Saturday, June 2, 2012

How Far Will They Go?

            After completing the final reading for this week's class, and ultimately the year, I can't help but wonder how far "scholars" will go to stretch and twist the teachings of their opposition in order to try and prove their points.  After reading Luther a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see his error in accusations concerning the medieval veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  After reading Mary Daly and most Marina Warner, however, I must say that I am more disappointed not because of mistakes in accurate detail, but because of how effective they allowed their bias to influence their writing to the point where they sound like conspirators.
            Let me first begin with Mary Daly's Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation.  It is made clear from the very beginning that she will allow her feminist approach to interfere to make her point, which doesn't surprise me coming from a woman who was at once forced to retire by her university for refusing to allow male students into her advanced woman's studies class.  Apparently, Daly thought (or still thinks) "women aspirations are not being taken seriously", thus she feels the need to twist Catholic theology in order to prove a point that is not even true, and make it seem as if the Catholic Church is cleverly using Mary as mechanism to passively ensure the subordination and inferiority of women to men. 
            The early parts of Daly's essay begin with sarcastic remarks such as: "Mary is 'good' only in relation to Jesus....the inimitability of 'Mary conceived without sin' ensures that all women as women are in the caste with Eve" to suggest the apparently "contradictory message" of the Church and its means of suppressing women.  She critics the Church theology of Jesus, regarding it as being built upon a "male savior", "male God", and "male theologians", almost implying a wish for a female deity, but then contradicts her obvious desire by criticizing the church with the exact opposite by saying it deems a "God-like status of Mary (always officially denied in Roman Catholicism of course)".  Thus, she accuses the church for not having a female held at higher regard, and then says that the church does so in Mary, but that it actually denies it - I'm not sure how this argument works. 
            Daly also attempts to cleverly criticize St. Thomas Aquinas and the Immaculate Conception:

"Thomas Aquinas, a fairly consistent patriarch in this matter, rejected the doctrine.  He insisted that if the Blessed Virgin had never incurred the stain of original sin, "she would not have need redemption and salvation which is by Christ....Aquinas taught that the Virgin was sanctified in her mother's womb..." 

Daly tries to make it seem that because the "doctrine" of the Immaculate Conception was so "contradictory" and ridiculous that Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor and Scholar of the Church, was even rejecting it because it was "unfitting" as it would imply that "Christ is [not] the Savior of all men", once again returning to her demise of the idea of God and salvation being in the hands of "males". While she does mention that it did take a while to become an official doctrine of the Church, she fails to state that specifically at the time of Aquinas that the Immaculate Conception was not a belief of the Church.  If it had been, Aquinas would not have denied it, and it thus it failed to measure up to the Vincentian Canon for the Faith and it thus could be rejected or accepted as a mere private opinion and not an article of faith (similar to the teaching surrounding belief in apparitions of the Blessed Virgin.  Just because they are confirmed as authentic does not mean they are  required beliefs).
            In the same token, Daly even goes as far to say that the Ascension is titled "The Ascension" because "Jesus 'went up' under his own power, whereas Mary was 'taken' up" in the Assumption, and did not enter heaven by her own means, but by the power of the "male God". Thus, Daly believes that this "jargon" is an act of sexual hierarchy. Overall, Daly believes that the "Roman Catholic Church's degrading of women" is so severe that it diminishes women to the level of evil, as she says they are both "excluded from the Deity of the Holy dogma of the Trinity".  Daly believes that Mary is intelligently used by the Catholic Church to obtain the "victory that is of the male." 
            Marina Warner's essay Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Marym,
 while shorter than Daly's, accuses the Catholic Church as using Mary to limit the freedom of choice of women:

"At one moment, a religion of this type declares that by obeying one moral code and performing certain rites correctly, the believer will prosper; at another, it spirits away this book of rules and substitutes another, contradictory one.  Catholicism operates in a similar fashion, for on the on hand it affirms the beauty and goodness of the natural world and insists that man's purpose is to cultivate fully his God-given gifts on earth; but on the other it endorses the most pessimistic world-denying self-sacrifice as the state of the elect, and it accords virginity, the symbol of renunciation, the highest accolade."

Warner is referring to the idea of embracing natural humanity and then goes on to say that the Church holds so sacred the idea of sex and virginity (through the use of Mary), calling it contradictory because it limits the "embracing of natural humanity".  Warner proceeds to contradict herself, however, in saying that "the Church's teachings on contraception and abortion stem directly from the same misogynist ideas about women's role contained in the myth of the Virgin, exacerbates the terrors of sex and childbirth by maintaining pregnancy as a constant and very real danger".  How is contraception in sexual activity "embracing the natural humanity"? Would not "maintaining pregnancy" also be natural instead of disgracefully murdering a child through abortion? Therefore, Warner swallows her own bullet with this attempt of an argument against the Catholic Church, and tries to conclude her essay by reducing Mary and her role to nothing more than a "myth".
            Mary Daly and Marina Warner are clearly extreme feminists, and the history surrounding their biographies and other writings support this accusation.  While I am by no means a sexist, I must say that these two writings were rather blown out of proportion.  Daly and Warner not only allow their biased language to push away the reader, but they also permit it conjure simply ridiculous arguments that accuse the Roman Catholic Church as using the Blessed Virgin Mary as a conspiracy method to maintain male supremacy and abolish women's rights and their roles in humanity. 



  1. AM: Like some of the previous posts, you address the “politics of the past” and difficulties of historical interpretation. As I have stated before, I read Luther as pretty moderate and conciliatory. After we read the Castilian apparition stories I wondered if anyone in the class changed their mind on the Reformers and their take on earlier and contemporary Marian devotion.

    The tricky part of all of this is to ensure that our critiques are sound, consistent, principled, and based on solid (preferably explicitly stated) premises. So, for example, when you object to Daly’s argument about the “jargon” of The Ascension vs. The Assumption, to really make your argument you must explain why her argument fails. You do provide solid reasoning for your other objections to the arguments you critique in this post. I highlight this example only to show how easy it is to let our assumptions “do the talking”–even when they aren’t explicitly stated!

  2. While it is true that in class, I highlighted the ways in which Daly and Warner were reading the tradition through a particular interpretive lens (a lens with which I have certain problems, much as you!), it is important to remember that we all have our lenses. Nobody sees the past (or anybody else's argument) without some interpretive bias. The question is how well we are able to make ourselves aware of our own biases and adjust them in the face of what other people have argued or made. As an historian, I believe that we have a commitment to those who have lived before us to pay careful attention to the reasons that they gave for the things that they believed and the way in which they lived; but as a living human being, I believe that it is even more important for our own sakes' (that is, for those of us alive now) to allow the past to speak to us as directly as we can. It is the only antidote we have to the kind of presentist solipsism into which it is all-too-easy to fall (as, I would argue, Daly and Warner did). This is why it is so important to make such critiques with a careful eye on the tradition. RLFB