Cultural Evolution for Solidarity and Sustainability
We are currently at the threshold of the Anthropocene and a major cultural evolution pursuant to overcome outmoded habits in human relations. The individualist propensity to make decisions guided by self-interest alone, irrespective of any consideration of the common good, needs to be superseded by a new culture of solidarity whereby people become conditioned to balance self-interest and the common good in making decisions. For the human habitat is part of the common good, and sustainable development cannot possibly be achieved as long as individualist self-interest reigns supreme. The sustainable development paradox is that more people, and more consumption per capita, translate into natural resource depletion and environmental degradation which eventually makes further development impossible.
Infinite growth in a finite planet is a mathematical impossibility as long as "growth" is defined exclusively in terms of producing and consuming material goods and services. The only way to resolve the paradox is to prioritize integral human development, i.e., development of the human person in both the objective and subjective dimensions. In the history of biological and cultural evolution, we seem to be at the point in which it is imperative to recognize that we need bread but we cannot live by bread alone. The question is not whether the evolutionary process will continue in the future. The question is whether we want the evolution to unfold by conscious and rational choices or by chance with high probability of extreme human suffering as violent competition for limiting resources take their toll.
Human Relations & Patriarchal Ideology
The absurdity of infinite material growth in a finite planet cannot possibly be resolved by "miraculous" technological breakthroughs. Sustainability is not
primarily a technical problem. It is primarily a social issue. Nature is not the problem. Humans are the problem. It is the primitive ideological system of "big fish eats small fish" that is at the root of the sustainable development paradox. Human relations are far too often driven by an inordinate attachment to domination and control, of the weaker by the stronger.
The cultural expression of that system of ideas is patriarchy, an ideology that creates a culture in which it is taken for granted that men dominate women, and humans dominate nature, in conjunction with a God who is male and dominates the entire community of creation, which is female and is *his* creation. Theologies contaminated by patriarchal ideologies thereby end up creating God in man's image, as depicted in this cartoon.
Gender Relations in the Nuclear Family
Patriarchal gender relations in the nuclear family originated in human prehistory and became prevalent in conjunction with the Agricultural Revolution that started approximately 10,000 years BCE.
Patriarchy literally means "the rule of the father." In the Hebrew world, families were presided by a patriarch who had absolute authority over wives, children, animals, and all other forms of property. This led to the suppression of female images of God in favor of male images. In the Roman civilization, the same system was enshrined by the laws of patria potestas. This legalization of the patriarchal system still subsists in some countries.
Gender Relations in Religious Traditions
Gender relations in most religious traditions follow the patriarchal pattern of male domination and control. In a Judeo-Christian context, it is reasonable to think that this worldwide pattern of male domination derived from "original sin" and the corruption of the original communion between humans, and between humans and nature. It is significant that Genesis 3:16, the "divine" punishment for humans trying to be like God, prescribes that 50%% of humanity will dominate the other 50%. It is the most universal curse of human relations, and one that transcends cultures and is just now being recognized as an objective disorder in human relations. It contaminated the inception of all religious traditions, including biblical texts. Gender relations in religion image gender relations in the patriarchal family. This is the cultural milieu that all religious founders (including Jesus) had to confront, and do it in a way that people could understand, for people can receive only what they are capable of receiving.
Current Crisis of Solidarity and Sustainability
The current crisis of solidarity and sustainability is tightly coupled with cultural issues which, in turn, are permeated by patriarchal religious ideas. Patriarchy had become culturally normative by 4000 BCE or so, and this worldwide phenomenon predated biblical times by millennia. Scholars generally agree that the most ancient biblical texts were written circa 1000 BCE, so by this time the patriarchal model of the nuclear family was taken for granted as "the natural order of things." This patriarchal model of the nuclear family induces, and is reinforced by, patriarchal traditions about male family "headship" and male images of God. In the Old Testament, male and female images of God were gradually supplanted by exclusively male images even as an attempt was being made to recognize that no single human body can make God fully visible.
