Monday, 20 January 2014

Women, more than God's afterthought. 

An extract from Faithless: A Journey Out of Religion with Stops for Light Refreshments Along the Way. Reproduced with the kind permission of Tony Philpott.

Chapter Nine

Religion and Women.
On The Eighth Day, God Created Shopping.

It all started with Eve. Or did it?

The Alphabet Of Ben-Sira, a Judaic document derived from a Talmudic script, asserts that Lilith, not Eve, was Adam’s wife. Since it comes to us through the same mythological lineage as the Bible itself, the historical veracity of The Alphabet of Ben-Sira is not what matters here. What does matter is that this ancient text gives us a female who makes Germaine Greer look like Mother Teresa.

Unlike her successor, Eve, Lilith was not made from Adam’s rib. She was made from clay in exactly the same way as her husband was. Her job description, as given to her by God, was to submit to Adam and be “under him”. But she had no sooner morphed into existence when she told God “ I will not be below, I will not lie beneath him – I am as him; made too from clay.” God, not used to being spoken to like this, became angry. Lilith, however, didn’t give a toss; she just flew away and joined a hoard of screaming female demons.

And that’s how we have Feminists.

But Lilith came back for revenge, as you do. She verbally assaulted the angels that God sent to return her to Adam and generally threatened screeching mayhem on any male, or Deity for that matter, who came within screeching distance. She was never incorporated into the bible as a real human being; instead she is listed among abominable animals and evil spirits in the Old Testament. No surprise there, then.

It is said by contemporary scholars that The Alphabet of Ben-Sira was a satirical commentary, all well and good. But what is wonderful about the story of Lilith is the fact that the ancient satirist who wrote her into being did so because he was smart enough to recognise that the secondary/submissive role assigned to women by God was a crock of shit.

But what exactly is God’s problem with females? Or, more accurately, what problem do the creators of God have with women? Given the fact that the deity has so many of the most obnoxious human attributes one can only assume that his biographers assigned to him the characteristics that mirrored the prevailing mindset of the day. Androcentrism; the idea that gives males and male perspectives total priority, was the operating sociological principle among primitives in the Iron Age Levant – while it remains fully operational in modern Saudi Arabia, it has ceased to retain any real popularity in the western world. But if women were creatures worthy of nothing more than derision – then why did those ancient misogynists have God create women in the first place?

In Genesis we are told that God made Adam, and seeing he was lonely and bored he gave him the job of naming all the animals in creation. We don’t know how long this little exercise lasted; suffice it to say that after having authored the nomenclature for all living things Adam was still bored and lonely; a state of affairs which was strangely unanticipated by divine foresight.  So then God created Eve to keep Adam company and to be his helper. Eve’s later response to the Serpent’s suggestion regarding the apple seems also to have been unanticipated by God – which also seems strange considering I had yet to be born so there wouldn’t have been any masturbation going on to distract him.

Why didn’t he just make another male as a friend for Adam? Men like each other’s company – go to any pub or football match and you’ll find males in small or large groups having the time of their lives – tight clusters of males can be always be found in the kitchen at parties discussing power tools and belching with abandon. We enjoy each other’s company. If God was so concerned about Adam’s loneliness why did he create him with the capacity to be lonely in the first place? And given that is was only the boredom of Adam that caused God to create Eve, then the second human created by god seems to have relegated Eve to a divine afterthought, such would suggest that God had no intention whatsoever to create anything other than a single male human being in the first place. Seems like God was making it up as he went along; not very omnipotent behaviour – shows a distinct lack of planning if you ask me.

But having created Eve and having had her disobey him, God then damns her to bear all her children in agony and ensures that, forever after, her entire gender are to be essentially treated like human pariahs.

The very sight of the female form has always been offensive to religion. It still remains offensive in huge swathes of the Middle and Far East. Religious apologists will assert that the burka, the hijab and the veil are in fact designed to protect women, to ensure that they are not ogled, disrespected or set upon by males.


