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Feminist Theology of Liberation

Fighting Patriarchal Assumptions & Attitudes Towards Women


No single person is responsible for the development of feminist theology. There have been many women as well as a few men who contributed to an organized, sustained critique of the traditional, patriarchal attitudes within Christianity and Judaism which repress women and keep them in a second-class status, not only within religious institutions but in the rest of society as well.

Patriarchy Starts at the Top with a Male God

Perhaps the most widely read feminist critique of modern theology is Mary Daly's book The Church and the Second Sex. Hoping to spark a religious reformation, Daly argued the feminism was a moral issue that needed to be addressed not merely for the sake of women, but for the sake of the moral character of Christianity as a whole. Christian leaders could not continue to treat women as fundamentally inferior while also laying claim to moral and spiritual authority over the community of believers.

Daly writes:

"The symbol of the Father God, spawned in the human imagination and sustained as plausible by patriarchy, has in turn rendered services to the type of society by making its mechanisms for the oppression of women appear right and fitting. If God in "his" heaven is a father ruling "his" people, then it is in the "nature" of things and according to divine plans and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated."

The critiques of feminist theologians have focused on things like the use of patriarchal language and the uncritical manner in which modern churches have adopted traditional cultural attitudes towards women as if they were "natural" and inescapable. Feminist theology counters this by arguing for the use of more inclusive language and eliminating cultural baggage that is not directly necessary to basic religious dogma.

Attacking the Foundations

Most critics like Daly argued that the problems of discrimination and prejudice were due to distortions of their religion's essential teachings. Criticisms were generally balanced against efforts to uphold the religion's claim on authority - they did, after all, hope for a transformation of their religion's social institutions. Some feminist theology has gone even farther, though, and challenged the basic foundations of religious systems. This is especially true among feminist critics who have been repeatedly disappointed by the failure of their churches to change or institute basic reforms.

Within Christianity and Judaism, for example, it has been argued that if the basic biblical texts really are sexist, then it is more reasonable to treat them as artifacts of the cultures that produced them rather than as revelations from God. If that is the case, though, it becomes difficult to regard those religions as anything other than cultural artifacts as well. One consequence of this has been a growing interest in alternative religions believed to be more sympathetic to women's situations, especially those involving goddess-worship.

Although feminist theology has taken its own course independent of other liberation theologies, feminist interests and perspectives have been incorporated into various doctrines of liberation. Those seeking to use Christianity to liberate the poor and oppressed may have at first ignored the plight of women, but for the most part they were brought to recognize that improving the status of women was not only required by the internal logic of their theological arguments, but would in fact play important roles in achieving their objectives. One cannot, after all, "liberate" a class or race while leaving behind the female half of that group.

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