Gender and Theology


Mary Daly

Daly (book- 'Beyond God and Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation') - she argued that the idea of a Father-God sustains and creates a patriarchal view of society and of spirituality which results in oppression of women and violence towards women: 'If God is male then the male is God'.

  • She suggests thst religion has been, and still is, used as a tool to enforce the oppression of women.
  • She said that the cultural impact of Christianity on society creates an 'unholy trinity' of ****, genocide and war.
  • The patriarchal view of God combines sexism, racism and classism to create a three-headed monster.
  • Daly criticised the biblical imagery of a male God in heaven who dominates and rewards and punishes. She saw this as distortion and a limitation of the spirituality of nature.
  • She said that Christian ideas about the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ were symbolic ways of legitimising '**** of all women and all matter'.
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Daly's Criticisms of Christian Thinkers

Daly criticised the so-called 'fathers' of Christian doctrine, pointing out how they were responsible for traditional views of women as primarily responsible for the Fall, a temptation for men, and destined to be men's helpers and to be mothers. She criticised:

  • Tertullian for saying that women were 'the devil's gateway': women had brought sin into the world.
  • Augustine for suggesting that women were not made in the image of God.
  • Martin Luther for saying that Eve spoiled God's plans for Adam.
  • Aquinas for saying that women were 'misbegotten' men.

She also criticised modern theologians:

  • Pope Pius XII for saying that true liberation for women comes from motherhood, not from feminism.
  • Barth for saying that a woman is subordinate to a man.
  • Bonhoeffer for insisting that women should be subject to their husbands.
  • Fletcher and situation ethics because it was devised by a man to look at ethics in an individualistic way rather than acknowledging the need for communal ethics which she saw as essentisl for the liberation of women.
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Daly's Unholy Trinity

1. ****

  • Daly wrote of 'rapism', a word she used to signify the culture of **** and a symbol of violent oppression.
  • She wrote emotively of how rapism is part of a culture which represses and imprisons women through culture, professions and the media.
  • She wrote of women as 'patriarchally possessed', where they become so entrenched in male-dominated society, that they stop seeing how imprisoned they are and become divided against each other.
  • She turned attention to systematic acts of physical violence towards women including FGM, foot binding and ****. She saw a connection between rapism and war, where **** is used as a weapon of war.
  • She drew attention to passages in the Bible where women are ****d in the context of war or as revenge for male acts of war.
  • She thought that **** was not just a physical act but there are 'arm-chair rapists' who enjoy *********** and watching entertainment that includes violence against women.

2. War

  • Daly argued that war is an inevitable result of male-dominated society and politics.
  • She said men try to disguise the horrors of war by using euphemisms like 'collateral damage' to describe the deaths of civilians. Men justify wars by using by using what she called 'phallic morality'.
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Daly's Unholy Trinity 2

3. Genocide

  • Daly described how in her view there is a gender 'caste system', giving men an unequally large shape of power. This inequality is reinforced through socialisation so that men and women accept it as normal.
  • She thought that male sexual violence underlies military conflicts and that there is a strong link between **** and genocide.
  • This is because both **** and genocide objectify the victims, so that they are no longer seen as people but as objects that can be violated.
  • Daly found similarities between the groupthink used by the Nazis and the groupthink of the Catholic Church. Both concentrated on their own sameness and saw different people as 'other', which she thought contributed to male oppression,.
  • She also highlighted Jewish belief that the Jews are a separate and holy nation chosen by God, apart from other people. This was highly controversial as she seemed to be suggesting that the Jews had some responsibility for their own genocide during the Holocaust.
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Daly on Spirituality in Nature

  • Daly argued that Christianity needs to be left behind because it is tightly interwoven with male oppression.
  • Men have taken over religion and placed themselves in positions of authority, trapping and imprisoning women.
  • Traditional religious buildings are built and managed by men and so are unsuitable places for women to find spiritual fufilment.
  • Instead of worshipping God the Father, Daly wrote in terms of 'quintessence', the most supreme essence of nature, life and vitality in the universe. Quintessence can be blocked by male dominance and by poverty but can be rediscovered in the natural world.
  • Daly's ideas about quintessence reflect the interest in pagan culture and nature worship popular in the 1970s. She encouraged women to embrace paganism and witchcraft and connect with their wild sides.
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Criticisms of Daly

