British theologian Daphne Hampson, author of "Theology and Feminism," argues that "religions have proved the ultimate weapon in keeping woman in her place." How would you answer the question "Is religion bad for women?"
Religious traditions are intimately tied to our social structure, and the place of women in society is much influenced in that way.
I can understand how Daphne Hampson reached her conclusions with respect to women's rights, for example, that Christianity "is neither true nor moral," that there is "need for a paradigm shift in religion," even her decision to "discard Christianity," as she defines it.
And yet she retains her deep conviction of God's existence. While she has much to say about the role of women in organized religion, she also is looking beyond the impositions of human tradition.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, was an important advocate for women in the 19th century. Subsequent leadership roles in the church she founded have been filled with equal success and recognition by both men and women. In the healing and regenerating prayer that she pioneered, she saw the importance of recognizing the completeness represented by the combination of masculine and feminine qualities, and that these do not relate only to the mere male or female in each of us.
In "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mrs. Eddy went beyond the usual male representation of God, writing for example that, "Father-Mother is the name for Deity, which indicates His tender relationship to His spiritual creation." That creation is our spiritual being, whether we be man or woman. A recognition of that natural balance in our spiritual relationship to and inheritance from our Father-Mother God is a practical prayer that helps to heal divisions and remove injustices.
Hampson makes important statements in realizing that God and His/Her goodness is present for all of us in all eras and places. Taking that to its ultimate conclusion, we progress most naturally and appropriately when we apprehend God's all-power as ever-present, ever-operative, and ever-available. Christ Jesus demonstrated this through his example, and urged all of us to "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, …and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6). That includes improving opportunities for women and for any oppressed or segregated group.
First Church of Christ, Scientist
In my view, a critique of religion claiming that all faiths are fundamentally oppressive to women is simply not accurate. Jewish texts actually teach that the feminine soul emanates from a higher spiritual source than a man's, and therefore their connection to God is innate and much stronger. Consequently, it is incumbent upon us to admire, value and cherish women — especially those in our lives — and to seek and rely on their wise guidance.
Jewish culture reveres women and places them on a pedestal since their role as nurturers in the child-rearing home is so much more important than a man's responsibility of being a breadwinner. Although today these roles are less defined, nevertheless the majority of women still shoulder most of the child-care responsibilities, thus ensuring that we will have a healthy and productive generation to come.
It is true that women in many parts of the world face stiff discrimination and mistreatment that is often rationalized by religious beliefs. Sadly, there are many countries and cultures that denigrate women and place them in a second-class status. Some societies don't allow women to vote, drive a car or walk in public without a male escort; strict rules often force them to wear restrictive clothing. The worst part of all this, however, is that these regulations form an attitude among men that women are inferior, which often leads to violent bodily harm being perpetrated against innocent women.
In the past few weeks, the press has published stories and pictures of women who have been terribly scarred — both physically and emotionally — as a result of this basic lack of respect. I find this terribly upsetting, and truly hope and pray that the belittlement and abuse of women will be seen for what it is: an abomination of religious values and an affront to spiritual truths. Although we live in a diverse world with many cultural traditions, we must never accept any excuses for the violation of human dignity.
Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center
I won't presume to speak for how the religions of the world treat women, but I will allow the Bible to speak for how the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" feels about and treats them.
God created both man and woman in his own image. He made neither one better than the other. While he established specific male and female roles in marriage and the family, husbands and wives are still called to respect one another: "Let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband" (Ephesians 5:33). Marriage is the union of one man and one woman becoming "one flesh," not a union of unequal partners. Children are required to honor both father and mother equally.
The Bible teaches that reconciliation with God happens the same way for both men and women — indeed, for every person on Earth. Paul told the Philippian jailer: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). John 3:16 encourages us that "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" — that includes every person. There is a fundamental unity in Christ that rises above all other distinctions: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
The first person to know about the coming of Jesus Christ was Mary, his mother. The first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ were women. The first believer in Macedonia was Lydia, who extended hospitality to Paul and his companions. I suppose you could say that Jesus Christ does keep believing women in their place — eternally at his right hand, along with all men, boys and girls who trust in his blood shed on the cross for them.
Valley Baptist Church, Burbank
I suppose there's two ways to look at it. One could say that religion has kept women down. But I say that's a glass-half-full perspective. The positive spin would be to say that religion has kept women out of the fray and free from blame.
Look at the Ten Commandments where God tells man not to covet his neighbor's wife. Does he specifically tell women not to covet the kitchen contractor? No. He's left that door wide open for women to enjoy!
And what about Catholicism? Sure, there are no women priests. But why see that as a negative? No woman has ever been accused of molesting an altar boy. And no woman has condoned such behavior with massive cover-ups and payoffs. That's a plus for women in my book.
Looking east toward Mecca, many of the more aggressive Islamic sects demand that their women cover every spare inch of their skin. Is this oppression? The pessimist could see it that way. But look again and notice how easy life is for these women. When was the last time their women labored over what to wear? Never.
Seriously, can you blame man for his attitude when God wasn't setting a good example? According to the Bible, he didn't choose a single girl to carry his son. He went after a married woman. I thought adultery was a no-no? So who's to blame, when religions are supposed to be a "lead by example" fraternity?
