A feminist murder of a myth

After Christianity
April 25, 1997

Daphne Hampson advocates that the Christian myth cannot be true because it requires belief in a particular revelation which we can no longer think possible. As children of the Enlightenment we demand the logic of proof. Reason dictates what is true. In realising this Hampson does not fully grasp how we also, as products of this mentality, have become its very victims. It would be self-defeating if Hampson's feminism, bent on this literalism, and unable to see why she cannot make a leap of faith, were to remain caught in the cycle of the patriarchal order it despises.

Christianity may have legitimised the inferiority of women, but we need not or cannot abolish a whole tradition embedded within our psyches, which has infiltrated and been infiltrated by every other tradition. As western culture's most effective expression of divinity incarnate, society's antidote to mindless materialism, the relevance of Christian symbols, for instance, fire, water, death, rebirth, go way beyond gender issues. As an injustice we would do away with, patriarchy cannot detract from the psychological essentialness of these life-affirming symbols at the heart of any spiritual life. Hampson advocates a clean break with 2,000 years of a developing archetype, without considering its profound ability to forge new paths to accommodate a collective need.

The transcendent otherness of God has been equated with men, because of their supposedly superior, purer, "unphysical" disposition, while women have been banished to an inferior, physical level. In rejecting a transcendent God, Hampson does not engage much with its opposite, an earth-bound "holiness". Theologically this could be achieved by the addition of a fourth feminine element to the patriarchal Trinity (with the body as well as the soul of the Virgin Mary taken into heaven). Hampson sees Mary (and all other women in biblical literature) in the light of a negative role model. But it is the defiled world of matter and the flesh, associated with women, the world of caring, of "attending, honesty and ordering" endorsed by Hampson, which requires a better press. With the affirming of "embodiedness" the tables are turned on a patriarchy which once looked down from on high. In ordinary terms this affirmation is simple, recognising, for example, that a patriarchal society has never given sufficient status to parenting.

Though Hampson throws much away, she also wants it all. God to have a transcendent "function", but not to be transcendent. God is to be known while there is not a God who can be known. Spirituality to exist but not its external source.

In themselves Hampson's proposals are spot on. She envisages a dynamic understanding of a God who is energy, light, power, love and healing; the need for women to come into their own; a society of selves - men and women - "centred in relation". A "centredness" that does not exclude God because God is at one with self-realisation. A valuing of women's spirituality and their "relational" abilities. Feminists who read this will be heartened but denials of the past, where women have always been described as victims, will have repercussions for this future. If once so powerless how will they effect a change now? Whether the Christian myth is true or not, murder of it is not only simplistic but also harmful to the values of spirituality or relationality. The implication that real feminists cannot be Christians, will be found by many to be annoying if not arrogant.

The Christian call to humility, which is made equally to men, need not mean women should deny themselves. Hampson observes that spiritual people have an ability to let others grow and blossom in their presence, fostering "human becoming". Hampson's ideal, that the best of the feminist movement allows people to flourish and find new life, is hampered by her Enlightenment emphasis on "doing" rather than "becoming". To allow things to come to "be" we can draw on the rich symbols we already have.

Maryanne Traylen holds a PhD in literature, University of Wales.

After Christianity

Author - Daphne Hampson
ISBN - 0334 02640 7
Publisher - SCM
Price - £14.95
Pages - 326

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