pope

Posted on February 11, 2013 by Ruth O’Brien

The Los Angeles Times described Pope Benedict XVI’s retirement as “extraordinary,” since the last pope to leave office alive did it in 1415.  Hearing about Benedict has got me thinking about choice, and the lack of choice that women, girls, and boys have under neotribalism, and how all religions must stop keeping the weak and vulnerable in the dark.

I was a baby born into violence. Though not a child of rape or war, I had the misfortune of being thrown through a glass window before I could walk, talk, or crawl (though I think I could sit up; not sure about this, since everyone who was there is gone). So I have a difficult time with trust, and it took me 40 years to figure out why; the reasons have been difficult to unravel.

Neotribalism is a term I redefined in my own way to emphasize that it makes no difference which tribe and which male leader — we should equate all male tribes, from mullahs to Mormon bishops, like Mitt Romney once was, that deny the rights of women and children and stand behind religious values that use human dignity as a way of promoting religious intolerance and denying women and girls rights over their bodies. When comparing various types of fundamentalism, most people focus on the differences among them. To be sure, honor killings are not the same as denying women their reproductive rights. And while I acknowledge those differences, I redefine the term neotribalism as a means of understanding the assumptions they share — patriarchal rule on top of reasserting the primacy of the patriarch in the private sphere (the family).

Denying women the right to choose, and especially endorsing an outlier position by saying that raped girls and women should not have the right to choose, shares these two fundamental assumptions with the honor killings that fundamentalists in the Middle East argue are Islamic: They both assert patriarchal rule, and they both assert that a man’s rights to exploit women within the private sphere should be protected by the public sphere (as opposed to the Violence Against Women Act, now approaching a vote in the Senate, which protects women against such violence in public and private).  I do not support Benedict’s or the Catholic Church’s position on women in the priesthood, abortion, or birth control, and their refusal to let childless couples and childless people use fertility treatment.

All this got me thinking about the difference a pope makes.  Whereas Pope John Paul II attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 2004, giving great support to the UN and many developing nations, extending a hand to those in great need, Benedict’s emphasis on human dignity, without featuring women’s and girls’ rights or the idea that a nation-state can pass laws that are not consonant with Christian values, has only solidified polarization between the secularists and those who believe.  Benedict incites Christian values to end the “dictatorship of relativism.”  What is more, he has strained relations with Islam and Judaism, often being accused of insensitivity.  And as I indicated in an earlier blog I’d like to flog,“father doesn’t know best.”

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