Hermeneutics and The Shape of the Future - Edited by Frank K. Flinn

Women and the Hermeneutics of the Future -- Lorine M. Getz

To a post-Christian feminist theologian, that is, to one acutely aware of the social, political, economic, and religious discrimination against the powerless, especially women, in the history of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the revelation of a new age in human development based on re-creation, unity, and equality is indeed welcome.1 Divine Principle speaks of the equality of persons and the unity of cultures and religions through the re-creation of the kingdom of God on earth. It describes God's purpose in creation in terms of the joy received in relationship with perfected creatures, the destruction of evil, and God's continued providence at work in the restoration of humankind's original blessedness.2 However, no promise of change can be accepted uncritically, especially one purporting to complete a testament whose first two volumes have not only recapitulated society's underlying myth of male supremacy but have also been employed by religious leadership throughout the centuries to oppress women systematically in the name of God. In what does the new revelation, Divine Principle, consist? How does it interpret a religious history which has permitted if not fostered oppressions such as racism, economic injustice, age discrimination, and sexism? In whom or in what is the hope of re-creation to be placed? Ho w is the "new" future described? Ho we can it be interpreted? How does it relate to the existential need for humanization expressed in the various liberation movements of the present age? Specifically, does it present a future for women?

Before proceeding to examine Divine Principle teachings concerning the nature of its message and the future posited by its revelation, it will be helpful to comment briefly first on the position of feminist theology regarding the Judeo-Christian myth of male supremacy and second on the fundamental relationship of this myth to societal and theological structural myths which can now be seen as modes of dehumanization and oppression. No attempt will be made to develop a complete feminist theology or to set forth an adequate theory of liberation. Rather, some key concepts will be set forth to define woman's experience of disaffection from the major religious traditions of the West and to indicate some hermeneutical standards required for a libertarian re-mythologization of salvation history.

The hermeneutical stance of the feminist with regard to the promise of social change and future freedom is one of hope amid suspicion. Women, as members of the oldest and primary oppressed group3 have learned to mistrust religious promises. They have come to recognize central facets of the male supremacy myth: God symbols which are male, the male incarnation of the divine in Jesus, the mind-body split which identifies man primarily with the mind and woman primarily with the body, male righteousness and self-assertion, and hierarchical anthropology. Realizing that religious symbols provide not only models of divine existence, but also models for human behavior, feminists choose to abandon all myths, symbols, and traditions which devalue the feminine and exalt the masculine. The emerging self-conscious woman cries out for liberation from patriarchy, subservience to males, body-object identity, and all other aspects of male supremacy and oppressive control. Assuming a posture of suspicion based on the lessons of past experience, she desires to examine and challenge all religious meanings and messages for their liberating potential. Rejecting scripture and religious traditions for substantiating, even blessing, the prevailing cultural sexism, the feminist turns to her experience as the source of theological meaning. Only a theology which adequately reflects her own lived experience and promises a different future can be accepted. Thus feminist theology seeks images, myths, and ideologies which have a universal message and which lead toward humanization and freedom for all persons regardless of sex. The emergent woman has the power to self-define; she seeks a revolution which can end male domination and a mutual healing of the master/subordinate sex caste experience. Until she is able to be valued as a whole, integral being, woman cannot fully enter into partnership with man, for only equals can form true partnerships.4 Only a world view which encompasses complete equality, justice, and freedom for each person regardless of race, age, socio-economic position, or sex can be understood as salvific for the future.

The myth of male supremacy forms the primary model for other forms of discrimination. It is held to be the most ancient and prevalent oppression. The most essential dehumanization (sin or evil) in civilization is not, as some religious traditions would insist, individual sins of omission or commission, or personal pride or concupiscence, but the victimization of the powerless by the powerful which appears to have its roots in male aggression against the female. From the model of male supremacy, other forms of oppression have been patterned: racism (the power of dominant race over racial minorities), capitalistic imperialism (the exploitation of poor countries and peoples for the economic benefit of the wealthy), age discrimination (the domination of those in their prime over the young and the aged), etc. While it is not to be implied that males (especially white American males) bear the responsibility for each of these cultural and social inequities which plague Western society, it is now becoming clear how the subjugation of the females by males provided a working model for dehumanizing patterns throughout society. One example of this can be found in American history, where the legislative principles for governing black slaves were taken directly from existing laws for women.5 By focusing then on this pivotal concept, the essential equality of males and females, feminine hermeneutics seeks to articulate the reality of the present oppression of women by society, culture, and religion, and to reject as dehumanizing and sinful all non-liberating ideologies, myths, and symbols of the future. Based on the premise that sexism is a formative principle behind all other types of discrimination, feminist theology seeks to support revolutionary ideologies or philosophies which have as their objective the creation of a world based on freedom, equality, and true partnership.

