Religion as a force of good/tool of evil
As I started de la Cruz, I was immediately reminded of Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” as both writers were able to address an enemy with supposed kindness and respect, only to subtly rip them apart. While de la Cruz and Machiavelli were being politically prescriptive in very different ways – and with very different objectives in mind – de la Cruz’s exploit of the power and fear of god mirrors how Machiavelli argued religion is used in the larger societal context (e.g, to convince men to risk their life in war, because they will be going to heaven).
In the case of de la Cruz, she was being told that she shouldn’t be writing because the Church didn’t think it was appropriate for women (a nun!) to write about the topics that she tried to tackle. But she then threw the religious excuse right back, explaining that “God graced me with of a gift of an immense love for the truth…. God Almighty knows why and for what purpose. And he knows I've asked him to snuff out the light of my mind and leave only what's necessary to keep his commandments.” How can anyone argue with God’s creation? de la Cruz makes her case by drawing from scripture. “I see a Deborah issuing laws in military matters as well as political affairs while governing a people among whom there were so many learned men…I see so many significant women: some adorned with the gift of prophecy, like Abigail; others with persuasion, like Esther; others, with piety, like Rahab; others with perseverance, like Hannah.”
I find this piece so fascinating because it really highlights the ways in which religion has historically worked as a force to both severely restrain and facilitate women’s intellectual pursuits. Many women were (and still are) told that their chosen academic paths were forbidden due to religious restrictions. But many women, including many nuns, were also taught how to read in order to be able to read scripture, and in even earlier history, learned how to write in order to work as scribes. I think that this paradox is still very much true today, but manifests itself differently: many different religious teachings are incredibly patriarchal and work to control women, but religion can also provide a powerful platform for women to become leaders and feminist theology has played an important role in the development of broader feminist theories. De la Cruz’s scholarship was constricted due to religious concerns, but she also spoke of becoming a nun in order to have a new outlet for her poetry and learning.
As I was reading, I was also very aware of the markings on the pages, and found myself finding it very distracting, to the point that I looked up another version of the essay online. I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but I really don’t like reading other people’s notes (and, to be honest, I don’t even like writing my own notes) when I am trying to tackle a piece of writing – and have found myself frustrated throughout the semester. It’s a small thing, but it sometimes makes me second guess myself when I find a particular section important, but it’s not already underlined.