Monday, January 4, 2010

Thank You, Mary Daly

A couple of sites are reporting that feminist theologian Mary Daly died this week, although Google News shows no articles yet on the subject.  For those not familiar with Mary Daly... where to begin?

Mary Daly is the author of several books, many of which can be found through Beacon Press, which acquired the right to publish them when they would have gone out of print, I believe, including Beyond God the Father, The Church and the Second Sex, and Gyn/Ecology.  Many people heard of Mary Daly because of a controversy while she was a professor at Boston College in the 1990s.  She refused to have men in her classes, offering them separate opportunities to learn from her.  Some students brought this forth as a legal case, and Daly was required by the school to include men in her classes, whereupon she refused to teach.  Mary Daly was the very definition of a "radical feminist."  Clearly many people think she went too far, and would point to her as an example of feminists being "man-haters."  To explain Daly in her own words, I turn to an interview in which she says:
What I love is the way women think. And what's so precious about my space at Boston College is that it's women's space. When you get a teacher and students who really want to be with women, and we seize the space and read philosophical works and literature by women, they begin to think like themselves. They feel as if they've come home again. And that is the very groundwork of radical feminism. So if our space is taken away from us, which is what they're attempting to do at Boston College, then so is the possibility of that kind of, I won't call it dialogue, that kind of spinning conversation, of matching experiences. It's not debating, which is a male thing. Something new begins to happen, and that's why new words have happened for me: because the old language, the patriarchal language, does not contain words that are adequate to name women's experience. And it is so exciting. I'm talking about women's elemental experience.


There was a point at which I was very immersed in feminist theology.  I took all the classes I could find on feminist theology, including a class from Rosemary Radford Ruether.  At that time, I would divide feminist theologians into three categories.  First, there were feminist theologians looking to address patriarchal problems within Christianity--such a gender-exclusive priesthood.  This group would argue that Christianity isn't inherently patriarchal, just certain problematic expressions within Christian groups that were patriarchal.  Closely related was the second group, feminist theologians looking to reclaim Christianity from a deeply layered patriarchy, but still making the claim that Christianity at its root was not patriarchal, and that this was added later.  These theologians were doing things like reclaiming the story of Lilith and Mary Magdalene.  Third, there were those who saw patriarchy as an intrinsic part of Christianity, and left Christianity behind to move on to a post-patriarchal religion.  I would put Mary Daly in this group.  And I would put myself in that group.  I see Christianity as a man-made religion, one with some good insights and truths, but a product of a patriarchal culture.  The Bible does put women down and put them in a subservient role.  This is one argument for me for not taking the Bible literally and as divinely inspired.  If I took the Bible literally, I would have to believe that all the oppressions that are at best condoned and at worst directly ordered (sometimes by God), are, well, Godly.  Oppression is not Godly by any definition of God I can recognize.  Therefore the Bible cannot be literally true and divinely inspired.

Similarly, Mary Daly wrote (quoted in the interview linked to above) in Beyond God the Father:
The biblical and popular image of God as a great patriarch in heaven, rewarding and punishing according to his mysterious and seemingly arbitrary will, has dominated the imagination of millions over thousands of years. The symbol of the Father God, spawned in the human imagination and sustained as plausible by patriarchy, has in turn rendered service to this type of society by making its mechanisms for the oppression of women appear right and fitting. If God in 'his' heaven is a father ruling 'his' people, then it is in the 'nature' of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated.
 Sadly, there are too few, even among feminist theologians like Mary Daly, with the strength to imagine beyond God the Father.  I'm so very thankful she did.

2 comments:

Caroline said...

Somewhere/when along the path of my theological education, when I also took many feminist theology classes, and along the path of my personal theological journey, I took on the spelling of "God" as "Godde" instead... sort of something between God and Goddess. This spelling represents to me that we don't know what gender this Godde is, or if "it" has a gender at all, or maybe "it" has both genders.

I see the Bible as man's interpretation of the meaning of life and life's experiences as well as the reporting of actual events. That interpretation, due to the culture of the time, was paternalistic, as was the beginning Christian (i.e., Catholic) church. This Bible is fallible and contradictory, as is Man.

I, therefore, consider myself a feminist theologian, although not professionally, who believes that both the Bible and Christianity are patriarhcal, but that does not imply that Godde is patriarchal or that religion has to be, or that Christianity or other religions cannot be changed to non-patriarchal religions. So I guess I find, using your definitions that I am neither type 1 or type 2, but something of a mixture of some parts of each.

I do love Mary Daly's description of the way women think and converse... "spinning conversation" is an apt description, as I think of the way women use conversation in a nurturing, growing sort of way, "matching experiences" to help each other make sense of life, and as opposed to the more argumentative, debate-style dialogue of most men.

Women's theology has been likened to a patchwork quilt, another feminine, crafting term. The conversation helps us put that quilt together, figuratively as well as literally.

Anonymous said...

one of her quotes:

"If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males."

tell you what, replace "males" with "jews". Lemme know how it sounds....