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Book Review: "Sexism and God-Talk" by Rosemary R. Ruether

“We need to start with language for the divine as redeemer,

as liberator, as one who fosters full personhood and in that context,

speak of God as creator, as source of being.”



Rosemary Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk brings strong statements regarding her critique of key Christian symbols and content, the patriarchal hegemonic rhetoric that suppresses women’s role within the theological authoritarian discourse, yet she offers a liberating potential side in Christianity. She asserts that those religious symbols have been constructed in a hetero-sexist framework and “mandated as normative”[1] and that feminist theology is no longer limited to Christianity. She presents her arguments by bringing primordial developments of patriarchal ideas that could be traced with Eve and the disruption of the “original plans for Paradise.”[2] The image of God as transcendent male ego, has become normative in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is linked with the conquest of nature, pictured as the conquest and surpassing of the divine Mother. Ruether emphasizes that this principle has not existed in history, but has been corrupted by the sexism of male theology which names the males as norms of authentic humanity and causes women to be condemned for sin and marginalized. To probe the roots of this development, the author underlines what is behind patriarchal monotheism.


Ruether offers a transformed vision of God and human relationships. She suggests that Jesus teaches about a new world beyond the present hierarchy of more rulers and ruled, a world of brothers and sisters in which all would be equal, and help rather than lord it over one another. She considers the prophetic-liberating tradition within the Bible as normative and that reaches to women, beginning with women of the oppressed. This tradition, she points out, criticizes the systems of power based on the corrupting principles of domination and subjugation, as well as the religious ideology and God imagery used to legitimate them. It proclaims God's defense and vindication of the oppressed and envisions a new reign of peace and justice.

The feminist theology proposed in this book challenges historical culture with roots that include elements from the ancient Sumerians and Babylonians, to the Hebrews and Greeks, through Christendom to modern Europe. Sexism and God-Talk seeks to recapitulate from a feminist and critical perspective, “what has been lost to humanity through the subjugation of women, and what new humanity might emerge through the affirmation of the full personhood of women.”[3] At the same time, it offers an empowering message to women where woman/body/nature are “no longer as the icon of carnality, sin, and death, but as the icon of the divine,”[4] which is the wisdom of God holding all of us together.


It is difficult to find weaknesses or down points in Ruether’s argument due to my affiliation to her theological feminist position. Her greatest asset is the way she brilliantly decodes patriarchal traditional views that are embedded within cross-cultural and religious contexts while she offers a theological exploration of what is usable for a new society of gender justice. Ruether does, however, find other strands in biblical theology which contradict and point beyond this patriarchal view of God, and first offers a definition of patriarchy. By patriarchy she does not mean only the subordination of females to males, but the whole structure of father-ruled society: aristocracy over serfs, masters over slaves, king over subjects, racial overlords over colonized people. Religions that reinforce hierarchical stratification use the Divine as the fundamental core of this ‘system of privilege’ and control where women do not stand in direct relation to God unless it is through the male first.Ruether affirms that the pattern of patriarchal anthropology “can be illustrated in the entire line of classical Christian theology from ancient to modern times,”[5] highlighting Augustine, Aquinas (continuing Augustine’s tradition but accepting the biological and Aristotelian biological argument), Luther, and Barth. Because of this view, Ruether calls into question “the male theology of female ‘disobedience’ and sexuality as cause of sin, and mortality as consequence of sin.”[6]

At times, her discourse brings up a post-structuralist definition of what a patriarchal society means to her: it “erects a false system of alienated dualisms modelled on its distorted and oppressive social relationships.”[7] She highlights what she calls “the patriarchalization of Christology” by drawing a correlation that defines this hierarch of being: The Logos of God governs the cosmos, the emperor and church govern the political order, masters govern slaves, and men govern women. Ruether’s counter proposal is that “fundamentally, Jesus renews the prophetic vision whereby the Word of God does not validate the existing social and religious hierarchy but speaks on behalf of the marginalized and despised groups of society,”[8] and one of those marginalized groups are women.


Bibliography

Rosemary Radford Ruether. Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology. Boston: Beacon Press, 1983.

[1] Ruether, Rosemary Radford, Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983), xvi. [2] Ruether, 1. [3] Ibid., 45. [4] Ibid., 260. [5] Ibid., 95. [6] Ibid., 152. [7] Ibid., 71. [8] Ibid., 136.

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