The burka, the hijab, and the modest attire preferred by Christians, are dress codes that express male ownership. They are intended to hide the attributes of a piece of human property from the eyes of competing males. They represent nothing more than male insecurity. The presumption is that without such garments the shape and form of the wife/chattel will attract other males, it’s further presumed that the wife/chattel is as sexually indiscriminate at her master and will leg it with the first bloke who sidles up to her and flexes a bicep. Mistrust, male insecurity and immaturity are the threads that wove the veil and the burka – not a wish to protect feminine dignity, but a wish to retain and enforce rights of exclusive sexual access.

Throughout history women have been under a divine imperative to submit, reproduce, and to disengage from human discourse. Lie down, have babies and shut up. Be obedient in all of these things, and who knows, we might let you dance at an Irish crossroads sometime in the future. What kind of philosophy allows for the exclusion and subjugation of one half of humanity? If women didn’t get the right to vote until the 20th Century it was not directly because of political resistance, it was because of how religion informed politics.

Since God himself decreed that women remain within the confinements of childbirth, child rearing and social subservience – then it was a perfect justification for their exclusion; chauvinism and misogyny were brothers in arms in the bible and their later primacy in masculine behaviour didn’t just rob women of a role, it deprived all of humankind of a contrasting intellectual dimension. Had femininity not been excluded from cultural, political and creative expression, the world would have been a different place.

So, Josephine, I am proposing ze massed attack on ze Russians, ze Poles, ze Austrians – une petit slaughtering, pillaging, and, of course le subjugation…

Hold on a second, there, Napoleon. Did it ever occur to you to just drop the Russians a line; ask for a meeting – I could put on a nice cassoulet – and you could all sit down and sort the whole thing out?

Are you serious, Josephine?

Not only am I serious – but me and the rest of the girls are going to vote against the whole idea – so you’re stuck with it. And since you’re here – when are you going to finish putting up the tiles in the bathroom?

Oh, merde.

Female caution and male aggression are attributes that often bang up against each other; a woman’s caution is often mistaken for indecision – it’s why women drivers get honked by males as they hesitate before edging out into traffic at an intersection. But women’s trepidation is a valuable attribute simply because, in our early stage of evolution, an incautious female could be the cause of more than one death; her own, and her childrens’. And Mother Nature doesn’t like that.

A prehistoric male encountering danger might well be the only casualty of any aggressor/hunter behaviour that went wrong – a nursing female’s mistake would leave her children motherless, without breast milk, and dead. Not good news for the species in general.

The words that describe early humans as “hunter-gatherers” are in the wrong order. Gatherer-Hunters might perhaps be the more accurate term considering early man, and I mean man, might not have been the dab hand with a spear we thought him to be. Family nutrition, and indeed human survival, may well owe a greater debt to foraging females.

For our macho spear-chuckers in the prehistoric African Savannah, the conversion of a forty mile an hour elk into a venison pot-roast by a male Homo Sapiens was an extremely rare event. Had human survival depended on a male ability to hunt - we would be extinct and the dominant species might now perhaps be a semi-intelligent reptile - but enough about Irish politicians.

While our ancestral male was busy trying to be man-the-hunter, prehistoric females were quietly developing skills to help compensate for man-the-failure.
Nuts, berries, fungi. These were the nutrients prehistoric females gathered. Very sedentary activity when compared to the vigour of hunting, but pick the wrong root or mushroom and you and your hairy family would die a toxic death and become a source of dietary fibre for the next scavenger to pass by.

A half shade of purple could determine the difference between a juicy berry and some poisonous mimic, the female ability to spot a variant shade of blue is a critical survival skill that could often have meant the difference between life or death – and you can see the self-same skill being used by women in Debenhams on any given day.

Watch a woman shopping for clothes. Witness the sheer intensity of the event. The scrutiny of the garment, the holding it up, the holding it away, the putting it back on the rack, the taking it off again. All highly valuable pre-programmed female behaviour; an evolutionary echo of the need to make the right choice; it is as predetermined as a man’s genetic inability to ask for directions or to clinch his sphincter tightly enough to hold in a fart.

