: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”  While I think the Pope meant to elevate women to the position of an equal partner in a marriage by arguing against her degradation to a mere object, what about the reverence of a woman towards a man?  Television ads for birth control seem to try to sell their product with the perk of “sexual freedom.” A woman on birth control can do whatever (or whoever) she wants without the consequence of pregnancy.  Doesn’t this render men as mere objects too?  I think this passage lends to the continued impression that women are “vessels.”  A man can use a woman because she is a receptacle for his sexual desires and drive.  A woman, it seems, cannot use a man in the same way.

I was further confused by the article’s discussion of natural family planning.  Apparently there are two ways to have sexual intercourse without the intent of a child: 1) have sex during infertile periods to allow for spacing between children, and 2) “they obstruct the natural development of the generative process” through what I assume would be artificial contraception.  The first couple uses the infertile period to engage in sex in a mutually loving way, to strengthen the marital bond, while the second couple physical takes measures to obstruct fertilization.  Both seem to be obstructions, however, one just being the lesser of two evils in the eyes of the Church.  Does the presence of artificial contraception, such as a condom, cause one instance to be worse than the other?  Like the article suggested earlier, artificial contraception would lower moral standards, possibly lead to cheating, and degrade a woman.  Is this the line that can’t be crossed?

Am I Black Or Am I A Woman?

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

This week’s readings were nice because they really came at the issue of birth control from all sides- from the point of view of white men men and women, black men and women, black feminists, white feminists, the rich and the poor, Christians, Catholics, the Black Muslims, etc. While at times it was slightly confusing to keep up with who believed what (especially because everyone’s views were constantly shifting), the readings did a good job of giving different perspectives on the issue of birth control (and I mean birth control in the most abstract sense).

For once, I believe I actually saw feminism beginning to take a true shape, probably because these readings are about what took place in the 1960s and 1970s, and it was quite a surprise that this feminist movement was divided by race, something that I had not previously thought about. One couldn’t identify as being on a certain side because of one’s gender, because it was further complicated by one’s race. Black women feminists wanted to promote birth control and a woman’s right to control her own body, but at the same time they were being fed all of these ideas, which are difficult to tell if  they are true or not, about racial genocide. It seems that black women were thrust into an awkward choice between whether to identify as a black or as a woman, even though they were both.

In regards to the Pope Paul VI’s declaration that birth control goes against the natural ideas of God, Rosemary Reuther did a very good job summing up how the decree made people more skepticle of the Pope’s power and intentions, the very thing that he was attempting to avoid by making this decree which went against the findings of the Commission. Despite the call for government officials to put these morals above all else, as seen in Humane Vitae, the American government is portrayed in An Instrument of Genocide as being more concerned with racial population than with the doctrine of the church. It is also interesting to note that within the Black Panther party, as well as some of the other black power parties, they would change their stance on birth control to better fit the demands of the party’s members.

It seems that everyone, from government officals to the Pope to the black power parties, was rapidly changing their ideas about birth control to best manipulate whatever circumstance they were in at the moment. It was about having authority and being able to keep people ineterested in one’s message, more than it was about being a moral issue.

Don’t be Such a Prude!

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

“…Redirecting female desire in inappropriate directions…”
p. 111

I am a bit obsessed with the notion that “it’s only bad if a female likes it.” Comstock’s “pornographic” (111) photographs were not in themselves taboo; it was the fact that they “redirected female desire in inappropriate directions,”
There is a magnanimous societal fear of women’s libido clearly present, even among Spiritualists. And with that comes the rise of an anti-obscenity campaign, and as with Comstock, “courts tended to prosecute the indecent or blasphemous behavior of individuals, rather than the purveyors of texts or images that represented such behavior,” (115).
It is almost as if the sinner is the recipient or viewer of the obscenity, and the creator him/herself is free of guilt or responsibility.

What is so interesting is how this idea applies to the consequences of the male vice on females. For, in this case, the male attending the brothels and sleeping with prostitutes is not guilty–the fear is not for the male himself (or the sinner himself), the fear is for the recipient of the consequences of his actions. The person creating the “sin”–the person creating the pornography, or the vice, is, somehow left out of the equation of guilt.

What’s also interesting is that, governmentally, this was an issue of control.
“The logic behind [banning representations of sexual acts] was that, in the wrong hangs, such representation might lead to–or actually produce–illicit sexual acts. In part, this view reflected a fear of the uncontrollable impulses of a newly literate working class,” (116).

This 19th century sexual fear had far more to do with class distinctions than religious morality. The issue of control had to do with controlling an educated working class. This “prudishness” was simply a means of command—a way to wrangle in the lower classes, and instill fear.

Oh Spirits where art thou?

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Spiritualism in America was seen as a significant shift in the cultural politics of the time.  Specifically, “spiritualism called into question not only the different categories of religion, but also science but also the divide between the living and the dead, giving nineteenth century Americans a unique access to the afterlife by giving them the ability to communicate with their loved ones” (McGarry 17-18).  This unique emphasis on the dead, yet not forgotten set a tone throughout the religious world and also represents a unique shift.   A key component in this shift, is that of women contrary to their male counterparts. In this case gender became extremely important to the idea of communing with the dead, the idea that women inherently were “natural,” vessels for the communion with the dead.  I think that this is a stark resemblance to the image and characteristics of mediums as of late.  Women are exotic as are mediums. The stereotypical portrayal of some gypsy woman in a trailer in the back of the woods is more alluring then some creepy male guy who thinks that he knows about your future and past.  However, bringing it back to focus, the magical aspect of the medium and her power was rooted in how this new sense of religious foundation intrigued Americans.  For example, to contact ones past spirits was “…like freezing an image on a photographic plate, the Spiritualists ghosts catching was a collapsing of time, the past preserved in the present for the future.” (McGarry 20).  There is something magical and deeply significant about the spiritualism in the nineteenth century.  It takes a significant step away from the predominantly white protestant Christian approach to how people view “religion,” and how people practice their spirituality in a significantly different way, by communing with the dead–most notably their loved ones.

