Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 6, 2004
Celebrate difference of the sexes
The July 31 Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women from the Vatican received the usual dismissive wave of the hand from the world's secular media. "Vatican assails feminism" was the headline in The Globe and Mail over an Associated Press story that described the letter as a "warning."
While there are elements of warning in the document, it is mainly an inspired defence of the value of sexual difference in human relationships. The letter describes at length, using Scripture as its source, how the relationship between God and humanity mirrors that of man and woman. Actually, it does the reverse. The spousal relationship of marriage reflects the spousal relationship between the divine and the human. We are, after all, made in the image and likeness of God as much as we might like the reverse to be true.
Crucial to the relationship between man and woman is difference. This difference is not something imposed by the culture, but rather part of the natural order. Difference, moreover, ought to lead to collaboration, not to conflict. That it does so often mean conflict is the result of original sin.
That men and women are different ought to be obvious enough. But it is a reality that has often either been distorted or denied. Distorted historically in that it was often used as a justification for male supremacy. Denied today in that it is often thought that the way to overcome male supremacy is to deny the differences.
"The obscuring of the difference of the duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels," the letter states. Ignoring the duality leads to a doubting of the natural right order of the family as formed by a man and a woman. It also tends to make homosexuality and heterosexuality equivalent.
The Vatican letter makes the seemingly obvious statement, "An ordered world is born out of differences, carrying with them also the promise of relationships." But our age needs to work through this bit of obviousness. The difference is just random, not ordered, says the atheist. Or, differences are only apparent, not real. The world is just undistinguishable ontological mush.
If so, there is no hope. If difference is only random then relationships are random and can be easily entered or discarded. Or, if difference is only apparent then everything is one and collaboration is unnecessary.
But our hope lies in the fact that collaboration and freely-chosen commitment are real possibilities. In Christ - in God becoming human and sharing our joys and sorrows -the divisions can be overcome. Man and woman working together, in unity with God, foster something greater than exists in each of them individually. The bond creates something much grander than the sum of the parts.
In the Vatican letter, there is no demeaning of woman. It refuses to reduce women to the role of child bearers and kitchen help. It says women have a role to play in the life of society outside the family, but that they should also be honoured for the role they play inside the family.
And while the letter describes femininity as being a "person for others," it does not limit this femininity as a quality shown or needed only by women.
Some might say that the Vatican is now, 40 years after the fact, only beginning to catch on to the feminist revolution. A better analysis would be that while the Vatican is overcoming its traditional biases, it is also showing the world a way out of the morass that is poisoning relations between the sexes and treating homosexual behaviour as morally acceptable. Too much suffering and heartache have come from the acceptance of today's societal myths.
Men and women are quite different. But that difference need not lead to ceaseless combat. It can be the source of something grander than any of us can achieve alone.
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