Women in Apologetics: Not a Revolution

This morning during my routine troll of Twitter for work, I stumbled on an article from Christianity Today titled “Meet the Women Apologists.” Since apologetics is one of my pet subjects, I clicked on the link and read with interest. The article began with the story of Holly Ordway, a well-educated woman who had regarded Christianity as “superstitious.” During a conversation about a Narnia film, she had an aha moment.

“I discovered it was possible to think rationally about the faith.”

Ta-da. The rest of the article continues in the same vein: woman discovers brain, woman uses brain to learn and teach, woman brings heart to work with brain via apologetics, woman therefore changes apologetics by not being a man in a male dominated field. Brilliant.

Obviously, I have some problems with the tone of this article, but I can’t blame the writer completely. The problems with the article’s premises about women do not simply come from the author’s own bias. Instead, they are created and furthered by the people the article is about.

Lee Strobel, a man and a member of the apologetics faculty featured in the article, is also the famous Christian author of the book The Case for Christ. He described the women’s “new” involvement as “cutting across gender and racial barriers.” A woman in the faculty characterized her colleagues’ contributions as “bring[ing] a deep relational intelligence” to the discipline. Ordway discussed the differences between men and women in apologetics, warning that leaving apologetics defined as propositional (something men prefer, apparently) would “shut out women as well as men with artistic temperaments.” Oh and by the way, women are more empathetic than men, like to discuss culture more, and are the “last frontier” of apologetics because no on is writing for them.

These are all things that the people highlighted by the article say and all of them have a common theme: stereotypes. The stereotypes that Christianity has been peddling about men and women are so overwhelmingly present in these people’s comments that it is hard to get past it. Men are more rational, women are more empathetic. The intellectual nature of apologetics precludes women because of their sensitive nature, as well as men who might have a feminine side. The rational debate and discussion of apologetics currently being discussed isn’t for women, it’s not written for them, because, presumably, it is too intellectual and propositional for women to care about.

So much for being revolutionary.

The fact is that women have been interested in apologetics for years and years and years. I, as a woman, have loved apologetics from a very young age. As a teenager, I read Anselm’s proof that God exists with relish, along with many other apologetics tomes. Obviously, I’m not the only one. Ordway, at the very beginning of the article, was converted through an intellectual attraction to Christianity. The other women in the article portray a similar intellectual grasp that apparently makes them, what, manly? As the mannish person that I am, maybe I have an excuse for being interested in the masculine propositional nature of apologetics, but what is their excuse?

Other than the sexism in the article, the other problem is the complete lack of historical consciousness. Women are only just now making their way into apologetics? What about the long history of women writing important theological and apologetic works in the early church? St. Hildegard of Bingen comes immediately to mind, being as she is a Doctor of the Church, along with Catherine of Siena, St. Therese of Lisieux, Theresa of Avila, and my favorite, Anselm.

Once again, we have an attempt by certain parts of Christianity to address its “women problem” by showing how inclusive they are. Sadly, it just reveals that Christianity still has the same problem of sexism it did before. In this article, women have not reached some kind of equality with men in the field of apologetics. They are still marked out by their very nature as women as “different” or as somehow less than intellectual. They cannot simply be philosophical or smart or “propositional.” They have to be “relational,” as if a woman’s value rests solely on her ability to actually care about other people. Oh, and if a man displays that same ability, he is “artistic,” a term which is used to describe effeminate gay men and is considered a nicer way of saying “pansy.”

And who is to blame for these mistaken perceptions of rationality and apologetics as male domains? Apparently, women, as Cain Travis, a member of the faculty, tells us:

“Women have this misperception that theology and apologetics are something men do.”

Really? They do?

Beyond blanket statements like this, no one is asking the very important question of why women are apparently so uninterested in rational debate. They simply take it for granted. Meanwhile, their own involvement in the field belies their assumptions about women. They assume that they are unusual women, not that women are exactly like them and merely lack the opportunities they have had.

This article is the worst kind of pandering and it is intellectually lazy as well. Apparently none of the women in the article have examined their underlying assumptions about their own natures, but have accepted the long-overused patriarchal vision of women as a lesser other. Women in apologetics? That’s not a revolution. It’s not even unprecedented. Hildegard of Bingen is offended by your stupidity. And so am I.

 

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