Thursday, August 14

Christianity: Other Religions and Religious Pluralism

What is religion? Etymologically, the word comes from the Latin noun religio, but there are three verbs that are associated with this, including relegere (meaning “to turn to constantly” or “to observe conscientiously”), religari (meaning “to bind oneself [back]”) as well as reeligere (meaning “to choose again”). If religion is defined as a response to and perception of the reality of God, then questions abound. Why are there so many religions? What does this mean for Christianity? What is the current relationship between Christianity and Judaism? What is the relationship between religion and society, or religion and institutionalism? When discussing Catholicism, these and other questions arise. There is also a question as to whether or not someone can be Christian and not belong to a religious group. This is perhaps best seen in "non-denominational" Christianity, a movement that has been around since the 1990s. These Christians have more of a spirituality than a religion (Note: This article is based on chapter ten in Richard P. McBrien's book, Catholicism, as well as Christianity and Other Religions by Ian Markham).

Attempting to Define Religion
It is not easy to come up with a working definition of religion that encapsulates all aspects of it. In antiquity, such as Greco-Roman or Jewish areas, religion was inseparable from daily life, whereas today in the United States this is not the case. Some try to look at religion historically, sociologically, psychologically, philosophically, theologically, scientifically or through other means. For some, religion is seen as a sort of crutch, while others see it as necessary for society, as a necessary part of human experience. A working definition of religion therefore needs to include considerations from each aspect of religion. 

Early Christians linked Greek philosophy to the Christian concept of the Logos. St. Thomas Aquinas linked religion to justice as well as knowledge of God. Religion is seen as something that takes in all elements of the shared human experience, and appropriating these to a relationship between God and man, and this relationship comes about through Revelation. But this does not mean that every person of faith is religious. Indeed, some people are spiritual but not religious, while some are religious but not spiritual. Some have faith without truly perceiving their faith, and as such as oriented to God. Therefore, "We understand religion here as an individual, social, and institutional manifestation of some explicit faith in God" (5).


Characteristics of Religion
One of the major characteristics of religion is the holiness and sacredness of religion. What is holy is considered to be themysterium tremendum et fascinosum, that is, a mystery which at the same time overwhelms and fascinates us. But this also means that religion is not only concerned with the impact of the holy and sacred upon us, but also our response to the holy. It can produce such things as creeds, doctrines, teachings, morality, liturgical structures - and a community. A religious community often begins with a kind of charism, and once the founder or a leader has died, the community must decide what to do. At this point, it becomes routinized. Those groups who claim to be wholly charismatic are actually not, as they still meet at a set time, at a set place, in a set community. There is therefore an element of routine at work. But these communities ought to be consistently re-evaluating and reflecting on its foundations and what sets it apart, as well as how they live out their faith.

Criticisms of Religion
There are a number of criticisms from within religion and from outside of religion which concern the subject. Within, critics such as Karl Barth and Paul Tillich have noted that religion has sometimes been an attempt of man to place religion above revelation, or that religion has been placed into an area separate from everyday life. Within Christianity, a great number of reform movements have been present from early on - monastic movements, schismatics, heretics, later Protestants, and others. Critics outside of religion say that those who are religious are simply regressing to a form of childhood understanding, or those who seek psychological comfort in something seemingly non-existent. Finally, there are those - such as Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson and others - who live a kind of religious individualism. It is individuals such as these who may believe in a deity but do not adhere to any kind of structured religion - a form of spirituality, perhaps, but not religion. 

Types of Religion
Starting from the notion that God is both transcendent and immanent, it is understood that there are religions that emphasize each of these. Those who stress the transcendent God put an emphasis on the otherness of God, as in Deism, whereas those who stress the immanence of God put an emphasis on the worldliness of God, as in Pantheism. Those who emphasize transcendence are Judaism, Islam and Confucianism, whereas those which are immanent tend to be Buddhism and Hinduism. There is also a point at which transcendence and immanence is pushed to the extreme, so much so that the transcendent turns into Atheism, and the immanent turns into Fetishism, as in black magic. 

