Book Review: Beasts of Burden by Sunaura Taylor

This book was an eye-opener. This is, so far, the only Disability Liberation work I’ve ever read. I brought a lot of biases and assumptions to the table and am leaving with a greater understanding of my ableism–including within how I conducted my animal rights advocacy. Ableism and carnism and patriarchy and racism and sexism and speciesism are linked. I knew that. But they are linked in such a way that even fighting against one can undermine the fight against another. It will take careful practice and awareness on my part moving forward.

I’ve already posted once about this book with some quotes I archived here so that I can refer back to them. Below are some more of my favorite quotes from this book.

One thing that Taylor did well–the main thing I got out of this book personally–is what ableism is and how to spot it in my actions and in the world around me. When she recounts her interaction with Peter Singer and he asks her (and others) “If you could take a pill that would cure you, wouldn’t you?” and how some disabled persons would say no… That shocked me. That made me stop and think. This book made me realize that the question itself is wrong to be asked. That’s like asking a black person “If you could turn white, would you?” Or homosexual person “If you could be turned straight, wouldn’t you want that?” Or a woman “Don’t you wish you had been born a man?” It assumes that there is a “perfect” state of existence. It assumes that there is something wrong with the individual, rather than the world and that there is something wrong with the person. A person should not have to change in order to fit in. The world should be accepting of the being as they already are. If a world cannot accept someone as they are, perhaps there is something wrong with the world (news flash: there is). That is what this book taught me–what I did not already understand about disability going into it.

The only thing I thought Sunaura Taylor didn’t argue well enough to my satisfaction is her critique of those who think that many domesticated animals simply should not exist (they are pro-extinction). I am one of those. Here is a quote for more context:

“The reasoning behind an abolitionist argument for extinction is on one level very simple: if we stop bringing domesticated animals into existence, then humans won’t be able to exploit them and make them suffer. This is pretty much the opposite of Temple Grandin’s argument. Where Grandin sees animals’ ongoing existence as enough of a justification to continue to use and kill them, many animal activists see the suffering and exploitation of domesticated animals as enough of a justification for their extinction. These animal advocates believe that we have a deep responsibility to treat the animals who currently exist with compassion and dignity while they are alive, as well as a responsibility to stop breeding millions of these animals every year—after all, so many animals exist only because humans breed them. Nonetheless, at a certain point a decision will have to be made about whether remaining animals are sterilized or kept from breeding on their own.”

She states the above, and then goes on to say that this is glazing over issues. But I cannot seem to put her official stance on it in my own words. At best I think she says that we cannot see it as so black and white, because this assumes that there is something wrong with the animals and therefore those with disability; that there is something wrong with dependence and co-dependence. She does make a good case for showing that dependence does not mean weakness, etc. But I don’t think that everyone who calls for farm animals’ immediate steps toward peaceful extinction actually argues from that “they’re dependent, so they must go” place as she seems to think. As an anti-natalist and supporter of VHEMT, I think that most living creatures are better off to never have lived–abled or disabled. I wish she had, maybe, used (what I will now call) her “co-evolution” argument  (that we are responsible for these domesticated animals but that calling for extinction is ableist) for something like…feral cats. Many feral cats are round up and killed because they are said to be a threat to wild bird populations, never mind that our buildings, pollution, and habitat destruction are the real threat. Instead we blame feral cats and so they are murdered. I wish she had used clearer examples like that–where we have caused a problem and are trying to fix it but fixing it in an evil way–to make her point. I can see it working better there than with the domesticated farm animals because I’m still unclear in how she thinks calling for farm animals’ peaceful extinction, at least for those animals who cannot even breed or give birth without us, is ableist. I can see how it would be for those farm animals that don’t require us for breeding. Or perhaps that is her point all along–that the definition of dependence shouldn’t encompass even those that don’t need us for breeding. As you can see, I wish she had expounded this point.

More quotes from Beasts of Burden are below.

