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Waiting in Joyful Hope

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The radical feminist origins of same-sex marriage

Canada has recently undergone a wrenching national debate on the issue of same-sex marriage (the result of which was its legalization), and this debate is being found well beyond our shores in other nations of Western civilization. When the debate was at its peak a number of people asked me where this debate came from, and how it had suddenly become so prevalent. The causes are many, of course, but one of the key sources has been radical feminism.

The modern feminist movement began in the mid-19th century in the United States, as an offshoot of the anti-slavery movement. Many of the protagonists in the anti-slavery movement were women, and they found themselves confronted with the reality that once the (male) slaves were freed, they would have more civil rights than the women who were working so hard to free them!

The initial women's movement had the goal of obtaining the right to vote (i.e. women's suffrage). Those campaigning for women's suffrage (the "suffragettes") found themselves facing stiff opposition, however, and sometimes from other women! They also found their opponents using faith-based arguments to oppose their demands, which led some women to found "The Women's Bible" project, an attempt to reinterpret and re-present the scriptures in a way that took into account the perspective of women, in a radical way.

We should not be surprised to learn that a strong Marxist streak took root within the suffragette movement. Marxism had, as part of its core doctrine, the notion of class struggle and the need to promote class consciousness, something that echoed the experience of many of the suffragettes as they found themselves having to expend considerable energy to convince other women of their cause! Marxism was also radically opposed to religion as a negative force that perpetuated social injustice — again echoing the experience of the suffragettes as Bible quotes were tossed in their faces. It was not lost on many women that one of the first nations to grant universal suffrage was the nascent Soviet Union, in 1917.

Gradually, nation by nation granted women the right to vote. With this goal achieved, this first "women's movement" began to die down. There were many social inequalities remaining, of course, but the idea was that once the women had the right to vote and hold elected office, politicians would necessarily have to appeal to those women voters and the system would reform itself. One group, however, did not have this same confidence, and it continued to hold the feminist torch: the Marxist feminists, who believed that the problem was not merely of institutions but of culture, and that only a "revolution" in thinking and action could produce the desired results.

The most articulate of these later feminists was, without a doubt, the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir. Her book The Second Sex became a manifesto for the future feminist movement, particularly in its radical form. In her book, de Beauvoir frankly admits that she intends to analyze the place of women from both a Marxist and an Existentialist perspective.

  • As an Existentialist, de Beauvoir did not believe that there was any objective human nature as such, and certainly no specific "feminine nature" that was not merely a cultural extra often imposed upon women. She did admit that men were, in generally, physically stronger than women. In an age of increasing industrialization, however, she declared this no longer relevant — surely a woman can drive a forklift, for example.
  • As a Marxist, de Beauvoir believed that all cultural features are driven by economic considerations. Again, with industrialization women were now capable of engaging in "productive" work on an equal level with men, at least in theory. In her analysis, such work was necessary to escaping from being slaves of men. That being said, however, there was at least one thing that might prevent a woman from engaging in this sort of work: pregnancy and child-rearing. De Beauvoir therefore issued a clear call for widely available birth control and abortion, to enable women to engage in the kind of work that would produce the desired social change.

De Beauvoir's work might have remained simply a dusty tome on a shelf had the world not lived a shattering experience: the Second World War. In this war, men by the thousands headed off to battle — and women to the factories. They became critical to the war effort by their "productive" work, work they had never really done before on such a scale, and they did it very well. While many desired to go "back to normal" once the war was over, there was no question that it was the start of the end for the illusion of what constituted "women's work". In addition to this factory experience was the experience of many women of leadership roles through organizations like the WAC's (Women's Army Corps). Many women learned that they could lead, and lead well, and the WAC experience built that sense of "gender consciousness" for many.

