Easter Feminism

Wow, this one is weapons grade stupid!

“But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.”
— Luke 24:11

Even before we begin there’s a bad sign. Should I deal with this now or later? Later I think.

The men refused to listen to her story. She was publicly smeared as a whore. And when she emerged as a celebrated advocate, powerful men tried to silence her because she threatened their status.

Nevertheless she persisted.

 The woman we’re talking about, though, is not a leader in the #MeToo movement — the viral campaign raising awareness about sexual assault and harassment against women. She is Mary Magdalene, the first person Jesus appeared to after his resurrection, according to the New Testament, and the first person to preach the good news that he had been raised from the dead.

             And we hit the ground running with the very first paragraph. The description they give of St. Mary Magdalene is…off to say the least. But since we’ll be going into more detail into this later, I suppose I’ll save it for then.

As to the ‘MeToo’ thing, I’m not going to talk about it much since I haven’t researched it beyond reading a few articles and commentaries on it. All I’ll say is that I find Twitter activism in general to be faintly ridiculous, and I think the kind of things brought up in this particular movement (sexual harassment and assault by employers and celebrities) are the horrible, but entirely predictable consequences of the social and cultural factors that have been championed by…well, more or less the same forces driving the ‘MeToo’ movement.

That’s not to say such behavior isn’t bad, or that the same things didn’t happen in the past, but that the forces in question broke down and removed pretty much any and all barriers that would discourage this sort of thing, apart from the simple admonition to not do it. This is a big topic and this isn’t the time or place to delve into it, but I thought I should let you know where I’m coming from on the subject.

For billions of Christians around the world, Easter Sunday is a celebration of a risen savior. Yet what happened to Mary Magdalene shows that Easter can also be seen as something else — a #MeToo moment, some pastors and biblical scholars say.

Don’t you just love this? It’s a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, the conquest of Death, and the opening of eternal life. It’s also sort of like a months-old ongoing scandal and ‘Twitter’ trend.

That right there pretty much sums up this article.

They say Easter is also a story about how charismatic female leaders such as Mary Magdalene –

Mary Magdalene was a follower, not a leader. That’s what ‘disciple’ means. Besides that, what makes you call her ‘charismatic’? Where in Scripture is she shown moving a crowd, inspiring devotion, or anything of the kind?

– and even Jesus himself –

The HELL?! Jesus is a ‘charismatic female leader’?

were victimized by some of the same behavior that sparked the #MeToo movement:

You mean short-sighted social reformers removing all barriers to abuse on the grounds that they were somehow insulting and then pretending not to notice the inevitable results until it became politically expedient to do so? 

the sexually predatory behavior of men, the intimidation of women and an orchestrated attempt to silence women who drew too much attention when they spoke up.

Oh, that. Okay: what evidence do you have that St. Mary Magdalene was the victim of “sexually predatory behavior”, intimidation, or an “orchestrated attempt to silence women who drew too much attention when they spoke up”? According to the Scriptures, she had “seven demons driven out of her,” and depending upon how you interpret certain passages may have been a prostitute, or at least a very sinful woman. Where do you get any of the things you just said?

One of the most obvious links between Easter and #MeToo, some say, is the way Mary Magdalene has been slut-shamed.

I won’t deal with that stupid buzzword because we’ve got enough to deal with here.

She has been falsely portrayed in books and films as a penitent prostitute rather than what she really was, says Claire L. Sahlin: “The foremost witness of the resurrection and a visionary leader of the early Christian movement.”

Note that it is the feminists who think that a reformed prostitute and adulteress couldn’t possibly be a ‘visionary leader,’ while that sexist old Catholic Church apparently had no problem with the first witness of the Resurrection being a penitent prostitute, nor with venerating said prostitute as one of her most important Saints, naming churches after her, having abbesses and saints taking her name as their own, etc.

You see, the key word there is ‘penitent.’ Leaving aside the question of whether St. Mary was actually a prostitute, the Church honors repentant sinners because that is what we all are, or ought to be. The repentance is more important than the sin.

“The #MeToo movement recognizes that men in authority used their power to sexually abuse women and silence their voices,” says Sahlin, an associate dean and professor of multicultural women’s and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University.

‘Associate dean and professor of multicultural women’s and gender studies at Texas Woman’s University.’ That may be the most credibility-destroying description I’ve ever read.

“Mary Magdalene also was a victim of men in authority who used their power to silence her voice.”

What the heck are you talking about? The Gospel writers – all men – cite her by name as the first witness of the Resurrection. Every Christian denomination publicly quotes her every single year and has done so for upwards of two thousand years. Who, exactly, are these ‘men in authority’ trying to silence her voice and how do you think they are going about it? Because they obviously haven’t done a very good job.

Is it possible to see the Easter story through the lens of the #MeToo movement, or are some pastors and theologians twisting the central story of Christianity to fit a “feminist ideology”?

The answer to the first is ‘why would you want to?’ and the second is ‘obviously.’

One New Testament scholar captured the tension between interpreting the Bible and seeing it through a modern lens when he wrote about a push to make biblical translations more gender-inclusive.

What do you mean by ‘captured the tension’? What does that phrase even mean? That he made a point relative to the subject?

“Should we refrain from calling God our Father because some people have had sinful, oppressive fathers?” asked Vern S. Poythress, a professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. 

“Should we stop using ‘He’ to refer to God because some people will think that God is literally of the male sex? If we allow these concessions, will not others enter from the wings, seducing us into an indefinite series of mollifications of the Bible for the sake of not ‘unnecessarily’ offending modern readers?”

More importantly, these ‘concessions’ are distortions of the Biblical record. Christ Himself calls God ‘Father’ and orders us to do so; there is zero room for interpretation on the point and less authority to alter His words. If you are even considering these questions seriously, you do not understand this subject.

Also, what does any of this have to do with your point? Because you literally never bring this up again.

Others scholars, though, say they’re not inventing scripture. They point to numerous passages in the Easter story and throughout the New Testament as evidence of four ways they say Easter became a #MeToo moment:

Again, if you’re trying to link the Resurrection of Christ to a trendy piece of Twitter advocacy as if the latter were in any way comparable to the former you may be missing the point.

Now, if you want to talk about how Christ interacted with women and what that implies for how men ought to treat women in their turn, then that might be something worth reading about. This is just hijacking the saving work of God to serve a shallow media narrative.

The men didn’t listen to ‘hysterical’ women

You mean the women who claimed to have seen and spoken to a man they had seen tortured to death mere days before? How would not listening to someone who said that be strange? Also, some of them did listen: Peter and John went to see for themselves

Credible witnesses — it’s what the resurrection stories hinge on, and it’s what the #MeToo movement needed to gain traction. In both cases, women are delivering shocking revelations to a skeptical public. The Apostle Paul captured this challenge when he used the Greek word for scandal — skandalon — to describe how the Easter message must have sounded to non-Christians.

And like many scandals, people have trouble believing the women, some biblical scholars say.

Most ‘scandals’ don’t involve people coming back from the dead. Also, St. Paul’s reference to ‘scandal’ had nothing to do with the fact that the message was first brought by women (that would be largely irrelevant, since by that time the eleven, several hundred disciples, and Paul Himself had also seen the Risen Christ), but to the way it seems to overturn all expectations and human knowledge. You are twisting words painfully to try to prop up and extremely flimsy narrative.

 Skepticism of women was literally enshrined in the law; a woman’s testimony didn’t count in a Jewish court during Jesus’ time, scholars say.

“In the ancient world, women were thought to be credulous and gullible, especially in religious matters,” says Richard Bauckham, a theologian and author of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony.” 

I have heard that women’s testimony was not considered admissible in court in the ancient world, at least in most matters. Though there are some conflicting accounts about that. In any case, you’ll excuse me if I don’t take your word for the reasoning behind that practice.

“In the second century, the pagan intellectual Celsus, who wrote a book against Christianity, says of the resurrection: ‘Who saw him — Just a poor fisherman and a hysterical woman.’ “

I notice no one is taking up the cause of working men being abused, looked down upon, mistreated, and so on. Nevertheless, what exactly does this prove? A second century pagan, attacking the faith, used dismissive and harsh language. What has that to do with anything? How much influence do you think Celsus had on Christian teaching?

This sexist subtext can even be seen in the biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, since the traditional Easter story is told in the Gospels through the eyes of men.

            ‘Sexist subtext’? What sexist subtext? You haven’t established any sexist subject to the Gospels by noting the legal practices of the surrounding world and quoting someone speaking against them.

Also, the Gospels were written by men. Only one of them (John) is clearly told from any specific point of view at all, and it’s the view of the author. Are you saying that if something is written by a man or from a man’s point of view it, for that reason, has a ‘sexist subject’? If so, then ‘sexist’ has no meaning.

If Easter were an action movie, the men would have the juiciest parts. There’s the crafty villain Judas, who betrayed Jesus for a payday; the blustering Peter, whose bravado quickly melted when Jesus got arrested; and “Doubting Thomas,” who spoke for so many when he said he needed proof before he believed.

Are you really judging the central event of Salvation History, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ for redemption of souls, by the standards of an action movie? Not only that, but by the ‘how many of what kind of people get what lines’ standard that is too shallow to apply to action movies in the first place?

To answer you according to your folly, would you really be happier if the Gospels featured women doing the betraying, denying, and doubting while men by and large stood steadfastly by Him?

Also, the Gospels are more or less historical accounts: raising this point is like complaining that Shelby Foote’s account of the Battle of Gettysburg doesn’t provide very many interesting roles for women.

But a closer look shows that women are the real action “sheroes,” some pastors and scholars say.

Mangling words and displaying etymological ignorance is neither clever nor amusing. It just makes you sound like a child.

Also, we already have a word for female heroes: Heroines.

They were the ones who stood by a tormented Jesus hanging on a cross when the men had long fled in fear. And they were the ones Jesus first appeared to, not the men, all four Gospel accounts say.

Yes. That is very well known. It is regularly proclaimed publicly by every Christian denomination. Just about every piece of art depicting the Crucifixion shows this, as do the Stations of the Cross. This isn’t taking a ‘closer look,’ this is have basic knowledge of the subject.

Also, how does that fit into your implied ‘sexist subtext’ again?

“They were the last at the cross and the first to get the good news,” says Karla D. Zazueta, a discipleship leader at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, and a contributor to an anthology entitled, “Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible.”

The Bible, unsurprisingly, has no interest in sexual politics. The Gospels list the individuals who stayed by the Cross, regardless of sex, because the fact that they stayed is what mattered. Yes, the majority were women, but there was also St. John, Joseph of Arimathea, and Longinus the Centurion (though granted the latter two are a bit more ambiguous as to when they appeared and how long they stayed).

In any case, again, this is all very well known, commented on, and openly acknowledged. How is this remotely related to sexual harassment by male celebrities?

Yet they were the last ones the men believed, the Gospels make clear.

The Gospel accounts show that the men initially ignored the women’s declaration of a risen Jesus because, according to the Gospel of Luke, “their words seemed like nonsense.”

Yes, hearing someone say that they had seen someone they all knew to have been tortured and executed mere days before and whom they knew to be dead and buried, probably sounded like nonsense. Though, again, Peter and John at least went to see for themselves and still didn’t believe after seeing the empty tomb.

Moreover, St. Thomas, as you yourself noted only a few paragraphs ago, still didn’t believe even when the other ten Apostles – all men by the way – told them they had seen the Lord and touched him. There is no possible way you can spin this as sexism in action.

Some of the stories even take on the undertone of dark comedy.

The women tell a meeting of the disciples that Jesus has risen and the men ignore them. Men make the same declaration later and they are literally worshipped as saints. 

Are you kidding me? First of all, as I just said, men making the same declaration and with stronger evidence were still doubted by their own friend and companion. Second, Mary Magdalene and the other women are also worshiped as saints! How have you possibly missed that? Also, saying that ‘men make the same declaration and are worshipped as saints’ is a slight compression of the history of the nascent Church. Those same men, with miracles to back up their claim, were regularly beaten, arrested, thrown out of town, ordered to keep silent, and all but one of them was finally executed: hardly a matter of ‘of course men will be believed.’