“Dependency has been used to justify slavery, patriarchy, imperialism, colonization, and disability oppression. The language of dependency is a brilliant rhetorical tool, allowing those who use it to sound compassionate and caring while continuing to exploit those they are supposedly concerned about.

In many ways the thinking behind the humane meat movement is a philosophy built on the idea of independence. Domesticated animals and human being shave evolved together to be interdependent—animals help human beings, and we in turn help the animals—or so the argument goes… Instead a disability perspective on interdependence recognizes that we are all vulnerable and receive care (more often than not doing both at once) over meat conversation is a much-needed analysis of what it means to be accountable to beings who are vulnerable.”


“I agree with those who support sustainable animal farming about the horrors of factory farms snad the importance of environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. But commodifying and slaughtering animals for food is not natural or righteous—even if it’s done on a small family farm or in a factory system designed to minimize cruelty. There are better ways to be humane.”


“People also justify it through ableist conceptions of the natural and of dependency, which suggest that there is a depoliticized thing called ‘nature’ that determines what kinds of bodies and minds are exploitable and killable, and that excuses uses those who are weaker and dependent for our own benefit. When animal commodification and slaughter is justified through ableist positions, veganism becomes a radical anti-ableist position that corporeality—socially, politically, environmentally, and in what we consume. In other words, veganism is not just about food-it is an embodied practice of challenging ableism through what we eat, wear, and use and a political position that takes justice for animals as integral to justice for disabled people… Veganism is an embodied act of resistance to objectification and exploitation across difference—a corporeal way of enacting one’s political and ethical beliefs daily.”


“Domesticated animals are similarly understood as utterly dependent, and unfit for the wild. Environmentalists, animal welfarists, and animal advocates have all portrayed domesticated animals as tragically, even grotesquely, dependent. Disabled people and domesticated animals are among those who have to content with society’s stereotypes about what it is to be unnatural and abnormal, as well as assumptions about the indignity of dependency. In many ways we have been presented as beasts and as burdens.”


How VHEMT is like Christianity – a post on race and suffering

I recently stumbled upon a photo on facebook that has now been deleted (I don’t know why, maybe because someone reported it?). You can’t see from my screen shot, but the post is based on the ten things from this other blog post. 

And number 10 (which you can’t see here because I couldn’t enlarge because it had been deleted) states “Recognize that you’re still racist. No matter what.”

There were a lot of angry white folks commenting on that post because of number 10. Some wanted to understand better, saying “So if we’re all racist and can’t change, what’s the point of even trying?” There wasn’t a lot of hope there.

So, I shared it with my own commentary and commented the same:

If that’s too small for you to read:

If you were to tell a white Christian that we are all sinners and “fall short of the glory of christ,” they would accept that no problem. They believe we can never be perfect. Yet when you show them number 10 they hiss and spit.

We have always found a way to hate each other. That’s why, if you approach the word “racist” intersectionally, it can be replaced with a whole train of other words.

If white Christians can be sinners and still find hope in their religion, they should be able to find hope with this post. I think this is one reason why groups like the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (VHEMT) form– because they view humans as inherently flawed and see the only way of ending suffering/racism as ending reproduction. That’s a version of hope in itself.

I had never thought about the ways in which Christianity and VHEMT were similar before seeing this post and reading the comments. It made me queasy and got me thinking…

Both view humans as things that can’t be fixed without some sort of salvation/end of days or end of human race. But one view hopes for a gentler exit from the world (versus an apocalypse where there is unspeakable suffering).

It is my opinion that Christianity and VHEMT can go hand in hand:

It might be objected that the Fathers could not have wished marriage to die out because this would mean that the human race could not continue. That was no problem to the Fathers for procreation was by no means seen as a Christian duty. ‘Leave that to the pagans,’ Tertullian said tersely. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, a great admirer of Tertullian, said that the first commandment given to men was indeed to increase and multiply, but now that the earth was full there was no need to continue frenetically this process of multiplication. Augustine was clear that if everybody stopped marrying and having children that would be an admirable thing: it would mean that the Kingdom of God would return all the sooner and the world would come to an end. By continuing to propagate the human race we were simply holding up Christ’s glorious return. 

