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January 07, 2013
The discrimination virus
By Alice von Hildebrand *

By Alice von Hildebrand *

Dedicated to Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke.

St. Therese of Lisieux, an “illiterate” doctor of the Church, wrote some surprising things. One of them is that, “Heaven is the place where there is perfect justice.” One would expect her to say “love” or “charity.” She purposely writes: “justice.”

If there if something firmly implanted in the human soul (already found in little children) it is the craving for justice, and the feeling of revolt when one is unjustly treated. At age five I was once punished by a teacher for something I had not done. I recall my indignant response, “This should not be.” But it was.

 This noble craving is definitely a proof that there is a “natural law” implanted in the souls of all human beings, persons made to God’s image and likeness.
 Alas, we live in a world of “injustice,” and in spite of laudable plans to correct it; it is sheer illusion to assume that human efforts alone will ever succeed. One “injustice” is “abolished” and immediately replaced by another one. Perfect justice can never be realized by human laws, in spite of the shallow promises of politicians.

A cynical Spanish proverb expresses this well: “Laws are like nets that catch gnats, and let the hawk go free.”

This does not mean that we should not strive for justice, but we should not forget both original sin, and the fact that God alone is the perfectly Just one, whose help we desperately need.

In creating man, God has done a very daring thing: He made him body (material, visible, sense perceived, etc) and soul (spiritual).
I say an act of daring – a truly divine invention – because at first sight was it “wise” to unite so closely two metaphysical realities radically different? This justifies the words of Pascal: “Man is the most amazing being in nature.”

But divine “daring” goes further. In Genesis, God declared that He created man (homo) to His image and likeness: “male and female He created them.” Clearly homo (translated in English as Man) included both sexes. Vir in Latin refers exclusively to the male; mulier to the woman. It is luminous that they have identical metaphysical dignity; they equally share the honor to be made to God’s image and likeness. But they are different, that is complementary.  Each possesses qualities which are to benefit the opposite sex. The difference is not only biological (as often assumed in our confused society). It is also spiritual, religious, intellectual, and affective and obviously finds its expression in the biological sphere. Man and Woman are clearly made for each other, are meant to enrich and complete each other.

This was taken for granted by any “sane” society, but starting with the French revolution, elementary truths started being questioned in the name of “progress.” This was well stated by Nietzsche who, “when absent minded,” could say very profound things. He wrote that prior to the French revolution, women had much less authority but much more influence. Clearly influence is more crucial than authority which is essentially limited to the sphere of actions. Influence goes much deeper: it can help change and improve (or harm) a person’s being.

For centuries, the word “discrimination” was used to refer to positive qualities, such as refinement, taste, judgment or discernment. That was the primary meaning of the term. But slowly but surely the primary meaning was replaced by tainted with injustice, prejudice or unfairness. This meaning became so prevalent that today that to be “discriminating” is censured severely. The law now condemns “discrimination.” To challenge the “morality” of homosexuality is censured by “homophobic.”

Once this step was taken, it gained currency to such an extent that it triggered a plethora of lawsuits, to the delight of lawyers who were clearly the beneficiaries. If a person received a pink slip, it was to be explained by “discrimination”; because one was a female, because of the color of one’s skin, because of the shape of one’s nose, because of one’s sexual preferences. The list was endless and is constantly getting longer. I was told that many are the executives that rather pay a “compensation” to the plaintiff (however unjust his claim is ) than to get involved in a lengthy law suit which, in the long run, is not only more costly but is paralyzing: the paper work involved can cripple a  company. 

Carpe diem; women started making the “brilliant” discovery that they were “metaphysically mistreated” from the very beginning of Genesis. This notion was spread first through literature (let us recall Ibsen’s The Doll’s House) and then found its advocates in talented females such as Simone de Beauvoir. Her best-selling book, The Second Sex (followed by a whole series of writings of the same ilk) share one basic thesis; the  female talents have been crushed in the bud by a male dominated society. This explains why women have not produced a Homer, a Dante, a Shakespeare, a Beethoven etc. the moment has come to declare that they will no longer accept this state of inferiority. 

Clearly maternity is the one unjust burden that has been imposed on them. They should now be given the basic human right of choosing whether or not they want to give life. Any other option should be granted: contraception, and if inefficient, abortion. Soon the world will benefit from female contributions to the “progress” of humanity. Indeed, a brave new world is opening, liberated from old mediaeval taboos.

Not surprisingly our Holy Father Benedict XVI has diagnosed the “feminist revolution” as one of the key factors that has contributed to the moral decadence of our society.  Once an “artist” insists upon playing an instrument for which he is not qualified, it ruins the best orchestras. This long and fascinating theme is, however, not our topic.

