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Plato's Cave - The Orlando Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Is Religion bad for Women?

Is Religion bad for Women?

Jairo M.
Winter Park, FL
Post #: 1,395
Visit radio4 womans hour

which was a link in blog - Is religion bad for women?

What do you think?
Ben Forbes G.
Kissimmee, FL
Post #: 247
Short, answer: absolutely YES.

Longer answer...
The world’s religions are all deeply shaped by patriarchal ideas of a woman’s place. For some, that extends even into the next world. For Mormons, men in the afterlife can have many wives, but a woman can only enter the afterlife if her husband calls her by her “secret name,” which only he knows. Also, she will be perpetually pregnant in the afterlife to produce people to populate her husband’s planet, because he gets a planet after he dies!

In the Islamic afterlife, men also get a bunch of wives. Meanwhile, in Christianity, men and women are supposedly equal before god. But regardless of whether or not that’s true, the society Christianity establishes on earth is not egalitarian at all. (See: St. Paul on women.)

There are few female prophets in the bible, no female founders of any major new faith (except Christian Science), and relatively few female religious leaders with independent power around the world. To find a religion that seems truly woman-centered, you have to go back to prehistory, and we don’t even know much about those religions. In any case, men are quite capable of worshiping a female god (e.g. Athena) while repressing women (and even using religion to justify it).

What about the bible? It’s full of misogyny, of attempts to control women’s sexuality (evidenced by its obsession with prostitutes). The subordination of women has historically been one of the main functions of religion. It’s the rulebook of patriarchy.

Today, priests and rabbis tend to talk in terms of complementarianism: men and women are equal; they’re just different!

Up until 100 years ago, there was none of this separate-but-equal bullshit. Women’s sexuality was considered dangerous and potentially polluting. Today, though, you’d have a hard time finding a rabbi who’d say that the reasoning behind the asinine menstrual taboos in Judaism is just that menstruation is “disgusting”. Instead, they say that the ritual bath “honors” women and is empowering and whatnot.

Orthodox Jews claim that men refusing to shake women’s hands has nothing to do with women being taboo; it’s just about “modesty” and “respect.” “We just think the sexes shouldn't be so quick to touch each other.” Essentially, they’ve reframed it as no longer about a specific resistance to women, but a general thing...

When American Muslim women talk about why they wear the hijab, they invoke it as a simple of religious identity, not as something to keep men from being lustful. Some Muslim women choose to start wearing it even though their mothers didn’t. After 9/11, some well-meaning liberals suggested that non-Muslim women wear the hijab in solidarity with Muslim women who were being harassed. My suggestion was, maybe men should wear the headscarf.biggrin Yeah, right... (double-standard exposed).

Some theists are willing to commit whatever preposterous sophistry is required to historicize away, ignore, compartmentalize, or reinterpret anything that doesn’t fit modern liberal values. Some Muslim feminists argue that everything objectionable in the Koran is applicable only to Mohammed’s time, and everything good in it is inherently true.

The question is, why did god put his “word” in such a way that, up until the day before yesterday, it was understood for certain that it meant a certain thing, but now we claim that it was all misinterpreted? In terms of literary criticism, this is some interesting revisionist history and cherry-picking, but far too many people still actually try to dictate their lives and social policies by their primitive and deplorable holy books.

God could’ve given the Ten Commandment to Miriam and said, “Thou must have equality between men and women.” But he didn’t. He spent four of the commandments demanding that he be worshipped. Somehow, he sounded exactly like the patriarchal society in which he was made up. But “God didn’t have to write like an old, cranky Jewish patriarch” if any of those scriptures were really divine whatsoever.

Essentially, self-defeating feminist theologians have their work cut out for them, and are walking oxymorons.
Ben Forbes G.
Kissimmee, FL
Post #: 248
Nevertheless, some people today are hungry for a Christianity that is woman-positive and sex-positive. That’s why The Da Vinci Code, a terrible book, was such a huge success. We like the idea that the church was originally an egalitarian place and that this history was erased by sexists. This requires a lot of historical revisionism and imagination though.

