Sunday, June 10, 2012

Clueless (and embarrassing) Wash Post Lisa Miller

Ms. Lisa Miller, who covers religion for the Washington Post--what qualifies her is unknown--in a June 7 article ("Whose ‘radical feminists’?") engages in the familiar, sophomoric critique of the Church, making much of how clueless those dreary old men at the Vatican are. But let's see who's clueless.

It surprises me a little that the men--

notice right here the formulaic, men v. women template. Why is this relevant? Is it really true--as feminists argue--that men and women think so differently that men simply can't "get it"; which, if true, makes things like explanatory articles--such as every word that follows--rather pointless, doesn't it? But is it true? Ms. Miller expects you to assume it is true.

...who run things at the Vatican--

notice here that it's all about power: "who run things." Let's see if Ms. Miller shows any interest in an alternative question: is it true?

 ...did not use their most favorite recent pejorative – “feminist” — when they rapped the knuckles of Margaret Farley, a nun who has long been a professor at Yale, for having written a book about sex and love that condones masturbation (and as of Thursday morning was in Amazon’s top 20). In a million other ways, it doesn’t uphold their view of Christian sexual morality.

"Their" view: note again the reference to power. Ms. Miller: do you concede the possibility that it might be Christ's view? Are you interested in this question? Can you consider the possibility that some people, even dreary old men at the Vatican, might care about that question?

By the way, since you focus on masturbation--no doubt because for secular minds, the Church's concern about it seems so ridiculous--here's a clue, Ms. Miller. Can you offer a plausible explanation for why men in the Vatican insist on "their view" of masturbation...other than that they believe it's true? Here's a clue about masturbation: there aren't many men who wouldn't be happy to have permission to do it. Cheeky feminists like to say, "if men got pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament." To which I counter: if sacraments are created by men according to their needs, then why isn't masturbation one?

And if you think I am unfair in explaining Ms. Miller's emphasis of masturbation, may I ask, then, of all the many topics Sister Farley addressed in her book, why focus on that one? That was neither Sister's only topic, nor her only dissent from Church teaching, nor the only matter raised by the mean men who "rapped her knuckles." So why masturbation? Is telling people it's sinful actually the gravest injustice of a male-dominated hierarchy? Greater than refusing sacraments to remarried divorced? Than refusing to validate same-sex relationships?

Because, unlike the other nuns the Vatican has been reprimanding recently, Sister Farley is, in fact, a feminist. An ethicist who has worked on the problem of HIV/AIDS, Farley was commended in 2005 by her Yale colleagues for her contributions to feminist theory.

I'm willing to bet the Vatican's criticism of Sister Farley has nothing to do with her AIDS work, or her accolades from Yale--oh, did you know she has long been affiliated with Yale?

Members of the Vatican hierarchy are using the word “feminist” and even “radical feminist” the way third-graders use the word “cooties.” 

Seriously, Ms. Miller? OK, it's your argument. Let's see what she can offer...

In April, the Vatican accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents 57,000 nuns nationwide, of allowing “radical feminist” ideas to flow unchecked in their communities. In 2008, after launching an investigation against American nuns (the results of which have not yet been released), Cardinal Franc Rode told a radio interviewer that the nuns are suspected of “certain irregularities,” a “secular mentality” and “perhaps also a certain feminist spirit.”

The authors of these rebukes never define “feminism” or “radicalism.” In their hands, these words, which can carry legitimate intellectual meanings, appear to signify something like: “Yucky women who fail to heed our instructions and, anyway, don’t meet our standards of womanhood.” In other words, the sisters aren’t behaving as girls should.

Really, Ms. Miller? The Vatican's statements regarding problems in the Leadership Conference of Women Religious fail to say anything more about those problems other than women are "yucky"? What page does the "yucky women" quote appear, by the way?

Ms. Miller, you may not be aware of this, but if you do a search online, you will find a lot of items about the LCWR and it's dispute with the Vatican. Along the way, you'll discover quite a lot about the Vatican's concerns. Why, there's quite a history--not only of conflict between the women (yay!) of LCWR and the men (boo!) of the Vatican--but even among women religious, such that a new leadership organization representing women religious was created in 1992 by those religious who lacked confidence in those "who run things" at the LCWR. Oh, but we don't  hear about that question, do we? Can't fit it into the men-v-women narrative, can we?

