Feminism Comes to the Western Wall

WoW

A few days ago, an organisation of Jewish women called the “Women of the Wall”, which is made up of women from various streams of Judaism, sent a letter to the United Nations detailing an event that occurred during August.

Early in August, the Women of the Wall organised a prayer service at the Western Wall. This service was publicly announced.

While they attempted to pray, however, they were assaulted and harassed. This disruption was perpetrated by haredi women, who belong to the Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the haredi women harangued the Women of the Wall group, threw bottles of water over them, and incessantly blew whistles while they attempted to pray. One of the Women of the Wall board members was even punched.

On two occasions, the haredi women were asked to cease their disruptive conduct. First, the police asked them to stop, and when they refused to do so, suggested to the Women of the Wall that they should forward their complaints to the attendants of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation. When the Women of the Wall did so, the attendants also asked the haredi women to stop. When they again refused, the attendants did not attempt to interfere again.

So who are the Women of the Wall?

They are a feminist group who are attempting to puncture the historic traditional regulations within Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. These regulations restrict women from wearing certain religious garments, and reading aloud from the Torah, and taking other leadership roles. The Women of the Wall do observe Orthodox gender segregation, but only out of courtesy for their own Orthodox members.

And they have attracted high level attention. The Israeli government has considered creating a “space” for non-sectarian prayer, a move welcomed by Women of the Wall. Nonetheless, this has sparked opposition from within Judaism. There are many who aghast that there should be any part of the Western Wall that is divorced from religious Judaism or placed beyond the orbit of the control of the Rabbinate.

Although they claim their actions are not a stunt, and that they are genuinely motivated by sincere religious feeling, this seems a remarkable way of going about it. One really must question the motives behind the Women of the Wall’s campaign and what they hope to achieve. Do the Orthodox women involved with the group really believe they can still be Orthodox while pushing for these changes? It seems they do, which is astonishing on the face of it. It would be like a female Roman Catholic believing they could still be Roman Catholic if they sought to remove the Vatican from the control of the Pope.

In fact, their conduct seems more reminiscent of a century of cultural revolution where the expansion of one’s personal liberty has become the only unfettered good. Their actions from all the photographic evidence certainly looks less like an act of worship and more like a public act of rebellion and subversion, done in such a way as to attract maximum attention through maximum drama.

As usual, those who engage in such action are astonished and outraged that it results in hostility from the larger cultural group who do not wish their identity, their practices, and their beliefs to be overturned by a small non-democratic group from within their ranks. A small group that wish to create a dramatic rupture in the continuity of belief and arrogantly claim for their innovations an equal validity to what proceeded them.

In one sense, this is just the beginning. Feminism has come to not only to the Western Wall but also to Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism. It will be interesting to see how they respond; with a perspective informed by the past, or with the myopia that sees nothing in history worth considering and is concerned only with the immediate present.

Two-thousand years of Christian history, (and longer for Jews), have seen precious little female leadership within either Church or Synagogue. It is assumed by moderns that this is ipso facto an evil thing and is primarily due to the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of those who went before, who just never gave women a chance. If given the opportunity, the ceiling smashers have argued, then women will be able to take their (rightful) place alongside of the divines, theologians, clerics, and ecclesiastics of male extraction. They will prove to be just as able, if not more so, since women have a nurturing instinct that is perfect for helping wounded souls in times of need.

Indeed, to even disagree with such an idea is now nearly dangerous. It marks one out as a misogynist, or a fossil, or, worse, as a Roman Catholic or a fundamentalist. You cannot possibly be educated and sophisticated and question the cultural assumption of the total equality of ability between the sexes. They are interchangeable, after all! The differences are purely cosmetic. Yet such convictions are diametrically opposed from what the scriptures teach us (and, since the Jews share so much of our scriptures, teach them also).

We have come to the age where it is simply not permitted to articulate the limitations of the feminine, although it is always permitted to articulate the limitations of the masculine. Yet, history would teach us that where women have acquired religious leadership, it almost always results in decline, in liberalism or theological heterodoxy.

