Feminism, Women's Freedom and Christianity
Professor Lucetta Scaraffia's Perspective on Birth-Control Movement
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ROME, MARCH 7, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Christianity has been the driving force of woman's authentic freedom, says one of the best-known scholars on the feminist movement.
In this interview with ZENIT, Lucetta Scaraffia, professor of history at Rome's La Sapienza University, elucidates her position on this topic.
Q: Why are there currents in the feminist movement that see their relation with the Church as an uncompromising conflict?
Scaraffia: Despite the fact that historical research has demonstrated that Christianity has always shown respect and attention to women, who are ignored in the other cultural traditions, the conviction persists that the Catholic Church has always been an "enemy of women."
In fact, if social history is regarded from the point of view of theology or the ecclesiastical normative, the assessment of the relation between women and the Church turns out to be very different.
The real innovation that Christianity brought was the choice of chastity as a spiritual way, because it enabled women to avoid their biological destiny. For the first time, in fact, chastity was proposed as a spiritual way to men and women: It was a revolutionary idea to the degree that it allowed democratic access, open also to the illiterate and women, to spiritual evolution, for some to sanctity.
For women, finally, this possibility to avoid their own biological destiny was a new possibility to follow a path of spiritual growth and often, also, intellectual growth, denied until then.
Spiritual equality between women and men, moreover, has always been maintained by the Christian tradition, also in the area of separation of roles and the consideration of women as socially inferior beings that characterized ancient cultures: the heroic virtues needed to certify the sanctity of a human being, in fact, are the same for women and men, even if they are realized in different roles.
And knowledge of the human and spiritual dignity of women has always shaped the Church's thought on the family.
Q: Historically, feminism was born along with the birth-control movement.
Scaraffia: So it is! From the beginning, birth control was joined to two currents of thought: feminine emancipation and atheism, that is, the refusal to recognize the will of God in the creation of human beings, from which stems, immediately, the eugenic temptation to intervene to improve humanity with "scientific instruments."
The English neo-Malthusian movements, in fact, are closely united; they often have the same leaders, like Charles Bradlaugh with the freethinking movements, oriented to tearing up the religious roots of society -- regarded as source of confinement and obscurantism -- and at the same time with scientists like Francis Galton who apply Darwinian evolution to human beings.
The roots of birth-control movements, which regard the fall in births and the freedom to abort as positive signs of the modernity of a country, are thus linked to secularization on one hand and to the emancipation of woman on the other, and this original engagement continues to characterize them today also.
Q: How has the Church reacted in face of the limitations to procreation?
Scaraffia: The prophetic force of the controversial encyclical "Humanae Vitae" of Paul VI still awaits recognition even in some sectors of the Church itself.
In fact, it is not just about one prohibition, but about having identified, in the means of birth control, a specific danger: the introduction of artificial means in a natural process of primordial importance -- the one which ensures the continuation of life -- according to a process that could be extended until arriving at the point of total control of human reproduction on the part of technologies.
Today we can see that it is precisely this that is being carried out: by intervening with scientific methods that are increasingly powerful and sophisticated, the door is open to monstrosities such as cloning or the machine that substitutes the maternal womb in pregnancy.