And again, are you seriously trying to make the argument that the only reason anyone could have for questioning the story of a crucified man coming back from the dead is unthinking sexism? 

Jesus, though, didn’t have a problem sharing the stage with women, according to New Testament accounts. 

The Gospels are full of Jesus treating women in a way that would have scandalized his contemporaries. They were his travel companions and primary financial backers.

‘Primary financial backers’? Really?

Consider an obscure passage in Luke 8:1-4. It says Jesus and his 12 disciples were accompanied by women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna “and many others.” 

“These women were helping to support them out of their own means,” Luke says of the women.

What that means is that the women who travelled with Jesus basically kept house for Him and His disciples out of what they had. They weren’t ‘financial backers’ as if Jesus was running some kind of business enterprise. Nor is there any indication they were in any way His ‘primary’ means of support: we are not given any idea of the financial situation of Jesus and His followers, nor the relative amount provided by the women and the men. The assumption is more or less that those who followed Him brought along what money they had and made a kind of pool of it for their mutual support and that of the poor. Probably they accepted donations as well along the way. In any case, as they were all fairly low-class people it’s doubtful that anyone involved, least of all the women (you have already described how women did not have the same status as men in that time period), could be described as ‘primary financial backers.’

Once again, you are reading modern notions into the story in order to prop up your chosen narrative, without regard to either the time period, other possible readings of the accounts, or even other portions of your own essay.

A rabbi who traveled with and treated women as spiritual equals was unusual for a time when they were treated like second-class citizens, says Zazueta.

“He had a traveling seminary and he mentored women just as closely as his male disciples,” she says. “They were worthy of discipleship. You have this picture of Jesus traveling with a coed seminary that was supported by females with men and women learning and working together. He wasn’t following the rules of his time.” 

You’re making a big jump from “there were women who travelled with them and ministered to them” to “He mentored women just as closely as his male disciples” to “coed seminary.”

First of all, it’s not at all true that He mentored women just as closely as men: the Bible explicitly makes a distinction between His general disciples, which included women, and the picked Apostles, who were all men, and within those Apostles the chosen leaders of Peter, James, and John. Again, it’s a huge stretch to say His mission was ‘supported by females.’ You literally just told us that women were second-class citizens: do second-class citizens usually have the financial independence to be the primary backers of a ‘coed seminary’?

The Easter story itself doesn’t follow the rules of its time, Zazueta says. The Gospels make women the most important witnesses to the resurrection at a time when women were literally and legally ignored.

 “It’s a huge deal because it also gives credibility to the Gospel narrative,” Zazueta says. “No one who invented such a story would have invented a woman as a witness.”

Hey, look at that! A thousand words in and we have our first good point.

And of course the Gospels ‘don’t follow the rules of the time:’ they dealt with a unique figure and unique events. True religious accounts very rarely follow the ‘rules’ of their time. But didn’t you already say there was a ‘sexist subtext’ to the Gospels because men got all the juicy roles? Do you think the Gospels are sexist or not?

They pushed women into the shadows.

Alright, let’s deal with this: women throughout history have had different social roles than men, which were typically enforced by law. This was true of the ancient Middle East and Roman Empire. Women had their place, and within that context could command a fair degree of respect because, and this is the important thing, ancient minds did not see the world the same way we do. The idea that men and women should be treated the same or as equals would not have entered their heads. Nor would treating man and man as equals, for that matter. Their whole concept of the world and society, and their expectations from it, were different than ours. I’m not saying that was either a good thing or a bad thing: it is simply what was.

Women were not ‘pushed into the shadows’ any more than fishermen or carpenters were. Everyone had their place and their role in society, with relatively little leeway one way or another. Who do you think wielded more power and received more respect: Peter the Fisherman or Claudia the wife of Pontius Pilate? Matthew the Tax Collector or Herodias the wife of Herod?

But God cuts across that on a completely different level: His authority and His plans trump human social hierarchies and structures, which is why, as noted above, true religious events rarely follow the ‘rules’ of their time. Our social structures and relations, just or unjust, are always subordinate to the more fundamental reality of our relationship to God.

That is the takeaway here: not this feminist nonsense.

Here’s another peculiar feature of the Easter stories: They name many of the women who found the empty tomb of Jesus. In addition to Mary Magdalene, they name Joanna; Salome; Mary, the mother of James; “and the others with them.”

 Naming women isn’t a feature of the New Testament, says Sahlin, the Texas Woman’s University professor.

So you give a list of the named women who were present at the empty tomb, then claim that naming women at all is unusual for the New Testament. This itself isn’t true, as we will see in a moment, but even if it were, what of it? Again, these are religiously-motivated historical accounts written in the first century: the evangelists would only cite the people they considered had played major roles in the events, and would only give names to anyone if they thought it important to do so. How is that relevant? The most you could say is that men writing divinely-inspired texts in first century Palestine did not have equal representation of the sexes as a top priority.

“Women’s roles have been downplayed in the New Testament,” she says. “When women are mentioned, they are often not named.”

To say that someone’s role in an event has been ‘downplayed,’ you have to have independent knowledge of what their role actually was. The Four Gospels and New Testament writings, together with Church tradition, are more or less the only detailed and reliable sources we have of these events. What evidence do you have that women were, in fact, more involved in the events of Christ’s ministry and Passion, but were ‘downplayed’ by the evangelists? Based on what sources?

You can’t just make a statement like that and then say you are sure it was true because it flatters your preconceived notions.

What I think you are trying to say is “based on some allusions the evangelists couldn’t help but make, we can deduce that there was far more going on that they declined to mention.” Now, it is entirely reasonable to attempt to deduce what the evangelists left out in terms of people, events, and motivations: Scripture was never intended to be the sum-total of revelation and must be interpreted. But here’s the trouble: you still have to prove your case from either Scripture or Church Tradition or from other sources. Thus we can reasonably deduce the motives for both Caiaphas and Pilate on Good Friday from our knowledge of the surrounding history: Caiaphas fears a Roman crackdown, Pilate fears an uprising. Both also are seeking an advantage over the other. This isn’t directly mentioned in the Gospels, but we may reasonably infer it based on our knowledge of the time.

But what you and your ‘scholars’ are doing are cherry-picking certain passages and claiming that they indicate a highly unlikely situation for which there is not the smallest independent evidence, would be contrary to the normal practices and basic assumptions of the time, and which requires you to impute evil motives to the evangelists, all in the service of prejudices that happen to be in fashion twenty centuries after the event.

Consider some of the most famous New Testament stories. We know the names of many of the men Jesus encountered during his itinerant ministry: Zacchaeus, the diminutive tax collector; Jairus, the heartbroken synagogue ruler; and Nicodemus, the inquisitive Pharisee.

The man born blind. The man possessed by Legion. The man stricken with palsy. The leper. The repentant thief. The centurion. The other centurion.

But the Gospels name virtually none of the women Jesus encountered. They are instead identified by descriptions such as “the woman with the issue of blood,” “the Samaritan women at the well” and the “woman caught in adultery.”

Mary Magdalene, Anna the prophetess, Elizabeth the wife of Zechariah, Martha and Mary the sisters of Lazarus, Herodias the wife of Herod and Salome his daughter, the women you yourself just listed as being named.

Not to mention St. Veronica, who is not mentioned in the New Testament, but is part of Church Tradition. If the aim were to obscure the role of women, why would the Church add roles for women in her accounts of the events?

Also, the notion of the Church ‘downplaying the role of women’ is kind of ridiculous when you consider the Blessed Virgin. Whatever could be said about the Church’s teachings about Mary’s role in salvation history, ‘downplayed’ is not the word that comes to mind.

What does this have to do with the #MeToo movement?

You mean your misstating your case and utterly failing to acknowledge contrary evidence or alternative interpretations to make an extremely flimsy point?

One of the difficulties some women face when they come forward today is their tormentors have names, but they don’t. Many of them suffered in silence for years because their tormentors had name recognition and wealth. And some of those men used that imbalance of power to intimidate the women into silence.

Just to be clear, you are citing the writing conventions of first century Palestine as being somehow the same thing as Hollywood producers making or breaking careers for sexual favors. In what universe are these things even remotely related? Your case is that (you say) few women are directly named in the Gospel accounts; some women who have been harassed and abused are less prominent and well-known than the men who abused them. Ergo it is part of the same pattern.

Good God; the Riddler’s puzzles on the Adam West Batman show were more logical than that!

Some men in contemporary churches are accused of similar behavior. Andy Savage resigned from his Memphis megachurch this year after revealing he had assaulted a teenage girl in his youth group decades ago. Rob Porter, a Mormon, resigned as a top aide to President Trump after two ex-wives accused him of abusing them. The incidents left many churches wondering whether they needed a #MeToo movement as well.

Why is this here? I don’t know anything about these cases and have no opinion one way or another, but why bring this up? What does this have to do with anything? How does this connect in any way to the point you were attempting to make about names? I mean, that was a stupid and ill-founded digression too, but at least there was a transition from one subject to the next.

I think I know why this is here; it is insinuation, suggesting that sexual abuse, subtly encoded in the Gospel (really, you need to decide whether you think the Gospels are sexist or not and stick to it: you have gone back and forth on that point about three times so far), rears it’s ugly head in present churches.

We’ll come back to that.

The early church fathers used an imbalance of power to silence the women of Easter and other charismatic women in the New Testament, some biblical scholars say.

You haven’t read any of the Church Fathers, have you? Again, publicly quoting the women of the New Testament every single year and holding them up as shining examples of Faith is a strange way of silencing them. What on Earth are you even talking about? And again, where is your grounds for calling these women ‘charismatic’? What scripture passage or pious tradition or comment by the Father’s gives you grounds for describing them thus? Do you even know what that word means, or does it just correspond to ‘good’ in your mind?

“When the New Testament was edited and canonized, women’s voices like Mary Magdalene were suppressed,” Sahlin says. “The New Testament, however, offers clues to women’s leadership roles. Women served as prophets, benefactors and as missionaries in the early Christian movement.”

Again, what are you basing that on? What independent evidence shows that women originally played a larger and (to you) more palatable role that was then suppressed?

I keep saying this because you keep bringing it up, but all four Gospels state that women were the first witnesses to the Resurrection. You yourself have cited this fact several times; how can you argue the New Testament silences women while citing passages where it quotes and honors women? You make a baseless claim that the New Testament authors and compilers downplayed the role of women, then as evidence to your claim cite passages in the New Testament praising women. You are literally disproving your case as you make it.

Yes, women were heavily involved in the Early Church. And the Ancient, Medieval, Post-Reformation, and Modern Church. That doesn’t mean they adopted roles you would find inspiring, or were some kind of proto-feminist prophets preaching the equality of the sexes because, again, the Ancient World didn’t think like that.

Christians often hear sermons about prominent men in the New Testament: the Twelve Apostles, Stephen the martyr, men such as Barnabas and Timothy who risked their lives alongside the Apostle Paul. But how many people have heard sermons about female leaders in the early church such as Priscilla, a teacher of the Gospel who was so dynamic that her name was often listed before her husband’s when they were mentioned?

Probably quite a few people. Just as quite a few people have heard sermons about Mary Magdalene, Martha, the women at the tomb, St. Veronica, the numerous female martyrs and preachers of the early Church, and so on. In any case, how would you know? Have you made a survey of notable Christian sermons on the Saints and found that men are clearly celebrated more than women, or noted clear differences in the worship offered to male versus female saints, or made anything even remotely resembling an attempt to actually research and understand your subject?

This is a form of argument which I admit I myself have been guilty of in the past: you throw out a broad statement about what ‘generally happens’ and hope that your audience fills in the evidence for you. It only works if what you are describing is so obvious and commonplace that you can reasonably expect people to have examples (e.g. C.S. Lewis’s opening shot in Mere Christianity: ‘Everyone has heard people quarreling’).

Only in this case, rather than alluding to something everyone might be expected to have noticed, the author is speaking about what people he very clearly does not associate with might generally hear in places he doesn’t frequent. Honestly, based on my own experience and what I’ve heard from others, most Christians these days probably don’t hear many sermons about any Saint, let alone the more obscure ones glanced over in the New Testament: it’s more likely to be anecdotes about being nice and tolerant to other people.

