Worshiping the Man: Christian Patriarchy as Idolatry

I just realized something that should have been obvious a long time ago. Christian Patriarchy is idolatry.

See, Sarah Over the Moon recently wrote a piece in which she argued that picturing God as male, in the shape of a man, and speaking of him as king or father is idolatrous because it makes God into a man, brings God down to an earthly level, instead of understanding God as “an analogy that aids human understanding and breaks earthly power structures.” In other words, patriarchy lowers God to man. The opposite is also startlingly true: patriarchy makes man into God.

Let me make this painfully obvious with a couple of perhaps startling quotations. This one is from a young woman who grew up in a Christian Patriarchy family and newly married:

My loyalties have had to undergo a change. I was used to thinking Dad knew best. Now I needed to learn to think that Pete knows best. I used to do things and invest my time in projects according to what I knew Dad would want me to do. Now I needed to be guided by what Pete wanted me to do. When faced with a problem or option I couldn’t think “What would Dad have done in this situation?” Now I had to think “What would Pete do in this situation?” These were exciting times and difficult as during this state of flux—learning to replace one man’s vision with another—the devil would come around and say, “But what about what you want? What about what you think?”

You know that old fad from the 1990s, those “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets? In Christian Patriarchy the reason becomes “what would daddy do?” or “what would hubby do?”

Here’s another quotation, this one from a marriage guide:

The Scriptures say a woman must ignore her “feelings” about the will of God, and do what her husband says.  She is to obey her husband as if he were God Himself. She can be as certain of God’s will, when her husband speaks, as if God had spoken audibly from Heaven! 

I could wrap this post up right here and right now. The literature I read as a child repeated these things over and over again. I was told that when I obeyed my father and his desires for me, I was obeying God. When I did something in my father’s timing, I was doing it in God’s timing. When I submitted to my father’s will, I was submitting to God’s will. This was all true because my father was listening to and directly hearing from God. Therefore, my father’s beliefs, and my father’s plans for my life, must come from God.

Christian Patriarchy put my father in the place of God. It made his will God’s will and his views God’s views. Pleasing my father and pleasing God became one and the same thing. Believing what my father said was synonymous with believing what God said. Disobedience to my father was disobedience to God. My father’s voice and God’s voice had somehow combined and become one.

And it wasn’t just me. This happens over and over and over again in Christian Patriarchy, for wives as well as for daughters. And you know what? This isn’t something that happens accidentally! It’s what is preached in the marriage manuals and booklets! Obey your father/husband! By doing so you are obeying God! Over and over and over again!

And let me repeat this one line, because I think it’s important, and it is something that is overtly stated again and again in the manuals and advice books of the Christian Patriarchy movement:

Pleasing my father (or later, husband) and pleasing God became one and the same thing.

Christian Patriarchy is idolatry. It is worshiping man in the place of God because it equates an individual man’s will and views to God’s will and views. God and man combine and become one, and the women are left trying to swim in a swirling cloud of authority where what is human and what is divine has become too closely related to separate and even, indeed, one and the same.

Red Town, Blue Town
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
On Orgies, Bisexuality, James Dobson, and Evangelicals
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • http://blog.luigiscorner.com/ Azel

    If you elevate man to God, don’t you run afoul to the First Commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” ? You can always say that he don’t speak to women but only to men, but that makes him an ass or impotent.

  • Ibis3

    But what about when men disagree (which they obviously do all the time)? How could it be that all of them are receiving God’s revelation? Or is God supposed to be giving conflicting revelations on purpose, to stir up trouble for some Mysterious reason? In your first example, shouldn’t what “Dad would want/do” and what “Pete would want/do” be exactly the same if they’re both getting the same message direct from on high? How do they justify this obvious logical flaw?

    • kagekiri

      I think the justification is often either “I’m definitely hearing God, other people might just be mistaken or misguided or manipulating God to their own ends” (yes this reveals a total lack of self-examination) or “It doesn’t matter if your husband/parents tell you to do something wrong, you still have to honor and obey them, and God will forgive you because you obeyed.”

      So basically, you’re supposed to cede all of your moral responsibility or pretend that you/your husband/parents are exceptionally attuned to God, which is pretty much par for the course for Christianity.