This is because for a women to desire a leadership position within a religious group that historically has reserved those positions to men, she almost always must be, by definition, a feminist. And feminism is built atop assumptions and concepts that are fundamentally and necessarily anti-Christian. No consistent feminist could accept St. Paul’s delineation of the sexes within marriage. No consistent feminist could accept St. Paul’s instructions regarding women during worship. The entrance of women into religious leadership positions generally marks the tombstone for that denomination, its final gasps. The decline of the Anglican communion, for instance, is so catastrophic that its eventual demise is now guaranteed.

Why is it so wrong to point out that God’s word establishes different roles for men and women? How have we arrived at a place where the obvious is glossed over? It is near-impossible to miss the fact that men and women are by temperament and physiology suited for different purposes, and that even our fundamental biology teaches us that this is so. Men were created to have the strength suitable for leadership and survival; women were created to have the capacity to produce and nourish children.

So engrained is this fundamental distinction, that were a group of men and women drawn randomly from the street to crash land on a desert island, no matter their ideological convictions, the assumption of these roles would be very nearly automatic and instantaneous.

Time will tell whether Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox Judaism will survive the feminist challenge. However, the longevity of these streams of Judaism has not resulted from trendy, “inclusivist” revolutions.

The Brewing Civil War within Roman Catholicism

decline

 

I follow conservative Roman Catholic blogs.

It is fair to say, that I follow very conservative Roman Catholic blogs. The sort written by conservative priests who look fondly back to Old Rome – to the days when the liturgy was in Latin and ecclesiastical discipline within the ranks was iron.

These are the people whose slogan is “save the liturgy, save the world”. Yes, to all the Protestant readers who just fell off their seats, you read that correctly.

This is Rome Catholicism of the Tridentine Rite. This is the Rome Catholicism of arcane medieval mysticism. This is a Rome Catholicism that has been almost forgotten, except in small – but admittedly growing – pockets, where people desperately wish to re-barnacle their religious life in esoteric rituals that were stripped away by Vatican II.

One of the things that has become really, really clear is that there are two utterly incompatible views that now co-exist in Roman Catholicism. The liberal wing are… well, essentially theistic soft secularists, if such a thing can be imagined. They pretty much follow the culture on issues like homosexuality, feminism, abortion, environmentalism, same-sex marriage, and the whole worldview. You can find Catholics within this wing who criticise their own church’s stance on these issues. You can find large numbers of Catholics who even actively and enthusiastically embrace these elements of the culture. For instance, there are entire branches of orders of nuns who are essentially leftover 1960’s radical feminists. They go about crusading for political purposes.

But, to the other extreme, there is the conservative wing. These Roman Catholics largely live in the past, venerating historical Popes and cardinals, and glorying in a very traditional worship that consists of little other than elaborate and ornamented ritual. They reject the minimalist contemporary design of modern churches – which are often built according to zany postmodern designs – and approvingly point to articles in magazines in which pastors describe how they have transformed their parishes by installing pews, altars, candles, and all the other furniture of a heavily-liturgical religion.

(The fact that there is such a palpable thirst among modern Western populations for a deep link to the past and a desire for continuity with history, could be the subject of an entire book. Unfortunately for the poor benighted souls turning to liturgical religions like Roman Catholicism, the tradition that they are told goes back to the New Testament is often only about 500 or so years old. Most of the “apostolic tradition”, along with its attendant rites and rituals developed in the medieval period. To be deeply rooted in God’s work in history, one must turn to the pages of scripture).

Each wing denounces the other. An excellent illustration of this – at least in miniature – is found in the running clash of purpose and perspective between a very popular blog operated by the Roman Catholic priest, John Zuhlsdorf, and the National Catholic Reporter. The National Catholic Reporter occasionally prints insinuations or commentary that would reflect unfavourably on Zuhlsdorf’s website and views, characterising them as unloving or harsh. For his own part, Zuhlsdorf declares the National Catholic Reporter to be “un-catholic”. In fact, Zuhlsdorf usually refers to this publication as “fishwrap” or “the National Schismatic Reporter” and holds in low esteem the liberal Roman Catholics who comment there.

Both parties have convictions utterly removed from the other. The NCR seems hopeful for some changes on the issue of woman’s ordination. They seem to take the view that there is a possibility of having women deacons. Zuhlsdorf, for his part, is implacably opposed to women’s ordination.

Whatever we might think on the issue – and, we, evangelicals and Reformed would typically side with Zuhlsdorf on this issue – the fact remains that these are opposing viewpoints, held with extreme conviction and passion. And both seem to have emerged within Roman Catholicism at the same time and in high volumes. It bespeaks a collapse of church discipline at some point in the line. For how else could two opposing camps emerge in the one communion?