And yes, the Twelve Apostles, the first martyr, and the companions of Paul are slightly more important to Church history and prominent in the New Testament than a woman who was mentioned a handful of times in passing. She is still honored as a Saint (along with her husband, whom you pass over so casually).

Or how many people know about Phoebe, whom the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 16:1-2 as a “deacon” in the early church and a “benefactor of many people, including me,” according to some biblical translations?

Again, someone mentioned at the tail end of a letter hardly stands out as a major figure in the Faith. I don’t mean any disrespect to these Saints, but I doubt they would take offense at the statement that ‘Barnabas and Timothy are rather more important figures in the Church than Phoebe and Priscilla’ and I imagine they would be even more annoyed to see their names dragged through the mud like this.

And why do people continue saying there were 12 male Apostles when Paul himself says in Romans 16:7 that “Junia,” a woman, is an Apostle, asks Bauckham, author of “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.”

Why do people say there were twelve male Apostles? Because all four of the Gospels explicitly state that Jesus singled out these twelve men as His particular disciples and lists them by name.

‘Apostle’ is a word with a few different meanings. It chiefly refers to those twelve close companions chosen by Jesus, but in the very early Church it also referred to anyone who had seen the Risen Lord or associated closely with those who had (the Didache gives instructions on how to receive such people), and throughout Church history it has been used to refer to those who were especially zealous and effective in spreading the faith. St. Patrick, for instance, is called ‘the Apostle of Ireland.’ By your logic that would apparently be proof that he had exactly the same authority as St. Peter.

Though since you seem unaware of what ‘charismatic’ means and seem to think ‘scandal’ as used by Paul is the same as ‘scandal’ as used by ‘People,’ I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised that you’re not exactly the best person to parse out the various meanings of ‘apostle.’

By the way, what does this list of notable female disciples do your claim that ‘the New Testament generally doesn’t name women’ and ‘downplays the role of women’?

“Paul has no problem calling her that,” Bauckham says. “In the passage, Paul says of Junia that she was ‘outstanding among the Apostles'” and was “in Christ before I was.”

But how can that Paul — who celebrated women as Apostles and declared in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither “male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” — be reconciled with the Paul who says in other parts of the New Testament that “women should remain silent in churches” and that if they had a question “they should ask their own husbands at home”?

Because he was talking on different subjects, to different audiences, and in different contexts. Because, yet again, people saw the world differently back then.

That’s because they’re not the same Paul, says John Dominic Crossan, a New Testament scholar and co-author with his wife, Sarah Crossan, of “Resurrecting Easter: How the West Lost and the East Kept the Original Easter Vision.”

Ah, what I call the ‘fan-fiction’ approach to Biblical studies. If you don’t like any particular passage, make up a story about how it wasn’t actually said by Jesus or written by Paul, but inserted afterwards by interested parties. That way you don’t have to expand any mental effort in reconciling the two, or be troubled with the possibility that you may have to adjust your own opinions.

Here’s a thought: how do you know the passages you like weren’t the spurious ones? Maybe Paul wrote the passages regarding marital relations and faceless female radical wrote the “neither male nor female” passage under his name. I mean, if you’re going to create head-canon to justify jettisoning any part of the New Testament that doesn’t correspond with your own personal views, whose to say your jettisoning the right parts?

Most biblical scholars don’t think Paul actually wrote all the letters attributed to him in the New Testament, Crossan says. Some New Testament passages in which Paul denigrates women were actually inserted later by male church leaders threatened by Paul’s radically inclusive vision, Crossan says.

I’m sure he has strong textual and historical evidence, including accounts of the editing process, counsels in which the Church debated the spurious passages, citations from Church Fathers who doubted the authenticity of these passages, and so on. Right?

Scholars can make that determination because the theology and writing style is so markedly different in some of Paul’s New Testament letters, Crossan says.

Funny how the Church Fathers, who spoke the same language, shared many of the same cultural assumptions, and lived in roughly the same milieu don’t seem to have noticed this, but modern scholars working from points of view Paul would never have imagined have, and wonder of wonders, Paul’s actual teaching is more or less the same as what those modern scholars already believed.

Also, note the implication that, as far as the Church Fathers were concerned (those same Church Fathers who regularly ended up crucified, beheaded, fed the lions, and so on), maintaining the deposit of faith was less important than ensuring uppity women got no funny ideas. That was their chief priority, for which they were so willing to doctor the words of Apostles and Evangelists that not one of them voiced the slightest objection.

“It’s like someone producing a letter by someone saying that MLK said, ‘If this nonviolent thing doesn’t work, we can go for the guns,'” Crossan says.

And if someone did that, do you really think no one, including those most dedicated to spreading Dr. King’s teachings and continuing his work, would question it for two thousand years until some daring scholar, working in a completely different culture and language and off of completely different assumptions, pointed out that it was noticeably different from the rest of Dr. King’s writings?

This pattern of powerful men erasing the names and voices of women caused the early Christian church to retreat from the powerful witness of many charismatic female leaders, Sahlin says.

Yet again, you are repeating the same made-up fantasy narrative that you yourself have repeatedly undermined and for which you have not given a scintilla of evidence. Now let me ask; who in the Early Church, specifically did this? Ignatius? Irenaeus? Justin? Clement? Hippolytus? Did any of them say anything about silencing female voices, silencing female disciples, keeping female missionaries quiet or subdued, or eliminating passages dealing with female figures?

For goodness sakes, it’s not like we don’t have any records from this time period! If you’re going to claim this, you have to provide a scintilla of evidence beyond “it would be convenient to my feelings if it had been there, ergo it has been taken out for evil reasons.”

“Sociologists tell us that when new religious movements start, women and others who may be marginalized in society often assume new leadership roles,” she says. “But as the religious movement becomes more institutionalized, women tend to fall back or are pushed back into the shadows.”

Oh, well if sociologists (all sociologists? Some? Most? One?) tell us that, it settles everything! Sociology is, as you know, a most rigorous, objective, and exact science not at all given to being swayed by personal or political views.

Also, the abbesses of the Middle Ages, St. Scholastica, St. Catherine, St. Theresa, and so on would be surprised to know that, not to mention St. Catherine, the patron of philosophers, the account of whose life, by the way, had her defeating multiple male philosophers in debate at once. One more instance of the Church ‘downplaying the role of women.’

On that subject, here’s an interesting side note: we have a letter from St. Jerome – the man who translated the Bible into Latin – advising a female correspondent how best to teach her daughter to read. Yes, it really sounds like the Church Fathers were eager to keep women down.

Discrediting women by calling them bad girls

This should be good.

In the #MeToo movement, some women are ignored, others are pushed into the shadows and still others are discredited as loose women who are the source of their own folly.

Most, it seems, are lauded and hailed as heroes, end up on the cover of ‘Time’ and are generally given a pass for sitting on the information for years and years while other women were abused. Seriously, did I miss something? Since when are the whistleblowers of sex abuse being ignored, discredited, etc.? The only times that seems to really happen is when their stories are so absurdly trivial that not even the most virulent feminist can defend them.

Mary Magdalene suffered all three treatments, some scholars say — including a smear campaign that has lasted nearly 2,000 years. 

Yes, the smear campaign of citing her as one of the greatest of Saints, being held up as the shining example of the repentant sinner, being the patron of innumerable churches, religious orders, etc. and the subject of reams and reams of gorgeous religious art.

Your narrative isn’t just unlikely; it is blatantly contradicted by very obvious and easy to find facts. It’s as if you’re claiming Benjamin Franklin has been smeared, downplayed, and ignored by the American public because he was an abolitionist: the whole foundation of your case simply does not exist.

Most people know her as a reformed harlot. That’s how she’s been portrayed over the centuries in books and sermons, and in movies like “Jesus of Nazareth,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and more recently, “Risen.”

But Mary Magdalene was never once described as a prostitute when mentioned in the Bible. She is instead portrayed as one of Jesus’ most steadfast disciples, someone who financially supported him and was called the “Apostle to the Apostles” by early church leaders because she brought the news of Jesus’ resurrection to the 12 disciples.

Let’s address the question of St. Mary being a reformed prostitute. It is true she is never described as such in the Bible: when she is mentioned it is said Christ “drove seven demons out of her.” Now, that could mean a few things, the most obvious being that He drove seven demons out of her (I note you don’t bring that up). However, there is a strong tradition of regarding her as one and the same with Mary the sister of Lazarus, who is identified in John as the woman who anointed Jesus with the alabaster jar of ointment, and whom the other Gospels describe as being “a sinful woman.” Furthermore, the designation ‘Magdalene’ could either refer to her being from a certain region or come from a Talmudic expression for adulteress. Taking these passages together, many Church Fathers concluded she was a reformed prostitute (as we know Jesus had such women among His followers).

Though as a matter of fact, different Church traditions have differed on this point, and honestly either side could be defended. The Greek and Protestant Churches dispute it, while the Latin Churches have kept it.

Of course, the main point is that, for the purposes of sanctity or ‘reliability’ it doesn’t matter. You are talking as if Mary Magdalene’s being a repentant sinner was somehow contradictory to her being a devoted disciple and the herald of the Resurrection, which indicates you have absolutely no idea what Christianity even is.

The Church venerated St. Mary Magdalene in part because she was understood to be a penitent prostitute. Again, whether or not she was so in fact it is quite certain that there were repentant prostitutes and adulteresses among Jesus’s followers, as He is described on multiple occasions as keeping their company. St. Mary was more or less made the figurehead and type of these women, and as such has inspired thousands of women to abandon self-destructive and harmful lifestyles and thousands of men to overlook and forgive such transgressions over the past two millennia. In other words, you are holding up as an insult what was not only meant as a glorification, but which has done real, concrete good in the lives of countless women over the centuries.

(Note: No, it didn’t always play out like that for prostitutes, fallen women, etc. We are talking about quite literally millions of lives over countless different cultural milieus. The point is that, to the extent the image of St. Mary Magdalene the penitent whore had an effect on men’s actions, it was one entirely to the good of women, especially women who had transgressed moral norms).

Also, now you are saying early Church leaders – those same ones who tried to downplay the role of women? – hailed her as ‘Apostle to the Apostles.’ That’s about the tenth time you have contradicted your own argument, and it’s an incredibly simple argument!

Bauckham points to the resurrection story in John 20:18, when Mary Magdalene says, “I have seen the Lord!”

“What Mary says — ‘I have seen the Lord!’– is exactly what Paul says when he claims to be an Apostle: ‘Am I not an Apostle? Have I not seen the Lord?’ ”he says. “I think it means that Mary Magdalene was regarded in the early Christian movement as an Apostle.”

See above regarding ‘apostle.’ For goodness sakes, people, there is a list of the twelve who were set apart by Christ to be Apostles in all of the Gospels: this is not a difficult distinction to make.

Mary Magdalene’s spiritual authority, though, was gradually downplayed. By the fourth century, Gnostic texts depicting her spiritual leadership were deemed heretical and excluded from the New Testament canon, says Sahlin.

Aha! The Gnostic Gospels! Had to get to those, didn’t we, since every time a modern scholar talks about the early Church the narrative seems to be ‘enlightened Gnostics pushed aside by evil orthodox,’ though, it seems, without ever actually inquiring what those Gnostics taught.

Note the way it’s phrased, as if the ‘spiritual leadership’ of Mary Magdalene was the only reason they were deemed heretical. I suppose that’s why the Gospels of Peter, Thomas, and Andrew were condemned as well, to downplay their spiritual authority. Because the Church would of course want to downplay the authority of St. Peter.

And I’ve read the Gospel of Mary (it’s about two pages long in its current form and can be found here). It’s pretty much nonsensical gibberish. For instance:

 Then Peter said to him, “You have been explaining every topic to us; tell us one other thing. What is the sin of the world?”
The Savior replied, “There is no such thing as sin; rather you yourselves are what produces sin when you act in accordance with the nature of adultery, which is called ‘sin.’ For this reason, the Good came among you, pursuing (the good) which belongs to every nature. It will set it within its root.”

            Not to mention that Gnosticism was and is a very well known heretical sect, widespread and virulent, preaching that the body and material existence was evil and that magic is the path to escaping the accursed body. There was a lot of variety over time and place in the specifics, but to say the least the elevation and equal status of women was not a distinctive aspect of the Gnostic systems.