These traditions are anthropocentric, and are not intrinsic to divinity or divine revelation as conveyed in the Bible. Following the principle that "whatever is received is received only in as far as the person receiving it is capable of receiving it" (in Latin, "quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitum est") the entire Bible is full of texts and allegories that seem to have a patriarchal flavor. But the limitations of human cultures and languages should not be confused with the real God who created man and woman in h** own image, loves humanity, became human h**self, and redeemed humanity by embracing all the limitations of the human condition even after the original unity of man and woman was corrupted by "original sin." As the history of salvation from sin continues to unfold, the divine revelation contained in biblical texts needs to be liberated from the human incapacity to articulate revealed truths in all their purity and beauty.
No matter what the bible says, the world is not flat, and our planet is not the center of the universe. No matter what the Bible does not say, Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that Mary was assumed body and soul to heaven. No matter what the Bible says or does not say, it could well be that the time has come to discern the difference between patriarchal ideology and revealed truths. It is hereby suggested that John Paul II's Theology of the Body may provide a solid anthropological and theological foundation to carry forward this process of discernment and liberation.
THEOLOGY OF THE BODY
"The body is a sacrament of the whole person."
Conceptualization of the Person in Social Sciences, PAS/PASS, 2005.
The central theme of the "Theology of the Body" (TOB) is that human beings are not just objective bodies but also personal subjects, and that we attain our full humanity by engaging in inter-personal relationships. This theological anthropology transcends both patriarchalist and feminist ideologies but is very relevant to Catholic/Orthodox sacramental theology and the vexing issue of "headship" in the nuclear family and all social and religious institutions. Specifically with regard to Catholic/Orthodox sacramental theology, it leads to serious questions about the continued exclusion of women from the sacrament of holy orders:
(1) If the objectification of both the male and female body is to be avoided by recognizing that both men and women are "body-subjects," then why should the doctrine of the priesthood be limited to "the priest must be male because Jesus Christ is male"?
(2) If as humans we attain full humanity only to the extent that we relate to others as a communion of persons (communio personarum), male and female, then why should the church hierarchy remain exclusively male in order to be a sign of the incarnation and the redemption?
"The body is a sacrament of the whole person," but is not the whole person. There is more to a person than h** body, much more. This has been recognized in modern psychology since Carl Jung (1930s) and is now widely recognized in all the human sciences, as well as philosophy and theology. This insight into human nature has repercussions for integral human development, and for the transition to a new culture of solidarity and sustainability, that need to be urgently worked out and taken into account to make decisions and take action in both secular and religious institutions; and religious institutions, which are notorious for adapting cautiously and slowly to the signs of the times, are lagging when it comes to resolving gender issues that are crucial for sustainable development.
At the incarnation, the concrete totality of human nature was assumed by the Second Person of the Trinity ("what is not assumed is not redeemed"). The redemption applies to the concrete totality of humanity, male and female. Taking into account the new insights of modern psychology will not require any substantial change in the fundamental dogmas of the Catholic faith, let alone basic Christian faith. However, it will require clarification of the difference between patriarchal ideology and biblical revelation. According to patriarchal ideology, male bodies are the best choice to image God. Not so according to biblical revelation:
"Corporality and sexuality are not completely identified. Although the human body, in its normal constitution, bears within it the signs of sex and is, by its nature, male or female, the fact, however, that man is a "body" belongs to the structure of the personal subject more deeply than the fact that he is in his somatic constitution also male or female. Therefore, the meaning of original solitude, which can be referred simply to "man," is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity. The latter, in fact, is based on masculinity and femininity, as if on two different "incarnations," that is, on two ways of "being a body" of the same human being, created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27)." Pope John Paul II, General Audience, 17 November 1919
There is one human nature, male and female. At the incarnation, God embraced all the limitations of the human condition, including gender. Given this fact, excluding women from priestly ordination is understandable as a practice based on patriarchal ideology, but not as a practice based on Christian faith. Excluding women from the ministerial priesthood amounts to an objectification of female human bodies that ignores the subjective dimension of women as persons and also ignores that neither men nor women become fully human unless they live in communion with each other. Indeed, it is in communion with each other that men and women become imago Dei, imago Christi, imago Trinitatis. Furthermore, the ordination of women to the priesthood is in perfect continuity with apostolic tradition and the dogmatic definition on the institution of the priesthood, which explicitly requires apostolicity but does not mention any requirement of masculinity.
