Gender and theology A* grade summary notes


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Mary Daly

  • Mary Daly’s critique of Christianity as essentially/irredeemably sexist: the maleness of God & the unholy trinity.
  • Daly said ‘If God is male then the male is God’. If divinity is associated with masculinity/men – then this suggests men are superior to women who are not associated with it. This will encourage patriarchy.
  • 1 Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one who was deceived, it was the woman … But women will be saved through childbearing”.
  • In other words – women ruined everything – and to make it up for it they must accept being the sexual property of men.
  • The unholy trinity of rape, genocide and war are the result of a patriarchal world. Daly claimed Christianity has legitimated male dominance which reinforces patriarchy. If oppressive hierarchy like patriarchy exists, the result is unholy trinity of rape, genocide and war. Christianity is therefore complicit in that, and not only indirectly. Daly points to Numbers, where Moses is involved in a campaign of war and tells the commanders of his army:
  • “So kill all the male children. Kill also the women who have slept with a man. Spare the lives only of the young girls who have not slept with a man, and take them for yourselves.” (Numbers 31:17-18).
  • Daly is saying that this unholy trinity is what really defines Christianity – not its holy trinity.


  • Liberal Christianity – Christians who don’t view the Bible as the perfect word of God – they accept it’s written by humans and contains errors – so they would reject these sexist parts of the Bible, even the description of God as male in the Bible. 
  • It looks like liberal Christianity is the redeemed version of Christianity that Daly had argued was impossible. 
  • It looks like Daly is wrong to think a feminist form of Christianity is impossible.

Optional further evaluation:

  • Daly and Hampson respond that reading the Bible can still subconsciously affect you and cause unconscious bias, even when reading it with a liberal attitude. 
  • It is still a sexist document. The only solution is to just stop reading the Bible.

Ruether’s view of Jesus

  • The messiah, according to Jewish prophecy, was meant to be a warlord who defeated Israel’s enemies – but Jesus was the total opposite – just a hippie who got crucified. 
  • Ruther argues that Jesus therefore embodied female virtues/wisdom of self-sacrifice and non-violence (traits traditionally associated with femininity) – Jesus can therefore be seen as a gender-inclusive figure. 
  • Jesus did not fulfil the patriarchal view of a messiah/leader. 
  • If the founder of Christianity is gender-inclusive then that is a basis for reforming and redeeming the religion.


  • Daly claims that it doesn’t matter if Jesus was pro-feminist or gender-inclusive.
  • It doesn’t matter if Jesus’ actions and teachings can be interpreted in that positive way – the issue with Jesus is that he is a man – having a male spiritual leader of a religion is simply too legitimating of the patriarchal association between maleness and power. 
  • Jesus may have died for everyone’s sins – but the idea which comes from this is that women need a male saviour. 
  • Regardless of whether Jesus died for everyone’s sins or not, having a male as the leader of the religion is too suggestive of the patriarchal view that men should lead and have power.
  • Daly is pointing out that the long history of our culture has been dominated by the idea that men are the natural and rightful leaders and possessors of power. 
  • Daly think that the idea that the leader of a religion is a man is only going to perpetuate, rather than counter, this patriarchal view which has been ingrained in our culture.

Ruether’s view of the Bible

  • Ruether’s golden thread argument. Ruether acknowledges that the Bible is full of sexist passages (remember that this was part of Daly’s argument for it being hopelessly sexist). 
  • Ruether’s solution was first to point out that there are positive pro-feminist parts of the Bible. Ruether thinks Jesus was pro-feminist in his actions and teachings. He saved a women from being stoned for adultery. Jesus healed the woman who had been menstrually bleeding for 12 years – this went against the patriarchal view of the time – that women should not be touched of even enter a place of worship – they were unclean etc. Jesus told a woman called Martha to get out of the kitchen. 
  • Ruether called these passages the prophetic-liberating tradition/theme in the Bible 
  • Ruther’s point is that the Bible has some pro-feminist passages and some sexist patriarchal passages. 
  • She points out that these passages are inconsistent with each other and therefore could not all be the word of God – so the sexist ones must have been the result of the patriarchal culture of the time and the pro-liberation passages must be God’s genuine authentic revelation. She is recommending to get rid of the sexist parts of the Bible.
  • This is going further than the liberal approach.


  • Ruether’s argument depends on the claim that Jesus’ actions are best interpreted as pro-liberation, however there are many passages where Jesus seems to be apolitical.
  • At his trial, Jesus said ‘My kingdom is not of this world’, which seems to suggest that the kingdom of God is unrelated to the politics of kingdoms in this world.
  • Pope John Paul II draws on this verse, arguing that overly focusing on earthly socio-economic progress is “anthropocentric”, meaning human-focused. This leads to secularization and a lack of genuine spirituality. Focusing on our earthly socio-economic needs seems to inspire a tendency to focus less on our more transcendent spiritual needs and purpose.

Muelieris dignitatum (on the dignity of women) argument 2: 

  • JP2 arguing that Christianity is not sexist, there’s no issue with a male saviour saving women, Daly is wrong that it’s irredeemable, Ruether is wrong that it needs reforming.
  • JP2 says the Church can’t be sexist because there are many women that it likes, respects and even canonises  – like Jesus’ mother Mary (and Joan of Arc).

Mary Daly’s critique 

  • Jesus mother mary was a rape victim – God forced her to be pregnant. Daly is saying that putting Mary on a pedestal is pushing the idea that what makes a woman good is their submissive acceptance of being the sexual property of men. 
  • Daly accepts that Mary wasn’t raped in a physical sense – but nonetheless thinks it still pushes the idea that woman are saintly if they accept being the sexual property of men. 
  • Daly is saying the church ‘likes’ Mary – in the same way slave owners ‘like’ their obedient slaves. Imagine if a slave owner said they really liked slaves – because they like a particular (very obedient) slave. Daly is saying JP2 only likes Mary because she submitted and accepted being the sexual property of a male God.