The Complementarity of Men and Women, Across the Religious Spectrum | Aurora C. Griffin | CWR
A review of Not Just Good, but Beautiful: The Complementary Relationship between Man and Woman, a compilation of speeches from the 2014 Humanum Conference
Those who are concerned about what Pope Francis might say at the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia will take heart when they read Not Just Good, but Beautiful: The Complementary Relationship between Man and Woman. To be released on September 21, this book is a compilation of speeches from the Humanum Conference, which was held in Rome in November 2014 to reflect on the complementarity of the two sexes. Pope Francis himself gave the opening remarks, which included unambiguous comments about the nature of marriage and family, such as “Children have the right to grow up with a father and a mother” (4).
Although speaking on behalf of the Church, the Pope was appealing to all people of good will who bear witness to the importance of marriage – for individuals, families, and societies. Accordingly, the conference included four hundred religious leaders and scholars from many traditions. The book reflects the diversity of the participants, with contributions from Jewish, Muslim, Baptist, Anabaptist, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Evangelical perspectives. Reflecting the central theme of the conference, these religions with significant differences come together to form a rich and varied chorus of voices. Nevertheless, the Church, because of the unique insights from her theological inheritance, is rightly the leader and conductor of this discussion.
The aspects of the discussion that are well suited to an interfaith approach derive from the common understanding of marriage as a reality in natural law. The complementarity of men and women and their desire to become one flesh is “written on our hearts” (Rom 2:15). In the words of Anglican theologian N.T. Wright: “Humans know in their bones that this is how we were meant to be” (94). It is a matter of men and women recognizing that truth and having the generosity to act on it. Catholic philosopher Sister Prudence Allen points out that most modern gender ideologies begin with our desires and end with us distorting reality to fit them. Instead, she suggests, we need a “vitalized Thomism” (58) based on a descriptive metaphysics that conforms the mind to reality. In this sense, any religion that postulates a divine “Other” to reckon with as the Creator of reality can agree. Thus, Cardinal Müller summarizes that in this conference, “Religions of the world together recognize that the truth of marriage is something written on the human heart by a loving Creator” (viii).
Because of their theological differences, the unified witness of the religions of the world is based largely on philosophical, biological, sociological, and psychological insights. Using these fields, they are able to build a fairly comprehensive view of how men and women work together with their different geniuses.