Causes, effects and counter-examples

Causes, effects and counter-examples February 15, 2012

There are those who might argue that religious views upholding male superiority, male-only leadership in religious posts and female subservience within the religion are simply a pretense for a pre-existing misogyny.

The religious claims, in this view, are a pretext or an excuse, rather than a genuine belief derived from the faith itself. In this view, the religious arguments are an after-the-fact effort to rationalize the prior misogyny and obsession with power, control and dominance.

I think it’s important to push back against this impolite accusation. It’s an affront to civility to suggest that the motives of these devout believers might be anything other than what they claim them to be.

So to refute this argument, I’m compiling a list of religious traditions that insist on male dominance within the tradition, but which are also marked by a robust commitment to the full equality of women outside of their churches. By showing many such examples of this, we can prove that these religious views are genuine and disprove the possibility that they are little more than a cynical mask for a raw power-grab.

So here’s my initial list of denominations, sects and religions that maintain a male-only clergy, yet unfailingly support women’s rights in the broader society:

1.

… well, there’s … um …

OK, I’ll have to get back to you with that initial list. I’m sure we can come up with many, many examples. Tons of them.

My inability to think of any just now doesn’t prove anything.

 

 


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  • Anonymous

    I should note that most of the traddy Catholics I know are also confident, assertive women, so it’s not as cut and dried as all that.

  • And? Being a woman doesn’t automatically make a person a feminist. My mom is a confident, assertive woman, and she’s pretty much in line with the Pope on matters of healthcare and gender equality.

  • Anonymous

    You’re making this too hard for yourself, Fred. All you need to do is start with a definition of equality with a built-in complementarian bias. Just try to avoid phrases with already-negative connotations like “separate but equal” or “more equal than others.”

    Remember: When you can’t answer the question, beg it.

  • And more than that, it doesn’t mean a thing about the power structure of the church providing unfailing support for women’s rights.

  • Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord – Ephesians 5:22.
    Sure, you can try to be a Catholic and be a confident assertive woman, but you must be doing one of those things wrong.

  • Dan Audy

    The Baha’i faith would probably be the closest example to this that I can think of though they don’t really have clergy per se.

    Baha’i’s are extremely supportive of women’s rights and equality and treat it as a core spiritual tenet of the faith.  However, only men are allowed to be elected to the Universal House of Justice (a quasi equivalent to the RCC Council of Cardinals without a Pope) which is the supreme governing institution of the Baha’i’s.  Women are elected in near equal numbers to all other positions including National Spiritual Assemblies and often hold important roles in day to day life and leadership of the faith.

    —————-

    The world of humanity is possessed of two wings: the male and the
    female. So long as these two wings are not equivalent in strength, the
    bird will not fly. Until womankind reaches the same degree as man, until
    she enjoys the same arena of activity, extraordinary attainment for
    humanity will not be realized; humanity cannot wing its way to heights
    of real attainment. When the two wings or parts become equivalent in
    strength, enjoying the same prerogatives, the flight of man will be
    exceedingly lofty and extraordinary.
    -Bahá’u’lláh

  • The religious claims, in this view, are a pretext or an excuse, rather
    than a genuine belief derived from the faith itself. In this view, the
    religious arguments are an after-the-fact effort to rationalize the
    prior misogyny and obsession with power, control and dominance.

    Oddly, I do find that I push back against this claim on a regular basis.  And I say this as someone who found a nascent feminism was making it hard to remain particularly committed to the church as I knew it (generically Evangelical).  I’m now someone who self-identifies as atheist and feminist and will criticize the church up and down for its treatment of women (and gays…and, um, people…).

    The thing that gets overlooked by critics, at least in my experience, is the very real phenomenon that religious believers don’t really think about things too much.  They start with the premise that the Bible is true and that so-and-so as the official arbiter of the Bible possesses truth that must be adhered to.  From that point forward its simply a matter of, “The Bible says [this].”  And since the Bible says men are created to be A and women are created to be different-from-and-subordinate-to-A, then that’s just the way it is.