But so far, that has not been the case.  VHEMT is often an angry hate-fueled group on its worst days, and Christianity doesn’t seem to have the whole birth-control thing down.

Just thought I’d catalog my ideas here in case I ever needed to go back to them.

Maybe I’d do OK in Seminary after all…

BOOK REVIEW: American Zoo by David Grazian

This book was a DNF for me. I skimmed to what parts I thought might hold interest for me.

But just like the people who do go to zoos take a (what I call) shallow interest in the experience (the come, they see, they go on to the next exploitation), so too does Gazian state his observations of the human reasons zoos exist. This book more so answers “why do Americans still do that?” (ie put animals in zoos). But only for a modern context. It does not answer the question “why do Americans do that” in any historically sociological way.

There is no real exploration as to if it is good or bad that we “do that.” He states horrors inflicted upon zoo animals like someone observing birds flying in the sky. Well, isn’t that interesting? Because they aren’t horrors to him.

He talks about the fact that male pandas are given Viagra and forced to watch porn, never exploring if this is a moral thing to do to pandas. He even goes so far as to call them (either all pandas or zoo pandas specifically) sexually ‘incompetent’ – as if they can’t even do the one thing they are “good” for, for us humans (make more of themselves). This presupposes that pandas are our things and that they need us to help make them more competent — as if that’s their only problem and as if they hadn’t been thriving all on their own without our help until man started killing them off and destroying their habitats. Hell, are we even sure that we didn’t create the panda from nothing?  Grazian even talks about zookeeper’s masturbation aids with just a passing, subtle comment: that’s “exactly what it sounds like.” But what does it sound like? Because to some, that sounds like rape, not something funny.

Colonialism is never explored, as far as I could tell, which are the roots of all zoos. He ends on the note that zoos have their faults, but they aren’t morally bankrupt, ignoring the fact that their AZA accreditation is not the real beef some animal rights activists have with zoos. I’m sure there were good slave owners in America too that didn’t beat their slaves and didn’t sell slaves’ children off… It is the concept of slavery that is the topic. Just like the concept of zoos should be the topic. Not what zoos think or try to do in this modern age.

At the end he mentions a book called The Zookeeper’s Wife which is a story about how a zookeeper’s wife kept Jews safe in WWII in their zoo. The sad thing is that Grazian can’t see the irony in that. The very thing/concept that created hate for Jews was the self-same hate that sticks animals in cages: an attempt to “Other” and “conquer” and “control.” Where is the sociological exploration in that?

Zoos can try and kid themselves that they are protecting animals, just like the Zookeeper’s wife can repurpose an evil concept to save Jews. But there wouldn’t be a need to repurpose anything if “the evil concept” hadn’t messed things up to begin with. That’s what animal rights activists are targeting. The concept itself.

But I guess I shouldn’t have expected that deep of an exploration, what with the subtitle of this book being “A Sociological Safari.” Safari? Because what humans do to animals is just as interesting as going on a safari? Safaris show you animals in their natural habitat. And it doesn’t seem “natural” what we’ve done to animals.

Or, if it is natural for humans to do this, I don’t think I like being human.

BOOK REVIEW: So Many Books by Gabriel Zaid

This was a very short little book – 144 pages (now out of print, I think). It had a lot of good quotes and observations on the state of the publishing world and I think every English Major should be required to read it so they consider the weight of what the literary world is doing – how it adds and subtracts from the world.

I disagree with Zaid on 2 points in this work, though. At one point, he says that the world is overpopulated with humans as well as books, but that one is the greater legacy than the other (children). I disagree entirely with this. Even if you write something that barely anyone reads or enjoys, you have connected with a specific group of people who understands you. You get no guarantee that a child will ever understand you, or that they will continue your legacy (once they stop breeding, your DNA becomes a dead legacy). A book lasts longer than generations. Ask Homer.

If humans vs. books, the lesser of two evils is more books. More books means more variety and option. More humans means less of everything. That was such a stupid statement on his part. Too romanticized and too whimsical. It risked undermining all his other observations for me.

