The E-Journal of
Solidarity, Sustainability, and Nonviolence

Vol. 5, No. 3, March 2009
Luis T. Gutierrez, Editor

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This month we are delighted to have an article from Dr. Ina Praetorius, a Protestant theologian from Switzerland. Actually, this is not really an article but an excerpt from her book (in German), Handeln aus der Fülle: Postpatriarchale Ethik in biblischer Tradition (the English edition, Acting Out of Abundance: Postpatriarchal Ethics in Biblical Tradition, is in preparation). It is a book about Christian ethics, and the current economic and environmental crises witness to the importance of the theme. In particular, the issue of gender equity is addressed, and it is argued that the end of patriarchy is a mark of our present times (i.e., a "sign of the times").

The subtitle for the book is also significant. It is not a matter of abandoning the rich legacy of the Jewish-Christian tradition. It is a matter of recognizing that patriarchy is not the essence of the tradition, and the task is now to carry that tradition forward while leaving behind the patriarchal mindset. And it is not only a matter of discerning what the new postpatriarchal mindset should be. The new mindset should lead to a new way of acting for the glory of God and the good of humanity. The following statement is a jewel:

"Above all I will anchor the question of "good acting" where it actually begins: in the natural, social and cultural abundance that is given to all humans before they themselves begin to act. It is an essential problem of the patriarchal symbolic order to forget that we are all born into a given wholeness. In patriarchy what comes first in reality is mostly substituted by secondary concepts such as "law" or "reason" or "money". It is a primary aim of this book to raise this problem, shake the upside down rhetoric and develop a more realistic concept of human actions."


Acting Out of Abundance

Ina Praetorius
Wattwil, Switzerland

Handeln aus der Fülle:
Postpatriarchale Ethik in biblischer Tradition

Gütersloher Verlagshaus, Germany, 2005
Note: The English edition of this book is in preparation.


It is time to rethink the way we as humans live together. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher called reflecting on what the good life is "ethics”. According to this definition, I have written a book about ethics.

To write a book about ethics means to express one’s thoughts about how we can be and act in a way that makes sense for each and every human being on this unique planet earth which today is inhabited by more than six billion people and an innumerable amount of other living beings in ever new generations.

There have been lots of people who, over the centuries, have reflected on the core-question of ethics in a more or less systematic way. In different historical contexts the question has been formulated differently: Before the age of Enlightenment Europeans essentially tried to understand God’s commands and the order of nature. Then, in the end of the 18th century, Immanuel Kant dealt mainly with the problem of how men as rational beings can find their way in a world that is no longer strictly regulated by an authority.1 Two hundred years later the US-American philosopher John Rawls reflected on the development of a liberal society: How can men agree on moral principles even if they disagree in nearly every other aspect of their lives?2 Up to this day a great deal of Western academic ethical discourse is centered around this question of rationally negotiated principles regulating liberal societies. At the same time postmodern thinkers ask if this idea of a single objective rationality is really an achievement or, perhaps, a new version of the dogma of the One Divine legislator.3 A new open and modest mode of thinking has emerged through this question.

I think that in this intellectual atmosphere the search for a good interpretation of traditional regulations – in theological terms: divine commands – can assume a new quality: Could we, beyond the claim of the medieval church to uniformly organize the world according to the One True Will of the One True God, return to the ancient holy texts? Could we understand them in a new way when the legislating One Lord and the legislating One Ratio have likewise turned out to be an illusion? Could we understand them as the legacy of our ancestors, male and female, who want to show us the way to moral wisdom in these complex present times? Could we come to know God himself or herself as the essence of all that is behind and between us, that which is not created by humankind, that in which we search for meaning beyond what we can see4 and which is greater and more powerful than all that exists?

The end of patriarchy as a mark of our present times

Humans will never be able to answer the question of the good life definitively. The ethical question needs to be renegotiated again and again. I myself think about it today, twenty centuries after Jesus Christ’s birth. This present time with all its social shifts, frictions, globalizations and enormous freedoms is marked by the fact that the centuries-old order of patriarchy is coming to its end. Certain agreements that were once valid and which have gone more or less unquestioned for a relatively long time, are dissolving: for example the belief that mainly men should think and make decisions about the shaping of the world.5

Ending the world’s division into two spheres - those being the higher and more important "male" sphere and the lower and trivial "female" sphere6 - is causing considerable irritation. Women and other marginalized members of humankind have discovered their freedom and are no longer prepared to function according to the worldviews and interests of others. This breaks down many real and symbolic certainties which most of us have become quite accustomed to. 7