Christianity and Other Religions
Today's world is markedly pluralisitic and diverse. This pluralism and diversity is also clearly seen in the religious world. The way in which we relate to God is sacramentally, which is mediated and communal. Revelation is seen in how the individual receives the given revelation according to context and understanding. As has been seen, there are a number of similarities between the various major world religions - priesthoods, a call to conversion, monastic life, the supremeness of God, liturgy, and so forth. Certainly, there are a great number of differences - but these many similarities can also encourage interreligious dialogue as well as greater brotherhood and understanding. From this, attitudes of both indifferentism as well as exclusivism have arisen in the Church. 

The teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1960s) is worth quoting here: “The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions. It looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which, though differing in many particulars from what it holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all people. Indeed, it proclaims and must ever proclaim Christ, ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (John 14:6), in whom everyone finds the fullness of religious life, and in whom God has reconciled all things…(cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18–19)” (Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, n. 2).


The relationship between Christianity and Judaism has had a long and sometimes extremely complicated history. There has been bloodshed on each side, certainly, and Christians for centuries blamed Jews for the death of the Messiah. However, Vatican II made it clear that Christians should not blame either all of the Jews living at the time of Christ or the Jews living today, but instead should realize the similarities, the heritage of the Hebrew Bible, our heritage through God's covenant, and that Jews are still the brothers and ancestors of Christians. 


The acceptance of religious pluralism has only really come about in a post-Vatican II world, so the history of Catholicism's relation to other religions can be seen through four different historical stages. The first stage was that only Jesus Christ is the sole means of salvation. The second stage was during the medieval period when the Church felt threatened by Jewish and Muslim presence, and there was thus a negative response. The third stage came about in the nineteenth century as a result of the idea that all religions are essentially equal. The Church condemned this kind of indifferentism. The fourth stage is that which has emerged out of Vatican II. Currently, the Church holds that other religions have salvific value, and that there needs to be interreligious dialogue - but that Christianity holds a unique position in the economy of salvation. Indeed, we may see Christianity as the fullness of revelation, whereas other religions may be seen as having partial revelation. The question then becomes - how do we have interreligious dialogue? In order to even begin to examine this question, Christians have to be settled in their own mind about what view they take on other religions. 

Religious diversity and pluralism has at times created a multitude of problems for Christianity. Even in the very beginning, there was the looming question of just how Jewish the faith had to be. Was there much continuity? Was there a radical break? Where was the line drawn? The first Church Council, the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was called to answer this very question. Christianity's relations to other religions became much more complex as it developed. However, it also owes a great deal to other philosophies, religions and traditions. For example, St. Augustine noted that Platonic influence on Christianity, whereas St. Thomas Aquinas utilized Islamic thinkers (who had been used Aristotelian thought). Certainly, whether consciously or unconsciously, Christians have been influenced by other religions.


Seeing Other Religions as a Problem
Other religions need to be viewed within their own context and set of beliefs and teachings. In order to make a judgment on a belief or teaching, you must first understand what is actually being taught. There is thus a first step of trying to understand the Other. One of the problems in modern times has been seeing Christianity in light of science, history and other religions, which have at times seemingly made more sense to some. If, for example, God is loving, why would he send 68% of the world to Hell for not believing the Christian faith but another faith, even Judaism or Islam? The general response is that missionaries should go and convert these people. Statistically, however, there is a very small number of people who convert from one tradition to another, generally because religion is so often tied to one's cultural identity.

As a result of these and other considerations, there are three varying Christian responses to other religious traditions: pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism. Pluralism is the idea that all religions have salvific value, inclusivism declares that Christianity is the true faith and that other religions have seeds and parts of the truth without knowing it, and exclusivism insists that Christianity alone is essential for salvation, and one must be committed fully.


