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Scapegoating and Idealization

Another fascinating bit from Daly’s Beyond God the Father is her analysis of the relation between scapegoating and idealization, both of which are instrumental to the subjection of women in Christianity. During her chapter on the idea of the Fall, she insists that the role of women as scapegoats for evil’s entrance into the world be taken seriously. Besides obviously shoring up male superiority, it also mystifies the nature of evil—and so distorts the way we try to combat it.

She builds on this in her chapter on Christology by tying it into the way Jesus functions as a very different kind of scapegoat: Jesus is a scapegoat who is also a model for our behavior. This complicates things. Daly definitely does not believe, in a Girardian way, that because Jesus is both a scapegoat and a model, scapegoating is somehow put to an end. It’s just that the scapegoating becomes more complicated and difficult to see.

What happens is that as a model, Jesus is split in two. On the one side, Jesus’ ideal qualities as a victim—“sacrificial love, passive acceptance of suffering, humility, meekness, etc.” (77)—are ascribed especially to women. Of course, women already are victims, and insisting on these virtues only reinforces their place on the sexual hierarchy. But what’s more, because these are now impossibly idealized, women can never be “good” enough to match up to them. (This is solidified by the fact that the ideal woman, Mary, is seen as literally inimitable–both in her virgin motherhood and in her sinlessness.) “Thus doomed to failure even in emulating the Victim, women are plunged more deeply into victimization” (ibid.). On the other side, the power embodied in Jesus’ victimhood—represented by the ritual offer of Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist—remains available, but is left solely in the hands of men.

Far from negating the role of women as scapegoats, the image of Jesus as the ideal scapegoat redoubles their subjection under the mystifying veil of their valorization. Women are asked to play the part of the self-sacrificial savior, but simultaneously, in their inevitable failure to measure up, are shown to be all the more in need of salvation—which they will again have to seek at the hands of men.

I think this is an extremely perceptive and troubling analysis. At the very least, Daly is giving me more concrete reasons to doubt that simple appeals to Jesus’ “feminism” or his identification with the oppressed are adequate indexes of the political meaning of those who make those appeals. She is certainly strengthening my conviction that the recent obsession with the celebration of the Eucharist as the one decisive political act is profoundly misguided, or at least very often naïve. Most unsettlingly, she’s convincing me that the fact of Jesus’ maleness poses a more difficult problem than I’ve usually been willing to admit.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Katie
    January 29, 2011 at 10:22 am

    This post is inspiring me to re-read Daly!

  2. January 29, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Brian, my CTS paper (Mysticism & Politics section) is on precisely the problem of this eucharistic obsession.

    • January 29, 2011 at 9:49 pm

      Oh, excellent. I’ll want to read that whenever you have it written. This has been really gnawing at me lately.

  3. Andy Buechel
    January 29, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    The point is well taken, but I wonder how much it holds in say, the Episcopal Church where women also preside at the altar. Since, in the logic Daly utilizes, this seems that women no longer have to appeal solely to men for their eucharistic salvation, is this is a circle that can be broken by a ‘simple’ change in church polity?

    • January 29, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      That’s a really good question. It obviously couldn’t apply in the same way. Probably even less in my own (Mennonite) tradition, where neither are women disallowed to ‘preside’ nor is the supper seen as specifically salvific. I’m pretty confident Daly wouldn’t be satisfied, but it would take a better mind than mine (and if Daly’s right, a whole different perspective) to see exactly how this works itself out elsewhere.

      She does repeatedly denigrate the claim of certain Protestant groups to allow the ordination of women as inadequate, but only says that they’re not really following through.

      I’m going to have to keep thinking about that.

    • January 29, 2011 at 10:12 pm

      Also, good to hear from you! It’s been a long time!

  4. Megan
    January 29, 2011 at 11:57 pm

    I’m pretty sure that Daly would have serious problems with thinking that women presiding has anything to offer. Daly calls for women to remove themselves from the patriarchal space in order to live on the boundary. I think Daly would argue that women participating in this way is actually women conforming themselves to an ecclesial system established only on the experience of men, while women need to reframe the whole discussion based on women’s experience. In fact, given what she says near the beginning of the book about tokenism “dulling the revolutionary impulse” she’d probably have some serious concerns.

    • Megan
      January 30, 2011 at 12:07 am

      I also don’t the she performs the method she’s calling for. So there’s also that.

      • January 30, 2011 at 8:19 am

        What do you mean?

      • Megan
        January 30, 2011 at 1:14 pm

        Well, she’s saying that everything should begin and end with “women’s experience” but as you noted in the comments of your other post she’s incredibly indebted to Tillich, and also other ideas from the tradition. So it’s not like (in this book) she’s actually moved out of the tradition to do what she’s saying women should do.

        Also, I take back part of what I said before. Daly would have problems with women presiding as I said above in terms of the whole MOVEMENT, but I’m not sure that’s right in terms of your post on the rejection of Jesus and scapegoating. Part of the failure of Jesus is that women don’t get to perform the parts of power, so I guess that issue wouldn’t be (as much of?) a problem if/when women women participated in official leadership in the churches?

    • January 30, 2011 at 12:08 am

      Thanks for that, Meg. That’s definitely right.

      • Megan
        January 30, 2011 at 12:40 am

        (I just read it for class myself)

  5. Andy Buechel
    January 30, 2011 at 9:33 am

    I’d agree that that’s how she’d respond, but that goes to a far deeper issue I have with Daly (at least later Daly). The very specific (and I’d say rigid) essentialism that she espouses between male and female seems to often attenuate, if not downright preclude, a common humanity. Men save men, women save women; there is no possibility of overlap. Thus, women can only ‘remove’ themselves from the patriarchal/masculine world and its traditions. Which, in my view is quite impossible, like removing oneself from history. To her credit though (at least in so far as consistency goes) I do think Daly tried to do this in her later years, but the attempt was never wholly successful (how could it be?). The work it produced is also frankly incomprehensible, at least to me. Of course, this might be precisely what she wanted.

    But this is one of the running fights between those who advocate a more queer position (like me) and more ‘mainstream’ (I can’t think of a better word, but that one’s highly inadequate) feminists as well. She’d doubtless think that all my position does is mask a male/patriarchal stance playacting as something else.

    And good to hear from you too Brian 🙂 Hope all’s well and you’re managing to keep your head above snow!

  6. Megan
    January 30, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    I actually have questions about how rigid that essentialism is Beyond God the Father. I don’t think it’s there, although apparently it’s much clearer in her later work. But in BGF, I’m not confident (as in it’s a live question for me) that she thinks that men save men, I kind of read her in that particular text as saying something like men need to listen to and be confronted by the “experience of women” in order to stimulate their own move into androgyny. Her understanding of gender still isn’t adequate, but I think her earlier work has a much more constructivist attitude than is usually given credit. But yeah, it is an impossible idea to fulfill it as much Daly seems to think it is.

  7. January 30, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Well, Daly by and large is more of a “women save women; who gives an expletive who saves men?” approach.

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