Time for part 2 of my recent lunchbar talk for Newcastle CU, answering the question: ‘Does God want women in the kitchen? Is Christianity sexist?’
You can read Part 1 here.
I think it’s necessary to acknowledge that some Christians, and some people purporting to be Christians, have been, and are, guilty of varying degrees of sexism. And often, they have used the Bible as their excuse for that attitude. I’ll go in to some detail as to whether that’s a correct understanding of what the Bible says in a moment, but before that I think that we need to ask an earlier and more basic question: is sexism wrong?
Let’s begin by looking at Germaine Greer again. In her introduction to the 21st century edition to The Female Eunuch, she makes the following statement, regarding her initial call for freedom for women:
“The freedom I pleaded for twenty years ago was freedom to be a person, with the dignity, integrity, nobility, passion, pride that constitute personhood. Freedom to run, shout, to talk loudly and sit with your knees apart. Freedom to know and love the earth and all that swims, lies and crawls upon it. Freedom to learn and freedom to teach. Freedom from fear, freedom from hunger, freedom of speech and freedom of belief. Most of the women in the world are still afraid, still hungry, still mute and loaded by religion with all kinds of fetters, masked, muzzled, mutilated and beaten.”
That first sentence is key, and on the face of it certainly sounds very reasonable. But, the question is, what basis does she, or any of us, have for demanding that freedom of personhood. We’re so used to hearing about rights and freedoms – everyone is entitled to various things: freedom of speech and expression, access to water, and shelter, and healthcare, and education. But why? What is the reason for that? Where is it written that women should expect the same freedoms as men?
Greer is an atheist, and I think it would be fair to say (although I’m happy to be challenged) that she would consider any form of religion to be, at the very least, inclined towards sexism. To have true freedom as a women one needs to throw of the burden of religion, and its oppression. However, what does an atheist worldview say to this question of basis for ‘rights’?
If the world is an accident, and our existence merely the result of random mutation and natural selection, then a call for ‘freedom’ for women has no leg to stand on. Natural selection means survival of the fittest, and says that the strong run the show whilst the weak do as they’re told (or face the consequences), and the reality of the situation is that, by and large, men are stronger than women. An atheist worldview doesn’t leave space for women to demand equal rights, and taken to its logical, if extreme, conclusion, permits a continuation of a sexist agenda where the strong (men) are the victors, and the weak (women) better shut up and do as they’re told.
In actual fact, rather than supporting this sexist position, the Bible offers a starkly different view. In Genesis, chapter 1, the very beginning of the Bible, we’re presented with a poem to illustrate the creation of the world. The climax of that description comes as the creation of humanity is detailed, and these words are spoken:
“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
This is the beginning of the Bible, the beginning of humanity, and it’s made clear that God has made both men and women in his image. That’s the first imperative to equality of status, and I’ll come to another one a little later.
Of course it’s fair to say that Christians throughout history haven’t always behaved as if that’s true, but I think if we want to understand what Christianity is really all about then we need to look at the one on whom the whole thing is based: Jesus Christ.
In summary: to be continued (again).