Women and the Bible – Christian Atrocities

Prior posts on Feminism and the responses to Annie Laurie Gaylor’s article (the article can be found in the first link):

Feminism and the Bible

Women and the Bible – Genesis 3:16

Women and the Bible – Church Roles

Women and the Bible – Heroines?

In this segment, I am focusing on one major complaint from Gaylor: the oppression of women under the hand of humans who are claiming to be doing the work of God.

 I think the very first sentence of her article is enlightening: “Organized religion always has been and remains the greatest enemy of women’s rights.”  She says organized religion is the enemy of women’s rights.  This may be at least partially true, but God is not to fault for that.  Humans are.  I will elaborate more fully after we look at the next section of her writing:

 “Church writer Tertullian said ‘each of you women is an Eve . . . You are the gate of Hell, you are the temptress of the forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law.’  Martin Luther decreed: ‘If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it.’  Such teachings prompted 19th-century feminist Elizabeth Cady Stanton to write: ‘The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman’s emancipation.’  The various Christian churches fought tooth and nail against the advancement of women, opposing everything from women’s right to speak in public, to the use of anesthesia in childbirth (since the bible says women must suffer in childbirth) and woman’s suffrage. Today the most organized and formidable opponent of women’s social, economic and sexual rights remains organized religion. Religionists defeated the Equal Rights Amendment. Religious fanatics and bullies are currently engaged in an outright war of terrorism and harassment against women who have abortions and the medical staff which serves them. Those seeking to challenge inequities and advance the status of women today are fighting a massive coalition of fundamentalist Protestant and Catholic churches and religious groups mobilized to fight women’s rights, gay rights, and secular government.”

It’s a common argument against God and Christianity:  “Look at all of those horrible Christians and what they have done – what they continue to do.” 

Part of the problem is that it would seem in order to have a case against Christianity, Gaylor would have to assume that all Christians agree on everything and blindly follow every church leader you can name.  Trust me, this is not the case.  So, whatever Tertullian and Martin Luther said, it does not follow that all of Christendom is on the same page.

In addition, if you follow the logic of “Christianity must be false because of all of the bad things Christians have done” then it also follows that non-Christianity must be false because of all of the bad things that non-Christians have done.  You may reply that people who are not Christians have never claimed to be good, whereas Christians do.  I beg to differ.  In fact, all of the arguments against Christianity would be pointless if those people did not think that non-Christianity led to a better life than Christianity.  For this particular argument, that is their main point: if there were not Christians, none of these bad things would have occurred, because non-Christians wouldn’t have done that.  I ask, what about all of the bad things that occur at the hands of others?  The basic answer is this: none of these bad things would have occurred if there were not any people, at which point it would not matter because there would have been no one for the bad things to happen to.  And that’s about as far as you can take this logic.  If you want to start generalizing what is true and false by whether the people who believe in it are good or bad, then nothing in the world will ever be believed, because there are both good and bad people to be found in any belief system.  So, what we arrive at is this: there sure are some bad Christians out there.  And I concur. 

But here’s the main problem: God is not a tyrant.  If He was, we would all be forced to do what He wants all of the time.  Christians would all be perfect and they would never say or do anything stupid.  But He’s not a tyrant, and therefore, a whole heck of a lot of us screw up.  I screw up.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t, although I know a few people who try to pretend like they don’t.  Some of us screw up worse than others.  God has forgiven us (ALL of us – some of us just haven’t accepted His forgiveness). 

 

But I think if you look at the “problem” logically, you will see that there is not really an alternative.  People complain that God is too strict, too demanding, too forceful…always pushing His supposed agenda (I purport that God has no agenda except to love us and give us the best).  He has too many rules.  You want a softer God.  But when it turns out that He IS a softer God –  meaning, he does not strike us all dead to clean up the streets when we start messing things up – you do not like it.  People think things like, “If God were God, He would have stopped that.  He wouldn’t let His followers act like that.”

 

Unless my logic is bad, I don’t think you can have it both ways.  You want a softer God when it comes to your own life – one that will be sort of hands off and not really bug you about what you’re doing wrong – but you want a tougher God when it comes to those evils that you happen to be against.  Or perhaps it is more a question of the level of evil that you think is being done – if you want to lie to your neighbor about “borrowing” the rake he left outside, you want God to keep quiet.  But if someone is going to steal your car, you want God to step in.  God doesn’t see sin in degrees.  And if He did, then His scale would most likely opposite ours based on Jesus actions in the Bible – the most notorious sinners were the ones that He extended His love to with such mercy.  It was the falsely pious religious leaders that He seemed to have the biggest problem with – the ones who didn’t know that they were also part of the problem.  So, if you want to consider yourself above a car theif when you just stole your neighbor’s rake and you wish that God would stop the greater evils, then you had better watch out.  Theivery is theivery, and you just added hypocrisy to it.

 

The point is that God is at neither of these extremes.  He does not let us get by with things, nor does He stop us from committing any evil.  There are definitely consequences for misrepresenting God; we don’t get off scot free.  There are natural consequences from any negative behavior, and God also works in our spirit.  But at the same time, He does not reach down His hand and physically stop us from doing something bad every time we begin to.  We would all be puppets on a string.  Yes, He can intervene in such a manner, and He has in particular instances.  I can’t answer the question of why sometimes He does and sometimes He does not. 

 

So, all I can do is apologize for the atrocities committed by Christians down through the ages.  I can apologize for my own part in misrepresenting God’s character.  I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t happen.

 

What I will say is that God is not to blame; God is on the side of the victims.  And what He does do is offer healing to those who are wounded, afflicted, oppressed and underprivileged.  The Christians are supposed to be the hands and feet of this healing, not the administrators of the wounds, but unfortunately, as I said above, we often fall short.

 

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD [is] upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to [them that are] bound.”  Isaiah 61:1

 

“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.”  Psalm 147:3

 

God also specifically calls us to minister to widows and orphans in multiple locations in the Bible (below).  I don’t see how a God who seems to care so deeply about providing for widows can be painted as a God who does not care about women – or worse, a God who wishes women ill.

 

“At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”  Deuteronomy 14:29

 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy dwelling.”  Psalm 68:5

 “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.”  Isaiah 10:1-2

 “Leave your orphans.  I will protect their lives.  Your widows, too, can trust in me.” Jeremiah 49:11

“’So I will come near to you for judgment.  I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurors, against those who defraud labors of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me’ says the Lord Almighty.”  Malachi 3:5

And as for the “organized religion” that Gaylor complains of, Jesus complained about it as well, and even in the context of their oppression of women:

 

“And as He taught, Jesus said, ‘Watch out for the teachers of the law.  They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the market places, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widow’s houses and for a show, make lengthy prayers.  Such men will be punished most severely.’”  Matthew 12:38-40  This text goes on to discuss the giving spirit of one widow in particular, who Jesus points out as an example of faith to his disciples.

 

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep onself from being polluted by the world.”  James 1:27

 

Incidentally, James 1 also speaks against anger in us…”Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God describes.”  So, when you see Christians responding to any group by taking personal offense and responding in hatred or wishing another ill-will, you can know it is not God’s will.  The sin that the Christian is opposing may actually be a sin, but their response to it is also sin.

 

And if you continued on to read James 2, the entire chapter speaks against oppression, against assigning varying degrees of importance to people, against men pronouncing judgment on other men.  God is for equality. 

 

When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus said, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

 

What we are commanded to do is love others as we love ourselves.  It is the second greatest commandment because it flows out of the first.  We are only given the strength to love others in this manner if we are first committed to loving God unreservedly.  We don’t have that kind of power within ourselves.  And all of the disturbing things that Christians have done over the years have come from failing these commands.  Loving another human being as you love yourself leaves no room for any type of oppression or any lording over another, whether it be because of gender, class, race, age or infirmity.  Loving someone in this manner means defending another’s rights as you would defend your own.

 

Christians fail this in more than one way – we often do the opposite, as discussed above…creating more rifts and more oppression.  But we fail it in another way as well, and that is that when we see it, we too often turn our faces from it, deny it, ignore it, treat it as if it is not our problem.  But it IS our problem, and this commandment to “love each other as we love ourselves” proves it.  We are supposed to care about others as if the injustice befalling them were on our own heads.  Can we commit to do this so that we can stop providing people like Gaylor with ammunition against God?  If we did these things, Gaylor probably would not even want to write her article, she would be content to let us continue being loving…if that’s what we were largely doing.  She may even start wanting to believe in what we have.

 

And in Matthew 25:33-43, God even says that acts of kindness performed to the poor, the imprisoned and the sick will be considered as acts towards God Himself.  We need to get on the ball.  And, don’t worry, I’m talking to myself here as well.  

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3 Comments

  1. janeabraham said,

    July 31, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    My dear Annie,

    You wrote an excellence article.Good work.
    A good book to read:

    WOMEN IN ISLAM VERSUS WOMEN IN THE
    JUDAEO-CHRISTIAN TRADITION:

    http://islamworld.net/docs/compwomen.html

  2. Johnny London said,

    August 7, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you for the article.

    I would be interested to see your reflections on the numerous Old Testament passages which seem to clearly position woman as an inferior, less valuable, even unclean creation. Leviticus would be a good place to start. I can provide a few dozen OT passages, but I’m sure you are familiar with the ones to which I am referring. I will be happy to be more specific if you would like.

    I understand that Christians are not “under” the Old Testament, but if the God of the Bible is unchanging, can we not learn of his immutable character by looking at all of the books of the Bible?

    Thank you,
    Johnny

  3. August 28, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    God is with me and I am with God. There is a higher power, that is God. and I am One with this Power. I honor and worship this Power and take my Power back.


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