“These people do not know that while Barak trembled, Deborah saved Israel, that Esther delivered from supreme peril the children of God … Is it not to women that our Lord appeared after His Resurrection? Yes, and the men could then blush for not having sought what the women had found.”
– Saint Jerome, 5th Century C.E., after attracting criticism and rage for dedicating his books to women.
“The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.
– Jimmy Carter
You Are a Dumb-ass If You Believe…
Despite the rise of secularism, Christianity isn’t going away any time soon. As much as I’d love to burn crosses and spew blasphemy all day, that probably wouldn’t be terribly effective at changing believers’ minds. Neo-atheists like Bill Maher, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have spent decades fighting the harmful symptoms of religion by saying it’s all bullshit. I grew up reading their books and watching their movies. I love those guys. That being said, telling a Christian that everything that he believes is profoundly stupid probably won’t change his mind. If we can’t achieve destruction, we need to shoot for evolution.
The fight isn’t religion versus secularism. It’s rational religious practice versus Fundamentalism. The Bible is like a gun. You need to be trained on how to use it and you need to exercise great caution when you do use it. You can cause a lot of misery and harm with a gun. Newsflash: you can do that with a Bible too. Rational believers practice religion responsibly, and with caution. Fundamentalists brandish their deadly weapon with carelessness and arrogance. We need to encourage Christians to practice their religion responsibly.
Context: The Scripture Condom
One of my earlier posts, Fundamentalism: The ‘F’ Word That’s Way Worse than ‘Fuck’, discussed the societal cancer of Fundamentalism and its insistence that the Bible be read literally. Experts say otherwise. Biblical scholars are in agreement on what controversial books, such as Genesis, actually mean. They have offered clear guidelines on how these ancient texts should be read and interpreted. These guidelines need to be followed. The misinterpretation of Genesis is so dangerous because of its detrimental effects on education policy and the public’s trust in scientific discoveries and warnings. A different, but just as dire, consequence of reading the Bible literally is misogyny.
Women in the Bible
The scripture’s treatment of women is a touchy subject for me. It’s obviously vile that so many pivotal Biblical figures seem to regard women as little more than livestock. But, a reader comes to that conclusion if the text is read literally. While it is impossible for the Bible to not be tainted by the male-dominated culture and primitive morality of its time, many people fail to consider the contextual elements that are needed for the real extraction of “spiritual truth” from the text (the validity of spiritual truth is debatable). This oversight reinforces bigotry and helps to perpetuate gender double standards. For example, President Obama once said that if a man is viewed as ambitious, it is a desirable quality. On the flip side, if a woman has similar ambitions, many people would view her in a negative light. That’s a very Biblical sentiment, if the text is read without context.
The argument that the Bible, at face value, doesn’t contain misogyny is indefensible. 1 Corinthians, Colossians, 1 Peter and Ephesians (to name a only a few) clearly state that women are subordinate to men. These examples are only in the New Testament. The Old Testament goes even further, but there’s not time to delve into that. If you’re interested in a more thorough examination of Old Testament sexism, check out 4 Reasons Why Evangelical Women Hate Themselves.
While these verses are deplorable by modern standards, we need to cut Paul (the author of the books mentioned) a little slack. In these passages, Paul was a product of his time. Jewish women were second-class citizens and couldn’t even go inside the synagogue. They were round up like cattle and herded away from the synagogue, so that they weren’t visible or audible. Prominent rabbis during this time made statements like “To instruct a woman in the law is to cast pearls before swine,” and “It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men.” Other peer cultures were just as offensive by modern standards. Greek women weren’t allowed on the street without a male escort and spent the majority of their time locked inside their homes. Ancient Greeks didn’t even have two separate words for “wife” and “woman.” There was no distinction. Roman culture at the time gave women no rights and treated them like male property too.
