Friday, April 14, 2017

Women in the 4th Gospel

I want atheists to know that I am mindful of them when I write about Christian theology. I hope they stay with me to see its relevance to them, although a presentation by theologian Sandra Schneiders is my subject.

Schneiders renewed my attraction to the Fourth Gospel. Years ago, when I became aware of Christian myth and broke out of the Christian envelope, I didn’t like the Fourth for the same reason that most Christians favor it—because it does the best job of turning Jesus into God. I recall the time a fellow writer, a minister, learned that I did not believe Jesus is God.
“But he said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.’”
“The historical Jesus did not say these things,” I answered. The minister knew I studied theology. He never came back to our writers group.

Then I read an article by a Hindu who finds the I AM passages in the Fourth ravishingly beautiful. They leave him “in an uplifted internal state” by evoking the Divinity in every individual, irrespective of religious or non-religious beliefs. [For non-religious, substitute “Inner Intelligence or Moral Sense” for “Divinity.”]
I AM the shepherd, I AM the door, the vine, the bread of life, the light of the world, I AM the way, the truth, and the life. The Hindu writer recognized the I AM inside each of us.

Years later, someone in my womanpriest community, Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, brought evidence that Mary Magdalene was the Beloved Disciple in the Fourth Gospel and its founding author. I know this sounds preposterous when you first hear it. I hope you change your mind when you read my post, Mary Magdalene authored the 4th Gospel.

Now Sandra Schneiders gives me new reason to cherish this gospel. She points out that it has four strong women, not one-dimensional as women often are portrayed, but more tough-minded, unconventional, courageous, committed, and powerful than men in the gospels. The women are capable of rational intelligence and interact with Jesus unmediated by men.

The Samaritan woman at the well (Chapter 4) converts her whole Samaritan town. Martha of Bethany (Chapter 11) leads her household, and her confession in Jn 11:27 surpasses Peter’s in Mt 16:16. Mary of Bethany (Chapter 12) anoints the feet of Jesus, who defends her— “Leave her alone,” —when Judas protests her extravagance. Most impressive, Mary Magdalene is the first to witness the risen Christ (Chapter 20).

Whatever your religious or non-religious beliefs, these women protagonists should impress you with their unconventional, effective leadership. They break the mold of stereotypical portrayals of women.

I am grateful to Sandra Schneiders for renewing my respect and appreciation for the Fourth Gospel. My summary here does not do justice to her theological analysis. But two points made by Schneiders I see differently.

1)  In criticizing the Church for its “canonized prejudice” (this phrase raised delighted laughter in her listeners), she stated that the overarching problem in the Church’s treatment of women, that from which all others flow, is clericalism. I don’t think it’s the main problem.

2)  Schneiders scoffed at Catholic women priests because they participate in clericalism. True. But Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) are well aware of this. I agree with them that, nevertheless, women’s ordination is an effective way to resist the official Church’s mistreatment of women. And as individuals, Catholic women priests model non-clericalism.

1)  I think it is not clericalism but the patriarchal concept of what we call “God” that trumps every other sexist sin in Christianity. Everything would change, almost effortlessly, if the faithful were allowed to conceptualize the Highest Value imaginable as feminine.

If Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Intelligence, Power—whatever one holds highest—were called “Mother,” everything would change. If appeals to Mother or “Her” became as commonplace as appeals to “Lord Father Him,” church people and people around the world, whatever their beliefs, would experience less sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, and every other kind of bigotry and would be less cruelly violent. The damage done by the patriarchal god of Western religion negatively impacts everything in human experience.

After the presentation and questions, I asked Schneiders whether she agreed that Mary Magdalene could have been the Beloved Disciple and the author of the Fourth. She agreed. “But of course, it can’t be proven.” Of course.

Again, I invite you to Mary Magdalene authored the 4thGospel and hope you find the evidence as mind-blowingly revelatory as I did.