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Monday, June 20, 2011

How Jesus has Liberated Women V: the Gospels

(Note: to read the whole argument, please start with Part I.  If you would like to skip introductory "framing" type remarks, and my personal story, skip to Part III.)  Follow links at end of each post to the next one.  This post focuses on what Jesus and the gospels have to say about women. -- DM.) 


The Teachings of Jesus

An effect demands a cause.  The cartoon John Loftus posted suggests that the New Testament is the reason why women are oppressed.  It shows a total of five slogans from the New Testament tacked onto the dungeon wall where a (strangely worm-like) woman is shackled:

"Submit to your husband."

"The woman shall be saved through child-bearing."

"I do not permit a woman to teach."

"Do not let your beauty be external."

" . . . as the weaker partner . . . "

We have seen, however, that Christianity has generally NOT had the effect such propaganda would predict.  History shows that dedicated Christians have in fact LIBERATED not hundreds, but billions of women, often in ways as almost as dramatic as literally freeing them from dungeons.  (In fact, they often did free men and women from dungeons -- though yes, some were put in them, too.)

In order to demonstrate that Christianity really has been the cause of liberation for women, I need to show that there is something in the New Testament (as well as Isaiah) that could cause the effects described in the last three posts.  I don't need to show that there are no verses that could harm women.  (Though I will probably deal with such passages in a reply to critics.)  But I do need to point to something in the New Testament that could plausibly have been the source of all the good stuff Christianity has brought women around the world.

Here, I focus on the gospels. 

I will discuss ALL major events and teachings in the accounts of Jesus' life, that directly relate to how men should treat women.  We will touch not on only what Jesus did or taught, but the lessons or implications of the gospels for how women should be treated.  This may make for a long post. 

The Gospel of Matthew

Chapter 1  Joseph was a righteous man, and even when his fiance turned out to be pregnant (not by him!) he decided not to disgrace her publicly.  Lesson:  A just man is merciful even to a woman whom he believes has betrayed him.  (Taliban: Put down those rocks!) 

Chapter 4  Jesus chooses all male disciples.  Lesson: There is legitimate sexual differentiation in religion.

Chapter 5  Not only don't commit adultery, don't lust!  And don't divorce unless your partner has committed adultery.  Lesson: Christianity affirms strong and exclusive marital ties.  This also seems to imply monogamy, since why would one acquire new wives if one wasn't playing the field? 

Chapter 8  Jesus cures Peter's mother-in-law.  She then gets up and takes care of her guests.  (Repeated in two other gospels.) 

Chapter 9  Jesus cures a woman who has been bleeding for many years.  She then raises a little girl from the dead.  (Both stories are repeated in two other gospels.)

Chapter 10  Jesus warns he has come, not to bring peace, but a sword. Families will divide because of him, but commitment to him should have first priority. 

Chapter 12  The Queen of the South will rise up to judge this generation.  She came from the ends of the Earth to hear the teachings of Solomon: now something greater than those teachings are here, yet people ignore it.  Implications: Women can travel, seek education, and be role models for men. 

Chapter 14  The story of Herodias is told in this chapter.  Her daughter dances well for King Herod and his guests, and is offered a reward.  Consulting with her mother, the sweet girl asks for the head of John the Baptist, who has been rebuking Herod and Herodias for their affair.  Lesson: Women can be as evil and scheming as men.  (In case anyone was wondering.)

Chapter 15  Jesus rebukes religious leaders for finding "spiritual" excuses for neglecting the care of their parents.  He cites the "command of God:" "Honor your father and your mother." 

Later in the chapter, a woman loudly appeals to Jesus to save her daugher, who is afflicted with a disorder interpreted as demonic.  Bystanders tell her to shut up.  Jesus seems to put her off at first, by appearing to compare Gentiles like her to dogs.  But even the dogs get crumbs, she replies.  "Oh woman, your faith is great!" he responds, and the girl is healed.  Lesson: What counts is attitude, not gender or (ultimately) cultural tradition.  (And in prayer, persistence.) 

