In the Beginning Was “Power”?

May 2012By Anne Barbeau Gardiner

Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the seventeenth century.

Wisdom Ways: Introducing Feminist Biblical Interpretation.  By Elisa­beth Schüssler Fiorenza. Or­bis Books. 229 pages. $26.

Democratizing Biblical Studies: Toward an Emancipatory Educational Space.  By Elisa­beth Schüssler Fiorenza. Westminster John Knox Press. 215 pages. $25.



When Catholic feminists publish a book, they often refer to or cite Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza in their footnotes, as if she were a perfectly acceptable authority. She is not. The Gospel of St. John opens thus: “In the beginning was the Word.” Schüs­sler Fiorenza, however, declares in De­mocratizing Biblical Studies: “In the beginning was not pure reason, but power.” Power, not Logos, is her ultimate reality.

Born in Romania and educated in Germany, Schüssler Fiorenza arrived in the U.S. in 1970, at age 32. She taught at Notre Dame and later at Harvard Divinity School. In Wisdom Ways she says she writes from a “Catholic Christian location.” Not so, for she treats the Bible with stunning disparagement. For instance, at the start of her class, she says that her students show “fears and anxieties” because they’ve been “socialized into trusting and obeying G*d’s [sic] word.” As the class progresses, some of them “suffer from anxiety attacks, break out in cold sweat, or shake and tremble when they engage in a critical reading and evaluation of the bible [sic],” such as the method she teaches, while others have “an overwhelming experience of loss.” Schüs­s­­ler Fiorenza assures them that the Bible does not deserve such “trust, devotion, and reverence.” She admits that she too once accepted the Gospels as “accurate accounts of what Jesus really taught and did,” but now she sees them as “constructs.” In her mind, biblical interpretation is a battle waged on behalf of “the oppressed” in the “global struggles for radical democracy.”

Schüssler Fiorenza asks us to adopt new words in order to resist the “linguistic violence” of current “male-centered language.” Among them is wo/men with a slash, a term inclusive of both women and “subordinate men.” She rejects Bl. John Paul II’s teaching that men and women have complementary natures because, she says, this view leads to “hetero­sexism,” which is “an essential element in the maintenance of structures of domination.” Another word she invents is kyriarchy, defined as the great pyramid of oppression, with wo/men at the bottom. The only reason the Bible has survived until now, she says, is because it has been “legitimized” by “kyriarchal power constellations.”

When it comes to biblical interpretation, she explains, the kyri­archy is divided into two camps, “canonical and scholarly” — those who say their readings are “universal divine revelation” and those who say their “scientific data” cannot be questioned. Both camps have mar­ginalized Schüssler Fiorenza’s method. In Democratizing Biblical Studies she laments that the “scientific” biblical scholars have more “authority” in academe than she has, though they are “patently kyrio­centric and Eurocentric.” She resents having to remain in her “little niche of identity politics” at Harvard Divinity School while these malestream (another neologism) scholars ignore what she writes. No matter how many books wo/men like her publish, they still remain “academically muted persons.”

Yet another of Schüssler Fio­renza’s neologisms is ekklesia. She defines the Church as a slave-holding society headed by a father, but ek­klesia as a loose aggregate of egalitarian communities. She also substitutes Christian Testament for New Testament, to avoid implying that our Lord was the awaited Messiah. Her ekklesia is a place where everyone is free to determine the “public and personal meanings” of the Bible and be accountable only to a “global citizenry,” not to the Church or the academy. She promises that ekklesia will let wo/men “reclaim the human and divine qualities that rightly are theirs but which have been stolen from them in and through andro-kyrio­centric language, culture, and religion.”

Still another of Schüssler Fio­renza’s coinages is conscienti­zation, defined as seeing through the “myth” of superiority and realizing that social inequality means “oppression and dehumanization.” The Bible is her tool for conscienti­zation, and her starting point is “wo/men’s experience.” She alleges that for millennia the Bible was used to subjugate the masses, but now wo/men’s experience can be used to determine whether or not a given biblical text gives priority to “wo/men’s struggles against multiplicative oppressions.” She admits that she is not interested in finding the “correct and true interpretation” of Scripture — any interpretation will do, so long as it helps overturn the “structures of domination.”

