Newt In A Tea Cup

{July 25, 2007}   Religious Crossroads

At the moment my thoughts, whilst never far from feminism, has been more focussed on more ecumenical matters. I’ve been plodding my way through “A New Kind of Christian” by McLaren and it’s helped enormously though I know little about said author (enlighten me, anyone?) and haven’t quite finished the series.

I’ve struggled for a long time with believing in a God whose followers don’t seem to believe in me. This is a particular struggle that I feel many fellow feminists don’t understand and don’t really help with.

After all, if it’s misogynistic chuck it out and do something else, right? It’s not that easy and nothing ever is. We’d have nothing left at all if we applied that across the board!

Pick any two Christian- any at all – and put them in a room together. They will always find something to disagree on; why else are there so many denominations, styles of worship or traditions? And within those there are even more conflicts. The fact is that church is interesting in the way it unites people who wouldn’t normally have anything to do with each other under the belief of a God.

That’s the problem though; God most certainly isn’t his people and often the bundle that comes with the religious motivation has little to nothing to do with the Holy One. Spirituality is something that quickly gets stale as it is something individual, mutable and metaphysical therefore any attempt to quantify or regulate is, dare I say, counter-productive and inherently destructive to spiritualities true nature.

My problem (one of them) is that the church inherently seems to accept a gender reductive stance.

Whilst I find this incredibly damaging, it doesn’t mean I disagree on matters such as Jesus’ role etc.. etc… I can be a Christian and still call out patriarchal bullshit in other words.

I find it galling because one of the first things claimed is that we are made in God’s image ; why should the capability of God’s image be reduced to a who’s who of genitalia? Isn’t that somewhat blasphemous in a twisted way?

Why was Junia erased and why do Christian Brothers seek to actively reduce the service and impact of women’s work for God?

Why does, in return, our image of God look nothing like me? Are men somehow considered more in God’s image than women? That’s the only explanation for the fact that I can read page after page of my Bible and not find anything that seems to refer to me, not christian-whom-we-assume-to-be-male-unless-specified-and-then-some.
If the word of God is supposed to speak to me in my everyday live how can you expect me to read page after page of “brothers” this and “let he” that? It jarrs and disconnects me.

More than that I think we need to be actively redefining and shifting the boundaries of the implications of faith in a changing world. I’ve read a couple of feminist biblical scholars and what they said was completely revolutionary; and lest we forget so was Jesus at the time. How then, has he become a by-word for tradition or conservationist attitudes?

When Eve is introduced to Adam, God introduces her as a “helper”. This has directly been used to subjugate and introduce a legitimised subordinate female position through the authority of religious language. But, going back to the original language, that term for helper has been used only a handful of times in the entire collection of books; each time (apart from that one) it is used to describes God’s position is relation to us.

How different would the church be if we applied this meaning and implication?

I don’t mean placing women on a virginal pedestal with “whores” wallowing around the bottom of it. I mean seeing women as fully capable, functional and self-sufficient to stand by themselves in all of their glory.

And the whole rib thing- culmination or left-over? Actually it makes more sense that the rib is symbolic- neither above Adam (from his head or similar) nor below (his feet) but from the same source and therefore not an “other” but a completely equal counterpart with the same faculties.

How different would the church be if it applied this?

I seriously think that the church is a crossroad of the type that separated the Jews from the early Christians. The rights and wrongs of sex before marriage (what is marriage anyway?), homosexuality or abortion are complete and utter red herrings which belie a bigger issue of conflict over personal autonomy, dogmatism and viewing all people as inherently equal (yes, even women and non-whites too!).

The real issue is how we relate, and permit people to relate with God; how we love our neighbours who are poor, disadvantaged, socially outcast; how much we want to be good.

There is a inclination to want to be “right” about everything, especially religious things. I’ve seen some Christian take a “You’ll burn in hell and then I can say I told you so and so there!” approach; what we need to focus on is not our theology but our attitudes. We can’t always be right and we can’t always be good but a heart that is searching and genuine will eventually find the answer even if it takes forever.

The church and it’s members needs to shift it’s focus on becoming the kind of community you would want to spend eternity with.

This may mean a complete split where a whole new path emerges. Maybe “Christianity” needs to become something different. Think of early Christians who slowly learnt to do without circumcision, kosher food or Passover ceremonies. It would have been frightening and they would have felt perched on the edge of deadly blasphemy. Maybe we need not be afraid of that perch but embrace it; I reiterate that I don’t think God expects us to get it right but I do think she expects us to search for her.

Feminists and women-positive people need to be involved in this. Women have been busy behind the scenes of religion, working around imposed restrictions to do good and fulfil their callings. Now we need to step forward and deconstruct then reconstruct what God means to us from within the narrative frameworks of our lives, on top of in our relations to men and their power.

This, except for a precious few women, has been sorely lacking.

You can’t expect a devout woman to abandon her faith – it’s like asking someone to stop believing in gravity; to them it is something fundamental, obvious and essential to life. What you can do is examine the theory, research it and rewrite the wrong bits or misinterpreted bits whilst telling off the scientists (or priests) who wrote it up in an exclusive, incomprehensible way.

We need discourse that isn’t belittling of faith or dismissive of change.

Someone once told me that Jesus came to earth as a man because if he’d been a woman his sacrifice would have been void; he’d have had nothing to give up. Maybe it’s time Christian men started acting like him and giving up their privilege too.

How different would the church be if it applied this?

