To Feel is Not to Be
Dr. Abigail Favale’s spiritual journey has undoubtedly been intriguing. Raised in an evangelical home and having attended George Fox University to study Philosophy, Favale began to question Scripture and the role of women. In time, she was lured away from the faith entirely by feminism, to which she would testify that she lost herself for nearly a decade. In her book, The Genesis of Gender, Favale states that feminism led to the destruction of her faith, yet later, it was also feminism that brought her back to Christianity. As a graduate student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where she received her PhD in English, she converted to Catholicism. Favale is married, has four children, and currently serves as a writer and professor at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.
Before diving into the book, with gender being a contentious topic today, I believe it is invaluable to hear the love Favale has for all people that motivates her writing. She states,
Even as we speak honestly about the machinations of the gender paradigm, we have to realize that there are real people, real lives, being churned up in its gears. We have to welcome these people into our parishes, into our families, into our communities. It is possible to judge whether an ideology is true or false – but we cannot judge persons; we have not been granted access to the inner chambers of the human heart. Each person’s status before God is a mystery that cannot be known from without. We must critique the framework, in the appropriate time and place, while embracing those who are caught up in that framework, no matter how they look or sound.
The gender paradigm “is a way of seeing that is based on postmodern anti-realism: there is no God; we are not created beings; what we perceive to be real is a social fiction, created by language, including the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman.’” Favale strongly opposes this notion, yet, despite her opposition, her call to people of faith is that we must maintain the perspective that when discussing aspects of gender and sexuality, we must not lose sight of the reality that people are people with intrinsic value and worth and we must treat them as such. Following are a few key points of interest for me from the book:
- The author spent a significant amount of time discussing the concept of God’s created order, i.e., shalom. In reflecting on the creation account, Favale notes that there is a distinction between the sexes, but also a shared responsibility to steward His creation. In reflecting on Genesis 2, she states that Man and Woman are distinctively more alike than any other creation, but also distinctively very different. In other words, there is a balance of sameness and
- Favale observes that the woman’s being tempted in Genesis 3 does not make her more weak than the man, but rather, this temptation serves to demonstrate the influence she has as a woman. Throughout the rest of Scripture, God uses women in significant ways to put massive kingdom implications in motion. For example, Mary as the mother of Jesus.
- The author argues that sex and gender are not separate, but one. She claims that society has bifurcated sex from the act of pleasure and reproduction. As a result, modern culture views sex as being sterile for women with the introduction of contraceptives, birth control, and abortion. Thus, culture attempts to bypass the reality that part of God’s intended purpose of sex is
- The definitions of gender and sex are very muddled and confused in our current society. Historically, argues Favale, “sex” did not refer to the act of sex, but rather, one’s sexual identity. She uses some profound logic to demonstrate how anti-shalom the topic of gender dysphoria is and confuses our sense of identity. She writes, “‘To feel’ is not ‘to be.’ A white girl cannot know what it is like to be a black girl.” In other words, to feel as though you are a girl trapped in a man’s body does not make you to be a man.
- To attempt to be something other than you are in regard to gender and sexuality, especially with the introduction of surgeries to make the physical transition or by taking hormones, wreaks havoc on the body and fails to override the very design of God. The implications of these attempts on our bodily design are harmful and damaging, not only to our physical body, but to our psyche as well.
In my opinion, Favale provides a sound argument for maintaining a Biblical framework to understand both sexuality and gender. Being cognizant of the tension this topic stirs up both in and out of the Church, I admire Favale’s vulnerability and tact to interweave her journey and wrestling through faith, feminism, sexuality, gender, and identity to advocate as a voice of truth, reason, and love to promote a pathway of wholeness as God intends.
 Abigail Rine Favale, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory (San Francisco [California]: Ignatius Press, 2022), 214–215.
 “5 Questions With Family Studies: Professor Abigail Favale on the Genesis Paradigm,” Institute for Family Studies, accessed January 25, 2023, https://ifstudies.org/blog/5-questions-with-family-studies-professor-abigail-favale-on-the-genesis-paradigm-.
 Favale, The Genesis of Gender, chap. 2.
 Ibid., chap. 4.
 Ibid., 156.
 Ibid., chap. 7.
11 responses to “To Feel is Not to Be”
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What a great summary post.
You quoted Favale, “is a way of seeing that is based on postmodern anti-realism: there is no God; we are not created beings; what we perceive to be real is a social fiction, created by language, including the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman.’”
It is a common trope for people to claim that others who hold differing ways of life and beliefs do not believe in God when they have a sacred faith and journey with God.
I wonder your thoughts on Andy Stanley’s sermon from Sunday: https://twitter.com/JonathanMerritt/status/1617888737236779012.
Eric, great post. I appreciate the big ideas you summarized succinctly in the bullet points. It seems as though you agreed with much of Favale’s argument, as did I. Is there something that you did not agree with in the book?
Obviously, there is a lot of catholic theology mixed in with everything. However, for the most part, I would say I certainly share her views.
Eric: I also admire Favale’s vulnerability, tact, and intelligence in approaching the issues of gender and feminism. Her journey is compelling and as she weaves her story throughout the book, it creates a clearer understanding of how she arrives at her conclusions. She is thoughtful and a world-class writer.
Eric, I appreciate your post, particularly your summary points. I am wondering how you see the impact of traditional gender roles on the discussion or gender identity? Is what we are dealing with here an overreaction to rigid roles?
That is a great question Denise. I’m not sure I have an answer right off the bat. However, I can only imagine the tradition, and gender roles, all play a part somehow.
Eric: You have the gift of summary! After reading your posts I always feel as if I understand the topic in a new and approachable manner. If you were able to spend time expounding upon one of the interest points that you highlighted as a sermon or discussion guide in a church context, which would you want to take a further dive into and why?
Thank you. That means a lot coming from you. In regard to your question, I think I would do a deep dive into the design aspect. As I believe you know, my wife is a medical doctor. There’s so much to the human body that is dependent upon the designer and fluidity for us to even be alive. I have to believe that this same God who so intricately created our bodies and this world has something to sayin regards to how he created things such as identity, sexuality, etc.
Eric, I agree with others, what a nice summary!
I appreciate you concur with much of Favale’s position. How would you apply her thoughts, while cognizant of your own brokenness, with someone who is believing they are non-binary?
Good question. See my above comments. I would probably fall back more toward design and a perfect God.
Eric, I agree with others about your excellent summary of the book. What is your take on Favale’s implied assumption that the creation story in the book of Genesis is a “true myth” but still a myth?