Women are valuable, equal, and they are certainly not the afterthought of a God. Yet the Catholic Church forbids women to become priests. This is interesting, and it has dimensions which go beyond mere chauvinism. First, let’s look at exactly what a priest is. Obviously he’s a male – but he is also a conduit between God and worshipful mortals. He has intercessionary powers with the creator, he can bring God’s forgiveness to catholics who attend confession, he can create new catholics with baptism and he can perform a ritual which turns bread to flesh and wine to blood. In effect, he is intermediate between God and humanity and God talks and acts though him. In any heavenly transmission he is a desired point of contact. Let’s say all of this is real. Then why not a woman? Could it be that God himself doesn’t like contact with the fair sex – or could it be that the ecclesiasts never wanted him to talk to women?

It is now 2014 – we have come a long way from menstrual milk curdling, we’ve left behind the idea of female witches, and we’ve even gone on to allow girls to be alter servers at Mass. But no female priests – that particular glass ceiling is of the tempered, bulletproof kind. So what’s the problem? Women are indeed human, made by God, they are great listeners - surely were God to give them a message they’d get every detail and nuance duly noted. They are great talkers too, when delivering messages from the faithful to God he would no doubt receive the fullest most inclusive, and most empathic account. But it’s not going to happen, and here’s the answer; given by Scott P. Richert of The Rockford Catholic Examiner and the weekly Catholic newspaper the Wanderer. “The New Testament priesthood is the priesthood of Christ Himself. All men who, through the sacrament of Holy Orders have become priests (or bishops) participate in Christ's priesthood. And they participate in it in a very special way: They act in Persona Christi Capitis, in the person of Christ, the Head of His Body, the Church. Christ was a man.” There you have it.

And here you have more of it.

From Catholic Answers, whose motto is: “To Explain and Defend the Faith”, comes this biblical validation.
 While women could publicly pray and prophesy in church (1 Cor. 11:1–16), they could not teach or have authority over a man since these were two essential functions of the clergy. Nor could women publicly question or challenge the teaching of the clergy (1 Cor. 14:34–38)

Women having authority over a man. Oh, the horror!

Here again we find the inspired view of Iron Age males decreeing their own supremacy and female inferiority. The ordination of women seems such an inconsequential thing, but the rationale behind it is exactly the same as that which allows the fuckwit Saudis and the cretinous Taliban to bury women up to the necks and pound their skulls to fragments with stones – it is the still-potent residue of such thinking that sees women
rape-victims as young as thirteen whipped or beheaded for their “crime”. It’s not for a moment conceivable that the Christian churches would condone such actions – it’s not even remotely possible that the churches would resume burning witches – but it is equally unlikely that they would ever acknowledge that their attitude to women has direct and linear antecedents in that same two thousand year old view of female inferiority.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Call Yourself a Catholic?

Do you call yourself a Catholic? If you do then there are certain beliefs, teachings and doctrines of the Catholic Church to which you must subscribe. Beliefs such as:

Belief in a Deity: Trinity of the Father (God), the Son (Christ), and the Holy Spirit that comprises one God Almighty.

Catholics must not only believe in a God but they must believe that that God is actually three separate gods combined in one God.

 Incarnations: Jesus Christ is God’s only incarnation, Son of God and God.

You must believe that God sent his son to live on the earth as a man, but that that son is, in fact God as well.

Origin of Universe and Life: A literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis is held by some, but the Church maintains that God gave humankind both supernatural revelation in the Bible and natural revelation through the rational human mind. One may harmonize science with the book of Genesis, in that a "day" in the Bible is not defined as a 24-hour day. God created the universe from nothing, so if the "Big Bang" theory is true, then God created this event. If evolution occurred, it is under the choice and control of God.

