Probably one of the most enlightening moments for me as concerns religion and the issues I have with it came when I heard Karen Armstrong say at a session at the Chautauqua Institution that when too much change occurs, that’s when fundamentalism riles up.
Change to the status quo is scary for most of us, and represents a problem for those in power.
That being said, religion has played a major role in gender discrimination, partly because of a genuine belief on the parts of many that the Bible says women actually are “less than” men, and partly because a paradigm shift that allowed women a more egalitarian status in society was viewed as a threat to the patriarchal power structure that has worked so well for …men.
The “Bible says it” argument goes all the way back to the Creation story found in the book of Genesis, where God, in Chapter 2 of Genesis, creates man first, and then female. Not surprisingly, the story in Genesis Chapter 1, written some time after Genesis 2, says that male and female were created by God at the same time, suggesting that God intended for there to be equality between the sexes.
Because of an intent desire to hold onto power, the Bible, and, therefore, religion, have both been used to protect and uphold the status quo. The problem is, however, that doing so uses “the word of God to maintain human privilege,” according to the late Rev. Peter Gomes, and that, he says, “is idolatrous and blasphemous.”
The starting point for the fight about “what thus the Lord wanteth” is the “Word of God,” but unfortunately, everyone who reads the Bible reads it from his or her own vantage point. Therefore, though there is one Bible, there are various hermeneutics, or interpretations.
Since the priviledged read scripture from their perch in society and culture, it is not surprising that the Bible has been used to justify anti-Semitism, slavery, and the subordination of women. Likewise, it is not surprising that as Jews and blacks and women began to read the Bible for themselves, they began to read it from their perches in culture and society.
What too many people forget is that 1) the Bible was written by men of privilege, and 2) God made all people. If God is all-loving, God would not have made so many humans with whom God had an issue. That would be foolhardy, and God is no fool; nor does God make mistakes.
Religions, then, have plowed along, resting on the claim that they are protecting the authority of scripture, offering the world a very biased take and expecting the world to swallow it peacefully and without protest. Even Pope Paul II, in an effort to assuage some of the contention around the role of women in the church, reverted back to the “I-can’t-help-it-the-Bible-says-it” argument to offer condolences to women who were upset that the Church would not respect them as fully equal human beings, worthy of serving God in the eyes of the God who created them.
Religion has been good as well of lifting up some passages of scripture while ignoring others. While those in favor of keeping women in their place have felt no compunction about lifting passages from 1 Corinthians 14 and I Timothy 2, where Paul, (or someone writing in Paul’s name) talk about the need for women to be silent, they have been silent, or at least reticent, about lifting passages like John 20:18 where Mary Magdalene was the first person to see the empty grave and proclaim Jesus’ resurrection, or Galatians 3:27-29, where even Paul acknowledges that there is neither slave nor free, male nor female …
It is a shame that any challenge to long-standing interpretations of scripture are viewed as menacing, threatening and just wrong, but it is not surprising. Those in power liked things the way they were. With women coming forward, more and more, it is apparent that what “was” will never be again, and that is the thought that daunts and troubles people in places of religious power.
Jimmy Carter was right in what he said – that the declarations by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam and other religions that women are inferior in the eyes of God are responsible for the discrimination of women all over the world. The more the powerful are questioned, the more nervous they get …and they will use whatever weapon they can to stem the tide. Religion, in that scenario, becomes and has been one of the most potent weapons available.
| Apr 6, 2011 11:08 AM