I hear a lot about misogyny in Christianity mostly because I am female, have a background in Christianity and have a lot of feminist friends. (And before you ask, yes, I am a feminist myself.) Growing up, I had an interest in church history that led me to read Eusebius, Tertullian and the good old standby, Augustine. There is some true wisdom and beauty in their work. Rarely, however, does my feminism and interest in the church fathers intersect. I simply do not associate the two. Until this morning.
I was led via social media to look at posts by Valerie Tarico, author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light. I had not heard of her before. Some googling took me to two of her articles which have caused me to think deeply early in the morning.
The first article was “20 disgustingly misogynistic quotes from religious leaders” which was picked up by Salon and was reprinted on their website today. I expected it to be a simple list of evangelical conservative leaders, most of whom are notorious for their views on women. I was surprised to find quotes from the greats: Tertullian, Augustine, Martin Luther, and more recent ones like Pat Robertson, of course. I was forced to see the church fathers in a new light. Take this nugget:
[For women] the very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame. —Saint Clement of Alexandria, Christian theologian (c150-215) Pedagogues II, 33, 2
Or this one:
The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes. —Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)
That was fun. I already knew that misogyny was the foundation of Christianity’s views on women. But the extent surprised me.
Looking more into Tarico, I found “15 Bible Texts Reveal Why ‘God’s Own Party’ is at War with Women.” Considering my political leanings, I knew what to expect from this article. The 15 Bible verses I was already familiar with and you may recognize some of them, too. But Tarico’s explanation of the verses’ impact was effective.
Fundamentalists are fighting desperately to hang on to certainties and privileges they once saw as an Abrahamic birthright. If they can’t keep women in line; it’s all over.
The fact that Christian fundamentalist men consider such control and status as a birthright is not a new idea and is ubiquitous in critiques of religion. But rarely will you see it as clearly delineated as Tarico makes it in this quote.
Misogyny, yes. It’s a well documented topic. But what this really shows me is that the Church has a men problem.
Part of the problem is the view of life it gives to men. Men are perfect specimens of humanity, put in charge of a “poisonous snake and horned devil” called women, unable to relax and trust the person designed to be his “helpmate” and, in my view, probably unable to be truly happy at home. Sounds fine, but wouldn’t it be better for men if they could marry someone they could trust and admire and be comfortable with? I mean, isn’t that the point of marriage?
Christianity is overwhelmingly run by men, many of whom keep teachings like these alive. Every fundamentalist Christian man who says he loves his wife and his daughters, is tacitly (often directly) supporting treatment of the women they love as “poisonous snakes,” horned devils” and “the gate to hell.” Just so you know, your religion requires you to believe this about the women in your life. In fact, it would rather they not be born at all. Don’t believe me?
…of what importance is your character to mankind, if you was buried just now. Or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God. —John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement (1703-1791), letter to his wife, July 15, 1774
The worst part of this is that it is men which are telling you this. The daughter you would mourn as a father if she were to die tragically tomorrow, wouldn’t be a loss. She wouldn’t be important enough to matter.
One of the things that I emphasize in my discussions of religion is the divergence between God and religion. God is God (if you believe in God) and I am not inclined to debate his existence. What I will debate is the nature of religion and people’s treatment of it as sacred and inviolable.
Religion is a man-made institution. The Bible was written exclusively by men. The “church fathers” were necessarily men (there are no church mothers). Most Christian sects and denominations require maleness as a prerequisite for leadership. To this day, women are treated as second class and this is a direct result of the male-driven and male-created nature of Christianity. If you really believe what the Bible teaches about humanity, then you believe that man is fallible. If man is fallible, how can you treat man-made religion as anything other than suspect?
I abhor the misogyny of Christianity. Any woman involved in fundamentalist Christianity is essentially involved in an abusive relationship. Don’t believe me? Look at the quotes in Tarico’s articles. Women should be ashamed of being themselves, belong in “servitude” to men, would be better off dead and when they ask for respect, which they shouldn’t even do anyway, they become a kind of evil which will ” kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians” (Pat Robertson, 1992). If a man was telling that to his female partner and treating her that way, we would call him an abuser.
The problem Christianity has is not just that men are teaching these things about women. It is that Christian men are not standing up for the women they love. So my question to men is, if your daughter’s boyfriend treated her the way your religion says they should be treated, what would you do?