Former atheist & theologian Niamh M. Middleton has recently her new compelling book Jesus and Women: Beyond Feminism. This in-depth read gives a refreshing perspective on how the Bible depicted women in the New and Old Testament and how man has morphed thai idea over time. She says Jesus is too a feminist!
The Irish native discusses how in which evolutionary biology, feminism and the #MeToo movement can expand upon the first three chapters of Genesis.
She also references how through the tragic death of Princess Diana and how she is an archetypal example of why Christianity must be reclaimed by its female members. She wants to empower women to reclaim themselves in Christ and get back to how God intended women to be and be seen and treated. This book is relevant to the issues being discussed today and addresses what should be corrected about the course that Christianity has taken since Biblical times.
Q: Niamh, thank you for doing this interview with us. Let's start with yourself: you were an atheist, how did you become a Christian?
As an Irish person I was of course brought up as a Catholic. I lost faith at the age of 14, due to what I now realize was a seriously flawed religious education programme that focused on the male church hierarchy and the rote learning of dogma rather than on the Bible. My journey back began when, as a primary school teacher, it was an important part of my job to teach religious education to young people. I was surprised to discover that a new religious education programme had replaced the old in the wake of Vatican
It was a biblically focused, beautifully illustrated set of texts that told stories from the life of Jesus and portrayed him as the children's friend. As a result, I enrolled in a part-time evening course in Catholic religious education to find out the rationale behind the new biblical emphasis. The course included biblical theology, which led to my reading of the Gospels for the first time.
As a feminist and atheist, I will never forget my initial shock at encountering a Jesus who had a revolutionary attitude towards women that not only transcended time and place but was also strikingly at odds with the ethos of the Church in which I was brought up. My reading of the Gospel texts caused me to have a born-again experience and propelled me into a full-time study of theology that transformed me into a feminist theologian.
Q: Congratulations on your new book Jesus and Women: Beyond Feminism. Briefly, what is it about?
The purpose of my book is to show how a combination of insights from evolutionary biology, feminism and the #MeToo movement highlights the revolutionary attitude of Jesus towards women in a new way. These insights facilitate a fascinating comparison of the treatment and depiction of women in the Old and New Testaments that illuminates the way forward for women both in the Church and society. They also have the potential to greatly enrich our understanding of Jesus' divinity.
Q: Feminism is a controversial subject in the church. Can you clarify what it means?
Women have always been treated as the 'second sex' in society and in the institutional church. Feminism as a movement arose in the West and has gained significant rights and freedoms for Western women in comparison to the women of other cultures. Interestingly, there are Christian theologians who argue that the rights and freedoms gained by women in the Christian West are due to the revolutionary attitude of Jesus towards women.
The status of women in the early church reflected their treatment by its founder; in the Pauline church communities women shared the same ministries as those of men. This situation dramatically regressed when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire although unlike in other religions, women were never segregated from men but were allowed into churches with them. It's argued by theologians that equal female participation in church masses and services worked its way outwards into secular Christian societies and eventually resulted in the emergence of feminism.
The secular Christian world is now ahead of institutional Christianity as regards female status, which has led to a massive fall-off in female church attendance. However, as I now argue in my book, while political feminism can tackle the symptoms of the perennial 'battle of the sexes', only a revolution of grace can bring about a full restoration of the harmony between the sexes described in Genesis.
Q: How did God view women? Do you think man has convoluted this over time?
In Genesis, God gives males and females equal dominion over creation and they are depicted as living in harmony with one another, with creation and with God. As I show in my book, it's clear from the teaching and example of Jesus, that the restoration of the harmony and equality between the sexes, which were lost due to the disobedience of God by the first humans, was an important part of his mission. Another major aim of my book is to explain why the male-dominated church's treatment of women contrasts so strongly with that of its founder. I also show how institutional Christianity has misrepresented and distorted Jesus' revolutionary treatment of women.
Q: You reference the #MeToo movement to highlight the revolutionary attitude of Jesus towards women, how so?
While in the West (by which I mean Catholic and Protestant Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand) women have gained significant rights and freedoms, the recent #MeToo movement has demonstrated that we still have a long way to go. Indeed, it could be argued that the freedoms we have gained have brought us to a phase in our journey towards equality that, thanks to #MeToo, permits deeper insights than were possible before into the patriarchal power structures of society that facilitate female oppression and sexual coercion.
In addition, the relatively new discipline of evolutionary biology can shed light on how and why these structures evolved in a way that expands on Genesis. Our hard-won freedoms, combined with new insights into the evolution of patriarchy, facilitate a perspective on the Gospels that reveals how Jesus's unique treatment of women was grounded in his divine consciousness and agape ('unconditional love'), the highest form of love.
Q: How will your new book help women (and also men) understand more of God's plan for women?
I argue that in order to understand God's plan for women fresh interpretations of the Bible by contemporary women, guided by feminist theologians, will be necessary. Their capacity for greater understanding of the divinity of Jesus will also deepen their understanding of why his female disciples appreciated his messiahship and ministry in a way that eluded his male disciples. The pre-resurrection appreciation and understanding of Jesus by his female disciples can now be unleashed into Christianity by a grassroots movement of female Christians that will transform their treatment by the male church. It will also increase Christian understanding of the relevance of the divinity and sacrifice of Jesus for Christian living in a way that will of course impact equally on men.
Q: Where can we learn more about you, purchase the book and follow your journey?
The book is available on Amazon. To learn more about me and follow my journey, check into my author website (niamhmiddletonauthor.com), and my social media accounts. I have a Facebook author page (Niamh M. Middleton), an Instagram account, and a Twitter account (@briemma).