Their casual use of these terms convinces me that the cardinals, in their vast experience, have never actually met a radical feminist theologian. 

Ms. Miller, I bet $100--to the Red Cross--that members of the college  of cardinals have, indeed, "met a radical feminist theologian." Will you take the bet?

Such creatures do exist, although American religious orders are hardly their breeding ground. What the Vatican hierarchy sees as a “radical feminist” is a woman who dares to believe that she’s equal to a man.

This sort of "argumentation" is embarrassing. Ms. Miller, maybe edit before you file your item?

"Even large sectors of the church itself have legitimate concern and want to continue to talk about the place of women in the church, and rightful equality between men and women,” Sister Pat Farrell, a member of the LCWR, told the New York Times last week. “So if that is called radical feminism, then a lot of men and women in the church, far beyond us, are guilty of that.”

Now that we have a quote from the LCWR's perspective, will we see something presenting the Vatican's concerns? (Crickets...)

Lisa Isherwood is a real-life radical feminist theologian. She is editor of the journal Feminist Theology and a professor at Winchester University in England. She believes that the men at the Vatican are using the term “radical feminist” as a right-wing scare tactic, for it evokes other enemies far more dangerous than nuns. Their thinking, she says, goes like this: “We hear the word radical Islam, and everyone panics, so let’s chuck that at them.”

The mother of radical feminist theology was the late Mary Daly, who started life as a committed Roman Catholic and spent most of her career teaching at Boston College, a Catholic institution.

She was driven to criticize her beloved church after she sat in on sessions of the Second Vatican Council in Rome and felt that women had no meaningful part in the proceedings. She was, she wrote later, appalled by “the contrast between the arrogant bearing and colorful attire of the ‘princes of the church,’ ” she wrote later, “and the humble, self-deprecating manner and somber clothing of the very few women. . . . Watching the veiled nuns shuffle to the altar rail to receive Holy Communion from the hands of a priest was like observing a string of lowly ants at some bizarre picnic.”

In her breakthrough 1974 book, “Beyond God the Father,” Daly wrote, “If God is male, then the male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed to live on in the human imagination.” Now that’s a radical feminist for you. Daly’s work gave voice to generations of feminist scholars.

Yes, indeed, that's a good representation of radical feminism. Good examples of (a) contempt for women who don't follow their mindset ("a string of lowly ants"); (b) absurd reasoning: "If God is male, then the male is God." OK, try this: If God is spirit then the spirit is God--there is  no such thing as created, non-divine spirits. Is this even logical?

And what does it say about Ms. Daly's thought-process that she uses the image of castration? Women can't be "castrated" of course; the only meaning the statement has is to suggest that there is something especially powerful about having testicles. Why would a radical feminist argue this way?

And (c), it's an example, yet again, of how it all comes back to power. If you were holding your breath waiting  for Ms. Miller to pursue the question of what's true, you've passed out by now.


She deeply loves her church and believes that at its core, Roman Catholicism has a radical feminist message. “The church should be radical. It should be saying, ‘More inclusion, more equality.’ An abundance of life is a fundamental Catholic value. The idea of ordination of women and so on is just one very small, very significant point. Radical feminism would want the church to be more proactive in terms of working for a life of abundance for the marginalized.”

First, one notes the assertion: "she deeply loves her church"--really? Does she believe her Church possesses the Deposit of Faith? That what we seek is the truth about God and about ourselves, as Jesus taught us? What if that truth is other than what she hopes? Isn't it even possible the Church is right in her moral teaching, in her theology of God, and in defining who can be ordained? What then?

And has anyone else wondered what any of this has to do with masturbation? Which--aside from the question of truth, which never seems to matter--which seems more radical: to challenge worldly notions of sexual gratification and to demand commitments involving real sacrifice; or to endorse the sexual revolution and let people know they don't have to make much change in their sexual and marital practices, as a consequence of following Christ? Which sounds more like "take up your cross and follow me?" Or is that too much like what "lowly ants" do?

Now that’s a threatening idea.

To whom?

1 comment:

Gail Finke said...

I think no one edits her because no one at all can make it through one of her essays. I am amazed you did it, BRAVO. You would think, with about 1/4 of all Americans being Catholics, the paper would know she is an idiot. It's not as if it's hard to check what she says...