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From Liberation Theology to Ecofeminist Theology A Revolution Entrenched in the Church (II)

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Introduction

We continue with installments from the study, From Liberation Theology to Ecofeminist Theology in order to help readers understand the ideological positions hidden behind those who encourage this new theology supposed to guide the next Synod on the Amazon.

Feminist theology in the words of its own authors

The book Del Cielo a la Tierra (From Heaven to Earth) is an anthology of the main authors and texts of feminist and ecofeminist theology. Their authors are American and have an abundant curriculum of studies and activities. The selection of texts, made by the lay missionary Judith Ress in coordination with other women of the Colectivo Con-spirando, is an invitation “to listen to these voices (of ‘deconstruction’) of women theologians from the North … seeking to sing a new song with their own voices. Let’s tune our ears.”[1]

Judith RessTo decipher this neo-theology, we will also use various issues of the magazine Con-spirando and the books, Lluvia para florecer and Vírgenes y diosas en América Latina, which are the main national sources of this theology.[2]  We will make some comments to facilitate understanding.

The first ecofeminist text presented in the book From Heaven to Earth sets the ideological bases of this new theology. Here are a few of its main characteristics: “Feminist theology, with its interpretation of the physical human body as absolutely central … Its spirituality is grounded in its sensuality sexuality … Thus, feminist theology is a great ecumenical task of telling stories, celebrating, criticizing our traditions …. This theology … testifies to the changing and dynamic nature of relationships and therefore of theology itself. … Neither god, nor incarnation, nor sin, nor reparation. We feminists assume the prerogative of transcending traditional Christian or religious norms such as the assumption that pride is a sin.”[3]

Comment: Nothing remains standing, nor will it be true tomorrow what you hold today as truth. This is the apex of relativism, and therefore, of the negation of religion. The affirmation that pride is not a sin, as we will see in texts transcribed later, is a thesis constantly affirmed by this neo-theology. It also affirms that, for a woman, humility is a sin.

Another leading exponent of this current also notes the profoundly revolutionary character of this neo-theology:

“There is an inherent anti-Church dynamic in the revolution of women in Judeo-Christian society… This is because the Judeo-Christian tradition legitimizes patriarchy … which the women’s revolution has left behind. … It is a post-Christian spiritual revolution.”[4]

What is this post-Christian spiritual revolution? The same theologian explains it: “The journey of transformation of women, then, involves exorcising the internalized Godfather in its various manifestations. … This process of demystification, of standing up and getting out of the Lie, is the ecstasy.[5]

Mary CodrenAccording to the ecofeminist theologian Mary Codren,[6] “the foundational myth of patriarchy” is the book of Genesis. In her book, Eva y la serpiente: El mito fundacional del patriarcado (Eve and the Serpent: The Founding Myth of Patriarchy) she states: “In the end the serpent was right. The first couple did not die when they ate the fruit and came to know good and evil. … However, although the serpent proved to be right, Yahweh wanted to prevent the couple from ‘knowing good and evil’ [and] the serpent is punished … Women were subordinated to men and became responsible for crushing the ancient source of strength and comfort, that is, the goddess in the form of a serpent.”[7]

For her part, Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza,[8] also an ecofeminist theologian, proposes a conversion of the Church. “By exorcising the internalized structural evil of patriarchal sexism and by calling the whole church to conversion and repentance, Christian feminism and feminist theology reserve the right and power to articulate our own theology [to] become the ekklesia of women, woman-church.”[9]

Another feminist theologian reports that “Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza has extended the model and modified the image of the hermeneutical circle. During her stay in Chile, she presented the model of hermeneutic dance of biblical interpretation, a deliberate movement that circulates freely through the experience (of oppression …); the memory (of traditions of oppression …); the good news (…is it really good news for these women?); creative re-imagination (feminist liturgy…); and transformation (liberation, healing, as a fundamental reason for this dance).”[10]

The late theologian and woman religious Madonna Kolbenschlag[11] offers a formula-rite to make this “exorcism” against the “myth of Eve”, which has served as the basis for the doctrine of patriarchy (that is, Catholic doctrine): “Remembering the story of Eve and the garden of temptation, we gather to read the story of Genesis … At the end of each reading, all the women gathered sing with vigor: ‘This is not the will or the word of God!’ Then an apple is blessed, which is passed from one woman to another, with the words, ‘Take and eat, because it is good, and you are good’. I cannot describe the strong, even physical sense of affirmation and exorcism that this community ritual imparts.”[12]

Comment: As is known, the apple is the symbol of the fruit forbidden by God, and therefore of sin. The serpent is the symbol of the devil. Eating the apple in a rite is a denial of the concept of Original Sin and of all the Catholic theology based on Genesis and elicits the sympathy of participants towards the serpent, that is, the devil.

 Later we will see that this “exorcistic” rite is currently taught and practiced in Catholic parishes and church groups in Santiago. The women “teachers” have drawn disciples who are transmitting their lessons to new adepts of this current.

 

A Teacher of Ecofeminist Theology

 

At first, the feminist theses we have just reviewed were not well received by activists of Liberation Theology in Latin America. The latter distrusted ideologues coming from a rich country like the United States.

It was therefore necessary to unite the “engaged praxis” of Latin American Liberation Theology with feminist studies of the so-called First World. That task was taken up by the Brazilian nun Ivone Gebara.[13]

She explains: “Could the discourse of Northern women about themselves serve for Southern women? Even more, can one talk about women from the North and from the South…? I think we can continue to ponder these questions. However, we will not stop ‘consuming’ the good things that the North produces. And one of the good things that the North is producing … is feminist theology.”[14]

The ecofeminist theologians of Latin America recognize this Brazilian woman religious of the Order of Our Lady (Canonesses of Saint Augustine), as one of the main exponents of this current. In 1994, she was censored and punished with two years of silence by the Vatican, and was sent to study traditional doctrine at the Catholic University of Leuven.[15] However, the sanctions did not prevent her from continuing to dictate talks, writing, traveling, and promoting this new “theology” throughout the Continent.

Ivone Gevara comments on her experience of conversion to this theology: “In the early 1980s I began to read Dorothee Sölle and Rosemary Radford Ruether (who) introduced me to the discourse on the production of images of God in patriarchy and the pluralism of experiences and cultural expressions of that reality that we call ‘God’.”[16]

Incidentally, Rosemary Radford Ruether, the theologian who “opened” the eyes of the Brazilian nun, is one of those mentioned in the article in Approaches as belonging to the progressive “Catholic Establishment” of the United States in the 1960s.

Converting from Liberation Theology to ecofeminist theology enabled the Brazilian woman religious to perceive that “the feminist struggle against patriarchy is in a certain way the fight against this kind of ‘original sin’ that we have been carrying for more than 6,000 years … It is an ‘original sin’ in which we are born and which we breathe from the earliest childhood, most of the time without even realizing that we are in it.”[17]

Comment: Do not think that this nun of the Order of Our Lady is speaking of ‘original sin’ as the Church understands it. It is precisely the opposite. For her, ‘original sin’ is to have believed in what the Bible tells about the temptation of Adam and Eve and to have accepted its moral consequences. To get out of them one would have to deny not only the doctrines but also the moral practices that derive from them, that is, all the moral virtues.

 After listening to Ivone Gebara in one of her many presentations, the Uruguayan and former Tupamaro [guerrilla terrorist] Graciela Pujol comments about her own “conversion” to ecofeminist theology: “When I saw that I was beginning to deconstruct all the dogmas, the sky opened up and I was the happiest woman in the world because I had another perspective. That’s why I love Ivone so much. She opened up an impressive universe to me. That course was wonderful, it began to overthrow all dogmas from the notion of the Holy Trinity to the images of God, passing through the Bible. She did not leave any dogma standing.”[18]

 

The Journey from Liberation Theology to Ecofeminist Theology

 

In the presentation of the book Lluvia para florecer[19] (Rain to Blossom), sister Ivone Gebara writes: “The interviews published here … try to capture a new moment in the current history of the liberation of women and feminist spirituality in Latin America in the beginning of this millennium. … Almost all participated in one way or another in militancy against the military dictatorships of the ‘last century’, in social movements, ecclesial base communities, liberation theology … We cannot express this trend numerically, but the impression is that it is growing as a creeping grass, waiting for the arrival of the rain, especially in women belonging to the Christian tradition.”[20]

Comment: The teacher of ecofeminism does not hide that the movement is still numerically small but affirms that “it is growing as a creeping grass”. The seed is planted and only lacks “rain to blossom”.

She goes on to comment on a synthesis of this theological doctrine: “Its most important characteristics have to do with the adoption of feminism, ecological concerns and a critique of the patriarchal religious system that excludes women from public posts and from the religious production of social meaning. To embrace this new way of seeing the world implies … the consequent introduction of a new cosmology, a new anthropology … a new ethical formulation and a new way of celebrating life…. In some way, we go beyond current theology, liberation theology, and the patriarchal systems in force.”[21]

Comment: The Brazilian nun does not hide the radical nature of the proposal. It is about subverting all Catholic thought from its roots and installing a new religion and a new ethics. Nor does she deny that the women religious adopting this new theology are still few.[22]

Chilean ecofeminist theologians Loreto Fernandez and Doris Muñoz held a retreat for women in Bolivia in March 2010. In the retreat, they explained their journey from Liberation Theology to Ecofeminist Theology. They started out with “The Theology of Liberation, whose reflection was articulated from the praxis of social and political commitment by Christians in a continent marked by poverty, exclusion and inequality. However, resistance from the most conservative sectors always maintained a tension that increased during the long pontificate of John Paul II, who kept in question, when he did not disqualify, the path of Catholic communities and particularly that of male and female liberation theologians.”

Note this criticism of Church authorities: the Pope “disqualified” the Theology of Liberation. Such a measure is presented as an arbitrary authoritarianism before which the women theologians did not back down’ on the contrary, they elaborated a new and more revolutionary theology. It’s what they tell you next.

“Poor women: some theologians grew in their awareness that doing theology in Latin America from the place of the poor was to assume the face of peasant, indigenous, Afro-descendent women, villagers who were doubly marginalized in their situation both as poor and as women. This is another element that will singularize theological production in our continent, and it is the permanent interpellation made … from the experiences of real women, who in their daily life question all our representations, especially our imaginary of God: What God is this that has allowed their exclusion, exploitation, and status as non-persons? Where is the God who hears the cry of his people? How is he? Where is he? What can he contribute to the liberation of women?” [23]

After criticizing the head of the Church, the women theologians go on to criticize God Himself as taught by Catholic doctrine and to announce a new “god” who is capable of “contributing to the liberation of women”. We will see, throughout these pages, where they find this ‘god’ and what his nature is. The reader will be surprised.   

Excerpts from the book, Desde la Teología de la Liberación a la Teología ecofeminista. Una revolución enquistada en la Iglesia. Download in Spanish here.

 

 

[1] Cf. Del Cielo a la Tierra, Una antología de teología feminista [From Heaven to Earth, an Anthology of Feminist Theology], edited by Mary Judith Ress, Ute Seibert, Lele Sjørup, ‘Sello Azul’, 2nd Edition, July 1997, Chile.

[2] Cf. Vírgenes y diosas en América Latina, la resignificación de lo sagrado [Virgens and Goddesses in Latin America, Resignifying the Sacred], by “Con-spirando, Red Latinoamericana de Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir” [Conspiring, Latin American Network of Catholics for the Right to Decide], 1st edition, November 2004, Uruguay.

[3] Cf. Carter Heyward, Introduction to feminist theologies, in DEL CIELO A LA TIERRA, Una antología de teología feminista, pp. 37-39, emphasis ours. The author is “episcopal priestess and professor of theology at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A lesbian feminist and liberation theologian, she is the author of several books and articles.