Chapter 19  The Pharisees ask Jesus if divorce is OK.  The Creator made humanity male and female, he responds.  Man and woman come together as one flesh.  Therefore, "What God has joined, let no man pull assunder."  Men were allowed to divorce their wives because of their hard-heartedness, but this was not God's plan.  Lesson: Marriage is for keeps.  Exceptions may be allowed, but they should not be taken for the norm.  Implications: The math seems to imply monogamy: from the beginning, God intends one man and one woman in unity.  The passage also undermines the worldview of the Nigerian chief who told a missionary, "We are the people.  The women are just animals." 

Chapter 22  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding banquet.  There is, however, no sex in heaven.  (Repeated in other gospels.)  Lesson: marriage is good, and is a symbol of higher goods, but is not itself the ultimate good. 

Chapter 23  Scribes and Pharisees are hypocrits because they pray loudly and cheat widows out of their goods.  Lesson: Watch out for religious hucksters like Jimmy and Tammy Baker.  Assumption: Contrary to common practice in many cultures, women should receive and control goods. 

Chapter 25  Heaven is again like a wedding: some bridesmaids get ready in time, while others miss it. 

Chapter 26  A woman with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume breaks in at a party at which Jesus is an invited guest.  She breaks the expensive jar and pours it on Jesus.  People protest that the money should have been spent on the poor instead.  Jesus responds, "Why do you embarrass this woman?  She has done something beautiful for me."  (Repeated in other gospels.)  Lesson: Don't be a kill-joy.  There's room for spontaneous and extravagent emotions.  Implications: Women should be allowed to control their own property. 

Chapter 27  Many women from Galilee who supported Jesus' ministry watch the crucifixion from a distance.  A few mother are named.  Implications: Don't burn widows.  Don't make them stay in the house.  Let them travel, do good deeds, help people. 

Chapter 28  Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" go to Jesus' tomb to annoint his body.  An angel speaks to them, "He is risen!  Go and tell his disciples!"  They are filled with renewed joy, and go to do as told.  (This story is repeated in other gospels, sometimes with different details.)  Lesson: Women can be worth listening to!  God may speak to them, including at the very most important moments.  This also implies that Jesus was as close, in a diferent way, to his female as to his male disciples. 

At the end of the same chapter, Jesus appears to the disciples, and tells them:

"Go, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you!"

Implications: Missions.  This is to be a worldwide reform movement, as promised by the prophets.  Jesus' life and teachings are not to be limitted to a few local followers, but are to be the model for reform in every nation. 


The Gospel of Mark

Many of the same stories are repeated, with a couple interesting additions:

Chapter 12  Jesus and his disciples watch a widow giving a small amount of money to the temple.  "She has given more than the rest," Jesus says, because she gave out of her poverty. 

Chapter 13  The Gospel will go to all nations.  Alas for the pregnant and nursing in the day of tribulation!


Gospel of Luke

Chapter 1  Luke tells the story in these first two chapters mainly from the point of view of two cousins: Elizabeth, who is upright, fairly well along in years, and barren, and Mary.  Martha rejoices in the obvious blessing: "The Lord has favored me."  Mary takes a little longer to recognize her pregnancy as a blessing, but then recognizes it as not only a personal blessing, but as consumation of Israel's story.  "My spirit is glad God took notice . . . all generations shall call me blessed."  Which, of course, they have.

Chapter 2 -3  The birth of Jesus and his early adventure in Jerusalem are also told from the perspective of Mary, whom one suspects may have been one of Luke's sources, directly or indirectly. 

Chapter 4  Jesus quotes Isaiah: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . He has annointed me to preach the good news to the poor, announce release to the captives . . . set free the downtrodden, announce the Year of the Lord's favor."  Implications: Why not to prostitutes in Thailand?  Or to that woman in her dungeon cell? 

Chapter 7  Feeling compassion for a widow who's only son has died, Jesus raises him to life. 

A female "sinner" then crashes a banquet at which Jesus is the star guest.  Crying loudly, she begins to clean Jesus' feet with her tears and hair.  The host gets upset: who invited this crazy dame?  And doesn't Jesus know what kind of woman she is?  Jesus directs his first remarks to his host.  "I came into your house, and you didn't even provide for your guest's feet to be cleaned.  But here she is, wiping my feet with her hair!  Yes, she was a big-time sinner.  But look at her love!  Those sins are forgiven." 
Then Jesus speaks to the woman:

"Go in peace.  Your faith has saved you." 

