The current issue of The Ecological Citizen, a peer-reviewed ecocentric journal, is mainly focused on religion and the natural world. All the articles are excellent, and readers of Mother Pelican would do well to consider them. The ideology of human supremacy over nature is rightfully indicted as a crucial driver of ecological overshoot. However, the root cause for the syndrome of human supremacy -- and, more specifically, male supremacy -- is not clearly identified. This article deals with patriarchal gender theory and its peculiar manifestation as religious patriarchy. It is then argued that patriarchy -- and, more specifically, religious patriarchy -- is a root cause of the syndrome of human supremacy that is bringing about the increasingly worsening ecological crisis.
The Idolatry of Money, Power, and Hegemonic Masculinity
Patriarchy is about dysfunctional gender relations and an inordinate attachment to control and domination. Beyond interpersonal relations, it is often manifested as seeking money, which in turn leads to coveting power; and power in patriarchal societies becomes the way for attaining hegemonic masculinity. Patriarchy is an objective disorder that transcends gender, and some women are very patriarchal, but male hegemony has been normative since time immemorial (Genesis 3:16). We may now be at the threshold of a transition from patriarchy to more sensible gender relations -- between man and woman, and between humans and the human habitat.
Patriarchal Gender Theory ~ A Defective Anthropology
Patriarchal gender theory is the ideology of male headship, the artificial sex/gender binary, and rigid sex/gender role stereotypes. It is not natural law. In fact, patriarchy is a cultural construct based on an inadequate anthropology that effectively reduces human beings to sexual objects:
- Male headship is unnatural. What about the natural communion of persons rooted in the original unity of man and woman? Isn't "original sin" an artificial corruption of the natural order and the root cause of impaired gender relations?
- The sex/gender binary is unnatural. What about physically intersex persons, are they not human? What about the plainly observable evidence of biopsychologically homosexual persons, long repressed by cultural prejudice but now thankfully coming "out of the closet" -- are they not human?
- Rigid sex/gender stereotypes are unnatural. Why should husbands only work away from home and wives only work at home? Why should the gifts of masculinity be restricted to fatherhood? Why should the gifts of femininity be restricted to motherhood? Why should only men be "providers"? Why should only women be "nurturers"? Why the rigidly artificial demarcations?
In reality, sex and gender cannot be separated but are distinct realities that coexist in personal subjects. In terms of gender relations, the natural order is gender communion, the interpersonal communion of man and woman. It starts with solidarity, the mindset of mutual respect and mutual support pursuant to the common good; it can then extend from human/human relations to human/nature relations. For some persons, gender communion can go beyond solidarity to the nuptial communion of persons described in the Theology of the Body. But the criticality of interpersonal communion extends beyond marriage and the nuclear family. A culture of human solidarity with nature, let alone human communion with nature, is hard to imagine as long as patriarchy remains normative.
Symbiosis of Patriarchy and Religion
When patriarchal gender theory mixes with religion, it induces an ever deeper deformation of the personal subiectum in both men and women. As Mary Daly pointed out long ago, "if God is male, then the male is God." The symbiosis of patriarchy and religion, which is evident in many biblical texts and has been pervasive since the inception of human history, practically elevates patriarchal gender theory to natural law. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (sections 239, 370, 2779) clearly states that God transcends human sexuality, yet continues the practice of using terms such as "God the Father" and prescribes male headship in the church as a matter of divine law. The social and ecological bad fruits of such mindset are becoming increasingly evident in human civilization by way of explosive overpopulation, extravagant consumption, social injustice, and the consequent degradation of our common home.
Social Repercussions of Religious Patriarchy
Why patriarchy? Why religious patriarchy? To fully understand the social repercussions of the patriarchal mindset, in both the secular and religious dimensions, it is critical to understand the anthropological roots:
"Perhaps more than anything else, what drives patriarchy as a system -- what fuels competition, aggression, oppression, and violence -- is a dynamic relationship between control and fear. Patriarchy encourages men to seek security, status, and other rewards through control, to fear other men's ability to control and harm them, and to identify being in control as both their best defense against loss and humiliation and the surest route to what they need and desire. In this sense, although we usually think of patriarchy in terms of women and men, it is more about what goes on among men. The oppression of women is certainly an important part of patriarchy, but, paradoxically, it may not be the point of patriarchy."
