Responding to Hampson’s “After Christianity”, Chapter 4

Responding to Chapter 4: Christian Idolatry

Daphne Hampson, After Christianity (London: SCM Press, 1996)

Tip: If you do not have a basic understanding of Freudian psychology I recommend that you research the Id, Ego and Superego before reading this chapter. Only an understanding of the Ego is necessary, but quickly reading through the other two parts of Freud’s vision for our psyches will enhance your reading.

Summary and Commentary:

The beginning of this chapter is slower than the rest so bear with it for a fantastic and engaging read. The beginning includes basic commentary on monotheism and pantheism, as well as looking at the Lord’s Prayer and an analysis of the stories of Abraham and Sarah. Then comes a longing for equal and empowering relationships, and she begins to talk about women who have been raped and includes a powerful quotation from Karen Bloomquist:

Jesus is not a model for women to imitate, in some kind of scapegoat, self-sacrificing role. To identify with him in that sense would only increase our victimisation and mutilation. We are not to give ourselves up to be crucified for anyone’s sake but are [and she quotes Carter Heyward] ‘to struggle together against the injustice of all human sacrifice, including our own’. The cross reveals to us intimations of the God who identifies with us in the cruciform sufferings that are already a part of our lives as women… One of our students describes in powerfully moving terms her experience of being raped, and as she lay there on the ground fearing that she would be killed, what flashed before her was a vision of Christ – of Christ as a woman – ‘because only a woman would understand’.

– K. Bloomquist, Let God be God: The Theological Necessity of Depatriarchalising God in Hampson, After Christianity, p.146

I feel I should add in here that still in our society, women are told to stay indoors after dark. Men are not told to respect women, men are not told not to rape. Women are told to stay indoors and wear appropriate clothing so as not to “tempt” attackers. How ridiculous a notion that somehow women are blamed by society. The notion of self-sacrifice carries not just in women but in children who fall victim to sacrificial notions in their minds:

[The] Gospel of John plays an enormous role in the minds of most Christians. This Gospel emphasises Jesus’ self-knowledge and his willingness to go to the cross to die, uncomplaining. John’s Jesus teaches that one must accept willingly whatever the father does, for whatever the father does is right, justifiable, and must be obeyed. What made the crucifixion right an unquestionable s that the end (salvation of the human race because of its need of redemption) justified the means (pedocide). The father is the exemplar on earth of the image of the father god in heaven… This kind of religious symbolism tolerates violence in family life and justifies, in particular, violence against children by fathers and other authority figures.

– Sheila Redmond, Christian “Virtues” and Recovery from Child Sexual Abuse in Hampson, p.152

Notions of sacrifice in Christianity need to be re-addressed and need to be explained more fully to women, children and men.

Christianity should be overcoming patriarchy, not representing it. Complementing her view that relationship needs reciprocity, she brings in the works of Elizabeth Johnson and Rosemary Reuther to comment that the love in relationships should be “characterised as philia, not that outpouring of self which is how agape is commonly understood within the Christian tradition.” (p.163) Again Hampson is urging a re-look at the notions of sacrificial love by calling for an understanding of love as philia, as reciprocal. I agree that this is hugely important. As long as Christianity emphasises self-sacrifice as a virtue and neglects to speak of love as philia, women, children, and men, will be ever more likely under Christianity’s patriarchal influence to submit to abuse.

Again Hampson concludes a chapter by asking, what of the future?

We do not yet know what psycho-social revolution the rise of feminism will cause, but we have reason to think that it will be profound. It may well be then that the paradigms embodied in Christianity will no longer seem natural to men, while women will have come to express God quite otherwise. But when Christian paradigms have faded, will the resulting religion be Christianity? For Christianity cannot simply shed its forms; it is a historical religion which looks back to the biblical religion with its monotheistic transcendent God; its talk of covenant, sacrifice and incarnation; and supremely that relation between Jesus and his ‘father’ which gave rise, in the course of time, to the doctrine of the Trinity. Reflecting dynamics which no longer pertain and problems no longer in need of resolution, the symbol system of Christian theology will be discarded as irrelevant. (p.168)

As I began reading this chapter I was confused by its title: Christian Idolatry. There are only two paragraphs speaking directly of idolatry as a sin of pride. But I came to see the symbolism of the title. The rest of the chapter is, as I have tried to aptly summarise and support, a comment on the patriarchal idol system. The sacrificial idol which leads to the victimisation of so many people. Will Christianity fall to the ground? Should it? Finally?

I should mention lastly that my responses to these chapters are, though perhaps a little long for a blog piece, actually rather concise. The chapters are filled with commentary on scholars across time, as well as Hampson’s own experiences and theories. Each chapter is around 50 pages long. I hope my responses encourage you to read the book in its entirety. I highly recommend it.

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