Though the Gospel of Mary does have the soul described as “human-killer and space-conqueror,” which is kind of awesome.

One of those heretical texts, The Gospel of Mary, portrays her as possessing deeper insight than the Apostle Peter. Whether the Gospel is historically accurate or not, it reveals tension over the role of women in the early Christian movement, Sahlin says.

No, it doesn’t, because the Gnostics were not part of the ‘early Christian movement.’ They were a separate and heretical group that may have predated Christianity and which in any case twisted Christian teachings into their own goofy cosmology. They split from the Church while the Apostles were still alive and were never considered a real Christian sect. Also, the Gnostics weren’t in favor of women’s leadership: if anything they were more hostile towards women than the orthodox (they hated the body). Once again, you are not going to get your preferred worldview out of the world of antiquity because it did not exist.

“We can read it as a historical witness to an actual conflict over women’s leadership in early Christianity,” she says. “We see in the texts Peter questioning Mary’s authority.”

And…this text was rejected by the Church in favor of the one where Peter listens to her account of the resurrection and rushes to see for himself. Besides which, you just cited this text as proof of St. Mary’s role in the early church (again, by citing the text of one of the early Church’s enemies), now you’re citing it as showing how she was ignored and put down?

There is nothing remotely historical about the accounts of the Gnostic Gospels. Quite apart from the fact that they were written well after the canonical ones, and by a sect hostile to the Church, the Gnostics would not have cared about historical accuracy. It was the ideas, the ‘hidden wisdom’ that rejected matter that interested them; our notion of historical accuracy, to the extent the idea itself existed at the time, would have been anathema to them. The account of Mary Magdalene delivering a visionary sermon in a Gnostic gospel and being questioned as to her worthiness by Peter has zero bearing on our historical knowledge of the Early Church.

The fact that you cite this as historical evidence, without regard to who and what the Gnostics were, is only one more proof that you started with your conclusion and have simply combed the record for anything that might conceivably be taken as supportive of it. In short, you have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.

Mary’s spiritual authority in the early church was further eroded in 591 when a powerful Pope depicted her as a reformed harlot.

See above regarding Mary Magdalene the reformed harlot. The idea that this in any way “eroded her spiritual authority” is nonsensical: you might as well claim that St. Luke was trying to undermine St. Paul’s authority by describing him in Acts as a persecutor of the Church, since that would have been considered far worse than being a reformed prostitute. Also you haven’t established that Mary’s spiritual authority in the Early Church was anything other than what is indicated in the New Testament. The closest thing to actual evidence to that regard is a piece of writing produced by the Church’s enemies, which uses her as a mouthpiece for their own non-Christian teachings, and which was written by people who would have had absolutely no concern for historical accuracy.

The writer James Carroll memorably described this ancient version of slut-shaming in a 2006 essay in Smithsonian magazine titled, “Who was Mary Magdalene?”

I don’t have time to go into the idiotic term ‘slut-shamming,’ except to say that it is part of the modern faith in the power of words: assign a bad-sounding phrase to a reality you don’t want to deal with and you will be able to dismiss it from your mind at will. Between that and the claims that Paul didn’t write the passages that don’t immediately appeal to modern sensibilities, there is a lot of wishful thinking going on here.

Yet again, you betray a complete lack of understanding of Christian belief if you consider being called a repentant sinner a form of ‘shaming.’ This is hardly difficult to find out. You would almost have to put more work into making that mistake than in actually learning the truth!

He recounts how Pope Gregory preached a series of sermons in which he described Mary Magdalene as a woman who used to “perfume her flesh in forbidden acts” and turned the “mass of her crimes to virtues.”

Gregory apparently confused and merged different women in the Gospels into the figure of Mary Magdalene, but his distorted picture took hold for centuries, Carroll says.

Note the supposition that St. Gregory ‘confused and merged’ different women in the Gospels. Because Pope St. Gregory the Great was obviously less well-versed in Scripture than ‘writer James Carroll.’

This is part of something I notice a lot whenever moderns of a certain type discuss the past: they always talk as if our ancestors were idiots or children: St. Gregory confused several different figures in the Gospels. The Church Fathers blindly accepted everything that bore the name of ‘Paul’ without considering the content. Everyone was concerned with maintaining their own unearned power over women. No one thought critically or were anything but blindly misogynistic until the glorious modern age.

It would be appallingly arrogant even if the minds on display weren’t so pathetically inferior to those they disparage.

Again, there are very cogent and convincing reasons for thinking these women were all the same figure, though one could argue otherwise. In any case, they’re all presented as positive figures and held up as examples, so the whole premise of this argument is simply and objectively false.

Citing a book by Susan Haskins, “Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor,” Carroll wrote:

“Thus Mary of Magdala, who began as a powerful woman at Jesus’ side, ‘became,’ in Haskins’ summary, ‘the redeemed whore and Christianity’s model of repentance, a manageable, controllable figure, and effective weapon and instrument of propaganda against her own sex.'”

‘Powerful woman’? What in the Gospel accounts makes you think that? The scene where she anoints his head, washes his feet in her tears and dries them with her hair in misery over her own sins? Her role is entirely humble and subservient to Christ, which is precisely why she is honored!

He describes ‘model of repentance’ as a ‘manageable, controllable figure and effective weapon and instrument of propaganda against her own sex.’ He seems to think these are one and the same.

I’m going to make an assumption here. I don’t like doing that, but I think it’s reasonable: his position is that Mary as a repentant sinner is ‘manageable’ because it coincides with the Church’s view of sexuality, which he sees as a means of controlling women and keeping them subservient. He is quoted in an article trying to link the Gospels to modern revelations that women have been being pressured and coerced into sexual favors by powerful men in order to further their careers.

So, if I am reading this right, the position is that Christian ideas of sexuality – either perpetual celibacy or unmitigated monogamy, though with mercy for those who fall and repent – are basically the same as or logically leads to the practice of men extorting sexual favors from women in exchange for career considerations, while what might be termed ‘progressive’ ideas of sexuality – that the moral character of sex is determined by the individual, that it is a source of individual power if applied correctly, and that it is healthy to engage in often and absent commitment – is contrary to said practice. That the former (i.e. advising women to be less sexually available, to resist the imputation of men even unto death, and that both sexes ought to practice continence) is a means of controlling women, and the latter (i.e. that they should be more sexually available, take steps to reduce the consequences of the act, and view sexuality as a commodity) is a means of liberation.

Again, I don’t have time to get into this properly right now, but how did this movement get spun as being good for women?

Also, I want to point out that these feminist scholars are twisting the records painfully and ignoring what these women actually said and did, all for the sake of presenting them as examples of the very narrow type of woman that they approve of. In other words, they are doing exactly what they falsely accuse the Church of doing: creating a single, narrowly defined role for women and either forcing women to conform to their own ideas or rejecting them as worthless, regardless of the actions, ideas, or words of the women themselves.

Meanwhile, the Church holds up and celebrates innumerable women of all classes, types, and personalities: St. Mary Magdalene is a very different figure from St. Priscilla, who is very different from St. Catherine, who is different from St. Scholastica. St. Joan of Arc, St. Hildegard, and St. Claire were all unique personalities who did drastically different things with their lives and are celebrated for their specific and individual actions.

You lump all women into one of two categories: those who fit your image of what a woman should be and those who don’t. You regard the former with patronizingly blind admiration and the latter with sneering contempt.

In short, it is feminists who are insulting towards women, treat women as lesser beings, and ignore the contribution of women unless it suits their own purposes. The Church treats them as human beings and individuals.

The intensity of the smear campaign against Mary Magdalene is revealing, says Crossan.

 The smear campaign to elevate her as one of the chief Saints of the Church.

“The nasty things said about her is proof that she’s important,” Crossan says. “You don’t bother in a patriarchal society to criticize women who are ‘in their place.’ The very fact that you have to do a hit job on her proves to me that she’s not a little member of the serving staff.”

What. The Heck. Are you TALKING ABOUT?! The Church isn’t ‘criticizing’ Mary Magdalene; she’s honoring her, just like she honors the Blessed Virgin and a thousand other female saints. You have created a strange sexual fantasy world in your head and are now trying to read everything, including the past, according to your own ideas, without any regard for what actually happened or what was thought and said. Again, the whole premise of this very silly argument rests on a bald and completely baseless assertion that the smallest familiarity with the Christian religion would show to be nonsense.

Using sexual humiliation as a weapon

It is perhaps the most difficult comparison between Easter Sunday and the #MeToo movement — what one scholar calls the sexual humiliation of Jesus.

In the hands of outlets like CNN, ‘scholar’ is starting to become synonymous with ‘dunce.’

The sexual humiliation of women is an integral part of what led to the #MeToo movement. Tales of women trapped alone with powerful men who forced them into sexually degrading acts are some of the most painful stories to hear.

Uh, some of the most painful stories to hear absolutely? This year? In this context? I’m not downplaying the subject, but that’s extremely sloppy writing.

Some of those same dynamics can be seen in the crucifixion of Jesus, says David Tombs, a theologian and professor at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

…Uh, no. No, none of the same dynamics of a woman being coerced into sexual favors by her boss or in exchange for career advancement are featured in a legal execution by torture. Apart from the fact that both may be described as very unpleasant, there is nothing to link the two. One involves men abusing a position of power to try to pressure a woman into degrading herself, the other involves the authorities decreeing that a man should be put to death by a particularly torturous and humiliating method. The one is coercive: do this and I do that, or do this or I do that. The other is simply authoritative: this is to be done to you.

Tombs points to a grim detail about Jesus’ death that most people avoid — he was most likely naked when he died on the cross, not covered with a loincloth.

Yes, everyone who has thought seriously on the subject knows that. It’s generally not depicted in religious art for reasons of custom and decorum, but it is sometimes. So what?

The Gospel accounts make that clear, he says. They describe Jesus as being stripped and exposed naked. In Matthew 27, the writer suggests Jesus is stripped three times. The same description is found in Mark 15. Jesus’ nakedness is perhaps clearest in John 19, which depicts soldiers taking Jesus’ undergarments to divide among themselves.

It just says ‘garments’ not undergarments. But once again, so what?

The Romans normally took away all the clothing of crucifixion victims, says Tombs.

“The biblical texts offer no suggestion that this was not also the case for Jesus,” Tombs says. “We don’t have photos of the crucifixion so we cannot tell with absolute certainty, but most scholars would say that Jesus was naked.”

Dwelling on Jesus’ nakedness would be inappropriate at any other time of the year, he says, but during Easter it’s important to know why the Romans stripped their victims.

It really wouldn’t be: Jesus was a man like any other. His nakedness is one way to contemplate that. Moreover, His being stripped of His garments is theologically important because it links Him with Adam, who was clothed by God and who was naked in the Garden before the Fall. Christ, the New Adam, is stripped of his garments before reversing the Fall.

“Exposing a prisoner was a powerful way to shame and stigmatize a male prisoner,” Tombs says. “It was an effective way to attack his identity as a male. It humiliated and undermined his sense of self.”

Nakedness and being stripped is a form of humiliation, yes. It’s not an ‘attack upon his identity as a male’ (why would exposing the male member be an attack upon the male identity? Castration would be, but not mere nakedness). You have drifted close to a rational idea, but have been derailed by the modern world’s adolescent preoccupation with sex, not to mention its inability to enter into the mindset of past ages.

Also, nakedness in the First Century wouldn’t have necessarily had the sexual connotations it has today (actually, nakedness as early as a couple generations ago wouldn’t necessarily have sexual connotations). Men went naked into the bath, into the gymnasium, and during sporting events. Baptism was generally performed naked. People of the time lived closer to nature than we typically do now and so would not have their minds immediately jump to sex the moment the private parts are exposed.

The practice of sexually humiliating prisoners or condemned people wasn’t confined to biblical times, Tombs says. It happens today. He cites the infamous photos of naked Iraqi prisoners stacked on top of one another like a pyramid by US soldiers in the Abu Ghraib prison.

