At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news. . . . But Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfilment of joy at every child born into the world” — Pope St. John Paul II (Evangelium Vitae)
With those striking words St. John Paul II invites us to rediscover in our celebration of the Christmas season the profound dignity and meaning of human life. In almost every generation, however, the Church must face heresies or ideologies which attack the dignity of the human person and threaten to distort our very understanding of what it means to be human. Our generation is certainly no different.
One of the most pressing and pernicious ideologies in the West today is so-called “gender theory.” Like other dualist heresies the Church has faced, gender theory separates the body from the soul. While the proponents of gender theory may not use the terms “soul” and “spirit,” they nevertheless isolate the spiritual faculties of the soul—self-consciousness (reason) and self-determination (will)—from our physical bodies. Moreover, they believe our identity is located in and determined by the former without any necessary link to the latter. In other words, they believe that we can choose who we are without any necessary reference to our bodies.
The following quote from feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir will help us to grasp the anthropology at play here: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
While certainly not her intention, de Beauvior’s quote could be read in a way that is compatible with Christian anthropology: our lives are given to us as a task and a responsibility; whether we become an authentic woman or man is based on the various choices we make in our lives. In other words, there is an objective standard that determines what it means to be an authentic woman or man. And, as persons endowed with reason and will, we can either fail or succeed in our journey to become who God created us to be.
Gender theorists would, however, strenuously object to such an interpretation of de Beauvoir’s quote. Indeed, the very suggestion that there is an objective standard to which we must conform our lives and the very notion that we were “created to be” anything, is considered highly offensive—a denigration of our freedom and our capacity for self-determination. Gender theorists insist on an absolute and radical autonomy of the self with no constitutive link to objective truth. Theirs is quite simply the will to power: absolute self-creation and self-definition, with the freedom not only to create our own values, but to create our own selves.
There are, then, many serious problems with gender theory from the perspective of Christian anthropology. However, because gender theory and its vision of the human person are becoming so wide-spread and accepted even in Christian circles, I will limit my critique to a central component of this ideology in order to highlight what is most at stake.
As a rejection of the given, gender theory is necessarily a rejection of the Giver. At its core, this is a radically anti-Christian ideology and anthropology. As a rejection of the created order—that is, as a rejection of the body in its masculinity and femininity as constitutive of the human person’s identity as imago Dei—it is a rejection of the Creator, as well.
To highlight just how radically anti-Christian the ideology of gender theory is, let’s take a brief look at the Christian anthropology outlined by St. John Paul II in his theology of the body.
To take the Christmas mystery seriously—that is, to take the mystery of the Incarnation seriously—is necessarily to take the human body seriously. When the eternal Logos takes on flesh, he reaffirms the logos of the human body in its masculinity and femininity. As John Paul II taught, through the Incarnation “the body entered theology through the front door.”
Christ did not come as a pure spirit with the mere appearance of a body; nor did he come as an androgynous person. Rather, he came as a male-person. Jesus took on real human flesh and united his real human body and soul to his divine Person. The Incarnation, then, plunges its roots back to “the beginning,” back to the sacrament of creation. When the eternal Word became flesh, he reaffirmed the two fundamental words of his creation: male and female. And in reaffirming these two words of creation, these two ways of being human, Jesus reaffirms the sacramental function of the body: to bear the image of God in the visible cosmos through the dual-unity, the unity-in-difference of man and woman.
It is thus fitting that just as a man and woman stand at the origin of God’s creation, a new man and a new woman stand at the origin of God’s re-creation: the original Adam and Eve, with their pride and disobedience—are replaced by the New Adam (Jesus) and the New Eve (Mary), with their humility and obedience. And it this loving submission of the New Adam and the New Eve to the Father’s will that brings about our redemption: Mary’s, “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me”; And Jesus’ not regarding “equality with God something to be grasped” but rather “empty[ing] himself, taking on the form of a slave . . . becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
As part of Jesus’ one redemptive mission, the mystery of the Incarnation is intrinsically linked to the mystery of the Resurrection: that is, the Christmas mystery is tied to the Easter mystery. And it is Jesus’ redemptive mission—and italone—that brings to light the dignity and meaning of human life in its fullest sense: that we are called to participate in eternal union with God in the resurrection of the body. And just as the Incarnation reaffirmed the logos of the body in its masculinity and femininity in the sacrament of creation, Jesus’ Resurrection and Mary’s Assumption reaffirm the logos of the body in its masculinity and femininity in the sacrament of the redemption. That is, the human person will exist for all eternity in the dual-unity of male and female.
In trying to erase the “two words”—male and female—which are meant to image God and reveal his covenant love for humanity, gender theorists would also try to erase God, whether wittingly or not. Or perhaps, in more precise terms, in trying to erase the “three words” which are meant to reveal and image God—man(-husband-father), woman(-wife-mother) and child(-son-daughter)—gender theory would also try to erase the Trinity and Christ’s spousal love for the Church. For according to God’s plan, marriage between a man and a woman is meant to be a sacramental sign of the spousal love of Christ (the Bridegroom) for the Church (Bride); and the family founded on the spousal union of man and woman is meant to be an icon of the eternal communion of persons in the Trinity.
Gender theory, then, insists on rejecting the symbolism of the body in its masculinity and femininity. Interestingly, the term symbol comes from the Greeks words sym+ballein, which means “thrown together.” Thus, gender theorists are in fact trying to put asunder what God has joined together: the body, in its masculinity and femininity, as the visible sign of the invisible reality of who God is (an eternal communion of three divine persons) and the nature of his love for humanity (spousal—the love of the Bridegroom for the Bride).
In a real sense, then, gender theory is diabolic. The term diabolic comes from the two Greek words dia+ballein, which means to “throw apart” or “separate.” In Christian theology, the diabolic is that aspect of evil which tears apart and fractures. Gender theory tears apart the body and the soul; it fractures the personality and causes alienation between one’s identity and one’s body. It is, moreover, diabolic in a second sense. Gender theory enshrines as its first principle a Promethean will to power: it introduces a rivalry between God and man in that it presupposes the rejection of God and his created order—the given order of the body in its masculinity and femininity—as the precise precondition for the authentic exercise of freedom and self-realization.
In this way, gender theory would make the individual the exclusive measure of truth; in a word, it would make man God. This desire to become God or God-like is not, however, problematic in itself. God created the human person in his own image and, thus, the desire to be God-like is universal, because it has been placed in the human heart by God himself. The real problem, then, is that gender theorists propose a counterfeit God-likeness—a God-likeness that can be attained only by ridding ourselves of God, rejecting the order of his creation and becoming our own gods. In this way, gender theory takes on as its most basic theoretical form the logic of original sin, the logic of the sin of our first parents.
And, it is precisely for this reason that gender theory must be rejected as radically anti-Christian and as profoundly incompatible with Christian anthropology. In its place, the Christian must ground his or her desire to be like God according to the Christmas message: loving and humble submission to God’s will and design—Mary’s fiat and Jesus’ self-emptying kenosis.
(Editor’s note: This essay originally appeared on the CWR site on December 31, 2014.)