Essay, Research Paper: Christian Ethics And Feminism


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In Feminism And Christian Ethics, Lisa Sowle Cahill argues that feminist ethics
has much to offer Catholicism. For one, the main issues that concern feminist
ethics are basically the same ones that make up Catholic identity. That is, how
women and men define themselves in society, what means are available to them for
attaining their ends- in short inter personal and social relations. Second, the
founding principles that guide feminist ethics are rooted in the tradition of
natural law, a tradition well known to Catholicism. So, while the approach of
feminist ethics has been to scrutinize traditions which seek to oppress women by
supporting unequal social structures, the guiding principles behind feminist
ethics still remain well lodge in natural law. As Cahill says, it is in the
founding principles of natural law where feminist ethics and Catholicism meet.
And it is also here where lies the main contribution of feminist ethics for the
future of Catholicism. Cahill shows us, how recent studies done on Aquinas’
natural law disclose that Aquinas based his ethics on very general principles.
That is to say, Aquinas understood the complexity of life, and, unlike what most
believe, he was cautious about generating a rigid ethics that would oppress
individuals. Aquinas believed that moral discourse to be truly ethical must
first and most importantly begin with an understanding of the structures of
society and the culture under which individuals live. Hence, Aquinas looked
forward to developing a contextual ethics, and was cautious about generating the
types of absolutes and universal principles that were later integrated into his
theology. Although, Aquinas believed that universals were still possible, he
nevertheless, believed that these could only come after considering everything
that makes up human existence. Thus, given Aquinas’ understanding of society
as a vehicle that brings people together to strive for the common good, a
reconciliation is very plausible in this area. As Cahill says, natural law
beyond all things believes in reasonableness and objectivity, which is basically
the same understanding that guides feminist ethics. Feminists, argue for
freedom, but only in so far as the common good avoids considering social
dynamics and inter-personal relations. Apart from rejecting unequal relations
that arise from not taking into consideration what makes up human existence,
feminists, like the natural law tradition, believe that a common good is worth
pursing. So, while on the outset feminists may look like as if they are breaking
away from Catholicism, they are in fact much closer to Catholicism than one may
think. As new challenges bring the Church to question its ethics and as women
and men seek new identities, feminist ethics can help Catholicism make the
transition so that the challenges of modern society can be meet. I enjoyed
reading Lisa Cahill’s essay. She brought me to see Aquinas’ ethics in a new
way. I believe that Cahill makes an important contribution to Christianity by
showing us that it is possible to remain within tradition all while progressing.
Often I find myself thinking if Christianity will ever be able to survive
considering its rigid ethics. However, as Cahill so eloquently showed me, it is
possible. The renewal interest in natural law is showing us that we can continue
to press forward while remaining in touch with our Christian background.
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