What does this have to do with anything? As noted, ‘nakedness’ does not equal ‘sexual humiliation’ when talking about the First Century. It involves humiliation, but the sexual dimension is unlikely to have been distinct in their minds.

You just wanted to fit in a gratuitous swipe at the US, and this seemed the only opportunity, didn’t you?

Also, do you really need to specify that humiliating or even sexually humiliating people wasn’t confined to Biblical times? That is what is called ‘talking down to the audience.’

Jesus’ nudity was not incidental, Tombs says: It was sexual humiliation.

In a paper titled, “Crucifixion, State Terror and Sexual Abuse,” he explained why

“In a patriarchal society in which men competed against each other to display virility in terms of sexual power over others, the public display of the naked victim by the ‘victors’ in front of onlookers and passers-by carries the message of sexual domination.

Yet again, you are reading modern ideas into an ancient setting, mixed up with a lot of silly nonsense about ‘patriarchal societies’ blended with Freudian stupidity. You are simply reading your own prejudices and assumptions in barely-understood accounts of a world you lack the humility to begin to understand.

“The cross held up the victim for display as someone who had been — at least metaphorically — emasculated.”

While the idea of seeing Jesus as a victim of sexual humiliation is “deeply distressing” to many Christians, Tombs says, it’s important at least during Easter to remember the historical reality.

Your personal interpretation, reading contemporary notions onto the ancient past, is not the ‘historical reality.’

Your whole point is ‘Christ was crucified and scourged naked, ergo He was sexually assaulted.’ In the first place, your notion that this fact is somehow a revelation shows that you have not made any kind of a study of this subject. In the second, you imposing a category – sexual humiliation – that probably wouldn’t have been present in the minds of the ancient world. They did not have our view of sexuality as a distinct subject, and certainly not our idea of sexual assault as a distinct crime. Christ’s nakedness would not have struck the people present under the category.

This is another aspect of modernity; the assumption that the categories by which we group ideas are somehow objective reality that we have found out scientifically, rather than modes of speaking. Thus this man is trying to make the case that being stripped naked prior to execution is objectively a form of sexual assault, without consideration of how the ancient world would have seen it or whether our own categories of the subject could be understood differently.

Doing so could even deepen the meaning of the Easter message, he says.

Making a shallow and dubious connection to present preoccupations would ‘deepen’ the meaning of the Resurrection of Christ. Yet again we have the insufferable arrogance of the modern mind on display.

It would show a God who could identify with victims of sexual abuse and torture. It would reveal a God “who is in real solidarity with the powerless and suffers the worst evils of the world.”

Are you really suggesting that if Christ’s Passion and Death didn’t directly involve a certain kind of suffering, that means He’s not in sympathy with those who undergo it?

Honestly, though, if someone who suffered sexual assault found it helpful to think of Christ’s nakedness in this light, that’d be fine. There are no coincidences in revelation, so viewing it through that light isn’t necessarily wrong. Claiming it as part of the historical record and trying to hold it up as a means to make the Passion of Christ somehow more relevant to the modern world is.

As for the ‘worst evils in the world:’ again, not downplaying what they went through, but ask one of the ‘MeToo’ women whether they’d rather go through their assault a second time or be scourged and crucified. This implication that God is not “in real solidarity with the powerless” unless we identify Him as a victim of sexual abuse by assuming contemporary standards when examining the ancient world is…well, typical of this piece. Shallow, ignorant, and ridiculously parochial.

“This is not just a matter of correcting the historical record,” Tombs says.

            The historical record doesn’t need to be corrected as to the fact that crucifixion was done naked. If you think it does, that indicates that your idea of the ‘historical record’ consists of vague collections of religious art and movies.

“If Jesus is named as a victim of sexual abuse, it could make a huge difference to how the churches engage with movements like #MeToo and how they promote change in wider society.”

Here we have the common progressive tactic of thinking that if we can somehow claim X figure as fitting this designation, that will pressure people to come around to our point of view on the subject. Because that is obviously the main point, and ‘promoting change in wider society’ is the chief good. It could be called ‘parasite advocacy.’

You think the Church doesn’t know anything about sexual abuse? You think she doesn’t have saints, martyrs, and historical figures who were victims of it, that she has no notion of what it entails and the wrongness of it? You’re not at all familiar with The City of God, St. Maria Goretti, the story of Susannah in Daniel or any other such things? You think your Twitter advocacy movement is the first time this sort of thing has come to light?

If linking the Easter story with the #MeToo movement is offensive and bewildering to some, perhaps that is fitting.

 The Easter stories in the Gospels have a jarring, unexpected quality about them as well. Some end abruptly; in others, Jesus appears next to disciples who somehow can’t recognize him. One ends with two men saying their hearts “were burning within” after talking to the risen Jesus.     

            So, your claim is that ‘the story of Christ’s resurrection is often strange and unexpected; therefore any nonsense I want to say about it must be equally true and meaningful.’

 The stories are enigmatic and elusive. They continue to yield surprises even 2,000 years later. They are, in some ways, much like the figure of Jesus himself.

Wow, this was an incredibly bad piece. I didn’t expect much from CNN, but this didn’t even attempt a coherent argument. It started with the ‘Easter is like #MeToo’ and then threw down anything and everything that might possibly link the two subjects, even when they contradicted one another (how many times did the author go back and forth whether the New Testament was sexist or not?).

Far from offering an insight into Christian belief, the author, as well as the ‘scholars’ he quoted, seemed to not even understand the most basic tenets of the faith, such as the nature of sin and repentance. They appeared to be so wrapped up in their own favorite causes as to be incapable of understanding anything outside of them, so they see everything through that lens in the most shallow and ignorant way, while talking disparagingly about Saints and men of genius.

The thing is, you could read accounts of sexual assault in light of the Passion of Christ, and people have. Christ on the cross suffering in pain and humiliation along with women who have suffered and been humiliated by assault. But that would require a degree of abstract thought, the ability to set parochial concerns aside and address universal ideas, and the author and the scholars he cites seem incapable of doing so. Even the guy who attempted to make the connection could only come up with the blunt and obvious fact of nakedness, as if that were the key connecting factor. Instead, they just threw out a lot of ridiculous feminist talking points relating to a subject they clearly have no knowledge or understanding of.

The premise was extraordinarily weak and the ‘evidence’ given to support it was either cherry-picked (e.g. the claim that women weren’t often named in the New Testament, requiring us to ignore all the ones who were) or simply made up out of nothing (e.g. the repeated assumption that Mary Magdalene was a charismatic leader of the Early Church). Even then, the author kept undermining it by either citing conflicting examples (again, after claiming few women were named in the New Testament he brings up various the women cited by name as proof that they were major figures in the early Church) or by using the very sources he claims to be discrediting as evidence. Add in a dose of pro-Gnostic silliness, the ‘I don’t like this so it wasn’t real’ brand of Biblical scholarship, and a touch of amateur Freudianism, all presented without the smallest attempt to understand any kind of pre-modern mindset, and you have an essay that is quite simply waste paper.

It was so stupid that is was kind of surreal; the assumption that the Apostles only doubted the reports of the Resurrection because of sexism, the idea that Mary Magdalene has been looked down upon and attacked by the Church, or that her having been a prostitute was somehow incompatible with her having been the first witness of the Resurrection. Major portions of this essay only make sense if you literally have no knowledge of Christianity whatsoever.

CNN, ladies and gentlemen! The people you get your news from thought this was insightful commentary.

The Two Thieves

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All four Gospels note that Christ was crucified along with two others. These two are described as ‘thieve’ or ‘robbers,’ though this is sometimes rendered ‘revolutionaries’ or simply ‘criminals.’ One was crucified on His right, the other on His left.

Viewed from a modern perspective, the designation of right and left is a little interesting, especially if we take the interpretation that they were revolutionaries. If we follow it out, it could be taken as an interesting perspective on Our Lord’s relation to politics.

First of all, the linking of the terms ‘revolutionary’ with ‘robber.’ Apparently, the same Greek word ‘Iestes’ was used for both. I’ve heard several reasons for this, from the idea that revolutionaries were attempting to steal from the Romans to the notion that it was a way to avoid letting the Emperor know of revolutions. For our purposes, the background doesn’t really matter, provided the two terms were linked.

It is a quality of both a thief and a revolutionary that his focus is on the here and now. The thief wants a certain object so much that he takes it regardless of the law, the revolutionary wants a certain social or political state so much that he fights for it. Either one may or may not be justified by circumstance, but both have the quality that their aim is a change in the material world.

This is also a quality of politics: that its focus is entirely upon the here and now, or at the very least what the future here and now may be made to be. It is the science of organizing human society in the way thought best. Even if this is done for the purpose of establishing justice, liberty, or other abstract values, it is still establishing them in the present world and by the means of social organization. Politics, thus, is a fundamentally earthly practice.

Now, let us take the two criminals as revolutionaries (this interpretation is supported by the fact that crucifixion was generally associated with acts of sedition rather than more typical crimes). Again, the fact that one is on the right, the other on the left is interesting, though obviously it carries a significance to us that it wouldn’t have for St. Luke. We needn’t fear reading it thus for that reason, though; there are no coincidences in revelation.

The right and left revolutionary, therefore, may be taken as images of political movements in general. One on this side, the other on that. If we take it thus, what does the image imply?

First that politics ultimately comes to nothing. These revolutionaries fought for their particular cause and ended up crucified. In the end, their efforts were futile and led to nothing but death and disgrace. Politics, though it may be important in the short term, is ultimately a dead end. The promise that this or that political system will solve the ills of mankind is a lie.

Note that they are being crucified along with Christ, who is bearing the sins of the world. They suffer the same fate, but without the salvific character. It is Christ who can save them, if they will allow it, not the other way around. Politics, thus, always must be subordinate to Christ.

Now, the reactions of the revolutionaries to Christ are instructive. One of the two blasphemes Christ, demanding that He save their lives if His is the Christ. The other – traditionally called St. Dismas – rebukes him and begs that Jesus remember him when He comes into His Kingdom.

Again we see the focus on the here and now. The one revolutionary, even in the process of dying, still has his mind fixed upon earthly things. He is, in effect, standing in judgment over Jesus, setting his material well being as a condition for belief. One recalls how certain political movements have done similar things: from Communists taunting Christians to pray to God for bread to moderns attacking prayers offered in the wake of national tragedies. Politics of a certain sort has always claimed the right to stand in judgment of God over the material state of the world.

St. Dismas’s rebuke shows another approach. Though he’s given his life in a political cause, he yet retains a perspective on where politics stands relative to God. He admits that his punishment and that of his companion is a just one; they have indeed committed the crimes they are accused of and must suffer for it. Upon the cross, he lets go of his political motivations and speaks only of justice and fear of God. He subordinates his political concerns to his piety, merely begging Jesus to have mercy on him.

Thus we have the place of politics relative to God: the evils done in its name are done on all sides, whether for a good cause or an ill. The righteous politician or revolutionary is the one who sees that God is beyond all such things and places himself under the mercy of Christ. The unrighteous is the one who tries to subordinate God to his own interests.

In summary, politics cannot save but itself needs salvation, politics leads men to do evil, for which they are justly condemned, and all politics is subordinate to the claims of Christ.

 

Our Lady of Perpetual Grievance

So, some friends linked to this article the other day and I had some thoughts. Fair warning, if you liked this article, you probably won’t like my response, because quite frankly, this article was repulsive.

On Facebook yesterday, a number of Catholic friends were sharing around an image of Mary the Mother of Jesus, modeled after the famous Polish icon, Our Lady of Czestochowa. While the art style may not be to everyone’s taste, what I liked about the image was that Mary is presented as strong, cool – possibly staring down an opponent, certainly keeping her thoughts to herself, while holding her baby close. All we see of the face of baby Jesus is that he is looking up at his mother and protector. It’s an expression I wish I could emulate, any time I feel I need to take a stand to protect my family. And insofar as I have a devotion to Mary as Mother, there is reassurance in knowing that she might be facing down my enemies, too.

Starts out reasonable enough: nothing to speak of in the first paragraph.

Mary of Nazareth bore her child into uncertain political and economic circumstances, a poor young woman in a marginalized group oppressed by Imperial powers. That she had to travel long miles while pregnant to register for Augustus’ census is a reminder of the cruelty and heartlessness of such imperial regimes, the disdain for the poor, for mothers and children. The indifference to families unless they are “good Roman families” such as Augustus liked to praise.

