I’ve been thrown around psychologically and spiritually quite a lot this week. I’ve felt a burden to blog about women’s rights in and out of the church. I’ve felt burdened to warn women about the cartoon antics of Protestant macho male preachers like Mark Driscoll, and I’ve felt a tug of war in my own soul between the voice of feminist liberation and the voice of submission to the church. Is there really any difference between emerging church guru Mark Driscoll and Amanda Marcotte, the new “preacher of feminism?” How is it different? Whose voice represents me? Neither. You see, it’s very hard to have humility when your whole life growing up was one of forced submission and oppression whether it comes at the hands of men or women. It’s very hard to admit your vulnerabilities when strength, wits, and supreme acts of will have been the only things that have saved you. Yet, whose voice becomes the new way? “There, but for the grace of God…”
Therefore, I’m still trying to come to terms as a woman with my own voice and authority and as a believer with an institution of religion that seems hopeless. I’ve read the views of women who stay in the church and try to change it from within and realize that I am not new to the scene. I do not have new ideas. I’m not that much of a revolutionary thinker. Many, many more worthy women have gone before me trying to challenge hierarchy and have “failed” in an institutional sense, but not in a personal one; Christine de Pizan, Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc. Many Protestant women also took on the task of spiritual work, with or without the sanction of men. All of these women, and many more unnamed ones did not even think to “get permission” before they decided that things needed changing. So I am not in the least suggesting that my work is THAT important to the grand scheme of things. Carlos Carretto once said, “Perish the temptation that once we had come on the scene things would have taken a sharp turn for the better!” I have no illusions that I’m making any kind of difference in the world. This blog is mainly a forum for me and those foolish enough perhaps to read my rantings. Yet, I can’t help wanting to at least bring injustice to the attention of those who need to hear it most, whether male or female.
So, in this mood of quasi-spiritual despair/humility, I was contemplating what to blog about this morning that would even begin to address such issues, when I came across a wonderful bit of news from The Times in London. Apparently the Catholic Church admits the bible cannot be relied upon for “scientific accuracy or historical precision.” This is the most sensible thing I’ve heard come from the Catholic Church in years and goes a long way toward making me realize that there is hope in such a staid, stuffy, patriarchal institution. Once the bible gets taken down off it’s pedestal and is not worshiped by all, then real change can come. The news is one I’ve been saying all along on this blog. We shouldn’t be bound any longer by the breath of those long dead and culturally backward because of their words in an ancient text. Long held dogmas can now begin to change for the better; namely women’s roles in the Church. There I go being optimistic again. I have no illusions that change will come now or even 20 years from now, but this is a good start:
“We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision,” they say in The Gift of Scripture. The document is timely, coming as it does amid the rise of the religious Right, in particular in the US.
Some Christians want a literal interpretation of the story of creation, as told in Genesis, taught alongside Darwin’s theory of evolution in schools, believing “intelligent design” to be an equally plausible theory of how the world began.
But the first 11 chapters of Genesis, in which two different and at times conflicting stories of creation are told, are among those that this country’s Catholic bishops insist cannot be “historical”. At most, they say, they may contain “historical traces”.
The article continues with the UK Bishops showing profound wisdom:
The Bible is true in passages relating to human salvation, they say, but continue: “We should not expect total accuracy from the Bible in other, secular matters.”
They go on to condemn fundamentalism for its “intransigent intolerance” and to warn of “significant dangers” involved in a fundamentalist approach.
“Such an approach is dangerous, for example, when people of one nation or group see in the Bible a mandate for their own superiority, and even consider themselves permitted by the Bible to use violence against others.”
I’m encouraged. I’m also going to read the whole thing (link above). But the point is that the Spirit is not bound forever in one time or one place, on this or that page, in this or that thing. Protestant fundamentalists, who so castigate Catholics for “worship” of statues, fail to recognize an idol of their own making, the bible.
I suppose the whole week has gotten me thinking about religion, the Protestant and Catholic Churches, women’s liberation from oppression, and where I fit into this picture. Men will never understand the tension inherent in being a woman “forced” to submit to men and being a woman who submits “willingly” to the person of the mythical savior; Jesus. Is Jesus just another man in a long line of men who asks for all from women and gives nothing in return but the promise of “salvation” elsewhere, or is this truly a reciprocal relationship where Jesus in his humility also submits to us in our humanness, thereby enacting the model of all human relationships? Can women exist in morbidly patriarchal cultures and still honor the power and wisdom that is in them or must we be subsumed by men in power yet again? And again. And again. How can this theology be liberating when only women are asked to give their entire lives while men still enjoy the fruits of power under the mere guise of “submission?”
Virginia Mollenkott writes, in “Women, Men, and the Bible” that:
As we have seen, the New Testament teaches that the Christian way of relating is through mutual submission and mutual and voluntary loving service. But as somebody once quipped: “Who ever said that Christianity hasn’t worked? It’s never even been tried yet!” Certainly the history of male-female relations through the centuries demonstrates that Jesus’ teachings concerning mutual submission have at best received only lip service, and at worst have been converted into a cruel parody of themselves. Christlike submission has been taught to wives but not to husbands. Instead of giving themselves up for their wives as Jesus gave self up for the church, husbands have been encouraged to assume that their wives are supposed to make all the sacrifices.
And indeed, all women are taught in Protestant churches everywhere to make the most sacrifices, that they should just quit complaining about it, accept the status quo, and let men get on with their work! Don’t we know we are just slowing down the vital work of men in the church? Bah! I can no longer exist in fundamentalist churches and no longer will I go there. Because rather than be liberators of women, they have created the most oppressive atmosphere for women imaginable. And the Catholic Church, who used to be the chief oppressor and murderer of women, has come to recognize the valuable role women play. They are beginning to realize that without us there will be no more priests. Without our bodies and our childbearing, the church will shrink. Is it any wonder that women are using their bodies to protest, to procure abortions, to refuse surrender? And is it any wonder that men have become more violent against the bodies of women? Until women are fully part of the community, sadly, there will be more abortion and violence.
Acknowledging that more and more women are leaving the church, is it any wonder then that Pope Paul II threw women a “bone” in Evangelium Vitae? Is it any wonder that the Pope calls women to a “new feminism” because we are the bearers of life, something radical, pro-choice feminists resist to the very core of their beings? I’m not a fan of essentialism either, but must I give up honoring my role as mother and nurturer of life in order to make some political or intellectual difference in the world? Isn’t this more dualism? More of the same that we have heard from the church for years? Must I severely castigate one thing to be another? Why are women put in this position; to have to choose between egalitarian power, life, and a workable place in society through our wits and intellect vs. submission, essentialism, and breeders of a new patrist hierarchy? Are women merely the ladder whereby men get to their “heaven” and are “saved?”
I had a sudden vision in the night,
I did not sleep, I dare not say I dreamed.
Beside my bed a curious ladder gleamed
And lifted upward toward the sky’s dim height;
And every rung shone luminous and white,
And every rung a woman’s body seemed
Out-stretched, and down the sides her long hair
And you, you climbed that ladder of delight.
You climbed sure-footed, naked rung by rung,
Clasped them and trod them, called them by their name,
And my name too, I hear you speak at last;
You stood upon my breast the while and flung
A hand up to the next–and then, oh shame,
I kissed the foot that bruised me as it passed.
Leonora Speyer (1872-1956)