But, this is only the tip of the iceberg! Most of the folks supporting women’s ordination would necessarily (eg. it is necessary to hold these beliefs in order to arrive at their position) have very non-traditional views of the ecclesiastical authority of the Roman Catholic Church and their supposed “teaching magisterium”. They necessarily hold non-traditional views on apostolic tradition. They necessarily repudiate the past example of their own church as repressive, archaic or opposed to women. Indeed, one of the Youtube videos put out by one of these groups has a woman in mock papal attire singing, “Don’t listen to St. Paul… I can lead the way” and a woman dandying her baby wearing a shirt that reads “Mommy for pope”. In other words, Zuhlsdorf – to a certain extent – is right. These people have no theological relation to the theological universe of what once called itself Roman Catholicism.

Another example of this breakdown is seen in Ireland, where the decay of Roman Catholicism is now an unmistakable fact. Here is a country that has a long history of being a Roman Catholic stronghold. A country where 73% – nearly three quarters of the population – claim to be Roman Catholic. Yet in the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage, 62% of Irish voters approved a constitutional change to allow people to marry without the distinction of sex.

Assuming that the 25% of the population who are non-Roman Catholic all voted in favour of this change, it would mean that 37% of the Roman Catholic population also voted in favour of same-sex marriage. And this contrary to the advice, teaching and instruction of their own clergy and church! (Although, to be honest, any fair assessment of the political campaign conducted by those affiliated with Roman Catholic Church would surely indicate a fair degree of apathy. The impression I received, at least, was that their heart was just not in it. The secular perspective had already quite clearly won – at least, according to the vote statistics – even within the Roman Catholic community long before the referendum took place.)

You can find these sorts of inroads into Roman Catholicism at every point. And most troubling for the conservatives, the secular viewpoint seems to be held by a growing number of bishops, cardinals, and priests. Many of these come in for regular excoriation from the conservative wing . On the other hand, the conservatives lionise other of their hierarchy as if they were celebrities. These cardinals and bishops receive rock star treatment because they celebrate the mass in Latin or they are fighting back against the ambitions of the liberal half of the church.

Now enter the Pope.

For all the unbiblical Roman pretensions that the Pope functions as an authoritative unifying figure, the reality is the inverse. Nobody could say with a straight face that Pope Francis believes what his medieval (or even early 20th century) predecessors believed given his remarks on a range of issues. He continues along the lines set by previous Popes who proclaim a social gospel to outsiders and a religious practice to insiders so lacking in discipline as to render it almost indifferent to the manner in which they choose to live. Among Francis’ encyclicals is the entirely forgettable Laudata si’, or the “Green Encyclical”, which was about the environment and sustainability. In Francis’ speech to the Congress, he mentions Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Abraham Lincoln but does not once make reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.

In so doing, he merely follows the example of other post-Vatican II popes, like Pope John Paul II, who was certainly no great evangelist either. When addressing the European Study Congress, Pope John Paul II spoke much about “Christianity” and even mentioned “Christ” once, but his focus was not where the conservative Roman Catholics would have placed it.

It is categorically impossible to imagine the Apostle Peter – whose authority Roman Catholics claim for their pope – if presented with the chance to address the representatives of the most powerful nation in the world, or a congress planning a trans-continental constitution that would govern 500 million people – would fail to present the fullness of the message of the good news of Christ our Lord.

But the Popes reflect the Roman Catholic Church’s culture. True there is a bit of a lag before certain cultural trends and elements get represented in a pontificate, but it shows up sooner than later. Popes are increasingly political-correct beings and mealy-mouthed, never being entirely direct. Each subsequent pope differs substantially from the one before and thus the entire Roman church is in a perpetual condition of division. Half of them will cleave now unto this pope, and the other half will cleave unto that one. Francis is beloved by the liberal Catholics, just as Benedict XVI is beloved by the conservatives – some of which freely admit to shedding tears over his resignation.

