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Body, Sex and Gender

Body, Sex and Gender

Introduction to this section

Resistance to the ordination of women rests on deep social and psychological foundations. They form an intricate web weaving the concept of God, attitudes to body and sexuality, the roles ascribed to men and women, contraception in marriage, obligatory celibacy and other aspects of traditional Catholic belief and practice.

‘Feminine’ and ‘Masculine’ concepts of God
In religion there are two complementary approaches to God:
1. The mystical approach, seeking communion and participation. It is based on our experience of union with nature and union with our mother.
2. Submission and surrender to God as the Totally Other. It derives from our experience of our own personality mediated by our father.
A mature relationship to God requires both. In Christianity the second approach has often predominated.
Read a short summary in:
‘Two ways of relating to God’ by John Wijngaards.
Read also: What became of God the Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity, by Elaine Pagels.
A history of religion shows that from ancient times people celebrated their sense of union with the Divine through the cult of the Great Mother.
Around 2000 BC worship of Male Divinity swept up the Middle East, bringing with it new civilizations and self consciousness, but also conquests, violence and male cultural domination.
The Judeo-Christian experience of God was heavily influenced by this male dominated environment.
The implications of the change are graphically described in:
‘The Separation from Nature and the Loss of the Feminine Aspect of Spirit’, by Anne Baring.
The Genesis Myth of Creation and the Fall
The origin of the human family and their ‘fall’ has been described in a ‘myth’ that found its way into the inspired Scriptures. Read the text in: ‘The Myth of Creation and the Fall’.
The word ‘myth’ is here used in a technical sense, not as ‘a story devoid of truth’.
For a critical analysis of the text, see: Woman in the Old Testament creation stories by John Wijngaards.
The Myth of the Fall describes the experience of our separation from the matrix of nature and the birth of self-awareness. So far so good.
Unfortunately, the myth was also understood as revealing psychologically damaging doctrines:
~ all suffering, death and evil are punishment for a primal sin;
~ woman is subject to man;
~ human beings are flawed and contaminated by sin;
~ there is a split between spirit and nature, mind and body, thinking and feeling;
~ the feminine principle is devalued: soul, nature, woman, instinct, feeling and body.
Read these excellent psychological and cultural analyses:
* The Myth of the Fall and the Doctrine of Original Sin by Anne Baring;
* Eve: the Mother of All Living by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford.
The negative image of Eve [= woman] in Christian tradition
The negative interpretation of Eve, begun in Jewish religious circles, was augmented by Hellenistic and Roman prejudice. It took root among the Fathers of the Church.
Soon it affected Christian practice and spirituality, and became anchored in theology and church law.
Read these studies:
* ‘Eve in Christian Culture’ by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford;
* ‘Of godly men and medicine: ancient biology and the Christian Fathers on the nature of woman’ by Kim Power;
* Women were considered to be in a state of punishment for sin by John Wijngaards.
Long shadows of the Past - SEXUALITY!

Many people in the Church have suffered because of our recent, rather negative, Catholic approach to sexuality. We recommend a modern Catholic site dealing with sexuality entitled: www.thebodyissacred.org.

It deals with topics such as: -
the Christian enjoyment of sex
sexual fantasies
the use of contraceptives
homosexuality, etc.

The medieval interpretation of Natural Law underlies many of the rules of the warped traditional sexual ethics.

Much that needs to be reformed in the Church derives from this past. We will enumerate here some examples. Sexuality, Gender and Christian Identity in the Fourth and Early Fifth Centuries, by Roy P Fisher
Linking body and sin brought about an unnatural fear of nakedness. Nudity became a symbol of sinfulness.

* Read the discussion on Nakedness in Christian theology and culture.

