Thursday, November 16, 2017

Women and religion, pt. II

Stevenson Memorial, by Abbott Handerson Thayer (Smithsonian American Art Museum)


    The key to writing a column is to say some things and not others. You can't explore every tangent. There isn't room, or reader interest. Make your point, move on. 
    Often, however, nuance is lost. In Monday's column, for instance, on religion and sexism, when I was listing the ways various religions hold women down, I originally gave the Baha'i a pass—they actually do stress the equality of the sexes. That seemed fair. But there wasn't room, so it had to go. Nor did I have the luxury of mentioning that, along with regularly oppressing women, faith also sometimes enriches them. 
    One reader stepped up to point that out, in a way I felt went beyond the standard "What about the Clintons?" response, and since she did so lucidly and sincerely, I thought I would share her remarks:
Dear Mr. Steinberg,
     As a woman, mother of three daughters, and grandmother of 5 granddaughters, I feel compelled to respond to your article today by adding another view.
     I have found freedom to be all I want to be, respect for the unique qualities inerrant in being a female human being, and courage to stand up to those who would disrespect my womanhood all in my faith as a Christian. 
     Jesus elevated the status of the woman he came in contact with through his time of ministry. He dispersed a crowd ready to stone a woman "caught in adultery" (where was the man she was caught with?) by asking her accusers "he who is without sin, cast the first stone".
     Jesus encouraged women to learn from his teachings alongside the men who also followed him at a time when women were not part of formal spiritual or intellectual training. Mary of Bethany, Martha, and Mary Magdalene were some of those women who followed Jesus.
     Jesus engaged in conversation with a woman who was an outcast (a Samaritan) and offered her the "water of life". He used a poor widow as an example of true sacrificial giving, in contrast with the wealthy Pharisee of the religious establishment. 
     My Christian faith has given me a strong sense of my worth as a person. I am free of the stigma any cultural bias may project on me based on my ethnicity, community, education, economic status, or any other designation. I am a child of God, the Creator of the Universe.
     Have men dominated women under the supposed authority of religion?  Absolutely, much to their shame. Have men hidden behind their "religion" to perpetrate acts of sexual abuse? Yes. Does the current administration contribute to a tone of "consequence-free misbehavior", as you stated? Most likely.
     Yet these sins against women and abuse of authority are not rooted in true Christianity. The word "Christian" means "Christ like". Jesus Christ taught "the greatest love is to sacrifice your life", and "do unto others as you would have them do to you".
     Does this sound like institutionalized repression? I think not.

     Gayle Barker Woody

14 comments:

  1. She misses the point. Yes. Jesus was not sexist. But Christian institutions? Absolutely and intentionally. There's no "No True Scotsman"-ing it.

    I'm glad she finds peace in her faith. Most of the practitioners, especially those in political power or those running hospitals are repressive.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You beat me to it. As nice and sincere as this lady seems, this is indeed an example of "No True Scotsman." If you take the original teachings of Mohammad, Buddha or any founder of any major religion, I'm sure you could make the same case--he (it's always he) was perfectly kind and proper towards women. There are too many examples of repression under Christianity to handwave away under the "not true Christianity" rationalization.

      Delete
    2. Of course Jesus wasn't sexist, because if you never existed, you can't be seaxist, or anything for that matter!

      Delete
    3. I don't understand why Caren and Scribe have a problem with Gayle defending "true Christianity". In the preceding paragraph she admits that there is a problem with the behavior of some "Christians" who don't understand what Christianity is. I think she did a remarkable job in making her point.
      As for Clark -- I rarely understand what the hell you're talking about.

      Delete
    4. Tony--To say "there is a problem with the behavior of some 'Christians'" is to severely understate the case. Those "some Christians" include bishops, cardinals, conference presidents, "prophets" and other high-ranking officials. And the "behavior" in question goes far beyond the occasional lech putting his hands where they don't belong. As Neil set forth in his original column on this subject, Christianity, along with most other major religions, has been systematically interpreted in a way that leads to ongoing oppression of women. Saying "well, Jesus wasn't sexist" is really beside the point. It's like rationalizing the horrors of Stalinism by saying that Karl Marx never advocated mass murder.

      Delete
    5. What you're missing is that Neil prefaced the letter with his regret that there wasn't room in the original column to include a statement that religion often enriches a woman's life. The point of her letter was to make that statement and Neil was kind enough to allow her words to fill the void. I'm not defending Christianity, I'm defending Gayle's words.

      Delete
  2. but the Church erecting an institution upon this foundation is the very definition of institutional repression. many christians maybe most adhere to the basic foundational teachings of Jesus to do good. too many, even if its just a few use his word to enrich themselves at the expense of others. even the most basic language: sheep, flock, speaks of the hierarchal , patriarchal notions embedded in this religion, be it catholic or protestant. I'm happy for people who find comfort in faith . I'm appalled by people who use faith to take advantage of others. I believe in god. its men who trouble me.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Neil's writing takes us places we wouldn't ordinarily go, and today's column is a fine example of one of his finer qualities: his ego isn't driving the bus.

    Gayle Barker Woody makes an excellent point that "Christian means Christ-like." Many who practice Christianity are lousy Christians. They've lost sight of their Savior while gazing into a mirror.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, although I might phrase it "many who *claim* to practice Christianity."

      Delete
  4. She makes an excellent point. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I suppose a case can be made for Jesus being something of a feminist, but then there is Saint Paul, who may have been more influential dogmatically, at least on matters of sex and gender.

    How Christ's teachings can conflict with the ways of the world was explored dramatically by Dostoevsky, in the Grand Inquisitor segment of "The Brothers Karamazov." Ivan dreams that Christ returned to earth during the height of the Inquisition and after some successful public appearances is taken into custody. The old Grand Inquisitor determines that his teachings give men more freedom than they can handle and so are heretical. He is to be burnt at the stake, but the Inquisitor relents after he promises to drop from public sight.

    Tom

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Also explored, if not so dramatically, by Anthony Trollope in several novels, particularly those inhabited by various clergymen and their wives and daughters. Trollope himself, as Tom is certainly aware, was sympathetic to the doomed aspirations of intelligent and talented women, but accepted the mores of his time that relegated them to inferiority and powerlessness.

      john

      Delete
  6. The December edition of The Atlantic (Conservatism Without Bigotry p. 11) makes a interesting point: progressives' ideas progress; therefore, ideas presently acceptable are quite likely to appear reactionary to progressives 5 or 10 years from now. So perhaps we shouldn't be too hard on people who haven't caught up with us yet, assuming good faith and good intentions. The nasties always deserve a hard time of course.

    john

    ReplyDelete
  7. This is indeed a well-written response to Monday's column, and Ms. Woody makes a fine case for the radical approach the Gospels indicate that Christ took in acknowledging women.

    However, Neil's column didn't address the Gospels, per se, or the teachings or actions of J. C., himself. His brief remarks with regard to the Judeo-Christian tradition at the beginning of the column were limited to Genesis.

    She states: "I am a child of God, the Creator of the Universe," while declining to indicate which particular denomination she might belong to. Which is fine, but the difference between the Gospels and the institutional expression of Christianity in today's world is critical.

    Neil's main point was: "Organized religion, despite progress by liberal wings, is still a powerful bulwark of institutionalized repression."

    Essentially, Caren Tarvin and Bitter Scribe nailed it in their opening comments.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting. As soon as I vet your remarks, they'll be posted, assuming they aren't, you know, mean and crazy.