The Pluralist Hypothesis
A good example of the pluralistic approach is seen in prayers. A number of prayers taken from the Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Islamic traditions are similar. A major supporter of this hypothesis, John Hick of the University of Birmingham believes that each tradition is all praying to the one God using the language, resources and traditions of that religion. Hick believes that different traditions are vehicles that have access to "the Real." But what about witchcraft and the occult? In this case, Hick declares that a religion that is totally ethically destructive should be excluded. He also believes that Jesus should be looked at as one who shows us God, and is not himself God - a functional Christology rather than an ontological Christology. Both the academy and the Church are highly skeptical of the Pluralist position for a number of obvious reasons.


The Exclusivist Position
The Exclusivist position is the normal position in most religions, particularly among Christian evangelicals. The emphasis is here on a commitment to Truth and a commitment to Revelation. If Christianity is true, all other religions are therefore false. If God revealed himself to Christianity, he therefore did not reveal himself to other religions. Thus, Christianity would have a claim of knowledge of "the Real" - of God. In order to allow other religious traditions into the fold, so to speak, loving your neighbor and perhaps dialoguing with them is how one wins the soul to Christ. But in revealed Scripture, the three-fold point should thus be made: many religions are guilty of idolatry and may be inspired by a force of evil (i.e., a fallen angel/demon beginning Islam), second, Christians have a responsibility to preach the Gospel to all nations (see Matthew 28:19, for example), and thirdly, Scripture does not fully reveal what happens to those who never hear the gospel. Therefore, there is still uncertainty in this area - which brings up Inclusivism.

Inclusivism
Due to the large amount of those who will never hear the Gospel or have the chance to respond to the transformative nature of the Gospel, many Christians take an interest in this third approach - Inclusivism. According to Ian Markham, "Inclusivism is the view that even though salvation is exclusively in Christ, faithful adherents of another faith tradition may be saved through Christ, even though they do not realize it in this world." The Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner was a large proponent of this. The best way to make sense of this view is in light of the Old Testament patriarchs: they were not under the Christian name, but indeed were all alive (and died) prior to the coming of Christ. God is therefore able to save some even without their realizing it, in a sense, in this view.

Further, consider how a Christian may view Islam through an Inclusivist lens. The Qur'an is addressed to Muslims, but also to People of the Book (Jews and Christians). It also mentions Mary, the mother of Jesus, more times than in the New Testament. It refers to Jesus as the Word of God and as the Spirit of God, and also calls him the Messiah/the Christ. The title used of him in Mark 6:3, "Mary's son," is the most common Qur'anic title for Christ, "Jesus, son of Mary." His virgin birth through Mary is also seemingly found in the Qur'an, and other Biblical figures such as Adam, Satan, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon and others play a large role. The eschatology is extremely similar, and many phrases, concepts and ideas are highly Scriptural. "Allah," the god that Muslims pray to, is simply Arabic for "The God," and in fact, Arabic Christians pray to "Allah," as anyone in another language would address God. As a result, an Inclusivist may feel justified in saying that a Muslim is their "brother" or "sister," and that they are believers, in a sense.

Examining the Positions
However, there are many Christians and non-Christians who are critical of these views for a number of reasons. For example - how can knowledge of God be possible outside of Revelation? In the pluralistic view, some say that we must become post-pluralistic, in the sense that to impose such a view on others would be imposing a Western view, and thus a form of inculturation. Christians in Europe and the U.S. therefore need to consider theologies of other countries - for example, Christians in India have used Hindu insights to help their understanding of the Trinity and of the Incarnation.

Most religious traditions will not and do not take up the Pluralist tradition, as it would be giving up the essentials of their religion. However, Inclusivism seems to be present in some. For example, as aforementioned, the Qur'an calls Jews and Christians "people of the book." Although the Muslims believe they have the full truth, they do believe that Jews and Christians have partial truth. The Hindu Bhagavad Vita claims that other religions finding gods are really finding Vishnu. Christian tradition would seem to imply that Jesus as the Logos had a prior influence on Greek philosophers. 

