After Patriarchy: Feminist Transformations of the World Religions, edited by Paula M. Cooey, William R. Eakin, & Jay B. McDaniel

Judaism

Continuing with the quick review of the articles contained within this provocatively titled book, we move to Judith Plaskow's "Transforming the Nature of Community: Toward a Feminist People of Israel." She argues that Jewishness is most properly found in community as chosen and called forth by God — but currently female Jews are Othered, rendered invisible (Plaskow, p. 93), within that community much as Jews are Othered and rendered invisible in broader society.

The comparison, while rough, holds even further: it seems today's countries demand a price of Jews for free and equal participation in their societies: loss of the cultural particularity which makes them Jewish. Equally, while at least some male Jews seem willing to accept women as peers within the Jewish community, the price is loss of that cultural particularity which defines them as women (Plaskow, p. 96). As the author notes, the oppression of any group lessens not just the members of that group, but also the culture as a whole: "Where the boundaries between communities are marked by hierarchical separations, normative humanity is defined without reference to groups that are less valued" (Plaskow, p. 103).

Plaskow's suggested solution is to transform the traditional hierarchical differentiation within Judaism into recognition of parts and whole. A community as a whole, which recognizes without hierarchy or segregation the value of its various parts (whether those of an individual, a subculture, a nation, or a world) is one in which the full "distinctness and beauty of its various portions" (Plaskow, p. 103) can grow and flourish.

Yet more Christianity

The last article I read in this book was Paula M. Cooey's "The Redemption of the Body: Post-Patriarchal Reconstruction of Inherited Christian Doctrine." Unfortunately I found it to be the weakest (and longest) of the articles. Her argument appears to be that Christianity simply needs to re-conceive Jesus' life not as a sacrificial route to salvation, but rather as an example of how life should be lived. By doing so she seems to believe we will thereby eschew the duality of spirit/thought = good, body/matter = bad, and transform Christianity into a post-patriarchal religion.

Unfortunately I do not believe it is that simple; for that matter, I'm not even sure this change in dogma would answer Williams' earlier call for a Christianity free of disturbing and abusive relationships of surrogacy. I am unconvinced that such an ideological change would clear away the stagnation of Christianity's current misogynistic, anti-world, death-focused orientation on blind faith, and she herself does not seem to see the psyche-damaging nature of believing we are helplessly born into sin.

Further, I emphatically do not believe Cooey's suggested ideological change will clear away the brutally androcentric nature of this religion — especially since she herself, in an example of "inclusivity," cannot conceive of anything more daring than to replace masculine pronouns with "God" and "one" (Cooey, p. 126, 129). It is perhaps no surprise to discover that Cooey's soteriology (the logic or structure of salvation) is breathtakingly humanocentric: until humans are saved, the universe is still doomed (Cooey, p. 112-113).

Ultimately, Cooey's arguments for the modern relevance of Christianity leave me dubious and unconvinced. For example, at one point she actually argues for the non-exclusivity of Christianity regarding creating a better world! Later I incredulously read: "[t]he problem is that both the questions [regarding Christian theology] and the answers are so heavily dependent upon historical context that their relevance to the present is at best obscure" (Cooey, p. 128).

If this is the case, why even bother attempting to reclaim a religion which Cooey herself presents as violently oppressive, ideologically out of date, and ritually obscure? Why not simply slough off this self-damaging, world-destructive meme — just as we rid ourselves of the disease of smallpox — and instead welcome a spirituality which finally and truly recognizes, respects, and helps maintain the beauty, generosity, and joy of our fellow living beings within the ever-changing cycle of life-death-rebirth on this astonishing planet?

 

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