    As such, I think that a lot of Christians who hold a complementarian – or even outright misogynistic – view, really do have a genuine belief that the Bible says that’s the way things are so that’s the way things are.  I highly doubt that this view applies to the Mark Driscolls, John Pipers, and Beverly LaHayes of the world, but for the rank and file, go to church on Sunday and Bible study on Wednesday and wait to hear what the pastor says the big, scary, complicated book means, that’s largely the case.  Then you have to say, “Well doesn’t that mean the pastor should be put up against the wall for being a misogynistic fuckwit?”  Thats’…complicated.

    When I left Christianity I was angry.  I was looking for someone to blame for all the wrong headed crap I’d been fed.  At first I was mad at my pastors, because, obviously, they’d done me wrong.  But then I realized that I’d turned around and told other people who looked up to me as a mentor (newer Christians, the junior highers I worked with, etc) the exact same stuff I’d been told.  I had a hard time being mad at any particular individual after that, because I’d done it, too.  And why had I done it?  Because that’s what I thought I was supposed to say and I didn’t put much thought to the whole rigmarole. 

    It’s a patently unsatisfying conclusion.  We want our enemies to be the mean, nasty brutes we imagine them to be, after all.  Some of them are.  But there are also some who have been turned into the image of the mean, nasty brutes who think they speak truth.

  • I’ve never found a problem with either of them…

  • Mary Kaye

    Geds writes: 

    The thing that gets overlooked by critics, at least in my experience, is
    the very real phenomenon that religious believers don’t really think
    about things too much. They start with the premise that the Bible is true and that so-and-so as
    the official arbiter of the Bible possesses truth that must be adhered
    to. 

    It’s clear that you don’t mean “religious believer” here.  Buddhists don’t spend a lot of time worrying what the Bible says.  Neither do Santeristas or Shinto practicioners or Pagans.  In fact what you write doesn’t even apply well to Quakers or Unitarian Universalists.

    Please don’t do this–it plays along with the Christian Right’s efforts to deny that people of different faiths are, in fact, people of faith.  If you mean “mainstream Evangelical Christians” please don’t say “religious believers” as if those were the same thing.

    Mary Kaye (who is one of these things and not the other)

  • “I want you to understand that the head of woman is man.  The head of every man is Christ….”

    The Bible says it, I believe it!!

  • Anonymous

    That quote from Ephesians always annoys me, because those who quote it as an argument for male dominance never read on to Ephesians 5:25
    ” 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

    I pointed that out to my ex-brother-in-law once, and he absolutely refused to see it at all. Which is why he is my ex-brother-in-law.

    Ephesians is not a call to an unequal relationship. The husband’s first concern should be the well-being and happiness of his wife. A position of authority is always one of service. Her needs are above his needs. It really is one of Paul’s better notions, a mutual sacrifice of love to make a whole greater than the parts. A loving husband should want his wife to be confident and assertive.

    The Big Fat Greek Wedding version: “the husband is the head of the house, but the wife is the neck. She can turn him any way she wants to.”

    The description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 is quite interesting.
    25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
       she can laugh at the days to come.
    26 She speaks with wisdom,
       and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
    27 She watches over the affairs of her household
       and does not eat the bread of idleness.

    31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
       and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

    That sounds confident and assertive to me, not beaten down and submissive, and the whole chapter portrays her as a businesswoman and entrepreneur, a true partner to her husband. I think that last bit is an actual scriptural argument for equal-pay-for-equal-work.

    A man is of little worth who has to trample down women to puff himself up.

  • It’s clear that you don’t mean “religious believer” here.  Buddhists
    don’t spend a lot of time worrying what the Bible says.  Neither do
    Santeristas or Shinto practicioners or Pagans.  In fact what you write
    doesn’t even apply well to Quakers or Unitarian Universalists.

    Meh.  I switched thoughts in mid-stream.  I started making a generalized statement that most people don’t really think about their religious beliefs and then jumped in to my more specific-from-the-point-of-Christianity breakdown.