Okay, this is where things start to move in a bad direction. I do not like the sight of the scare quotes around “good Roman Families,” or the accusation of indifference of ‘other kind of families.’ This is insinuation, so responding to it would necessarily involve interpretation (which is why I don’t like insinuation tactics: people can always claim you’re reading too much into it, or that they didn’t mean what you thought they meant). I have ideas of what she meant, based on the rest of the essay and based on my knowledge of my own society, but since she doesn’t actually come out and say it, I’ll let it pass lest I get bogged down in fighting suppositions. Trust me, there are plenty of more solid targets to come.

All I will say is that we’re definitely getting a bad vibe so far.

She bore her child in a stable, and shortly after had to flee as a refugee from state-sanctioned violence, into a foreign land. She may have saved her child, but what about all the other babies who were killed? This might be one of the things Mary pondered in her heart: why the others couldn’t have been saved. Why she was singled out. What would it feel like, returning to Nazareth and raising a child among women whose sons of the same age had been slaughtered?

Small issue: the slaughter of the innocents took place in Bethlehem, not Nazareth. I would also point out that Egypt was not exactly a foreign land, being part of the same Empire and with a large Jewish population of its own, but that’s a quibble. In any case, I really wish she wouldn’t try to impose modern political categories onto the Roman Empire.

It makes sense to portray Mary, at this point in her young life, as angry or defensive. If Jesus could fly into a rage and kick over tables because of economic injustice, why shouldn’t his mother be able to rage against the injustice of a violent regime? Maybe it was a family trait.

The crime that enraged Our Lord to the point of violence was not economic injustice but sacrilege: He was angry that the sellers were using the Temple as a marketplace. He’s very clear on that point: “‘Take these things hence, and make not the house of my Father a house of traffic.’ And his disciples remembered, that it was written: The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up.” (John 2:16-17). Your re-interpretation is another troubling tonal sign.

I’m all in favor of an angry Mary, if done well and reverently. One of my favorite pieces of religious art is M. Bouguereau’s Pieta, which shows a tearful Mary clutching the dead Christ to her chest while staring accusingly at the viewer.

Pieta

But the commentary on this image, mostly from males of a more conservative background, was hugely negative. She doesn’t look meek was the most common response. Or, she doesn’t look humble, she doesn’t look loving. Even: her neckline is immodest. Or, worst of all, she looks like a whore.

I couldn’t find the image in question (the link she provided no longer worked and a subsequent search was unsuccessful), so I can’t tell how appropriate this criticism is. For our purposes, though, it doesn’t really matter. People like what they like, and it may be that people thought the image was inappropriate. Since it’s the internet I’m sure some people probably overreacted or were crass about it, but you’ll excuse me if I don’t absolutely take your word for it, as you’ve already shown a degree of prejudice and will be showing much more before we’re done.

Forget about the fact that in the history of art we often see Mary with her breast completely bare, nursing Jesus. Or even squirting milk into the mouth of a male saint. Yes, that’s right. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had a vision in which Mary appeared, lactating, and squirted milk from her breast into his mouth: thus, the story goes, he acquired his great eloquence. Okay, Bernard.

Here’s the problem, though; the images of Mary nurturing Christ and the Saints from her breasts come from a very different cultural context: one that had a different view of sexuality and the body. The same image coming out of our culture might have connotations that it would not coming out of just about any previous culture.

Again, the image that prompted this essay may be a perfectly acceptable and reverent image of Our Lady, or it may not, or it may be one that people may disagree over. But one’s reaction to a modern image will necessarily be different from one’s reaction to a historical image simply because it is using a different cultural language. It is the responsibility of the artist to understand and work with that (e.g. a swastika would have vastly different connotations in an image made in modern Europe than it would in one made in medieval India).

Forget about the fact that we have images of Jesus in which he is more like a judgmental Apollo than gentle Messiah. Why is it acceptable to portray different facets of Jesus, but not of Mary? If Mary is indeed supposed to be “queen of heaven” and the “woman clothed with the sun” who strikes at the serpent, we should see her fierce side, too. She herself sang the revolutionary Magnificat, rejoicing in the casting down of the mighty from their thrones.

There is also a problem with this: though, as I say, I’m up for an angry Madonna, there are certain conceptual issues with it. Mary’s role in salvation history is not that of judge. She bears Christ to the world, which by its very nature implies a gentler, kindlier mission. There simply is no basis for comparing her with Christ in the final judgment. Though again, Our Lady of Victory as a stern queen, or bearing the sword, or other powerful images are fairly common depictions of her in religious art, ones I’ve never heard anyone not-Protestant complain of.

maryqueenofheaven

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The description of the Magnificat as ‘revolutionary’ is highly unfortunate, turning what is a religious exultation into a political one. That, frankly, seems to be a major problem with the essay as a whole.

The men who object to Mary’s representation as other than the meek, pink-and-white maiden of countless kitschy holy cards seem to be objecting not out of an adherence to Biblical accuracy or artistic tradition. They’re objecting because this is not “their” Mary, the Mary they are willing to venerate. Theirs is an idealized image of the feminine, not even a real woman anymore, but an airy Platonic ideal. Pure, meek, humble.

And you plunge right down the straw man slope: you are first setting up a false dichotomy, that either you like this particular image or all you want is “the meek, pink-and-white maiden of kitschy holy cards.” Somehow, I doubt all the men who objected to this image also had the same objections to Our Lady of Victory presiding over Lepanto, or to the aforementioned Pieta, or to the stern, Queenly images of Mary from the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Then you start ascribing them motives, which you have no rational basis to do (why do you need to deduce anything beyond the reasons they cited?) and which seem to correspond more to your own personal prejudices than to anything you could reasonably deduce from what you’ve described: that men are only willing to venerate an “idealized, meek, and humble” Mary who presents an airy, idealized image of the feminine (by the way, what’s with women objecting to idealized femininity?).

Giving birth to her baby through her ear.

Oh for goodness sakes! For one thing, the image is of Mary conceiving through her ear, not that she gave birth through the ear, and it is a way of expressing that she conceived through receiving Christ, who is the Word of God, through the Holy Spirit conveyed by the voice of the angel. It is a means of conveying an inexpressible spiritual truth, incorporating rich, complex notions of the transference of ideas and the efficacy of words, implications regarding the nature of the Second Person of the Trinity, as well as incorporating allusions to Genesis and the Psalms. Like so many works of ancient and medieval art, it is a fantastically rich image.

So, naturally, you boil the whole thing down to men being squeamish about women’s bodies.

ear1

By the way, finding that took all of two minutes of Googling. The fact that you didn’t even bother to try to uncover either the actual image or its meaning is telling.

Usually silent, unless she says “obey him” – or appears to chastise children about immodest clothing, or not praying enough.

Again, you’re putting words into their mouths: are you really going to suggest that the men who disliked this image (by the why, why does a single image inspire so much vehemence on your part?) also discount Lourdes, Fatima, Lepanto, The Ballad of the White Horse, St. Dominic, basically every work of art to come out of the Middle Ages, St. Alphonso de Liguori, St. John Paul the Great, and so on? That is, every piece of Christian heritage in which Mary plays an active role and speaks with authority?

I would also take issue with your sneering comment about “appears to chastise children about immodest clothing or not praying enough,” as if those were insulting matters of no real importance. Especially with the matter of “not praying enough,” since that is quite literally what Mary has actually told people time and again.

But Mary was not an ideal.

Depends on what you mean by an idea. She is held up as an ideal to follow, as is Christ, and as is every Saint, in the sense that we are to look on her with reverence and seek to imitate her in our own lives. That doesn’t mean a bloodless mental image.

She is portrayed in Scripture as a real woman, and one with quite a bit to say, in the few scenes where we see her. She questions an angel, sings revolutionary hymns, sets off on journeys alone, even chastises her son when he slips away from them.  

Please stop calling the Magnificat a ‘revolutionary hymn.’ Mary had much more important things on her mind than the iniquities of the Roman Empire or political revolt, and you are demeaning her by referring to it as such. The saving work of God is far greater than any mere political agenda.

Also, when in Scripture did Mary set off on journeys alone? St. Joseph was with her in the journeys to Bethlehem and Egypt, and she accompanied her son to Jerusalem for the Passion. He explicitly entrusts her to the care of St. John, implying that she’d been living with Him and the apostles. There isn’t the slightest suggestion that she travelled alone, and given the time period, we may reasonably assume she didn’t. The story of the Good Samaritan gives a hint as to why this would be, and I cannot imagine either Our Lord or St. Ann and St. Joachim being so irresponsible as to require her to travel anywhere alone.

As to Mary being a real woman, who on Earth said anything different? As far as I can tell, and as far as you have indicated, they simply didn’t like a particular image that you did because they thought it made Mary look too angry, immodest, or proud. Whether or not they showed good taste in doing so, that doesn’t imply any of the things you’ve been ascribing to them.

If, as the teaching says, she was devoid of sin, being devoid of sin does not mean being confined to just a few virtues, the ones that men have deemed “feminine.”

Yes, there are particularly feminine virtues, just as there are particularly masculine virtues: virtues that especially exhibit and coincide with a feminine nature. Men have ‘deemed’ them such because they saw by reason that they were so. If you disagree with their assessment, you have to show why they are not: you can’t just make a sneering insinuation. But regardless, once again, no one ever said being devoid of sin means being confined to a few key virtues. You are choosing to ascribe to people views that they have never expressed and then blaming them for it. Please stop.

And obedience to God does not mean obedience to men, or to the laws of men.

“For love of the Lord, then, bow to every kind of human authority;” (1 Peter 2:13) “Every soul must be submissive to its lawful superiors; authority comes from God only, and all authorities that hold sway are of his ordinance,” (Romans 13:1) “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21). This is one point on which you are simply wrong on fact: obedience to God means obedience to lawful human authority. Both Scripture and Tradition are very clear on that.

Usually, in the lives of memorable women, it means quite the reverse.

Ah, the “well-behaved women have never made history” deal. Well, One, as Christians our goal is to be virtuous, loving, and God-fearing, not to be ‘memorable.’ Pagans sought to be remembered as their only reward: we have something better. Two, to the extent that this is true it’s largely because modern tastes consider being ‘disobedient’ as one of the chief qualification for being remembered. Three, Queen Victoria, Empress Maria Theresa, Queen Isabella, Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Jane Austen, and nearly every female Saint would disagree with you on the point. And finally, you could say the exact same thing about men (“well behaved men have rarely made history”) and it would be just as accurate and just as false.

And they suffer for it. They don’t emerge looking pink and docile, until after those who rewrite their stories have rendered them fit for a holy card.

Many artists choose to render Our Lady looking, as you so contemptuously describe it, “pink and docile” because they wish to emphasize her gentleness, kindness, and welcoming nature. Other artists who wish to emphasize other aspects of her show her differently. Our Lady of Czestochowa does not look in the least ‘pink and docile,’ nor do the images of Mary Queen of Heaven or Our Lady of Victory. Mel Gibson in The Passion of the Christ depicted her as a poor workingwoman filled with intense emotions and quiet dignity. The point is, different artists have different goals. You can discuss whether those goals are good or bad and whether they are realized well or poorly, but you seem to simply be holding up your preferred image as the best one because it speaks to you, while ascribing evil motives to everyone who doesn’t like its. You are insulting and attacking people on an incredibly flimsy pretext. 

Back in 2016, I wrote about the fact that, whenever we object to sexism in the church, someone is sure to remind us that “we have Mary. So what are you complaining about?” We’ve elevated a woman as queen of heaven; a woman was chosen to bear God in the world – so, move on, no sexism here!

That is quite a legitimate response. As is the fact that Christian civilization has pretty much from the get-go given women greater autonomy, respect, and scope for development than just about any other (though such things vary over time and place, of course). Among her female Saints the Church includes Queens, soldiers, scientists, lawyers, doctors, and theologians. Abbesses in the Medieval era often wielded enormous power and influence, almost akin to modern CEOs. St. Catherine had the clout to publicly criticize the Pope and have him listen to her. These things are all highly relevant when discussing the Church’s historical attitude towards women in general.