Schüssler Fiorenza treats Scripture as time-bound “rhetorical discourse” that must be updated so wo/men can reclaim their “freedom for self-definition, self-determination, self-respect, self-esteem, and self-affirmation.” Note that the word “self” occurs five times in the foregoing sentence. The pursuit of wo/men’s power culminates in pride. In fact, Schüssler Fiorenza declares that, for wo/men, “pride should not be considered a sin but a virtue that needs to be cultivated.” Nor does she allow dissent on such matters. In a worksheet at the end of a chapter, she instructs readers to “explain what conscienti­zation means and how you will practice it.” Note that she says how, not if. Though she advocates egalitarianism, she sounds like a sergeant leading an army drill. Evidently, in ekkle­sia, as in Orwell’s Animal Farm, some are more equal than others.

Schüssler Fiorenza wants wo/men in her Bible classes to “decon­struct, debunk, and reject the kyrio­centric politics of the canonical text” and then to overturn the “institutionalized religion that has excluded wo/men from leadership positions.” By using a “radical egalitarian imagination,” they can “resist the summons” of the Bible, identify with “dissident voices,” and defeat “kyri­archal mystification and dehumanization.” Her goal is to smash the “master’s house” (the Roman Church) and use its pieces to build up ekklesia as the “new and different house” of Sophia. Schüssler Fio­renza compares this rebuilding to making a quilt — hardly an activity that the “subordinate males” included in wo/men would enjoy. Schüssler Fiorenza says that wo/men will become “history makers” by re-creating the past “in terms of their own experience and vision of the real.” Not so. They will be creating historical fiction.

Schüssler Fiorenza won’t be satisfied until the walls of kyriarchy have fallen and been replaced by Sophia’s house of seven columns without walls. Until that time, Schüs­sler Fiorenza will lead the “spiraling dance,” teaching wo/men to look closely at “the relations of power inscribed in the text and its functions in contemporary contexts.” When St. Paul says that “women should keep silence in the churches” (1 Cor. 14:34), wo/men interpret this as not allowing for “women’s ordination into positions of power” and can see that his “rhetoric of love” in 1 Corinthians 13 has turned into “violence.” Schüssler Fiorenza considers Catholic priests as holding “positions of power,” not as exercising sacrificial service, and calls it “violence” for wo/men to be barred from the priesthood.

When a woman-pastor in Switzerland adopted Schüssler Fiorenza’s method of Bible study, she reported that her students initially wanted to understand the Bible “correctly,” but they soon learned how to distinguish “liberatory” from “oppressive” texts and to resist “the pressure to derive all decisions from the bible [sic] or the attitude of Jesus.” In other words, Fio­renza’s method quickly de-Christianized them. Her method can be observed in a nutshell in a worksheet in Wis­dom Ways. She writes, “Service and suffering are often seen as redemptive. What are the problems with such an understanding? When does a statement such as, for instance, ‘Take up your cross and follow me’ become oppressive? How should we deal with oppressive texts?” It takes her five sentences to undermine a core tenet of Christianity.

“Focusing on the figure of Jesus, the Son of the Father, ‘doubles’ wo/men’s oppression,” Schüs­sler Fiorenza warns, and she accuses St. Luke of introducing the character of the bleeding woman (8:43) “to enhance the authority and power of the male protagonist.” The implication is that Luke is writing fiction with Jesus as the heroic lead character. She finds something sinister in Luke’s emphasis on healings: “Many wo/men mentioned in the gospels are wo/men who have been healed by Jesus and their stories underscore how powerful Jesus is. The author or narrator thus uses a wo/man character to gain power over readers so that they will agree that Jesus is a powerful teacher and prophet whose work fulfills the words of the prophets.” Again, the implication is that Luke is making up stories to showcase male power. Far from being the Incarnate God, Jesus is for her only a fictional character made to look as if He fulfills Old Testament prophecies. Has any atheist expressed more contempt for our Lord and the Gospels?

