Friday, July 15, 2011

Misogyny in the Bible

The way in which the Bible advocates treating women is often nothing short of horrendous. I will examine just a few examples of this treatment here. Let us start with the laws of the Old Testament:
"When you go out to war against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife..."
At this point I'd like you to stop and think about what words should come after this in a just and rational society. I would expect something like "you shall by no means do so, and if attempt to, you shall be severely punished." Instead we find:
"...then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her." (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
Some context is useful here: in the previous chapter (v. 13-14) God commanded the Israelites to kill all of the men of the enemy nations. This woman's father, brothers, and male friends would all have been dead. Then she is forced to become the wife of one of the men who killed them. Then, as if this would not already be a living nightmare, she is raped. Yes, the Bible allows the rape of female captives—and it definitely is rape. And just to head off any objections from apologists, I'll lay out here why we know this to be the case:
  1. The man is clearly having sex with the woman. The phrase "go in to" is a common Old Testament euphemism for sex, and the precise phrase "because you have humbled her" is used sexually just one chapter later (v. 28-29).
  2. "Anah," the Hebrew verb translated here as "humbled," is used in its sexual connotation eleven other times in the Bible. All eleven refer to a sex act that degrades the woman, and at least six refer to rape in particular.
  3. There is no reason that consensual sex would have degraded or humbled the woman, so it had to have been non-consensual.
  4. Most importantly, no woman in her right mind would willingly have sex with a man who has just aided in killing her family and forced her to be his wife.
Here's an issue that's relatively minor, yet is still indefensible because it's both harmful and completely unnecessary:
"Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. 'But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days." (Leviticus 12:1-5)
Why this discrimination? What is it about giving birth to a baby girl that makes one twice as unclean as giving birth to a baby boy? This arbitrary distinction in the law has absolutely no upside, and would probably have made the Israelites more resentful towards baby girls. This is a suspiciously human law—one that seems far more likely to originate from an ancient tribe with primitive ideas about gender than an infinitely enlightened God.

There are many other instances of inequality and misogyny in the OT, but I want to keep this to a reasonable length. Let's move on to the NT:
"Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything." (Ephesians 5:22-24)
Do Christians ever stop to think about why this should be? Certainly women are no less intelligent. While they may be physically weaker on average, this shouldn't have any impact on a social relationship. And while there is an analogy presented in this verse, it only clarifies the woman's role rather than giving a reason for it. To be blunt, there simply is no good reason. (In case this verse wasn't clear enough, its command is repeated in Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1.) And finally:
"Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church." (1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
"Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (1 Timothy 2:11-14)
So in summary: women are to be silent in church, they are to learn in silence, they are to be submissive, and they are not to teach or have authority over men.

Why is this? What exactly is shameful about women speaking in church? What is it about women that makes them poor teachers? I wonder why many Christians who think women shouldn't have authority in the church also think it is perfectly fine for women to be mayors, senators, governors, or even president? Surely the office of president is filled with far more problems than a position of authority in the church. If they're going to treat women as second-class citizens, they ought to at least be consistent—especially since the Bible itself portrays female rulers as a bad thing in Isaiah 3:12.

Look at the bizarre non-sequitur rationalization Paul gives in 1 Timothy. Women should be silent and should not teach because Eve came after Adam and was deceived? Paul seems to think that because Eve was deceived, all women are naturally gullible. This is a clear example of the genetic fallacy: drawing a conclusion based entirely on someone's origin. It should make no difference where women came from; they should be judged based on their own merits.

Again, this is just a sample of the misogyny in the Bible—there's plenty more. Of course, apologists try to downplay these instances in any way they can, but if we use their same standard of acrobatic reinterpretation, we can also excuse the rampant anti-woman sentiment in the Quran. With enough leeway, anything can be made to say the opposite of what it originally meant. If we treat the text with any degree of honesty, the image we get is not of a loving God, but of bigoted men who used religion to subjugate women.