I do not intend to complain about things being shaken up or even remove irritations returning to well-known time-honored traditions. Yet, neither do I want to reinforce people’s insecurities by further deconstructing moral convictions, thus nourishing widespread cynicism. Rather I want to conceive the end of the obsolete order as a chance to rethink the whole. I will ask certain questions again that, for a long time, have been thought to be answered definitely, for example: What is freedom, provided that there is more at stake than merely making choices among a wide range of options? What will become of justice if we cease to focus on the simple procedure of calculating equal shares for equal people? What, exactly, is a "right" and what is its impact on a community? How can the relation between economic and social life be described properly in a world in which no "weak gender" is quietly tidying up? How do the interpretations of politics, private life, religion, diaconia, art etc. change when androcentric concepts of proper social arrangements are fading away?

Above all I will anchor the question of "good acting" where it actually begins: in the natural, social and cultural abundance that is given to all humans before they themselves begin to act. It is an essential problem of the patriarchal symbolic order to forget that we are all born into a given wholeness. In patriarchy what comes first in reality is mostly substituted by secondary concepts such as "law" or "reason" or "money". It is a primary aim of this book to raise this problem, shake the upside down rhetoric and develop a more realistic concept of human actions.

Personal-political approach

What I have published up to now in the framework of Feminist Theology somehow logically points to this new project:

In 1993 I published my first book that deals with a fundamental critique of androcentric thinking.8 For the critical analysis of the then still ubiquitous confusion of "Mann" (man) and "Mensch" (human being) I choose a section of the European tradition which is familiar to me: textbooks of German protestant-theological ethics that were written after 1949. This paper became the starting point for several experiments to reorganize the discourse on the good life beyond obsolete habits. In the nineties and at the beginning of the new century I gave many lectures and wrote a lot of essays that contain such attempts and were published in different contexts. Some of the texts are collected in three books one of which was translated into English: "Essays in Feminist Ethics" (1998), "Zum Ende des Patriarchats. Theologisch-politische Texte im Übergang" (The End of Patriarchy. Theological-political texts in transition) (2000) and "Die Welt: ein Haushalt. Texte zur theologisch-politischen Neuorientierung" (The world: a household. Theological-political texts for reorientation) (2002).9

In my evolution as a writer I recognize the reflex of a collective development of the women’s movement and the whole society, at least in Western Europe: Whereas many women in the seventies and eighties of the past century had to struggle for their mere presence in public, women today are everywhere: on professor’s chairs and in private households, in TV studios and global business, on building sites and in parliaments. Of course they often hold a minority status at places where they, according to the fainting order, do not belong. Yet, they don’t cause scandals any more being at "wrong" places. The relatively self-evident presence of men and women in all social fields is one of many clear hints that the patriarchal division in male dominated public spheres and "female" intimacy is disappearing. So, the principle of "equal treatment" that for a long time has absorbed a big deal of female energy does not become superfluous at once, but is shifted to the margins of the political agenda. The militant and partial feminism that concentrated on the idea of a uniform "women’s interest" was, during the nineties, consequently followed up by "gender studies". Many women and some men began to claim that the gender question wasn’t any more to be an isolated political issue but dealt with at any place where relevant questions are at stake. At the same time the category "gender" has to be called into question and perceived as an interest-led mental construct itself. Researchers began to explore the impacts of gender ideologies in different social fields and asked if a friendlier handling of differences was possible. With these altered insights, equipped with scientific evidence they by now have laid the ground for what is necessary today: a more systematic thinking about the question how a sensible living-together can look like - beyond the patriarchal division of the world and the respective mechanisms of exclusion.

Referring to tradition

Today ethical thinking in the academic context, especially the argument for obligatory norms and values, is usually confronted with the claim to be "free of metaphysics". That means: the justification of moral propositions that ought to be binding for everyone must be evident to everyone. Binding principles must do without presuppositions that are situated beyond the reach of reason, for example without God and certain historical revelations. Behind this claim there hides the fact that modern, ideologically neutral constitutional states cannot, as the medieval theocentric states, oblige their citizens to have certain religious beliefs. Yet, they have to impose on them a minimum of duties derived from the rights of everyone to be respected as a person. So they have to impose on themselves – and on ethics as one of their legitimating institutions - the duty to argue for general and binding rights and duties in a rationally comprehensible way. Beliefs in certain religious revelations and, together with it, all duties or virtues that can only be derived from such beliefs are, according to this liberal doctrine, part of the realm of personal preferences.

