"All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution."
Pope Francis, Laudato Si'
, #114, 24 May 2015
An integral ecology is one in which people recognize the interdependency between humans and the human habitat, and act accordingly because we understand that we cannot flourish in a vacuum. As we conclude the second decade of the 21st century, a cultural revolution is incubating pursuant to mitigating both social injustice and ecological abuse, even though resistance to change is ferocious due to deeply ingrained vested interests.
It is by now widely acknowledged that racism and classism are socially and ecologically undesirable. Sexism, however, remains the most formidable barrier to human development and an integral ecology; for integral human development is significantly inhibited, and the ecological web of life is impaired, as long as gender relations are distorted by unnatural fragmentation of the masculine and feminine polarities of human nature.
Critique of Patriarchal Gender Ideologies
Patriarchal gender ideologies are basically about male versus female, and male dominance (aka male "headship"). The 2016 book, Redeeming Gender, by Adrian Thatcher, describes the historical evolution of such artificial constructs, followed by the corrective of "one flesh" and the new humanity in Jesus Christ. It documents ancient errors such as the "two seeds, one sex" and "one seed, two sexes" theories, and modern "complementarian" attempts to reconcile old sex/gender theories with the reality that all human beings, men and women, are of the same flesh.
This "unity in difference" of man and woman is nothing new, as attested by the Book of Genesis. What is new is the understanding that body is deeper than sex, gender is deeper than body, and each person is a unique point in the gender spectrum. This renewed acceptance of anthropological reality has momentous implications for human relations, social justice, and ecological sanity.
An Adequate Theological Anthropology
An adequate theological anthropology must acknowledge that sex is normally male or female (with intersex exceptions) but gender is deeper than body and deeper that sex. In human beings, uniquely among animals, gender is a mix of masculine and feminine traits, each human person being a unique point in the gender spectrum. There is some "feminine subjectivity" in men, and there is some "masculine subjectivity" in women; else, neither men nor women could be imago Dei. At the risk of oversimplification, the following Venn diagram is offered for consideration:
The best biblical exegesis that supersedes ancient gender theories is Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, especially Part I on the Book of Genesis. However, whereas Part II is limited to developing this renewed understanding of human sexuality within the context of traditional Christian marriage, the same theological anthropology can be extended to gender relations in society at large, and is also extensible to all human relations with the natural world and the "Cosmic Christ," as explained in Thatcher's Redeeming Gender. Since all human relations are tightly coupled to gender relations, expedient popularization of this renewed anthropological understanding is crucial if we are to overcome "business as usual" and politically correct absurdities such as "green growth."
Gender Communion for an Integral Ecology
An integral ecology entails a deep synergy, an existential communion between humanity and the natural world. It is not simply a matter of humans coexisting with nature. It goes beyond superficial "give and take" reciprocity. It doesn't go as far as man and woman becoming "one flesh", but there must be, between humans and nature, a kind of nuptial covenant to share the gift of love and the gift of life; and such degree of communion with non-human nature cannot possibly be attained as long as it is not attained among humans.
Since, at this point in human history, patriarchal nuptial covenants are becoming a relic, human communion must include gender communion. Fostering an integral ecology points in the right direction. But actually moving in that direction is practically impossible as long as gender communion is impaired by the patriarchal sex/gender binary and artificial gender stereotypes. Gender communion is indispensable for an integral ecology.
Social and Religious Obstacles
Since an integral ecology is crucial for human survival, and since an integral ecology is contingent on gender communion, it is necessary to focus attention on the obstacles to cultural evolution on gender relations. There are two kinds of obstacles: social and religious. The social obstacles, such as patriarchal family structure and gender discrimination in jobs, are already being demolished by secular institutions for practical reasons. The religious obstacles, on the other hand, are even more formidable and resistant to change. Deeply ingrained patriarchy, complete with masculine names for divine persons and exclusively male structures of authority, is the "elephant in the room" in most religious traditions.
In the Roman Catholic Church, for example, religious patriarchy remains enshrined in article 1024 of the Code of Canon Law: "A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly." Every conceivable rationalization is being used to evade facing the reality that all human beings are of the same flesh and share one and the same human nature. Such futile obstinacy is leading many people to reject spiritual values and is arguably a very significant retardant of cultural evolution for social/ecological justice.
For documentation on the historical process of discernment in the Roman Catholic Church, see Religious Patriarchy in the Judeo-Christian Tradition. This is a carefully annotated timeline and shows how ancient ordination practices became doctrines in response to certain events, notably in the Anglican Communion, that threatened the status quo. It is also shown that such doctrines have never been infallibly defined as dogmas of the Catholic faith.
For a list of reasons in support of doctrinal development pursuant to enriching the tradition with women in the ministerial priesthood and the episcopate, see Summary Points for Meditation on the Ordination of Women. In brief, human nature is male and female, not male or female. For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, what really matters is the body-soul humanity of Jesus, not simply his masculinity; what matters is that the Word became flesh, not that Jesus is male.
The "bold cultural revolution" that Pope Francis advocates in Laudato Si' would gain much momentum by editing the Code of Canon Law, article 1024, to read as follows:
"A baptized person alone receives sacred ordination validly." What a difference a single word can make! In a church of 1.2 billion people, seeing female priests consecrating the Eucharist, and female bishops in apostolic succession, would do more to foster an integral ecology than any teaching about simplicity and solidarity.
Some people may be shocked, as surely some people were shocked by the early church decision to cancel the requirement for male circumcision. But while the church has argued that she cannot do it for historical reasons (Catechism 1577), she does have the power of the keys to unburden the tradition (Catechism 1598) without in any way compromising the integrity of the Catholic faith. Further procrastination in letting go of religious patriarchy is socially unjust and ecologically detrimental, and therefore cannot possibly be for the glory of God and the good of souls.
Ecofeminism is not a naive feminism, let alone the kind of avenger feminism that often becomes machismo with a skirt. But we need human communion for an integral ecology, and human communion is impaired without gender communion. It follows that a cultural revolution for an integral ecology must include, in religion as well as in society, moving boldly from patriarchal norms to gender communion.
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