It made my mind shoot in anger to thoughts like: What if the aliens could read all the books? What if time was nothing to them? Maybe then all books would matter. And what about the robots? Maybe the robots want all our books. Maybe our books will help better them. How selfish of him to think that books are less than humans. Some stories are certainly worth more than whole countries. Wars have been started in the name of stories and books and authors (religious books not the only ones). Don’t tell me that a single human is worth more than books. There are greater readers than us out there.

The second beef I have with this book is his blind faith that publishing will automatically equal diversity. At the very end he crams it in without it being fully supported by his argument. Half of his argument actually works against the idea of diversity–pointing out the publishing industry’s flaws.  I was left thinking “Wait, what? How did we get here? How did we get to diversity?” But then again I’m not so sure he defines diversity in the book, so we might be talking about two different “diversities.”

He covers sports and other forms of entertainment–comparing them to the book in ways I had never considered. It’s worth a read. And doesn’t take up your time. He makes a point of it not to, because he practices what he preaches.


Panda turds: Collected droppings to 12/10/16

Book Review: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

This–THIS–is the book I’ve been searching for. But it ultimately has no unforeseen twist or ultimate moral point (though the twists and points it does take/make are very interesting) and could have been 100 pages shorter. This is why I’m rating it 4/5 stars on Goodreads.

Not that those 100 unnecessary pages weren’t interesting. They’re just…looking-at-a-bearded-lady interesting. You’re just staring. Gaping with your mouth open. At the end of it, you don’t think your dollar to get in the peep show really added that much to your life, but, hey, you got your money’s worth. But I’ll stop trying to draw analogies here.

Weird, disturbed, honest. Don’t let the title mislead you, this isn’t a book about nerd-geeks. It’s about bite-the-heads-off-of-chickens-geeks. Which apparently was/is a thing.

That’s why I am not fond of the orange cover edition. It’s misleading. It looks techy.

This one is better:

But on to the review. This book had the most vegetarian characters I’d ever seen in a book. And were almost more believable than other vegetarian characters I know.

The character Chick in this book is the most interesting vegetarian character I’ve ever read. But toward the end, those vegetarian characters didn’t make sense. Because there were SO MANY of them. I counted at least three. Maybe four if you count context. The Cat Man, Horst; Chick; the legless electrician guy Arty hires; and Doc P, because she makes all those vegetarian meals for the Arturians.

Does the vegetarianism mean something? That vegetarians are freaks? That if you are are in a carnival that you see a lot of grotesque stuff and so you don’t want to eat it either? That the freaks are pieces of meat being gawked at so they don’t want to eat themselves? WHAT.

One other thing against it, that feeds back into how it could have been 100 pages shorter, is that in one early scene a guy shoots at them. It’s so shoved in it feels like an afterthought and the issue isn’t brought up again until much later.

The ending is also wrapped up too quickly. You can see where the buildup is going. But then, when it gets there, we don’t spend too much time there. This book took me forever to finish. Though, every word was mesmerizing. And the flow of the past to the present was so well done I always knew what time period we were in.

Part of me wonders if this book is offensive to disabled people. Or empowering. I think that each character is treated with autonomy. They are each fleshed out.

Except for when their father lets Arty take over. That was strange. Sure, he was shaken up when Arty kept scheming against him and he thinks he’s losing his cunning, but he lets his Siamese twin daughters marry a total stranger/be raped. It didn’t fit with his character. Someone who is so suspicious of people finding out about Chick/protecting his family isn’t going to not at least say “sorry, there’s nothing I can do.” Right?

Though, all my qualms with the story are things I can forgive, because there are still ways to make excuses for the behavior…


It is an examination of breeder culture. The main character, Oly, doesn’t call her parents mom and dad. She was bred for a purpose–a purpose which gives rise to incest. Even after the parents think their children are dead at one point, one of them starts trying to have sex immediately so that they can create new ones. The parents give away children that are too “normal,” because they would just be a burden on the family.

