Why are so many Catholic periodical that in some way identify themselves with our country are in fact dissident rags. For example America magazine, St. Anthony Messenger Press (americancatholic.org), and U.S. Catholic. It must be the idea of a democracy and radical individualism that strongly informs there vision of H20 Catholicism.
Yet as much as John Paul II’s theology offers a real alternative to our sex-obsessed society, I have a mixed response to it. As a lifelong Catholic, a feminist, a wife, and a theologian, I find myself in agreement with some dimensions of it but with concerns about and even strong disagreements with others.
Well I have to admit that the article made me tired just reading it. I am only surprised that she didn’t list feminist before Catholic because that is how the article reads.
For John Paul II, God is always the bridegroom, never the bride; God is the one who acts, who invites. We, the brides, are the ones who respond. While there is a profound truth to this metaphor in that God is the one who issues us the invitation, I am uncomfortable with the gendered way that this comes across and its implications for real-life marriages, and indeed for society at large.
She never does explain why she is uncomfortable with this "gendered way", but the implication is of course that after understanding Pope John Paul’s II theology of the Body that we will force our wives to be submissive. Yeah I remember that surge of wife-beatings after Christopher West’s book came out.
The complementarity of the sexes. As John Paul II saw it, the differences between men’s and women’s bodies are not accidental, nor are they different merely for the sake of reproduction. Our bodies themselves reveal God’s intention for us. So to be male or to be female is, first, to be oriented to the other.
Second, maleness and femaleness constitute “essential” dimensions of the person that are not exchangeable. To be a woman is to be fundamentally “receptive” and open to the other. Thus John Paul II was quite critical of forms of feminism that, in his view, seek to make women “like men.”
There is what he called a “special genius” in womanhood that is oriented toward relationship and nurturing. And, because of the essential differences between men and women, only men can be ordained priests, as they represent Christ the bridegroom in relation to his bride, the church.
And of course after this we get the theology of Marlo Thomas Free to Be.. You & Me. Just hand Johnny a Barbie doll and he will grow up sensitive.
My response: No one could deny the obvious differences between the sexes. There are fundamental differences that exist at the genetic level and other differences that seem to accompany being male or female within a given society. Nature and culture are intertwined in complex ways, and a definitive answer as to which differences are “natural” and which are “cultural” is impossible.
Feminists have suggested that not all our differences are “given” to us. Some are learned. Opening up new opportunities to women, and to men as well, has profoundly changed the way we live our lives.
While many women find great fulfillment in bearing and raising children, some do not and instead find happiness in a single life or in a marriage without children. Some women find that they are better mothers or wives by combining their professional lives with their family lives. This shift in our understanding of gender has, by the same token, allowed men to develop stronger relationships with their children, as they are more free to take on nurturing roles.
I also noticed the packs of nurturing men. They go from busted marriage to busted marriage nurturing their children of different mothers. And just how does the fulfillment of childless marriages happen, well why of course the glory of contraception. Pill let us sing they praise. Estrogen in the highest.
My response: It is well-known that the overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholics do in fact use artificial contraception. But mere numbers cannot constitute a genuine theological response. This may mean that the overwhelming majority of Catholics are morally mistaken. Yet I think it is worth asking whether there is any wisdom in their experience.
Of course why even bring up the fact if you are going to point out that mere numbers can’t change theology? Well of course it must be the experience. We are all sinners so the wisdom of the experience of sin must somehow make us not sinners.
Does using contraceptives mean that the couple holds back an essential part of themselves from the other? I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with a friend who is the mother of three children. She and her husband had joyfully welcomed each child, and she could attest to the deep wonder and mystery that accompanied their conception. They had found Natural Family Planning very helpful in the process.
Yet she later found herself at a point in her life where, she told me, the thought of another child elicited panic. Neither she nor her husband felt that they could take on another child, and this fear was having a negative effect on their relationship with each other and with their children. After much thought and prayer, they decided that contraception was the best solution for them. Freedom from fear of conception has had a very positive impact on their relationship and their family life as a whole. I do not think that such an outcome would be associated with significant periods of abstinence.
The problem with these types of solutions is that they don’t fix the problem. Fear of the possibility of children is a sign of a psychological problem that contraception doesn’t cure. Just as the cure for unwanted children is wanting them, the fear of contraception must be addressed for the moral sickness that it is. Though I am rather skeptical of the story she relates, it is just too pat an illustration. Deep wonder and mystery changing to fear of conception.
This is the part where she tries to show how fair she is as a Catholic theologian.
Surely there are countless examples of couples using contraception purely as an avenue to their individual sexual pleasure, of women feeling less able to decline sex, of both men and women feeling pressured by the culture to have sex, of sex being reduced to “hooking up.” Such practices call for a strong response from people of faith.
…Beyond that, is abstaining regularly from shared sexual delight really what God wants of couples? Many couples have answered that question with a strong “No.”
Beyond that, is people regularly abstaining from sin what God wants of people? Many people have answered that question with a strong “No.”
The complex issues involved in a response to the church’s position on artificial contraception are too complex to treat in depth here, but I would simply note that there are thoughtful theological arguments that take a different position, that note the need for couples to follow their consciences on how best to plan their families, that suggest that the church’s longstanding opposition to contraception relies on an understanding of sexuality that looks to the experiences of men more than of women.
Then we get the boilerplate "complex issues", "thoughtful theological arguments", and "follow their conscience." If only Onan had told God that he was following his conscience and that this was a complex issue. Now I am sure you knew the next part was coming.
Indeed, in a church whose leaders are committed to complete abstinence from sexual union, a theology of the body that relies on abstinence as a central dimension of married sexuality is not surprising. This is not to say that celibates cannot understand sexuality, but rather that the lived experience of sexual activity also has a wisdom greatly worth hearing.
Celibate men dictating things to the rest of us. Run for the hills. Again with the lived experience generating wisdom. Didn’t we already get that one earlier?
I suggest that Catholics and others ought to listen respectfully to John Paul II’s message about the body and sexuality!
And then find reasons to ignore it like I have.
As someone whose vocation for 25 years has been to encourage the voices of young women and men, I would suggest that the Bible and the Christian tradition have other stories to tell as well: of the Canaanite woman who challenged Jesus’ reluctance to heal her daughter, of the early Christian leaders Phoebe and Prisca who were some of the first Christian missionaries, of the 12th-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen who was known for her preaching and even for admonishing the clergy for their failures—these women are hardly examples of pure receptivity.
This is the problem with critiques like this is that they confuse receptivity with passivity. To mischaracterized our late Pope’s theology in this way is just silly.
However, apart from this requirement, it is necessary to strive convincingly to ensure that the widest possible space is open to women in all areas of culture, economics, politics and ecclesial life itself, so that all human society is increasingly enriched by the gifts proper to masculinity and femininity.
2. In fact, woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church. It is certainly not a question of comparing woman to man, since it is obvious that they have fundamental dimensions and values in common. However, in man and in woman these acquire different strengths, interests and emphases and it is this very diversity which becomes a source of enrichment. — Pope John Paul II
But it is no surprise that this theologian just does not get it. For example here is something else she has written.
Finally, the neuralgic issue of abortion. Yes, the church has advocated for the protection of these powerless and innocent ones. But when the church proclaims a theology of womanhood that identifies all women as mothers, whether physical or spiritual, that allows for moral ambiguity in decision-making that leads to death, as does the church’s teaching on just war, but does not see any ambiguity at all in women’s decisions over their future — since there is no ambiguity: all women are mothers!
I am not quite sure what the heck that means – but I am sure it translates to abortions are morally acceptable.