Is God a Sexist?
The discussion of whether or not women can be ordained tends to be negative: we can't do it because Jesus didn't do it, the apostles didn't do it, and the pope said in an infallible document Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the Church can't do it. So it is not going to happen, ever. But arguments like this are ultimately unconvincing to many people because they only tell us of the legal fact that it is not going to happen. But they don't tell us the reasoning or justification for the fact. It is like asking "why do we drive on the right side of the street?" and getting the answer "because we don't drive on the left side." It is an answer, but not what the questioner is seeking. What is the why of it? In philosophical terms, what is the final cause? If we assume the Church is correct, and that God doesn't want women to be ordained, what is God after? What is the point of the restriction? Is God a sexist, or is it a case of the wisdom of God looking like foolishness to us?
I want to try to defend God on this score. Of course, I can't give an argument of premise A, premise B, therefore women can't be priests. Who can plumb the depths of God's wisdom? I wouldn't presume to try. In addition, Aquinas warns in the Summa Contra Gentiles that we shouldn't try to prove things we know only by revelation: it is not possible, and to do so only opens us up to ridicule. The proper job for philosophers in defending the faith is to show that although the given doctrine cannot be proven, neither is it ridiculous. So we get long explanations in the thirteenth century, not to prove the Real Presence, but to show that it isn't contrary to reason, just beyond reason; thus we get the word "transubstantiation." I am going to try to show that ordaining only males is not ridiculous or contrary to reason. I won't pretend to be able to give a precis of God's thinking on the matter.
Does Sex Matter? What difference does a person's sex make? (Sex is the correct term: human beings have sex, nouns and adjectives have gender.) The conventional thinking is "not much." For example, a common argument for women's ordination goes like this: "You say that Jesus chose only male apostles, and that is why the Church ordains men only. But Jesus only chose poor men from Galilee, and so by your reasoning only Galileans should be ordained." The problem with this argument (aside from the fact that the apostles, who presumably knew Jesus' mind better than we, did in fact ordain non-Galileans, but did not ordain women) is that it equates a person's sex with a person's point of origin or economic status. Is being male or female just an accidental fact? Is the fact that I am a man of as little importance as the fact that I was born in Chicago Heights?
We must address a residual Platonism in the minds of many people. Lots of people have the idea that the body isn't important at all. What I really am is what I think I am, not what my body is. This is why people substitute "gender" for "sex": sex is something imposed on us by biology, gender is something we can construct with our minds. Plato taught that the soul was trapped in a body, and that the real path for a true philosopher was to practice death, the separation from bodily existence. Being in a body is a tragedy, and the nature of one's body is inconsequential. (Perhaps one can see this in the trend of young people towards self-mutilation. They use their bodies as canvases for tattooing or piercing just like one would use any other object. The body is just an object for them.) The dominant thinking is that the soul is like a captain of a ship: if the ship is red, we don't apply redness to the captain. If the body is female, we don't really apply femaleness to the soul. Sex is something secondary, accidental to the true essence.
If this view of the relationship between body and soul is true, then God would seem very silly to make any decisions based on sex. Hiring someone on the basis of the tie he is wearing in the interview is silly, and so is refraining to choose someone for a job because she is female. Femaleness carries no more import than wearing-red-tie-edness. God would in fact seem unjust for making a decision on something so inconsequential. This is what most people think: the Church doesn't ordain women. Being a woman is of little or no importance. Therefore, the Church is restricting ordination to men for a reason of little or no importance, and is unjust.
But both theologically and philosophically, sex is something much more essential. Look at the beginning of Genesis: God creates man male and female: the differentiation of the sexes is divinely willed. God did it on purpose. Look at the descriptions of the two: woman is a help-mate, created because man alone was lonely. Man and woman are created for each other, and we are different so that we can complete each other. These differences are essential. Note also the different punishments as a result of original sin: man's punishment is related to his work, attempting to bring forth food from the earth. Woman's punishment is tied to childbirth and family: there will be pain in childbirth, and family life will be disordered into a role of subjugation. If sex is something accidental to being human, the punishments would be the same.
Philosophically this separation of body and soul is a relic of Platonism or perhaps Cartesianism, as I said above. Plato taught that the human soul pre-existed the body, and that living in a body was a tragedy, since it prevented the view of the true reality of the ideas. The true philosopher practices death, as he says, since death is preferable to being trapped in a material body. But Platonism has been repudiated on this point: if the soul were trapped in the body, then existence would be pointless. Why would we have bodies at all? Why would we be punished by being put in a body? Further, why is it that when you cut my finger, I say "Stop cutting me?"In a very real sense, I ammy body. If you step on my foot, you hurt me. If you shoot my through the heart, Idie. If light enters the eyes, I see. The body is the sine qua non if human existence. It is not something separate from me, it is me. We are bodies.
Aristotle's explanation makes much more sense: the soul is the first actuality of a body capable of having life. The soul is nothing more than the actuality of the body, the form of the body. We are not body-soul mixtures, but bodysoul creatures, or soulbodies. The soul is the essence of the body. No soul, no body. No body, the soul is an orphan. All of the soul's faculties are designed to work through the agency of a body. I see with eyes, hear with ears, think with a brain. I don't have faculties for life as a pure spirit. I would make a very poor angel. My soul needs a body to exist in its fullness. This is in fact why the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is so comforting: we aren't going to spend eternity as disembodied ghosts (who would want that?), but as real flesh-and-blood human beings.
Sex does in fact matter, and there are essential, though complimentary, differences between men and women. If you have followed me so far, then you are ready for the next step: if sex is a matter of essence, and there are differences, isn't it possible, just maybe, that there is something in the essences of men and women that make it a good idea for God to pick men for the ordained priesthood and not to pick women?
The next installment will attempt to come up with some guesses for what these essential differences are. Stay tuned!