Humanae Vitae demonstrates rather nicely the importance of pronoun use in theological texts. Whereas contemporary writers shun the universal use of “man” or “him” to apply to all people, writers of ancient works such as the Bible were hardly concerned with the matter. Whether they intended for their use of male pronouns to refer to men or to all humans could probably be debated, but the outcome of such writing, which was taken and continues to be taken literally by many, is undeniable. Out of the church has come a hierarchy whose model has become almost an image of what it means to be a Christian. (Speaking in very general terms; obviously there is no one ‘image’ or ‘definition’) Although this did show up on Google Images:
In Humanae Vitae under the section heading “Married Love,” Pope Paul VI wrote of married love between a man and a woman to that in it, “husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.” This takes on a different meaning given that the idea that formed early in the tradition was that men were formed in God’s image and that women were formed from men; men were made in the image of God and when women were joined in marriage with men, they too were the image of God. Even the marital relationship described God as man’s head and man as his wife’s head. In this light, “together attain their human fulfillment,” might still mean that both man and woman become closer to God, but either women are still substantially ‘less than’ or are equal because they’ve been redeemed by a marriage to a man. The contradiction becomes apparent in Paula Jean Miller’s “Theology of the Body” when she says “the body, both male and female, is the image of God,” and then continues later to insist that women love/give by receiving men and men love by giving themselves; she describes men’s bodies as sacramental and then says that women represent the son, or the receiver of the Father’s love, while men represent the Father. How much more obvious can the dichotomy get?
Granted, Google Images is not where you want to do your ‘research,’ but these were two of the top results for the search “god husband wife.”
This is relevant because the questions central to this week’s reading involved birth control and abortion. Both of these, historically (for the most part) and in more recent times are issues specific to women and even more specifically, their bodies. Men have some responsibility to the children born of their sexual partners (who are supposedly only their wives) but it is women who carry the children and who might die during childbirth or afterwards due to complications. It is women who might have illnesses which can’t be treated if she becomes pregnant. And even if she is healthy and able to have children, she is still the one who is responsible for raising the child. The issue of birth control, whether is in reference to modern medicine and technology or to historical methods of self-regulation and abortion, has always been a ‘women’s issue.’ It is hard to give women a voice, however, in a system which talks about people as though they are all subject to the same rules when according to Christianity’s own ‘fathers,’ men and women aren’t even playing on the same field. Even more frustrating is that when “the system talks,” it is really “when the men talk.” (The men who have never/will never have to deal with pregnancy either through celibacy or through the fact that they are men)
The reason this is important is that as a country where the majority of the population is Christian and the people holding political offices are almost always Christians as well, Christianity’s stance on issues of birth control and abortion and more generally, women’s issues is important. In “An Instrument of Genocide,” the discussion centers on the struggles of Black Nationalists and members of the Nation of Islam with the American government. Minorities in the U.S. certainly had reason to be suspicious of the government, and the government’s approach of handing contraception to Women of Color instead of providing those communities with the resources they needed was problematic on several levels. However, what was going on in a more broad context was also interesting to me. The common trait between the Black Nationalists and minority communities and mainstream U.S. society was Christianity.
As Christianity had a set pattern of keeping in place its sex-based hierarchy while those in power (read: men) simultaneously claimed to speak for/to Christians and restricted visibility of women’s perspectives. This trend wasn’t and isn’t limited to white power structures; it is pervasive and extends through many Christianity-dominated groups. This was evident in “An Instrument of Genocide” in that the question of birth control and the strong opposition to it was being had and coming from men who were turning around and telling their wives to have more children because they needed more men for their cause (and women to have more children).
There are few (if any) Christian cultures in which this hierarchy doesn’t exist. Even feminist Evangelical circles seek women’s liberation through total and complete submission to God, who is, of course, male. Any fight for liberation anywhere in the world is incomplete if the fight doesn’t include women’s issues as well as men’s and if the voices speaking on behalf of women’s issues aren’t coming from women.
I was pretty disappointed by how short our RRR reading was this week. I tried desperately to find audio for her talking about this issue but there were very few clips of her on youtube and none of them were relevant to this. What I did find though was an article she wrote entitled “Women, Reproductive Rights and the Catholic Church,” which you should definitely check out. I cited her work extensively in my thesis though, and never imagined this is what she looks like: