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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

John Paul II and the Doctrine of Inequivalent Equality

At some point today it occurred to me that the flags of our “nation” were at half mast. At first I wondered what I might have missed—I don’t monitor the news as closely as I used to. I was a bit surprised when I realized that this gesture was in honor of the passing of the Pope. Then I wasn’t. There is plenty in the air in America that we would without precedent bestow such an honor—normally reserved for heads of state or American political and/or heroic figures—upon a religious figurehead.

On Ben Merens's WPR talk show this afternoon I listened to Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, express her disapproval of this gesture as the Pope was inimical to the freedom of women with effect few other men could match. I began to wonder just how the Pope—who was in a position of extreme delicacy as spiritual leader of so many disparate people—approached the subject of the position of women in society.

Perhaps his heart was ultimately in the right place, as when he begins to get to the point in his Letter to Women from 1995 he starts off pretty well:


The Book of Genesis speaks of creation in summary fashion, in language which is poetic and symbolic, yet profoundly true: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (emphasis his)" (Gen 1:27).
Further in the text he states the following:


In their fruitful relationship as husband and wife, in their common task of exercising dominion over the earth, woman and man are marked neither by a static and undifferentiated equality nor by an irreconcilable and inexorably conflictual difference. Their most natural relationship, which corresponds to the plan of God, is the "unity of the two", a relational "uni-duality", which enables each to experience their interpersonal and reciprocal relationship as a gift which enriches and which confers responsibility.
Setting aside for now my abhorrence at the ecological disaster human “dominion” has wreaked upon this planet, I though this was a reasonable—even surprisingly astute for a celibate—summary of a good relationship.

Enter the mumbo-jumbo and one sees that all this altruism is but to soften the blow.

It is thus my hope, dear sisters, that you will reflect carefully on what it means to speak of the "genius of women", not only in order to be able to see in this phrase a specific part of God's plan which needs to be accepted and appreciated, but also in order to let this genius be more fully expressed in the life of society as a whole, as well as in the life of the Church.
The next spoonful is obviously going to be more medicine than sugar!

For the rest of the piece he likens the role of women to that of Mary. While only men can be the “iconic” representation of Christ as priests of the Church (because Jesus according to the Gospel said so) women can at least adopt the role of the gift to His Son, the Virgin Mary, thereby achieving a “highly significant ‘iconic character’”.

Presto! In a nutshell, one is the real thing and the other is really a lot like the real thing, really.

Now, John Paul II, being an intelligent man, realizes that this might be a bitter pill and so he obfuscates in a type of priestly patronizing tone even this Protestant based agnostic can recognize:


These role distinctions should not be viewed in accordance with the criteria of functionality typical in human societies. Rather they must be understood according to the particular criteria of the sacramental economy, i.e. the economy of "signs" which God freely chooses in order to become present in the midst of humanity.
Or, in other words, “Don’t worry your pretty little head about it, this is ecclesiastical stuff.”

Mary is referred to as “wife and mother in the family of Nazareth” and “handmaid of the Lord”. He maintains it is said of her, “For her, ‘to reign’ is to serve! Her service is ‘to reign’”.

If not ultimately, at least “to reign” in some “highly significant” way.

I can see why this flag thing might irritate an Annie Laurie Gaylor.

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