Lessons: I don't need to spell these ones out.

Chapter 8  Jesus' chief followers are describe as the Twelve, as elsewhere, plus "certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and diseases," including Mary Magdalene, Johanna, and Suzanna.  One gets the impression some of them were prominent women. 

The stories of Jesus healing the woman with long-term bleeding, and raising the 12 year old girl, are repeated for the third time here.  "Little girl, arise!"

Chapter 10  Luke describes another interesting domestic scene.  Martha and Mary are hosting Jesus and his disciples.  Martha is busy in the kitchen.  Mary is hanging with the menfolk, talking theology.  "Jesus, can't you make Mary get in here and help?"  Jesus responds, as unsual, in an unexpected way:

"Martha, Martha.  You're worried about so many things!  But one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen that, and it won't be taken away from her."  Lesson: Women should get an education, and not just do housework.  In fact, they should set the housework aside when something more important comes along!

Chapter 11  A woman calls out in the crowd, "Blessed is the womb that gave birth to you, and the breasts on which you suckled!"  Jesus responds, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear and keep the Word of God."  Lesson: Women are meant to be more than just barefoot and pregnant, like Mormon wives.

Chapter 13  Jesus chooses the Sabbath to heal a woman who has been crippled for 18 years.  The ruler of the synagogue in which this takes place complains about the obvious affront to the sanctity of the day.  Jesus responds, "This woman, too, is a daughter of Abraham.  Shouldn't she have been freed of her bond on the Sabbath?" 

Chapter 23  Many women follow Jesus on the way to the cross, beating their breasts.  Jesus tells them, "Weep for yourselves and your children! If they do this when the wood is green, what will they do when it's dry?"  This is, no doubt, a sad prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem. 

Again women are given first notice of the resurrection, and Jesus' male disciples don't believe. 

Gospel of John 

Chapter 2  Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding in the town of Cana.  Evidently it's a poor couple, because they run out of wine, even at their wedding.  (One might conjecture that the Jesus party may not have been scheduled to attend the banquet!)  Reluctantly following his mother's lead, Jesus turns water into wine, which is pronounced the best wine at the wedding.

Lesson: Confirms the goodness of marriage, of wine, and of following one's mother's advise.   

Chapter 4  Jesus meets and dialogues with a Samaritan woman beside a well in the town of Sychar.  Jesus gently lets her know that he's aware of her promiscuous history (the Elizabeth Taylor of Samaria) and present live-in number 6.  The woman recognizes Jesus as a prophet.  He talks about "living water," and she requests, "Give me this water!"    Lesson: Shouldn't Jesus be stoning this woman to death?  (Jewish Law)  Shouldn't he leave her alone to follow her own lifestyle? (modern liberals)  Jesus offers an engaged, patient middle path, that would serve as a model for Christians who reach out to sex addicts and those exploited by the sex industry in love. 

Chapter 8  This chapter tells the remarkable story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.  "Should we stone her?"  "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone."  "Woman, where are your accusers?"  "Go, and sin no more." 

Lesson: Again, Jesus walks a middle path between harsh judgement and indifference or exploitation -- the path of love.  "Don't be so quick to judge.  Look at yourself, first.  And, by the way, where did the fellow get off to?"  This is a rebuke to every Muslim mob that to this day stones or imprisons an adulteress in Nigeria or Pakistan -- but also to the modern West, that treats sex as a morally insignificant "choice." 

Chapter 11  Lazarus falls ill.  His sisters call Jesus, hoping he will come and cure him.  "Now Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus."  John is skilled at personal vignettes like this.  Finally, after testing the faith of the sisters -- which he treats as important -- he raises their brother to life.  (Apparently their parents are deceased, which makes this a practical matter, as well as an affair of the heart.)

Chapter 12  Another story about Mary and Martha, revealing Mary as emotional, washing Jesus' feet with her hair, Martha as more rational, disgusted by the sight.  Jesus again credits Mary in her hour of need.