It is an examination of evangelical culture. Arty becomes a cult leader. He gets people to cut away themselves until there is nothing left. He is a carnival attraction just like preachers (arguably) can be. The lyric “Preach a little gospel, sell a couple bottles of doctor good” comes to mind.

It is an examination of creation. The main character, Oly, meets a woman when she is an adult whose MO is to “help” pretty girls by turning them ugly. Sometimes not of their free will. While this character was interesting, I found her insertion grinding because she was “helping” Oly’s pretty daughter, Miranda, by offering to remove her tail. Arguably, that wouldn’t make her daughter uglier to most people. Without a tail she’d certainly be more appealing to a broader audience. So Dunn twists it to say that it’s because her daughter, Miranda, is using the tail as a sexual part (which she is; she’s a stripper at a ‘freak show peep show’). It made me have to sigh out an “Ehhh. OK. Fine.” But to my point: the book examines creation–creating freaks at birth or freaks later on in life.

It is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. I’ve definitely not read anything like it. The only comparable ones are The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Automation by Anonymous, and The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. Dark. Funny. With a hint of magic.

Also, I’ve never read a book with so much bathroom humor in my life. Turds, farts, and penises.

Other reviews I agree with:

I was also disappointed in the way Chick’s inferno was described. Dunn doesn’t think twice about spending four or five pages describing, say, the horse Arty has lopped off at the knees. She’ll write an entire paragraph about Miss Lick cooking popcorn or Chick cleaning Arty’s tank. But the climax of the novel gets barely a page and leaves readers scratching their heads.


Any book that was written in the early ‘80’s and is still worth reading today, is almost by definition, a semi-classic; though cult-horror classic might be closer to the mark for Geek Love. That’s right: this is not your run-of-the-mill beach novel. I will not be placing this book on my list of Best Ten Novels of the 20th Century; but I’m sure there are others who will, and I have no basic argument with them. Geek Love is bizarre, but only on the surface. Fundamentally, this is a solid, serious, brilliant, and beautifully written story.


However, (and this is where I think Dunn lets the story get away from herself) Dunn throws into the mix a very involved plot line about a cult that forms around one of the freak children. Yes, this cult ends up playing a very key role in how matters devolve and characters self-destruct, but I thought it was almost a cheap ploy which took away from the beautifully structured family drama that was well-positioned to implode without the help of any external forces. That would have been the harder book to write and more satisfying book to read, in my opinion. The cult story line, however, is not without merit, but I felt like Dunn did a disservice to what could have been a fascinating tale in its own right by shoehorning it next to a fully formed family drama within a 350 page novel.

And what can I even say about the completely superfluous third story line involving one of the freaks’ children and a seemingly mentally ill, rich woman with a psychopathic obsession. None of the characters in this present day story line were given the time to stretch out of their 2D roles and add anything of substance to the book. I am guessing this story line exists to provide some sort of interesting structure to the novel, but this hopping-between-past-and-present structure is one that has been pretty chewed up and spit out by literary fiction writers since time immemorial.

Execution/Writing: Where Nabokov’s writing is like a piece by Liszt (effervescent and stunning) and Joyce’s writing is like a piece by Mahler (ponderous and complex), Dunn is more like punk rock. There’s a lack of finesse, but you come away feeling like that was the intention all along.


“In the first place there is no instinctive purpose for the sex drive…”

“In the first place there is no instinctive purpose for the sex drive; people, not nature, give it a purpose. Sex can be used to express love, show affection, provide physical pleasure, or it can be used for procreation. Nature endowed women with the capability of having children but there is no innate drive which says they must use that capability. More than anything else it was the inability of women to prevent pregnancy which made them think that procreation was the reason for their sexual desires. In the past, birth control methods were either inadequate or totally lacking so when women made love they made babies. There was a pretty good correlation between copulation and procreation and that gave rise to some faulty cause-and-effect thinking: Sexuality creates a physical drive that must be satisfied. The satisfaction of that drive often causes pregnancy. Ergo, the reason for the drive was to become a mother.