We suggest that we look at the question from a “male” point of view, and question whether this “discrimination virus” which has infected the female sex, should not also be applied to the male one.

In other words, we are raising the question whether the moment has not come for the male sex to finally discover how unfairly they have been treated in the Bible.

All we need do is to read Genesis. It tells us that Adam’s body was formed from the “slime” of the earth – not a very “aristocratic” origin. The one of Eve, however, was taken from the body of Adam - that is a person made to God’s image and likeness. Which one of us would be give preference to her origin?
Moreover, when Adam waking up from his sleep saw Eve, his response is one of joy: “bone of my bones; flesh of my flesh.” No word is, as far as we know, spoken by Eve when she saw her husband, even though being a woman, I cannot help but think that she was impressed by the beauty of his masculinity.

We are told that “man will leave his father and mother” (obviously this does not apply to the first man) and cleave to his wife. We are not told that she will leave her family. This is mysterious, but a fact.  Adam calls her “the mother of the living.” He is not given the title of “father of the living.” This sheds light on the fact that the Serpent addresses himself to Eve, not to Adam. The great St. Augustine claims that it was because being the weaker, she was easier to defeat.

I dare challenge this claim. I rather believe that the Evil one, being a murderer from the beginning, hated the one called “mother of the living,” for being a murderer from the beginning, he hates life. This gives us a key to the history of salvation; the duel between Satan and the Woman.  The serpent defeats her, and her punishment is more severe than the one of the husband; they both share the fearful fact of death, of hard work, but she is particularly affected in the very domain which is her glory: to give birth. 

From this moment on, Eve’s beautiful vocation – to give life – will be linked to severe pains. Often in the Old Testament when referring to great suffering, an explicit reference is made to “a woman in labor.”

Socrates, lecturing one of his sons, on his duty to respect his mother reminds him that “she has suffered to bring you into the world.” Obviously procreation is very different for the father and the mother.  When a man tells me proudly that he has fourteen children, my reply is “I congratulate your wife.” I do not think that to be a father one hundred times deserves particular eulogy.
Particularly amazing is Eve’s remark when she gives birth to Cain: She explains, with God’s help “I have brought a man into the world.” (Genesis, 4:1)  Adam is not even mentioned. One wonders whether he did not sheepishly whisper to his wife: “I also had some role to play in this birth.” If he did, Genesis does not mention it. One thing is clear: a mother’s relationship to her child is much closer than the one to its father. His role is paradoxical: both crucial and yet very modest. Referring to this undeniable fact, Chesterton starts doubting of the equality of the sexes. (What is Wrong with the World).

The sacred bond between mother and child is not only essential, but pre-given.

Paternity must be “conquered.” If an unworthy father abandons his child, we are less shocked and grieved than if a mother does. This is why God’s words: “Even if you mother would abandon you, I shall not do so” are not only so consoling, but also so revealing. This leads us to an obvious conclusion: the day the Evil one convinced some very foolish women that motherhood was some sort of “curse,” crushing female talents in the bud, he achieved his greatest victory since original sin.  He who is a murderer from the beginning defeated “mothers of the living.”

The whole drama of redemptions takes place between the Evil one and the Woman. 

 But this is not the end of the Biblical story. God, in his infinite goodness and mercy, decides to send man a savior. In his own good time, He created a little girl, who from the very moment of her conception was tota pulchra, in no way affected by original sin. This young female was offered to become the mother of the Savior. After expressing her amazement at this divine offer, and reminding the divine messenger that she is a Virgin, she is guaranteed that her virginity will be preserved; she will be covered by the Holy Spirit. Her answer is: “Be it done to me according to Thy word.” In this very moment, the greatest event in history took place:  she conceives the Savior, He who was to declare solemnly that He Was Life itself. Eve was honored by the title: mother of the living. Mary gives birth to Life Itself.

Jesus – God and man – has therefore an earthly mother and no earthly father: the male sex is granted no role whatever in this earthshaking even. Is he not discriminated against?  Indeed, Christ, the One Priest, has a mother, but no human father. In fact there is only one priest.  And this priest has a mother: it is therefore clear that a woman’s mission is to be the mother of priests. The conclusion is luminous: one cannot be mother and son. This is why women are excluded from the priesthood.

The two charismas: mother and priesthood are complementary, but incompatible.

Alice von Hildebrand is a lecturer and an author, whose works include: The Privilege of Being a Woman (2002) and The Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand (2000), a biography of her late husband. She was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Equestrian Order of St. Gregory by Pope Francis in 2013.
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