presently experiencing a transitional stage. What are your thoughts on this?
RIANE: Love has been one of the most abused and co-opted terms in dominator culture. It’s interesting you use the word fraternal, as we are used to being so very male-centered. You know, fraternal is brotherhood. I think that even our language has conspired against us, because it’s been a language that, to a very large extent, came out of a dominator or androcratic system. So I always make the point that what we’re talking about is really sisterly and brotherly love.
RMN: I was thinking more in terms of like fraternal twins.
RIANE: It’s very difficult. David and I deal with that in The Partnership Way, the new book we’ve written together in response to the many people who asked for tools to help accelerate the shift from a dominator to a partnership world. It’s very hard, because we’re all so used to dominator language. But part of our new consciousness for the twenty-first century is to free ourselves from the traps of that dominator language, so we don’t, for example, continue to say “mankind” or “he,” rather than “she or he.” To get away from always the male in front, I have started to put “she” in front, rather than “he or she.” Until we develop a gender inclusive pronoun. DAVID L: Yes, that’s a good example of what’s going on in people’s minds when they’re captives of a dominator system. In other words, you have this false dichotomy between eros and agape. You have this idea that sex, eros, lust–all that is bad. And there is this more lofty, more saintly, more spiritual alternative, which is tied up with brotherhood and the love of humanity. This false dichotomy opens the way for pornography and many other bad things that keep us trapped. The hope for the twenty-first century is not to have a dichotomy between the two, but rather a good working relationship. In other words, an enjoyment of the fact that we have a body that has sexual identity, sexual capacities, a body and spirit that can relate to other people, either sexually, or in other forms of love, other forms of linking.
RMN: Right…well you’ve already anticipated the next question.
RIANE: I’d like to stay with that question a minute. When I was talking about the word fraternal, I was also going to make the point that when we think of brotherly love, fraternal love, which is the way agape has been conventionally defined, we say that’s good. But that’s love between men. That’s the semantic implication of it. It implies that erotic love, the kind of love that is characteristic of the relationship between women and men, is inferior. In line with what David is saying, I agree that that is a false dichotomy. If we go back and look at earlier partnership-oriented societies, we see that they do not make that spurious distinction that we have been taught to make between the spiritual and the natural, between spirit and nature. In their iconography, nature is sacred. Now that’s one of the biggest lessons for us, in terms of ecological consciousness. Because if we don’t understand that the earth, the sky, the world, is sacred, that there is something askew about this myth of man and spirituality being above woman and nature, we’re just going to keep destroying our planet. This is part of the dominator problem. I also believe that agape can in fact be a very important component in sexual love, in the sense of our bondedness, of our connectedness. So it isn’t like here’s one category, and there’s another category. I think some of the trends we’re seeing today, where women and men are becoming loving friends to each other, as well as sexual partners, these are very important partnership trends. It used to be that, if you’re a man, you have a wife who takes care of your household, you have a mistress with whom you have sex, and you have friends who are men. That whole schizophrenic thing is changing, so that there’s truly friendship between women and men more as the norm. I see that as part of the movement toward integration, toward wholeness, towards healing and partnership.
RMN: Religion and sexuality have often been united in many pagan cultures-the Celts, Babylonians, the art of Tantra all combined religious and sexual ecstasy. Since then religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism have all attempted to separate the two-with often disastrous pathological effects. How do you see religion and sexuality co-evolving in the future?
RIANE: I believe that some of the things that you see in Tantra are rooted in this more partnership-oriented early spirituality, but they got very distorted. What I’m saying is that, again, I don’t see a fundamental split between Eastern and Western. I see that most world religions today represent degrees of dominator overlay, covering and often distorting a partnership core. Of course, in the fundamentalist Christian and Moslem sects, it’s horrendous. Whatever partnership core of spirituality was left is practically non-existent, because it’s so encrusted, so crudded up by this dominator overlay. Like the attitude that sex and woman are inherently evil and dangerous. That is a complete reversal of the earlier belief system, where woman and sexuality were central. What was celebrated in the earlier more partnership-oriented religion was the power to give life, to sustain life, to enhance life, to give pleasure, rather than pain. It was recognized that we all die, and the so-called “chtonic” or underground aspect of the Goddess was therefore also recognized, as these people believed that all of life came from the womb of the Goddess (the Earth), to then at death (like the cycles of vegetation) again return to her womb to be reborn. For example, in the Paleolithic, people worshipped in caves, which were symbols of the return to the womb, and there were I am sure important rites relating to this great mystery of birth, sex, death, and, in terms of their belief system, rebirth. I should add that these people understood that it takes both the female and the male to give life–in other words that they understood and appreciated the role of sex as part of the life force. For example, in Catal Huyuk (the largest early agrarian or Neolithic site discovered to date) there is a sculpture of a woman and a man embracing, and right next to them, a woman with a child–the product of their union. I mention this, because there are still people who believe that the moment that men discovered they also had life-giving powers, they were such brutes that they immediately enslaved women, and that this is how the shift to male dominant societies happened. (Of course that is really a dominator assumption about human nature, particularly male nature, that we are inherently evil.) In relation to your question about religion and sexuality co-evolving in the future, I think that it is not coincidental that there is today so much interest in mystical religions. Because the way I look at mystical traditions is partly as remnants of the earlier more partnership-oriented religion, where sex and women were revered. But then a very sad thing happened. The original intent probably was forgotten, and, as in Tantric yoga (where female sexuality is still seen as the source of mystical illumination), these mystical religions also became very male centered–and thus distorted. Now our job in developing a truly new consciousness, a new spirituality for the twenty-first century, is to clarify that, to understand that even the mystical traditions are out of balance, to restore that balance and get back to the hidden partnership core. And we now have the archeological data to help us do this, and that’s tremendously exciting. I think that it is a mistake to say, “The Eastern is terrific, and the Western is bad.” If we are going to have a partnership consciousness in the twenty-first century, we have to unravel and reweave just about everything.
DAVID L: A new book I’m working on deals with a crucial aspect of this consciousness, moral sensitivity. I believe it sheds light on this basic question about the separation of religion and sex, spirit and nature. I’m taking a new look at the founders of the scientific study of moral sensitivity-Immanuel Kant, Marx, Engels, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, moving into current times, including the key work of Carol Gilligan, Marija Gimbutas, and Riane bearing on moral sensitivity. Out of this is emerging a new theory of moral sensitivity as an organic process. In other words, moral sensitivity has mainly been seen in terms of socialization, or conditioning-something imposed upon this lower organism. We are seen as animals who have to be stuffed with this moral sensitivity which comes from some higher mysticism. What I’m showing is that moral sensitivity arises out of the organism, developing through evolution. What I’m convinced will be part of the consciousness of the twenty-first century is this understanding that morality, that moral sensitivity, is not an “add-on.” It develops out of nature. It also has sexual roots. Freud actually had this insight, but typically, as a captive of the dominator system, he and his insight were completely screwed up and distorted–the whole Oedipus complex thing, the primal hoard, killing of the father, and so on.
RIANE: I think that if we talk about sexuality, the Oedipus complex, we see that Freud very accurately described the dominator psyche–or rather, the male dominator psyche. Unfortunately he went around saying it’s the human psyche, and people believed him. Now we’re moving away from that. Maslow and a lot of feminist psychologists emphasize human growth needs, not so much what Maslow called defense needs. And believe me, in a dominator system defense needs are central. It’s constructed so that there is constant war, even