11 comments:

  1. I know a lot of women (including myself) often struggle over a lot of these seemingly anti-women scriptures but there are enormous amounts of misconceptions with regards to the meanings of these scriptures. I would first like to address the common misconception that the male and female roles portrayed in the Bible are somehow inequal. This is not the case. Men and women are different physically, emotionally, and spiritually giving them different strengths and abilities so why would they're roles be interchangable? None of these abilities are greater than the other's and both roles are extremely important. I think a good comparison are the roles in society of white collar and blue collar workers. They have different abilities and responsibilities but is one more important to the workings of society than the other? With that being said I would now like to address your comments on Leviticus 12. God gave his people laws that were for their own good. When women are said to be "unclean" during their monthly cycle or after childbirth, it means that the situation is unsanitary. It would be dangerous for the tribe if a woman that was continuously bleeding (given there were no tampons, pads, etc.) were to be touching "hallowed" or sanctified things which is most likely refering to the consumable idems in the sanctuary that were usually consecrated by the priests. Due to the lack of knowledge with regards to hygiene and medicine, these instructions were put in place to protect the people (Notice the scripture says "she shall continue in the blood of her purification." Her body is ridding itself of impurities and infections through bleeding after childbirth; therefore, the blood contains possible infectious material). You have also displayed many common misinterpretations with regards to the Apostle Paul. Keep in mind that Paul's letters are written to specific churches (ie. the churches in Corinth, Ephesis, Galatia, etc.) and these churches struggled with specific issues. Though Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14, instructs woment to be silent in church, in 1 Corinthians 11 he also instructs women on HOW they should prophesy (he doesn't say they shouldn't prophesy)--which would be IN THE church! This instruction in silence, therefore, must be refering to a specific situation and not to women as a whole. I hope you will look into some of the roots of these common misinterpretations with an open mind and I hope your understanding will be opened as well. God Bless.

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    1. First of all, your white-collar/blue collar analogy is inappropriate for representing the role of women as defined in the Bible. One is not *born* a white or blue collar; rather, one *becomes* a white or blue collar worker depending on one's interests, education, skills, family background, and a host of other determining factors. In contrast, women are *born* women. They do not chose to *become* women. Their role in society and the family should not be indicated by what's between their legs any more than the color of the skin, the size of their feet, or the shape of their eyes. Leadership positions within society and the family should be based on the character and personality of the person, not the gender.

      Secondly, Tim did not take offense to the uncleanness of the women after childbirth; rather, to the *differing lengths of time of uncleanness* between bearing a girl and bearing a boy. Why would a girl baby make the mother unclean for *twice* the length of time as a boy baby? But to address your defense that the slight bleeding women experience after childbirth is 'unclean': there is nothing actually infectious or impure in this blood. As far as hand hygiene goes, the same can be said for *anyone* after using the toilet, coughing, sneezing, etc.

      Lastly, if one attempts to explain Paul's words regarding women as purely situational, can we not apply that same exercise to the rest of his teachings when they become politically and socially inconvenient? If all these rules regarding women are purely situational, why does the church still teach silence and submission to women? If these rules are valid today, why does gender- a physical trait that does not define a person's character, moral values, personality, or leadership abilities- get to decide a person's place in society?

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  2. I disagree with your comment that "no woman in her right mind would willingly have sex with a man who has just aided in killing her family and forced her to be his wife." You are thinking in terms of your own experiences. Think about the time in which this took place. Wars were prevelent and entire cities demolished. I think it is LIKELY that a woman during this time would marry in this situation in order to save her own life. God is permitting men of Israel to marry women from tribes that they have overthrown (putting her in a place of respect in his household) instead of killing them or making them slaves. This is, in fact, a form of mercy (though some in our generation would still see it as cruel, CONSIDER THE TIME) and she would, no doubt, be humbled by this display of mercy.

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    1. Thanks for clearing this up. I know this comment is old, but I'll bear this in mind the next time I go slaughter some little African tribe. The girl I leave alive will be humbled by my great mercy and give herself to me to have sex with. Heck, if she satisfies me, I'll even keep her!

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  3. Just because wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, this doesn't mean that husbands are not required to submit to their wives. The verse directly before this (Ephesians 5:21) instructs us to submit to each other. The verse directly after this instructs husbands to love their wives. If husbands are not required to submit to their wives, does that mean wives are not required to love their husbands? No. This verse is addressing a PROBLEM. It is apparently difficult for wives to submit to their husbands, which is why they are instructed to do so--it is not difficult for men to submit to their wives. It is apparently difficult for men to love their wives, which is why they were instructed to do so--it is not difficult for women to love their husbands. Paul is instructing each gender in duties that are DIFFICULT for them to fulfill (why would we need to be told to do something if it is easy for us to do?) but husbands and wives are called to love and submit to ONE ANOTHER.

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    1. I have a problem with your PROBLEM.

