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.