Gender and theology C/B grade summary notes


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Mary Daly’s critique of Christianity as essentially/irredeemably sexist

  • Mary Daly argued that Christianity was hopelessly sexist to its core. A male God and male saviour (Jesus) is not a genuine spirituality and cannot provide spiritual salvation to women.
  • 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.
  • 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 to kill all the men and children and women who had slept with a man, keeping only the virgin females for themselves.
  • 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.

Ruether’s view of Jesus

  • Ruether argued that Christianity was sexist but not hopelessly. It could be reformed into a genuine spirituality that could save women, even though it has a male saviour.
  • 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 counters the kind of argument that Ruether makes. 
  • 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.

Ruether’s ‘golden thread’ argument for reforming Christianity 

  • Ruether views Jesus as a liberator of women – she thinks his actions were aimed at freeing people from oppression.
  • Ruether accepts that the Bible is full of sexist passages, which suggest God is not in favour of liberation, but she argues that it is also full of positive pro-feminist passages, especially those involving Jesus.
  • Ruether says Jesus was “pro-feminist” in his actions and teachings. He saved a women from being stoned for adultery (countering the patriarchal punishment of the time) & healed a woman who had been menstrually bleeding for 12 years (also going against the patriarchal view that menstruating women were unclean).
  • Ruther’s point is that the Bible has some pro-feminist passages and some sexist patriarchal passages – so they can’t both be the genuine word of God!
  • So, the sexist parts of the bible must have been written by humans influenced by the patriarchal culture of the time. So, we should get rid of the sexist parts of the Bible.


  • However, there are passages where Jesus indicated that he was non-political – had no interest in political liberation or changing society. 
  • ‘My kingdom is not of this world’ – Jesus’ focus is the kingdom of heaven, not earthly kingdoms.
  • Also: Jesus was asked whether the Jews should pay an unjust tax which had been forced on them by the romans. Jesus answered by pointing out that the coins had Caesar’s face on them – saying  ‘Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s’
  • Jesus was saying to pay the tax, which suggests that he did not see political injustice as God’s concern. Jesus seems to see a disconnect between politics and religious matters. 
  • So, Jesus can’t be viewed as a liberator who aimed to change society.

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 argued that the Church only values Mary because Mary is the sort of woman the Church wants women to be – passive, submissive and obedient – the sexual property of a Male God.
  • So, when the Church say they like Mary and therefore can’t be sexist – this is a bit like a slave owner saying they can’t be racist because they like their obedient slaves.