This false logic put procreation in the same category as eating, drinking, sleeping, defecating, and breathing. The distinction that people failed to draw was that the latter drives have to be satisfied in order for people to go on living. They are true instincts. A woman, on the other hand, who fails to have children does not die. Consider the food intake instinct. People can diet, fast…but they cannot go on indefinitely without food…The basic nature of an instinct is that it cannot be ignored for long without causing harm. But women can use some method of birth control each time they have intercourse and never suffer as a result. If procreation were an instinct, women would die from extended use of contraception. Since they do not, it is obvious that having babies is not a biological drive.” – Anna and Arnold Silverman, The Case Against Having Children.

Invasive Plants and Invasion Biology as Destructive Concepts: A Druid’s Perspective

‘One of the striking things about the invasion biology movement is its connection with the Nazi’s xenophobic and genocidal thinking, as detailed by David Theodoropoulos in his book (and also discussed to a more limited extent on his website). The Nazis had a very similar “native plant” movement in Germany where they worked to eradicate the landscape of non-native plants; this, of course, parallels the atrocities committed in their attempt to eradicate humans from the landscape who didn’t fit their idolized image. Theodoropoulous argues that invasion biology is connected to the same kinds of destructive thinking prevalent in Naziism, that is, an easily identified enemy that one seeks to exterminate, an emphasis on genetic purity, the goal of preserving one’s lands, and a root cause of dissatisfaction with where things are currently. I’d add to his arguments that it becomes easy to construct an enemy, get people angry with the enemy, and then work hard to eradicate it, all the while stripping them of the facilities for rational thought through fearmongering and intense emotional reactions. From a rhetorical perspective, when we begin setting up multiple logical fallacies in order to generate hatred of plants (straw man arguments, post-hoc fallacies, either-or fallacies, overgeneralization fallacies) we get into a mode that allows us to react emotionally rather than reason logically about our interaction with our landscape.’

The Druid's Garden

When people talk about plants, one of the common conversations that comes up is whether the plant is native or invasive. Invasive plants have taken on monstrous qualities of epic proportions, and people in organized groups nationwide argue for the eradication of invasive plants using harmful, chemically-based methods. The native plant community, whose conferences are sponsored by Bayer Chemical and Monsanto, advocate the use of noxious chemicals to deal with problem plants. I’d like to spend some time today discussing the “invasive plant” movement from a druidic perspective, where this movement came from, and provide an alternative perspective.  I’ll also note that while I think the term “invasive” is a problem, I haven’t yet come up with a better term, so I’ll use it in this blog entry.  I don’t think its a good term, however, and it creates more problems than it solves.

Invasives as a Cultural Construction: The…

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BOOK REVIEW: Political Spirituality in an Age of Eco-Apocalypse by James W. Perkinson

Political Spirituality in an Age of Eco-Apocalypse: Communication and Struggle Across Species, Cultures, and ReligionsPolitical Spirituality in an Age of Eco-Apocalypse: Communication and Struggle Across Species, Cultures, and Religions by James W. Perkinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A DNF for me. There were some good points here, but I couldn’t reconcile the fact that overpopulation wasn’t addressed well enough. Basically, not at all. In the index, “overpopulation” isn’t even mentioned. Instead, you find an entry for “Population overshoot.” What a polite way to
dance around the fact we’re already overpopulated. It’s *overshot.* Not overshoot.

If we want to avoid total eco-apocalypse, then birth control and natalism need to be addressed as basic talking points (also not entries). They, too, would help us explore what it means to be human. He talked about consumer culture enough and hunter-gatherers. But what propels our species to breed not only others to death but ourselves? Can we not talk about that? That seems to be the real problem here.

Perkins tries to get us to focus how our human species interacts with others, but ignores the fact that there are too many of us around to actually do what he’s recommending. Well, maybe not “ignores.” More like conveniently avoids.

I’m just looking for something more direct. I had hoped this book would be it. It wasn’t.

