Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Nasty Post on Women And Religion

Jodi has written an excellent post on the reasons why nobody should listen to the U.S. Catholic bishops as the arbiter of morality. Read it and grit your teeth.

And what about the Pope himself?

Top Vatican officials — including the future Pope Benedict XVI — did not defrock a priest who molested as many as 200 deaf boys, even though several American bishops repeatedly warned them that failure to act on the matter could embarrass the church, according to church files newly unearthed as part of a lawsuit.

The internal correspondence from bishops in Wisconsin directly to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope, shows that while church officials tussled over whether the priest should be dismissed, their highest priority was protecting the church from scandal.

The documents emerge as Pope Benedict is facing other accusations that he and direct subordinates often did not alert civilian authorities or discipline priests involved in sexual abuse when he served as an archbishop in Germany and as the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer.

Perhaps Ratzinger was way too busy writing about how women can never be priests and how people should not use condoms as a protection against HIV in Africa?

An alien from outer space would not be able to get its head (if it has one) around the way we decide on whose values matter. Stupak listened to the Catholic bishops, a celibate group of men, on the question of women's sexuality. Millions of people listen to Pope Ratzo, another celibate man who put his church ahead of the abused children, on the question of women's roles in the society. It sounds like a surrealistic play.

Here comes the nasty part: The reason why the Catholic bishops and the Pope have so much power is that they run a gigantic religious organization with many believers who give them money. They have power. What they say affects the behavior of hundreds of millions of people on this planet, and anyone who wants the votes, say, of some of those people must at least pretend to listen to the bishops and the Pope.

And many, many of those believers are women. Indeed, the majority of church goers in the Catholic church are women, and this is true for other forms of Christianity, too. It may be true for all the Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It may be true for all religions.

Most women on this planet stay faithful to religious organizations which will not want to share power with them, which have holy texts full of misogyny and which in their extreme forms support societal structures completely unfair to women.

Yes, I understand the reasons for women's religious fidelity. Spirituality is channeled into the avenues that exist where you are born. Community is built around religion. Religion succors those who have less power.

I even understand how hard (and even dangerous) it is to tear oneself away from shared community values and approval, even when those values are bad and the approval based on a role which slowly suffocates you, and I certainly understand the fear of infinite hell if one believes in that. But it is still true that misogynistic religions would have less power if fewer women supported them, if more women spoke openly against the misogyny and refused to participate in it.

The consequences of such rebellious acts are not the same for all women, and I'm not advocating suicidal acts here. But most women will not be stoned to death for asking questions about their religion or for demanding more access to its corridors of power.

And no, I'm not arguing that religions must by default be misogynistic or that atheism is the only feminist answer. But it's necessary to note that silence can be interpreted as acquiescence.