Reason # 3: Women’s troubles

So far, the reasons I’ve given for my agnosticism have been related to my upbringing and surroundings. But a girl likes to mix it up, so here’s a scriptural difficulty I have with organized religion: It’s highly patriarchal.

I am not a man-hater, so relax. I can have a male boss or a female boss; I can have a male doctor or a female doctor. I have male friends and female friends. I’m not a hard-core feminist who wants women to run everything. But the monotheistic religions are pretty man-centric. Islam may not be anti-woman at its core, but women primarily don’t have the same status as men. Judaism seems better in this regard, but it’s still very patriarchal even if it’s come a long way. (If I remember right, Orthodox Judaism includes a prayer men recite that involves the words, “Thank you, God, for not making me a woman.”)  And Christianity includes the lovely words of St. Paul, who said that women should keep silent in church and just mind their men.

Being a woman and all, you might say I have issues with that.

Obviously, I don’t go to any church regularly or accept any religion’s precepts wholeheartedly. So in theory, none of this should matter to me, I suppose. Of course, it does, and that’s because the attitudes about women in religion bleed over into the civil sphere and make a difference in their civil rights. There’s a reason women can’t hold public office in many Muslim countries, and they couldn’t be rabbis until recent years, and they still earn far less than men in America, and I’m afraid religion has driven or facilitated those inequalities.

I know that some defend this kind of inequality, saying that men and women have different roles in life and that while women aren’t allowed to do some things, they aren’t expected to do other things. They have privileges that make up for what they’re barred from. And if that’s not good enough, the stability of society and the natural order of the universe are held to be in terrible danger if women depart from their “natural” roles.

I could go on, but I’ll let some discussion happen in the comments first. For the moment, suffice it to say that I will never subscribe to a religion that includes as one of its basic precepts the idea that women aren’t equal to men. Women can lead, women can be spiritual, women can fight, and women can sacrifice. To tell them they’re only allowed certain roles, and to waste their talents when they’re more suited to a forbidden role, is neither just nor smart. I’ll return to this when I talk about history, but I’ve got issues with this one.

For a real brain-teaser, check out a book called The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, by Leonard Shlain. I have no idea whether this book has been critically reviewed or whether its scholarly basis is sound, but it has a ton of interesting ideas in it. From the back cover:

…Leonard Shlain shows why agricultural preliterate cultures were principally informed by holistic, right-brain modes that venerated the Goddess and feminine values and images. Writing, particularly alphabets, drove cultures toward linear left-brain thinking. This shift upset the balance between men and women, initiating the decline of the feminine, and also ushered in the reign of patriarchy and misogyny.

That’s a mouthful, eh? Anyone read this book? I think I’ll start reading it. For all I know, it’s a bunch of hooey.

Update: I should clarify that the societies Shlain discusses in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess begin in hunter/gatherer times. He does trace the effect of literacy throughout history, but he’s not talking about literate societies like pagan Rome, or the gnostic gospels that didn’t make it into the Bible. It’s about prehistory and hunter/gatherer or agricultural societies from thousands of years prior to Biblical times.

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5 Responses to “Reason # 3: Women’s troubles”


  1. 1 Tom Goodman January 29, 2007 at 1:16 am

    Thanks for the post, and I hope you get a lot of good replies. As for the last book you mentioned, if you read it I think you’ll end up agreeing that your first instinct was well-founded: hooey. It sounds a whole like Dan Brown’s (Da Vinci Code) romantic and irresponsible take on “the goddess” in the gnostic gospels. Anyone who thinks that such “lost gospels” restore the male-female “balance” that supposedly got lost when Christianity appeared should actually read ’em. Virulently anti-woman in many places.

    This, of course, doesn’t solve your concerns about what you’ve called patriarchy in the “established” religions; it’s just a caution about trying to find a male-female “harmony” within these too-modern takes on paganism like (apparently) Shlain’s book.

