Vive la Différence!

November 1997By Dale Vree

Dale Vree is Editor of the NOR.

God or Goddess? Feminist Theology: What Is It? Where Does It Lead? .  By Manfred Hauke. Ignatius. 343 pages. $17.95.



According to Manfred Hauke, a German priest who teaches theology at the University of Augsburg, today’s feminism stands for the suppression of “sex roles” and the abolition of “the division of labor along sex-specific lines,” and the ultimate goal of feminism is “achieving a quota of fifty-fifty in every field of employment.”

The realization of contemporary feminism (or, if you prefer, radical feminism) obviously requires certain things: (1) the eradication of the all-male priesthood and episcopate, and therefore the eradication of the priesthood and episcopate as such, (2) artificial birth control, (3) abortion, (4) the demise of the husband who is the “head” (Eph. 5:23) of the household, and (5) the denial of the complementarity of the sexes, so that “husband” becomes interchangeable with “wife,” and what a father and mother do also becomes interchangeable. Curiously, on Mother’s Day some years ago, my family and I attended Mass at a parish out of town where the pastor made point of honoring not only mothers but fathers too. “Mother, father — hey, what’s the difference?” That’s what the pastor was communicating. And you know sexual confusion is acute when even mainstream advertisers get into the act. In a recent Time magazine, a major health insurance company made a pitch to single parents with a full-page ad showing a charming single mom attending to her asthmatic teenage son with the stark headline, “I am a father and a mother.” Well, sorry, dear lady, you’re no father — which, try as you may, your son probably knows better than anyone else. You’re a mother, and judging by your appearance and demeanor, a splendid one.

The fulfillment of feminism also requires (6) the legitimization of same-sex “marriage” (since there’s no difference between a husband and a wife), with full rights for adoption (since there’s no difference between a father and a mother), (7) artificial insemination for lesbians, and (8) test-tube babies. As for the last item, Fr. Hauke quotes “Catholic” feminist Anita Röper as stating, “As long as human beings are not produced in test tubes…women will remain…disadvantaged in comparison to men.”

What all this means is that women are to be “emancipated” from femininity, even motherhood, and women are in effect to become men, as outlined by Simone de Beauvoir back in 1949 in The Second Sex.

Now, if women are to become men, then God’s creation of man as male and female is actually an outrage. Here we see feminism’s profound hostility to the natural order and the body, all so reminiscent of the Gnostic heretics. Indeed, as Hauke reminds us, Gnosticism’s deity originally created man, “not as male and female, but as man-woman, as an androgyne.”

It’s also an outrage to feminists that God is our Father — i.e., the ultimate patriarch. So they replace God the Father with God the Mother-Father or the God/dess or even the Goddess. Moreover, in the case of Rosemary Radford Ruether and many other “Christian” feminists, this God — or Goddess or Whatever — is not transcendental at all, but is synonymous with Mother Earth, as in pantheism.

There are severe consequences to envisioning God as an immanent Mother. God, the all-powerful Father, created the world out of nothing, intervenes forcefully in history, expects obedience, and punishes sin — all masculine images. But a Mother God is vastly different: She is the “womb” of the earth, does not intervene in history, is “receptive,” and accepts everyone unconditionally — all feminine images. The bottom line: God the Father is both demanding and powerful, and He can raise us from death to eternal life with Him, while God the indulgent Mother demands nothing — and delivers nothing. At death you are simply reabsorbed into Mother Earth. In other words, as one of Flannery O’Connor’s characters put it, “What’s dead stays dead.”

No wonder Hauke says — concurring with C.S. Lewis — that, “Feminist theology is aimed at achieving…a new religion.” Or let’s put it this way: Be careful about identifying God with Mother Nature and worshiping her, for the last thing she’ll do for you is kill you, forever.

But how are we to understand the relation between the sexes? Ephesians 5:21 says husband and wife are to “submit to one another,” while Ephesians 5:23 says “the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the Church….” Well then, are men and women equal or not?

