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Women and Christianity
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
It is impossible to describe the ravages that modern feminism has worked in the modern world. Some people think that feminism is just a passing fancy and that, like other human dreams, it will pass away. But that is not true. Feminism has deep roots in the paganism which preceded the foundation of Christianity. A strange statement: before the coming of Christ, feminism we may say was the culture of the human race, outside of pre-Christian Judaism.
When we say that feminism goes back to pre-Christian paganism, we mean that the foundation of feminism was the widespread and, we may say, universal practice of male domination of women.
This is perfectly illustrated in the condition of marriage and the family in the Roman Empire at the dawn of Christianity. Contraception was so widely practiced that it was universal in the Roman Empire. A Roman writer has one of his women characters, What need have I of children? I live well, happily, peacefully, doing as I please. Unquote a matron of the first century A.D.
In the Roman Empire, the father had absolute legal right to destroy an infant he did not want. The first duty of a mother after a child was born was to have the father look at the child and say, It can live, or Kill it.
Another reason for the widespread practice of infanticide was the strong prejudice in favor of male offspring. There was consequently a much higher rate of infanticides of infant girls than of infant boys.
Children in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ were essentially the wards of the men who fathered them. The legal rights of these men were the most important factor in the rearing of children. They remained so completely under this authority that they became literally the mans property. The fathers had the power of life and death over those whom they begot and their absolute power was recognized by the laws of the Roman Empire.
Familia was the Latin word for family. But familia did not mean what family came to mean with the Christianization of the Roman Empire. Among the ancient Romans, familus was a servant and familia was a household of servants. In the classical Roman usage, the family hardly included the parents or children. It should be re-emphasized that the pagan family meant everybody in a given household which would include not only the servants, but the slaves and the whole harem of women subject to the male head of the household.
No single word in the Western world changed meaning more than the word family. Certainly Christianity adopted much of the vocabulary of the Roman society into which Jesus was born. But Christ readily changed the meaning of this vocabulary. In doing so, He did more than change the meaning of words; He elevated these words to a sublimity they never know before.
I thought this prelude was necessary to introduce our course on Women and Christianity.
What do we mean? It was Christianity that gave women, for the first time in human history, an equality with men which they had never enjoyed before. Where Christianity was established, women were not only respected but honored and held in high respect. Among believing Christians, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the greatest woman who ever lived. Except for her, God not only would not have, but could not have, become man. The Incarnation began in the womb of His mother. And the world has been drastically changed ever since.
Saying this, however, simply opens the door to another question: What happens in a society where Christianity is weakened or even lost? What you would expect. Women revert to their pre-Christian, or in this case, non-Christian state.
As the Western world became widely de-Christianized in the 16th century, the status of the women changed radically. It was in this context that Marxism came into being. Except for Karl Marx and his followers, there would be no feminism in the world today. Our opening stress in this course will be on the essential role that Marx played in introducing radical feminism in todays society.
We cannot understand women and Christianity without understanding something of the most traumatic opponent of Christianity in the modern world, namely Marxism. The social philosophy of Karl Marx (1818-83) as developed with his collaborators Friedrich Engels (1820-95) and Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) and later embodied in world Communism. There are five essential elements to Marxism, namely dialectical materialism, economic determination, surplus value, progressive pauperization, and the Revolution.
Marx combined the dialectical method of Hegel with the materialism of Feurerbach. According to Marxism, nothing really exists but matter, which contains within itself the principle of its own development. Man is the spearhead of this necessary evolution.
Economic determinism holds that the underlying motive in all human history is economic. As the economy, so the civilization.
The workman, according to Marx, creates more value than he is paid for, and this surplus value goes to the employer, who exploits the worker to that extent. The employer puts this surplus value back into his business, and this constitutes capital. The lower the wages; the more capital for the capitalist. As part of his theory of economic determinism, Marx held that the rich necessarily get richer and the poor poorer. Financial crises, inseparable from the capitalist system, accentuate the degrading process.
All the foregoing are preliminary to the Marxist hope of a classless society. Capitalism must inevitably collapse; the masses will revolt, seize the means of production; establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. After a phase of state socialism there will emerge the Communist utopia where no struggles will have disappeared.
