Recently, a valued contributor to OpEdNews (where I’m a senior editor) published an article entitled “The Hypocrisy of Religious People Regarding Women.” In it, he argued that all “revealed” religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism and Baha’? (sic) are guilty of promoting misogyny.”
They are hypocritical regarding women, he wrote, because of the many “pathetic and damaging examples of misogyny in the Hebrew Bible.”
In support of his argument, he referenced the Genesis story about the first man and first woman (Gen1:26-27 and 2:21-23) and the interpretation of that story by the anonymous author of First Timothy. The latter took the myth to mean that women sinned first and therefore deserve punishment and subjection to men (1 Tim 2:11-14).
Moreover, the author alleged, the hypocrisy of religious people extends far beyond Judaism and Christianity to include Hinduism and Buddhism. Islam was highlighted as especially hypocritical since, he wrote, it encourages husbands to beat their disrespectful or disobedient wives.
To remedy such outrages, our friend called for the replacement biblical teachings with Deism, especially as espoused by the Founding Fathers like Thomas Paine. The Founders, he inferred, were not only champions of women, but adopting their free thought and nonreligious approach to God would save humanity from the social evils hypocritically supported by “religious people.”
In this brief essay, I’d like to respectfully disagree with my OEN colleague. Let me do so by (1) saying a word about hypocrisy, (2) showing the diversity of “religious people,” who are not nearly all guilty of misogyny, and (3) suggesting that Deism as represented by our Founders (including Thomas Paine) is itself deeply embedded in extreme hypocrisy not only towards women, but towards indigenous and black people as well.
Here I can be quite brief.
Hypocrisy does not mean “beliefs harmful to others” as my colleague seems to imply. Rather and relative to misogyny, it entails adopting an anti-woman course of action while knowing and even affirming that doing so is wrong. That’s what hypocrisy means – lack of correspondence between one’s professed convictions on the one hand and one’s actions on the other.
This means that proving that all “religious people” are “hypocritical regarding women,” would entail showing that what all of them believe and say about women is insincere. Alternatively, the author s use of the term hypocrisy might suggest that all “religious people” (or maybe just most of them?) mistreat women and hate them (that’s what misogyny means) because of the believers’ religious convictions.
Obviously, such assertions are untrue.
And that brings me to my second point which needs fuller explanation.
Here I must make two obvious points. The first is that all “religious people” cannot be tarred with the same brush. And besides, the beliefs of religious people about women and those “revealed texts” are also quite diverse.
That many believers might be hypocritical cannot be denied. However, it’s difficult to identify just who falls into that category (as defined above). It’s risky for anyone who can’t read minds. Perhaps rather than identifying the beliefs of some as hypocritical, it would be better to call them uninformed, immature, or simplistic.
As for religious diversity, one must understand this about religion: It’s just religion. It’s just part of the intellectual and spiritual makeup of most humans. If they’re hypocrites, religious folks will be religious hypocrites. If they’re conservative and reactionary, their interpretation of their religious books will reflect that. If they’re not, they won’t. The same is true of liberal and radical believers.
Regarding “revelation,” not all religious people share the same convictions. For instance, some religious people think their holy books are magical, inspired, revealed, and/or inerrant – the very word of God.
Many others have a broader understanding of inspiration and revelation. Even if they regard their “holy books” as somehow inspired, they realize that they’ve been mediated through or simply composed by fallible human beings who often write into them their own prejudices e.g., towards violence, misogyny, racism, and/or nationalism.
Critical thinkers anxious to avoid the simplistic prejudice of simply ignoring such differences and tarring all “religious people” with the same brush overlook such uncritical preconceptions. They often end up throwing the baby out with the bath.
The “baby” in this case represents the monumental achievements for which “religious people” have been responsible (precisely as religious) in world history and our own local story here in the United States – even regarding women’s rights.