The real trigger point, therefore, for the radical feminism of the 1960's was the development of the birth control pill. Here, at last, was the missing piece declared by de Beauvoir to be necessary for their total emancipation: an emancipation from the demands of their own fertility. Granted, condoms did exist prior to the Pill, but the use of a condom was often still the decision (or not) of the man. To take the Pill was a woman's choice, and one made outside the exact context of the sexual act. All the other social forces, combined with this new reality, led to the start of a paradigm shift in society, a shift that included a major upsurge in the work-related occupations of women, as well as the promotion of abortion on demand. Of course, there were some casualties: women who *did* choose to stay home and "look after the kids" often felt looked-down-upon by other women as being reactionary, or "counter-revolutionary".

I would like to point out that this feminist paradigm shift began to filter into the various Christian churches, usually Protestant, at this same time. The Protestant churches had been very cool to the "Women's Bible" project, but over time became more and more open to the aspirations of the feminist movement, even in its most radical forms. This effect was amplified through the influence of liberation theology, which was often communicated in Marxist forms. The acceptance of liberation theology within the liberal Protestant world was an open door to the more radical forms of feminist theology as well, given their Marxist roots. Because many such churches also had a very functionalist view of ministry (i.e. ministry is essentially a set of tasks, rather than a sacrament in itself), the Existentialist viewpoint of de Beauvoir also found fertile ground. Many such churches then began a process of ordaining women to ministry, and given the theological approach of Protestantism to questions of ministry this development was quite logical, even inevitable.

And now we get to the issue of same-sex marriage...

Simone de Beauvoir, in her Marxist analysis, was faced with a particular conundrum. Marxism posited a dualism in society, called the Master-Slave dialectic, in which once class (the Masters) would always oppress the other class (the Slaves) until the oppressed class rose up against the oppressors in a Revolution, essentially wiping them out and creating a classless society. De Beauvoir was able to easily transpose gender onto this model, with Men as the Masters and Women as the Slaves. She freely admitted, however, that there was a problem with the Marxist solution, because after all it would be impossible to wipe out all men and create a mono-gender world. After all, who would father the next generation?

The feminists who followed de Beauvoir took up this intellectual challenge. While different solutions were proposed to the problem, one of the more radical was the development of a body of literature related to lesbianism. De Beauvoir had written a chapter in The Second Sex devoted to the experience of lesbianism, something she had personal experience of through a number of trysts, and in her work she noted that lesbian women, by their lack of romantic interest in men, had the capacity to be a vanguard in the development of a feminine class consciousness. Lesbianism, therefore, was now declared to actually be a social good, and lesbians were the social leaders for a new world of justice and equality.

While I have not found it in the work of Simone de Beauvoir herself, I had found in the work of later authors the next logical development in this positive appreciation of homosexuality. In short, gay males provide the solution to de Beauvoir's conundrum of "what to do about the men". While gays are certainly male, by their exclusive interest in other men they are outside of the Master-Slave dialectic that oppresses women, and therefore are "safe". Indeed, in a most radical future, they could safely supply all the sperm needed to ensure the biological continuation of the human race, whose next major evolutionary step (necessary to ensure a classless society) would be to go from being heterosexual to being homosexual. The "women's liberation" movement quickly became the support base for a developing "homosexual liberation" movement as well, with the two in close partnership.

Promoting such a radical change would not be easy, of course, which led to a most curious development within the radical feminist movement: a positive appreciation of pornography and sexual license. For most of human history, the sign of an emancipated woman was her ability to express a right to NOT have sex. With the development of the birth control pill, however, a liberated woman was now seen as one who DID have sex, often, and even casually. A conflict arose within the feminist movement around pornography and prostitution, however: was this a fundamentally degrading thing, which promoted the continued oppression of women, or was it a liberating thing, with women essentially turning the tables on men by being paid large sums of money by them for something that, in the past, they would have been "forced" to do? Among the radicals, however, the pro-pornography case was much clearer, given their Marxist economic arguments and their desire to promote an acceptance of homosexuality. Much heterosexual porn actually contains homosexual elements, in the form of on-screen lesbianism or female bi-sexuality. While straight men might have been squeamish about gay sex, judging from consumption patterns they had much less problem with lesbians in porn — such that this form of "entertainment" became a way to promote an acceptance of lesbianism (and homosexuality) in general.