  • Simon Chan (book= 'Christianity Today') - argues that seeing God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a symbol for the unity of God in three persons, and not meant to be an emphasis on maleness.
  • Chan argues that Daly glosses over the important symbolism of the idea of God the Father as the creator of all, dwelling only on negative aspects but not recognising the richness that the concept of Father God offers.
  • Chan also points out parts of the Bible where God, even though depicted as a male, exhibits qualities such as compassion which are not stereotypically male.
  • Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza - a feminist theologian, argues that Daly's understanding of the Bible is too narrow and fails to recognise biblical passages that directly challenge patriarchy.
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Rosemary Radford Reuther

  • Is a reform feminist theologian, (book= 'Sexism and God-Talk') - argues that patriarchy has had a profound and damaging effect on Christianity, but believes that the Church needs to reform rather than be totally abandoned.
  • Reuther describes herself as an eco-feminist. She is in favour of women in the Catholic priesthood and argues that the Catholic Church needs to rethink its teaching on abortion.
  • Reuther argues that patriarchy in society has distorted the Christian message and has shaped Christian thought about God in a way that needs to be challenged.
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Jesus and the Male Warrior Expectation

  • At the time of Jesus, many Jews expected the coming of the Messiah who would be a military king like King David of the past. He would lead his people to victory and restore power to Israel. This is known as Davidoc Messiah.
  • The Messiah is chosen by God and is the Son of God, as well as representing people before God. Therefore, Reuther argued, "the Messiah can only be imagined as male".
  • However, Reuther does not argue that the idea of Jesus as Messiah needs to be discarded. Instead, she points out that Jesus himself rejected the male-warrior stereotype.
  • She thought that the idea of Jesus as a military Messiah was something invented by the early Church rather than Jesus' own understanding of himself.
  • Jesus took on the role of servant king, serving rather than dominating, seeking out the poor and oppressed and arguing against people who claimed positons of religious authority. He called God 'Abba' in a familiar way rather than speaking of an authoritarian God.
  • Reuther argues that in placing himself as the servant Messiah, Jesus connected the role of Messiah with female as well as male characteristics and images.
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Reuther and Feminine Language

  • The Christian Church traditionally uses male pronouns of God, and male imagery for God, such as Father, King and Son.
  • Reuther challenges the use of exclusively masculine terms for God and refers to God using the Greek term Gaia, which is the name of the ancient Greek goddess of Earth.
  • She argues that she is recovering an ancient notion of God in the feminine, a notion that has been covered up by patriarchy, rather than inventing a new way of talking about God.
  • She argues that this terminology gives a much better reflection of the relationship of all of humanity, whatever gender, in the image of God. 
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Criticisms of Reuther

  • Some critics of Reuther claim that she goes too far in trying to reform Christianity to suit a feminist agenda, and others claim that she does not go far enough.
  • Chan - argues that Reuther is wrong to try to rewrite Christianity to give more prominence to women because beliefs in doctrines such as God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit are central to Christian tradition. He thinks it would be wrong to try to downplay the masculinity of Christian liturgy.
  • Chan points out that many religions have had goddesses as well as gods, celebrating the feminine in deities as well as the masculine, but the societies holding these beliefs have nevertheless been patriarchal societies. He argues that therefore changing ideas of God to feminine as well as masculine would make no difference.
  • Daphne Hampson - modern post-Christian theologian, argues that Christianity and feminism are essentially incompatible. Christianity is too tightly interwoven with patriarchy to be reinterpreted with a feminist agenda. She thinks that trying to carry out a radical feminist transformation of Christianity, in the way Reuther is attempting, is impossible.
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Is Christianity essentially Sexist?

Many feminist theologians and other people argue that Christianity is sexist and promotes sexist attitudes:

  • Hampson and Daly both argue that it is impossible to be a Christian and a feminist.
  • Hampson says that some of the stories of the Bible are inherently sexist (such as the story of Adam and Eve) and some of the morality of the Bible is sexist (such as the teaching about how to run an orderly household).
  • Hampson argues that it is better to interpret ideas about the love of God in new ways and leave Christianity behind.
  • Daly argues that religion as an institution needs to be discarded as it imprisons women.

Others argue that Christian theology can be read through a more feminist lens:

  • Fiorenza argues that the Bible is a mixture of a revelation of timeless truth and a reflection of the culture in which it was written.
  • She says that the moral messages of the Bible present a challenge to sexism and a requirement for treating all individuals with respect and equality, ignoring their differences in gender.
  • The Bible is consistent in its messages of freeing the oppressed and giving a voice to those who have been silenced.
  • Jesus breaks sexist customs such as ignoring the cultural rules not to touch women.
  • Reuther also argues that there is scope for change towards a more feminist theology without the need to abandon Christianity all together.
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what are t **** in replacement for?




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