When we consider this, Paul was actually progressive. He invited women to worship inside the temple. This was blasphemous to contemporary religious leaders. Paul wanted women to be literate and emphasized the need for women to be able to read scripture themselves. Paul talked about Phoebe as a leader and a champion. Most historians believe that Phoebe delivered Paul’s letter to the Romans. While these elements of historical context paint Paul in more positive light, the teachings taken at face value still fall far short of the equality and respect that women deserve. The takeaway from this should be that Paul was engaging in a counter-cultural effort to improve the status of women by providing them with education and responsibility. If we understand this, one of the spiritual truths of Paul’s writings is that the advancement of women is an old Christian tradition. However, when these verses are read literally, by individuals who sneer at historical context, Paul seems to support bigotry and chauvinism. Context is key.
The most important Biblical figure regarding the status of women is Jesus. Jesus didn’t just treat women in a manner that was against the Jewish and Roman norms of two thousand years ago. He advocated for the rights of women. In Matthew, some Pharisees questioned Jesus on whether or not a man should divorce his wife. The Pharisees referenced the law found in Deuteronomy 24:1, which said that a man could divorce a woman if he didn’t find her appealing. Jesus responded that adultery was the only grounds for divorce; citing Genesis’ commandment that marriage is for life. He also said that if someone divorces their wife and marries another, they’ve committed adultery. At first glance, this seems like something a conservative Evangelical would say. Once again, the actual message was progressive. Jesus was directly advocating for women’s rights.
The law of the time stated that only men could divorce women. Women had no property rights. So, often a man would divorce a woman and leave her destitute, with no means of supporting herself. By putting strict limitations on when a man could divorce his wife, Christ was protecting the woman and regulating the potential abuse of power by the husband. In a time when women were property, Jesus saw them as people with intrinsic rights. He stated that women were equal to men in the eyes of God and were deserving of grace. These were all cutting-edge theological ideas that horrified the religious establishment. While contemporary rabbis forbid women from reading the Torah, Jesus defiantly shared the Torah with women.
Where Are Women Now?
Now here we stand, two thousand years later. Has the torch of women’s advancement been carried into the new millennium? Fuck no. Yes, women can vote now and go to school, but the effects of thousands of years of abusive patriarchy are still with us. Unfortunately, these bronze-age ideas continue to infect society, largely due to context-free interpretations of scripture, i.e. the Evangelical method.
Many Christian women, who are beaten by their husbands, or suffer verbal and emotional abuse, are told that God won’t support their escape because he hates divorce. They are using Jesus’ divorce edict in the wrong way. Jesus was concerned with protecting women, not endangering them. People need to look at his intent and the context of his remarks, not what he literally recommended in first century Judea.
The Trump campaign and administration has showed how little regard Evangelical men have for women. In response to the horrendous leaked Access Hollywood tape of Trump boosting about sexually assaulting women without consent, over seven hundred Evangelical women spoke out against Trump in a letter that stated Trump was “an insult to the Christian faith.” Their Evangelical male counterparts responded quite differently, which insulted the women just as much as Trump’s words did. Pat Robertson famously said that if a wife is rebellious, the husband should move to Saudi Arabia so he can beat her. He also downplayed Trump’s behavior as “macho talk” and then went on to cheer Trump on for “rising up like a phoenix” after the tape fallout. Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. said that the comments didn’t have an effect on his decision to support Trump. Like father, like son: Falwell’s father, Jerry Sr., said that all that feminists needed was a man to tell them what to do. Ben Carson blamed the media for encouraging women to come out with stories of rape in order to gain fifteen minutes of fame.
These comments tell us several things. First, the leaders of the Evangelical Right place the well-being and advancement of women very low on their hierarchy of priorities. Ralph Reed, head of the Freedom & Faith coalition, literally stated that Trump’s talk of sexual assault ranks low on the hierarchy concerns of his constituents. Second, they are acting in direct opposition to Christ’s example of improving the standing of women in society. Third, by tacitly classifying Trump’s talk as acceptable, they are dragging us back into the past, where groping and sexual harassment were commonplace. This is a human rights problem.
The advancement of women is in direct conflict with Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christianity. Christians are not going to just surrender their faith. Instead of trying to humiliate them by calling their beliefs naive, we need encourage the rational practice of Christianity. The virus is the literal reading of scripture. The vaccine is context. If Christians can brandish their weapon safely, then we have a lot less to be afraid of.
And, on a finishing note, here’s a message to misogynists everywhere: