During my adolescence, I misspent several years as a devout Christian. I attended a church that relied solely on the Bible for answers to all questions but did not adhere to a literal interpretation of the text . This required a series of closed-door scripture interpretation meetings of our three male pastors before any decision affecting the direction of the church could be made. Their conclusions, although at times unpopular, were generally considered final.
Two decisions that I recall as particularly incendiary regarded the rights of women within the church. The first, I later learned, was in response to a repeat request: that women be allowed positions as pastors within the church. The men had reiteratively concluded that this was unbiblical, citing as their reason 1 Timothy 2:11–12. The women of the congregation protested that this verse, instructing women to “learn in silence and submission” and “not have teaching over men,” was epochal cultural guidance, similar to Old Testament regulations regarding selling daughters and stoning wives. The women’s tenacity inevitably led the pastors to remind them of 1 Corinthians 14:34–35, which asserts that man is the head of woman (as God is the head of Christ). This was apparently where the dialogue decidedly ended.
As provocative as this decision was, however, it was actually a different discussion (farcical in hindsight), also regarding proper behavior for women, that incited me to inquiry: the men closed themselves off in meetings for a week debating whether or not the women in the congregation should cover their heads while in church. My burgeoning familiarity with biblical scripture, although nowhere near comprehensive, was at least infused with rationality; head-covering was clearly a cultural directive. Dismayed at the prospect of compulsory modesty regarding the last remnant of my femininity I did not regard as shameful, I took my concerns to the three patriarchs.
What I learned at that time was that my church leadership imparted many inequitable things about the worth and status of women and men, which they supported with pages of scripture. In the years since, of course, I have learned that similar beliefs are propagated by all sects of Christianity, and comparable dogma can be found in all of humanity’s major monotheistic religions. The most pernicious tenets of this doctrine are also the most fundamental: God the creator is male and that human females were created for human males and should submit to them. These assertions, when subjected to any critical analysis (such as the following), are revealed as illogical at best and misogynistic at worst.
The assertion that God is male is basely absurd. Aside from unilateral pronoun usage in most religious texts, there is no reason to believe God has a sex at all. Genesis describes God as establishing a binary gender system upon creating humans, saying, “Male and female, he [sic] created them.” Fundamentalists often cite male-female sexual reproduction as proof that God did not intend homosexuality to exist. It is accepted by believers that the system of human procreation-with its two sexes, in utero gestation, and live birth-was designed by God. It is illogical, then, that God would have a sex at all. God has no need for sexual procreation, as God is capable of original creation. The declaration that God has a sex, and that it is male, is shameless self-deification on the part of men and compelling evidence that it was they who created God, not the other way around.
The assertion that women were created by God for men and should submit to them is usually grounded in one or both of two things: biblical doctrine and bad science. Because I don’t accept the Bible as evidential, I don’t feel compelled to disprove the scriptural arguments. However, the bad-science foundation can, and should, be countered with good science. The myopic argument relies on a skewed assessment of human procreation: because women endure pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation, they were apparently designed to be vessels for bearing the children of men. The underlying assumption here is that the woman’s reproductive role is less desirable than the man’s. This assumption exposes this line of reasoning as subjective analysis of procreation on the part of baffled males pondering the risky-and, for much of human history, inexplicable-reproductive realities of being female. It has also not been uncommon for menstruation to be considered proof that women are less worthy than men in the eyes of the creator and for the agony of childbirth to be regarded as punishment for Eve’s disobedience to God. Why the physical burden of procreation has to fall on one half of humanity is an understandable query, but religion’s conclusions are quaint and inadequate, not to mention insulting. Nature offers a much more reasonable explanation: These are merely the facts of reproduction for mammalian life-forms. With the conspicuous exception of monotremes, all mammalian species reproduce via live birth. In this context, the female body is quite remarkable-a specialized machine capable of producing completely formed, fully functioning miniatures of the most cognitively advanced life-forms on the planet (with some initial input from a male, of course). From this angle, it could reasonably be proposed that the male’s procreative role is secondary. The reason the female’s role has been historically deprecated is simply that males have traditionally led the conversation and have written masculine bias into the purportedly infallible texts from which scores of people draw their worldviews.
One year at college was all it took to make an apostate of me, but the often scripturally based subjection and depreciation of women in monotheistic religions still alarms me today. Secular humanism offers parity because it is not bound to basely sexist folk explanations of the human condition. Secular humanism encourages us to think, inquire, and listen and to gather our shared human experiences into a more accurate, reasonable, and equitable interpretation of our existence. There is no place in secular humanism for divinely gifted dominance, sexual or otherwise. Secular humanism is, per the “humanism” half of its own name, intrinsically egalitarian.