While the promotion of promiscuity was one stratagem for the creation of this brave new world, another was the co-opting of the Christian churches that had opened their doors most widely to feminism. The development of "gay and lesbian theology" soon followed the development of feminist theology, following the pattern of the respective liberation movements. Those churches who had accepted the "liberation" hermeneutic most profoundly found themselves inevitably ordaining openly practicing homosexuals as well. Simply put, the conclusion followed the premises. Of course, there has been the pesky problem of the Bible, which is even more explicitely anti-homosexual than it is supposedly anti-woman. The deconstructionist hermeneutics of the mid-20th century, however, which incorporated the idea of power struggle within the structure of texts themselves, were easily employed to void problematic Biblical passages of any real meaning.

When it came to the promotion of same-sex marriage, again the feminist (and homosexual) communities were divided. Many in both camps saw marriage as a fundamentally patriarchal, heterosexual institution, and they rejected it. A funny thing happened within the heterosexual world, however: many heterosexuals stopped getting married, and a "common-law" marriage began to occupy a greater and greater space. Laws were re-written to remove special preferences for married couples, and instead focussed on those specifically with children, whether in or out of actual wedlock. The Pill and accompanying sexual revolution had removed the idea of a necessary link between sex and children, and now the institutionalization of common-law relationship weakened the sense of a link between marriage, sex, and children. For many, one did not get married to have kids (the children being already present beforehand, in many cases!) but to make a public declaration of love for the other.

Of course, in such a situation a move for same-sex marriage was inevitable. Marriage still retained great respect within the populace, given its link to "love without shame", so it made sense that homosexuals who desired more than just social tolerance for their relationships would make a push for same-sex marriage.

The whole push for same-sex marriage, therefore, is another step on a long road. It is something that is seen by many as required for the creation of a society without a Master-Slave dialectic around gender. And it is not an end in itself. The dominant radical feminist vision includes a strong Existentialist viewpoint, which implies that one's sexual attractions are inherently flexible. Many young people today are encouraged to be "open" in their sexuality, and to experiment with same-sex relationships. Indeed, an emerging term used to describe this attitude is "hetero-flexible", meaning that the person feels generally heterosexual but is open to other possibilities. Of course, for those interested in leading the forces of continuing social change, the approval of same-sex marriage also legitimizes (or even mandates!) the changing of educational systems for children to promote this new "openness" to homosexuality.

In conclusion, we must look to the future. The social battles around same-sex marriage are really about choosing the fundamental structure of society. Many religions, such as my own, maintain the importance of gender distinction, both in doctrine and in practice. These same religions typically disapprove of homosexual conduct and relationships. Will such bodies continue to enjoy unfettered freedom of religion? Another looming battle surrounds the nature of parenthood in society. Will parents continue to have the right to pass on their values to the next generation, even in they conflict with this emerging "social consciousness"? Given that the legal change for same-sex marriage in Canada necessarily involved the denial of any parental rights based on natural family bonds, this may prove to be a struggle for years to come.

How Jesus heals today

Very often, when we approach the Lord for a healing what we are really looking for is a cure. If that is our desire, we may find ourselves disappointed and even in despair. But there is no sacrament, for example, that can stave off death inevitably. The only way the disease of death will ever be cured will be by the glorious coming of Christ. Until then, though, we all called to live in Hope, not in despair. This is what a healing brings. A cure delays death, but still leaves us with the same fear. A healing, on the other hand, comes in such a way that it brings hope, even if death follows shortly after.

I remember once when I was called to anoint an elderly woman dying of pneumonia. She was unconscious, and her breathing was very laboured. Her daughter was there, very sad, and she asked me to give her mom the "last rites". I explained to her that we don't actually have "last rites" in the Church, and that this sacrament was really for healing. After the prayer, something moved me inside to say to the daughter, "Look for the healing. It might not be what you expect — it might not be a cure — but look for the healing that brings hope."

A couple of days later I saw a death announcement in the newspaper. I visited the funeral home, and tapped on the shoulder of the daughter, expecting her to turn to me with great sadness on her face. Instead, her face lit up when she saw me and she said, "FATHER! When you said to look for the healing, you weren't kidding!"