The real question is what you consider ‘sexism,’ because all too often it is apt to mean anything you happen to dislike or anything that acknowledges a real difference between men and women (the fact that you considered your mistaken idea that Mary ‘journeyed alone’ as an example of her independence is an example of where your particular ideas of this subject might mislead you). If you want a real discussion of these issues, you need to define your terms and stop making unfounded insinuations and gratuitous insults.

 Some of the views I expressed in that earlier piece have changed since then, but I still stand by this assertion: that until women are the ones leading the conversation about sex, gender, and equality in the church, we don’t “have” Mary. Men do.

Due respect to a lady forbids me to write my full reaction to this. Let me start by saying, as a minor point, that if it’s a conversation of equality, why ought women lead and not men? Wouldn’t the whole idea be each equally taking part?

Saying that unless “women are the ones leading the conversation about sex, gender, and equality in the church” that means women don’t ‘have’ Mary is so wrong, so unutterably ridiculous and foul that I hardly know what to say. What is this nonsense about who “has” Mary? Do you think Mary is some kind of prize? Some kind of baton of power that can be passed back and forth? Do you think she is in any way dependent upon how you think of her? You are talking about her as if she were some kind of tool to be subordinated to your own political and social ideas, or a mascot to be used for cheering on one preferred side or another.

Mary belongs to the Church entire, not to either men or women, and that’s only because Christ gave her to us out of love. You already have her in any meaningful sense of the word, and you have her by sheer gift, as you have everything from God. You want to own that gift? Go pray a Rosary and stop trying to make the Mother of God into a political prop.

As for your talk of a conversation about ‘sex, gender, and equality,” I won’t get into that nonsense here, except that your setting that up as a condition for “having” Mary says quite a bit more about you than you probably meant it to.

Or, rather, they have an idealized, fetishized image of her, one they can comfortably put on pedestals – or even fantasize about suckling from – without feeling guilt, or feeling obligated to give a space to real, living, inferior women at all.

Once again, my outdated chivalry forbids me from saying what I think of you right now. Where the heck did this Freudian nonsense come from? Who are you to throw out these kinds of insults and insinuations against men whom you don’t even know? You have given absolutely no justification for this kind of conclusion: you are simply scattering attacks wholesale and seem to feel justified in doing so because they’re directed against men. This is not analysis: this is bigotry.

Also, now you’re objecting to the image of St. Bernard? Weren’t you just holding it up as an example of depicting Mary as a ‘real woman’? Or did you mean it as somehow an example of how men have ‘used’ Mary in the past? If so, that shows an extraordinarily narrow and ignorant point of view; one that means you have no business speaking about religious art.

And again, all this is coming out of your head; men saying they didn’t like a particular image of Mary doesn’t even come close to justifying this nightmare of an amateur psychoanalysis. You are being needlessly insulting towards your audience and offensive towards our Lady by suggesting that men’s devotion to her is based on some kind of psycho-sexual dominance fantasy. Not to mention that, in all this, your focus has been entirely on fashionable political and social issues: not faith, not Christ, not salvation. It’s all about your personal response.

They’ve parceled off the virtues, designating any that might be associated with obedience of subordination as “feminine” and assigning those to the mother of God.

Obedience is a virtue for both sexes and always has been. “For Christ was obedient even unto Death.” “Slaves be subject to your master.” “I too am a man subject to authority and with soldiers subject to me.” Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Socrates submitting to the laws of Athens. The knight obedient to his lord. “I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

On the other hand, traditional feminine virtues include circumspection, good sense, kindness, purity, temperance, and prudence, none of which have anything to do with subordination to men. Once again, you are simply wrong on fact.

In this cultural context, seeing Mary as representing emotions or virtues that have been reserved for select males – white males, the ones who call the shots – is an affront to their authority, specifically their authority to define and limit women.

Oh, throw a little racism in: nice (we had a Black President for eight years; stop pretending ‘white men’ rule our culture). Again, you are basing all of this on the fact that some men didn’t like a particular picture that you did and extrapolating from that into a nonsensical Marxist/Freudian fantasy that cherry-picks or ignores everything to do with Marian spirituality for the past two thousand years.

Note the conspiracy theory that men, especially white men, seek to maintain their “authority to define and limit women” through the virtues in general and Mary in particular. Do I even have to explain how asinine and paranoid this is? Sure thing: St. Paul, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Francis de Sales, Dr. Johnson, John Henry Newman, they all had as their first priority keeping women down, because that is absolutely how pre-modern minds worked. No disinterested desire to know the truth, no honest piety, not even any good-will or love towards the women in their lives: just raw, unthinking urge to power for power’s sake relative to the opposite sex.

Do you even hear yourself?

To tell us how we must dress, lest we lead them astray.

“Let us cease, then, to lay down rules for one another, and make this rule for ourselves instead, not to trip up or entangle a brother’s conscience” (Romans 14:13). Trying to avoid being an occasion of sin for someone else is part of charity, and it’s one the most basic aspects of the Christian faith. The fact that you apparently feel insulted by it is telling.

To tell us what to think, since they are the ones attuned to the voice of God.

No one has ever said that. Even discounting the Blessed Mother and St. Mary Magdalene, just consider St. Catherine of Alexandria (Patron of Philosophers), St. Monica, St. Teresa of Avilla, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Terese of Lisieux. No one has ever said that women cannot be attuned to the voice of God. You’re not even cherry picking your examples at this point: you are simply making up your own opponents to argue with.

And judging by your essay, “telling us what to think” in this context means “trying to tell you that you sound insane.”

To tell us how to use our bodies.

It’s called ‘virtue’ and ‘ethics’ and it applies to men and women. Nearly all moral laws revolve around what you do with your body, because the body is how you enact your will. You are not exempt from the moral law because you are a woman: if you were, that would be an insult and statement of inferiority.

We’re allowed to stand very, very still on pedestals or in holy cards, and only speak when echoing.

You are simply saying nonsense right now: extrapolating an absurd cartoon fantasy based on half-remembered half-truths about attitudes that have been dead for a century and applying it wholesale to everyone who disagrees with you, even in the most unimportant of matters.

If Mary looks angry in the painting, she has every right to be. Look at what she lived through. Look at what Christians have done in her son’s name – and what men have done with her, too, turning her into a weapon to be used against her daughters.

Look at people like you, insulting her, trying to claim her for your particular political views, and slandering those who honor her. Oh, yes; she has a lot to be angry about, but she is merciful and kind. Maybe instead of trying to co-opt her for your own purposes, you should listen to what she actually has to say. Such as:

“Do not offend the Lord our God any more, because He is already so much offended.”

“Pray, pray very much, and make sacrifices for sinners; for many souls go to hell, because there are none to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”

“Are you suffering a great deal? Don’t lose heart. I will never forsake you. My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God.”

“I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next.”

“Pray for sinners.”

“Kiss the ground as a penance for sinners.”

“I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings.”

“Do whatever He tells you.”

These are things she has actually said. You, on the other hand, are ascribing to her your own particular grievances, frustrations, and hatreds.

In other words, you are assuming that, as a woman, the Blessed Mother has one role and one purpose: to speak with your voice and attend to your needs, while ignoring or dismissing what she actually says (remember the sneering contempt for “admonish children to pray more”). You are literally doing exactly what you are accusing men of doing, except that I have never known a man so presumptuous as to try that game with the Queen of Heaven.

Here at the beginning of 2018, when a megalomaniacal demagogue – elected with the wild approval of right-wing American “family value” Christians

Nice gratuitous swipe at Trump supporters. Couldn’t see that coming. Note the scare quotes on “family value” Christians; one more nasty insinuation for the road to reinforce the image she creates of herself as someone who really hates people who disagree with her.

– is tweeting nuclear violence at another megalomaniac on the other side of the globe, I fear for my children, and the world they will have to navigate. Looking at the face of a mother who is also a protector is encouraging. Okay, I say to her. You’re with me. We’re in this together.

This essay was frankly disgusting. A fairly innocuous incident is blown completely out of proportion, straw-manned into next week and then ineptly psycho-analyzed to work out into the worst possible interpretation: a hyperbole inside of a fallacy wrapped in an insult. She paints a huge number of people with the worst possible brush, dismisses their faith out of hand with completely uncalled-for suppositions, and treats the Blessed Mother as a pawn in a petty political game. There is not the slightest attempt at logic, reason, charity (which, since this is supposed to be a Christian site you’d think she would at least give a gesture towards), or even basic facts. It is pure, venomous accusation and insinuation.

Now because it is written by a woman and for women, I suspect that someone will read my response and accuse me of being anti-woman, or insulting towards women, or even say that, as I am a man, I have no right to speak on such things and should only listen. To which I would answer: I am treating this lady like a rational human being who has written a terrible and disgusting essay. I have attempted to show why and how I think it fails from a logical, moral, and religious standpoint. If you disagree with me, then show me how I was wrong. No one, man or woman, gets to plead exemption from criticism based on either their sex or their subject matter.

This is what being treated on an equal footing looks like. You want equality? You’ve got it. And everything that goes with it, including being called out when you spew hateful nonsense like this.

In conclusion, if you want an image of Our Lady that is not soft and white and pink, let me offer you one. This comes from a man who lived a hundred years ago and who despised feminism (even before it went mad) precisely because he loved women.

“One instant in a still light
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was a queen most womanly –
But she was a queen of men.

 “Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart –
But one was in her hand.”
-The Ballad of the White Horse
, Book VII

The End of Multiculturalism

Gods-Light

The Pagan religions were, in many ways, fine things. Though far more prone to cruelty and depravity than our squeamishly tolerant modern minds like to admit, there was a nobility to them. They were the fumbling, crude efforts of man to render worship to the unknown and hidden powers that govern the universe. From before his earliest known records, probably from before man was man, he had been haunted by the sense, the knowledge that there were things over and above him, to which he stood in the relation of a servant or even an animal, and which commanded his awe and respect. In every corner of the globe, there grew up means of rendering this due respect, of entering pleas and making restitution for offenses. The Romans had their own notions of it, making obeisance to dozens of different deities and deified figures from the past. It was a point of pride for them to be the most pious of all people, and they certainly reaped rich rewards. Everywhere they went, they found more gods, or perhaps their own under different names. Generally the Roman deities were enforced, though those masters of mankind were wise enough to be tolerant of most local cults.

But there was a general undercurrent of thought among the great minds of the era, including the Philosopher himself, that such things were speculative only. The truth of these mysteries was far too high for man to reach. So, whatever local superstitions or cults there might be were more or less to left to themselves. After all, they probably all amounted to much the same thing, and no one was ever going to figure out the truth.

It’s been said before that the ancient and modern worlds are remarkably similar in many ways. Perhaps this is simply the natural bent of the human mind when it’s had too much civilization for too long. The great issues seem less great and tolerance and open-mindedness replace piety and courage as the favored virtues. The Roman world was what we would call supremely multicultural: as long as you made a little obeisance to the official cult, it didn’t really matter too much what or who you worshiped. After all, as the wise men said, it wasn’t like anyone actually knew the truth: any or none of the cults could be true, so let people do what they liked, provided they didn’t upset the status quo.

What none of them realized was that one people did have the truth. They hadn’t ‘figured it out:’ Aristotle had been right to say it was too high for man to discover. Instead, God – the one, true God, the reality of which all pagan deities were, at best dim reflections of – had revealed Himself to them. The Lord whom man had felt an uneasy awareness of since the beginning, the light the enlightens every heart had made Himself known to a small, insular nation that had spent the last few thousand years tenaciously guarding its religion while being kicked back and forth by the various Mediterranean powers. In a little, violent, unstable backwater of the Roman Empire, man had had direct contact with the Divine, and the secret of secrets was jealously kept.

For the Jews, though they held knowledge of God, were not a proselytizing people. They sought no converts and made few. They kept their religion, not hidden, but their own, just as they kept some of the greatest works of ancient literature hoarded within their sacred scriptures. It was, apparently, God’s will that they should do this. Their history as a people hard largely consisted of a struggle to maintain doctrinal purity among the innumerable pagan cults that surrounded and sometimes ruled over them. Their God, the God whose name was a declaration of His supreme reality and was never spoken save in secret in the most solemn ritual, and who forbade any image to be made of Himself, would permit no other idol and no other deity to be worshipped by His people, nor would the Jews permit the likening of their God to any other. So zealous were they that they had proved they would fight to the death rather than abandon a single tenant of their faith.