For instance, Mary and Miriam were fairly marginal figures in the bible, but some try to elevate them to mean more than they actually did.

Christianity still has its obsession with virginity and hostility to sex. This probably originally made it stand out as a religion. But you can’t derive our contemporary sex-positive gay-friendly culture from the New Testament. Still, some theologians try to do it anyway.

Atheists get mad when it looks like the goalposts are constantly moving. Now you say there’s nothing wrong with women wearing pants. That’s not what you were saying when you were burning Joan of Arc at the stake.

But in reality the goalposts have always been moving. When Europe was ruled by kings and queens, the Church underwrote monarchy and Jesus was described as the “king of kings.”

Religion changes when society changes. Well, maybe 50 years after society changes...

That process only looks dishonest if you think religion is a set of fixed rules and decisions. That’s how many of us atheists tend to see it. But you can also see it sociologically: it’s not really about the proper analysis of texts, it’s a social practice that reflects the society in which it is practiced. As society changes, people sift through the grab-bag of religion and pick out the bits that make “sense” to them.

Religions themselves don’t put it like that. They have to make it seem like there’s a direct line going back to the beginning, because that’s where their “authority” comes from.

This constant rewriting of history while never admitting what’s happening is how religions claim moral weight and power.

Some people believe that Judaism is inherently socialist, that Jesus was a pacifist, that Mohammed was a feminist, and that we need to get back to this original vision. But others believe that the “original vision” is that it’s okay to cut thieves’ hands off, “honor kill” raped women, etc. Both interpretations can’t be correct.

The bible used to be cited as a justification for slavery and Southern Baptism was invented to justify it. But nobody nowadays touts that the bible justifies slavery and thinks we should really get back to that. Witchcraft was always condemned in the bible, but Pagans believe that witches are actually considered good in the bible. In any case, most people in the West don’t believe in witches anymore, so nobody really cares.

The modernization theory would predict that, as human society progresses, people abandon religion or it becomes a metaphorical shadow of itself. But reactionary religious movements are gaining strength while resisting modern roles for women. We see this in many faiths around the world. Does this prove the modernization theory wrong? Does it prove that the knot cannot be untied?

While I find some hope in the modernization theory, it's hard not to see reactionary movements as a testament to the lingering lack of modernity in too many backward and barbaric places.

Fundamentalism is a vehicle for patriarchy, but that doesn’t mean that if people dump religion they will become feminists. The French revolution was made by men of the Enlightenment who were hostile to religion, but it did nothing for women’s rights. In fact, they were slightly worse-off legally. Ditto for the Soviet Union and Communist China in many ways (even though there were some strong feminist traditions in those Communist cultures). When the Soviets wanted to increase the birth rate though, abortion was outlawed.

Clearly, one can be good without god, and one can also be sexist without god. We’ve seen plenty of secular justifications for inequality — evolutionary psychology, for instance. Moreover, if and when we finally do achieve gender equality, religion may be reinterpreted by apologists to support it. The bible will be said to have “always” supported feminism, and that will be a lie.

Concurrently, religion is “comforting” to some women because it gives them a measure of power even while keeping them oppressed. For instance, a wife has to be her husband’s helpmeet, but in return the husband has to come home at a reasonable time at night. The knot between sexism and religion can only be untied when feminism becomes the norm, and even then religion will spuriously claim all the credit like it always does!angry
A former member
Post #: 399
I like where you are going here. And at the same time I want to say talk to my mother, my father's mother, and my pastor: women, each with unique experiences which trump any man's conjecture on the topic.
A former member
Post #: 401
Best bumper sticker I ever read:

"Feminism is the radical idea that women are people too."
Jairo M.
Winter Park, FL
Post #: 1,486
Perhaps it's not Religion(s) (in general) that are bad for women, but how they are applied?
What about societies which encouraged their women to become priests, educators, prophets, oracles, saints, and/or heroins, instead of suppressing or incarcerating them for expressing their spiritual talents through witch hunts? If one can say that such societies practiced some forms of religions and that such practices of religions were good for women, then one cannot argue that Religion is bad for women.

