Goddess Project, The
A Bevy of Very Busy Heretics
Feminist leaders including Rosemary Radford Reuther and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza tried for years to invent a God/ess they could sell to the faithful.
In her 1992 book, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, makes the fullest argument for a female image of God. Recapitulating what she calls the theological "trajectory" of her feminist predecessors, but using a less abrasive voice, she begins from the premise that God, as pure spirit, has no gender. Reduced to its simplest terms, her claim is that to know one's deepest self is to know God; therefore revelation is the interpretation of one's own experience. Thus, calling God by masculine titles is an arbitrary choice, which has led people to think of Him as literally male, a situation Johnson denounces as inherently unfair.
The patriarchs had their turn at the wheel, she says, and they used it to justify oppression of women. So now, in reparation, "classical Christian theology" must be passed "through the fire of critical feminist principles." Feminists (the only women deserving a voice) must mandate, at least for now, exclusively female names for God, like "Sophia/Wisdom" and "She Who Is." To avoid a risk that Sophia might be seen as an inferior feminine aspect of God, Johnson re-interprets the Blessed Trinity to make Sophia into all three Persons, whom she calls "Abyss, Word and Spirit."
Johnson's suggestion swept through feminist ranks like a prairie fire through dry straw, and now updated religious materials are sprouting references to Sophia/Wisdom, Sophia Christ, Sophia-God, Spirit-Sophia, and Holy Wisdom — as a "Biblical" female divinity.
Where did this Sophia figure come from? Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom. In both Greek and Hebrew, words are assigned gender, and in both, abstract nouns are feminine. Foolishness, for example.
Thus Wisdom (Sophia) is a grammatically feminine noun, personified as "she" in the Old Testament book of Wisdom, between the Song of Songs and Ecclesiasticus.
Those passages were traditionally interpreted as references to Christ, the Word born of the Father before all ages. But now, feminist theologians exploit this linguistic circumstance to depict Sophia as a female figure of Divinity whose cult was suppressed in favor of Jesus by sexist patriarchs in the early Church. They mean to suppress Him in turn.
In the November 1999 issue of US Catholic, Johnson subtly weaves this "Sophia" theology into her article, "A closer look at the communion of saints." Aimed at the simple folk in the pews, it is an exercise in anti-speciesism, asserting that not only all the human race but all creation are already saints, and "they stand or fall together."
It is not clear whether she is canonizing rocks, trees and water or only lower animals, nor whether saying that they "stand or fall together" implies animism, but she concludes: "when [humans] are seen together with the whole natural world as a dynamic, sacred community of the most amazing richness and complexity, then the symbol of the communion of saints reaches its fullness as a symbol of effective presence and action of Holy Wisdom herself."
Plum Positions Increase Their Evil Influence
Johnson has suffered not at all for her theological fantasy. On the contrary, honors have been heaped upon her: a term as president of the CTSA, a post in the American Academy of Religion, another on the Advisory Board of the Bishops' Committee on Women in Church and Society. In 1997, she was named Distinguished Professor, and in 1998, Teacher of the Year, at New York's Fordham University.
Among Johnson's allies in this mutiny is Sister Mary Collins, OSB, another feminist theologian prominent in Church institutions: past chairman of the department of Religion and Religious Education at the Catholic University of America, a longtime advisor on feminist theology to the journal Concilium, and past president of the North American Academy of Liturgy.
Though a champion of women's ordination, Sister Collins takes a congregationalist view of priesthood. In her keynote address to the 1997 meeting of CTSA, she criticized Mediator Dei, Pope Pius XII's 1947 encyclical on the sacred liturgy, as theologically defective, for speaking of the Mass as a "sacrifice." Using the word "sacrifice" reinforces a "cultlike" notion of the priest's action and "marginalizes the role of the people in the Mass," Sister Collins complained.