Of course, nearly every Roman Catholic holds to Pope John Paul II whose genius for more than thirty years involved the careful placation of all wings of the church by granting to each a measure of what they sought. One month he would pound the arms of his throne and thunder down the old dogmas, gladdening the heart of the conservatives. A few months later he would make a ringing declaration about women or some other group, and bring pleasure to the liberals. But in retrospect, I think it will be seen that Pope John Paul II’s seemingly stable pontificate, solved nothing. In fact, he oversaw the unravelling of the discipline and authority of his church, the continuation of the 1960’s experiment. His pontificate will be seen to mark the further degradation of the belief and allure of the (non-existent) continuity the religion claims for itself.

One could go on. The fact that there is such a staggering variety of religious orders – some liberal and some conservative – each existing side-by-side within the tent. We could examine the rot within Roman Catholic educational institutions, producing generations of Roman Catholics who are probably mostly theologically liberal. We could consider the resurgence of conservatism within many seminaries, coupled with the fact that the overall number of priests is low and shrinking. But time constrains me.

Bottom line: this state of affairs cannot continue forever. One wing will dominate eventually, or there will be a permanent schism. Many conservatives have already thrown in the towel, declared most of the post-Vatican II popes to be heretics, and have run off to sedevacantist movements and the SSPX, who generally believe that the Seat of Peter is empty and there is no legitimate pope.

It is fantasy to imagine the staunch, Tridentine, “Latin Mass” conservatives winning this battle. In fact, their efforts are more likely to accelerate a schism since so many of them actively believe that their Tridentine mass is more legitimate than the Novus Ordo mass which is the common global Roman Catholic practice.

Certainly, the wing that shall be most badly affected will be the conservatives for whom the Pope and bishops and priestcraft is pivotal. Their entire faith is built on it. They have been taught that their church, when manifested in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, is infallible and miraculously safeguarded from error. The ructions to their faith when they realise with the passage of time, that the old Roman Catholicism is beyond revival, will be painful to bear. The conservatives are desperately placing their hope in the next pontificate. Pity them, should the next pope be another Francis. Their demoralisation will be complete.

We must keep our eyes open for these troubled souls, the recipients of a dreadful medieval corruption that enslaves and mesmerises with the false claims of historicity. We must aim to always be ready to offer to these people the gospel – for there can only be one. This gospel is the one that they have never heard. The pure gospel that elevates the Great High Priest, Christ Jesus. A gospel that speaks to the heart and redeems it by the sovereign power and grace of a compassionate and holy God. A God who does not come seeking for the utterances of empty phrases and repetitious prayers. Who does not look for hail Marys and penances. Who does not justify us based on our merits or our works. But a God who revealed himself fully through his Son; who regenerates men through his words – alone infallible and inerrant – and who sends his genuine Spirit as the down payment on future glory.

A God who once spoke words that are much applicable to these burnt out, tempest-tossed, misused, and exhausted Roman Catholics:

Come unto me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn about me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you shall find rest for your souls. 

Coup d’etat in Turkey

TurkeyEU

News is filtering in of an attempted coup d’etat in Turkey. According to the news, an attempted military takeover involved the use of helicopters – some still commandeered by the rebels – and jet aircraft flying over Istanbul. About 60 people have been killed, although it seems that pro-government forces are gradually making progress in restoring control over the capital.

It demonstrates a number of things:

1. Civilisation is fragile. It does not take a great number of lawless people to bring a nation to a standstill, and situations like this where anarchy reigns (even temporarily), provide ample opportunities for lesser rebels to make hay while the sun shines. If you look at the crime statistics following this attempted coup, I am almost sure they will register an increase. While the police are battling to save the government, thieves and other assorted villains can do as they please. Yes, civilisation is fragile.

2. Turkey’s admission to the EU is likely to be regressed by a long time, if not forever. Public opinion in Europe was always strongly opposed to Turkey’s accession to the European Union, although the leadership of the project have always been in favour.

Turkey has been strung along for a long while now. They have been promised admission if they make necessary social and political reforms – in other words, to make Turkey align more with the pluralistic, democratic culture of Europe.

Reforms all seem rather superfluous at this point. A country that cannot control its own capital from militants, whose leader has sought to prosecute journalists across the EU for writing disparagingly about his conduct, and a regime that has some seriously awry priorities in relation to the Kurds and ISIS, does not make for a cracking good candidate.

Quite apart from Turkey’s prospects in joining the EU, I wonder whether this coup represents another nail in the coffin for the European Union in more ways than one.