Getting On : Faith
Catholic Christianity & Procreative Choice
from xhrisl - Friday, March 07, 2003
accessed 2392 times
Catholic Christianity & Procreative Choice
The history of women’s sexuality and reproduction has been fraught with issues of control within the context of patriarchy, and in particular within the Judeo/Christian mentality so prevalent within western culture. To understand the reasons for this conflict is to understand both the history and the place of women in western religious history. The story of conflicts surrounding women’s sexuality and reproduction in western Christian culture can be viewed in regard as having its origins in early Judaic tradition and religious lore, as the roots of Christianity are firmly entrenched in Judaism.
Beginning with the creation myth central to both faiths, one finds early on the religious justifications used in the argument for the subjection of women. It has however been pointed out by feminist scholars of religion that it was in fact Eve who in the Genesis story is the one who debates the moral issues and implications of partaking of the forbidden fruit, and Adam in the narrative is only involved in its consumption. (MacHaffie p. 13). It is perhaps Eve who is punished the more severely of the two, through forced subjection to her husband Adam (and your desire shall be unto your husband), who it would seem from the story is perhaps not the brightest of the pair. Furthermore, (speaking with a note of sarcasm) to be commanded by God to obey someone to whom you were created as equal does seem a harsh punishment. However, the arguments with regard to Eve’s “temptation” of Adam, which are often it seems based on the assumption that she used her feminine whiles to lure him are totally unfounded as a close reading of the Genesis story reveals. (MacHaffie p. 13). Hence, the arguments for a woman’s more sexualized nature, as pathways to sin are unfounded, in regard to Eve.
It should be noted however, that there are two accounts of the creation myth in Genesis, and there are also two versions of womanhood before the fall from Gods grace, Eve being the better known of the two. Jewish Post-Biblical tradition, which also found its way into early Christian tradition, (Catholicism in particular) describes another woman, Lilith, as purportedly being the first wife of Adam. It is the story and legend of Lilith, a highly sexualized and independent caricature of womanhood who may in fact be the original culprit, leading to the myth surrounding woman’s “seduction” of man. (Mack and Mack, 1999, p. 200). However, nowhere in the story of Adam and Eve’s temptation is the use of feminine whiles even implied. Nonetheless, the myth has been perpetuated. Even in more modern times the story of the fall from grace has been taken apart in manners such as that of the psychoanalytical tradition and has been rendered a story of seduction and moral depravity. (Wulff. 1997, p.295).
The advantages to this rationale are plainly visible for the continued propagation of patriarchy as stemming from a supposed Divine right of male over female, and argument for such have been used for millennia. (MacHaffie p. 12). In Christian thought, this was translated into the doctrine of Natural Law by such early Christian thinkers as St. Tomas Aquinas. Although contrary to Christ’s teachings and examples found in the gospels of the equality of women (MacHaffie p. 14-17) it took less than a generation for the early Christian Church to once again bind women under men in a hierarchal manner. Among the earliest Christian thinkers held accountable for this shift are, St. Paul the Apostle, who began to propagate this doctrine within the first generation after Christ. And in successive generations----St. Augustine and St. Tomas Aquinas, whose influence on the formation of Christian theology and doctrine with regard to women’s place within the Church are still hallmarks of the belief structure (Fox, 219), (MacHaffie p.20).
Given the historical context of Christianity and its blossoming from Judaic society, and within Greco-Roman culture, which was patriarchal in nature, one begins to understand how the prevailing cultural norms of the time would eventually reassert themselves into Christianity. This shift was facilitated by the language used for God, among other things and has been considered fundamental in the propagation of a gendered hierarchy within Christian religious ethos (MacHaffie p.144). Given then the context of the Deity being viewed as masculine, this left no other status for the personification of womanhood as anything less than “other,” a status that early Christian theologians exploited to full advantage, facilitating a gendered hierarchy within Christianity.
Hence, from this perspective it becomes apparent why issues related to women’s sexuality and reproductive choice have become so controversial within contemporary Christianity. Since for the most part Christianity adapted the traditional gender norms of the early societies in which it flourished, and indeed its doctrines are reflective of those, it becomes apparent that traditional Christianity could not survive the dawn of the twentieth-century and the Age of Enlightenment within the old-world gendered norms as it had previously done.
The new view of the enlightened age, spread about by the protestant reformation, held that the individual could indeed be their own moral agent, capable of independent rational thought, and as such less influenced by the body of the Church as a whole. And while applied firstly to men in the new republic (that was to become known as the U.S.), the dynamic of power was to shift toward women, as men left the religious sector in favor of government office with the separation of church and state. (Seat).
