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From Catholicism to Radical Feminism and Back | An Interview with Lorraine V. Murray, author of
Confessions of an Ex-Feminist
Lorraine V. Murray is the author of Confessions of
an Ex-Feminist. Carl E. Olson recently interviewed Murray about her book and her journey from
Catholicism to radical feminism and then, many years later, back to the Catholic Church.
Ignatius Insight: What are some
of the main reasons you ended up walking away from the Catholic
Church as a young woman? In looking back, what might have kept you from
making that decision?
Lorraine Murray: When
I went away to college, the dragon of nihilism pounced on me. I was extremely naïve, having led a very sheltered
life until that time. Although I had attended Catholic schools for nearly my
entire childhood, no one had prepared me for the onslaught of atheism that
awaited me at the University of Florida. One thing might have helped me: Some
knowledge of the arguments against theism and Christianity, and ways to
Ignatius Insight: The term
"feminist" is sometimes used in a bewildering number of ways. What sort of
feminist were you and what were the essential beliefs of the feminism you
Murray: I was a radical feminist, championing the belief that there
was no such thing as innate masculine and feminine natures. I believed that
social conditioning produced the obvious differences between male and female
behavior. Thus, to equal the playing field between men and women, one had to
tweak the conditioning of children. For example, take away toy guns and
adventure tales from little boys, and encourage them to play with dolls.
Downplay ruffles and dresses for little girls, and deck them out in pants
instead. Today, I look at my little nephews, who fashion guns with their hands,
and see the utter insanity of these beliefs. However, at the time, I based my
conclusions entirely on books.
Also, like many radical feminists,
I believed that men were extremely violent towards women and enjoyed
subjugating them. This piece of "wisdom" certainly wasn't evident in my own
life, since the men I knew were mostly gentle souls, and my own father had
sacrificed plenty so I could go to graduate school. But the feminist agenda
emphasized that conflict, unhappiness and misery were part of every woman's
journey, and then placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of men.
Ignatius Insight: How essential is "free love," contraceptives, and abortion
to that sort of feminism?
Murray: "Free love" is crucial to the feminist agenda. Sex is seen
as just another physical act that brings pleasure. It doesn't require love or
commitment or emotional involvement. Radical feminists generally disparage
marriage and family, seeing them as restricting women's freedom, so sex without
commitment is somehow a positive thing. This poisonous belief began in the
1960s, but is still apparent today, especially on college campuses where many
young people talk about "hooking up" with someone, i.e., having sex with
strangers. Contraceptives are another crucial part of the free-sex puzzle
because contraceptives are an attempt to break the connection between sex and
its God-given function, which is reproduction. Many people today are surprised
when they use contraceptives and still get pregnant, because they believe
contraceptives never fail. Sadly, abortion becomes the back-up method of birth
Ignatius Insight: Why do so
many feminists despise the traditional understanding of femininity and
Murray: Perhaps the deepest sin of feminism is envy. So many
feminists think that men have a better life and see them as somehow conspiring
to keep women unhappy. Feminists deny what the average woman on the street will
attest to: Women like being women! We like dressing differently from men,
wearing make-up and watching romantic movies. We know it is nearly impossible
for women to separate sexual intimacy and love. Women who give themselves to a
man know, in the inner recesses of their hearts, that a baby might be the result
of such intimacy. This is part of our God-given nature, and it is beautiful.
However, radical, gender-bending feminists want to deny the heart of true
When Betty Friedan collected
stories for The Feminine Mystique, she
failed to talk to the mothers who were happy! After more books like hers hit
the market, many women left the home and sought jobs in the "real" world, as if
creating a home for the family was not real. In the past few decades, we've
seen the fall-out: Many women now realize that the male experience has its own
stresses and suffering. Many career women who put off having children find it
is now too late. Many mothers who put their children in daycare regret missing
the early years with them.
Ignatius Insight: In what
academic field did you pursue graduate studies? Why? Who were your intellectual
heroes and guides?
Murray: As a child, I dreamt of writing fiction and becoming one of
the big names in the literary world, so I majored in English in college.
Unfortunately, I soon became discouraged because I felt I could never match up
to the authors we were reading. Tabling that dream, I went on to philosophy,
because I was seeking the meaning of life. Sadly, it didn't occur to me that I
had once found that meaning in Catholicism. My favorite philosophers were 20th
century atheists like Jean-Paul Sartre and the feminist writer Simone de
Ignatius Insight: In general, what
is the relationship between the secular academic world and radical feminism?
Murray: Generally, in the secular academic world, women's issues have
become synonymous with a rigid creed of associated beliefs. If you walk into a
self-proclaimed women's bookstore, you will see sections on lesbianism,
transgender, paganism and bisexuality, which are topics often explored in
women's studies departments. Abortion is seen as part of the radical feminist
agenda, and anyone who questions it becomes the enemy. Catholics and other
Christians point out the blinding light of the obvious, which is that abortion
destroys a human life. But this is not something that radical feminists will
accept, because they believe women's freedom should be entirely unrestricted.
So they tend to see traditional religion as some monstrous conspiracy to keep
women unhappy. They often lump together anyone who is pro-life or pro-family
under the umbrella of "Evangelicals" or "fundamentalists." The average woman on
the street can't identify with the typical feminist agenda because it is far
removed from the realities of everyday life. This topic is explored beautifully
in a book by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Feminism Is Not the Story of My Life.
