On Religion

Eve tempting Adam. I guess Adam didn't have a mind of his own
Eve tempting Adam. I guess Adam didn’t have a mind of his own

W.J. Astore

The other day my wife and I were watching Wadjda, a terrific film about a spirited Saudi girl who dreams of buying and riding her very own bicycle.  The film does a great job of highlighting the constraints put on women in traditional Saudi and Islamic culture.  Women are not allowed to drive, they must veil themselves whenever they can be seen by men, they are trained to be subservient and not to attract attention to themselves, and so on.

Watching the constraints under which Saudi women live their lives, my spirited wife uttered the following aphorism:

Religion – written by men, for men.  And that’s all you need to know.

Having been raised Catholic, it’s hard to disagree with her.  The Catholic Church has historically been misogynist.  It was Eve, after all, who tempted Adam.  She was “the weaker vessel” who was cursed with the pain of childbirth because of her “original sin.”  The Church itself, to state the obvious, is run entirely by men.  Even the woman most respected by the Church, the Virgin Mary, is an unattainable ideal.  A woman who gets pregnant without losing her virtue and virginity?  Try aspiring to that.

Whenever a religion, no matter if it’s Islam or Catholicism or some other faith or sect, places half of humanity in inferior and subservient roles, we must question very closely its true intent and inspiration.  Surely a just and compassionate God would not sanction a religion that subordinates women to the whims of men.

Obviously, I know many believers, women as well as men, will disagree with this.  They will point to their faith, their holy books, the power of tradition.  Or they will try to explain how their religion really doesn’t discriminate against women and so on.

Here I recall a saying that Temple Grandin says she will never forget: “Men will wrangle for religion, write for it, fight for it, die for it, anything but live for it.”

How true.  And I’d add that any religion worth living for is one that treats men and women equally as believers.  I don’t think God, if He or She (!) exists, would want it any other way.

7 thoughts on “On Religion

  1. Hey.. Let’s not leave out the Jews. The Hasidim Jews are not too far from the Catholics and Moslems and all of those cultural driven women suppressing men. Suppression of women goes beyond all religions I believe. In trips to China as late as fifteen years ago one could still occasionally see women in the provinces with ‘bound’ feet. It could be historically that suppression of women began with men’s higher testosterone long before modern religions started. Men constructed the modern religions out of these pre historic tendencies. Women…. to the battlements!

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    1. Interesting comment Fearless. Years ago we did some business consulting in the South and in talking with executives there I noticed a stark difference in the way they looked at “their” woman who needed their ‘protection’ and their ‘girl friends’ who were “sluts”. I do not know if those attitudes have changed much in the South. In the North the men seem to take care of both their “Woman” and their “girl friends”.I guess it is still a man’s world but it is changing as woman have been released from the unforeseen pregnancy by the pill but of course that is still under attack by our religious throwbacks.

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  2. “,,, in the world of the infant the solicitude of the parent conduces to a belief that the universe is oriented to the child’s own interest and ready to respond to every thought and desire. This flattering circumstance not only reinforces the primary indissociation between inside and out, but even adds to it a further habit of command, linked to an experience of immediate effect. The resultant impression of an omnipotence of thought – the power of thought, desire, a mere nod or shriek to bring the world to heel – Freud identified as the psychological base of magic, and the researches of Piaget and his school support this view. The child’s world is alert and alive, governed by rules of response and command, not by physical laws: a portentous continuum of consciousness, endowed with purpose and intent, either resistant or responsive to the child itself. And as we know, this infantile notion (or something much like it) of a world governed rather by moral than by physical laws, kept under control by a super-ordinated parental personality instead of impersonal physical forces, and oriented to the weal and woe of man, is an illusion that dominates men’s thought in most parts of the world – to the very present. We are dealing here with a spontaneous assumption, antecedent to all teaching, which has given rise to, and now supports, certain religious and magical beliefs, and when reinforced in turn by these remains an absolutely ineradicable conviction, which no amount of rational thought or empirical science can quite erase.”

    “The child begins by assuming that adults were the makers of all things; for they are thought to be omniscient and omnipotent until events make it all too evident that they are neither. Whereupon the cherished image of an all-knowing, all-potent, manually or otherwise creating parent is simply transferred to the vague figure of an anthropomorphic though invisible God, which has already been furnished by parental or other instruction.

    “The figure of a creative being is practically, if not absolutely, universal in the mythologies of the world, and just as the parental image is associated in childhood not only with the power to make all things but also with the authority to command, so also in religious thought the creator of the universe is commonly the giver and controller of its laws. The two orders – the infantile and the religious – are at least analagous, and it may well be that the latter is simply a translation of the former to a sphere out of range of critical observation.”

    From Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology: the Masks of God, revised edition (1959; New York: Penguin Arkana, 1991), Chapter 2 – The Imprints of Experience, Section IV – The Spontaneous Animism of Childhood.

    Religion, or Sympathetic Magic, develops naturally, not simply from differences in human gender but from the persistence of infantile parental dependency psychologically projected onto a natural world that doesn’t actually “care” — an anthropomorphic conceit — what happens to individual or collective living things. Adult maturity and disinterested observation ought to bring a realization that nature works through impersonal physical laws and not through any super-parental solicitude for human welfare in particular. Unfortunately, kings and priests (i.e. despots and witch doctors) have found this natural infantile dependency too tempting a lever of control not to exploit it viciously for the advantage of the few, so that, as Thomas Jefferson said:

    “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

    Some powerful men in human society — pick any one you like — do employ religion to subordinate women, but they employ it to subordinate other men, as well. Reproductive Advantage, the driving force of evolution, explains most of this phenomenon. Presidents and princes posing as the self-appointed spokespersons for the Big Invisible Mommy/Daddy provide some of history’s clearest examples — especially noticeable in the United States today — of this persistent infantile dependency and its ruthless exploitation.

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  3. ….and further reflection on this piece has me thinking about religions that aggressively promote childbirth despite Mother Earth’s obvious limitations. This approach not only keeps women down, but guarantees an unsustainable future. Hmmmm. What to do?!

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