As women became aware of the power to assert themselves as moral agents within the new limits of the religious realm, the medieval idea that “Divine Origin” was the cause of societal structure began to shift, and human reason and choice were seen as the expanded criteria whereby societies would be able to govern themselves. There were however, limits to this “enlightened” form of thought, namely that the language of oppression changed from “Devine Law” to “Natural Law,” and as such biological endowment vs. Devine endowment became the catch phrase of the day used to justify the hierarchies of gender and race. In short it was a world that stood on the precipice of the modern age, when reason would dictate and humanities ills would be cured through the application of science made possible by the industrial revolution.
All these dreams however came crashing down with the advent of WWI, which was followed within a generation by WWII, and the predominance of reason faltered. The disappointment that followed was expressed by poignantly by authors of the times such as E. Remarque (1897-1970) in the novel All Quite on the Western Front and J. Hillton’s (1900-1954) works such as Lost Horizon and Random Harvest. (Magill. p.27, 629). That reason, which Natural Law had found inherent in humankind, stood in question. Mankind, and in particular the male dominated societal structure had failed.
Resultant of this was the resurgence of Natural Rights theory of ethics and morality, which briefly stated is such that there is no obligation to the “other” as upheld by Natural Law, only that one not violate the rights of another is all that is required (Bayles & Henley 1989, p. 25). This stance on morality and ethics would latter give way to what is known as Social Relativism, which confines moral reasoning to the system of beliefs of the society (Bayles & Henley, 1989 p.6).
To deal then with the possibilities presented with Social Relativism, societies throughout the world have developed social constructs of moral and ethical behavior as well as the philosophies that theses moral and ethical codes entail. In Western thought the two main divisions being: Natural Law and Natural Rights. It is from these two differing standpoints that most divisions on morality and normalcy are judged in western social constructs, and the resurgence of Natural Rights, as an ethical framework was to have profound influence for women. Especially those who had contributed immensely to the war efforts, and had gained a taste for independency both economically and socially as a result of labor force participation, it was in this context that post-modern feminist began to come into their own---as a political force to be recognized.
As agents of transformation the women who partook in the early and latter parts of twentieth century feminist movements became aware that they could do no worse than men had, and within less than 30 years of WWII had applied Natural Rights theory of ethics successfully in the argument for control of their own bodies and reproductive processes. Meanwhile, the Church, which had profited enormously from patriarchy, and in Medieval time had even gained economic advantage from such institutions as the bride price, wherein the inheritance of women’s wealth was passed on to the Catholic Church through the “marriage to Christ”, began to realize more fully the disadvantages of women as free moral agents (Havalind, 1999, p.254).
Women’s role within the Catholic Church had already undergone significant change in that they were now accepted as full members in Christ, yet within the religious hierarchy they remained second-class citizens. Women’s primary role as described by Pope Paul VI in Humane Vitae (25 July 1968) was still that of supporting a male dominated Church Theological body and the breeding of successive generations of male leaders. Furthermore, it held that there was no higher calling for women than motherhood, and that to engage in reproductive control measures other than the natural or rhythm method was an affront to Christian morality and the commands of God.
In short the Catholic Church had usurped the power of Natural law theory and applied it as a means of further subjecting women. The Catholic Church’s position on women’s place with regard to voice and position in the Church was further ratified by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem which held that there was no higher calling for women than motherhood and as such it was the duty of Catholic women not to seek office in the Church---this at a time when other branches of Christianity were opening the clerical offices of ministry to women. Instead the Catholic Church chose to stress the “complementary” versus equal view of men and women (Fox, p. 238,242).
Shussler Fiorenza was among the prominent voices to proclaim dissent with the church’s policy in regards to the issue of women’s procreative choice she argued that in the end “Any moral teaching on abortion must be shaped by the concern for ‘justice, mercy and faith’” (Fox, p. 222). Her argument against the Catholic Church’s eschewment of procreative choice, was similar to Beverly Harrison, who stated that:
"The problem, then, is that Christian theology celebrates the power of human freedom to shape and determine the quality of human life except when the issue of procreative choice arises […] In contrast, a feminist theological approach recognizes that nothing is more urgent, in light of changing circumstances of human beings on planet Earth, than to recognize that the entire natural-historical context of human procreative power has shifted"(Harrison. p.188, 119).
