Religion is the enemy of women

First of all, I apologize for linking to Fox "News". This article was drawn to my attention by a friend of mine. Anyway, it appears as though a British pastor has offended some of his parishioners by suggesting that they should obey the Bible, even when it flies in the face of our modern standards of morality. Specifically:

Church of England reverend Angus MacLeay issued a leaflet to churchgoers saying that women should not speak if questions could be answered by their husbands.
The leaflet, entitled The Role of Women in the Local Church, adds that wives should "submit to their husbands in everything."
It continues, "Wives are to submit to their husbands in everything in recognition of the fact that husbands are head of the family as Christ is head of the church.
"This is the way God has ordered their relationships with each other and Christian marriage cannot function well without it."

I rather vividly recall from back in 1998 when the Southern Baptist Convention made a similar kind of decree, saying that wives should submit graciously to their husbands. To this day, women are not allowed to be pastors/ministers/priests in many, if not most churches.

We usually associate the oppression of women with certain non-Christian religions... you know, countries where rape victims are punished, women have acid thrown at them, women are forced to cover their entire bodies, and where in general women are afforded none of the opportunities given to men – education, independence, leadership, etc. etc. Such cultures are at such odds with the civilized Western world that it's easy to overlook how oppressive religion can be right on our doorstep.

If there's anything that Christians are good at, it's cherry-picking the Bible. This one is literal, that one is metaphorical; this one is relevant to us now, that one was only relevant to the culture at the time; this one is a strict rule that can't be bent or broken, that one is more of a guideline. So, let's see what the Bible actually has to say about the rights of women. I'm sticking to the New Testament here, because I've already talked at length about the misogynistic barbarism of the Old Testament in prior posts.

  • Women should cover their heads:  3Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is just as though her head were shaved. 6If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head. 7A man ought not to cover his head,[b] since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. 8For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head. (1 Corinthians 11)
  • Women are not allowed to teach, and the Fall of Man was their fault: 11A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. 13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. (1 Timothy 2)
  • Wifes are the "weaker" partners: 7Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3)
  • Wives should submit to their husbands:  22Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5)

Now, most modern Christians are going to dodge these massive bullets with the old "it was appropriate for the culture at the time" argument or, less commonly, the "that's really more of a guideline" argument. Here's the elephant in the room though: There is no independent criteria for properly interpreting the Bible! The importance of this fact really needs to sink in. When Christians decide to ignore this scripture while following that one, or declare one scripture as a hard and fast rule while another is culturally irrelevant and can be safely disregarded, they are pulling it out of their ass. This is why nobody actually uses the Bible as a book of moral guidance: Christians simply interpret the book in accordance with pre-existing sociocultural biases. 

Inevitably, when people like the British pastor above or the leaders at the Southern Baptist Convention use the Bible to justify sexism that seems more fitting for the year 10 than the year 2010, lots of more liberal-minded Christians will be quick to point out that such views are not representative of all Christians, and that plenty of them are more sensible (disclaimer: degree of sensibility may vary by denomination). But such well-meaning theists are missing the heart of the problem: that religious beliefs, since they are not derived from independent evidence, can be adopted and interpreted arbitrarily. When you take something that can be interpreted arbitrarily and then ascribe to it absolute authority, you have a recipe for the most pathetic kind of manipulative behavior. It's the problem that is at the root of all religion, so we should not be surprised when it spills over into the treatment of women.

I believe very strongly that a secular view of human solidarity deepens our morality in a way that religion can never attain. Solidarity is simply the understanding that we live as a necessarily bonded and interdependent species, and that if we do not respect the needs and interests of others, others will have no reason to respect our own needs and interests. Instead of oppressing the rights of others and justifying it with references to ancient scribblings from a long-lost primitive culture, I recognize the immense contribution we can make to each others' well-being and to humanity regardless of superficial things like age, class, sex, or race; and therefore, I see no logic, no rationale, behind treating anyone as intrinsically inferior to me, for any reason.


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