    Mea culpa.

    That said, yes, I did mean “religious believer.” Unthinking adherence to doctrine as passed down from an authority is a human trait. So while I didn’t make the break I’d intended between the thoughts, I very much meant what I said.

  • Yes, Ephesians is a call to an unequal relationship. Christ rules the Church, the Church does what Christ tells it to. How many times do Christians refer to Christ as its King. It isn’t like a parliamentary democracy where the Church says things like, “See here, Yahweh, we don’t like all the killing you did to the Canaanites and the Amaleiktes. Don’t do it anymore.”

  • Tricksterson

    Well, that goes a long way towards explaining why the Ba’hai are so viciously persecuted in Iran.  That and the ayatollahs being dicjkheads.

  • the Church does what Christ tells it to

    …since when?

  • Mary Kaye

     If unthinking adherence to authority is a *human* trait it is unfair to attribute it specifically to religious believers.  There is a range of more and less authoritarian strains in religion as in other aspects of human life.  I would say that there are aspects of secular Chinese culture, just as an example, that are more into unthinking adherence to doctrine than my particular (fairly disorganized and very young) strain of Paganism is.

    I’m all for calling authoritarians on their shit, but I’d like us to aim more precisely; I don’t appreciate being labeled an authoritarian because I am a religious person.  I don’t think such generalizations can possibly hold up.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad we don’t see faiths who support gender discrimination inside the hierarchy but not outside it. That stinks of hypocrisy and elitism to me, having one rule for the insiders and one rule for the common rabble. Such a “counterexample” would be worse than the disease.

  • Dan Audy

    Mostly Baha’i’s are persecuted in Iran because they provide a convenient internal enemy to blame for any unrest.  The hate speech, lies, and denial of civil rights (freedom of religion, education, marriage) against Baha’i’s is very reminiscent of how Jews were treated in Christian Europe in the late middle ages.

    Everytime domestic unrest with the ayatollahs and the government rises there is a sweep of arrests and disappearences among the Baha’i community and SAVAK (Iranian Secret Police) claim that those arrested were behind the unrest as a means to show that they ‘are doing something about the problem’ even when they don’t know or want to act against the real dissidents and as a warning about what can happen to those that anger the ayatollahs.  To me what is amazing is that despite the incredible religious persecution that they suffer the Baha’i’s do not oppose the domestic government (though they do seek reform) because the Baha’i faith calls for believers to be obedient to their government.  Even those Persian Baha’i’s who had their property stolen, families killed, and were forced to flee the country (amongst whom I was raised) do not support any revolution or non-democratic regime change that you typically see amongst groups forced from their country.

  • I’m all for calling authoritarians on their shit, but I’d like us to aim
    more precisely; I don’t appreciate being labeled an authoritarian
    because I am a religious person.  I don’t think such generalizations can
    possibly hold up.

    Whatever.  I left a couple of qualifiers off.  Again, mea-fucking-culpa.

    It’s pretty obvious to me that if every single religious adherent was reflexively authoritarian and never thought about their religion at all then I would still be religious.  I’m not, I’m far from the only person I know who fits my category.  Ergo I don’t actually believe and would never actually intentionally argue that no religious person ever thinks about shit.

    Again, I left off a couple of qualifiers.  I mashed several thoughts together in a single paragraph and didn’t realize the implications of how I’d done it.  I’m not demonizing anybody here, I’ve admitted my mistake.  My larger point still stands, though, that there are a lot of people out there who simply believe what they’re told to believe and, as such, simply claiming that people make religious misogynistic because they, themselves, are misogynists looking for cover.