I’ve got more questions and less answers. But I’m feeling hope because, at least, I’m knocking on the door.


gingermiss says:

After all, if it’s misogynistic chuck it out and do something else, right?

I think it’s important that you’re writing about this. It’s important for religious women to speak out and promote change within their own world.

On the other hand, saying that feminists “chuck [it] out” anything that’s misogynistic is unfair. It’s never an easy decision to make to give up on people. Some women just don’t want to deal with being treated the way general society often treats radical feminists – their ideas dismissed as crazy or unrealistic; made to feel like they’re doing something wrong or rejecting their ‘natural’ role; targeted and singled out for punishment by men and other women. Society really forces them to make a choice: either be good and fall in line, or take the pain that comes with becoming your own person.

No one wants to feel like they have to give up on something they believe in, and they certainly shouldn’t be forced to. I don’t believe that you should be bullied out of Christianity because other people are assuming it and propagating it for their own ends.

Different situations demand different courses of action. Some things can only be changed from the inside. Others have to be abandoned for your own health and safety.

In this case, you don’t have to choose. Religion and feminism are not mutually exclusive.

“I’ve struggled for a long time with believing in a God whose followers don’t seem to believe in me. This is a particular struggle that I feel many fellow feminists don’t understand and don’t really help with.”
Love this post.
I was raised very secular but I consider myself a spiritual person (I’m not a member of an organized religion though). I don’t think that atheism is necessarily any pro-feminist than religion – although many feminists that I respect see atheism as central to their feminism and if that is true for them and their experiences, that’s fine with me. For example, a lot of the pseudo-Darwinist types (I’m not sure if they’re atheist necessarily, but they advance a point of view that a lot of religious people disagree with, in the US at least) use the “men/women are BIOLOGICALLY destined to do x” argument to advance sexism. Many of the lefty male bloggers are atheists and they are extremely sexist. If we get rid of religion but don’t get rid of patriarchy, then we’ll have sexist atheists and lots of “Men are *wired* to cheat/rape/be in power etc.” and “Women are not *wired* to do math/have careers etc”. Which isn’t much of an improvement over what we’ve got.
I think it’s important to fight the worst abuses of women that are associated with religion (like FGM, which is actually more cultural I believe than religious, polygamy, banning birth control). But I think that post-patriarchy, religion will be the way we elect to (or elect not to) relate spiritually with the world around us.

tcupnewt says:

ginger- you are right that this is going to have to be an internal movement. However I am speaking of personal experience when I have asked questions about resolving Christianity (in particular) and feminism and been answered with a categorical “Can’t be done. Can’t be a feminist and part of a religion.” and then they’d act like they expected me to just drop the convictions and experiences I’ve held all my life. Fact is I’ve witnessed a lot more dogmatism when it comes to spirituality and women – from both sides of the fence – than with many other issues. But then I think you understand what I’m saying; God’s cool but his fandom scares me and I think the club rules need to be updated. That and yes- no one can fight all the battles. It’s hard enough getting up in the morning sometimes!

LittoralMermaid- yeah, I think that spiritual anarchism (would that be the opposite of organised religion?) is the way to go. The wired thing works for religion too “God created them that way!” Personally I think both developed a lot in sync to support the dominant ones. It’s no secret that in the past a lot of religious authority figures were corrupt and there for the considerable power. You can find a veneer of misogyny lying over so many ideologies. I do like your conclusion…

Amy says:

Quick comment!
Brilliant post!!!

I’ve recently been feeling a bit…floundering, I guess, in my Christian faith. I wasn’t brought up Christian, or anything, and I’m not a devoutly-Church-going one, either, but still…
I’ve found it so at odds with my feminism, it’s made me feel somewhat disillusioned with Christianity.

Pai says:

I totally know how you feel… even though I’ve been Christian my whole life, almost everything about me seemed to alienate other believers. I was moody, pessimistic, questioned authority, liked fantasy/goth, was pro-choice and feminist, etc.

The ironic thing, was my Christianity also sort of separated me from those other fandoms too, because a lot of people hostile to Christianity are in those circles. So I never felt 100% comfortable anywhere. It was very difficult for me to reconcile all the seemingly incompatible parts of myself. =(

Once I started studying the Bible for myself without listening to other’s interpretations, I found that the majority of the ‘Christian’ establishment in the U.S. is not only failing to even adhere to basic Biblical scripture in the first place, and are mostly using stuff out of context/making stuff up to support their bigoted political ends, and aren’t about loving God and loving others (the entire point of Christianity) I just wrote off the entire organized religion itself.

I go to a home Bible study now instead of church, and all of us feel the same way about the state of the church nowadays. The more I learn about the scriptures, the more I feel this way. So now… I guess I’m a disenfranchised, non-denomination, liberal Christian. Which is still kind of depressing, but I feel a lot better about it, less like I’m pressured to hide parts of myself to be ‘more acceptable’ to others.

tcupnewt says:

It’s funny how many there are of us who don’t feel quite at home in either world cut out for us. I think that we are all shades of colours and it isn’t even as simple as black or white or even grey. I like your solution. Myself I find that small group structures are much more helpful as well. It’s encouraging that we can find all of these new ways to be and do things. I think God judges and sees differently than we do. The best we can do is search and live at peace with ourselves and others. At least that’s IMO.

It’s ironic that Christianity which started as a movement for change and progressiveness became so entrenched in stubborn traditionalist conservatism. I despair so much of the organised trope; though my own church is pretty positive I always am cautious… 😦

This is definitely going to be a bigger theme.

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