Ignatius Insight: How did you
finally start to make your way back to Jesus Christ and His Church? What issues
did you struggle with the most in that journey?
Murray: My husband, who had little knowledge of Catholicism,
startled me one day when he returned from New York and mentioned stopping in at
St. Patrick's Cathedral to light votive candles in memory of his father and my
parents. In that moment, I realized I had never prayed for the repose of my
parents' souls, although they had been dead many years. I also read Merton's
Seven Storey Mountain, and was very moved by his journey. I began to
experience a mysterious sense of someone reaching into my life and tugging at
I struggled on my journey because
I was still a feminist when I returned to the Church, so I brought my baggage
with me. I wanted to continue using contraceptives, for example, and did so for
many years. I also thought of myself as a "pro-choice" Catholic. In short, I
was the classic "cafeteria Catholic," and looking back, I am humbled that
Christ drew me back to the Church anyway.
Ignatius Insight: When and how did you finally realize, "I want to be a
Catholic—a practicing, serious Catholic?"
Murray: After my diagnosis of breast cancer in 2000, life started
changing quite drastically. I truly thought I would die soon, and I longed for
someone to help me, so I sought out a spiritual director. Father Richard Lopez,
who is a religion teacher at a local Catholic high school, was at first my
emotional and spiritual life-line in terms of cancer, but I also began asking
him questions about why the Church espoused various teachings. He gave me books
to read and carefully explained the Catholic perspective. Once I understood the
rationale and history behind Church teachings, I could accept them. Until then,
I was woefully ignorant.
Ignatius Insight: You mention
several thinkers and authors whose works helped you, including C.S. Lewis, Augustine, and Thomas
Merton. But you have a special affinity and love for Flannery O'Connor. What attracted you to her writing?
What did you learn from her?
Murray: Father Lopez is a great Flannery O'Connor fan. I had read
Flannery's stories, but was unaware that she was Catholic (since, alas, her
faith was not mentioned in my college classes). As he instructed me in the
faith, Father Lopez pointed me toward her letters in "The Habit of Being," and
I was thoroughly fascinated with the woman who came to life in this book.
In her letters, she ardently
defended and explained Catholicism, and this was in the fifties and sixties,
when nihilism was pervasive. Also, despite sharp criticism from critics, she
continued writing her fiction. As a Catholic columnist for the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, there are times when
I get plenty of criticism from readers and get discouraged. Her advice has
helped me, especially her point that anything that depresses a writer to the
extent that he wants to give up writing comes from the devil.
Ignatius Insight: What are some of your current and future projects?
Murray: I continue to write two columns a month for the secular
press and two for the Catholic newspaper, The Georgia Bulletin. I'm also working on a book about Flannery O'Connor's
Catholic journey. It is a huge undertaking and I hope that it will actually be
published. Please ask your readers to keep this intention in their prayers!
Confessions of An Ex-Feminist
Lorraine V. Murray
Confessions is the honest and heart-rending account of a woman who was born into a Catholic family, attended parochial
schools and fully embraced the beliefs of her faith, but ran into major roadblocks in college. Amidst the radical feminist college
environment of the 1960's, she lost her faith, and her morality, jumping aboard the bandwagon of "free love." She indulged in a series
of love relationships in college, all of which crashed and burned. Despite the obvious contradiction between feminist teachings and
her own experience, Murray still believed she had to free herself from the yoke of tradition.
Attaining a doctorate in philosophy, with an emphasis on the feminist writings of Simone de Beauvoir, Murray taught philosophy in
college. For many years, she launched a personal vendetta against God and the Catholic Church in the classroom, trying to persuade
students that God did not exist, mocking values Catholics hold dear, and touted feminism as the cure for many social ills. When
she discovered she was pregnant, Murray followed the route that feminists offer as a solution for unmarried women. Much to her
surprise, her abortion was a shattering emotional experience, which she grieved over for years. It was the first tragic chink in
her feminist armor.
After her marriage in 1982, she anguished over the decision to have children, but became an advocate of the "child-free" movement,
believing children were burdens and life could be happy life without them. Later in her forties, Murray experienced a mysterious
series of events in which it seemed that "someone" was inviting her back to God. The mysterious calls came from different ports,
including nature, books and other people. Gradually, she realized that the One seeking her was Christ, and the place He was calling
her to was the Catholic Church. Eventually realizing it was only in the Church that she would find what she was seeking--the person
of Christ and his love and mercy--Murray returned to the Church, and finally found healing and forgiveness for the abortion.
Warning: This Is a Dangerous Book | Lorraine V. Murray | Introduction
to Confessions of an Ex-Feminist
Related Books from Ignatius Press:
Prodigal Daughters: Catholic Women Come Home
to the Church | by Donna Steichen
God Or Goddess? Feminist Theology: What is it?
Where Does it Lead? | by Dr. Manfred Hauke
Women In The Priesthood? | by
Dr. Manfred Hauke
C.S. Lewis' Case For The Christian
Faith | by Richard Purtill
Classic Catholic Converts | by
Fr. Charles Connor
Lorraine V. Murray, Ph.D., is the religion columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and also writes an award-winning
column for The Georgia Bulletin. She is the author of Grace Notes, Why Me? Why Now?, and How Shall We Celebrate?
Murray lives in Decatur, Georgia.
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