So this strange nation in the corner of the Roman empire bore this knowledge within as a mother bears a child in her womb: hidden, yet manifest, quietly nurtured and zealously protected, waiting until the right time to come forth.

As it happened, during the reign of Caesar Augustus, there was a woman among these Jews who bore a son. As the Jews had received knowledge of their God from no human mind, but direct from Heaven, so her child had no human father. As God worked to preserve His people from error and apostasy for long centuries, so she was preserved in virginity even in childbirth. And the birth of her child marked the manifestation of God before the nations of man.

We celebrate a birth not because it is the start of a new life (that happens at conception), but because it is the appearance of the child who heretofore had been in community only with its mother into the community of mankind as a whole. God had manifested Himself to His chosen people, and remained hidden, as it were, within that nation. Now, though, He came forth to make Himself known to the nations. As the Christ child emerged from his mother’s womb, so the True God emerged from the Jewish nation and entered the communion of Man. The guarded and, as it were, secret knowledge of Jews was unleashed upon the world.

There is a story that, sometime during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, a message came to a sailor, which he spread through the land, that the great god Pan was dead. About the same time, according to one legend, the Oracle at Delphi stopped its prophecies. It was the herald of the end of the pagan world. Mankind’s struggle to find and to placate the unknown gods was over, because the true God had come among them. There was no going back.

In modern terms, it could be said that the Birth of Christ was the death of multiculturalism. The modern idea of the equality of all religions is not so much wrong as about two thousand years out of date. There was a time when it might be fair to say “we can’t know the truth, so let all worship as he sees fit,” but it’s a time long past. In ended on Christmas morning.

That is really what we celebrate on Christmas: the end of Paganism. Not because the pagan religions were necessarily bad in themselves, but because the need for them had passed, a fact which all men who truly loved the gods would celebrate. No more groping in the darkness; no more fumbling efforts to find the right way, or to comprehend the incomprehensible. The lights had been turned on, and a path made clear. That which man had always sought had appeared in their midst. That which they had wondered about and tried to glimpse through the fog had revealed itself. One of the ancient and perennial woes of mankind – his alienation from the Divine – had been removed.

The relation of paganism to Christianity was not of one system to another but of question to answer. That is why its advent meant a tectonic shift in human history. There is no parity between rumors and reality, or between hearing a man described and meeting him in person. Christmas was the dawn of certainty where previously there had been only doubt, of light where there had ever been darkness, and of the bridging of a gap that had seemed immeasurable.

The modern mind does not typically think through the consequences of its suppositions. So few people who say ‘all religions and all cultures are equal’ consider what it really means. If all religions, with their wide variety of doctrine, are equal, that is only to say that no one knows the truth, which is to say that God is too far removed from us to have any clear idea of Him. Christmas is the celebration of the fact that this isn’t true: that God has come among us, and our long isolation is over at last. Man’s search for God is over, for God has come to him. Our relationship to the world and to the Divine has been permanently altered.

In short, Christmas is the celebration of the moment when it ceased to be possible to say that all religions were equal. Those are its glad tiding of great joy: God is come to man, and the time of doubt is past.

 

If the Gospel Were Written Today

The American Catholic points out that Jesus’s message in today’s Gospel would have been far more shocking to those first hearing it than it seems to us because of the particular cultural circumstances. The Jews of the time regarded prostitutes and ‘tax collectors’ (collaborators with the occupying Romans) with far greater revulsion than those terms convey to us today. With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to present the passage with, ah, ‘culturally appropriate’ terms just to give an idea of the passage’s intended effect:

But what think you? A certain man had two sons; and coming to the first, he said: Son, go work today on my farm. And he answering, said: I will not. But afterwards, being moved with repentance, he went. And coming to the other, he said in like manner. And he answering, said: I go, Sir; and he went not.

Which of the two did the father’s will? They say to him: The first. Jesus saith to them: Amen I say to you, that the Klansmen and the rapists shall go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of justice, and you did not believe him. But the Klansmen and the rapists believed him: but you, seeing it, did not even afterwards repent, that you might believe him.

We Have No King But Jesus

Today is the Feast of Christ the King, established by Pope Pius XI of happy memory to remind us that, in all the vicissitudes of history, Jesus Christ is ruler of all. Considering that Pope Pius reigned during the rise of the modern totalitarian states of Italy, Germany, Spain, and Russia, no doubt he also wished to remind the faithful suffering under dictatorships that Jesus Christ, the King of kings, was their true master to whom their first allegiance was owed.

We in the twenty-first century don’t have a lot if experience with kingship, especially we Americans. It’s an idea out of storybooks and history (which, for most of us, means basically the same thing), not something we have ever really felt. That’s a shame, because I don’t think we can really understand Christianity without understanding the idea of Christ the King.

The King is a personal ruler; he is the father of his people, with all that implies. He is meant to dedicate his life to their welfare, to see that they are fed, clothed, educated, happy, and safe. Traditionally, kings led their armies in war, stood in judgement over wrongdoers, and presided at religious observances. In return, the people gave him their unflinching loyalty. A good king was a king the people were happy to obey, whom they loved dearly, and admired with a reverent awe.

There are, of course, many historical examples of good kings (St. Louis the IX of France, Alfred the Great of England, John III of Poland, etc). But I find the most emotionally resonant images of kingship are in fiction, particularly the scene in The Lord of the Rings where Faramir awakens to find Aragorn at his bedside:

Suddenly Faramir stirred, and he opened his eyes and he looked on Aragorn who bent over him; and a light of knowledge and love was kindled in his eyes, and he spoke softly. “My lord, you called me. I come. What does the king command?”

Faramir, a man of nobility, recognizes the king at once, loves him, and instantly places himself at his service, “For who would lie idle when the king has returned?” Service to the king, not out of fear, but out of love, is such a strong instinct in him that it draws him back even from the point of death. The scene makes allusion to another passage, this one in the Gospel of Matthew:

For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this, Go, and he goeth, and to another, Come, and he cometh, and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.

The centurion’s position as a man within a hierarchy of authority gave him greater insight into Christ’s position as king than the Jews could have. At the moment, their image of kingship was either the foreign Emperor who had conquered them or his tyrannical puppet rulers. The centurion understood kingship and authority and it gave him faith that made even Jesus marvel.

C.S. Lewis’s book The Four Loves is an excellent and brilliant work, but I think it may be incomplete. I think there’s a fifth love which he missed; what we might call imperial love, or love of one’s superior. The love of a subject for his king, the soldier for the general, the student for his teacher, and so on (if I could write to him and ask, he probably would have said that it would go under affection, but I think it’s a distinct enough state to warrant its own essay). It is this love that came into Faramir’s eyes when he beheld his lord and this love that drives men to follow their commanders into hell. It is the love proper to the king. It is the one that says “My lord, you have but to command and it shall be done.” This love we should have for Our Lord, Christ the King in abundance.

During the American Revolution, of the rallying cries of the Patriot forces was “We have no king but Jesus!” The Feast of Christ the King is, I think, especially important in an election year. It reminds us that, whether we voted for the winner or the loser (and whatever we think of the winner), he is not really the one in charge. His authority is not his own, but is merely delegated, conditionally, from the one who guides the course of history according to His sovereign will.

For have but one King, our true King, who holds our fate in His hands, and to whom we owe absolute allegiance. We have no king but Jesus Christ.

Viva Christo Rey!

 

 

Foundation Lines, or Why This World Matters to Christians

Ever have one of those moments where things just kind of ‘click’? Like, when you finally see the answer to a brainteaser you’ve been puzzling over for a half-an-hour and were just about to toss down the disposal. I had a moment like that the Sunday before last while listening to the Gospel reading.

It was the passage where Jesus is debating with the Sadducees, and they pose Him the hypothetical problem of a woman who has had seven equally legitimate husbands, none of whom have produced children, and whose wife will she be at the resurrection?

In answer, Jesus replies that, “The children of this world marry and give in marriage, but those who are found worthy to attain that other world and the resurrection neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in Heaven.” (Luke 20: 27-36).

Hearing that, we’d be tempted to see it as a slur against marriage: that marriage will no longer exist in Heaven, so it can’t be that important. Actually it’s quite the other way around: marriage, as we know it, won’t exist in Heaven, but that’s precisely why it’s so important here on Earth.

To explain this, I have to touch on a larger subject; Christians sometimes have trouble knowing what to think of this world. We know this is the “Valley of Tears” and the domain of the Evil One, but at the same time we’ve been told that our actions here are of paramount importance and that what happens here matters, and we know by natural law that we have to act as if the temporal things of this world were important. On one hand, we know that our eternal fate is infinitely more important than any temporal suffering, but on the other we know that we have a duty to defend ourselves and those we are responsible for. We know that God is the only true power and the only one deserving of our loyalty, yet we know that we have a duty to our country. We know that God will care for us, yet we have a duty to work for our own well-being.

Christians throughout history have treated the temporal as if it mattered, even if it mattered less than the eternal. How are we to reconcile this?

The answer is really very simple. Anyone who has studied drawing, for instance, knows that you begin with a rough sketch or foundation; you block out the shapes of the scene you want to draw, not filling the details and often with the knowledge that it’s really very different from what you have in mind. Then, once you get that right, you take a heavier pencil and begin drawing the real shapes over it; the lumpy oval is overlaid with hair, eyes, brow line, mouth, and so on to form the head; the cylinders are given muscular definition and clothing to form the arms, and the sort-of-square-type-things with circles are connected and drawn over to form the torso. Eventually, you have the complete drawing of a lovely young woman, which completely obscures your foundation lines. But if you hadn’t made those lines, or had done them badly, the picture would have turned out much differently, or not have been done at all.

Our life in this world consists of making foundation lines; the rough geometric shapes that will eventually be covered over by the true image of Himself that God wishes to created in each one of us. But we must get the lines right and the kinds of lines we draw will determine what kind of image is produced. This world is only the first phase; the rough sketch, the basic training. It is here we lay the foundation for who and what we will be in eternity.

16-face-drawing

That is why marriage, work, art, war, country, and so on are all so important, even though they will all fall away in the end; they are the shapes that will help to make up the image that God wishes to create. They will all come to nothing, not because they’re unimportant, but because they are only the rough outline of something infinitely more important, and the true thing that they are just an echo of will overlay them. Thus a courageous and loyal soldier won’t simply lay aside his arms and be free of war: he will take up new arms, ones that are far more awful than any on Earth, and enter into something that is more awesome and more glorious than any earthly war and stripped of the squalor, blood, and absurdity that make up the wars we know. The married couple will not abandon each other, but their relationship will become something new, more intense, and more glorious than any wedded bliss, and stripped of the selfishness and friction that may mar even the most perfect earthly marriage.

This is also one reason why our conduct in such things matters so much to God: if we can’t even do the basic shapes right, how is He supposed to turn us into the masterpieces He has in mind? With unfathomable generosity, He has allowed us to partake in our own creation, to make the rough sketches that He will turn into works of art, yet we constantly screw up even this small part, sometimes so badly that we ruin the picture entirely. If we can’t be trusted to manage even such small things as businesses and nations and battles and marriages, whose going to trust us with the unimaginable things of which these are nothing but faint, ill-done sketches?

We work for the good things in this present world, not because they are good in themselves, but because they are what we have been given to practice on, like the training dummies that martial artists use. If you can’t even stand up to a dummy with bits of wood sticking out of it, no one’s going to rely on you in an actual fight. Likewise, the things of this world are given us to practice on, and to manage them well is the task of our current life. So we love our country and defend it, not that it may replace God, but that by so doing we may learn to love God better and to defend His honor as Jesus did in the temple. We work, not that we don’t need God to take care of us, but that we may learn to participate in the great labor of creation. We marry and are given in marriage, not that such love may eclipse God, but that in loving our families so completely and unconditionally we may practice something akin to the love we will have for all in Heaven.