In the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, apostolic succession is a key concept: the church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The apostolicity requirement is key. Granted that, according to the New Testament, Jesus appointed 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel, does it follow that he intended for all successors of the apostles to be male forever? Or is this practice based on a patriarchal rationalization, a non sequitur that has yet to be clarified to separate wheat from chaff, divine revelation from patriarchal ideology? Taking for granted that a patriarchal rationalization is intrinsic to divine revelation is no longer tenable. The suggestion here is that good answers emerge from John Paul II's "Theology of the Body." That the saintly pope non-infallibly ruled out the ordination of women as priests for the time being (because the church was "not ready"?) is no justification to assume that the church can never do it in the future; he never said "never," and his 1994 statement applies to the past and the present, not the future. As 20 years now are like 200 years before computers and the internet, it could be that the future is now. What is it that Jesus would do, here and now?
Not that the Catholic/Orthodox churches have a monopoly of patriarchal rationalizations. The Protestant churches are undergoing an equally painful process of liberation from deeply ingrained patriarchal doctrines and practices. Furthermore, patriarchy is not an exclusively Christian affliction: most, if not all, religious traditions are deeply patriarchal and need liberation from gods made in man's image. In all the major world religions, every conceivable fallacy is being used to defend religious patriarchy, from "Mary was not a priest, therefore a woman cannot be a priest" to "a man cannot be a mother, therefore a woman cannot be the head" of families and communities, let alone preside in divine worship. In a Christian context, there is also the absolutist inference about male headship, based on the beautiful image of Christ as Bridegroom and the church as Bride, as if the mystery of Christ-Church unity is exhausted by the marriage allegory in spite of St. Paul's explicit admonition that the mystery transcends the image (Ephesians 5:32); while, at the same time, focusing on temporary and locally conditioned pastoral guidance (as in 1 Corinthians 7:1ff, 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:12), interpreting them in a literalist way, and ignoring the more universally applicable Pauline teaching, by words and by praxis, about our common membership in the body of Christ and gift-based personal vocations to apostolic ministry (1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28; Romans 16:1ff; etc.). Same applies to the counsels given in 1 Peter 3:1-7, which are consistent with the advice to respect the authority of the emperor and other human institutions (2:13-14). It is well known that the Bible should not be interpreted in a fundamentalist, literalist manner, but taking into account the cultural context in which it was written. The TOB sheds new light on many biblical texts pertaining to gender relations and also clarifies that "celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" is an admirably fruitful vocation but in no way superior to marriage (Matthew 19:1-12).
What is the significance of religious patriarchy, and the consequent exclusion of women from roles of religious authority, for solidarity and sustainability? Indeed, the significance is huge. The Roman Catholic Church, with 1.1 billion members, is arguably the most influential religious institution in the world. The total number of Christians is estimated to be 2.3 billion. The total numbers of Muslims, 1.6 billion; Hindus, 1 billion; Buddhists, 350 million; etc. In brief, about 80% of the world population professes adherence to a religious tradition. Unless those religious institutions are utterly irrelevant, they should have some influence on the ways people think and act; and as long as such influence serves to reinforce the patriarchal mindset, especially in religious worship, it is detrimental to solidarity and sustainability in today's world, where there is now wide evidence-based agreement that balance in gender relations is instrumental for sustainable human development.
In the beginning, God created man and woman for mutuality in perfect unity, not one-sided domination Genesis 2:24). Religious traditions have undoubtedly made immense contributions to human progress and welfare over the centuries. But the primitive propensity to religious violence (including gender violence), and the equally primitive propensity to exploit natural resources without regard for the common good, continue to be exacerbated by patriarchal ideologies and continue to have disastrous social and ecological consequences as we enter the Anthropocene. Environmental degradation and climate change are not unrelated to economic and gender inequalities. Both are driven by the patriarchal mindset of domination and control, which in turn is reinforced by distorted images of patriarchal gods which have nothing to do with the biblical God who is Love, a God who is a Communion of Persons, a God who (for Christians) assumed human nature and became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, not seeking dominion and control but solidarity with humanity and the entire community of creation.