Learning about God from others is perhaps what we need to take away from this. The Christian knows that Christianity had a Jewish and Hellenistic influence given the context it came about in, just as the Muslim recognizes the relation to Judaism and Christianity, Buddhists know the links to Hinduism, and Sikhs know that Sikhism came from a clash between Hindu and Islamic cultures. Therefore, Christians need to delve deeper into their understanding of other religions. We must let God be God, so that God in Godself does His work - and not us. This article was intended to present, not argue, three of the major Christian theological views of other religions. The Catholic Church takes a kind of Inclusitivist position, whereas a Non-Denominational believer may take an Exclusivist position. For some, Inclusivism would constitute as heresy. For others, they are limiting God's love and depth and making him into their image, not His, by claiming that they alone can be saved. These matters are not simply abstract theological concepts, but have very real consequences on the world around us, how we treat each other and how we view other people groups. Therefore, Christians should be mindful of differing concepts of other religions, their own view and understanding of each, but also be aware of the call to "love one another" and care for our fellow man, as we are all created in the imago Dei - the image of God. 

Different Views of Jesus: Cultural Christology

Christology is the study of an understanding of Jesus of Nazareth. What was his nature? How do we view Him? What was his mission? What do we know about Him? These considerations and others have often been filtered through a Western Christological understanding. This reading attempts to examine various christologies and how they view Jesus.

Prior to the formation of modern historical scholarship, most of Christology considered the Gospels to be fully historical narratives that were based in fact. Many have questioned this, but the rediscovery of Gnostic texts, Ebionite texts and several others have led to further questions about early Christology and the development of Christology. In the New Testament, we find examples of Jesus’ identity being questioned by everyone. Evidently, Jesus did not fit the expectations of the Messiah, a prophet or a teacher that those living in the time or up to that time had held. When Peter confesses Jesus to be the Messiah and the Son of God, this is a turning point in the narratives as it is the point at which Jesus Himself raises the question of His identity.

Since the 1700s, scholars (particularly German scholars) have been very critical of Jesus and his story. This has occurred – according to N.T. Wright, respected New Testament scholar – in four stages. There are also a number of different views of Jesus. For example there have been some who see Jesus as being similar to contemporary Greco-Roman philosophers who wandered around and proclaimed a withdrawal from a corrupt and immoral society. One of the problems with this claim, however (one put forth by Crossan from the Jesus Seminar) is that the message of Jesus is filled with Jewish eschatological concepts, which is certainly not found in the cynics.

Some, however believe that Christology grew out of Pneumatology. In this regard, Jesus calls God Abba (meaning Father), suggesting experiences of a mystical or visionary nature as well as claiming to be a conduit for the Spirit, as mystics and healers do. In this view, Jesus is seen as a Spirit-filled mystic or Spirit-possessed healer. There are others who identify Jesus as a Hasid, a charismatic Galilean holy man. However, the textual evidence does not support him as being a prayer warrior and moderate follower of the Law. According to these adherents, however, Jesus was indeed a holy man who was elevated to the incarnate Lord mainly due to seeming textual credence from St. John and St. Paul.


Some have certainly tried to place Jesus in his 1st century Jewish context. For some, he was a prophet who spoke openly about the eschatological end of the age, the kingdom of God and the judgment overall – similar to the Qumran community. For others, Jesus was a reform prophet initiating social reform within Galilean Judaism. In other views, Jesus is also seen by some as being a Jewish sage who ties together traditions of wisdom, apocalyptic and prophetic nature. For others, Jesus was a man who created a discipleship of equals wherein women, oppressed and others were all equal. In this sense, he would be a radical prophetic figure or sage.

