I am a Roman Catholic Woman. As such, I am discriminated against by my Church; I am marginalised, deprived and angry – NOT. But I do suffer from Roman Catholic guilt, and I’ll talk about that later.
EARLY YEARS OF CHRISTIANITY
In fact, if it were not for Christianity, I and many of my sisters might not be here at all, since it was Christianity which upheld the humanity of women. During the Roman Empire, women lived for the most part under the rule of fathers or husbands, who were entitled to kill for such transgressions as adultery. Fathers had the right to examine their new-born sons for seven days to see if they were disabled in any way, in order to decide whether they should be allowed to live. But girls could be disposed of whether they were healthy babies or not. Many Roman families are said to have kept only one girl child, for breeding purposes and sometimes that only girl was not even given a personal name, but had to make do with a feminisation of the family name. The son might be called Publius Cornelius, while his sister would be simply Cornelia – the Cornelian-family-girl. What an affirmation that was! Much more serious than that, however, was the practice of exposing/killing girl babies and it was the opposition of Christians that finally stopped it. Similarly, Christianity opposed abortion of all human beings from conception onwards, both males and females.
Even today, in China, a government policy of permitting only one child per family has led to the abortion of many girls. There is talk of a lost generation of girls. Similarly in India, because of the cost of dowries, for instance, some girls become targets for elimination before birth. Judaism, of course, had learned from Genesis (the earliest books of the Bible or Torah) that God created male and female alike, and accepted the humanity of females as well as males, but Judaism was not essentially a proselytising faith. The growth of Christianity, which always sought to teach the Gospels, eventually overturned the fundamental discrimination against females and gave girl children the right to life, like their brothers.
LOVE AT THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY
We can’t say, can we?, that love matters more to women than to men, but it certainly matters to them. Love is at the heart of Christian belief. We believe in a loving God of three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These three Persons in One God answer the fundamental question why there is something rather than nothing. God is the given; everything else is contingent. We see the love between the Three Persons as spilling out into the creation of sun, moon and stars, of mountains, seas, plants and animals and last and greatest, of man and woman. This was when time began and every created thing was, over time, given its parameters and patterns. But the human beings were made, the Bible tells us, in ‘the image and likeness of God’.
God’s gift to humanity includes the ability to discern, to choose and to judge. It also enables us to give, in our turn. We are not, men and women alike, hermetically sealed into concern for self, though it remains a powerful urge. We can see needs beyond our own needs, and in a remarkably liberating way, we can try to answer them.