As we enter the season of the Christian holiday, Easter, the concept of the blood sacrifice of the innocent weighs heavily on my mind—or should I say, the fact that people are okay with this concept, weighs heavily. So often Christians seem to brush past the gruesomeness of this tale without really thinking about it, but others dwell on the horrors yet seemingly only recognize the injustice of the punishment and feel guilty and grateful that Jesus was sacrificed instead of them. Needless to say, I have a lot of problems with either of these views.
Let me start by saying that I don’t believe the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus even happened, but let’s say for a moment that it did. The idea that it is moral for an innocent life to stand in substitution for the punishment of an actual guilty party is abhorrent. Of course, the counter argument to this is that he is giving his own life freely, not sacrificing someone else. This still makes no sense. Who made the rule that there has to be blood to pay a price for sin in the first place? God makes the rule, knowing that he’d have to kill his own son to meet the requirements of his own rule. His own rule does not make sense in the first place. Why would the blood of an innocent atone for a guilty party?
Besides, he did not just sacrifice himself/son (however you want to look at it). All throughout the Old Testament, God requires the sacrifice of the innocent—lambs, pigeons, doves, goats, children, including Isaac. The story of Abraham and Isaac, wherein God tells Abraham to slaughter his son, and then at the last minute, says he was just testing him, aside from being cruel and sick, is said to prefigure the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s son. So, how is it righteous to slaughter an innocent animal on an altar for the forgiveness of transgressions by man? You guessed it! Because God said so. He made the rule, yet we are supposed to be eternally grateful that he had Jesus slaughtered brutally, so we could feel guilty (and loved which just creates more guilt in this situation) throughout all eternity. There is clearly no logic in the idea that the blood of the innocent makes up for anything done by someone else. Conversely, it creates another sin to compound the first.
But this saves us from going to hell—which God created, a place supposedly created for Satan and his followers, but for some reason, he is perfectly willing to allow us to go there as well, even for the sin of being unable to believe the unbelievable—unless, of course, he gets his blood sacrifice. Although this is clearly illogical, heinous, and in no way moral to the average person if we took God out of the story and replaced him with any other being, we do see this concept over and over throughout mythology and in many ancient pagan religions. Blood sacrifice was known to be part of religious ritual and even for the forgiveness of sins among early Hebrews, ancient Greeks, ancient Romans, ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Pre-Columbian civilizations, and is suspected in countless cults, not to mention being the subject of numerous ancient myth stories. Obviously, this is a concept familiar and acceptable to primitive mankind, but should we still think it sounds like a good idea today? Should we calmly accept it as the foundation of the beliefs of a modern and educated culture? Do we really think it is justice for a rapist, a murderer to go to paradise because he believes that Jesus took his punishment? Would this make sense to you if you were not conditioned to believe it?
If God wanted to forgive mankind, he could have made any way he wanted to to accomplish that. He could have just forgiven those who were sincere—he’d know their hearts, right? He could have made them do something to make up for their crimes—maybe something along the lines of restitution? Something that fits the crime? If this story was not in the bible and drilled into our heads since birth in our country, would we not find this story abhorrent, immoral, and illogical? We are so used to hearing it that it sounds normal, and when everyone around you believes it, it’s easy not to even question it. I encourage you to question it, examine it, and do so with the attitude of someone who has never heard it before, and see if you can possibly still believe it. This is my challenge for you this Easter if you are willing to accept it.—Christina Knowles
This week I was confronted with the fact that numerous girls from the age of 16-18 hold views of gender equality, or should I say inequality, that are more akin to what I expect from their male counterparts of the same age. I teach in a somewhat, okay, very conservative high school, but still, these students have embraced openly homosexual and transgendered students with fairly open arms. Yet these same students hold the view that women should be submissive to men, that it is a good idea to stay home and let husbands take care of them, and that many jobs traditionally held by men should continue to be held by men to the exclusion of women.
It seems that no matter how prevalent racism is, no matter how discrimination still subsists against the homosexual community, and no matter how much prejudice remains against those who practice certain religions or no religion at all, the final holdout will likely be biases based on gender. It makes me wonder with all the racist comments directed against our first black president, who happens at least to be a man, what kind of degradation will a future female president be made to endure. I have to ask myself, Why?
Well, here’s my theory. America is a country where, according to a Pew Research Poll (2012), 73% identify as Christian (PewResearch). And although sexism is a factor in many religions, including Judaism, I often hear many comments about Islam’s blatant sexism, which I don’t deny, but the sexism inherent in Christianity is a much more subtle, and therefore, easier to ignore type of oppression, and with 73% of Americans theoretically accepting the bible as God’s word, I wondered if this is the root of our tenacious American version of sexism.