Jesus as personified Wisdom is a High Christological concept found in the Johannine writings (as well as Hebrews). Some scholars also seen Hebrew wisdom tradition as having an already pre-Christian idea of wisdom personified, where wisdom flows forth from God. This idea of Jesus and his relation to God is also found in some early Christological hymns, including those found in the NT. Then there are those who see Jesus as the Messiah. The Messiah is not mentioned often in the Hebrew Bible, but is mostly prominent as the Son of Man in Daniel 7 and 1st Enoch, as well as certain expectations of a Davidic king and a future prophet (i.e., Deuteronomy’s mention of a prophet like Moses and the question asked in John, “Are you The Prophet? Are you Elijah?”). Some scholars rightly point out that Jesus had a large emphasis on the kingdom of God, and that the epithet on the cross said “King of The Jews.” Certainly, the idea of the anointed one or Messiah was present in the NT texts. Some, notably, also see Jesus as having been a follower of John the Baptist and carrying on his teaching – although this is debatable.


There are still yet others who view Jesus as an Eschatological Prophet. At the time of Jesus, a number of questions had arisen that brought the Jewish identity into a new light. Jesus was likened to prophets such as Elijah and Jeremiah in the NT for a good reason – he brought an invitation, a message, a redefinition and a challenge to others. Jesus ought to be understood in light of his own religious, political and social atmosphere, placed firmly in the 1st century Jewish context.

Now, the different forms of Christology seen in the New Testament can help form a clearer Christology, but on their own, we would be in a different frame of mind. For example, if we only had the Synoptics we may question His divinity; if we only had John we may question His humanity. There are three distinct yet interrelated patterns of viewing Jesus in the NT: An adoptionist Christology placed within the reality of the resurrection. This was soon recognized as inadequate and further post-resurrection reflection led to thinking on His pre-existence. As a result, kenosis Christology (as seen in Philippians 2:6-11) came about. Incarnaltionalism is a part of this, as seen in John’s gospel, Hebrews and some of the Pauline epistles. The Docetist heresy arose around this time as well, which claimed that Jesus was only in the form of a man but was only fully God, not man at all. Logos Christology, in which Jesus is the Word of God who was both the agent of salvation and agent of creation, began toward the end of the 1st century, followed - as evidenced in the NT. To note, Philo of Alexandria was writing about the Jewish concept of the Logos in relation to the Greek concept in the 1st century as well.

But is our only access to Jesus through the historical-critical method? How do we encounter Jesus today? There are two major christologies that we may distinguish between that can aid in these questions – therapeutic Christology and apologetic (or theoretical) Christology. Therapeutic Christology is a form of Christology is presented as confronting present misery and providing salvation that heals. In this view, although we have both a personal and communal relationship with God, we only really know the Messiah when we are immersed in and participate in Messianic work. Theoretical Christology seeks to provide an apologetic or intellectual foundation for belief in Jesus as the Son of God. There is a sort of continuity that united both of these Christologies, but Therapeutic may be said to deal more with experience whereas Theoretical may deal more with right teaching. 

We may understand culture as a way to develop and nurture human values. Theology is also understood as something that, in a way, transcends culture but is also culturally bound and defined. Jesus’ story, the Church’s story, the critic’s story, the Biblical story, and the cultural story all bear witness to the continued religious narrative. 

Monday, May 12

Scriptural Ruminations on Mary

As many Bible scholars are well aware, the Scriptures contain very few references to Mary. The bulk of material related to Mary in the New Testament is found in Dr. Luke and Matthew’s infancy narratives, and in Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is the key actor. There are also a handful of references to Mary when she and Joseph take Jesus to Jerusalem, when we see her and her other children come to see Jesus, when she is standing at the cross, and when she is with the disciples in the upper room in Acts 1. Aside from this, there are no other implicit mentions of Mary, although some believe certain passages - such as Galatians 4:4 and in Revelation 12 - can be interpreted as referring to Mary, but much of what we have on Marian understanding comes from apocryphal traditions (Note: this article draws inspiration from Tissa Balasuriya's work, Mary and Human Liberation).

