Does Religious Misogyny Get A Free Pass?

Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom have a book out called Does God Hate Women? Nick Cohen quotes it thusly,

Well, what can one say. Religious authorities and conservative clerics worship a wretchedly cruel unjust vindictive executioner of a God. They worship a God of 10-year-old boys, a God of playground bullies, a God of rapists, of gangs, of pimps. They worship — despite rhetoric about justice and compassion — a God who sides with the strong against the weak, a God who cheers for privilege and punishes egalitarianism. They worship a God who is  a male and who gangs up with other males against women. They worship a thug. They worship a God who thinks little girls should be married to grown men. They worship a God who looks on in approval when a grown man rapes a child because he is “married” to her. They worship a God who thinks a woman should receive 80 lashes with a whip because her hair wasn’t completely covered. They worship a God who is pleased when three brothers hack their sisters to death with axes because one of them married without their father’s permission.

And Cohen argues that this picture is not unfair:

If this sounds harsh, consider that Sharia adultery laws state that a raped woman must face the next-to-impossible task of providing four male witnesses to substantiate her allegation or be convicted of adultery. When rapists leave Pakistani women pregnant, the court takes the bulge in their bellies as evidence against them. In Nigeria, Sharia courts not only punish raped women for adultery, but order an extra punishment of a whipping for making false accusations against “innocent” men. In Israel, ultra-Orthodox gangs in Jerusalem beat up women seen in the company of married men. In the United States, the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints give teenagers to old men in arranged marriages and tell them they must completely submit to their wishes.  In Saudi Arabia, women live in a theocratic state that stops them walking unaccompanied in the street, driving a car and speaking to men outside the family.

Cohen then argues that media response to Benson and Stangroom’s book reflected a greater concern for hypothetical Muslim sensibilities than for the plight of oppressed women:

The response of the Sunday Times to Does God Hate Women?was truly sinister. “An academic book about religious attitudes to women is to be published this week,” the paper reported, “despite concerns it could cause a backlash among Muslims because it criticises the prophet Muhammad for taking a nine-year-old girl as his third wife. Such assertions could invoke the ire of some Muslims.”

No irate Muslim had contacted the reporter to warn of a “backlash”. She had not seen threats against Benson and Stangroom in online chatrooms. The Sunday Times invented a scandal where none existed and was unconcerned that it might provoke attacks on the authors. In a dismal sign of our nervous times, their panicked publisher responded by calling in an “ecumenical adviser”, to assess whether the book’s launch should go ahead.

Cohen concedes not all religion is all bad, but then points out the disturbing trend of international capitulation to the primacy of religion over human rights in documents meant to affirm the latter:

But look on the bright side for too long, and you will be blinded by the sun. For all the qualifications, the stubborn fact remains that mainstream opinion does not consider the oppression of women a pressing concern when it is done in the name of culture or religion, particularly in the name of once-subordinate cultures and religions. The misogyny they generate does not move hearts or stir passions. Governments that stifle half their populations do not face boycotts or demonstrations outside their embassies, motions of condemnation at international conferences or opprobrium in everyday political discourse.

The comparison with the international anger directed at Apartheid is instructive. The oppression of blacks was once an affront to the conscience of the world. When we turn to the oppression of women, however, we find that the United Nations loses its conscience and encourages the ideologies of their oppressors. In 1990, Muslim foreign ministers challenged the first line of the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights by replacing the ringing statement that “all human beings are born free in dignity and in rights” with the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights which announces that “all human beings are God’s subjects”. The UN’s declaration says that everyone is entitled to its stipulated rights and freedoms “without distinction of any kind”. The Cairo declaration says that rights can be restricted for a “Sharia prescribed reason”. Nothing in it prevents forced marriages of pre-pubescent girls, or the death punishments for apostasy, homosexuality and the betrayal of a family’s “honour”.

Far from fighting off this direct assault on women’s rights, the UN went along with it and entertained the idea that those who criticise Sharia are guilty of the crime of “defaming religion”.

And then there is the left’s infuriating treatment of Ayaan Hirsi Ali:

When Ayaan Hirsi Ali published Infidel, her account of escape from forced marriage and genital mutilation to Europe, her defence of the liberal values they once believed in appalled “liberal” Europeans. Although Ali needed bodyguards to protect her from Islamist assassins, Timothy Garton Ash sneered that she was an “Enlightenment fundamentalist” while Ian Buruma denounced her as an absolutist. Maryam Namazie, a Marxist Iranian exile who set up the “One Law for all Campaign” to oppose the Archbishop and the Lord Chief Justice, tells me that she experiences every variety of Western duplicity. When she argues in favour of the demonstrators in Tehran, the hard Left tell her she is serving the interests of US imperialism — “It’s now reactionary to have a revolution,” she sighs. When she last appeared on the BBC, to argue that the burka was a straightjacket designed to mark off a woman as a man’s private property, the presenter told her she was an “extremist”. With dreary inevitability, Does God Hate Women‘s critics say that Benson and Stangroom’s atheist liberalism is as fundamentalist as the religion of the hardliners they condemn.

Read his whole disturbing case here.

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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