  • http://bunnystuff.wordpress.com/ Jaimie

    Good post. Once I began questioning the existence of god this became oh, so clear to me. Not just for obeying Daddy but any church authority or group that says they speak for god. It is now so obvious that these are simply age old ways to get and keep power over another person or group. Men who crave control have been doing this for thousands of years because it is just so darned effective. Getting out from under it is the most psychologically freeing thing that I have ever done.

  • machintelligence

    it makes God into a man, brings God down to an earthly level,

    Although I was never particularly spiritual, it was the realization that God had been made in man’s (gendered pronoun appropriate) image, rather than the other way around that led me to atheism at about age 12. For what possible reason would an omniscient, all powerful deity want to be praised and worshiped? I would regard this as a character flaw in a human, and a common one at that. For a while I was agnostic about the possibility of a Deist type God, but as years went by, and the evidence remained lacking, I finally decided to call myself an atheist.
    With respect to the Christian Patriarchy movement (although they deserve none): Being a God is a great job, if you can get it.

    • Tragedy101

      It is a “flaw in human character” that we desire praise and (definition of worship:) actions acknowledging our personal worth? I find the concept of a person, “who lacks belief in supernatural beings of worth,” accusing believers in “supernatural being(s) of worth” of violations of laws “established” by that(those) being(s) both laughable and confusing. Why acknowledge “fairy law” as legitimate, while claiming “fairies” don’t exist? Something seems inconsistent in that stance.

      • machintelligence

        It is a “flaw in human character” that we desire praise and (definition of worship:) actions acknowledging our personal worth?

        See seven deadly sins: pride. God presumably knows that he is all powerful, omniscient, omnipresent etc. What possible reason, other than vanity, would he have for needing to be told this constantly? But don’t feel too bad, God also falls down in the envy and wrath departments too.

        I find the concept of a person, “who lacks belief in supernatural beings of worth,” accusing believers in “supernatural being(s) of worth” of violations of laws “established” by that(those) being(s) both laughable and confusing.

        I don’t acknowledge that our views about what constitutes “beings of worth” has any divine source. The Euthyphro dilemma has been around since 400 BC. Basically it asks:

        “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?” Ever since Plato’s original discussion, this question has presented a problem for some theists (believers), though others have thought it a false dilemma, and it continues to be an object of theological and philosophical discussion today.

        If you believe the first assertion, then God does not establish what is good, it exists independently. If you go for the second assertion, then everything commanded by God is good, and since He commands rape, murder and slavery aplenty in the Old Testament then He is a pretty vile being. Are my moral standards better than God’s? Obviously! Who would want to worship such a being?

        Why acknowledge “fairy law” as legitimate, while claiming “fairies” don’t exist? Something seems inconsistent in that stance.

        If it’s inconsistencies you are after, I’ll give you another classical argument:

        “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
        Then he is not omnipotent.
        Is he able, but not willing?
        Then he is malevolent.
        Is he both able and willing?
        Then whence cometh evil?
        Is he neither able nor willing?
        Then why call him God?”

        Epicurus (341 – 270 BC)
        Your concept of God seems inconsistent.

      • http://blog.luigiscorner.com/ Azel

        That’s a minor point but where did you find a definition of worship which is just “actions acknowledging our personal worth” ? In all definitions I found (see here), apart for the first one regarding a British title for a person of importance, worship has either an element of divinity or of extravagant devotion. And for a human to expect and demand worship is either proof of an overwhelming pride and vanity, or abetting idolatry; both actions which are condemned in the Bible (one is a deadly sin, the other run afoul of the First Commandment). For an atheist both cases are most certainly under the heading “overwhelming pride and vanity”.

      • Tragedy101

        Do Atheists have a forum where they get these half quotes?

        Sin is violation of “God’s” law. Praise and worship of God is obedience to his law, this is the worship he desires. “Does God keep his own law?” you ask. God is the lawgiver.

        As an Atheist who gives your moral laws to you?


        Merriam-Webster? Should I laugh? Libby Anne has this “Thing” for Noah Webster, I wouldn’t expect her readers to use a book that may contain his thoughts on the matter.

        I used the New American Oxford Dictionary and paraphrased the terms in the definition using definitions of those terms found in the same dictionary. lol. I like to think. I don’t like other people thinking for me. I expect other people to think, as well, not quote half an idea that somebody else had.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned Noah Webster, nor do I have a “thing” for him. I think what machintelligence was trying to say is that if “pride” and such is, according to your god, a sin, then why is it a virtue when manifested in your god? I think what he was saying is that it’s a character flaw *according to your religion,* so if you are going to be consistent you have to explain why it’s okay in your god.