The classic position of the Catholic Church on Marxism is the encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Divini Redemptoris, published in 1937.
Marxist Idea of the Family
The basic premise of modern feminism is found in the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. They could not be more clear. They state, if Communism is to succeed, there must be the Abolition of the family! Even the most radical flare up at this infamous proposal of the Communists.
On what foundation is the present family, the bourgeois family, based? On capital, on private gain. In its completely developed form this family exists only among the bourgeoisie. But this state of things finds its complement in the practical absence of the family among the proletarians, and in public prostitution.
The bourgeois family will vanish as a matter of course when its complement vanishes, and both will vanish with the vanishing of capital. Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents? To this crime we plead guilty. But, you will say, we destroy the most hallowed of relations, when we replace home education by social. And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate, by the intervention of society, direct or indirect, by means of schools, etc.?
The Communists have not invented the intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the character of that intervention, and to rescue education from the influence of the ruling class. The bourgeois claptrap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more, by the action of modern industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor. But you Communists would introduce community of women, screams the whole bourgeoisie in chorus."
The implications of this pronouncement of the Communist Manifesto are enormous. Let us see some of these implications.
Why Marxism Wants to Abolish the Family
First of all, let us be perfectly plain. The Communist Manifesto states in one declarative sentence, There must be the abolition of the family! And they mean this. They realized, as they say, how this will affect the so-called bourgeois family. They recognized that Communism would do nothing less than destroy the foundation of the family as known in present-day society.
But what do they say the modern family is based on? They claim it is based on capital and on private gain. The family; as the bourgeoisie understand it will vanish as a matter of course, once capital is destroyed. By the bourgeoisie, Communists understand it as a society dominated by commercial and industrial interests. It is the favorite word of Communism to identify the society in which Christian principles dominate.
However, you will notice that the Communist Manifesto foresees not only the abolition of the family. It also foresees the destruction of organized education as controlled by the ruling class of a society.
I would like to quote from a formal document issued by the Communist government in Russia in the late 1950s. The title of the document is, Atheist Education in School. A few paragraphs from the opening of this document will be revealing:
The Soviet school, as an instrument for the Communist education of the rising generation, can as a matter of principle, take up no other attitude towards religion than one of irreconcilable opposition; for Communist education has as its philosophical basis Marxism, and Marxism is irreconcilably hostile to religion. `Marxism is materialism, says V.I. Lenin; `as such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion as the materialism of Feurerbach.
Of course, the eradication from the minds of the pupils of those superstitions and prejudices which they may bring to school with them is an essential and important task of the school, but it is for all that only one of the tasks of the Soviet school. In its entirety, the task is much more complex. Obviously the instruction and education of children at school must be carried out in such a way as not only to eradicate from the minds of individuals among them such superstitions and prejudices as may already be there, but also to render all the pupils invulnerable to any sort of religious outlook whatsoever which they may encounter in their environment.
Realizing that religion is one of the ideological survivals of the exploiting social structure of the past, and that the sooner this survival is disposed of, the better for the rearing of our Communistic structure, the Soviet school should foster in its pupils an uncompromising attitude to religion, a consciousness of the necessity of fighting it, an eagerness to take an active part in that fight. To express all this in brief, one may say that the task of the Soviet school in this sector of its mentality-forming work consists in educating its pupils, the future builders of Communism, as atheists by conscious conviction, active in the struggle against all kinds of superstitions and religious views.
In the light of the foregoing, it is perfectly clear what Communism has in mind. It seeks to abolish the family, especially as developed by Christianity. Otherwise, so it is claimed, women will remain slaves of men and will not be able to achieve the purpose for which they exist, which is the material progress of human society.
Along with the abolition of the family, Communism seeks to gain complete control of all education. The heart of this control is to eradicate every vestige of faith in the God who made the world and on whom the eternal destiny of the human race depends.
One closing observation. Over the years, in teaching Marxism in Universities, I have never hesitated telling the students what is the present-day most powerful Marxist nation in the world. It is the United States of America.
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