Religion not only provides the male with a goal (Heaven) and helps keep women tied to men, but offers rituals through which he can try to expiate the guilt and shame he feels at not defending himself enough against his sexual impulses; in essence, that guilt and shame he feels at being male…A woman not only takes her identity and individuality for granted, but knows instinctively that the only wrong [in this life] is to hurt others, and that the meaning of life is love.
-Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto, 1971
As I was watching the Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton this past Friday, I realized I was watching a ceremony deeply rooted in English Christianity; the first overtly religious event I’ve seen in QUITE a while. While most viewers might not have noticed that part—as, of course, the main feature was the bride and groom—I got to thinking about women in religion.
I am not a theologian, nor am I vastly knowledgeable in religious history in the context of feminism, but can speak intelligently about what I fear is the most harmful institution to women’s safety and progression: religious dogma and the patriarchs who defend it.
What can I say about the tenuous status of women in religion that has not been written or documented extensively about? All of the major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Catholicism) have a bloody and violent history in their treatment of women. In fact, atheist and feminist prose emphasizes the concept of religion as a creation of MAN and not DIVINITY. This, in turn, makes religion a male invention, putting themselves in a position of power and subjugating women to forms of property and of a weaker frame of mind that requires male support and “guidance”.
What, dare I ask, is the real truth? If religion is supposed to enlighten and uplift us, why do we subscribe to a religious dogma that labels us as weaker sub-humans? Don’t these MAN-created scriptures tout virtues such as our equality before the eyes of God? Why would “He” (although God’s gender is another discussion altogether) create a social construct making women inferior to men if we are equal before him? While I’ve grown up from a girl awed by the shining vision of His world to a firm atheist, I’ve read about the rampant horrors that befell women throughout history and of the sub-human treatments suffered by women today in the name of religion.
What about the burquas Muslim women are forced to wear? The systematic executions of innocent Christian women for witchcraft in the Middle Ages? The barring of women becoming Catholic priests? The polygamous lifestyle of Mormons? The “honor” executions of Muslim wives for any infraction to the patriarchal interpretation of the Qu’ran? The horrific mutilations of female genitals practiced by religious figures in Central Africa and Middle East? It seems every world religion is intensely patriarchal. In the words of the blog Daylight Atheism’s post Religion’s Harm to Women, “every one of them engages in the systematic devaluation of women, in the systematic exclusion of women from positions of authority, and in the systematic oppression and even enslavement of women. I have yet to find a single major religion that bucks this trend. Considering how little many of these religions have in common otherwise, this is a truly remarkable pattern.“
Take, for instance, verses from the Bible:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply your sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
— Genesis 3:16
Also, the Ten Commandments which state wives as their husband’s property, “thing[s] that [are] thy neighbor’s. (Exodus 20:17)
The head of the woman is the man. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
Women must never be allowed to teach or hold authority over men. (1 Timothy 2:11-15)
From the Torah:
Women who give birth to daughters are “unclean” for twice as long as those who give birth to sons. (Leviticus 12)
Womens’ lives are at half the value of men’s lives. (Leviticus 27:3-7)
Women who are raped in cities and do not cry out are to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:22-24), while women who are raped in the countryside are merely to marry their rapists. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
From the Qur’an:
“Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other…So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them.”
“And call two witnesses from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not at hand, then a man and two women…”
“Allah chargeth you concerning (the provision for) your children: to the male the equivalent of the portion of two females…”
This can only start to illustrate the biggest tragedy to befall men throughout history; supporting these sexist and patriarchal belief systems. What I ask myself everyday, though, is this: why do so many women, additionally, continue to take part in their own subjugation by joining and upholding religions that do their utmost to deny us the full equality we deserve?
Fortunately, women are taking steps to address these issues by forming sub-denominations. Islam, Christian and Jewish feminism has established themselves as branches of their respective faiths which seek to interpret and understand their religion in the context of equality across genders. They seek to improve the legal, social, religious, and spiritual status of women and, in Jewish Feminism, to open up new opportunities for leadership for Jewish women.
While these reforms and new branches are a noble effort to try to redress these grievances, it is simply a little misguided to me. Religion in general, especially the major ones, are just too rooted in dogma and misogyny for any progress to take hold. Ultimately, religion, being a male creation for power, has to end. To achieve this, every woman must be an atheist. I hope to share some ideas in the posts to come for encouraging more women to become atheists. Let’s cross our fingers!