• "Mary Daly, radical feminist theologian and a mother of modern feminist theology, died Jan. 3 at the age of 81. She was one of the most influential voices of the radical feminist movement through the later 20th century. Daly taught courses in theology, feminist ethics and patriarchy at Boston College for 33 years." (National Catholic Reporter)Daly has been described in obits as an "uppity theologian," a "pioneering feminist," and even a "Catholic feminist." The latter surely would have angered Daly, who apparently was angered easily and who obviously hated the Catholic Church with the same irrational fury she had for most (if not all) men, "patriarchy," and, well, just about anyone or anything that didn't align with her views. Of course, none of this would matter too much if Daly hadn't been so influential. She was, I think it is safe to say, the central figure in the development of radical feminist "theology" in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and while her profile dropped significantly in the 1980s and 1990s, many of her basic ideas continued to shape and inform a new generation of feminists, even while many of them discarded or disregarded some of her more extreme stances and outlandish statements.
• "She challenged the patriarchy of the Roman Catholic church in her writings. She said she barred men from her class [at Boston College] because women did not freely exchange ideas with them present, though she did privately tutor men." (New York Times)
• "Mary Daly, the feminist theologian and philosopher, has died . She was an audaciously creative spirit; an awkwardly witty, deadly serious writer. She arguably did more to stretch what is possible to think in contemporary feminist theology than any other." (Mark Vernon, blogging for The Guardian)
• "Fiercely and playfully -- often at the same time -- Mary Daly used words to challenge the basic precepts of the Catholic Church and Boston College, where she was on the faculty for more than 30 years. ... 'She was a great trained philosopher, theologian, and poet, and she used all of those tools to demolish patriarchy -- or any idea that domination is natural -- in its most defended place, which is religion,' said Gloria Steinem." (Boston Globe)
I have no interest in speaking ill of the dead; the problem, however, is that Daly's writings are often so vile, hateful, angry, and incoherent, there's little good to say. And I wouldn't say anything at all except, again, her influence should not be ignored or forgotten. If nothing else, a little study of Daly shows us that the enemies of the Church often come from within, are often allowed to spread their diseased thinking from within institutions (Boston College) that should stand for truth and orthodoxy, and are not content to merely question this or that doctrine but desire a complete renunciation of the Tradition and a remaking of Christianity that has nothing to do with the Triune God, Jesus Christ, and authentic deposit of faith.
Frankly, having spent some time last night and this morning re-reading parts of two of her books, Beyond God the Father (1973) and Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), I was getting sick to my stomach. I imagine that would make Daly smile if she were still alive; by all account she thrived as upsetting and angering men and orthodox Christians. But, in case you're not familiar with her writings and think I am being sensational or overly sensitive, here are a few quotes from Daly's books and interviews:
• The beginning of liberation comes when women refuse to be "good" and/or "healthy" by prevailing standards. To be female is to be deviant by definition in the prevailing culture. To be female and defiant is to be intolerably deviant. This means going beyond the imposed definitions of "bad woman" and "good woman," beyond the categories of prostitute and wife. This is equivalent to assuming the role of witch and madwoman. (Beyond God the Father, 65-66)
• The catholic Mary is not the Goddess creating parthenogenetically on her own, but rather she is portrayed /betrayed as Total Rape Victim—a pale derivative symbol disguising the conquered Goddess. ... The rape of the rarefied remains of the Goddess in the christian myth is mind/spirit rape. In the charming story of "the Annunciation" the angel Gabriel appears to the terrified young girl, announcing that she has been chosen to become the mother of god. Her response to this sudden proposal from the godfather is totaled nonresistance: "Let it be done unto me according to thy word." Physical rape is not necessary when the mind/will/spirit has already been invaded. In refined religious rapism, the victim is impregnated with the Supreme Seminal Idea, who becomes "the Word made flesh." Within the rapist christian myth of the Virgin Birth the role of Mary is "utterly minimal; yet she is "there." She gives her unqualified "consent." (Gyn/Ecology, 84, 84)
• [Writing about abortion:] Males do indeed deeply identify with "unwanted fetal tissue," for they sense as their own condition the role of controller, possessor, inhabitor of women. Draining female energy, they feel "fetal." Since this perpetual fetal state is fatal to the Self of the eternal mother (Hostess), males fear women's recognition of this real condition, which would render them infinitely "unwanted." For this attraction/need of males for female energy, seen for what is is, is necrophilia—not in the sense of love for actual corpses, but love for those victimized into a state of living death. (Gyn/Ecology, 59).
• If life is to survive on this planet, there must be a decontamination of the Earth. I think this will be accompanied by an evolutionary process that will result in a drastic reduction of the population of males. (Interview with EnlightenNext magazine, Fall-Winter 1999)
• I suggest that the mechanism of reversal has been at the root of the idea that the "Antichrist" must be something "evil". What if this is not the case at all? What if the idea has arisen out of the male's unconscious dread that women will rise up and assert the power robbed from us? What if it in fact points to a mode of being and presence that is beyond patriarchy's definition of good and evil? The Antichrist dreaded by the Patriarchs may be the surge of consciousness, the spiritual awakening, that can bring us beyond Christolatry into a fuller stage of conscious participation in the living God. Seen from this perspective the Antichrist and the Second Coming of Women are synonymous. This Second Coming is not a return of Christ but a new arrival of female presence, once strong and powerful, but enchained since the dawn of patriarchy. Only this arrival can liberate the memory of Jesus from enchainment to the role of "mankind's most illustrious scapegoat." The arrival of women means the removal of the primordial victim, "the Other," because of whom "the Son of God had to die." When no longer condemned to the role of "savior," perhaps Jesus can be recognizable as a free man. It is only female pride and self-affirmation that can release the memory of Jesus from its destructive uses and can free freedom to be contagious. The Second Coming, then, means that the prophetic dimension in the symbol of the great Goddess—later reduced to the "Mother of God"—is the key to salvation from servitude to structures that obstruct human becoming. (Beyond God the Father, 96)• I have already suggested that if God is male, then the male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed to live on in the human imagination. The process of cutting away the Supreme Phallus can hardly be a merely "rational" affair. The problem is one of transforming the collective imagination so that this distortion of the human aspiration to transcendence loses its credibility. (Beyond God the Father, 19)
• I'm trying to name something that can only be recognized by women who are seizing back our power. But the words have been stolen from us—even though perhaps they were originally our words—they're our words, but they've been reversed and twisted and shrunken. I see myself as a pirate, plundering and smuggling back to women that which has been stolen from us. But it hasn't simply been stolen; it's been stolen and reversed. For example, the christian trinity is the triple goddess reversed. The trinity is aptly described as a closed triangle. It doesn't go anywhere. It's clonehood. (Interview with EnlightenNext magazine, Fall-Winter 1999)
• The "gentle Jesus" who offers the faithful his body to eat and his blood to drink is playing Mother Goddess. And of course this fetal-identified male behind this Mother Mask is really saying: "Let me eat and drink you alive." This is no mere crude cannibalism but veiled vampirism. (Gyn/Ecology, 81)
• As I wrote in Gyn/Ecology: all patriarchal religions are patriarchal—right? They take different forms. What would I think? There's nothing to think about. It has taken another form—seductive, probably, because christianity is so overtly warlike and abusive. And furthermore, I don't know what "enlightened" means. It's not a word that's in my vocabulary. This is like a christian woman being upset over something that Paul said, instead of seeing that of course he's an asshole. He's one more very macho asshole described as a saint and as enlightened, and once you get over that, you get over it. You see it for what it is and you don't worry about why he would say such a thing. Of course he would say such a thing. That's what he is. It's really extremely simple. Stop wrestling with it; it's not interesting. Get out of it. That would be my approach to it. Misogynists! Hateful! All of them! I studied them. And finally I just didn't try to reason with it anymore. Boston College was most enlightening to me. The experience of being fired for writing The Church and the Second Sex introduced me to the idea that it's not going to change. That's the way it is—leave it. (Interview with EnlightenNext magazine, Fall-Winter 1999)
There is much, much more, but that should suffice as a small taste of Daly's madness. And it is madness. I would even suggest that it is demonic in content. This madness is described and analyzed in some Ignatius Press books over the years, most notably What Will Happen to God? Feminism and the Reconstruction of Christian Belief (1988), by William Oddie; Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism (1991), by Donna Steichen; The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (1992), edited by Helen Hull Hitchcock; and God or Goddess? Feminist Theology: What Is It? Where Does it Lead? (1995), by Manfred Hauke.