The Future According to Divine Principle

The new revelation and essential message of Divine Principle is the coming of the eschaton, the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. In these "last days" the Lord of the Second Advent will complete the providential salvation begun by Jesus. Divine Principle presents both the fulfillment of the traditional Christian belief of the re-creation of God's kingdom among mankind through the action of the Messiah and a "new" revelation of the essential relationship between God and human persons -- the Principle itself.6 The "new age" is directly related to the original creation. Since God's plan for relationship with Adam and Eve and through them with all of creation was perverted when the original couple gave their allegiance instead to Satan, God once again provides the opportunity in time for mankind to perfect itself and re-establish a primary relationship with its maker.7 Thus, Divine Principle eschatology both recapitulates traditional salvation history and adds new aspects to the myth.

Central to the restoration of the original plan for creation is the coming of the Lord of the Second Advent. Divine Principle asserts the spiritual restoration accomplished by the life of Jesus and posits the complementary physical restoration to be accomplished by the Lord of the Second Advent. This final restoration, also called "resurrection," refers not to physical revivification of those who have already died but to the re-establishment of mankind's physical lineage to the Creator and the severance of the present lineage to Satan.8 The Lord of the Second Advent, "equal to Jesus," that is, a person who has attained individual perfection (the first of the three "blessings"), but differing from Jesus in time and order9 and identified with the tree of life (or male principle), restores the integrity and righteousness of the original creation through the re-establishment of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (or female principle).10 Having already established his relationship to God (spiritual redemption), the Lord of the Second Advent will establish a perfect (that is, God-centered) relationship with a woman (physical redemption), thus fulfilling the second blessing (multiply and fill the earth). The children of this perfect union will be born without original sin, for the sexual link to Satan established in the fall will be broken and the link to God will be restored. The God-centered families thus formed will then fulfill the third blessing of dominion over the rest of creation.11 Through the accomplishment of the three blessings, the disparate aspects of creation will be reunited: male and female; science and religion; cultures, races, and religions; even Satan and Christ (through Satan's final conversion).12

Though Divine Principle suggests a second "future," the kingdom of God in heaven, this concept is not developed; nor is there an independent description of God apart from his relationship with creation. However, some key aspects of God's being are revealed in conjunction with discussion of his plan for mankind and its relational basis. God is described as One and dual. He is the single source of creation (Parent, Creator) yet he is sung sang and hyung sang, Original Positivity and Original Negativity, Father and Mother. Within the Divine, these aspects are described as non-hierarchical, integrated polarities. Yet, when Divine Principle moves from its consideration of the ontological ideal into practical application, the dualities separate out into hierarchical values. God, the Parent, quickly becomes merely the Father. In relationship to mankind, God is described as subject, positivity, sung sang. Thus, despite a theoretical monistic thrust, God is seen and described according to dualistic values. From this it would appear that despite the desire to present a single, unified concept of God and by extension a final unity of all creation with God in the final "future," the deeper cultural and psychological structures of dualism prevail.

The Feminist Critique

A critical reading of Divine Principle according to feminist theological principles yields ambiguous results. The message is mixed, the news good and bad. Certainly the theoretical model of ultimate monism gives hope not only to feminists, but to all those who seek liberation through universalism. Statements concerning the process of give and take as a mutual relationship and the re-creation of the earth give hope to Christians who had long abandoned belief in traditional eschatology, but are not afforded the promise of a new, graced earthly renaissance. Presumably through the final accomplishment of the three blessings (personal integrity, reunion of the sexes and the genesis of blessed children, and responsible dominion over material creation -- all God-centered activities), an ideal society would be established and maintained. Here not only discrimination and oppression would cease to exist, but so would other, "physical" problems such as hunger, poverty, pollution, and war. Countering the tendency in Christian traditions to emphasize the kingdom of heaven (after-death state) thus excluding or minimizing the need for change on earth, Divine Principle teaches that God and mankind will work together to resurrect the earth. Indemnity (human contribution) and providence (God's share of the responsibility) at least coalesce in time and space. Humankind's position approaching this promised future is not one of passive waiting, but of active participation and preparation. The prophesied re-integration binds the secular and the spiritual; it promises to move beyond traditional concepts of salvation for graced individuals to resurrection for all those who choose to participate freely.