    And I was going with “religious believers” because the conversation is specifically about religious belief.  As such, common traits shared by religious believers are a matter for the discussion.  Atheists, for example, don’t fit in to this discussion because there’s no common book of atheism that calls for misogyny, so you can’t claim that the Atheist Bible or whatever is a book filled with misogynist instruction.  It makes no sense.  You can point out that, yes, there are atheists who are unforgivably misogynistic twerps, but they’re outside of the scope of a conversation about whether religion makes misogynists or misogynists create misogynistic religion.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with Ephesians 5:25-28 as an argument to Emphesians 5:22 is that they still set it up as purely patriarchal. You can love and take care of your possessions very well without giving them respect beyond being your possession. Besides, um, Ephesians 5:24: “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” So yes, the man is charged with keeping his wife “without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish,” but that doesn’t mean she has any rights whatsoever.

    This is without touching on 1 Corinthians 14 or 1 Timothy 2. She can speak with wisdom — as long as she doesn’t speak, say these two. She is specifically NOT permitted to give faithful instruction in any matter, household or spiritual. These verses are not compatible.

  • FangsFirst

     

    The thing that gets overlooked by critics, at least in my experience, is
    the very real phenomenon that religious believers don’t really think
    about things too much.  They start with the premise that the Bible is
    true and that so-and-so as the official arbiter of the Bible possesses
    truth that must be adhered to.  From that point forward its simply a
    matter of, “The Bible says [this].”  And since the Bible says men are
    created to be A and women are created to be
    different-from-and-subordinate-to-A, then that’s just the way it is.

    Having stumbled into an asinine argument about the value of Focus on the Family and (of course) birth control, as well as, generally, all the rest of my experience: this is generally the case, with the in-agreement-laity, as well as some of the pastors/ministers (I don’t know any priests personally).

    This makes it intensely frustrating, and is the very reason I find that kind of faith difficult to respect, which is another layer of frustration because I find faith itself perfectly respectable, even though I lack it myself.

  • This makes it intensely frustrating, and is the very reason I find that
    kind of faith difficult to respect, which is another layer of
    frustration because I find faith itself perfectly respectable, even
    though I lack it myself.

    The main problem, at least in my experience, is that there are a large number of people for whom “faith” is synonymous with, and mostly indistinguishable from, mindless tribalism.  That person’s okay because they, too, are Christian.  That person isn’t because he’s a Muslim.  She’s a good person because she goes to Synagogue.

    So if it’s just tribalism, if an authority of the tribe says, “We don’t want women in charge,” then the tribe has spoken.  Anyone who doesn’t agree runs the risk of getting expelled from the tribe.  I don’t really see any of that as a form of faith, however.  It’s more of a fear of losing social status and/or a generalized lack of willingness to really analyze much of anything.

  • Ian

    Context: Ephesians 5:21  “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  Everybody submit to everybody — that’s the heart of this passage.  That was the teaching of Christ as well: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

    Here’s some fun: it’s a pro-gay marriage passage!  “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  I get to be married to Jesus!  I’m not quite sure how to read the details (is each Christian marrying Jesus polygamously or do we all form some kind of Voltron super-bride?) but the conclusion is inescapable.  For Christian males, gay marriage isn’t just permissible — it’s mandatory.

  • Guest

    Funny thing about Ephesians 5:22: in Greek the word for “submit” isn’t even in there. The translators borrow that word from 5:21. So the instruction is only in the context of the mutual submission of all Christians to each other.

  • Anonymous

    Addendum to my previous-

    Oh, and 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with
    your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with
    you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

    It’s… hard not to see this in a very negative light. It’s a message I thoroughly reject, as well as anyone who believes it for any reason. When a number of the people who believe it are also given charge of guiding others through the church (ie, priests, bishops, the pope and so forth), it’s hard not to see it as a big problem. It’s not an ideology that I want to see become commonplace again.

  • guest

    Genesis 18:20-33.

  • Tricksterson

    All of which can be summed up as “If you look hard enough you find something somewhere in the Bible to support your argument, no matter what it is.”  Including aliens {Ezekiel).  Worked for von Daniken.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, Ephesians is a call to an unequal relationship. Christ rules the
    Church, the Church does what Christ tells it to. How many times do
    Christians refer to Christ as its King.

