Religion and Feminism II

So here is my attempt to explain religion (as I see it and understand it and value it), and my hope is that others will join me in rescuing religion (or at least refrain from demonizing religion).

To me, religion at its crux (as represented by its holy texts) is unconcerned with culture; it is concerned with the more universal questions of connection, peace and joy. For instance, it is unconcerned about whether, in a particular age, it is considered appropriate to stone a woman to death for adultery, or whether, in another age, it is considered wholly appropriate to color-code your children in pink and blue. Those are matters for humans in each age to figure out. Religion doesn’t really care either way.

Or actually, I take that back.

It is not that religion doesn’t care either way about such questions or has nothing to say about such questions; it is just these issues are not the main purpose, the main concerns driving religion. These issues are the background context, and provide the setting for the larger and more universal questions about what drives our lives and why we must take the trouble to get up each morning. So in the Bible, for instance, there are stories of killings and women-taken-as-slaves-by-the victors in wars that were ordered by God. Oh horror!! But one has to read the whole book and not stop with these instances, because when we read the whole book and not just the stories of one particular age, then it becomes clear that killing-rape-victors was not the point-of-the-story – that was the unavoidable background context for the real story – the one about maintaining faith and trust and peace and joy when all is uncertain and everything is on the line.

And these stories that populate this holy book are complex and sophisticated multi-generational stories and there are layers of meaning, and if one just stops at the surface level without considering that every age has different ideas about what is okay and what is not, and that the specifics of these choices are largely irrelevant to questions about why we exist, then it is like going to the theater to watch a critically acclaimed play and then dismissing the play because we got distracted by what the actors were wearing.

And if it was a play and we dismissed it without bothering to peel back the layers and understand it, then it matters little. But if we do the same with a holy text like the Bible, then that decision, to choose ignorance, is consequential, because it hands over that entire area of life to the patriarchs; to be used as a bludgeon to beat other women down.

And it is amazing-horrifying how easy it seems to be do this – to use the complexity of religion’s stories (which is what makes them so real and true), and twist and stretch and shade and use to justify all sorts of cultural mishaps. And it makes me mad that something so true and perfect is twisted out of all recognition to justify some twisted ideology. And no one objects!!

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The God that I know

The God that I know looks nothing like the blowhards who have claimed the mantle of religion and decked themselves in cloaks of holier-than-thou. The God that I know is powerful, yet speaks in a still small voice. Even God’s miracles are quiet, unassuming. God speaks most when we are ourselves small and broken, and He* speaks most for the lowest of the low, the forgotten, the unwanted, the freaks, the dirty – the ones the world has discarded. God is gentle, creative, funny, unexpected, and surprising.

In short, God is the exact opposite of the blowhards who currently claim to speak in His name. When I see the shenanigans of the likes of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, it offends me that these one-dimensional-robotons claim to speak on God’s behalf. Offended is a small word, while what I feel is less polite – some smashing and throwing of edifices is required I think (Mathew 21:12).

How dare these ugly-hate-spewing-machines defile God, and claim to speak in His name – do they think God is some commodity that they can use for their own petty little ends? Do these not fear God’s wrath? Have these ever read the Bible, and if so, how could they miss what the whole book is about?

I honestly doubt that these people have ever read the Bible since I think it is impossible to read it and say the things these people say.

“You will know them by their fruits” (Mathew 7:16). It does not seem possible to look at the Santorums and the Huckabees of the world and think – “this” is what God’s fruits look like. So it is incredible that they are not laughed out of the house when they don the mantle of God and religion.

I’ve heard people ask why moderate Muslims do not speak out against the most extremist/crazy elements, and I have the same question for American Christians: why do you allow these alienoids to speak for you?

*or She or Ze or whichever limiting pronoun we humans can come up with to describe God.

Religion and Feminism

I remember a roundtable in a conference for feminists in academia, and there was this woman whose whole research agenda was to “prove” that religion is evil (racist-misogynist-homophobic-violent-evil). And she had all sorts of measures and stories and facts about different religions, and how all of them seemed to exist for the sole purpose of oppressing women. I could see where she was coming from – the trappings of religion are clearly patriarchal. There is just no arguing with that. I’m Christian, and Christianity often inspires in me a feeling of helpless rage at the blind hate that is encoded in its rules and rituals. And the problem is not just structural – more often than I would like, I’ve come across individual practitioners, perfectly nice men and women of the Church, who think nothing of making sexist, racist, homophobic remarks with no provocation out-of-the-blue, like other people might casually talk about the weather.

And yet, I’m Christian. I usually do not mention this to my feminist friends, since to most feminists this is like admitting to kicking dogs in private for fun. But I have received so much from my faith – in fact, all the good things that I have received in the past decade – trust, freedom from constant anxiety, thankfulness, peace, joy – are the gifts of my faith. And it seems wrong and ungrateful to hide what-is-best-in-my-life, and compartmentalize so that my feminist world and my faith-world are two entirely disconnected areas of my life, one ashamed of the other.

And this hiding is mostly one-way: I make no particular attempts to hide my feminism from my faith-community, since I honestly think that feminism can make religious life a lot better. But until recently (actually until today with this post), I’ve never much spoken about my faith in my feminist community. But it bugs-saddens me that this faith that I love, that has transformed my life, has been abandoned to the patriarchs to-do-what-they-want-with, because those on the other side couldn’t be bothered to rescue it. And it seems to me that, even from a purely strategic instrumental perspective, it is unwise for feminists to dismiss religion; if it is all about getting converts (and yes, feminists – let us just admit this – we are as much into proselytizing as any evangelical), then demonizing all religion makes no sense given that many human-people need some kind of faith to get them through the day. And this dismissal of religion is not just unwise, it is also harmful – It forces feminists in most countries of the world to have to fight multiple battles simultaneously; rather than marshaling all resources just fighting patriarchy, they find themselves suddenly pitted not just against patriarchy, but also against Islam/Hinduism/Christianity, challenging not just people’s choices regarding their daughter’s education, but also challenging their faith (an almost unwinnable battle). Religion has been coopted by patriarchy, perverted and abused to justify all sorts of crap. And feminists have allowed this to happen, washing their hands off religion (“fine you can have faith, as long as we get to keep tofu”), and the reasons, to me, seem born out of a very different understanding from mine about what religion really is about.

So next up: I’d like to explain my religion, as I understand it and value it. And my hope is that I can show my fellow feminists what I see in religion so that I can convince some to join me in rescuing religion, or at least refrain from demonizing religion.