Balancing Gender Relations in Religious Traditions
Both "trickle down economies" and "trickle down ecclesiologies" are rooted in the patriarchal culture of male domination. To foster solidarity and sustainability in today's world, it is time for the church to go beyond condemning the secular idolatry of money and start liberating herself from the ecclesial idolatry of patriarchy. This applies not only to the Christian churches but to all religious institutions that remain trapped in a culture that is passing away. From nuclear families to church altars, from local communities to ecumenical councils, God and the nuptial solidarity between God and humanity must be imaged as a communion of persons (communio personarum) rather than male/female, dominion/submission hierarchies. It should be noted that hierarchy is not the problem. Patriarchy is the problem. Some form of governance is a practical necessity for all communities. But roles of authority must be gift-based, not gender-based; and this applies to both secular and religious institutions. Initiatives pursuant to cultural evolution are required to move in this direction in a timely manner, with pastoral sensitivity but determined resolve, if the current crisis is to give way to a new civilization of solidarity and sustainability.
Balancing Gender Relations in the Human Family
Balancing gender relations in the nuclear family is by no means a prescription for "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." The prescription is for nuptial solidarity in the family, so that the gift of love and the gift of life are shared in mutual submission and mutual service rather than one-sided domination. In a Christian context, the beautiful bridegroom-bride allegory in Ephesians 5 remains fully applicable but without any of the male domination/female submission connotations that derive from patriarchal ideology. No matter how the nuclear family evolves, men are men, women are women, parents are responsible for their children, children are children and must obey their parents. Hopefully the benefits of extended families will be rediscovered and renewed to enhance inter-generational solidarity.
Likewise, balancing gender relations in the human family should be done in the spirit of nuptial solidarity between the two halves of humanity. It is not a matter of seeking power for the sake of power, let alone seeking revenge for past abuses; but let no one say that rape, or any other form of gender violence, is justifiable for any reason. Just as there is a relationship if nuptial solidarity between Christ and the church, let there be a similar relationship between all men and women of good will. In this regard, the egalitarian versus complementarian debate is rather meaningless. Surely, men and women are equal in humanity and dignity. Surely, men and women complement each other in love and procreation but otherwise should not exclude each other in any roles of work and authority. It is time to allow men and women to help each other, and serve each other, without artificial ideological barriers that cannot be scientifically or theologically justified.
One important difference between Homo sapiens sapiens and other animals is that we have self-awareness: we know that we know. We must live in the present but can learn from past experience and, at least to some extent, can adapt to changing conditions and make wise decisions to avoid repeating past mistakes. All human cultures have limitations, and all ideological doctrines -- capitalism, communism, patriarchalism -- actually become harmful when absolutized as universal norms. A major cultural evolution will be required, and may already underway whether we like it or not, toward a new order of things that must include significant changes to foster human solidarity and ecological sustainability.
At this point in human history, as we face a worsening crisis of social and ecological injustice, and the prospect of further social and environmental deterioration, the "evolution by choice, not chance" of the conscious evolution movement is very appealing. The succession of specific individual/institutional decisions and actions to be taken is impossible to predict in detail, but the general pattern of some key choices to be made is already visible in the signs of the times, especially with regard to issues of gender equality and gender balance in roles of family, civic, and religious authority. Patriarchal families are becoming dysfunctional. All kinds of patriarchal communities, both secular and religious, are becoming dysfunctional. Surely, sinful humans are the problem. But in terms of human relationships, patriarchy is the problem. Patriarchy dehumanizes both women and men. It is the institutionalized derivative of "original sin" that most universally impairs human relations, and the one that we can and must be overcome for the transition to solidarity and sustainability.
In secular governance and economics, the sustainable development process must go forward even if it means "muddling through" uncharted waters and resistance to civilized gender relations. In religious governance and spirituality, a thorough sanitation from patriarchal imagery is urgently needed, even if it takes painful missionary effort to dismantle the patriarchal scaffolding that obscures the truly divine message of abundant life guided by faith, hope, and love.
"It has not yet been disclosed what we are to be." 1 John 3:2
"The whole creation waits with eager longing to see
the children of God coming into their own." Romans 8:19
On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, John Henry Newman, Rambler, July 1859. See also
Catholics Reject Church Teachings on Sex, Martin E. Marty, Sightings, 30 June 2014.
The Jewish Encyclopedia, Cyrus Adler et al, New York, 1906. See Apostoli and Education of Women.