You get a bit of wiggle-room on this one. Some Christians take a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis and argue for an ‘Intelligent Designer’ however, the Catholic Church has, since 2009, accepted the theory of Evolution (only 150 years after it was first proposed) but with the caveat that it was God that got the whole ball rolling and that he is still pulling the strings behind the scene. 

After Death: God immediately judges who will go directly to heaven or hell; most will go to purgatory for punishment and purification. Reward and punishment are relative to one’s deeds. Hell was traditionally considered a literal place of eternal tortures, but Pope John Paul II has described hall as the condition of pain that results from alienation for God, a thing of one’s own doing, not an actual place. When Christ returns at the end of the world, he will judge all humans. All the dead will be bodily resurrected, the righteous to glorified bodies, evildoers to judgement.

You must believe that a loving and benevolent God will, after your death, judge you on the myriad of decision (some made in a split-second) and ethical conundrums that you encountered throughout your life. To guide you through this maze the Catholic Church tells you that God has made his mind known through a book, which is full of contradictions and which he chose to pass down to tribes of illiterate desert-dwellers. Having judged you, this loving God will most likely find you wanting (which he already knew he would having made us just as we are) and so will cast you away from him to suffer a pain-filled existence for all eternity – an infinite punishment for a finite ‘crime’.

Original sin: all are sinners and prone to the influence of Satan unless they find salvation in God and the Church

As a Catholic you believe that we are born with sin. You believe that before you first opened your eyes you were a sinner. Before every innocent new-born baby opens his or her eyes that baby is a sinner. This sin originates from Adam in the Garden of Eden (who you also believe was the first man God created, in direct contradiction to the more recent belief in a type of ‘deity directed’ evolutionary theory). Adam disobeyed God and this sin has been passed down from Father to child ever since. Incidentally, as a Catholic you also believe that only three people were ever born without original sin; Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist. As a Catholic you also do believe in the existence of Satan and that he tries to influence our everyday actions in order to lead us away from God.

Salvation: all are already saved (through Christ’s death and resurrection are still being saved (through the Church), and will be saved in the future (second coming of Christ). Demands faith in prayer to God and Jesus Christ, good works, and sacrament, including only one (infant) baptism. One’s salvation must be restored after commission of a mortal sin through the sacraments of repentance/confession and Communion.

Got to be honest, this one boggles me. You believe that, through offering his son as a blood sacrifice, God has saved you. In order to stay in God’s good book, if you do give in to the temptations of sin, you have to confess and repent that sin to one of God’s chosen representatives on earth and then the slate will be wiped clean again ready for the next inevitable sin. If you are unfortunate enough to get hit by a bus on your way to confess a sin then that unforgiven sin may just have lost you your eternal salvation.

Undeserved suffering: some suffering is caused by the inheritance of mortality originating from Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God, which includes vulnerability to illness and disease. Also, Satan rules the earth, causing pain and suffering. Suffering is God’s design to test, teach, or strengthen belief in Him; the greater the suffering of innocent believers, the greater will be their reward after life.

Just reading those words causes me pain. As a Catholic you believe that this fascinating, beautiful and mind-blowingly wonderful earth is in the control of Satan. That the pain and suffering we witness every day is not because we need to learn how to be nicer to one another but it is because God wants it that way. He has decided that we need to suffer in order to become closer to him. The greater our suffering is the more privileged we should feel as it is God calling us closer to him. Why bother trying to make this world a better place? Why spend our time trying to find ways to feed the hungry, researching cures to illness or doing any damn thing for others at all. Why be a kind, loving, protective parent, if you really loved your innocent child you would ensure their maximum suffering to ensure their place in the afterlife, it would be the only kind thing to do, right? Surely, if you truly believe that suffering brings you closer to God you are going against God’s plan by alleviating suffering?

 Abortion: is considered to be a form of murder, an act worthy of excommunication.

