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Member since: Sat Jul 3, 2010, 12:24 PM
Number of posts: 19,705

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Is Religion Inherently Oppressive?

Thereís little doubt, outside circles filled with self-delusional reactionaries, that religion is probably the most important force in continuing the oppression of women worldwide. Around the world, various abuses from coerced marriage to domestic violence to restricting reproductive rights are all excused under the banner of religion. More to the point, womenís rights have advanced more quickly in societies that put religion on the backburner, or like the United States, have strict laws separating church and state. But even in the U.S., the main result of the growing power of the religious right is the rollback of reproductive rights and other protections for womenís equality.

Former president Jimmy Carter, who is probably the countryís most prominent liberal Christian, is willing to set aside his enthusiasm for faith to admit this. While doing press promoting his new book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power, Carter told the Guardian that ďwomen are treated more equally in some countries that are atheistic or where governments are strictly separated from religion.Ē

This isnít because atheists and secularists have fewer people in their ranks that have ugly and backwards attitudes toward women. Itís because, by never having religion in the discourse about womenís rights in the first place, discourse in secular circles and societies never gets mired in endless, irresolvable debates about what God wants. Instead, secular societies can get straight to the facts and policy debate. When you stop worrying what God wants and start worrying about what people want, itís much easier to argue that women should have full human rights.
After all, women are half the human race. When everyone is talking about what God supposedly wants, it becomes very easy to forget that ultimately, the issue of womenís rights is about ordinary, everyday men and women and what goes on in their lives.


Carter, like many liberal Christians, is happy to criticize more conservative religious leaders who want to oppress women. Still, itís hard not to have doubts that Carterís own devout Christianity might make him less critical than he should be of the role religion plays in the oppression of women. The sticky point when it comes to advocating for a kind of Christian feminism is that the Bible is undeniably sexist. And itís not just the Old Testament, where women are told they were created from men and told, repeatedly, that they are basically property to be disposed of as men see fit. The New Testament has plenty of verses that should cause feminist eyebrows to shoot up.


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