        I’ve addressed morality before. Just look at everything under my ethics tab.

        Also, I ask my commenters to refrain from personal insults, and you’re coming dangerously close to that.

      • http://blog.luigiscorner.com/ Azel

        I linked to Merriam-Webster’s site because it’s the website of the dictionary on my shelf, for no other reasons. I don’t have a New American Oxford Dictionary and mistakenly assumed that English dictionary publishers would synchronise a bit their definitions. Thus I thought that given that all definitions in my dictionary have either an element of divinity or of very high devotion/admiration/respect, they didn’t miss the sense you seem to have found which doesn’t have one of these elements (and which run counter to every instance of worship I saw so far, but then I’m not a native English-speaker).

      • http://blog.luigiscorner.com Azel

        I believe machintelligence can defend him or herself if need be, so I’ll just address your criticism, bar your hangup on my dictionary choice.

        What made you think I get said idea for another person ? Your definition of “worship” had seemed (and still seems to be honest: I never saw worship used that way) weird and I may not be a native English-speaker but I’m still able to do a dictionary research and to read. I am also able to, based on the definitions I found, infer that if you demand worship, defined for the argument’s purposes as either “devotion exceeding the limits of reason” or “act of respect offered to a divine being”, you’re either prey to an all-consuming pride and vanity (if the first definition is used) or believe yourself to be a deity, or so near from it as to make no differences regarding the behaviour you expect from mere mortals (if the second definition is used). I am able to read the Bible, Exodus 20:3 in particular, and see that if you expect of others worship fit for a deity you run afoul and make others disrespect the First Commandment. And if you are consumed by pride, well you are prey to one of the seven deadly sins, one who was warned against as far back as Proverbs 6:16-19 (first of the list even !). So, according to your own holy book, one way or another you are disrespecting your god’s commands (and are going to Hell in a hand-basket I might add). The end was stating that if you are an atheist both go under the “too prideful for his own good” category. As for the two quotes ? One was quoting your own definition of worship, the quotes were used to separate the definition from the text. The second was a self-reference, to the two categories of sins born from the two definitions of worship I used given my source material.

        So, now that you have the extended version of my answer with the author’s notes (and if you want to see the definitions of worship used in my source material, there is a link in the first post for your use), you can stop with disparaging the character of those who disagree and start with answering the points raised, you’ll be so kind.

        P.S. : @machinintelligence It seems like Tragedy101 is an adept of Divine Command Theory, so questioning the morality of God’s actions might be outside her or his moral framework.

      • Ibis3

        Why acknowledge “fairy law” as legitimate, while claiming “fairies” don’t exist? Something seems inconsistent in that stance.

        It’s called assuming a premise is true for the sake of argument. It’s a rhetorical method often used to show how absurd an assertion actually is.

        If God really had destroyed the world in a flood or killed all the first-born of Egypt or approved of slavery or blood sacrifice or killed a fig tree for no reason or healed and fed some people but did not get rid of all disease, injury, or hunger, then yes, he would be evil and not worth worshipping or following. That doesn’t mean he does or ever did exist. Just like Voldemort or Iago or Sauron or Uriah Heep.

        We are assuming for the sake of argument that the stuff narrated in the Bible actually happened as related…We’re saying even if such and such in the Bible is so, it’s still factually wrong, still inconsistent, still immoral, or whatever.

        (that’s me here)

      • machintelligence

        @ tragedy 101

        Do Atheists have a forum where they get these half quotes?

        I expect other people to think, as well, not quote half an idea that somebody else had.

        I can’t speak for all atheists, but I think you will find that most of us are pretty well read. I used quotes from classical sources to point out that your arguments had been refuted prior to the reputed birth of Jesus. Why should we use new framing of arguments that were eloquently expressed more than 2000 years ago?

        As an Atheist who gives your moral laws to you?

        No one. Human morals and value judgments are evolved features of our personalities and culture. Since I suspect that you do not accept the evidence for evolution, we are probably talking past each other.

        Sin is violation of “God’s” law. Praise and worship of God is obedience to his law, this is the worship he desires. “Does God keep his own law?” you ask. God is the lawgiver.

        So God just makes the rules, He doesn’t have to play by them. If you are indeed using the Divine Command Theory argument then I reject your God because He has proved by his commands that He is a real shit. I can have no respect for someone who worships a deity so vile.

