Hi! We’ve got a couple of book reviews on the schedule this next month. I thought we’d start off with the considerably-better of the two. A month or two back, I got my hands on a copy of Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith–and for Freedom, an anthology edited by Karen L. Garst. It contains a number of essays written by women who are atheists. Some of them are ex-Christians; some are ex-Muslims. A number may well be lifelong atheists. It’s a good book, and I want to show you a brief overview of what it contains. Today, Lord Snow Presides over a book that gives voices to the growing and increasingly-vocal women in atheism.
(As is standard in reviews, I received this book for free. The gifter hoped that I’d eventually discuss it here. However, she laid no demands or requirements upon me as a condition for receiving it.)
Bad News for Christians, Again.
Last year, political-commentary site Five Thirty Eight talked about a new survey that constituted yet more bad news for Christian culture warriors. The study revealed that more Americans might be atheists than anybody previously thought.
Typically, these sorts of studies reveal that about 10% of Americans lack a god-belief, while about 3% formally identify as atheists. Don’t get me wrong: that’s still striking, especially when we consider how long ago atheists barely blipped the cultural radar at all. But 10% is usually where these surveys ground.
However, we also know that many atheists hide their opinions from others. Who can blame them? As Five Thirty Eight points out (and as many atheists know), Americans tend to distrust and marginalize atheists. Thanks to the fundagelical moral panic we know as the Red Scare, American Christians in particular still associate atheism decades later with treason and criminality, as well as immoral behavior. Worse, Christians feel free to shower known atheists with “Christian love.”
However, this new study asked its questions in a way that felt safer to answer authentically. Consequently, it revealed that maybe as many as 26% of Americans lack god-belief!
Whither the Women?
In all that awesome atheisting, though, women’s voices haven’t always been present. To some extent, that silence may derive from the fundamental differences between atheism itself as a conclusion someone reaches and movement atheism.
As anybody who’s ever hung out with movement atheists could tell you, the kind of folks who get involved in movement atheism can often be very different from general atheists.1
Most surveys reveal more men than women in general atheism–and way more men than women in movement atheism. That doesn’t mean that men are all that exist in either general atheism or movement atheism, but it can mean that all genders sometimes express non-belief in different ways and come to it through different routes. It also means that men and women face different obstacles in living authentically as people who reject religion. They run different risks and often face different types of retaliation from TRUE CHRISTIANS™.
That’s where the book Women v. Religion comes in.
It argues that religion is inherently bad for women: that the damage done to women so often in religious communities isn’t an accident, but part of the design. And I think it succeeds grandly at the task.
Fighting the War on Women.
In the book’s 13 essays, women from a variety of backgrounds offer pointed observations about religion. Some are people of color (POC). Some come from Muslim or Jewish backgrounds. One is the atheist leader of a Christian church in Canada. More than a few are ex-Christians. One is a transgender woman; at least one is gay.
Many essays cover the sheer amount of damage done to children in the name of religious indoctrination. Purity culture, fundagelical homeschooling, the lack of respect shown to consent, and more show up here. More than a few pieces cover the Religious Right’s various culture wars–particularly its racism-drenched past and its ongoing war against feminism.
For example, I particularly enjoyed Valerie Tarico’s piece (oh, I am a huge fan of hers). She linked male supremacy to both child ownership and abortion opposition, and it was excellent reading. I loved letting a past master of this topic take me on a journey through why fundagelicals feel so threatened by legalized abortion. She draws some links between concepts I’d only begun feeling my way through and others I hadn’t thought of at all yet, and she does it exquisitely well.
Other names in this book were largely new to me, but turned out to be happy introductions.
Many pieces in the book deal with women’s rights as human rights: full reproductive rights, unimpeded access to contraception, consent as the primary driver of relationships and medical decisions, human dignity, and more.
For at least one piece in the book, a woman’s deconversion began with a sudden realization of exactly why her then-tribe opposed feminism so viciously–just as mine did so many years ago. And I think that’s an incredibly powerful point to make, especially now as the Religious Right pushes harder than ever in its war against abortion rights and contraceptive access.
A truly unsettling number of GOOD little skeptics have allowed themselves to be duped into participating in the Religious Right’s crusade against legalized abortion. Atheists who don’t spend enough time learning about that culture war and why it exists–not to mention why these rationalizations are tenuous and spurious at best, monstrous at worst–stand at the most risk of believing them.
The essays in Religion v. Women position abortion (and, really, misogyny itself) as a tool Christians use to reach an end that only looks good in their swivel-eyed fantasies. Hopefully, it’ll reach some of those atheists in the same way that Libby Anne’s work has jarred so many of them into self-awareness.
(Speaking of which: Love, Joy, Feminism readers and fans will be gratified to see how often that blog shows up in the book’s delightfully-copious footnotes–Jonny Scaramanga too, regarding homeschooling.)
Aww, What’s the Harm? THIS IS.
In the United States in particular, many people labor under the false idea that indoctrinating children does them good, or at least no harm, and that religious control of a community functions as a benevolent force, or at least a non-malignant one. A number of the pieces in this book tackle this thinking.
Even when one essayist notes that she wasn’t specifically beaten or molested in her home church, it’s still clear that she suffered in other tangible ways. Many essayists note that they had to figure out how to think critically and evaluate claims and information–skills they feel their peers learned as a matter of course years before they found out they lacked those skills in the first place. Others struggle to defeat in themselves the vestiges of purity culture programming.
The writers from non-Christian religious cultures don’t fare much better. Lauri Weissman presents a sparkling, well-supported piece about Judaism’s baked-in misogyny–and other essays deal with Islam’s effects on girls and women.
Some of the essays could have benefited from more scrupulous editing. The start was a bit shaky. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book. If you like my blog, chances are good you’ll also like Women v. Religion. And it’s great to see atheism itself–both general atheism and movement atheism–gaining a more diverse public face.
In particular, this book also points to how many atheists come from religious backgrounds. Some atheists look down their noses at ex-Christians, just as they look down on POC or women. It’s always seemed just wacky to me that so many atheists suffer from the -isms that inform toxic Christianity, and yet pat themselves on the back for being such GOOD little skeptics.
Maybe the essays in this book will help such folks initiate a much-needed craniorectal adjustment.
NEXT UP: Biff was three hours late to get me from school that sunny Sunday afternoon in 1987. But he proudly announced that he had an excuse. He’d organized a book burning! Next time, I’ll show you how that went down. (Raise your hand if you’ve had that goddamned Crash Test Dummies song in your head for two goddamned days.)
1 I’m hardly the first or the only person to mention that difference. Besides seeing the distinction pop up in comments and blog posts over the years, I’ve also seen Neil Carter talk about it, as well as Dale McGowan in one of those books. Since they’ve both been extensively involved in movement atheism, I reckon they’d know. (Back to the post!)
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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. I’ve started us off on a topic, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. Pet pictures especially welcome! The series was named for Lord Snow, my recently departed white cat. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.