* The morality of nakesness

The taboo against menstruation imposed a severe handicap on women in the Church, from at least the 4th till the 19th century. * Women were considered Unclean by John Wijngaards;
* ‘Female Blood: The Ancient Taboo and its Christian Consequences’, from Eunuchs for Heaven by Uta Ranke-Heinemann.
The Church’s negative sexual morality leaves deep scars in the lives of married couples.
“Traditional teaching on sex, far from being infallible, is sad, sick and suspect, a travesty of truth which has damaged the welfare of married people all through the ages. Sexual intercourse, instead of being seen as an intrinsic and holy part of married union, was called the corrupt carrier of original sin, only to be used for the procreation of children.” (Elizabeth Price)
On the origin of the prohibition of contraceptives and the consequences for married love, read Seeing Sin Where There is None by Elizabeth Price, and
Conceived in Sin, by A. Koraszewski.
The distinction between male and female maintained by Rome makes no sense, either from a biological or a theological perspective.
1. There exists no perfect male/female dichotomy as presupposed by Rome.
2. The symbolism of a ‘male-only’ priesthood denies Christian principles.
~ According to Rome, the contrast between the sexes lies in the fact that man is the human body made in the image of God, and woman is the human body in its natural state of animality.
~ In the nuptial symbolism of the male bridegroom and the female bride which is used to defend the masculinity of the priesthood, there is an explicitly sexual function attached to the priesthood which means that the symbolism of the Mass has gone from being a celebration of death and rebirth to being a celebration of sexual intercourse which is primarily focused on male sexuality. This makes Catholic theology explicitly phallocentric, since the phallus has become the defining symbol of Christ’s giving of self in the Mass.
~ The patriarchal structures of Rome have thus solidified around a phallocentric theology which makes it almost impossible for a woman to find herself as a symbolic presence in the church’s life. She is more truly than ever before: absence, negation and non-being, a body surrendered to animality with no access to the symbols of theological personhood.
* For a biological assessment read Biology for Theologians. A Scientific Look at Male-Only Ordination by Roberta Meehan;
* A penetrating analysis of the theological symbolism can be found in ‘The Female Body and the Sacramental Priesthood in neo-orthodox Catholic Theology’ by Tina Beattie.

The psychological imbalance in sexual morality also influences the judgement of Church authorities and others regarding the ordination of women.


* ‘The Psychological Roots of Male Resistance to Women Priests’, Student Christian Movement, Bristol 1980.
* ‘ Misunderstanding of Sexuality and Resistance to Woman Priests, Sidney Callahan
* ‘Male Clericalism and the Dread of Women ’, Rosemary Radford Ruether
* ‘Anatomy and Ministry: Shall Women Be Priests?’ , Emily C. Hewitt

Violence committed against women continues to be justified in practice. “The Legitimation of the Abuse of Women in Christianity” by Mary Ann Rossi.

Read also: * ‘The Psychological Roots of Male Resistance to Women Priests’.
* The treatment of priests' wives.
The official Church continues to deny women fundamental rights which they should have as full members who share equally in Christ’s priesthood, kingship and prophetic status. * Church Law and ‘Women Priests’ by John Wijngaards;
* ‘The Status of Women in the Code of Canon Law and in the United Nations Convention’, by Marie-Thérèse Van Lunen Chenu and Louise Wentholt;
* “Human rights in the Church: a non-right for women in the Church?”, by Marie-Thérèse Van Lunen Chenu.
* A Catholic Perspective on Human Rights, by Cherie Booth, Crown Court Judge, wife of former UK Primeminister Tony Blair.
*Religion Confronting Women’s Human Rights: The Case of Roman Catholism by Kari Elisabeth Børresen, Ch.24 in Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief.
Sexist language still dominates in the liturgy and pastoral practice of the Church. * ‘Male discourse about God in the liturgy and its effects on women’, Ida Raming;
* ‘Marie-Thérèse is definitely not a ‘son’ of the Church!’, Marie-Thérèse van Lunen Chénu.
* ‘Basic Linguistic Options: God, Women, Equivalence’, Elizabeth A. Johnson.
The Christian Enjoyment of Sex Frequently Asked Questions
Fantasies Nakedness Contraceptives Guilt Homosexuality Masturbation

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