This alone presents moral and ethical problems for the theory of Natural Law when applied toward the principle of “Future Generations.” Whereas, in the past high infant mortality rates required that a woman produce many offspring if some were to reach adulthood, this is no longer the case. Instead we are faced globally with an ever-increasing population, which is fast stretching the available resource allocations of the planet. As such the moral argument with regards to procreative choice has far reaching applications in that the question arises “is it better that there be more people who are slightly less happy or fewer people who are more happy?” (Bayles & Henley. 1989, p.343). In addition, what of the implications of starvation, which already face millions? Might it not be morally more sound to provide procreative choice, thereby enabling women who elect not to breed the ability to focus their energies elsewhere than in the mere propagation of their own genetic line and instead allow them to focus on their own and societal issues at large? What implication does the control over women’s bodies with regard to the Catholic Church’s stance on procreative choice hold for the moral culpability of the institution at large in the future?
The problems which are of course inherent to the debate over abortion stem not from a incongruence in moral principle with regards to the issue, yet rather from the ethical principles shared by both sides of the debate with regard to human dignity and life (Harrison. p. 99). Thus, “Focusing attention away from the single act of abortion to the larger historical context thrusts into relief what ‘respect for human life’ means in the pro-choice position”(Harrison. p.131). The question then arises as to how one goes about responsibly in regards to the issue. Is it through education as some have argued, or through the changing of certain religious gender norms, which view women’s fulfillment as by nature the primarily empowering force of their lives, vis-à-vis their procreative power, and if such is the case what are the implications for the religious structures that support a gender hierarchy? (Harrison. P.134).
Change as a constant, is inevitable, this leaves only the question as to how individuals, and societies will cope with these issues. As Justice Blackmun eloquently put it when he delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973):
“We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitivity and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires. One’s philosophy, one’s experiences, one’s exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one’s religious training, one’s attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and to color one’s thinking and conclusions about abortion “ (Roe v. Wade).
Fox. Sexuality and Catholicism. Class notes: REL/WS 324. University of Arizona. Spring 2003.
Magill, Frank N. (ed.) (1963). Cyclopaedia of Literary Characters. New York: Harper & Roe.
Harrison. Making the connections. “Theology and Morality of Procreative Choice.” Class notes: REL/WS 324. University of Arizona. Spring 2003.
Havalind, William A. (1999). Cultural Anthropology. (9th. Ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
MacHaffie. Her Story. “Agents of Transformation.” Class notes: REL/WS 324. University of Arizona. Spring 2003.
Mack, Carol and Dinah Mack. (1999). A Field Guide to Demons. New York: Owl Books.
Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). 11/18/01 http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=410&invol=113
Seat, Karen. (2003). Lecture 2/13/03. REL/WS 324. University of Arizona. Spring 2003.
Wulff, David M. (1997). Psychology of Religion: Classic and Contemporary. (2nd. Ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Reader's comments on this article
Add a new comment on this article
Monday, March 10, 2003 - 10:44
I'm glad someone on this website is posting some serious research on patriarchal religion and women's sexuality. The assertion that women have control over their bodies is fundamental challenge to Berg's thinking on the role of women and their sexuality. Good work, Xhrisl.
(reply to this comment)
Sunday, March 09, 2003 - 09:32
Interesting. Okay, I know this has nothing to do with your article, but you did get me thinking. Wasn't (or better, isn') TF a little anti-women?
Like I remember it was very rare for women to have a driver's license in the family, and when they did, people were still sceptical of letting them drive. Generally it was the men who did that sort of thing, women had babies and went DTD. Maybe everyone realized this before I did, but I think D.Berg was a chauvinist. I am not a feminist, and I understand that a lot of people think women can't drive, but in TF I think it was different. Like I remember a single woman in her late 40s coming to our home, who did have a license and had lived by herself for a while. Whenever she drove anywhere, someone (male) had to go with her and sort of "keep an eye on her". It was like an unspoken rule that men were "da head" of the home.
Nothing against men being in charge, but when it comes to communal living, I think there is a difference. Even the influence that TF had on marriages was like, "obey your husband no matter what" type thing. Well, what if your husband is an asshole? In normal society you would not be looked down on for disobeying or leaving him. Whereas in TF I saw so often how men would "share" with basically anyone who they had given a hug to, and the wife was supposed to "share in love". When women wanted to so (which I rarely saw) it was like "she is sort of going overboard". Due to our loving "Grandpa", men (I am mainly referring to FGA) figured it was healthy and normal to want to have unprotected sex with as many women as were available. It didn't matter if you were married or not. "We are all married in God's eyes" or some shit like that. The whole "Law of Love" thing to me seemed like an excuse for Bergy Pervy to be able to shag as many woman as he liked and get away with it.
I think it ruined plenty a marriage though, my parent's included. My dad was always banging the closest home's auntie and my mom was supposed to grin and bear it. "Share" the Lord's love.