It's a vicious circle — man follows the example of substandard treatment and oppression of women set by the jealous, flawed God he worships.
No, religion is not bad for women.
Before addressing that specifically, let me say that many bad things have been done in the name of religion, especially when religion and the political state are intertwined. I refer you to Christopher Hitchen's book "God is Not Great" and Richard Dawkins' book "The God Delusion" for a more detailed description of the "bad," including the "bad" done to women.
The context of Hampson's assertions are better understood from her own words as set forth in the Introduction to her book. She states, "If one comes to conclude of Christianity, as I have, that it is neither true nor moral, one is faced with two alternatives. Either one becomes an atheist; which for me was not a serious possibility. Or one comes to reinterpret what one understands by being a religious person who loves God." She also states: "Now feminism has crowned the crisis. For feminists are saying that Christianity, and Judaism, have been patriarchal myths and that they have hurt women."
If you agree that Christianity is a man-made myth and is immoral because of its patriarchal history, then a natural conclusion is that Christianity is not good for women. If the Bible is not the word of God, as communicated to his prophets and apostles, then why abide by its precepts?
On the other hand, if the Bible is the word of God and Jesus Christ is the son of God and died for our sins, then Christianity matters, and following the word of God is important. In such an instance, whether you are a man or a woman, the challenge and opportunity is to follow Jesus Christ.
If Christians truly follow Jesus Christ and act in accordance with his teachings, Christianity should elevate women, not hurt them. Unfortunately, Christians have not always lived up to those teachings, and therein lies the challenge.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Unity was co-founded by a husband-and-wife team, Charles and Myrtle Fillmore. Unity was actually inspired by Myrtle Fillmore's healing of tuberculosis. Prayer, specifically, healing prayer, is the heart of the Unity philosophy of Practical Christianity.
In Unity, we have always had women ministers, and there has been a trend in the last 20 years for husband-wife teams of ministers.
A larger percentage of the congregations in Unity churches are women. Many of my friends who attend "mainstream" religions report that their Sunday services have more women than men attending the services and special programs offered by their church.
In our church, Unity Church of the Valley, many of the volunteers and those who attend the midweek classes are women (of all ages). This seems to be a shared experience among most spiritual paths.
In the metaphysical interpretation of the Holy Bible, women represent our intuition and feelings of love; the men represent the intellect and feelings of wisdom.
It is the loving desire in our hearts (intuition) that prompts us to seek inner peace and answers through the vehicle of our religion. I would say that "religion" or a spiritual path, is a place of healing, comfort and balance for women ... and certainly, for men, as well.
Rev. Jeri Linn
Unity Church of the Valley
I can't speak to all religions, but according to reviews of Hampson's book I don't have to because mine is apparently her hobbyhorse; like her other books, it's directed at awful Christianity. One Harvard colleague deemed it a "balanced examination of the thoroughly sexist character of Christianity."
"Thoroughly sexist?" A "weapon?" Does Christianity teach the demeaning of women? Are women forbidden education, votes or jobs? No, and Christ elevated women. He overcame Mideastern social culture by engaging women in dialogue; he had them as disciples, and he privileged them as first to witness his resurrection.
Throughout Scripture, strong women of faith are presented for Christian instruction. Women like Ruth, Queen Esther and the Virgin Mary are exemplified, and not because they were liberated enough to burn their bras and shake their fists in God's male-chauvinist-pig face. The Bible records both businesswomen and housewives, and even church deaconesses like Phoebe. Men understand how to treat women by consulting the New Testament, which reads, "Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh" (Col 3:19) and treat "older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters" (1Ti 5:1).
What feminists can't countenance is men wearing the pants in their families, let alone church. They believe there are no gender distinctions, so they buy dollies for their boys and push daughters into combat training. They balk at any notion that men should head their own households, or worse, that they alone should qualify as pastors to reflect similar leadership in the Christian church.
Jesus selected men to be his apostles, and men are charged with oversight of his congregations. He held Adam responsible when his wife Eve sinned, and as God incarnate, Christ was born male. These things aren't sexist; they are just facts that acknowledge God's concern for functional order. The order is not one of worth. God made us equal there, but equally responsible to trust his ultimate will despite floundering societies' contradictions.
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
Of all the world's religions that I know of, Protestant Progressive Christianity and Reform Judaism treat women the best. For example, Protestant Progressive Christians will ordain women to the ministry, and in Reform Judaism there are female rabbis. Having said that, however, I must admit that some congregations still prefer male pastors, and so I think that even as "great" as Progressive Christianity and Reform Judaism are, women in leadership roles are still not as fully accepted as men.
I'm reminded of the place of women in the United States: Women have more freedom here than in any other country, and yet there is still a ways to go before it can be said that women in this country have all the rights that men do.
Now, is religion bad for women? I hope not, because more often than not it's the women who see to it that their children are spiritually nourished. I personally went to church because my mother took me, and my brothers and dad acquiesced. In my family it was my mother who had the strongest faith; that's not to say that my dad had none, but my mother's faith grew and matured more than my father's. (He taught Sunday School, and he was good! But he was in church because my mother was.) And one more thing: Women seem more open to gay people than men do. Men seem to fear gays more than women.
Ladies, please come to church! The Lord has need of you!
The Rev. C. L. "Skip" Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church, United Church of Christ