From these scant references, then, we can gather a number of things about Mary. When the angel Gabriel announced that she would give birth, it may have been difficult for Mary to come to terms with having a child who is the Messiah. She may have anticipated that he would have to suffer. It is also important to note that some feminists have seen this as an act of God relying on a female to carry out the plan of salvation, and that this important interaction between Creator and Creation ought to be appreciated and researched.

Following this, Mary then visits her cousin Elizabeth, who is supposed to have a child - who would be famously known as John the Baptist, mentioned in the New Testament documents and the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. During her stay with Elizabeth, she prays the Magnificat. The implications of this prayer seem to be that of cultural revolution, political revolution and economic revolution. She is often seen as comforter of the disturbed, rather than disturber of the comforted. Mary is presented in the infancy narratives as a tough young woman who has to endure many sufferings and hardships. She may be shunned by some who see her as having an illegitimate child, she is turned away by the rich who own the inns of Bethlehem, and she must give birth in a hard place (the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and Justin Martyr allege that it was a cave).

The visit of the shepherds to see baby Jesus allow Mary to reflect and think on it. Dr. Luke’s gospel shows Mary to be a very deep, reflective and thoughtful young woman, and she is invested in the future of her child. Later, at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Mary and Joseph make the offering of the poor. The man Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her heart – evidently referring to the death of Jesus, at least insofar as most interpret this statement. Knowing that she would suffer with Jesus through his life took a lot of courage and love as a mother.

Thinking further into her journey, the flight into Egypt would not have been an easy one. Retracing the steps of those who had left Egypt in the Exodus, Mary, Joseph and the young Jesus would have had to cross the scorching deserts, the harsh roads and likely faced political issue when there, as Joseph likely would have had to become a migrant worker, and Mary would have had to find constant news from Palestine to learn of the political situation back home. As an aside: Could Joseph have learned carpentry during his time in Egypt? Also, one may wonder, though unlikely – did Jesus or Joseph ever have to build crosses? Could Jesus have built his own cross?

Moving further into her life, we understand that the middle-aged Mary would have had to go through trials with Jesus as he grew up. As with any mother, she may have desired grandchildren, she may have desired to see him married, and have a long life, among other things. But he likely told her that he must be about his Father’s business. After reflecting, as she was known to do, she supported him in his ministry, and would have treasured up these things in her heart.

Mary followed Jesus throughout his public ministry, usually from a distance. She likely would have understood her son as going against social and religious values of the time. Mary also more than likely struggled with restraining herself from protecting Jesus when she saw Him going up against the Pharisees, Sadducees, and others, but realized that this division was part of his mission, and that this mission was of utmost importance.

As there are only a handful of references to Mary within the canonical gospels, it follows that there are only a handful of recorded conversations between Jesus and Mary. We see these when Joseph and Mary find Jesus in the temple, when Mary tells Jesus about the wine in Cana, the public ministry in which his family – out of concern – come to take him, and finally, and when Jesus addresses Mary whilst on the cross. Interestingly, the last recorded words of Mary in the gospels are "Do whatever he tells you." The Catholic Church places great emphasis on Mary's relationship with Jesus, and what a better summation of this than in her words. We can see these words conveying a message even to contemporary Christians 

Now, we may assume that Mary was present and with Christ throughout the trial (as seen in the stations of the cross as well as the Dolorous Passion of the Christ). Mary knew that Jesus had to suffer and die and she probably felt rather helpless in the desire to help her son but knowing that she could not help him. During the Passion of the Lord, Jesus had several women that were still with him. His mother Mary was still present, as was Mary Magdalene. Perhaps we may assume that Salome was also present, as she was involved in the tomb activities. 