As a Catholic you believe that abortion is never, ever justified. Not when the woman will die if the pregnancy continues, not if the woman was raped, not if the woman is actually still only a girl, not if the pregnancy occurred through incest, not if her health will suffer irreparable damage if the pregnancy continues, not if the foetus she carries has abnormalities which are incompatible with life and certainly not if an abortion is the best choice a woman can make her herself given her circumstances at the time of the pregnancy. You believe that any woman who has had an abortion, along with the medical staff who have carried out that abortion should be excommunicated from the Church. As a Catholic you believe abortion is murder, you view those woman who have had an abortion as murderers and so presumably would seek custodial punishment for these women equivalent to any others who commit the crime murder?

Women are afforded the highest regard as mothers and wives. Marriage is considered a sacrament and permanent; divorce and remarriage are not acceptable unless the first marriage is annulled.

As a Catholic you believe that society should aim to support women not to work outside of the family home. You believe that a marriage is for life, regardless of any abuse or violence that may take place within it, or indeed if the couple have simply fallen out of love and are no longer functioning as a unit. Regardless of how dysfunctional a marriage may be, or of how miserably those trapped in it may live their lives, regardless of how negatively a marriage may impact the children born into it, you believe that the couple have made a lasting, life-long, holy vow in front of God commitment.

Homosexual acts are sinful.

There is currently a lot of debate about this one. Some have suggested that Pope Francis seems to have taken a less hard-line on this. I've included a number of links to articles and blogs on this topic. However, it is safe to say that as a Catholic you believe that marriage is a blessed union between a man and a woman formalised for the sole purpose of producing children. As such, you will be voting against marriage equality in the upcoming Irish referendum in 2015, right? (If you are struggling with this particular teaching know that you are not alone, research suggests that 3 in 5 Catholics disagree with the Church’s teachings on homosexuality).

Transubstantiation: the teaching that during the Mass, at the consecration in the Lord’s Supper (Communion), the elements of the Eucharist, bread and wine, are transformed into the actual body and blood of Jesus and that they are no longer bread and wine, but only retain their appearance of bread and wine.

Unlike the Protestant churches, the Catholic Church teaches that during the mass the bread and wine are changed literally into the body and blood of Jesus. Not metaphorically, literally.

Artificial Contraception: According to official Catholic Church teaching, artificial forms of contraception are morally wrong because they involve a positive attempt to remove the procreative aspect of sexual intercourse from its unitive aspect.

As a Catholic you are practice only natural methods of birth control such as Natural Family Planning  or the Rhythm Method. You also believe that condoms do not stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and discourage there use in Third World countries

Fornication (sex outside of marriage): those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence. They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect, an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from God. They should reserve for marriage the expression of affection that belongs to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity.

As a Catholic you were a virgin on your wedding night and have never had sex with any other person other than your married partner.

There are many, many more teachings and beliefs (the virgin birth, Jesus rising from the dead, Mary’s assumption into Heaven, priesthood celibacy, papal infallibility, miracles, demons and devils, angels, stigmata, exorcisms, saints, holy relics, non-ordination of women, intercession through prayer…). I could go on, but I won’t.

I was raised as a Catholic. I was baptised as an infant, I attended a Catholic school where I was indoctrinated into their rites and beliefs. I made my communion and I was confirmed into the Catholic Church (in fact, technically I am still a member of that church as there is no formal way of officially defecting). My move away from Catholicism began when I realised I disagreed with more of their teachings than I actually agreed with. How many of the teachings outlined above do you disagree with or simply not believe? A few? Most? All? What is the cut-off point? At what stage do you disagree with so many of the Church’s teachings that it is simply incongruent to still call yourself a Catholic?  

I would argue that you can only call yourself a Catholic if you believe the teachings of that religion. We are all been born into different traditions and there is a ‘niceness’ around identifying with others who share your tradition. But what if that tradition no longer reflects your understanding and interactions with the world around you? Does that mean you can’t believe in a God? Not at all. Any belief, or disbelief in a deity should be a personal experience for each individual and one which is arrived at through questioning, reflecting and exploring your own understanding of the meaning of the divine and not through group consensus.

Are you still a Catholic? Which box will you be ticking on the next census form?