One book ["Shamanism and the Origins of States: Spirit, Power, and Gender in East Asia" by Sarah Milledge Nelson ] posits that women were very important in forming the communities which eventually became states, particularly, in China and its vicinity. But such a scholarly book may be a little faulty by taking a look at sparse archaeological evidence that's thousands of years old. So who knows what societies were really like back then. But it may also be looking at what more recent societies with shamans do.

In the Himalayan mountain regions around northern India and Tibet there were important female figures that were elevated to status of female Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, oftentimes these heroins were the consorts or wives of important male heroes. Machig Labdrön, a great Tibetan yogini who originated several Tibetan lineages of the Indian tantric practice of Chöd. Machig may have come from a Bon family and developed Chöd by combining native Tibetan Bönpo shamanism with the Dzogchen teachings. The practice involves visualizing that one is cutting up and offering one's body parts to demons.
"As long as there is an ego, there are demons. When there is no more ego, There are no more demons either!" —Machig Labdrön

"In [the book "Shamanism and the Origins of States: Spirit, Power, and Gender in East Asia"] Sarah Milledge Nelson suggests that shamanism was a significant building block for state formation in East Asia, and that women, who often had the shamanistic access to the spirit world, played an important role in this process. She shows how this would have been the case, by systematically going through archaeological, historical and ethnographic records of various regions of East Asia and surrounding areas, from Palaeolithic through early historic times, unravelling and rewinding various strands of mythological, ideological, documentary, and simply anthropological. Very convincingly, [Nelson] demonstrates the fun and value of an alternative approach to East Asian archaeology." —Fumiko Ikawa-Smith, McGill University

So with books like that to show evidence that there were times when religious practice was good for women or at least was not that bad for them in general, and that it depends more on the attitude of the society than the religion, then perhaps there is hope that today's religious institutions can be reformed and religious doctrines can be practiced in such a way to uplift women.
A former member
Post #: 415
If the parts are all there,

is worth the watch
Jairo M.
Winter Park, FL
Post #: 1,490
FEMME, executive produced by Sharon Stone, looks at the Goddess cultures and traces how the loss of the Sacred Feminine, the diminishment of women, the rise of patriarchy and the development of capitalism have affected our planet. It concludes that now is the time for women to step up and guide the way toward a world of caring economics that benefits everyone on the planet, not just men or a select group of elites. Included are interviews with visionaries and scholars such as Jean Shinoda Bolen, Jean Houston, Marianne Williamson, Riane Eisler, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, yogi Seane Corn, Rickie Lee Jones, shaman Sandra Ingerman, Nobel Peace Laureates Shirin Ebadi, Mairead Maguide, Jody Williams, Celeste Yarnall, Barbara Lazaroff, Carole Wells, T.S. Wiley, Sharon Stone and many more.
8:00 PM Thu, Sep 19 Mad Cow Theatre
Ben Forbes G.
Kissimmee, FL
Post #: 256
Regarding the history of sexism in religion: you are correct Jairo that many “primitive” hunter-gatherer and early Neolithic cultures were in some ways (especially socioeconomically) more egalitarian than their “more advanced” successors, including in regards to some aspects of gender-roles and status. Concurrently, some of the earliest animist religions in human history seem to have been less patriarchal: even including mother-goddess worship in some form (as evidenced by the so-called Venus figurines across many cultures / areas of the world, for example).

Nevertheless, in most areas farming eventually encouraged inequality between the sexes as it expanded to become the predominant source of food for humankind’s exponentially growing population. Freed from the need to transport their babies during a nomadic existence, and under pressure to produce more hands to till the fields, farming women tended to have more frequent pregnancies than their hunter-gatherer counterparts — with consequent drains on their health. Among the Chilean mummies for example, more women than men had bone lesions from infectious disease.