Of course, the bible condemns homosexuality, and yet, there seems to be a trend to accept that as a lifestyle more and more. Still, being raised in the Christian religion myself, I know, firsthand, the views of women’s roles according to “God.” I have heard from the pulpit of at least a dozen churches that women are to be submissive to their husbands, should not rule over a man, that woman was made for man, women were created to be man’s helper, and that a woman is to keep the home, stay silent in church, and ask her husband if she has any questions.
Of course, all of this is biblical. This archaic message continues to be heard from thousands of pulpits today, even in the 21st century. It really is quite shocking—yet, many Americans aren’t shocked at all. Why?
I believe that women are complicit in their own sexist treatment as a result of being subtly conditioned by a predominantly Christian culture to find sexist treatment desirable, flattering, sexy, and even loving. Again, from the pulpit I’ve heard ridiculous explanations of the stories in the bible twisted to make the degradation of women seem acceptable. I’ve heard a pastor say that Adam only ate of the forbidden fruit because he didn’t want Eve to be condemned without him. Sure, that is a much more romantic way of blaming Eve for the downfall of mankind. And everyone’s heard the feel-good twist on the creation of Adam and Eve. The real bible story goes that Adam was created first, and then Eve was made from his rib to be his “helpmate” because it was “not good for man to be alone.” The modern version of this story is that Eve was taken from Adam’s rib to symbolize how she walks next to him—not in front of him, not behind him, but equal to him.
I guess someone should have told this version to Paul. This is what he has to say on the subject in I Timothy 2: 11-15: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control” (Biblegateway.com). Apparently, Paul, and God by extrapolation, believe that because Eve came after Adam and was first to be deceived, women now and forever after must keep their mouths shut, be submissive, know their place in the church and at home, and if they do their job of birthing children, there may still be hope for them. So much for walking side by side in equality.
And, of course, there is always the “Chivalry” justification. I’ve heard from the pulpit that women, as the “weaker vessel” are to be treated like a priceless vase or precious fine china. They need the protection of a man, and this, unfortunately, means protecting them from doing really hard stuff like having authority over a man. Where was all this delicate treatment when women had to marry their rapists or were being offered up to be molested in the place of angels in Sodom and Gomorrah, by a man who was deemed “righteous” in God’s eyes? Naturally, there is an “explanation” for this as well.
Gotquestions.org is a popular site dedicated to answering the unanswerable questions and contradictions in the bible. This is what they have to say about Lot’s righteousness: “Based on what is revealed about Lot’s life, one might wonder if he was righteous. However, there is no doubt that God had declared him to be positionally righteous, even during his time in Sodom . . . At some point Lot had believed in the coming Messiah, and that faith resulted in a righteous standing before God. It is likely that Lot’s uncle, Abraham, had passed this truth down to him” (Gotquestions.org). So he was only considered righteous because he had once believed in the coming Messiah, which contradicts numerous teachings regarding apostates who “turn from the faith” and are commonly thought to never have been converted in the first place. My point is that our culture seems to accept every despicable treatment of women justified by religion as long as we sugarcoat it.
But the absolute craziest thing I’ve heard lately came from a conversation I had with a local bible guru who hosts a Christian radio question and answer show in Denver, Colorado. This talk show host actually used the “protection” reasoning to justify polygamy as being superior to homosexual marriage. Now, I’m sure he would deny that he was justifying polygamy. However, he claims that there are times and cultural demands that present polygamy as the only viable option for women to live safely and be protected. He says, for example, in the bible, that God allowed polygamy for the protection of women. He states that sometimes, in a certain culture where men hold the power and status, and there are not enough men to go around, women would be on the street without polygamy. He says it isn’t God’s ideal plan, but God allows it because the culture requires a redefinition of marriage. Yet he denies that we can redefine marriage to include same sex marriage based on our changing culture. It also seems the double-standard never works in favor of women because when I asked him if the reverse would be true—if a culture dominated by women existed, wherein women held the power, the status, the jobs, and there were fewer men than women, if women should have more than one husband to protect the men, he declined to answer, and instead, changed the subject.