Hauke brings clarity to the issue: Men and women are equal, but different (the relationship is asymmetrical and complementary), and women are subordinate, but not inferior. How can women be both equal and subordinate? Hauke unpacks this paradox with reference to the Holy Trinity. The three Persons of the Trinity are equal, but not equivalent or interchangeable. The Holy Spirit and the Son are subordinate to the Father: “The Father sends the Son and the Spirit into the world, but not vice versa.” And so, one might add, the Church baptizes in the name of “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” and not in any other sequence (which, I suspect, helps explain why we normally say “men, women, and children” rather than some other sequence, and why we [still!] don’t say “Mrs. and Mr. John Smith”).

Hauke could have quoted St. Paul here: “the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Cor. 11:3). Why is man the head of woman? Because “man did not originally spring from woman, but woman was made out of man…” (1 Cor. 11:8). Headship has to do with origins, a point Hauke could have made more explicit. Man is the origin of woman, and as the Catechism (#254) says, the Father “generates” the Son, who is “begotten,” and the Holy Spirit “proceeds” from the Father and the Son.

In Ephesians 5, St. Paul tells wives, “Submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (v. 22, italics added), while he tells husbands, “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for her” (v. 25, italics added). Yes, this amounts to a mutual submission, and yet there are nuances here that must not be overlooked.

To miss the subtleties, especially when considered against the backdrop of the trinitarian controversies in the early Church, is to risk running into serious trouble. Thus, says Hauke (relying on Joyce Little): “Arius [the heretic] had regarded Jesus as subdivine because, even as the preexisting Son, he is subordinate to the Father. Arius was…unable to reconcile (1) the idea that the Person of the Eternal Logos [Jesus] could be subordinate to the Father (as his origin) with (2) the idea that there is an equality in the Divine Nature. The [orthodox] theologians of the Council of Nicaea, by contrast, recognized that Jesus’ being obedient to the Father…does not preclude his having fully equal worth by virtue of his divinity.” Bingo!

One is hard pressed to imagine Jesus resenting the fact that He is “merely” the Second Person of the Trinity instead of the First and that, while He is equal to the Father, He is nonetheless subordinate. But of course feminists deeply resent historic Christianity for teaching that while the wife is equal to the husband, she is still subordinate. Not at all an apologist for the oppressive macho-man, Hauke is nonetheless well aware that what he has written about subordination is “offensive” to the modern sensibility, but he doesn’t flinch. And so he boldly notes the “contrasting tendencies” apparent in the wife and husband: “As a mother, the wife is normally tied more closely to the children and the home, whereas the husband more often tends to assume the leadership of the family…. In this sense, the husband is more the ‘head’ of the family, and the wife, as its ‘heart,’ more ‘subordinate' — even if contemporary developments have brought their respective tasks closer together.”

Men and women are different. “Every person is, right down to the smallest bodily cells, either a man or a woman,” says Hauke regarding the biological evidence. This is our nature, how God created us. Masculine and feminine are unique God-given qualities that cannot be genderblended into oblivion. Yet there are those who are trying mightily to do so, with manifestly grotesque and dysfunctional consequences. The genderblenders are butchering the unborn and thrusting a dagger into the heart of many families, and have gutted many Protestant denominations, and so forth. But they will not prevail, for God is still in His Heaven, and the Law of Nature is still embedded in His creatures.

Men and women, like yin and yang, are created for each other. And so, as Hauke correctly says, “the divinely willed differentness and complementarity of the sexes is the ‘watershed’ that separates feminism and Christian anthropology.”

Hauke’s book, which is loaded with insights, many of which aren’t cited here, is a masterpiece of Catholic wisdom. It is very well organized and eminently accessible to the generally educated reader. The book should be required reading in all Catholic colleges, universities, and seminaries, for Hauke has clearly mapped out the terrain on which many of the crucial battles for Catholic orthodoxy are being fought in our time.



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