Schüssler Fiorenza declares that a disabled wo/man who reads the stories of Jesus’ healings would be “doubly self-alienated” at the realization that “she can never be like Jesus.” Why would a disabled woman feel alienated by our Lord’s healings? It would make more sense for her to pray to be healed too. She can indeed be “like” Him by embracing His humility and becoming His disciple. Oh, but that’s right, wo/men are to repudiate humility and seek only power for themselves.

Schüssler Fiorenza suggests that when wo/men read the Bible they should pretend that the male Apostles were wo/men and that Jesus was “a female Messiah.” They will thus “undo the text’s ideological power of persuasion” and “resist the prescriptive rhetorics and attempted identity formation.” She even urges wo/men to play with our Lord’s words by composing “wisdom sayings in the ‘I am’ or ‘But I say to you’ style.” When our Lord says, “I am,” He is attesting to His divinity, and when He declares, “But I say to you,” He is establishing His new Kingdom. But Schüssler Fiorenza reduces these statements to rhetorical gambits. She even jokes that instead of the beatitude “Blessed are the poor,” wo/men should write, “Blessed are the rich for money rules the world.”

For Schüssler Fiorenza there is only one kind of sin, “structural sin,” which is so deeply embedded in our culture and religion that people think the resulting “oppression and dehumanization” are normal. Structural sin does indeed exist, but it’s found chiefly in the global abortion industry protected by wicked laws and court decisions. Schüssler Fiorenza never once mentions abortion as a sin. In fact, she supports wo/men’s “reproductive rights” while condemning heterosexism and homophobia as structural sins.

After four decades of ranting, it’s time for Schüssler Fiorenza to repent. But how likely is that? She despises humility and urges wo/men to cultivate pride, the very sin that led to Satan’s fall from grace. She has made a career of treating the Bible sacrilegiously, and she proclaims her ultimate reality to be “power.” It’s a shame that she persists in calling herself a “Catholic Christian” and has attracted followers among Catholic priests and nuns, for she is neither Catholic nor Christian.



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Aristotle(384-322B.C.E) psychology ( De Anima)
Comment: Metaphyics is the second law of the Mind and Theology is the First
" Anaxagoras and the others who say mind is the source of motion in the universe hold that life is characterized by the ability to move. Democritus is entirely different: he simply says that to have life is the same as to have a mind, believing that what happens to be is really so; and this is the reason Homer did well to speak of " Hector lying there out of his mind".For Democritus does not associate the mind with the capacity for conceiving truth, but rather always takes the possession of life to be the same as possession of mind. Anaxagoras however is less clear. He says often that Mind is the factor responsible for the proper order of things; but on other occasions he identifies Mind with life,as when he says that all animals- large and small,honorable and base - possess Mind. In fact,however ,it seems that if Mind means intelligence ,it is not only not a possession of all animals,but not even of all men!"
Date : Anaxagoras (500-428BC)
Posted by: laguerre12
July 02, 2012 01:44 PM EDT
Theology ( from the Greek meaning "God" and " study of" ) is the systematic and rational study of religion and it's influences and of the Nature of religious truths,or the learned profession by completing specialized training in Religious studies usually at a University or school of divinity or seminary ) Natural Religion ( Friedrich Muller : Dec 6,1823-Oct 28,1900) Posted by: laguerre12
July 02, 2012 04:15 PM EDT
Schussler Fiorenza sounds like just another conspiracy theorist with a grudge against men.
The English satirical magazine Private Eye used to have a section for Loony Feminist Nonsense. Schussler-Fiorenza would be an ideal candidate from whom to borrow some quotes. It is truly amazing how dotty some academics become.
Posted by: wiseprotector
July 17, 2012 09:00 PM EDT
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