This year the Christian World commemorates the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, an event that tradition tells us began on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. At the center of this movement stands Luther’s rediscovery of the Gospel message: human beings do not earn their salvation by doing good works; rather, God freely offers salvation to all who believe. In last month’s column, I considered some protestant theological tenets (e.g. the “Sola Fide” principle) which, shifting the accent in the religious experience from “Works” to “Faith alone”, also provoked an important separation between Church and Society, thus introducing a huge cultural revolution. The resulting Voluntarism has been a positive ingredient in shaping today’s efficient societies and churches. But it has also become an ambivalent event that urgently demands a new theological and cultural reformulation.
A fifth main characteristic of the Reformation is represented by its radical defense of the “Soli Deo Gloria” principle. “Soli Deo Gloria”, or "glory to God alone", stands in opposition to the worship perceived by many to be present in the Roman Catholic Church through the veneration of Mary the mother of Jesus, the saints or angels. “Soli Deo Gloria” is the teaching that all glory is to be due to God alone, since salvation is accomplished solely through His will and action. The reformers believed that human beings (i.e. saints canonized by the Roman Catholic Church) are not worthy of the glory that was accorded them. That is, one should not exalt such humans for their good works, but rather praise and give glory to God who is the author and sanctifier of these people and their good works.
But the “Soli Deo Gloria” principle doesn’t apply only to Catholics. It also concerns every protestant believer because the sovereignty of God should be affirmed over every aspect of the believer’s life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” The Glory of God is the sum total of all He is. It is His infinite worth made manifest.
John Piper says it this way:
“The glory of God” is a way to say that there is an objective, absolute reality to which all human wonder, awe, veneration, praise, honour, acclaim, and worship is pointing. We were made to find our deepest pleasure in admiring the infinitely admirable—the glory of God.”
James Montgomery Boice sums up the same concept:
“Each of the great solas is summed up in the fifth Reformation motto: Soli Deo Gloria, meaning to God alone be the glory. It is what the apostle Paul expressed in Romans 11:36 when he wrote, “to Him be the glory forever! Amen.” These words follow naturally from the preceding words, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (v. 36), since it is because all things really are from God, and to God, that we say, “to God alone be the glory.”
But, beyond the undoubted religious benefits which the “Soli Deo Gloria” principle brought and, beyond a more inclusive understanding churches and believers might have of it, this principle also provoked an important identification of God with maleness. Two paradoxical exclusions are important here. First, the “theological exclusion” was rooted and built up on a linear and compact understanding of God. Then, through the privileged categories of will, order and reason, it led finally to the deprecation of all other human typology, particularly the feminine, as legitimate components of an organic religious experience. Second, the “cultural exclusion” extended and radicalized the exclusion of the feminine. And, in the larger cultural context, it subtly and obliquely recovered the human male component back into the general cultural and theological process – because God is male. This way the feminine was excluded twice – theologically and culturally. The underlying monotheism behind the defense of “Soli Deo Gloria” was not understood as a “differentiated monotheism”, as it should be (i.e as a “Trinitarian monotheism”). Rather it was a “monolithic monotheism” more typical of other religious traditions (i.e. Islam). For this reason the already strong medieval Androcentrism (focused on men) paradoxically was not corrected by the Reformation and what came after, but was instead radicalized and sophisticated. And now, thanks to a “providential” new theological justification, “Soli Deo Gloria” becomes “God male alone”.
1. Benefits and limits of Western Androcentrism
Medieval Androcentrism,though pyramidal and hierarchical, was a culturally mild Androcentrism inscribed in a still heterogeneous and cosmocentric cultural environment. That changes with the birth of modernity when it became a “pragmatic, horizontal and scientific Androcentrism. And the departure point is the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, birth place of Western culture, transfigured ideas concerning God, time, space, nature, ignorance or tradition through the revolutionary lenses of reason, individuality, autonomy and pluralism,into an attitude of “daring to know”. We all benefit from the efficacy, certainty and well-being such anapproach has produced. But the new narrative constructed by the Enlightenment introduced not only reason, plurality and hope but also mastery, control and domination, marking the beginning of ourtypical modern narrative. Androcentrism is the cultural and scientific form of today's masculine narrative –quantitatively diffuse and invasive,and qualitatively radical and unilateral.