      • Tragedy101

        Libby Anne,

        I am sorry that I ascribed my understanding of Noah Webster’s religious stances to you.

        I am sorry if your perception is that I have made a personal attack. It was not my intention, but often statements appear different from different perspectives. I don’t have a monopoly on perspectives, and don’t understand many of them.

        I don’t think worship is telling God anything. So he would not be demanding something out of vanity.

        Worship is the actions or practices that are done out of respect, because of a recognition of worthiness of the person being respected. It does not follow that those actions must be to gratify the person being respected.


        I laughed at my explanation of my definition, because I made it up, essentially. I took the definition as stated and the definiton of the terms used in the definition to make my definition. It is more accurate on my opinion of the definition of worship in the context of worshipping God than any dictionary could be. It is my definition.

        I think you confuse my question with the general vein of the post. I think a desire to be acknowledged as worthy and praised is natural. And I feel genuine sympathy for people I observe who are not. However, the worship of God, I believe is the actions I perform in acknowledging the worth of other people in that he created them.

        I wanted to make my understanding of the definition clear, beyond the definition found in a particular dictionary. If I am ever going to do as I think I ought, I need to internalize my beliefs and make them personally my own.

      • http://blog.luigiscorner.com Azel

        True enough, but in common parlance, worship as a connotation of excess, or a minima of excess where applied towards humans. Of course a desire to be acknowledged is natural and healthy, but as in everything, the dose makes the poison (Hell, water kills you in excess). And regarding your definition of worship, while it is good and fair to have context or domain specific definitions for some terms, if they are widely different from the common definition you should say so or at the very least make it clear from the context (and the context being an answer to machintelligence’s post, it is his or her definition which is to be used till indication of the contrary, i.e. if he or she doesn’t specify, the common one). And while it’s true that you should internalise your beliefs, there is a reason why reference documents for the sense of a word (i.e. dictionaries): that’s for people not to talk past each other. In this conversation, I made my point using the common definition but you used a context-specific one, so we talked past each other.

        P.S. : You can’t very well fault others for your failure to communicate you were using a specific definition when you didn’t state till now that you were and when in common parlance worship has no context-specific definition corresponding to the one you espoused.
        P.P.S. : I am of the opinion that if the end result of your paraphrasing run counter to every common instance of a word, you should change word or at the very least specify immediately you’re using a peculiar definition, but it’s only my opinion.

  • Ibis3

    Moreover, how do they square the fact that these men, supposedly “listening to and directly hearing from God” need other men to tell them what to do (whether in books, at homeschooling conventions, in church or what have you). Shouldn’t each of them have all the answers and guidance he needs? In fact, why would he even need the bible? What need does God have with a spaceship, in other words. If you’re God and revealing your will directly to each man, why complicate that with such a blunt instrument as a bible that is obviously misinterpreted all the time? Surely you can bypass the noise by relying entirely on direct signal? Forget the book and go straight to DVD, played out in each man’s head, complete with director’s commentary and behind the scenes look at the making of.

    It’s clear these people haven’t thought any of this through at all.

    • kagekiri

      OBVIOUSLY, it’s because God needs to test (read: screw around with) his followers, and the conflicting messages are part of that test! And he totally said there’d be false teachers, AND he said that faith without evidence was the best and most pleasing to him, so that’s why he stays quiet and uses a tremendously reinterpretable scripture with tons of contradictions, because it’s all a TEST! The path is narrow and few can find it! Even those who think they’re saved may be goats who will end up in hell, but I’m definitely a sheep who’ll go to heaven!


      They’ve thought it through, but only using the mostly broken logic of scripture. “Logic is useless in religion!” “Doubts are bad!” “Disbelief/atheism is bad!” “If you think you’re saved, you might be wrong!” “False prophets/false teachers/anti-christs will be everywhere!” “God doesn’t want to give overwhelming evidence or communicate super clearly either because we’re too evil and deaf, or because that’d take away our chance to show real faith!”

      So many verses seem perfectly crafted to cause splintering of congregations and denominations, with each believing their own interpretations of scripture with absolute certainty, because they each think they’re hearing from God.