The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic University of America and Gale Group, 1967, 2002. See "Woman," Volume 14, page 991: "Reason teaches that the identical human nature appears in the male and female in two different forms." Cf. Woman: "The female sex is in some respects inferior to the male sex, both as regards body and soul." Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent, 1912.
The Limits to Growth, by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, and Jorgen Randers, Potomac Associates, 1972. Subsequent updates by the same authors: Beyond the Limits, Chelsea Green, 1992; and The Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update, Chelsea Green, 2004. For more recent analyses of finite global realities, see The Limits of Growth – Part II, Chandran Nair, YaleGlobal, 21 November 2008, The Limits of Growth – Part II, Chandran Nair, YaleGlobal, 24 November 2008; and 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years, Jorgen Randers, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012. See also the recently launched project, Count-up to 2052: An overreaching framework for action, sponsored by the Club of Rome.
The Invisible Partners: How the Male and Female in Each of Us Affects Our Relationships, John B. Sanford, Paulist Press, 1979.
Original Unity of Man and Woman: Catechesis on the Book of Genesis, John Paul II, St. Paul Editions, 1981.
Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, Brundtland Commission, United Nations, 1987.
The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner, Oxford University Press, 1987.
I Will Love Unloved: A Linguistic Analysis of Woman's Biblical Importance, J. J. McKenzie, University Press of America, December 1993. See also A Gender Neutral God/ess: Be Inclusive but MAKE NO IMAGES was the Religious Change, J. J. McKenzie, Amazon Digital Services, August 2012.
The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission, Vatican City, 18 March 1994.
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II, Vatican City, 22 May 1994.
The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan, John Paul II, Pauline Books, 1997. See also Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, John Paul II, translation by Michael Waldstein, Pauline Books, 2006. For more on the TOB, including tutorials and recent updates, visit The TOB Net and The Cor Project.
Conscious Evolution: Awakening Our Social Potential, Barbara Marx Hubbard, New World Library, 1998. For more on conscious evolution, including tutorials and recent updates, visit the website of the Foundation for Conscious Evolution.
The Ecocosm Paradox, Willard R. Fey and Ann C. W. Lam, Ecocosm Dynamics, 1999. For more on the ecocosm paradox, see the original paper, the summary, and the diagram.
The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man, Walter Wink, Fortress Press, 2002.
Conceptualization of the Person in Social Sciences, Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, Vatican City, 2005.
A User's Guide to Integral Human Development (IHD), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Baltimore, 2009.
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women, Sarah Bessey, Howard Books, 2013.
Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, Elizabeth Johnson, Bloombury, 2014.
Ideas Have Consequences: Faith, Gender, and Social Ethics, Mimi Haddad, Priscilla Papers, Winter 2014 (reprinted here). See also Male and Female: One Image, One Purpose, Mimi Haddad, Red Letter Christians, 26 March 2014, and Mutuality, Spring 2014.
UN Commission on the Status of Women, 58th Session, New York,
10-21 March 2014. For a Christian perspective, see Gender equality key to sustainable development framework, Terri Robinson, Anglican Communion News Service, 8 April 2014.
Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility, Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, Vatican City, 2-6 May 2014.
The Paradox of Sustainable Development, Alec Brown, Sustainability Scholars, 11 June 2014.
Rose Marie Muraro: The Saga of an Impossible Woman, Leonardo Boff, Iglesia Descalza, 22 June 2014.
Male and Female in Christ: Toward a Biblical View of Christian Identity and Ministry, International Conference of Christians for Biblical Equality, Medellín, Colombia, 7-9 July 2014. Other forthcoming conferences are the CEMES 2014 conference in the Orthodox tradition and the WOW 2015 conference in the Catholic tradition. Some provinces of the Anglican Communion already ordain women, and the Church of England may approve women bishops in the next General Synod.
Current series on family issues and sustainable development:
Gender Balance in the Post-Patriarchal Age, November 2013.
On Gender Groupthink, Solidarity, and Sustainability, December 2013.
On Gender, Family, and Integral Human Development, January 2014.
On Families and the Human Family, February 2014.
Sustainable Development of the Human Family, March 2014.
Sustainable Development of Body-Persons, April 2014.
On Sustainable Humanity & Sustainable Nature, May 2014.
Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility, June 2014.
Cultural Evolution for Solidarity and Sustainability, July 2014.