Astonished, I asked her what she meant. She explained that she left her mother's hospital room later that night to get some sleep at home, hoping that her mom would still be there when she got back the next morning. Not only was mom still alive, though, she was sitting up in bed, totally conscious! They had a lovely conversation, said many beautiful things to each other, and then her mom decided to take a nap. She died peacefully in her sleep.

Was there a cure? No. Her mom still died. But was there a healing? You bet. A new life was given to that elderly woman, even if only for a time, and just enough to open everyone up to the possibility of hope. And that is how Jesus continues to heal us today.

Why be Christian?

I was invited to the rectory of Mary Queen of Peace parish last Sunday to offer a talk to a group of young adults (they have a group that meets about twice a month). It started with a delicious dinner and a warm mug of tea, and then we proceeded to the living room to chat about the topic "why be Christian?" When I had spoken with the pastor of the parish a bit earlier in the day he jokingly answered, "Why not?"

Jokes aside, of course, it is a little more than that. In our world of increasing pluralism people are coming in contact with other religions and philosophies at an increasing rate. A question like "Why be Christian?" probably would not have even been asked by most people in the Middle Ages, for example, who lived their whole lives in a single village. While the *qualitative way* a person lived their religion might have seen a lot of variation, the actual *fact* of "being Christian" was probably rarely questioned. Not so any more.

Behind the question of "why be Christian" is really the question "what makes Christianity different from other religions, and why do those differences matter". And behind these questions is another issue: are the religions of the world really different from each other at all? Some people, for example, have bought into the silly notion that "deep down, all religions teach the same thing". What I find amazing is that this is actually an empirical statement — you can actually do the research to find out if this claim is true — but that most people who make this statement have never really done the research. All they've done is put their faith in someone else who made the statement, making it a kind of creed, the basis of their own "religion"! Let me also add, on a personal note, that I *have* done extensive research on the various religions of the world, and I can *assure* you that NOT all religions are fundamentally the same. They all ask the same questions, but they don't give the same answers, and therefore no one has the right to give themselves permission to be lazy when facing the question of religious belief.

Now with regards to what makes Christianity special, let me offer just one obvious example: Christ. And not just Christ as a good man or a prophet, but Christ as the only-begotten Son of God, Christ as the Word of God incarnate. And once we accept that Christ is God, we are immediately led to affirm the Trinity as one God but in three Divine Persons, who live in an eternal relation of mutual love. Behind the teachings of the Incarnation and the Trinity is a fundamental statement about the nature of God: that God is Love. Not simply that "God is loving", but that God *IS* love, he is made out of love, love is his core subtance and nature. NO OTHER RELIGION IN THE WORLD SAYS THIS.

Once we see that the Christian Christ (and is there really any other?) is actually part of the Trinity, we still need to ask ourselves if it really matters. And yes, it does. If the Word of God was able to become incarnate as a true human being, like us in all things but sin, it implies that we, in turn, can be raised up to enter into a communion of love with the Trinity. In other words, we can become like God. The Christian Christ, in his very being, is a statement of the glorious salvation God wants to share with us. By his resurrection he showed that death is not the final end. That being said, heaven is not simply going to be some sort mere garden of perfect (but earthly) pleasures; nor is it going to be the annihilation of the self in some kind of disincarnate nirvanna experience. No, my friend, Jesus didn't just rise, he rose *as himself*, keeping his true personality intact; and he ascended into heaven (and is there now) *as himself*, including in his human nature.

The bottom line: if you compare the different religions, you will see that Christianity offers the most complete understanding of salvation. It offers a vision of salvation whereby we become sharers in the divine nature, without losing the essence of who we are and without diminishing the grandeur of God. It also offers the means of attaining this salvation, through commitment to Christ. Without taking anything away from the good things found in other religions, and without denying the ways in which Christians themselves have not lived up to these high ideals, there is simply no other religion that measures up to these promises. Accept no substitutes!