[4] Cf. Del Cielo a la Tierra, p. 108. “Mary Daly, ‘El salto cualitativo más allá de la religión patriarcal’ [The Qualitative Leap beyond Patriarchal Religion].” Mary Daly obtained her Ph.D. in Religion at St. Marys’ College at Notre Dame University in the USA and her Ph. D’s in Sacred Theology and Philosophy from the University of Freiburg, Switzerland. She is associate professor at the Department of Theology of Boston College, where she teaches feminist ethics, and author of classical texts.”

 

[5] Cf. Ib. pp. 110-111

[6] “Mary Condren was born in Dublin, Ireland. She teaches at the University College and the Trinity College in Dublin and at the Dominican Priory of Tallaght” (Cf. Del cielo a la Tierra, “About the Authors.”

[7] Cf. Ib. pp. 217-218.

[8] “Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza is a professor of theology at the Harvard Divinity School, co-founder and editor of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, and author of various books…” Cf. Del cielo a la Tierra, “About the Authors”.

[9] Cf. Ib. p. 24.

[10] Cf. Espacios abiertos, Caminos de la Teología feminista, Ute Seibert, August 2010, Editorial Forja, Santiago. p. 62

[11] Madonna Kolbenschlang (1935-2000) obtained her Ph.D. in literature from the University of Notre Dame in 1973 … was part of the Women’s Commission for the State of West Virginia. Author of various books.

[12] Cf. Ib. Del cielo a la Tierra, p. 257, emphases from the original.

[13] “As was said before, Ivone Gebara from Brazil was the first, and until now the only liberation theologian to publicly take a stand in favor of abortion. In October 1993, in an interview with the Brazilian magazine Veja, she stated that if the mother is in no condition to face a pregnancy, she has the right to end it. According to her…abortion is not a sin” (Cf. La ética sexual y los límites de la Praxis, Conversaciones críticas entre la teología feminista y la teología de la liberación, Elina Vuola, Ediciones Abya-Yala, Ecuador, 2000,  p. 198).

[14] Cf. Prologue to the book Del cielo a la Tierra, by Ivone Gebara.

[15] Cf. Web. Eglesias plural: Dialogo con Ivone Gebara: Mujer, teóloga y feminista, por Hugo José Suarez.

[16] Cf. Op. cit. Del cielo a la Tierra, p. 18.

[17] Cf. Op. cit. Del cielo a la Tierra, p. 15-16.

[18] Cf. Lluvia para florecer, p. 149.

[19] Cf. Ib. “Mary Judith Ress, American lay missionary, has lived and worked in Latin America since 1970 (in El Salvador, Peru and Chile) … This collection of (12) interviews is part of her research to obtain a doctorate in feminist theology from the San Francisco Theological School in California.”

[20] Cf. Lluvia para florecer, Presentación, pp. 9-17.

[21] Op. Cit. Lluvia para crecer

[22] To learn more about the relationship between Liberation Theology with Feminist Theology, read the book by Elina Vuola, La ética sexual y los límites de la Praxis, Conversaciones críticas entre la teología feminista y la teología de la liberación [Sexual Ethics and the Limits of Praxis, Critical Conversations between Feminist Theology and Liberation Theology]. In it, the author states that “The serious dialogue among the different liberation theologies and feminist theologies of the First and Third World is a very recent phenomenon. There have been international meetings, most in the context of ASETT. The works by Third World women theologians are becoming better known internationally” (Cf. La ética sexual y los límites de la Praxis, Conversaciones críticas entre la teología feminista y la teología de la liberación, p. 98, Elina Vuola, Ediciones Abya-Yala (Quito) IEPALA (Madrid) 2001.

 

[23]  Cf. “Hagamos un Cuerpo, Hagamos un Cuento”, Centro Ecuménico Diego de Medellín: Loreto Fernández y Doris Muñoz 01/09/2009

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