But, alas! All is not well in the promised future. Feminist theology must resist being swept unaware into another illusory Utopia grounded once again on sexist principles and symbols. The ambivalent ontology and anthropology which argues for equality and reciprocity between male and female on the theoretical level but betrays consistent evidence of patriarchy and misogyny on the practical level is particularly troublesome.13 Unificationists insist that no sexism exists in their futurology except that carried over in archaic language forms and in women's own experience.14 Yet the naming of God as "Father," never "Mother," is consistent throughout; the "fallen" element in creation which must be re-established in the tree of knowledge of good and evil is constantly identified as both female and negative. A male savior who is righteous and self-assertive is required numerous times throughout history to implement God's plan, while woman's single noted act of sexual submission to the aggression of the male (in the Genesis myth, Satan) is judged as the source of all evil in the human world. Woman is therefore relegated to a permanent role of the passive victim to be saved. In each of these instances, male aggression and patriarchy are championed while females are either completely ignored or subjugated. A case in point regards the re-creation of the kingdom of heaven on earth yet to be established by the Lord of the Second Advent: the place and time of his birth are emphasized; his personal righteousness and God's blessing on his act of self-assertion are noted. But the complete task of the physical redemption of the earth cannot be completed by man in isolation. In order to fulfill the second blessing and establish a family base upon which the eschaton will be built, he must marry. But whom? Divine Principle provides no answer to this riddle: the potential bride's birth goes unnoticed; her righteousness and her actions go undiscussed; she is unidentified except for her sex; she is portrayed as completely passive and accepting, a Sleeping Beauty rescued from oblivion and used by the charming savior-prince merely as an anonymous vessel to bear his children. If this is the basis upon which the new revelation is built, there is no salvation for women. Once again women have no identity, no rights, no future -- nothing is made anew, the old experience is simply recapitulated in a different time and space.

Is Divine Principle, then, to be rejected by feminist theology? Not entirely. Certainly it does take some steps toward universal humanization. But the whole message must not be embraced without scrutiny and caution. Rather, it must be examined in light of its position on the role of women, and the resulting critique must be heard. Those elements within Divine Principle which are culturally conditioned must be acknowledged; those which are patriarchal and misogynist must be exorcised; and those which are re-creational in the truest sense must be expanded and enhanced. The movement is young, searching, and flexible. Perhaps it will be open enough to evolve a theology reflecting true equality and thus true unification.


1 See, for example, Mary Daly, The Church and the Second Sex(New York: Harper and Row, 1968), and Beyond God the Father (Boston: Beacon, 1973); Rosemary R. Ruether, Liberation Theology (New York: Paulist Press, 1972), New Woman/New Earth (New York: Seabury, 1975) and Ruether, ed., Religion and Sexism (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974); Sheila D. Collins, A Different Heaven and Earth (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Judson, 1974); Elizabeth Clark and Herbert W Richardson, eds., Women and Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1976); and Rita Goss, ed., Beyond Androcentrism (Missoula, Montana: Scholars' Press, 1976).

2 Divine Principle, 5th ed., (New York: Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity, 1977) pp. 41-42; hereafter cited as Divine Principle.

3 Introduction, Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, eds., Womanspirit Rising (New York: Harper and Row, 1979), pp. 1-17.

4 For a complete discussion of criteria and forms of partnership, see Lerty M. Russell, TheFuture of Partnership (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979), especially pp. 159-65.

5 See Mary P. Ryan, Womanhood in America, (New York: Watts, 1975), especially pp. 4-25; and Gerda Lerner, The Woman in American History (Menlo Park, California: Addison-Wesley, 1971), especially pp. 11-19 and 57-65.

6 M. Darrol Bryant, "Critical Reflections on Unification Eschatology," in Exploring Unification Theology, ed. Susan Hodges and M. Darrol Bryant (Barry town, NY.: Unification Theological Seminary, distributed by The Rose of Sharon Press, Inc., 1978), p. 203.

7 Divine Principle, especially pp. 27-32 and 103-10.

8 Divine Principle, p. 171.

9 Divine Principle is highly specific with regard to the birth place and time of the Messiah of the new age; see pp. 519ff.

10 Divine Principle, p. 107

11 Divine Principle, pp. 119-29.

12 Divine Principle, p. 188.

13 Elizabeth Clark articulates this point with regard to the Unificationist insistence upon and interpretation of the Eve myth. See her "Women in the Theology of the Unification Church," in Exploring Unification Theology, pp. 148-66.

14 See, for example, "Discussion II," in response to Clark's argument, in Exploring Unification Theology, pp. 166-78. 

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