Allan G. Johnson, The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy, 2014, page 50.
Lamentably, religious patriarchy has often served as the most violent way of controlling people. Just think about the crusades, the inquisition, the "conquest" of America, and the recent wave of terrorism instigated by religious fanaticism. The social repercussions are pervasive: widespread domestic violence; all manner of sexist, racist, classist, and ethnic oppression; overpopulation driven by irresponsible parenthood and absentee daddies; economic inequality driven by financial systems manipulated for the benefit of the very rich; extravagant consumption by a few who barely work and stagnant wages for the working class; technological innovation driven by technocratic priorities pursuant to capital accumulation rather than the common good; an inflated industrial-military complex to produce intimidating weapons. And this culture is controlled by men (and some patriarchal women) who claim to be "religious" and collude with secular powers to promote the influence of their "true faith." No wonder Jesus was crucified by the collusion of Temple priests and Roman power!
Ecological Repercussions of Religious Patriarchy
"Patriarchy's roots are also the roots of most human misery and injustice, including race, class, and ethnic oppression and the ongoing destruction of the natural environment." Allan G. Johnson, The Gender Knot: Unraveling our Patriarchal Legacy, 2014, page 71.
It is well known that the patriarchal mindset translates to human supremacy when dealing with the use of natural resources; even more so when humans are created in the image of God and told to subdue the earth. Succinctly stated:
"The human-supremacist worldview is the deepest causal layer of the biosphere's plight, for it makes humanity's expansion appear acceptable and inevitable. In our time, human supremacy – the shared belief that humans are above everything and can rightfully use it all – sustains the trajectory of history's course. The received credo of superiority-cum-entitlement reassures the human mind that colonizing the planet is the prerogative of our species' distinction: if not our manifest destiny, then our naturally ordained lot."
Eileen Crist, Abundant Earth: Toward an Ecological Civilization, 2019.
Conveniently forgotten after the inception of patriarchy is the divine command to take care of the Garden of Eden; a garden that, after millennia of patriarchal management, is now showing signs of (irreversible?) deterioration.
Case Example ~ Patriarchal Christendom
Practically all the major world religions have been contaminated with patriarchal gender theory, as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of religious founders and leaders are male. Given that gender balance vanishes at the top of hierarchies of authority in religious institutions, should we be surprised that the absurdity of male deities, such as "God the Father," persist in religious art and rituals? Patriarchal Christendom is a good case example, and a timeline analysis of the Judeo-Christian tradition shows the resilience of religious patriarchy. Every conceivable rationalization is being used to perpetuate religious phallocentrism. Thankfully, some Protestant Christian churches have started facing the realities of a God that transcends gender and the presence of both femininity and masculinity in each and every human being. But, when it comes to having female priests and bishops, the Catholic and Orthodox churches remain in a state of self-induced catatonic paralysis and obstinately keep pushing the "definitive character" of an obviously provisional edict to stop discussing the issue.
Case Remedy ~ Gender Communion
Granted that population growth is "the elephant in the room," overpopulation is no justification for prescribing the easy way out via contraception and abortion, thereby evading the need for self-discipline, which is crucial for integral human development, which in turn is crucial for an integral ecology. The underlying cultural force that drives the ecological crisis is the patriarchal gender ideology of male headship, gender binary, and obsessive compulsion for control and domination that extends from male/female relations to human/planet relations. Population growth is the symptomatic "elephant in the room." Patriarchy -- and, especially, religious patriarchy -- is the causative "elephant in the room." The symptoms may necessitate palliative care, but the real remedy is gender communion and responsible parenthood, consistent with the Theology of the Body, to neutralize the root cause of the syndrome. To this end, the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate in the Catholic Church, for which there is no dogmatic impediment, would be helpful as an effective sign of moral leadership for the glory of God and the good of the entire community of creation.
In brief, patriarchal gender theory is anthropologically inadequate, socially pernicious, and ecologically nefarious. Religious patriarchy reinforces the distortion of natural gender balance, and therefore amplifies the negative social and ecological repercussions. Now we need "to move forward in a bold cultural revolution" (Cf. Pope Francis, Laudato Si', #114, 2015). Since 80% of the global population profess adherence to a religious tradition, religious institutions have an especial responsibility to liberate themselves from the chains of patriarchal gender theories that have much to do with social and ecological injustice.
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