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But yesterday’s New York Times ran an Op-Ed by Nicholas D. Kristof about Religion and Women.
Kristof gives a great run down about the various ways that the major world religions have spent their time over the centuries putting women in the place of second class citizens, from excusing rape to demanding their silence to teaching that it was perfectly OK to throw acid in their faces for the audacious act of going to school. He points out that it isn’t a doctrinal message, this violence and abuse that causes oppression to be carried out in the name of religion. Biblical scholars, Kristof says, even argue that Paul never really said that women should always be silent.
So who is it, then, that decided that women should be shunned, used, or abused and have it justified by holy sacrament?
The men in charge of interpreting the holy law, or waging the holy war.
That makes my Pagan/agnostic bones tingle (or maybe it’s the Topiramate, who knows), to read about a speech delivered by former President Jimmy Carter, (whom, apparently I fall close to on morality tests, who knew?), where he stated,“Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified,” and I think that hits the nail on the head of what has alienated me from religion for a long time, at least until I found Paganism. Women have long been cast aside as less than.
It reminds me of being young and being involved in church for the first time, and like all things I take on, I threw myself in head first. I wanted to do it well. But I wasn’t allowed to serve communion, even though my friend was (because he was a guy, of course), or take offering. I couldn’t lead prayer. If I was older, I was allowed to teach Sunday School, but for now I could work in the Nursery, rocking babies, like a good mommy in training.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it at the time. I have always — and this is in no way a statement of femininity or innate nurturing instinct — enjoyed other people’s babies (and then, eventually my own, even though it wasn’t ever my plan until it happened). But I didn’t understand the divide, and because you are a girl never made enough sense to me. Why couldn’t I pass a tray of grape juice around during evening service? Why couldn’t I read a passage from the Bible or give a prayer? Didn’t God think that I was just as important? Wasn’t I told that I was made in his image too?
Of course, a lot of things didn’t make sense to me, and my Aries personality and a youth pastor telling me, a 17 year old girl who had been tossed from home to home, working and buying her own way at a minimum wage job, that she had a problem with money and was greedy and a bad person because she didn’t tithe, began my Great Schism. And no I didn’t want to talk about it, and no, I didn’t feel like having it Mansplained to me anymore, by anyone. Not even other Youth Ministers that I had good relationships with.
I bounced. I might have flounced, but I was 17*, and while I was mature due the nature of my situation, I had a stubborn streak to beat…well…Hell.
I had to reconcile it for myself, and figure out why I wasn’t good enough. No matter how hard I worked or how good I was, I was never good enough for God.
To me, some 12 years later, that speech from Carter is like a breath of air. That little quote, that one moment in time (even, again, coming as permission from a white man), gave me pass to feel that my feelings of frustration during my time in the church were validated (but never relieved, because my whole extended family is Catholic, and I was the wayward Other…so…hence, the Guilt).
This brings me to The Elders, which sounds like something out of some of my favorite fantasy works. It is a real thing, made of Awesome, in that it is a Who’s Who of former world leaders, and comprised of many religious and spiritual powerhouses, lead my Nelson Mandela. Among the ranks are Carter, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, and several others. They meet with a silent moment of prayer, and have many goals, including not attacking religion, but recognizing, according to Robinson, “if there’s one overarching issue for women it’s the way that religion can be manipulated to subjugate women.”
While I find myself mostly outside of religion, I love the way it works, and to learn about the different kinds. I’ve also live three major world religions from birth to now, and know much about them not just from a college intro class, but from life experience. I love how people who get to the fundamentals of what their religion is love their religion without hurting others. And The Elders do that, and more.
With the formation of The Elders, and my big crush The Dalai Lama naming himself a feminist, perhaps organized world religions haven’t failed me after all. Perhaps there is hope that they can foster a place where women will be treated with love and dignity and respect. As equal citizens, because that is all I have ever wanted.
*Teenagers are not a monolith. I was, sometimes, your stereotype, the moody girl prone to over reaction. But, I was also the girl who had to adapt to many adult situations. Many teenagers are like that. Do not assume that teenagers are not thinking, mostly adult-like people, worthy of respect, despite what you might read eslewhere.