Sr. Prudence Allen: Our Inheritance from God
Q: Can you explain the difference between gender reality and gender ideology? Also, can you explain why the Catholic church has a person’s best interest at heart in taking this position?
A: To answer this question, we need to consider how we come to know the truth. Saint John Paul II provides a good starting place for us:
“Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” Fides et ratio. Introduction
What does faith reveal about gender identity?
Genesis 5:1-32 (c. 1400-900BC) reveals through faith that the root of generation or gen means ‘to beget.’ It refers to several generations of Adam’s direct descendants who were born from the union of father and mother generation after generation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church #2393 emphasizes the equality and differentiation of man and woman as a gift of God: “By creating the human being man and woman. God gives personal dignity to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his [or her] sexual identity.”
What does reason discover about sex identity?
One of the earliest and most important Greek philosophers, Aristotle, used reason and observation of the senses in his Generation of Animals (c. 350BC) to define the male as having the power to generate in another and the female as having the power to generate in the self. The union of the male and female sexes is inherent within the root of generation, or gen.
Aristotle also realized that philosophy of nature describes what is ‘always or for the most part’ true. There are exceptions in nature which occur. But these exceptions, which today continue to occur, do not destroy the rule that “99.9% of human beings are born unabiguously male or female.” (See Edward Furton, Ethics and Medics, Volume 42, Number 7 (July 2017):1-4 here 3.)
At the same time, being an exception to nature is a source of suffering for the persons afflicted, and an invitation to genuine love and compassion from others. An excellent example of this kind of compassion is found in a recently published article by Lawrence Mayer, Ph.D. and Paul McHugh, M.D., “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,” in The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, No 50 (Fall 2016):1-116 especially Part Three: Gender Identity, 86-113 and Conclusion 114-116.
Further historical clarifications of philosophy, science, and faith about sex and gender
Aristotle’s theory of generation did not recognize that women’s fertile contribution of seed to generation occurred through ovulation and that man’s contribution involved numerous seeds. Science, which is self-correcting over time, eventually confirmed how human generation works as we know today. (See Allen, The Concept of Woman, III: 5-10)
While Aristotle did mention in the Rhetoric that Protagoras classified words into masculine, feminine, and neuter categories, the neuter category referred not to human beings but to inanimate things.
Therefore, it is clear that the root of the word ‘gender’ or gen meaning to beget through union of male and female belongs to the western tradition of faith revealed in the Book of Genesis and to reason through the works of Aristotle from the beginning.
What is the difference between Gender Reality and Gender Ideology?
Gender Reality describes how the world really is. It bases gender identity on an integral whole person, woman or man, who includes a respective sex identity as female or male. The individual human person is a hierarchal ordered living soul/body composite being, whose higher systems organize lower organs, cells, molecules, atoms. When persons have some ambiguity in the relation of their human sexual nature to their gender, their suffering is real and calls for a response of love and respect. But they do not destroy gender reality.
More recent philosophers who describe women and men within the framework of gender reality include Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand, Jacques and Raissa Maritain, St. Edith Stein/Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Bernard Lonergan, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Mounier, GEM Anscombe, MA Krapiec, Norris Clarke, and Karol Wojtyla/St. John Paul II. Collectively, they integrate western philosophy, the developments of science, with the Catholic faith. (See e.g, Allen, The Concept of Woman III: 369-373).
Gender Ideology seeks to change the way we think about human identity, sex identity, and gender identity. Gender Ideology changes Gender Reality in two ways. First, it breaks up the unity of the hierarchical structure of a living human being into multiple parts, sexes, or genders such as chromosomal sex, gonadal sex, physiological sex, morphological sex, behavioral sex. Second, it adds into the mix various forms of sexual activities. The results are claims of eight, ten, fifteen different sexes or genders, etc.
All ideologies have two basic characteristics: they ignore the facts and they harm the innocent. Gender ideology began with the sex ideology of Alfred Kinsey and merged with the gender ideology of John Money to become a sex/gender ideology. Both of these academics used deceptive methods of research and dissemination of results to promote a false understanding of the human being as a collection of various separate parts, sexes, or genders. This ideology also further harms children and adults by its promotion of pornography. (See Allen, The Concept of Woman III:398-407)
Gender Ideology ‘went viral’ when secular feminists like Margaret Mead, Kate Millett, and Marxist feminist Gayle Rubin spread the ideology in academic textbooks, the National Organization of Women (NOW), and attempts to redefine gender through United Nations Conferences on Women. (See Allen, The Concept of Woman III:408-416)
The Gender Ideology Virus has been well documented by Catholic Journalists and authors. It harms women, men, and children especially during the latent period of their development. It harms vocations to Catholic marriage and the family; it harms vocations to men’s and women’s forms of religious life; and it harms vocations to the ordained priesthood.
The best way to ransom the true meaning of Gender is to use the word ‘gender’ in the sense of gender reality, which is ‘always or usually’ how women and men, girls and boys are distinguished. As we stated at the outset, the two pathways of faith and reason, reveal the truth that the root of gender or ‘gen’ implies the sexual union of a woman and a man. This meaning belongs to us as our inheritance from the beginning as a gift of God. So, if we come to know the truth about ourselves, we will discover the particular vocation that God had in mind when He created each one of us, and through our lives of service to God and one another come at the moment of our death to the fullness of truth within the communion of saints. This is why the Catholic Church has a person’s best interest at heart in taking this position.