According to a study cited in the Los Angeles Times, “thinking analytically can cause religious belief to wane.” Analytical thinking and religion aren’t quite mutually exclusive, but when religious people exercise their brains, they tend to reach some conclusions that are antithetical to what their religions teach. A prominent example is in their attitudes toward women.
Former President Jimmy Carter is a thinking person of faith. In 2009, he left the Southern Baptist Church because of its refusal to ordain women and its strictures that women be subservient to their husbands. In leaving, he made these statements:
“At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities….
“The truth is that male religious leaders have had—and still have—an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.”
The abuses perpetrated on women around the world are horrific, but we don’t need to look any further than the United States to see the persecution of women by religious forces. Let’s consider the ten most religious states in America. They are Mississippi, Utah, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Oklahoma. These are some of the leaders in initiating anti-woman legislation—like Utah’s law to criminally prosecute some women for miscarriages, or Louisiana and Oklahoma’s attempts to pass personhood amendments that declare a fertilized egg to be a citizen with full rights, or Georgia’s effort to pass the cynically named “Protect Life Act” that would give hospitals the right to refuse treatment to a woman whose life is in danger—if it involves an emergency abortion. Georgia, by the way, ranks eleventh in the nation in its number of forcible rapes.
It doesn’t take much brainpower to see why there’s a link between religion and the mistreatment of women. Randall Bailey, of the Interdenominational Theological Center, goes even further than Carter. A thinking person has to see the logic behind this statement:
“We think we can use abusive texts in a sanitized way to prevent violence… If we continue to sidestep those issues, we are furthering abuse not only on those we want to help, but also on ourselves.”
That cuts right to the heart of the problem. The histories and holy books of the three major religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—are filled with God-sanctioned violence toward and control of women. All three religions have come from the same source: Abraham. The great founding father, Abraham, married his half-sister, Sarah, and then prostituted her to the Pharaoh of Egypt in order to save his own skin. He is the role model for every subsequent generation of believers in all three faiths. The bottom line is that women are seen as tools for men to use for their own purposes.
There has been a lot of emphasis in the media on the role of the Christian Right in political attempts to forcibly control the behavior of women, but the Right is the easy target. The truth is that the language of all the major religions victimizes and subjugates females. Randall Bailey is right; trying to use abusive texts in a sanitized way doesn’t come close to addressing the problem. The words shape attitudes and behavior. You can paint the walls of a building pure white and make it look quite holy and presentable, but when rot eats at the foundation, there is no salvaging the whole. It must come down.
Randall Bailey continues:
“What is this notion we have in religion that there is a spirituality that can be anti-human rights? What can even condone that as an option?”
Certainly women must not condone that form of spirituality—nor should any reasonable men. The major religions are irredeemably rotten at their foundation due to their promotion of abuse. The only hope for women, in the United States and around the world, is for thinking people to follow Jimmy Carter’s example: Abandon the rot!