    • Christine

      Reading stories here and at No Longer Quivering, it’s apparent to me that there are men who do take it to the nearly extreme you’re describing. They couldn’t find any churches that were exactly right, so they decided to home-church on Sundays instead. For similar reasons they didn’t use curricula, or go to conferences. What other people say is only useful insofar as it is “right”, i.e. what he believes. But if he does believe it it’s a great tool to show just how right he is.

  • Karen

    The logic may be broken, but look how well the whole scheme works! For every person who has grown up in CP and then rejected it as an adult, there is probably more than one person (statistically speaking) who stays. That’s how you grow a movement — and the bigger it gets, the harder it is to reject.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    The more I read your blog, the more shocked I am about this “Christian Patriarchy” stuff. It’s ridiculous and terrible. As a Christian, I’ve heard stuff about how “the man is supposed to be the leader” or whatever (though I don’t believe that any more) but no one ever took it to such extremes. You’re right- this is idolatry and it’s completely wrong.

    • Ibis3

      It’s all idolatry.

  • http://www.undermuchgrace.com Cindy

    Preach it, sister.

    I feel as though my parents (who don’t even follow patriarchy) pushed me into a place where I had to “honor” them by becoming someone that I wasn’t or feigning that non-existent person they wanted me to be. That was at direct odds with who I really am and what I really believe. Because I believe God created and shaped me and made me into the unique person that I am, I see that what they asked me to do was choose to mindlessly do what they wanted which would mean throwing away what God made. It would be dishonoring the Image of God in me, in some sense. What could be more idolatrous than that?

    Add to that the implications that they decided that when I couldn’t do what they wanted, they claimed that I was demonically influenced and therefore not longer really a Christian anymore. So sad.

  • galactusx

    God does not screw around with humans, humans screw themselves.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    Honestly, I’m confused by the seemingly contradictory messages patriarchalists put out there about female submission to male authority. Some of them seem to teach that a woman is supposed to obey her male authority, not necessarily because he is always right or godly, but because she must honor her God-given role of submission to male authority on principle–and if she does so, God will reward her for her obedience to HIS will (that women submit to men) by protecting her from the consequences of her father/husband’s bad choices. (Wow, that sentence was a mess.) In other words, God ISN’T necessarily speaking directly through the man (because maybe he isn’t listening properly or whatever), but you still have to submit to him in order to stay on God’s good side because those are the rules. At least that’s what I get from it. But this: “She can be as certain of God’s will, when her husband speaks, as if God had spoken audibly from Heaven!” certainly seems to contradict that and basically say that you can be SURE that everything your male authority wants is righteous and godly because it comes directly from God always. Is this doublethink here, or are these two different interpretations of the female submission teaching that are held by different people? The former certainly seems to be targeted at women that are unlucky enough to be under the authority of a guy who is clearly kind of a screw-up, if not worse.

  • HRyan

    Have you read any Mary Daly? She was very eloquent on this subject – “If God is male, then the male is God.” I highly recommend all of her books.

    • machintelligence

      That sounds rather familiar:

      “It seems to me, Usbek, that all our judgements are made with reference covertly to ourselves. I do not find it surprising that the negroes paint the devil sparkling white, and their gods black as coal, or that certain tribes have a Venus with her breasts hanging down to her thighs, or in brief that all the idolatrous peoples represent their gods with human faces, and endow them will all their own impulses. It has been well said that if triangles had a god, they would give him three sides.”

      —Montesquieu, Persian Letters, 1721, translated by C.J.Betts, 1973.
      Further evidence, I think, that humanity was not made in God’s image, but rather man made God in his image. Again, the gender of the pronoun was deliberate.

  • http://www.facebook.com/simon.p.kasirye Simon Peter Kabala Kasirye

    I have two teenage children a boy and a girl. I took them to classical residential separate schools all coed. I have relaxed so much without influencing their decisions and choices including to giving money for school fees, books and dressing.

    The boy is attentively studying and enjoying the freedom I have given them, while the girl after getting the school fees, upkeep money and money for utilities embarked on a bus going to school, and on the way took another direction paid the fees into another school with lower fees structure while staying at an unknown address while I was heartily looking for her whereabouts. Two months ago before completing her high school she sent me a message that she is introducing her husband in her church and get married asking me if I would please to attend both ceremonies. In case I do not reply her she will go a head and do it anyway. Maybe Christian Patriarchs are right to a larger extent.

  • TheMechanicalAdv

    Woot!!! Finally someone has the guts to say that God doesn’t have gender. The next step is to make it politically correct to refer to God as It.