Saturday, 12 November 2011

Times: Dualism hinders gender emancipation

Fr Mark Montebello

It is only a matter of time before the Church becomes more open to gay rights and sex before marriage but first the idea that the body is separate from the soul has to change, according to Dominican Fr Mark Montebello.

The most sickening church sermons are those you hear during funerals...
- Kristina Chetcuti

"The most sickening church sermons are those you hear during funerals, about how the soul has left the body and that the soul can live without the body and lots of superstitions that we can communicate with dead," Fr Montebello said.

The friar, renowned for his controversial remarks, was spe-aking at a public lecture, entitled Holy But Unequal: The Impact Of Religion On Gender, held at the Osborne Hotel, Valletta, last week.

Fr Montebello was transferred to Mexico for three months last year following articles he wrote about divorce and paedophilia. The year before that he had been disciplined by his superior in Malta for "offending the sentiments of the Maltese" after he said he believed Jesus was in favour of divorce and that crucifixes did not need to be "flaunted" in public buildings.

Fr Montebello said at the lecture that the constant fight between religion and mentality oppressed religion itself and kept society from progressing.

He said this stemmed from the concept of dualism – the separation of the spiritual from the physical, a notion that originated with the Greek philosopher Plato. "Plato was the first to instil this idea that the soul can live without the body but the body cannot live without the soul," he said, adding that the structure of the Catholic Church was built on this ­concept.

Dualism, he believed, made it difficult for progress to be achieved in gender emancipation, which was why "talking about gay rights feels like we're biting off our hands because it goes against our intrinsic notions".

The Hellenic school of thought was inherited over the centuries, he said: "This Greek idea of dualism is the problem deep down, this thing of having the spiritual on one side and the profane on the other. We are still grappling with this. Spirituality is a plus, sexuality a minus."

He said it was as a result of this that a woman's body started being seen as a vehicle of evil. He quoted works of saints, such as St Clement, St Jerome, St Gregory and St Augustine, who at one point or other suggest women should be ashamed of themselves or that "women are worse than animals because animals are not always aching for sex".

Fr Montebello noted that Pope Benedict, although a traditionalist, was trying to change this view.

It was not a question of politics and laws, he said, but of mentality. In the past, villagers' sayings were closer to the real thing. "I remember in Gozo villagers used to say one should have three altars: the Church, the word of God and the matrimonial bed. That showed there was no separation between the physical and the spiritual," he said.

Going back in time, he explained how in Egyptian times, monuments, such as obelisks – symbols of the male penis – where built to represent the spiritual act of fertilising the skies. He commented on the fact that one of the tallest Egyptian obelisks was today found in front of the Vatican in St Peter's Square, Rome.

"It's a pontifex, a bridge to the skies, in fact the Pope himself is called Pontifex Maximus," he said.

He concluded that, ideally, there should be a reflection on modern African philosophy to change the dualistic mentality.

The lecture was organised by the women's group Rethink, Rediscover and React and Forum Żgħażagħ Laburisti, with the aim of creating discussion platforms on gender topics.

"We're taking note of issues that come out of these dis-cussions and we'll submit them as proposals to the Labour Party in the hope that they'll be then taken up as party policies," RRR spokesman Nikita Alamango said.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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