Image Reference:

Theirrrr Hereeeeee!!

Thursday, March 21st, 2013


After reading the back cover of Molly McGarry’s book Ghost of Futures Past, I thought I was going to be reading accounts of people huddled around a circle, performing a séance or accounts of witnessing books fly across the room. Something along these lines…


Instead I was confronted with words like…

~Spiritualist Feminism

~Religion of Proof


~Spiritual Manifestations among the Indians

~Free Love and Hysteria

So what do all theses things have in common? Women of course. White women. These women were able to use Spiritualism as a conduit to not only “speak to the past”, but use the relationship to bring forth answers to the present.  During a time when women were confined to the domestic sphere they were able to use the home and spiritualism as a way to refom society.

In class the idea of Science came bubbling up. How do you define science in relation to Spiritualism? Just as the movie Poltergist used te television as a way for the “other side” to speak to the family so to did the technology of the 1800’s become a way for the spirits to communicate. As an example, the Spiritualist used knocking as a way to communicate with ‘ghost’ which is just like the telegram comunication system.

Don’t Go Pitching A Hissy Fit

Thursday, March 21st, 2013


Ever since Adam and Eve, men have been blaming woman for pretty much everything. After all, how can you trust something that bleeds for 7 days and doesn’t die? The doctors in Ghosts of Futures Past not only blamed women for everything, but tried to justify their blame scientifically. If they weren’t weak to begin with, they wouldn’t be susceptible to spirits attempting to speak through them. It all starts in the uterus-and Utromania was an “epidemic” among American women. If you’re uterus is tilted you are all kinds of capable of going insane. Any variation from the “norm” established for women meant that she had a “wandering of a restless womb from it’s normal position in the body” It couldn’t mean that women were just trying break the repression they were enduring caused by men, religion, and society as a whole – they were “hysterical“. 734325_460417237360435_775420568_nI’m with Smith-Rosenberg – I’m sure women often displayed symptoms of hysteria in order to take to their bed to escape docility and subordination to men as their own way to indirectly bucking the patriarchal system set up in American middle-class society. Fits of hysteria not only allowed the women to obtain the rest needed from the stress of their lives but it allowed them to feel as if they had some sort of control of their lives. Can you blame them? I’ve been known to throw a hissy fit or two in my day to prove my point. It works like a charm.

Here Comes the Ghost, doo doo doo doo :)

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

In Ghosts of Futures Past, Molly McGarry touches on several things that “struck my fancy,” so to speak. A brief list of these may include the following:

-Mediums channeling those of other sexes/genders, and the complications thereof

-“Free love” and how it upset the “moral hierarchical order” of man-woman marriage—who knew the turn of the century marked the first hippie era?! (Just kidding—I know it’s not parallel, but the terminology made me laugh.

-The “science” behind the “hysterical” woman—and the sexualization thereof

-Phrenology (I’ve just always thought it was cool), and

-Walt Whitman!


Of all of these subjects of interest, however, I found the section concerning Walt Whitman to be the most compelling. It is no surprise to me that one of America’s earliest poetic geniuses, who arguably created all-new forms of dealing with language, was also interested in the occult and wished to channel other’s souls. In fact, as the general public became more comfortable with and receptive to spiritualism, such instruments of spiritualistic “tinkering,” such as Ouija Boards, landed on the market. Spiritualism had officially become marketable, and the American public readily consumed.

Ouija Board and “Spirit”

*Side note: I still think it is really weird that Ouija boards are sold at Toys R Us, right next to Apples to Apples and Monopoly…as if they try to serve the same purposes in terms of entertainment…

This fascination with otherworldly or spiritual means of communication became somewhat of a motif throughout the 1900s, actually; some other major artists who exhibit similar interest and dedication in spiritual efforts include Madonna, who dabbled in Kabbalah (much to the fury and/or excitement of Jews worldwide), and my beloved Beatle, George Harrison.

George Harrison <3

Both Whitman and Harrison made spiritual beings integral to their lives and their art; however, Whitman’s efforts in the matter were, of course, complicated by the fact that he was gay. This is where phrenology sailed in to “save the day,” by justifying Whitman’s love for and commitment/connection to other men as biologically-based; it was literally “all in his head.” As we talked about last class, biology served to “prove” (read: assuage) certain aspects of American society that were “undesirable”; in doing so, it provided evidence for racism, sexism, etc. As we can see from the image below, sometimes we still see vestigial signs of this phenomenon:

“You’re just a woman with a tiny brain, a brain 1/3 the size of a man’s. It’s science.” -Ron Burgundy

So basically, “Anchor Man” aside, I have a lot to talk about in class today…

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

The emergence of new ideologies and backlash of old ones is noting new, but at the time of the Spiritualist movement, the backlash was expressed in different ways then previously. People responded by looking to secular (in the sense that they were not formally part of the churches) experts. They medically examined the mediums and looked for evidence of technologically perpetrated fraud, as well as well as diagnosing them with psychological disorders such as hysteria. The psychological justifications are especially interesting, as it shows the emergence of a whole new system being used to perpetuate social norms. Of course, sciences were also influenced by, used to support,and influenced the emerging systems. Pretty much all beliefs use sciences to support themselves in one way or another, and science will always at least partially reflect our preexisting “unscientific” beliefs and attitudes.