It is no revelation that sexism is rooted in traditional religions. However, it is the subtle acceptance of this legitimatized sexism among mainstream and nice people that makes it so insidious and pervasive. According to a study published by Psychology of Women Quarterly, the effects of what psychologists, Burn and Busso, call Benevolent Sexism, wherein women are complicit in their own oppression due to the religious and cultural reframing of said oppression, biblical literalism is at the root of this problem. Burn and Busso find that their studies “do suggest that religiosity is correlated with BS [Benevolent Sexism]. Thus, a consideration of the various forces that contribute to women’s lower power and status should include religion. Religion is frequently a central part of a culture and many religions communicate to their followers that men’s greater power and status relative to women is appropriate and acceptable. Although this perspective is presented ‘benevolently’ rather than ‘hostilely,’ the net effect is still to support gender inequality—especially because women as well as men tend to endorse it. Not only does BS justify traditional gender roles but it also pacifies women’s resistance to gender subordination by masking gender inequality with the cloak of chivalry (e.g., men need women and should protect and cherish them” (Glick & Fiske, 2001a, 2001b). “BS rooted in religion may be a significant obstacle to gender equality when it is rooted in literal scriptural interpretations and is essentially nonfalsifiable because there is no arguing with the word of God” (Burn, Busso, p.6). Burn and Busso quote Anwar’s 1999 study “Theological alternatives to religious fundamentalism” that states “common features of religious fundamentalism include a belief that society needs to be rescued from secularism, a commitment to the authority of the ancient scriptures, and the idealization of a past where gender spheres were separate and women were modest and subordinate” (Anwar, qtd in Burn and Busso, p. 1).
The churches I grew up in and have attended at various points throughout my life claim not to be fundamentalist, just bible-believing, but they would all fit the above criteria. I don’t deny that there are many factors involved in the lingering and acceptable sexism persistent in the American culture besides religious justification and the “dressing up” of gender stereotyping and behavior. However, I do believe that a culture that teaches women that it is God who demands a subordinate role, and that this role is righteous and good, will continue the “benevolent” oppression of women, and that this acceptable oppression will not confine itself to benevolent acts and innocuous sexist views of women, if there is such a thing. As our culture moves beyond stereotypical assignments of roles to various people groups, the advancement of women as equal human partners in the modern world requires an abandoning of this acceptance of literal interpretations of the bible and of the adherence to ancient biblical writings as divine law that should be imposed on a modern society. As long as religious leaders use the divinity of scripture as justification for the subordinate treatment of women, effectively blaming God for their prejudice, and as long as they condition and pressure women to accept this treatment as the will of God, gender inequality will continue to exist in our society.
If, indeed, there is a god, I am sure this god is very disturbed at the thought of men using an ancient book written by men as a justification to inflate themselves and to persecute half of creation in his . . . or her name. –Christina Knowles
What a ride 2013 was! I’ve been agonizing over writing this blog for over a week, but it just seemed an overwhelming task to sum up such a year.
Personally, 2013 was a year marked by intense spiritual conflict, feeling like I didn’t belong in the Christian community, and I didn’t understand other Christians. I judged God on the actions of His followers. I questioned the goodness and even the reality of God. I lost my faith and temporarily declared myself an atheist.
2013 was a year that the love and acceptance of my husband was tested. Through all my internal conflict, we had none. He loved and accepted me unconditionally despite his confusion, strengthening and deepening our love and commitment to each other.
It was a year of studying and reading, rediscovering my love and respect for philosophy.
It was the year when I lost my father. He was an amazing father who loved his family unconditionally, always made us laugh, and taught me to accept people and to forgive easily. He was slow to anger and gentle.
It was the year I learned that I really did believe in God and love Him, and that no matter how believers act, He never changes and never stops being good or loving.
It was the year I learned that all Christians are different and face this life with their own prejudices and issues, and that some Christians did accept me, even though I’m not typical.
2013 was also the year I determined that I would publish my novel. Several months were taken up with the toil and pressure of formatting and editing it for publication. Then I faced the horrific task of marketing it and myself, with which I am utterly uncomfortable. Every time I post a link to my book, I feel like I am either begging for alms or bragging of my accomplishment. Unfortunately, I understand that the only way to realize my dream of someday writing as a profession is to do this. However, it did lead me to create this blog, which has become a true joy to me in itself. Disturbing the Universe has quickly emerged as a place for me to let loose the pressure of my thoughts in the best way I know how, the written word, and it has abandoned all pretense of existing as a page to promote my novel.
This year also brought the terrifying news that my unborn grandson had Spina Bifida. But with that, it also brought into the forefront, the unrelenting love and faith of my daughter-in-law and son. And when my grandson was born almost 3 months too soon, it brought the indescribable thankfulness of his healthy birth. Seeing the miracle of his tiny life and his ferocious determination to live and recover brought about an epiphany in me, the realization that even though I had given my heart back to God, I had held back some of it to protect myself from pain. I continue to realize a new area each day that needs to awaken to become the person who God wants me to be. As 2014 begins, I see this process continuing, and I can’t wait to see my 2014 year-in-review.–Christina Knowles