I haven’t been to Belgium since my short trip to Gent in 2000, and even then, I had no contact with Catholic intellectuals. However, I am reading about how the Belgian Church is in an even more ruinous state than France. The fact that Belgium has legalised euthanasia has little to do with the Church, since Belgium is as secular a state as most countries in Europe.
When a town is hit by a neutron bomb, as Dr Rowland pointed out in her article, it kills people but leaves buildings intact. This is something I find here in France. I look out of the window of my study where I am typing this, and I see the church tower and spire. The Angelus bell rings three times a day. The bell is also rung when there is a funeral and the occasional wedding on a Saturday. There is one Sunday Mass celebrated per month, by a retired priest living in the town a few miles away. My wife and I once attended this service. The priest seemed to have little to do other than the consecration. A couple of women did the rest to their tastes. My wife really prefers the modern style of services, but this one left her cold. I might as well have been having a nice cup of tea in Pickering. Dr Tracey Rowland would have had the same experience with a formerly Catholic university faculty in Belgium. The buildings and monuments are there, but the people are gone. Here in France, the rate of practising Catholics nationwide is about 5%. Given the higher average in the cities, this reduces the mean figures in the countryside to almost nothing.
The monuments are all still there, but the soul is gone. I can understand what made people want to trash the Counter-Reformation Church, especially with the paedophile priest scandals. Many conservatives blame the homosexuals and the feminists. There is a very aggressive ideological build-up, and it is looking very ugly indeed. Let us consider feminism.
I am personally favourable to women having a greater role in the Church, especially as theologians and advisers, respecting the more prophetic role that fits the feminine stereotype. What I detest is a woman deciding to “become a man” and oppress men as she believes men used to oppress women. Being married myself, I see and feel these dynamics in the relationship. Many things my wife says and believes are of an amazing depth of perception, and she finds many women utterly contemptible through their lack of personality and character. We men find that if we stand our ground and show character, women respect us the more for it. A man who obeys his wife, even if the wife says that this is what she wants, will despise an over-compliant husband. One must avoid extremes, or violence. It is “give and take” all the way.
Many of these things appear in the way “empowered” women are trying to de-construct the so-called “patriarchal” Church. If that Church cannot be feminised, then it must be destroyed. A wife with that kind of attitude is left behind at the side of the road, or clapped in the scold’s bridle! Joking apart, if the opposites cannot work together, then the strongest is the winner. The Old Testament, even in its poetical and prophetic mood is not very sympathetic to perverse woman.
And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.
In the context, these somewhat misogynistic sayings refer to the woman of loose morals, the harlot and the one who seeks to exploit. It was not so long ago that I commented on one of the most extreme examples of fallen womanhood – Irma Grese and the many other examples of evil and sadistic women. Feminine psychopathy has been studied and it is quite chilling. When they are bad, they can be as bad as evil men, and sometimes worse.
I say this to situate the mindset of some forms of feminism in its ambition to make men the oppressed gender. It was bound to happen, and we will find the role and position of women has changed throughout history, from the days of Saint Hildegard of Bingen and the most sublime to the days when women were accused of witchcraft on the flimsiest of evidence and burned at the stake after being horribly tortured.
I have a great amount of sympathy for women of quality who try to live in symbiosis with their opposite sex. Personally, I make great efforts to avoid telling sexist jokes and showing the kind of attitude discussed between the “guys” over a pint of beer in the pub. We do have efforts to make, and so have they. It is appalling to see how women are treated in the Muslim world, but they got just about the same in fourteenth and seventeenth century Christianity, in both Protestantism and Catholicism. So much has been gained in the twentieth century: education, employment, equal pay, rights under the law, freedom from discrimination and oppression. However, is a day coming when men will be deprived of education, medical care, any work other than brute labour and discriminated against? If my wife cracked this kind of joke, I would take her up for it too.
What would some feminists do to Christianity? It seems that they want to get rid of it to replace it with something else. They would get rid of all gender-specific language. We have Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but if they talked of Mother and Daughter, they would be just as sexist. Parent and child? Perhaps, but we talk of boys and girls in common language. All rather hypocritical if you ask me…
Perhaps some feminists would take us back to Paganism. The idea is interesting, and I would attend one of their prayer services to see what they do. I haven’t found any in this country. Perhaps I haven’t looked hard enough. I don’t imagine many of that sort of stuff in the countryside and I don’t often go to Paris.
Women in churches are very variable, from the most busybody and vulgar to the most delicate and compassionate. Just yesterday, I reproduced a couple of clips from Brideshead Revisited with Cordelia speaking of her brother Sebastian. This character is a devout Catholic who keeps simple in her life and gives her life in the care of the war wounded and maimed. She is a most attractive personality in her plainness. This does not seem to be someone under the domination of men, but confident, open and innocent.
Those feminists who would bring about George Orwell’s 1984 and Big Sister (oops, Big Sibling! 😉 ) seem to be bent of de-constructing Christianity on the pretext that it cannot be manipulated into the meaning they would like to make of it. According to various articles I have read, the radical feminist ideology takes a number of forms, some with which I would sympathise, and others I see as no less reprehensible than masculine sexism. It is thing to affirm the dignity and value of women as human beings, and another when they want to redefine the world in the same way as militant homosexalists.
One of the greatest fallacies is the blanket condemnation of western culture. The assumption is that everything has been devised by men, from a masculine viewpoint. A sane mind would seek to balance masculine institutions by allowing women to take a part in a dialogue to restore balance. Actually, for many, the fact of a masculine underpinning makes something intrinsically wrong.
Interestingly, some feminists refuse the term feminist, for it reinforces the feminine stereotype. What do they want? The abolition of God and Christ? Gnosticism? We can ask ourselves which religious traditions are more sympathetic to women. Most are not. Some forms of Hinduism burned widows alive with their deceased husbands. We know what happens to women in places like Afghanistan and Iran. They are not easy places for feminists! What about Buddhism? It looks to me as though traditional Christianity is the kindest to women. Christ did much more for women, and not only saving their lives, than most religious men of those days.
Women who treat men kindly are more likely themselves to be treated with kindness. If my wife starts yelling at me, I’ll just give her a “time out” or ask her what “all that” is supposed to be all about. Just give it to me like a human being. Reason it out and express it in language, then I’ll listen and try to do something about my shortcomings. It can surely happen on a bigger scale too. We have just got to get on together.
I think there is no doubt that there are differences between men’s and women’s brains and our psychology. There are the old stereotypes, and it is good to read and study. The man tends to see the whole and the purpose of something. Women go straight to the details and tend to believe that rational explanations are unnecessary. Things are “just so” depending on what is most convenient. On the other hand, I often find my wife trying to assert herself as a man and reasoning – though often (at least from my perspective) off at a tangent. I have learned a lot about Jungian psychology and how it is helpful for men and women to be less clear-cut about their gender, and integrate characteristics of the opposite sex into their lives. A man needs to be more home-loving and attentive to details and feelings, and a woman needs to discover reason, faith and spirituality, a sense of liturgical symbolism which is often lacking.
Neutron bomb or renewal of humanity in a perspective of empathy and care for other people? It’s a good question, and a lens through which we might discern the future of traditional Catholic Christianity.