This is from an article in Religion Dispatches, featuring two historians, Thomas Laqueur and Virginia Burrus, discussing Todd Akin’s rape/pregnancy comments in the context of theology and church history.
Dr. Laqueur studies the history of sexuality, and was asked a question about understandings of orgasm and conception and how they’ve evolved over time. The question:
Dr. Laqueur, you open your book Making Sex with the story of an “interpretive chasm” separating two versions of the same story; the first told in 1752 and the second in 1836. A monk is told to keep watch over the body of a girl whose family believes has recently died, but instead forces himself upon her sexually. In the morning, it turns out that she is not dead, but was just in a coma. In due course it becomes clear that she is pregnant.
In the 1752 version it is assumed that the monk must have known she was alive, because she could not have conceived without experiencing some sort of evident sexual pleasure. In the 1836 version, the story is meant to show just the opposite: that, for women, orgasm is irrelevant for conception.
You go on to argue that this interpretive chasm exists because of two different understandings of sexual difference: a one-sex model in which women are somewhat unfortunately rearranged men (so, being the same, all parties must experience evident sexual pleasure in order to conceive) and a two-sex model in which women are the opposite of men in every sense (in which case a woman’s orgasm is irrelevant). What should we make of the fact that Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” seem to evoke the one-sex model? Is this representative of wider cultural trends?
From Virginia Burrus:
Certainly classical trinitarianism tends to suppress the maternal role, with its focus on the begetting Father and the only-begotten Son who is the perfect image of that Father. (The ambiguously-gendered Holy Spirit hovers in the wings.) The Virgin Mary brings the maternal back into the theological picture, one might say, especially in so-called Alexandrian traditions that emphasize the union of human and divine natures in Christ in such a way that Mary may be seen not only as the mother of the human but also the “God-bearer” or “Theotokos.”
However, Calvinist and other Reformation traditions reject the veneration of Mary and are inclined to see her as the mother of the human but not of the God. I rehearse these well-known theological doctrines to point out that the Christian theological tradition may collude in the downplaying of the maternal figure, who becomes a mere receptacle for male insemination. Thus, Akin is quick to protect the rights of the unborn child, who should not be “punished,” and [he] will in the case of rape insist on punishment of the father, or rapist, but he does not seem to focus on what this means for the sexually violated involuntary mother. It seems she is expected to say, like Mary in Luke’s Gospel when the angel Gabriel announces her unexpected pregnancy, “Let it be unto me according to your word.” [1:38] (emphasis mine)
I can’t believe I’ve never connected this before. The discourse around abortion in the United States frequently ignores the actual person carrying the fetus, or somehow minimizes her role (I’d recommend this post on Love, Joy, Feminism–there’s a rigorous discussion about this topic over there right now). Yes, the Catholic Church also opposes abortion, but could these attitudes be prevalent among Calvinist-influenced/highly conservative Protestants because the role of Mary is severely minimized? This is an excerpt from a post by Sierra on No Longer Quivering, a site dedicated to people who’ve left the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement:
But despite the easy targets of commercialism, Santa Claus and the Winter Solstice date, the real enemy that the Message faced was the glorification of the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.
William Branham had a vendetta against Mary. Mary-worship signalled all that was wrong with the Catholic Church, and the Protestant denominations were seen as merely watered-down versions of the original sinful mess: the harlot daughters of the Whore of Babylon. “Mary was just an incubator,” my pastor often said, quoting numerous sermons by ‘Brother’ Branham. “It’s the man who makes the seed, the woman just incubates it. The life is in the blood, and the blood comes from the male.” (That idea comes from Aristotle. I hate that our culture has incubated it for so long.)
[The following is a quote from the preacher William Branham.]
“You Catholic people that call Jesus, or call Mary, rather, the mother of God, how can God have a mother when He’s eternal? He can’t have a mother. Jesus was not even anything to Mary, but He was just… She was an incubator that hatched Him.
Well, they always believed, and I had an idea of it myself years ago that the–the immaculate conception was that God overshadowed her and put a blood cell in there, but the egg come from the woman. If the egg come from the woman, there has to come a sensation to bring the egg through the tube to the womb. See what you do with God? You make Him in a sexual mess. God, Who created the blood cell, created the egg also…
Just like you take the eagle and let it lay an egg, and put it under the hen; the hen will hatch the egg; she’s only the incubator. But there isn’t one speck about it, the eagle, that’s a chicken. … It’s the warmth of the body that hatched the egg. And that’s the same way it is with Jesus. Mary was just the incubator. God used her like He does any other woman. She was a virgin; she’d had no children. He come into a virgin womb, but God the Creator made both egg and germ: created it. Therefore, it was immaculate conception.
She wasn’t His mother; she was a incubator. God could’ve used something else, but He wanted to take the very lowest and show what He could do with it, raise it up, and make something out of nothing, that’s God.”
Appalling, no? This might seem extreme, and most people wouldn’t express themselves so bluntly. And I’m sure plenty of conservative Christians would be baffled and angered by Branham’s beliefs. But Christianity is a religion founded on a father-son relationship, and Protestantism largely erases the maternal relationship and downgrades Mary’s divinity. At least Catholicism kept the Mother of God. My hypothesis is that Catholic arguments against abortion talk about the women involved more than do Protestant arguments, which appear to largely focus on the fetus. Maybe I’ll even get around to testing that hypothesis.