Wednesday, January 23, 2008

VIII Nonne: Are Feminists Asking the Wrong Questions?

Since we are practically at the very day of the ordination of women to something that is called ‘priesthood’ but which I dare to say is not priestly in any way, the day when all those mutated chickens I have been talking about are about to flap crazily home to roost on their misshapen wings, let me now try briefly to summarize the paper I had originally intended to give today, which is called ‘The Seven Devils of Women’s Ordination, or She Who Lie Down with Dogs Catch Fleas’ [published in "Crossing the Boundary', ed. Sue Waldrond-Skinner, London, Mowbrays, 1994, pp. 93-131].

I will begin by reading a recent statement from Roman Catholic Archbishop Rembert Weakland, and a passage from Hosea:

‘Lay Catholics...”do not want to be treated as children but as adults, not as idiots but as responsible and conscientious followers of Christ....They want a hierarchy that listens more, is part of their common struggle and does not give the pretension of having the answer before the question is even formulated.’ (NCR Dec. 17, 1993)

‘The more priests there are, [says Hosea] the more they sin against me; their dignity I shall turn into dishonour. They feed on the sin of my people and are greedy for their iniquity. Priest and people will fare alike.’ (Hos. 4,7)

Or, here is Richard Sipe, and what he says applies not only to the Roman Catholic Church but any hierarchical organisation, particularly one where a single sex, male or female predominates:

‘Both the negative oedipal and this stage of puberty can be broadly called “homosexual” in that they constitute a turning toward the object of the same sex and away from the complementary sex through devaluation or denigration. It is necessary to pass through these stages on the way to adult heterosexual adjustment. This is why I call it the “necessary homosexual phase of development.”

‘This latter phase is particularly important for understanding celibate practice and development in the Church organization and structure. Much of the homosocial organization of clerical culture is fixed at this stage. It is the culture’s natural protection. The power structure of the Roman Catholic hierarchy can be seen psychically only in the context of encapsulating, solidifying and protecting this stage of development; in this sense, it can rightfully and only be called homosexual. If it moves to any other level of psychosexual development, it could not maintain itself in its present structure.’

And this is the sort of group, intent on protecting their arrested development, that women wish to be ordained into?! Through the domestication and subjugation of the church, women too have been arrested at an infantile, prepubescent or pubescent level. As I said earlier, ‘patriarchy’ is a misnomer: it is rather an ‘archy’ of permanent adolescents, whatever the gender or orientation, caught in a system that is most profitable to themselves if they remain permanently developmentally impaired, employing the particular method of hatred of the opposite sex and the concomitant need to reduce them through psycho-spiritual abuse to a level where they feel they can ‘legitimately’ despise the other, thus encouraging members of the despised sex to despise each other.

I said earlier that every theological statement has sociological, psychological, and anthropological implications, which we see clearly in the disaster that the General Synod has wished on us. We see this clearly also in the historical process of the technologizing of theology, and consequent linearity spilling over into praxis and cult. For example, Ranke-Heinemann has pointed to the specious document, the Protoevangelicum, which she calls ‘a theological meat inspection’, which recounts the fantastic tale of an old woman who didn’t believe that Mary was intacta after Jesus’ birth, that when she went to do a pelvic on Our Lady, her right hand withered.

While we may find this absurd, the use of such methodology to coerce is not to be dismissed, and Ranke-Heinemann points out that it has been known from the beginning that this was a specious document, yet one promulgated in the name of ‘truth’, and an entire edifice of doctrine has been built on it. Such technologising is the beginning of the end of theology.

What is lost here is the Semitic understanding of virginity, which is singleness of heart. It is degraded into a technology of membranes, yet another example of the degrading of paradox into contradiction, multidimensionality into linearity, not to mention the degrading of the human person, the imago Dei, who has capax Dei. It is doubly ironic that it is a woman who bears God, who has the original capax Dei, while for nearly two millennia women have been denigrated as not having the capacity for God, and thus have been barred from ordination. This flies in the face of the archetypal priesthood of Mary—the very human Mary of the Gospel narrative, the humble peasant Mary who is the mirror of her Son, and from whom all other notions of Christian priesthood derive, not the bells and whistles version used by the institution to enforce subservience and infantilism.

The subtext of the doctrine of virginity-as-membrane stretched to cover both genders, is, ‘any human being who is not intacta is a failed human being, and even those who are intacta are inadequate, for they have produced nothing, much less, God.’ No wonder there is a squeamishness about penetrating into the apophatic—or having it penetrate us—whether one is male or female—and we need to remember that the soul of every person, man or woman, is considered feminine. We can all think of other examples: the mystical exchange of the Eucharist becomes technologized into a culinary ‘confection’, to use Cardinal Hume’s euphemism for transubstantiation, a technologizing, over which, it hardly needs be said, much blood has been spilt.

The corruption of theology into technology is important because, for a time—this time has now come to an end—it enhanced the self-serving ends of the clerical order, whose diabolical 8-track tape-loop is now acting like a python’s coils, causing the institution to choke itself. Nor does the ordination of women necessarily point to change: history, such as we can understand, shows us that women make equally good tyrants, hierophants and concentration camp guards as men, because the factors required are incipient in every human person, again without reference to gender or, for that matter, age.

Women, as often evidenced in the movement for their ordination, are subject to a lockstep mentality that does not allow for deviation. Only with difficulty do they seem to be able to give each other room for individual expression. The price of this is a ministry of managed niceness, of feeding and feeding off of one another’s depression. Men give the appearance of allowing one another more space, but they have other, more obvious means of coercion. The means may be different; the effect is the same.

There are, however, much bigger issues to be addressed, and if women are to have leadership, they are going to have to show themselves capable of it. They need to develop spacious minds and the right sort of self-forgetfulness. Leadership qualities are also without sex or gender, and however a human person develops, there is always the need to explore and balance ourselves, and, more to the point, be free to find completely new resources within, the ever-unfolding truth of the self as it issues from the divine indwelling. Women who have struggled all their lives for this spaciousness of mind, for truth and for mental health are not going to have much time for an institution that perpetuates the same old adolescent narcissistic, blind-sided evils, whether it is men or women who are doing the perpetuating.

The only true obedience, without reference to gender, is given freely, not as a response to coercion. It is elicited unself-consciously and without exploitation; it is an act of love, of eros, the self-emptying of one calling to the self-emptying of the other, deep calling to deep, kenosis calling to kenosis. This is the only legitimate model of obedience and has nothing to do with the oppression that has abused obedience under many euphemisms to perpetuate religious tyranny, slavery and degradation, whether physical, psychological, spiritual, or academic.

The rise of clerical orders, especially today, reflects acculturation to an economy-driven cultural system based on what I call the seven Ps: Power, Pretension, Presumption, Pomposity, Privilege, Preferment and Patronage, which are modern versions of what the Desert hermits named greed, unchastity, avarice, anger, melancholy, accedie, vainglory and pride. These propensities obviate the possibility of beholding, which is apatheia.


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