View all my reviews

Book Review: The Gospel According to Woman by Karen Armstrong

This book is wonderful. Since learning about Karen Armstrong in college, I’ve been slowly chipping away at her work. She gives the best history lessons–she’s the closest I’ll ever get to catholic school, probs.

In a lot of ways, she is an old voice that sounds new–a voice that knows how to speak to modernity by understanding old thoughts. Reading this book could not have been more timely for me–what with the transgender bathroom ban panic taking my country, and the conservative right bemoaning gay marriage. This work reminded me of all that women have endured under Christian culture…and how wildly Christianity has been twisted into something it originally was not.

Coolest ex-nun evah!

Here I will paste my favorite quote from the book–the quote that was most relevant to me–a quote about original Christian marriage and ancient Christian thought on breeding:

“The Fathers view sex very differently from Paul and this colours the way that they interpret his view about marriage – a view which would hitherto be seen through their eyes in the West. Marriage must be an evil and should, therefore, be avoided. It might be objected that the Fathers could not have wished marriage to die out because this would mean that the human race could not continue. That was no problem to the Fathers for procreation was by no means seen as a Christian duty. ‘Leave that to the pagans,’ Tertullian said tersely. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, a great admirer of Tertullian, said that the first commandment given to men was indeed to increase and multiply, but now that the earth was full there was no need to continue frenetically this process of multiplication. Augustine was clear that if everybody stopped marrying and having children that would be an admirable thing: it would mean that the Kingdom of God would return all the sooner and the world would come to an end. By continuing to propagate the human race we were simply holding up Christ’s glorious return.

This negative view of marriage was reflected in the complete lack of interest shown by the Church authorities. For one thing no special ceremonial was devised to celebrate Christian marriage. The Church very quickly produced its own liturgy of Eucharist, Baptism and Confirmation but nothing was done about marriage. It was not important for a couple to have their nuptial blessed by a priest. People could marry by mutual agreement in the presence of witnesses; they could have sex at once and there was no need to wait for the Church’s blessing. This system, known as Spousals, persisted after the Reformation and endured well into the 18th century. Very often the couple married in the church porch. Thus Chaucer’s Wife of Bath tells the Canterbury pilgrims that she had five husbands ‘at the Church door’. Augustine and Aquinas may have said that marriage was a sacrament, but no ceremonial was devised to celebrate this sacrament. At first the old Roman pagan rite was used by Christians. Clearly it had to be modified, but the modifications were purely superficial: the Holy Spirit and Christ were substituted for the names of pagan gods. Thus there was no special Christian marriage service for centuries. The first detailed account of Christian wedding in the West dates from the 9th century and it was identical to the old nuptial service of Ancient Rome. For all the insistence of the Scholastics that Christian marriage was something essentially different from marriage between pagans, this sacrament had to wait centuries before receiving Christian baptism.

The wedding is now so firmly entrenched in our Western consciousness that it is difficult for us to realize how very new the wedding mythology really is. A young girl is taught, traditionally, to look forward to her wedding as the high point of her life. Clad in virginal white, she will float down the aisle to pledge her life to her husband….Yet this coupling of love and marriage is relatively new. From the time of the Troubadours love was seen to be quite independent of marriage and in the 12th century a very famous pair of lovers felt that marriage would inevitably destroy their love [Abelard and Heloise].

…Heloise was not pulling out of the love affair. What will pull Abelard forever into this irretrievable and shameless impurity is not the sin of fornication but legalizing the sin by marriage. By publicially setting himself up aas a married man, Abelard was telling th ewalrd that he was having sex. The final arguments Heloise uses against marriage sound surprisingly modern:

Heloise…argued that the name of mistress instead of wife would be dearer to her and more honourable for me – only love freely given should keep me for her, not ht econstriction of a marriage tie…

Heloise’s fears were totally justified. Abelard also knew that a marriage could only harm his career and when he offered to marry Heloise he insited that ‘the marriage should be kept secret so as not to damage my reputation.’” –Karen Armstrong, The Gospel According to Woman, pp. 263-264, 269-270.

Read this book!