However, this liberalistic disconnection of a general ethics of duty and an ethics of personal responsibility and virtue, too, is the result of the androcentric division of the world,10 here the superiority of an arguing rationality that is perceived as universal above a sphere of merely personal, for example religious opinions.11 I do not hold this dissociation to be the end of history.12 As many intelligent people up to this day have not been able to agree which principles can be held to be rationally founded and therefore acceptable for everyone I dare ask whether the pretended objective ratio is nothing but a belief, too. The fact, for example, that the lasting exclusion of women from the right of political participation, higher education and personal freedom was during decades agreed to be rational distances me from the usual imagination that what we call "reason" today is free of prejudices. So I think that in the period of ending patriarchy the polished opposition of a universal ethics of reason and personally justified additional virtues must be thought over.13 Similar considerations are frequently made in the framework of postmodern philosophy with the result that people’s uncertainty about what is still valid and how a person can act in a sensible way is increasing. As I do not intend to increase irresolution I choose another path in this book restituting the possibility to inform oneself in a worldview that is situated far beyond the modern dissociation of an allegedly universal reasonable way of doing ethics and a private "female" emotional kind of morality and that, therefore, is suited to call us out of the dead end of this dualism. Together with Martha C. Nussbaum I am convinced that it is not always a step back to ask premodern texts for help even if they are grounded in a metaphysics that, at first sight, has been overcome by the age of Enlightenment. Referring to Aristotle’s thinking Martha C. Nussbaum writes:

"If we read our contemporaries only, we do not come to know untimely alternatives and thereby narrow the spectrum of our options. Moreover, we spend too much time with mediocre thinkers as every century evidently produces a few outstanding political philosophers only. To reach the truth one must do a kind of research that does not remain superficial because otherwise one cannot confront the mainstream conceptions with real alternatives and does not proceed in one’s own thinking."14

The subtitle of this book "postpatriarchal ethics in biblical tradition" tells which kind of legacy I feel obliged to. The presuppositions about the quality of the world and the human existence that I find in the Scriptures lay beyond the modern idea of a rationality free of metaphysics. Just as the dissociations of reason and emotion, public and private, state and family, justice and good life are far from them these presuppositions contain promising impulses for a society in search of ways out of the dead ends of the divided world. I intend to use and unfold these potentials in this book. I want to open up a renewed way into the biblical idea to conceive human being-in-the-world and acting as part of a sensible history whose starting point is God’s good creation and torah, whose end will be God’s peace with all humans. It is not so important if I will be able to make this worldview plausible to all rational beings. If, namely, ratio itself is understood as a dogma in which one has to believe, the future does not any more contain the task to surrender to this dogma. Rather we will all have to explain in peace to each other our different arguments that justify good actions and that also in the future will differ from one another.

Biblical wisdom itself, to be sure, is buried under thick layers of dogmatism that many people today are right to put aside as obsolete. Although we cannot deny the Jewish authorities and the Christian churches as stewards of the biblical heritage the merit of having passed the old texts onto ever new generations, the Churches haven’t done justice to the tradition reducing it to "christianity", freezing it to creeds and confessions, urging the christian faith during centuries to people as unique way of salvation. Rendering the biblical worldview fruitful for postpatriarchal thinking on the human living-together therefore means to remove layers of misinterpretation. As the churches have nowadays lost sovereignty of interpretation over the bible and morality likewise such a renewed approach to the bible is possible though still hindered by many obstacles. Unless I was firmly convinced of the fertility of biblical wisdom for ethical reasoning I certainly would not undergo all these difficulties.

The parts and chapters of the book

In the first part of the book I represent abundance or fullness as the main source of good actions. At first I deal with the movements of thinking I myself refer to, then I turn to what the bible calls "creation", to birth as the beginning of every human life story, to human civilization and finally to an interpretation of moral tradition15 as part of the given abundance. In the second part I say good-bye to patriarchy and explain how I deal with the misunderstandings the obsolete order has incorporated into my mind and body, on the other side with certain achievements I do not want to release. In the center of the third part there is the question what it means to act in a good way. I conceive good acting as creative shaping the world driven by gratitude towards the initial abundance. I will comment this understanding in detail. The fourth part contains essays in which, following the leading idea of "freedom in dependence", I examine the impacts of postpatriarchal thinking on concrete fields of acting,