    Actually, to find that male-female harmony you’re hoping for, you might have to turn to those writings of Paul: “In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:28, Message).

    Lovely indeed.

  2. 2 Gordy January 29, 2007 at 2:54 am

    I think Christianity gets a bad rap in the area of roles for men and women. Paul also told the men to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Christ didn’t beat the church into submission nor treat the church as a second-class citizen.

  3. 3 Jason January 29, 2007 at 3:49 am

    Two things to think about.

    1) The Bible starts in Genesis 1, not Genesis 3.

    Gen. 1:26-27 (NCV) “Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image and likeness. And let them rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the tame animals, over all the earth, and over all the small crawling animals on the earth.”
    “So God created human beings in his image. In the image of God he created them. He created them male and female.”

    2) Remember culture. Just as many of us can respect people like Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., he also believed having mistresses and cheating on his wife was ok. Everything in the Bible has to be taken in context, and in cultural terms.

    I highly encourage you to keep digging, and keep asking questions. No one has all the answers, and religion as a core is not the answer. If Christians are truly Christ followers, then if Jesus isnt at the core (and the core should be LOVE. ) then it is merely religion and I dont want any part of that either.

  4. 4 Gary January 29, 2007 at 5:37 am

    Ok, now we are getting to some meat. Let me pose a question though: If all we had to go on was the Bible, and we had to answer the question about whether women were equal to men, how might we answer?

    A couple of things to qualify the question. The Bible is Narrative. So it tells an overarching story, it is going somewhere.

    Its also history, which means that it will have many cultural underpinnings that pop up during the narrative.

    So lets look at a few verses:

    In a section of Genesis that could be best called “The Curses” this is what God says…Gen 3:16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

    So the Patriarchal system was a “curse” and not the normal plan.

    In Chapter 14 of 1st Corinthians Paul is addressing orederliness in worship, and out of that context he says: 1Co 14:33-34 “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, (34) the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.” So we have this movement of the curse (by the way, law here does not refer to the 10 commandmants, but the Mitzvot which are a little over 600 laws, not all of them written by men “inspired by God”, but rather more like a collection of rules…but that is another discussion). Paul is NOT saying that a woman’s role is silence, but rather in these instances there is a problem to be addressed, much in the same way that he tells a Church to throw a MAN out earlier becuase he is sleeping with his mother in law. The curse keeps going.

    But here is where the corner turns, Paul writing about Jesus and what he came to do (and the Church is about Jesus right?) in the book of Glalatians says: Gal 3:24-29 “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (25) But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, (26) for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. (27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Lets track this:
    The law was guardian to Christ Came
    Christ has come and now faith rules
    We have all put on Christ
    We are all equal, as we are all one in Jesus…

    I would point out that this is the first time in recorded History when someone raised the status of women up to that of men, and it came about all because of Jesus.

    Look, if we looked at the whole of Scripture we would find sin messing a lot of things up for people period. Not just women, and not just men, but governments, the environment etc…The growth of a patriarchal syndrome was not something that God intended. Of course men and women are different, but what makes them different does not automatically mean that a woman can’t be a leader in any and all the same ways a man can. In the Bible we have women who:
    Lead the nation of Israel…lead Churches…serve in whatever way they are called by God.

    Scripture is inclusive…
    boneheads are not.

  5. 5 Alien Drums January 31, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    It simply seems wrong to devalue someone for who she or he is. To me, men and women have obvious differences, just like African Americans and Anglos have differences; but those differences should enrich not devalue.

    “Seems wrong” may not be the greatest hook for hanging an argument, but it often works.

    I love that men and women are different, but the stereotypes do not hold. I’m more intuitive and less mechanical than the stereotypical man, and I would hate to live life not being able to express that individuality. In other words, roles should match the person not the gender or the race or the whatever. We will all be a lot better off, because we will be better served, if we accept that.

    Thanks, Holly, for thowing this out there.


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