Document 13: Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Theology By Sex," The New Republic, 169 (1973): 24-26.

Document 13: Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Theology By Sex," The New Republic, 169 (1973): 24-26.


   Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether were the most prominent and respected Catholic feminist theologians of the early 1970s. Ruether made clear in her review of Beyond God the Father how ideologically disparate the two theologians had become by 1973 (see Document 12). Ruether sharply criticized Daly's second book, not for its "post-Christian" worldview, but for essentializing women by over-emphasizing both their innocence and their victimhood. In Ruether's view, Daly had forgotten that women too could oppress others. Reuther recommended a thorough analysis of class in addition to gender.

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Theology by Sex

Beyond God the Father by Mary Daly

(Beacon; $8.95)

   Mary Daly's new book is a bold effort to found a theology for the women's movement. Many will find this book startling and even repugnant. Mary Daly has little respect for orthodoxies, either Protestant or Catholic. She strives to break not only with orthodox theology, but also with the traditional logic and meaning of the language, in order to reveal a new meaning over against the "insane sanity" of conventional rationality. For Dr. Daly, women are the ultimate outcasts of history, the submerged sexual caste within every class, nation and race. The liberation of women must break with established structures in a more radical way than any other movement.

   How can such a theology call itself Christian? Dr. Daly maintains no pretense of continuity with the Judaeo-Christian tradition. For women, in her thought, there can be only one regula fidei — those forms of thought that vindicate the full personhood of women. By this standard the traditions of Judaism and Christianity are found wanting. This also means that feminist theology is open to the suppressed and forbidden traditions; the ancient mother and nature religions suppressed by patriarchy; the witches and heretics burned by Christians. Pre-patriarchal and anti-patriarchal traditions reveal themselves to be places of suppressed female autonomy and power and so gain authority as sources for feminist theology. Nevertheless Dr. Daly does not cut herself off from all traditional Christian theology. Indeed she chooses to vindicate, through a reinterpretation, the classical ontological theology of her Catholic heritage in Aquinas and Maritain.

   Women should not imitate the inadequate liberation models of contemporary theology, including the apocalyptic model favored by black theology. Here liberation is seen as the victory of the oppressed over the oppressors. The women's movement is the one movement that cannot make murder the answer to oppression. Women and men are too closely bound to each other's survival to image that liberation for one can come about through the overthrow of the other. Rather, for Dr. Daly, the liberation model for women must be one of transformation and rebirth, the dissolution of both sides of a false antithesis to reveal a new androgynous humanity.

   The male God must be rejected because "He" is not the true God, but an idol. He does the traditional work of idols: creating false consciousness, setting up false polarities, validating unjust rules of an oppressive society, making us look in the wrong places and ask the wrong questions about redemption. The true God is not "out there," nor even the God "who is not yet" so dear to theologians of hope. The true God is the power of Be-ing buried underneath our self-alienation, which is revealed in and through out reborn selves when we break the bonds of false consciousness and oppression. God is not "over against" humanity or even "nature," but the Be-ing through whom we come to be and which is manifest in our power to be when we open ourselves to It in joyful selfhood. The God of patriarch is based on objective or "I-It" thinking, which found its basic model in the reduction of woman to the status of a "thing." Only the advent of woman as person can reveal that Be-ing which can be found loving "I-Thou" relationships between persons.

   The death of God the Father also spells the repudiation of Christ. Christ was the symbol of the male as "God." At the same time Christ buttressed a slave ethic for those subjugated by patriarchy. Christ was the scapegoat who could be represented by the creators of the scapegoat, men. Women must be anti-Christ not only to liberate themselves from slave ethics, but also to liberate the memory of Jesus "from enchainment in the role of ‘mankind's most illustrious scapegoat’ …so that Jesus can be recognizable as a free man."

   Christology cannot be a redemptive model for women. But Dr. Daly does find prophetic dimensions in Mariology. In the doctrines of Mary's virginity, immaculate conception and assumption, Mariology pointed beyond Christolatry to the messianic concepts of the autonomy of women, the original unfallen nature of women, liberated from the male myth of the "curse of Eve," and the reintegration of the flesh and spirit in transcendent unity.

   The women's movement is anti-church; it reveals the advent of a new androgynous humanity, a new [instance of]

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community of women with each other, men and women together, and finally as new cosmic covenant between humanity and nature. Nature itself must be liberated from its bondage to the phallic morality of rape and death.

   This vision of the theological meaning of the women's movement is important and may well merit the identity that Dr. Daly gives it as being the "final cause." Yet there are disturbing contradictions in her analysis, certain oversimplifications that could subvert her best intentions.

   First, it is the questionable whether women should speak of themselves as an outcaste group. A more complex sociological analysis is needed about the meaning of women as a sexual caste within every class. This means that women of the élite classes, races and nations share the spoils of the masters. To call women of oppressed groups to negate their solidarity within their races and classes because these are patriarchal is to make an abstract analysis of woman's situation. Rather, women must integrate their struggle as women with their struggle as oppressed people, or with all other oppressed people. The abstract analysis of the women's movement that separates rather than unites women with all other struggles against oppression is precisely what is likely to lead the women's movement to remain unconsciously upper-class, Western and racist in its operations.

   Secondly, to oppose "castration" to phallic morality is unfortunate. This "liberation symbol" contains that hidden violence that desires to "do unto others that which they have done unto you" which Dr. Daly at one point deplores. It seems that, in this language, she has been led astray by phallic consciousness. What she is reaching for is not well said by a word like "castration," but rather by a word that would symbolize our liberation from a morality that not only castrates women, but alienates men from their own potency. What we should seek is the "re-potentializing of everyone," in a dealienated way, so our creativity can become a reciprocal enhancement.

   Thirdly, Dr. Daly's Mariology seems to have betrayed her into a notion of woman as the "innocent one" who has never been responsible for evil, except insofar as she has cooperated with male evil. Maleness becomes the sinful, broken world, while women contain the essence of the unfallen Eden which can be restored instantly by joining the women's movement. There is a docenticism

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about such salvation through change of consciousness that lacks a socioeconomic understanding of the structuring of women into the world of oppression that is necessary to give her liberation vision a "body." There is also a moral naiveté that essentializes a woman's situation as the victim into a doctrine of woman as natura pura. If women are to grow up, they must learn not only to take power and act autonomously, but also that in so doing they too are capable of oppressing others. The liberation they seek cannot spring from the dreaming innocence of the pre-moral person, but the mature struggle for love, justice and peace by men and women who both know that they are capable of being divided against themselves and of destroying each other and the world.

Rosemary Radford Ruether


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