      First, I fundamentally disagree with your belief that it is "difficult" for women, and easy for men to submit to the other. WHY should either one have to submit? They should be EQUAL, a team, unless you believe one sex inherently less capable or intelligent than the other? In which case, you are wrong. Also, you say it is "difficult" for a man, but easy for a woman to love the other. And to this, I would like to call bullshit. There exist men who are fully capable of loving someone without any help from the bible, just as there exist women who are maybe not so good at loving someone. Love is something that two people either feel or don't feel for each other, and while I think it is good for two people in a relationship to love each other, it is not something that, in a true relationship, needs to be instructed. Indeed, if a man in a relationship needs to be "instructed" to love, then this is not a good or true relationship to begin with.

      Second, if in fact what you say is true - "Paul is instructing each gender in duties that are DIFFICULT for them to fulfill", and "it is not difficult for men to submit to their wives", then why does Ephesians 5:21, which you quoted, "instruct us to submit to each other" meaning the husband should submit to the wife and the wife to the husband. If this submission was something at which husbands/men were quite adept, why then did Paul mention it? According to you, he shouldn't have, because he is already good at it, and needs no encouragement in this.

      Third, even if I were to accept this flimsy argument about submission and love, where you are trying to explain away and say that the institution of marriage according to the bible is equal, you have only addressed this word: "submit". You are completely ignoring the blatantly unequal verse which was quoted above: Why, Paul, do wives have to subject/submit to their husbands? OH, but of course because "the husband is head of the wife." Can you explain your way out of that one?

      Even if your argument were completely sound - which it isn't by my second point, you have not addressed ALL unequal statements. Why does the bible say "the husband is head of the wife" if we are to submit to each other? You, specifically you, "anonymous", might argue the bible says such a thing because it is "difficult" for him to be such a "head" of the relationship, but "easy" for the woman? And, since you are arguing marriage is equal according to the bible, then both should be "heads" of the relationship, you know, just like they love and submit to each other. Only one is not as good at it, so we need to tell him to do it. Oh wait, that doesn't make sense because there is ONLY ONE "head" of the household.

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  4. this is dumb as hell. i am a christian and i PLAINLY see the inequality in the bible. i except these thing because afterall, men chose what went in to the bible and what was left out. and NO ABSOLUTLY NOT no woman would willing have sex with someone that killed their family. not one, nowhere. and if they are doing it to save there life it is not willingly it is still rape. dont ignore the history of ourt faith. recognize it. grow from it. period

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  5. Very well put, second Anon. Although we may disagree on a lot of other things, I applaud you for recognizing evil even when it's associated with your own religion.

    First Anon, I might respond to you more thoroughly when I have the time, but for now I would suggest taking a good long look at the atrocities you're defending and asking yourself whether doing so is really worth compromising your moral integrity.

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  6. Do all the twisting of words, and analyzing and misinterpretations you want humanity. I have only one question.
    Why do you so mightily wish to disbelieve the WORD of GOD our LORD & SAVIOR?

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    1. Because it's bollocks! It is the word of MEN, the men who wrote the bloody Bible! MAN created GOD in his own image because he is so massively bloody egotistical. "Oh! This is a nice world. Where did it come from? I know, it must have been made in seven days by someone shaped just like me! That makes me really special! I can't think of any other explanation! So it must be true! There. I'll write a story about it, and I'll put a talking snake in." You're ALL MENTAL.

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  7. My full thoughts are written (http://thepredestinedblog.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-bible-is-pro-woman-old-testament.html), but perhaps I can offer you my musings here about these OT verses.

    Leviticus 12:1-5.There is a simple reason why for female children there is a longer purification time – they are not circumcised! I would say the ladies have the easier end of the deal here.

    I was very surprised to see Deut 21:10-14 bc this was used for my article to show that God is “pro-woman”.Think back over 3,000 years ago when peoples went to war they could take women and use them as slaves and concubines, however, look what is happening here. If you see a beautiful woman and you want her as your WIFE then you have to have her shave her head and trim her nails – why? So that if you are still attracted to her after that then you can take her not as a slave, but a WIFE. Not only that, you have to allow her to mourn for a month. So God here is protecting the conquered woman. No benefit for the man here. Then if you have a divorce, she is legally protected. Humbled here most definitely does not in this context refer at all to rape. If the man could rape her and use her in any way, why would she need to do all this stuff? Nothing here benefits the man, rather, if you look, they protect the woman, a war captive, from being brutalized.

    Just offering some of my thoughts. We had very similar paths my friend (including upbringing, coming out of the UC system, watching anime, and of course jotting down some personal thoughts) and "ended up reflecting from different sides." May God bless you.

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