Collins' theology, like Johnson's, seems to be carrying her — and her admirers — far beyond Christian landmarks, into Goddess country. In a recent article titled, "Shouldn't We Sing to Her?" Sister Mary Irving, SSND, quoted Collins to support her plea that God be addressed as female in order to honor "woman's dignity as the full image of God." ... "We must ask, with Mary Collins: 'What if the assemblies where neither presider nor preacher nor congregation are troubled by androcentric address to God are unwitting or unwilling participants in idolatry?'"
In other words, the way Catholics have worshiped for two millennia is idolatry — to be corrected by transforming God into a goddess?
Another prominent feminist academic is Sister Sandra Schneiders, IHM, Professor of New Testament Studies and Christian Spirituality at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. Typically, her 1997 address to the LCWR exemplified post-Christian thought. Speaking on the disarray prevailing in women's religious communities, Schneiders turned to chaos theory instead of Christian premises to explain that women religious are seeking a new basis for their lives:
"For many the God of Christianity seems too small, too violent, and too male; the focus on Jesus Christ seems narrow and exclusive; the resurrection seems mythological if not incredible and, in any case, irrelevant to a world in anguish; the institutional church seems hopelessly medieval, sexist, and clerical; liturgy is alienating; morality is out of touch with reality; and church ministry is a continual battle with male hostility and power dynamics."
Their God may no longer be the God of Jesus Christ, but a non-personal, benevolent cosmic energy holding reality together in some mysterious way. Schneiders is not dismayed by this disintegration of Christian belief in vowed Catholic religious. After all, she continues:
"What many religious are attempting is not to dispense with faith, but to find God in a kind of personal mystical quest that bypasses the superficialities and hypocrisies, and even the violence, of the official structures of institutional Catholic Christianity. …In short, it is an attempt to develop a spirituality without religion."
Sister Kathleen Hughes has for many years been a member of ICEL (the International Commission on English in the Liturgy) and a consultant to the NCCB Committee on the Liturgy. Five years ago, she says, she addressed the Congregation for Divine Worship, in Rome, on the subject of inclusive language. In a lecture in September of 1999 at Maryville University in St Louis, she said she expects to see women ordained in her lifetime. She also announced that the Latin word deus is too often improperly translated as "Father," adding, "We need more metaphors for God."
A former professor of liturgy at Chicago's Catholic Theological Union, Sister Hughes is the newly-elected Provincial of the Religious Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the author of several books, including Silent Voices, Sacred Lives — of which I feel impelled to remark that if these ladies only could be silenced, the whole Church would be better off.
Stop Appeasing Them Already!
At least in the United States, where feminism is strongest, this bizarre state of affairs has caused problems in the observance of the three years of reflection on the Trinity that Pope John Paul II called for as preparation for the "Great Jubilee Year 2000." To mention just one example, the editor of a magazine for catechists told me in 1997 that their editorial strategy would be to tiptoe as delicately as possible through these pre-jubilee years, trying to avoid the masculine language of Father and Son so as not to arouse feminist wrath.
It is absurd to kowtow to the feminist aversion to God's Fatherhood. It is lunacy for the Church in this country to have dedicated three years of intense spiritual preparation to meditating on a God one dare not name. It is positive infidelity to permit apostate fanatics to attempt to seduce ignorant and trusting Catholics into idolatry. The appeasement of feminists has been a grave disservice, to them as well as to the rest of us. It has permitted them to marinate in their errors until they lost touch with Christianity altogether. And, it would appear, with reality.
But it will take more than a frown or a cold look to stop them. The feminist activists who have achieved much of their agenda by bewailing purported mistreatment will not go silent voluntarily. They must be confronted. Church institutions must remove them from the posts where their outrageous notions do so much harm, as Boston College has finally done — 30 years late — to the outrageous Mary Daly. A doctorate in theology does not compensate for disbelief in Catholic doctrine and even in the rudiments of Christian faith.
Copyright © 2000 Women for Faith & Family
Donna Steichen is the author of Ungodly Rage and is a wife, mother and grandmother living in Ojai, California.
This article previously appeared in Voices, the journal of Women for Faith & Family, and is adapted by Catholic Exchange with permission.
This item 5278 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org