Interestingly, women were the first witnesses of the Resurrection. In antiquity, the testimony of women was generally not accepted in court, so the idea that women were the first witnesses is interesting to note. These same women told the apostles that Jesus was resurrected. In the case of Mary, then, she is a witness to life beyond death. She bears witness as the theotokos to the presence and life of Jesus. This title of theotokos - God bearer - was in use in the early church as seen, for example, in the hymn Sub tuum praesidium (AD 250).

In order to have a truer understanding of Mary, we need to understand her relation to Jesus, how Mary and Jesus interacted, how she understood Him and how He understood her. Certainly, they grew together as mother and son in his three decades of life, which is cause for further considerations. The message of Jesus in this context is understood as being that of the kingdom of God. Christ taught (as seen in the canonical gospels, as well as the Gospel of Thomas) that the kingdom of heaven is both present and future. It is both within and without. It is spread across the world but also coming as an eschatological event. We also note that in terms of christology, Jesus did not use the theologically loaded phrases that we do today or that the councils or patristics developed.

We find a description of Jesus as a loving and strong man (hence why he is likened to the Lion and the Lamb in early Christian literature), one who had a deep concern for the poor, oppressed, needy, sick, marginalized, the hurt and others. As a result, Christ challenged the cultural, political and social norms of His time. Mary appears to have sided with Jesus, and having the backing of his mother more than likely provided much needed support. Jesus was very skilled and radical about his interpersonal relations. He crossed barriers - including social barriers. He spoke to Samaritans, he taught and accepted aid from women, he ate with tax collectors, he went against the authorities of his day, he forgave others and did not hold their wrongs against them, and this particular openness evidently landed Jesus in a heap of trouble.

In the early Christian Church (which was initially called "The Way"), Mary was likely seen as the mother of the Christian community. Women had very important roles in society at the time, but it is important to remember that Mary was in a sense the first believer due to her Annunciation (as seen when the an, she was also the woman who raised Jesus, and she was given into John's care by Jesus. Therefore, we may look at Mary as the mother of the early community, which makes sense. The fact that property was held in common as clearly seen in Acts and the Didache bears out the notion that the community needed a mother to guide them. It is also here noted that different theologians (such as feminists) have very different understandings and views of God.

In regard to the liberation of women and Mary, feminist theologians have done much work in this area. Indeed, she is seen as having participated in and engaged in the life of Christ fully and completely, which accords her a very high status. Another consideration mentioned here is Mary in relation to Genesis. Although some may look at Genesis 3:15 in a certain light, I would suggest that woman referred to is both Eve and Mary. Feminist theologians hope that Mary's life and work can and will provide men with an opportunity to enable better perceptions of women and the abilities of woman, that she may help us see both genders as creators, and that Mary will continue to help men detach from the ancient superiority of men. For example, historically, woman deacons (deaconesses) are mentioned in the New Testament as well as certain documents such as the Didascalia. However, the priesthood is not available for women because the clergy are those in charge and - feminists argue - men want the dominant power and therefore do not let women be ordained as priests.

The life, work and idea of Mary is carried into Third World countries. As such, the Marian spirituality is here identified as being specifically directed at the current issues going on in the world, particularly in the Third World countries, such as poverty, military and war, the death of women while giving birth, and a variety of other problems. Mary is seen as one who overcomes and ought to be mimicked. When we look at the answer Cain gave God in Genesis 4 - "Am I my brother's keeper?" - the implication is that we are indeed supposed to take care of one another. God created the world for us to inhabit and take care of, and our goods ought to be for everyone, including technologies that should be used to create jobs for people. 

But there are a number of problems in our world, such as famine, hunger, unemployment, the poor and others which degrades the human person. Mary's role is to help bring world justice and peace to all. There are a number strategies for transformation that we may apply, particularly on the basis of a Marian spirituality. For example, we can come together as a society that accepts both equality and plurality. Values were held in high regard by both Mary and Jesus, therefore, values need to be upheld. So prayer, coming together as a society and as a community and further reflection - just as Mary once did - is called for.