The following further information about Daly and her thought is drawn from those works.Daly was born in 1928, into an Irish Catholic family in New York. She attended Catholic schools and then earned doctorates in sacred theology and philosophy from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. She received her Bachelors in English from The College of Saint Rose, her Masters in English from The Catholic University of America, and also had a doctorate in religion from St. Mary's College. She was, Fr. Hauke states, the first American woman to receive a doctorate in Catholic theology. Her first book, The Church and the Second Sex (1968) drew upon the thought of Simone de Beauvoir, Rosemary Ruether, Betty Friedan, Bernard Häring, Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Tillich, Hans Küng, Gregory Baum, and Harvey Cox, among others. It declared the Church to be "misogynist" and attacked traditional notions of God, the Incarnation, sin, and salvation. She expressed an especially strong dislike for Gertrud von le Fort's book, The Eternal Woman (soon to be republished by Ignatius Press).
Not surprisingly, Daly advocated birth control and wrote of the "moral ambiguity and complexity" of abortion. The Jesuit-run Boston College sought to dismiss her after the book's publication, but students of the then all-male school protested and the administration relented. Ironically, she would eventually be forced into retiredment by the school thirty years later when she refused to allow male students into her classes (she later sued the school and won a monetary settlement). Her 1973 book, Beyond God the Father was an open renunciation of Christianity, with open denial and attacks upon every basic tenet of Catholicism. Later works revealed her rejection of theism; following the thought of A.N. Whitehead and influenced by Tillich, she adopted a form of pantheism/panintheism.
While initially enthusing about androgyny, she later called the term "vacuous" and emphasized that genders are completely artificial constructs of patriarchal societies (she preferred the term "gynocentric"). Daly promoted "eco-feminism" and openly advocated lesbianism and witchcraft. She wrote of the "Courage to Blaspheme" and the "Courage to Sin". In 1990 she gave an address at St. Rose's College (Albany, NY) titled, "Be-Witching: Recalling the Courage to Sin," during which she mocked the second coming of Christ and encouraged those present to sing, "O come, let us ignore him." Her later works—Pure Lust (1984), Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (with Jane Caputi, 1987), Outercourse (1992), and Quintessence (1998)—were increasingly incoherent and fragmented in nature, and even her admirers admitted how difficult she was to understand and to like (one feminist blogger wrote, after Daly's death: "I didn't like her," while another lamented her "transphobia.")
Daly's best known phrase—a summation of her essential perspective—was, "Since God is male, the male is God" (first appearing in "The Qualitative Leap Beyond Patriarchal Religion"; Quest 1, 1974). Roland Mushat Frye, in a chapter titled, "On Praying 'Our Father': The Challenge of Radical Feminist Language for God," (The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (1992), ed.Helen Hull Hitchcock; pp 209-228), wrote, "Like most slogans, this one minimized evidence while increasing conviction, and it has served as a powerful rallying cry for radical feminism. ... Through her writings, [Daly] probably contributed as much as anyone to establishing the radical feminist attitude toward traditional Christian language for God."
Frye notes, however, that the slogan "runs contrary to the evidence. Neither the bible nor the Christian and Jewish traditions have ever taught that God is male, and, in terms both explicit and implicit have repeatedly denied that he is. In this, both the Christian and Jewish traditions stand in stark opposition to pagan and gnostic religions which recognized a host of 'genital gods', or dii genitales, as Cicero's Roman contemporaries called them." He points out that "the most dramatic refutation" of any identification of God as a male is found in Deuteronomy 4:16-17: "Therefore take good heed to yourselves. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female..." God's fatherhood "does not consist in sexual generation," Fry observes, "but in his calling of them to be his chosen people, and his adoption of them by his grace."
May the gracious Father of all have mercy on Mary Daly. Requiescat in pace.
UPDATE: A bit more from a piece in the New York Times:
Daly wrote about her intellectual formation in a 1996 article in the New Yorker ''Sin Big,'' in which she recalled being mocked by a male classmate, and altar boy, at her parochial school because she could never ''serve Mass'' because she was a girl.Rage and hate. Sad.
''(T)his repulsive revelation of the sexual caste system that I would later learn to call 'patriarchy' burned its way into my brain and kindled an unquenchable Rage,'' she wrote.
Daly described herself as a pagan, an eco-feminist and a radical feminist in a 1999 interview with The Guardian newspaper of London. ''I hate the Bible,'' she told the paper. ''I always did. I didn't study theology out of piety. I studied it because I wanted to know.''