Why I put this book into the world

This book should be understood as a pointed intermediate balance of the ethical thinking in the period of ending patriarchy: a kind of a framework into which other people can insert their own thoughts. As I do not yet intend to write the comprehensive textbook of postpatriarchal ethics that certainly will exist some time, I again and again touch topics with only a few phrases on which one could easily write several theses, for example the relation between postpatriarchal biblical ethics and the different streams of communitarism, postmodern and critical theory. Such deficiency in the perception of the past has often been the destiny of those discovering something new. It is not my purpose to engage in specialized debates or examine closely every corner of my argument. Rather, I want to set some outposts into a future in which the living-together of humans will be reorganized beyond the obsolete division of the world. I myself or other researchers have already examined more closely some of the issues that I only hint to in this book in former studies. The notes refer to respective propositions of further reading. Probably I myself, certainly other people will do more detailed research on all the open questions in the future.


1 Vgl. v.a. Immanuel Kant, Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (1785) und Kritik der praktischer Vernunft (1788).

2 Vgl. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971). Compare Christine M. Koorsgaard in: Herlinde Pauer-Studer ed. 2000, 39f. Kant as well as Rawls speak of "men" or "man" in their texts. Yet, several studies have prooved that in fact they only refer to white males; cf.Heidemarie Bennent 1985, Silvia Bovenschen 1980, Mary Daly 1986, Luce Irigaray 1980, Ursula Pia Jauch 1988, Susan Moller-Okin 1979, Luisa Muraro 1993, Ina Praetorius 1994 ua. Vgl. auch Kapitel 4 dieses Buches.

3 Vgl. z.B. Zygmunt Bauman 1995.

4 Cf., to this thought Andrea Günter 2000, 57-78. Günter here agrees with Hannah Arendt and writes about the challenge to come to understand "power in relation" that, up to now, we thought to be divine, as worldly. Cf. also Andrea Günter/Ina Praetorius 1999.

5 Cf. Libreria delle donne di Milano 1996, Ina Praetorius 2000, Michaela Moser/Ina Praetorius Hg. 2003.

6 Cf. Kap. 4.

7 Cf. Luce Irigaray (1991,11): "Die sexuelle Differenz stellt eine der Fragen oder die Frage dar, die in unserer Epoche zu denken ist. Jede Epoche hat – Heidegger zufolge – eine Sache zu "bedenken". Nur eine. Die sexuelle Differenz ist wahrscheinlich diejenige unserer Zeit. Diejenige, die uns, wäre sie gedacht, die "Rettung" bringen würde?"

8 Ina Praetorius 1994.

9 Ina Praetorius 1995 (1998), 2000, 2002.

10 Cf. Kap. 4.

11 Cf. Carol Gilligan 1984, Elisabeth Conradi 2001 ua.

12 Cf. the alternative reading of "metaphysics" in: Andrea Günter 2003, v.a. 10-59.

13 A detailed argumentation can be found in Elisabeth Conradi 2001, 61-134.

14 Martha C. Nussbaum in: Herlinde Pauer-Studer Hg. 2000, 147.

15 Saying "morality" I refer to the regulations and norms that exist in fact. Consequently, "moral traditions" are delivered texts containing such time-bound norms.

Copyright © 2009 by Ina Praetorius

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Ina Praetorius is a theologian and freelance author of the books. She is German, now living in Switzerland. In her own words as stated in web site:

"My mother. Lisedore Praetorius-Häge gave birth to me in 1956 in Karlsruhe, Germany. I grew up in Grötzingen (near Karlsruhe) and Unterreichenbach (near Calw). After my final examination (1975 in Pforzheim) I studied German literature, linguistics and Protestant theology in Tübingen (Germany), Zürich (Switzerland), and Heidelberg (Germany). From 1983 to 1987 I worked as an assistant at the Institute for Social Ethics, University of Zürich. I married Hans Jörg Fehle in 1988. For seventeen years we lived in the rectory of Krinau/Toggenburg (Switzerland). Our daughter Pia Clara was born in 1989. In 1992 I got my theological doctorate at the university of Heidelberg. We moved to Wattwil where we live still today. Since 1987 I have been active as a freelance author. "

Her web site carries the following subtitle: "It has not yet been disclosed what we are to be" (1 John 3:2). The central focus of her theological research is to seek a better understanding of human beings, and human life, in accordance with God's plan. There is nothing that today's world needs more.

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