If it hurt her, she was being proud and selfish. She was "the old church". TF made such a big fuss of Jealousy and how no one should ever be jealous as it is of Satan! BOOOH! Everyone and their dog gets jealous, it is more than natural. But strangely enough, the usual scenarios were that of a husband sleeping with heaps of women, and the wife being jealous. Hardly the other way around. When women would do the above it was usually discussed as this: "She is getting tripped off in sex while she should be caring about her husband's sexual needs, and taking care of the kids and making babies and snacks."
Oh well, I don't really care anymore. That is their beer, and maybe I am wrong about it after all. This article just got me thinking, thassall!
(reply to this comment)
| From JoeH|
Sunday, March 09, 2003, 20:27
Jealousy's an interesting topic, I'm not completely disagreeing with you, but I want to comment on one part of your argument: "[jealousy] is more than natural" Most people would argue that men have a natural desire to sleep with as many women as possible, spread their genes, as it were. Does this mean it's okay? I think everyone has a natural inclination towards violence, men especially, but we haven't legalized it in our society, have we?
My argument against jealousy is that it comes from insecurity. If you're not secure in your relationship, you'll be terrified that your partner is going to sleep with someone else, or leave you. When you get to that point, you won't even want to let them talk to other people, and this is where jealousy becomes a problem. Another problem I have with jealousy, is that, in addition to being motivated by insecurity, it's also symptomatic of extreme selfishness. I know a girl who won't let her boyfriend have any female friends. Whether she feels so insecure or is just so high maintenance that she has to have his attention all the time, I don't know, but I think this is extreme jealousy and is very unhealthy and unfair.
Having said that, I think a little jealousy can be quite healthy. It should bother you to see your partner flirt with someone else. You don't have to go crazy about it, but when you stop caring, it means you've stopped loving the person the same way. (reply to this comment)
| From sarafina|
Tuesday, March 11, 2003, 01:56
Warning: content of this comment may be full off punctuation errors, miss used sentences, miss spelt words and or improper sentence structure and unfinished paragraphs please read at your own risk of misinterpretation of content.
In all fairness (I'm trying to keep an open mind since I'm a very jealous person) I am only stating my personal opinion. I'm not one to say you are right or wrong. I for one can be extremely jealous at times (depending on the person) I am however not insecure with myself at all nor am I "high maintenance or extremely selfish" I fact I am quite the opposite. I am a very giving person. I do however demand respect for who I am and maybe that may misinterpret as "high maintenance" for someone who isn't ready for that. Maybe not in the sense of materialism (as when you refer to that term now days it's usually what it means) I am however like that when it comes to loyalty and trust.
There are b/f's that I've had that can flirt and have many platonic girlfriends but that I don't get jealous of because I KNOW I can trust them, therefore I feel very secure with them it's just something you just know. There are the others that "tell you" you can trust them but that do, say and act in a way where you are "unsure of". By past experiences woman's intuitions are usually right. These are the ones where "jealousy" or a defense protective instinct and warning system usually shows. It is usually the guys who say "your high maintenance" or "your to jealous" that are usually the ones who "aren't done playing around. [there is nothing wrong with that either] but they usually want to have both.
So I agree it is unhealthy as if the case they should not be together. Cause Jealousy is usually there because the two want two different things. One wants to have a serious and trusting relationship the other wants that ...plus wants to "look around" and is still keeping his options open. I know cause I have done this too. What I'm saying is if you are having such a difference in jealousy problems there is usually a conflict in interest (as was in my last relationship. I wasn't jealous but my b/f was ) He had good reason to be jealous. Not because I would have "cheated but because I was leaving my options open or somewhat unhappy in my current relationship" I did rectify it as I realized it was unfair to him. So knowing what I was doing makes me jealous of others who I feel may be doing the same thing. If both of you are on an equal page and you both want the same thing then neither one of you will be jealous to that extent. This again is only based of past experiences not on fact. (reply to this comment)
| From wildirishrose|
Monday, March 10, 2003, 07:26
I agree with you totally. Just because something is a "natural" inclination does not mean it is right. But what would get me so upset about in TF, and perhaps this is even the point "Booty" was trying to make, is the fact that--according to Berg and Zerby--the natural tendency of men to "sleep around" was alright, good, healthy, and encouraged, but the natural tendency of a woman to be jealous was wrong, and we should get deliverance from. That is mixed up. (reply to this comment)
| From dave|
Sunday, March 09, 2003, 13:32
You're right, we've all seen enough of this "law of love" stuff. The things you mentioned above remind me of religion in general, in particular the Catholic church, committing all sorts of crimes in the name "god". Berg really had one thing in mind and that was to "do" as many women as possible under the disguise of religion, or because "god" said so. No wonder so few believe in god any more.
(reply to this comment)