Rosemary Radford Ruether describes Androcentrism as the cultural perspective where the male is generically taken to be the norm of humanness. It originates from a male monopoly on cultural leadership and on the shaping and transmission of culture. Its bulimic attitude pushes Androcentrism to never stop and to condition all levels of the human experience, includingreligion. And it manages to condition religion from within. This means that males monopolize priestly and teaching roles of religion and exclude women, both from the exercise of these roles and from the education that such roles require. Thus women are prevented from bringing their own experience and viewpoint to shaping the official public culture of religion, however much they may participate as consumers or in auxiliary organizations restricted to women. The official public definition of the religion in terms of law, cult, and symbol is defined both without female participation and in such a way as to justify their exclusion. Rosemary Radford Ruether says that women’s exclusion from the learning and shaping of the cult and symbol system also means that they do not participate in the processes by which a religion remembers and transmits its traditions. As a result religions or religious practices that do not exclude women are forgotten, or remembered in a way that makes this participation appear deviant. Androcentric religious culture makes women the “other” – their silence and absence are normative. Consequently, a woman's presence is remarked upon only to reinforce her otherness, either by definitions of a “woman’s place” or by remonstrances against women who are deemed to have “gotten out of their place.
2. Is it possible to go beyond an “Androcentric” reading of the Bible?
The strong, self-correcting mechanisms present in western society have also pushed it to be partially aware of the ambivalence and limits of Androcentrism, and to find some alternatives. So today we have various non-androcentric approaches to reality in different disciplines, including theology, which work with multi-directional, holistic strategies such as that of Radford Ruether’s work referenced above. They try to remind us that this world is not just a “man’s world”, and for this reason we need to think differently.
It is in this context that great value can be found in the legacy of French philosopher, psychoanalyst and novelist, Anne Dufourmantelle, who prematurely died this year at the young age of fifty three, trying to save two children who were struggling to swim off the Mediterranean coast near St.Tropez. She has built, through an attentive and empathic reading of our current age, a kind of heterogeneous and differentiated feminism. In her book “Blind Date: Sex and Philosophy” (2003) she reminds us that Philosophy as the understanding of Being, as knowledge of the whole, has always excluded from its enterprise – body, sex and desire. Yet the body is in all our words, thoughts and actions. And, seemingly distant, sex and philosophy possess some commonality. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche understood this intimacy and the importance of erotic drives in human nature. In her book "La Sauvagerie maternelle" (Motherly savagery, 2001) Dufourmantelle is not tender with mothers. She does not hesitate to assert that every mother is savage, inasmuch as they swears unconsciously to always keep the bond that unites them to their child, since birth. This is a drive the woman can hardly control. It is an archaic, prehistoric space, a psychic reservoir that has stored the memory of past generations: bankruptcies, secrets, broken promises, sorrows and joys. An invisible inheritance, which the mother transmits beyond the intention of her actions and words. And yet, in her book “Puissance de la douceur” (Power of Kindness, 2013), faced with the violence of our contemporary world, she strongly supported the idea that sweetness is an infinite power. But it is in her book “Eloge du risque” (The Praise of Risk, 2011), that she develops what has been her most moving engagement. In fact, she comments on Hölderlin's famous phrase: "Where danger grows, so does saving" (Wo aber Gefahr ist, wächst das Rettende auch) to assert that our time of risk could become a time of resistance, a time of a miraculous opposition to neurosis. To take the risk of loving, of living in order to extricate oneself from all dependences, would be the essence of any ethics. Anne Dufourmantelle has had the courage, even in her tragic death, to seize Hölderlin's magnificent poem.
Can we Adventists, starting from the Bible, overcome – or at least limit – the strong Androcentrism we inferred from the Bible and subsequently modify our theology, administration, pedagogy, ethics and pastoral care? We should try for at least two reasons. First, because Androcentrism, even if massive and transversal among us, is not mandatory – theologically or culturally. Valid alternatives exist. Second, and the main reason, is the Bible itself. The various categories and metaphors the Bible uses to describe the nature and vocation of God himself, as well as human beings, does not always concern will and action. Psalm 23 for instance is built on two metaphors, the “Good Shepherd” and the “Caring housewife”, both applied to God himself, and which underline the rich heterogeneity and complexity of God’s nature. Protestantism has, is, and should be a living witness to a refreshing and balanced image of God and human being. It should be able to maintain in tension with the various complex elements of a “heterogeneous” and “poly-centric” Bible.
Hanz Gutierrez is a Peruvian theologian, philosopher, and physician. Currently, he is Chair of the Systematic Theology Department at the Italian Adventist Theological Faculty of “Villa Aurora” and director of the CECSUR (Cultural Center for Human and Religious Sciences) in Florence, Italy.
Previous Spectrum columns by Hanz Gutierrez can be found at: https://spectrummagazine.org/authors/hanz-gutierrez
Image Credit: (Facebook/Anne Dufourmantelle)
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