Sunday, November 18, 2012

Why all feminists should be atheists

For me, feminism and atheism have always been inextricably connected. They both came from a rejection of non-evidence-based reasoning, a rejection of the fallacies of tradition and faith. For my last post, I want to briefly try and make a more controversial argument: all feminists should be atheists.

For the sake of this blog post, I will define feminism as any system of thought wherein women are not considered inferior to men, and the fulfillment of women’s desires is not subordinated to men’s. I will define atheism as either lacking a belief in any god or higher power, or believing that no god or higher power exists.

First and foremost, feminists should be atheists because religion harms women. Elizabeth’s account of Irish abortion laws and Symphysiotomy provides an excellent contemporary example of this. However, Christianity has always been this way.

Consider the view of women outlined in both the Old and the New Testament. In the very beginning, in Genesis 3:16, God says to Eve:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
In the Old Testament, the Ten Commandments list wives as their husband’s property. (Exodus 20:17.) Women who do not cry out when raped in cities are to be stoned to death. (Deuteronomy 22:22-24.) Women who are raped in the countryside are required to marry their rapists. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29.) And let’s not forget the story of Sodom and Gomorra, where Lot gives up his virgin daughters to be raped by a mob of men. (Genesis 19:8.)

In the New Testament, women are not permitted to either speak or teach in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Timothy 2:12.) Women are not allowed to hold authority over men. (1 Timothy 2:12.) And women are required to submit to their husbands in the same way Christians submit to God. (Ephesians 5:22-24.)

But Christianity is not the only religion that harms women. They all do. Both the Quran and the Book of Mormon perpetuate very negative views of women. Even Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, have similar track records with women’s rights.

In response, one might point out the benefits of religion. One might argue that the Bible isn’t really misogynistic. Or one might point out ways in which a particular religion is slowly showing signs of reform.

However, all of these suffer from the same fatal flaw: they maintain the concept of “faith.” Now, defining “faith,” and debating which definition is the best, could take up an entire Ph.D thesis, but for the sake of symplicty, I will use the definition in Hebrews 11:
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
After giving this definition, Hebrews 11 gives various biblical examples of people trusting in God no matter the absurdity of the situation. If one requires evidence before one believes in something, such as Thomas requiring that he physically see Jesus before he believed that he had been resurrected (John 20:24-29), one does not have faith. Therefore, faith is supporting a proposition without requiring sufficient evidence and with minimal critical thinking.

Faith is the enemy feminism. It is only through faith one can continually harm and subordinate half the human population. It is only through blind acceptance that anti-feminism can flourish. When subject to thorough criticism and evidence-based reasoning, anti-feminism always loses.

And without faith, you are left with atheism.


Sarah said...

Faith is the enemy of feminism... Food for thought. Certainly it is true that it takes critical thinking to evaluate, and come to recognize the flaws in, any established belief system. Faith is the adversary of critical thought, although many religious scholars have certainly found their own means of compromise. As an atheist myself, I have always questioned the ability of feminists to enter a belief system that relegates them to secondary status from the outset, and yet they do, in droves. Thanks for sharing your like-minded views Sam!

Attisaurus said...

I'm conflicted about this post. As a staunch queer uber-liberal feminist atheist, I agree with many many of these points about the religious oppression of women historically.

I do not think faith hurts women. I fully acknowledge that faith can empower women and people in general need something to believe in because science does not (yet) explain everything and the world is a scary place without something to hold onto. Many religions also do not have a male deity - Buddhism, for example, or Wicca, or Satanism (which I actually found empowering because Satanists assert that we all are the gods of our destiny and are directly responsible for our fate on this earth). Is it possible, then, that social interpretations and organizations of faith are the real culprit? Is there necessarily something inherently anti-woman about believing in a supernatural spiritual power, or in the way that the patriarchy has chosen to manifest that belief for its own ends?

Pali said...

I do not know if I agree that feminists should be atheists, or that faith is the enemy of feminism. Organized religion as it exists today just perpetuates many of the male-dominated social constructs found in the workplace or even in many people's domestic lives. As women bust through the glass ceilings everywhere else, I think the ripple will be felt in religion as well.

Mo said...

I agree that this does come down to a distinction between faith and organized religion. Faith, I think, is inherently private -- an element of one’s individual spirituality, rather than the way that spirituality manifests. Religions, on the other hand, are the public sets of rules that can oppress or exalt, depending, I suppose, on who you are. That said, I think that even categorizing religion as the enemy of feminism is painting with too broad a brush. As the other commenters note, not all religions are inherently bad for feminism -- or bad generally. They’re efficient ways to pass on knowledge and social customs. Of course, if the social customs are oppressive, the result is reinforced oppression. But then why not change the custom rather than reject the system altogether? I know this is the “baby out with the bathwater” argument that Sam has heard before (, but I have to say that I don’t believe a society without such structure would universally be better off than one without.

Jenna said...

Reading this post I am reminded of the many discussions both in class and on this blog about what makes someone a "good" feminist. While I am not religious, I am also not sure I can agree with telling women that they are not a feminist (or at least not a "good" feminist) if they are religious or if they have faith. I believe that drawing such a distinct and aggressive line will lead to the alienation of many women who ARE religious. I do not think it can be argued that many religions (I cannot say all because I do not think I am educated enough about all religions to make such a blanket statement) have historically and currently oppress women. However, I also do not think it is my place to tell other women what they should and should not believe in. If having faith or being religious makes a woman's life better and makes them feel more connected, who am I to cast aspirations on their identity as a feminists?