    Aren’t we mixing metaphors here? That particular bit of Ephesians isn’t talking about Christ as a ruler of the church. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of whether Paul ever uses the Christ the King metaphor, and I am certainly not defending everything Paul ever wrote, and absolutely not everything anyone who called themselves a Christian ever said.

    I disagree that the particular bridegroom metaphor is about control, and I still hold that it places the greater burden on the husband, and that a wife whose husband has such a deep, sacrificial love will never be dominated or controlled. Sadly, Paul’s advice here is always cut in half, and has not been very successful. Perhaps the concept of servant leadership is too elusive here.

  • Anonymous

    The problem with Ephesians 5:25-28 as an argument to Emphesians 5:22 is
    that they still set it up as purely patriarchal. You can love and take
    care of your possessions very well without giving them respect beyond
    being your possession. Besides, um, Ephesians 5:24: “Now as the church
    submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in
    everything.” So yes, the man is charged with keeping his wife “without
    stain or wrinkle or any other blemish,” but that doesn’t mean she has
    any rights whatsoever.

    Possessions? How is this verse describing how a man treats a possession? The term used is “like his own body” that is, like himself. What he is talking about here is union — two as one. As the Church is one with Christ. I’m not versed in Greek, so I don’t know exactly how the word translated as “submits” plays, or how his readers in Ephesus would have understood it.

    As far as rights, an assertion of rights is alien to deeply loving relationships. Can the right side of your brain claim rights against the left side, or choose its own way? They are two halves of one thing. To say “you have no right” is to claim a distance. This does not limit, in practical terms, how a couple chooses to arrange their relationship, except that it is done lovingly, each putting the other first. If all this sounds like a strange notion, it is because such relationships are all too rare and the work of a lifetime to maintain.

    Let’s not judge Paul by modern standards, any more than we should use Paul to set modern standards.

    I don’t see the applicability of 1 Cor 14 right off, I’ll look more closely later. It is my understanding that the provenance of 1 Tim is questionable. I was just talking about Eph 5. Paul writes some truly marvelous things (e.g. 1 Cor 13), and some truly absurd things.

  • fraser

    Puritan men waxed quite rapturous about the marriage with Jesus they’d experience in Heaven. They didn’t think souls had gender, so gay overtones weren’t a problem (see Sexual Revolution in Early America for details)

  • Anonymous

    Tricksterson: Yes, but it’s a mite different to say “Ezekiel described four-headed creatures, which must clearly be aliens” and quite another to say “The Bible says it’s against the law for women to assert themselves.” It’s different because the latter is explicit. That IS the intended meaning of the verse in question (in the case of Corinthians, at least). I don’t think it can be argued that the Bible paints women as an inferior class when it hastens to point it out so often.

    CoolHandLNC: 1 Corinthians 34:35 specifically.

    “Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.”Full context of Ephesians 5:28-29:”In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.”Call me crazy, but I just don’t read egalitarian overtones from this. It’s explicitly stating that loving your wife is akin to loving your own body. It means this purely in the subordinate function. Your wife is part of you, but the reverse is less true. The husband is not required to submit to the wife. If the husband wills it, there’s nothing to stop him from deciding that proper behavior is locking his wife in a small room for her own good and loving her from afar (The Yellow Wallpaper, anyone?). Actually, the phrasing just reminds me of all the cases of the 19th and 20th century when it was ruled that rape between husband and wife was exempt from prosecution, because “a husband cannot rape himself.”And yes, I agree that Paul lived by standards which were far different than those we live under. We’ve undergone social revolutions. Women have fought for their rights, and our society is better for it, albeit still not totally egalitarian (far from it really, but in theory, we’re making progress all the time). The problem is that we still have millions of people pointing at these and similar Bible verses and saying that this is still completely relevant to us today. The CWA for example — a heavily religious-driven organization led by Beverly LaHaye, who has argued that “submit to your husbands” is very much the answer to most marital problems. If she had her way, women wouldn’t vote, wouldn’t work, wouldn’t leave the home except at their husbands’ side and would gladly remain silent in church.Of course, she herself doesn’t live by these standards. I suppose she enjoys making millions of dollars too much. …I’m more than willing to accept that these verses mean nothing in the here and now aside from being ugly footnotes in our history. I’m not fond of cherry-picking which parts of the Bible are important today and which aren’t (because at that point, I ask why we’d need its guidance at all), but I don’t think it’s cognitive dissonance to approve of one part and condemn another, because we ARE talking about human writing adapted through a dozen translations over thousands of years. The problem is, there ARE people trying to make them very relevant to our here and now, and they’re still relevant in other countries where women ARE still held as an inferior class, some by proclamation of law…. Are we arguing semantics? I don’t think we disagree about the subject matter, only the arguments pertaining to it. XD

