**Be warned: herein lies amateur (and probably uninformed) philosophy/theology. Use of long and/or technical words does guarantee knowledge or even a clue. I am writing this largely to work out my own thinking. Read at your own risk.**
I think I’ve said this before, but I have many opportunities, both because of where I live and my particular place of work, to rub shoulders with students and alumni of the JP II Institute at Catholic University.
My own education (college-wise) was at the hands of a Great Books program; my philosophical preferences are rooted in Plato and the ancients; my religious preferences are Catholic and Benedictine in outlook; my cultural preferences are traditional and Anglophile.
Today, I listened to a couple of JP II Institute/CUA types hold forth on “sexual difference.” The very term sets my teeth on edge and I would like to know where it originates. It does not, as far as I know, originate in Catholic teaching nor do I recall it from any philosophy I have read.
Anyway, the topic of “sexual difference” was under discussion in the context of the broader need for catechesis (of Catholics, primarily) on the Church’s teaching on marriage, and both of the two speaker spoke of “sexual difference” as something that modern day Catholics (and society in general) need to be persuaded of or argued into acknowledging.
This seems to me to undermine Catholic teaching on human beings, male and female and their relationship to God. It seems to me that “sexual difference” is axiomatic, both in Catholic teaching but also in reality. It simply is. To try to argue its truth is to undermine that fundamental point and to veer (as did both the people I listened to today) into the realm of defining sexual difference by conglomeration of biology and gender roles. By way of illustration: the way I understand Church teaching (and reality) is this: even if the male speaker in today’s conversation altered his way of dressing, his name, his role within his family, and underwent “gender reassignment” surgery, he would not be female. He would still be a (badly-mangled) man. No surgery, clothing, activity, or role can change a man into a woman.
It strikes me as a very poor method of catechesis to begin by trying to argue axioms. And it seems to me that trying to argue the existence of men and women as different ways of being human is to almost certainly stray into dualism (whereby human beings are not considered to be ensouled bodies, but some sort of uneasy hybrid of the material and spiritual.)
Much more disturbing to me (here take note: potential heresy alert as I venture into theological waters) is the implication I often hear from JPII types that being male or female makes a difference in how one relates to God. I cannot point out any specific danger in this implication, but it riles me on two fronts.
One, I think it fails to account for the vast, vast, vast gap between human beings and God. Sexual difference seems like a big deal to us because we can see the shared human nature of men and women very clearly- the similarities illuminate sexual difference. But we cannot see God clearly and we often (per Scripture) have difficulty acknowledging the vast gap between ourselves and God. Whatever difference being a man or being a woman might make in relationship with God must be infinitesimally small compared to the greater issue of being human in relation to the Divine.
Two, this assertion that men and women do or should relate differently to God because of their sex flies very much in the face of my own lived experience. I relate to God first and foremost as follower of St. Benedict. He, a man, relates to God in the way that most makes sense and comes most naturally to me. I cannot relate to God easily as a follower of St. Francis, nor St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, nor St. Therese of Liseaux, nor Theresa of Avila, etc, etc, etc. It seems clear to me that my “spiritual personality,” anyway, is not related to my sex.