Women in agricultural societies were/are sometimes even made beasts of burden. In New Guinea farming communities today, women often stagger under loads of vegetables and firewood while the men walk empty-handed. For example: when Jared Diamond was doing fieldwork there studying birds, he offered to pay some villagers to carry supplies from an airstrip to his mountain camp. The heaviest item was a 110-pound bag of rice, which he lashed to a pole and assigned to a team of four men to shoulder together. When he eventually caught up with the villagers, the men were carrying light loads, while one small woman weighing less than the bag of rice was bent under it, supporting its weight by a cord across her temples. And that sort of example is not atypical in traditional farming societies.

Anyway, it is commonly thought that agriculture encouraged the flowering of art by providing us with leisure time, but modern hunter-gatherers have at least as much free time as do farmers. The whole emphasis on leisure time as a critical factor seems to me misguided. Gorillas have had ample free time to build their own Parthenon, had they wanted to. While post-agricultural technological advances did make new art forms possible and the preservation of art easier, great paintings and sculptures were already being produced by hunter-gatherers 15,000 years ago, and were still being produced as recently as the last century by such hunter-gatherers as some Eskimos and the Indians of the Pacific Northwest. A sedentary lifestyle does provide some major cultural advantages when it comes to toolmaking, division of labor, and quantities of possessions, however…

Essentially though, with the advent of agriculture, a privileged élite became better off, but most people became worse off. One likely reason why this happened boils down to the adage “Might makes right.” Farming could support many more people than hunting, albeit with a poorer nutritional quality of life. (Population densities of hunter-gatherers are rarely over one person per ten square miles, while even primitive farmers can easily average 100 times that.) Partly, this is because a field planted entirely in edible crops lets one feed far more mouths than a forest with scattered edible plants. Partly, too, it’s because nomadic hunter-gatherers typically have to keep their children spaced at four-year intervals by infanticide and other means, since a mother must carry her toddler until it’s old enough to keep up with the adults. Because farm women don’t have that burden, they can and often do bear a child every two years while they are fertile (or die trying).

As population densities of hunter-gatherers slowly rose at the end of the ice ages, bands had to choose between feeding more mouths by taking the first steps toward agriculture — or else finding ways to limit growth. Some bands chose the former solution, unable to anticipate the downsides of farming, and seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed until population growth caught up with increased food production. Such bands outbred and then drove off or killed the bands that chose to remain hunter-gatherers, because a hundred malnourished farmers can still outfight one healthy hunter (especially once subsistence farmers support and militarily augment a small group of privileged élite professional warriors). It’s not that hunter-gatherers abandoned their lifestyle — but rather that those who didn’t abandon it were forced out of all areas except the ones farmers didn’t want.

So, what does all this mean for the history of religion? As cultures became more patriarchal and hierarchical with the rise of farming, so too did religions… and more egalitarian animistic religions were eclipsed by polytheistic Pantheons (which, while many did/do include goddesses with various gendered domains traditionally considered appropriate, most Pantheons are dominated by aggressive warrior gods and/or gods who have mastery over powerful elements). Though there were polytheistic priestesses who wielded some power, most polytheistic cultures’ priesthoods of the most powerful or important gods were dominated by men (and sexist socioeconomic gender inequalities and norms were enforced by religion). Later in history, with the rise of the massive monotheisms, things generally only got worse for women by the misogynist standards of most cultures’ religions (until the rise of modern feminism in the context of relatively secular democratic republics, constitutional monarchies, or other sorts of modern nation-states has finally begun to gradually change that over the past century, and especially since the 1960s). In summary, it doesn’t have to necessarily be the case that religion MUST be bad for women, sexist, misogynist, repressive of female sexuality, etc. It just so happens that the overwhelming majority of the predominant forms of religion in human cultures today are (largely as a result of the cultures that invented them). Apologists may try to excuse religion and blame society at large, citing the history I just summarized or something similar. The problem with that excuse, however, is that almost all religions still promote antiquated, primitive, and sexist/misogynist morals, rules, double-standards, theologies, etc. sad
A former member
Post #: 430
Gorillas have had ample free time to build their own Parthenon, had they wanted to.
Do you toss lines like that in just to see if we are reading?
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