  • Anonymous

    Sorry about the block of text. I swear that had paragraph breaks before I hit Post.

  • The husband is not required to submit to the wife

    Did you miss the “submit to each other” bit?

  • JenL

    …since when?

    And by whose definition of “what Christ tells it to”?

  • JenL

    Possessions? How is this verse describing how a man treats a possession? The term used is “like his own body” that is, like himself. What he is talking about here is union — two as one. As the Church is one with Christ. I’m not versed in Greek, so I don’t know exactly how the word translated as “submits” plays, or how his readers in Ephesus would have understood it.

    If I am told to treat something “like my own body”, then I am being told to take possession and control of it.  It’s *mine*, and nobody else should have the right to tell me what to do with it.  The body, in only a limited sense, has some power in the relationship, in that an allergic reaction can force me to stop eating peanuts – but I don’t sit down and have a reasoned discussion before deciding whether or not it’s worth the risk to try eating peanuts again…

    As for “two as one” – again, if we are one, why should “I” have a discussion with myself about whether to buy that new car I want?  Whether to space out the kids?  After all, two are one – my spouse is a part of me.  So how could my spouse disagree with me? 

  •  > if we are one, why should “I” have a discussion with myself about…

    I in fact have discussions with myself all the time about subjects I have conflicting feelings about. And I resolve those conflicts in a variety of different ways.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I should note that most of the traddy Catholics I know are also confident, assertive women, so it’s not as cut and dried as all that.

    How are you defining traditional Catholic?

  • Anonymous

     Latin mass, fully on board with the bishop of Rome’s tyrannies and detestable enormities, the whole business.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    It’s clear that you don’t mean “religious believer” here.  Buddhists don’t spend a lot of time worrying what the Bible says.  Neither do Santeristas or Shinto practicioners or Pagans.  In fact what you write doesn’t even apply well to Quakers or Unitarian Universalists.

    Uh…or craploads of Catholics.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    So…Catholics who undermine Vatican II? Interesting how that’s considered ‘traditional’.

    A priest friend of mine told me how a young fundy newbie priest had sneered at him “You’re one of those Vatican II types, aren’t you?” To which my friend replied “I wasn’t aware there had been a Vatican III”, and reflected on the contradiction of people claiming to uphold the authority of the papal line excising John XXIII from their minds.

  • Tonio

    I’m a hard-liner on this issue – I say there’s no valid reason by any religion to limit leadership roles to men. This applies not just to Catholicism but also fundamentalism. All rationalizations of such policies boil down to “God loves men more.”

  • JenL

    I in fact have discussions with myself all the time about subjects I
    have conflicting feelings about. And I resolve those conflicts in a
    variety of different ways.

    As you say: “about subjects I have conflicting feelings about”.  Not about things you’re sure about – not about things you’ve always assumed, never examined.  There is FAR too much room in “two made one” for the dominant partner to discuss anything he or she is conflicted about, while assuming agreement (more – never realizing the possibility of disagreement) on opinions considered “fact”.

  •  > There is FAR too much room in “two made one” for the dominant partner to
    discuss anything he or she is conflicted about, while assuming
    agreement (more – never realizing the possibility of disagreement) on
    opinions considered “fact”.

    Absolutely agreed.

    Of course, I would also say that there’s equally too much room for that in ANY model that has a “dominant partner”.