The Problem of Suspecting and Rejecting Authority
Who gets to decide how things work? Who is in charge? It’s a good question and as Mary goes through her book she helps us see how feminists view authority.
The first thing we learn is that feminists have looked at the world and decided that the reason it is distorted and a hard place for women to live is because men have decided things for so long. Men may not be individually responsible for society being as messy as it is, but men have been in charge of society for so long that they have destroyed what used to be (according to feminists) a society filled with peace and harmony, run by and for women.
So feminism has assessed society as not a good place for women, and blamed this state of affairs on men, or a patriarchal system. Patriarchy is leadership by men of a group of people. Feminists argue that men have broken society. They have destroyed peace and safety and replaced them with disharmony, violence and power plays. Even worse, they have relegated women to the side-lines, suppressing their natural abilities and rendering them powerless in society.
In coming to this assessment, feminism rejects authority of all kinds, linking it with patriarchy. Anything connected with patriarchy cannot be trusted and must be viewed with suspicion. There simply is no safe place at all in patriarchy for women. All the tools of a patriarchal society: its literature, rules, norms, history, politics, language and so forth must be viewed with serious suspicion (see chapter 7). Women have been tricked and subjugated; in order to be free, women must not be tricked again, and as patriarchy is built into every part of society that means nothing associated with it can be trusted.
In particular Scripture is viewed as a product of a patriarchal society. That means that for feminism the Bible is just an invention of a group of men intent on excluding and controlling women. It is, in that sense, a political and social construct and has no relationship with truth or real authority. Therefore, as Mary shows, feminists have felt that they need to reconstruct Scripture as well as find alternatives to orthodox faith outside of Scripture with heretical Christian groups and non-Christian religions (see chapters 8, 12). For feminism, Scripture cannot be trusted because it is a product of a patriarchal society and so is against women.
Feminism must look on everything produced by what it believes to be a patriarchal society with suspicion in order to be true to itself. It is not hard to see that when it does that, it must question and ultimately dismiss all authority. The only authority which can remain is its own. Feminism can only trust itself. It alone is not trying to impose patriarchy on unsuspecting women. It alone is free from patriarchy.
Feminism is its own authority.
What does this rejection of authority mean?
One implication is that in rejecting God and his Word, and seeking to ‘name’ God, feminists cut themselves from finding God. They can’t trust the Bible: it is a patriarchal tool for controlling others. But God has inspired Scripture so that we can trust it. It is in Scripture that we meet Jesus, who reveals God and if we can’t know Jesus, we can’t know God (John 14:6). If we reject his revelation of himself, we can’t find him. God has named himself as Mary rightly observes (pp 293-295). There is nowhere else to go. Jesus reveals God – God as Father, sending his Son to die for us so that we can be his loved sons, in the image of his own Son – and if we are to rejoice in his salvation, we must accept his revelation declared in Scripture (John 14:6-7, I John 3:1-2, Colossians 3:10, John 3:16-18). If we reject Jesus’ revelation of God, we reject God and anything/one we put in his place is nothing more than a useless idol, though s/he may be made of more interesting fabric than old-fashioned idols. Worse still, if we reject God’s revelation of himself in Jesus, we reject his salvation, and then we stand alone without Jesus on the final day when God will call us to account (Hebrews 9:27-28). And we will stand condemned for our pride in rejecting the God of the universe. What shall it profit a woman, if she name (and therefore gain) the whole world, and lose her own soul? (Mark 8:36).
Mary uses the findings of her book to show us that those who have tried to be evangelical feminists have drifted further and further from their commitment to Jesus and his word, until they are involved in goddess worship and other beliefs and practices incompatible with following Jesus Christ (see chapter 20). While she acknowledges that not all who do this will reach the logical conclusions of their commitment to feminism, it serves as a warning to us. Her case is particularly compelling because one of the main points in her book is that religious feminism has never been far behind secular feminism and both ‘camps’ of feminism reach the 21st century indistinguishable from one another in all but some external trappings (pp 241-246).
Ultimately, one cannot be a committed feminist and a Christian. The two are incompatible. Indeed, Mary quotes Phyllis Trible who notes that ‘… no woman can serve two authorities, a master called Scripture and a mistress called feminism’ (p 278). It isn’t hard to see how this would work, when a view of authority means feminists must reject (or at the very least suspect) Scripture’s authority. And this is the crux of the matter. Christians serve Jesus, who is true Lord of all, including feminism. That means that in turning to follow Jesus we say ‘no’ to all other authorities of any kind which claims first place in our lives (as feminism requires of its followers). If we try to be feminists and Christians we have irreconcilable authorities warring for our loyalty and ultimately we will choose one over the other.
As serious a challenge as feminism is, it is simply one manifestation of the human heart’s constant drive to reject the knowledge of God and to submit to another, created, authority in the place of God. Feminism, and the fate of evangelical feminists over the last thirty years, remind us that there are always things pulling us away from wholehearted commitment to Jesus. Simply avoiding feminism does not make us people who walk by faith, even though one must reject feminism if one is to follow Christ where he leads. Our commitment to the Lord Jesus must topple all other priorities and claims. It must be more important than feminism’s claims, or whatever other claims jockey for first position in our lives (materialism or money, ambition, education for our children and so forth). Let us all ‘set apart Christ as Lord’ in our hearts every day we live (I Peter 3:15, and this chapter which also explains how this will look in our lives).