Remember that the abolitionists were mostly Quakers, i.e., religious people. Moreover, there would have been no Black Civil Rights Movement without black Baptists. More specific to the argument here, neither would the ‘60s and ‘70s have seen the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, or that of gay rights, prison reform, and anti-war demonstrations without the example set by the civil rights activists centered in community churches.
Then, internationally, there are the cases of the Hindu Mahatma Gandhi, who played such a key role in the liberation of India from European colonialism — and his Islamic counterpart, Badshah Kahn (sometimes called the Muslim “Gandhi”). Gandhi so identified with women that he once said, “Mentally I have become a woman. . ..”
It’s also a fact supported by Islamic scholars that Muhammad himself in the early 600s CE was far more a champion of women than his cultural contemporaries. He was responsible for greatly expanding their legal entitlements to include inheritance and property ownership. In contradiction to the customs of his day, he recognized that women have rights within their own marriages.
Additionally, and returning to our own hemisphere, one cannot adequately explain movements in Latin America for social justice (including for women) in places such as in Nicaragua and El Salvador without understanding the impact of liberation theology. To characterize such inspiration as “hypocritical” is insulting to thousands of Christian students, teachers, union organizers, social workers, priests, and nuns who gave their lives because of the inspiration to work for social justice (again, including for women) they found in their faith.
More specifically, think about El Salvador and its martyrs including Oscar Romero, the five women religious murdered and raped there. Think of the team of six liberation theologians (along with their housekeeper and her daughter) assassinated for their “crimes” by members of the Atlacatl Battalion trained in the United States. None of them was a hypocrite. All of them were “religious people.” Many of them were women.
And that brings me to my third point. It’s this: Deists among our Founding Fathers were profoundly hypocritical (in the sense defined above). They were especially so towards women, the indigenous, and slaves from Africa. I’m referring to men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and even Thomas Paine.
We can assert their hypocrisy unmistakably because all of them agreed that “everyone” was created equal. Their writings show for example that they had no doubt that slavery was wrong. Yet, despite their frequent assertions to that effect, most of them continued holding slaves till their dying day.
Similarly, despite their statement about “all men,” they were responsible for the genocide of First Peoples in the land they settled.
And, of course, everyone knows that they refused to recognize women as the equals of men. In fact, it wasn’t until 1920 that women were even allowed to vote. And this country still has not passed the Equal Rights Amendment, much less had a woman fill the office of president. Meanwhile, for example, fully sixteen Muslim countries have voted in women as their head of state.
Yes, there are “pathetic and damaging examples of misogyny in the Hebrew Bible.”
And yes, despite their claims to be “free thinkers” and “rational,” the Deists of the Thomas Paine era also provide equally pathetic and damaging examples of misogyny, genocide, and enslavement of human beings they knew to be the “men” that God created equal to themselves.
Moreover, as revealed in their own writings, the Deists in question fulfilled the definition of “hypocritical” more unmistakably than their religious counterparts. That is, they said that slavery was wrong, but mostly held slaves till their dying day. They prosecuted genocidal wars against millions of First Peoples, even though as “brilliant” and rational free thinkers, they knew the “Indians” were human beings.
And despite the appeals of their own wives (like Abigail Adams), they refused to recognize women’s equality. In other words, they left themselves quite open to charges of being wildly hypocritical misogynists.
In summary, I reiterate to my earlier points. That is, despite the huge generalities in the OEN article “The Hypocrisy of Religious People Regarding Women”:
- All “religious people” cannot be tarred with the same brush.
- They are not nearly all hypocritical.
- In fact, many of them have been champions of women (and the enslaved and indigenous) precisely because of their religious faith.
- Neither is any religion inherently misogynist, racist, or genocidal.
- Including Deism.
- All of them are just religions.
- If their adherents are misogynist (or racists) their religion will reflect that.
If not, they won’t.
- Generalizations about the beliefs of others are not only disrespectful, but they also run the risk of hypocrisy.