Chapter 19  Several women watch the crucifixion.  Jesus tells his mother, referring to John, "Woman, here is your son."  And to John: "Here is your mother."  Lesson:  Christianity may at times result in the breaking of family ties, but faith in Jesus will also create new families.  Jesus has before seemed to rebuke his mother, but this verse shows that he still takes his responsibility to her seriously. 

Chapter 20  As in other gospels, women are the first to the tomb, and to meet Jesus. 


Reading through the gospels, or through the brief summary I have given, no sensible person, especially anyone who knows something about the status of women in the ancient world, should be left with any doubt that Jesus' teachings and actions were utterly revolutionary.  Jesus' actions and teachings challenge the worst practices in Jewish, Roman, and other civilizations -- beginning with our own practice of running off on spouses, which arguably hurts thousands of times as many women (and men, and children) than, say, witch-burning ever did.  The gospels assume women will control some finances, travel, be involved in ministry, even teach.  They are not naive or sentimental about human nature, including female nature. But Jesus sets a normative pattern of healing, feeding, teaching, respecting, rebuking, and loving women, and allowing to love and express that love as well.  Such horrors as footbinding and widow burning are challenged at the core, as are doctrines such that women need to be born as men to enter into nirvana.  Jesus rescues one woman who is about to be stoned (alone) for adultery, and implicitly challenges the double standard and polygamy elsewhere. 

Clearly, there is an overwhelming basis for relating the liberating effects (described in the previous three posts) to their true cause in the life, teachings, and example of Jesus Christ.

Postscript: But not everyone admits that.  More than 500 posts, largely challenges to my argument, have been posted here, on Amazon.com, or on John Loftus' site.  Some of those challenges are worth serious consideration and response, which I plan to attempt soon.  In the meanwhile, let's deal with the ten Lamest Rebuttals.

23 comments:

JBrindle said...

Matt wrote: "I need to show that there is something in the New Testament (as well as Isaiah) that could cause the effects described in the last three posts."

That isn't sufficient. You can't mean that showing that A COULD cause B is sufficient reason to think that A DID cause B.

What you need to do is do more than show that the existence of some positive change in the status of women is correlated with the existence of some specific set of Christian doctrines. You also need to rule out other possible causes.

Consider this fact. When Christian missionaries bring Christian doctrines to their target populations, they also bring Western medicines and technologies, and very often political ideologies. To show that Christianity is the cause of any improvements in these populations, you have to show that the improvements are not due to those other factors. So far I don't see you having presented anything like a persuasive case for this.

David B Marshall said...

Brindle: First of all, my name is David, not Matt.

Secondly, given the data in part III alone, the simplest explanation is that Christianity consistently raises the status of women, while Islam either lowers it or keeps it low. At that point, it is really up to skeptics to show why the simplest explanation is untrue. The other posts are gravy, and I think, prove the causative link as clearly and emphatically as history could prove such a link.

Third, I did consider the most popular alternative explanation: that the Enlightenment was responsible. I showed that the differences were already present BEFORE the Enlightenment, though. I then showed that improvements were being made, by Christians in the name of Christ, during the Roman and Medieval periods.

I also showed the same pattern in a variety of other cultures.

I then showed a highly plausible source of those revolutionary changes in the words, teachings, and example of Jesus.

Have you really read these posts? (Getting my name wrong is not a promising sign.) Have you allowed the evidence to sink in?

Extian said...

The teachings of Jesus from the Bible that you listed are tangential at best. The fact that women were given the news of Jesus' resurrection only says that they can be used as messengers for God. It says nothing about their rights as human beings. There are other stories where God uses animals to carry his message (think Balaam's ass). Does this imply that animals should be allowed to vote and own property? I think you're reading more into these passages than what's actually in the text.

The stories of Jesus curing women say nothing about their status in society – only that he wanted to help them. In most of your posts, you tend to conflate the term “liberate” with the term “help.” From this perspective, it could be argued that polygamists actually “liberate” their wives because they give their wives food to eat and a place to live. I'm sure you don't agree with that, but that's the same tenuous association you're drawing between Jesus healing some women and the liberation of those same women.

The story about Mary and Martha is only about putting Jesus above all else. It says absolutely nothing about getting an education or learning how to read and write; the story's about submission before God, not female empowerment. Again, you read too much into the text.

What does comparing Heaven to a wedding banquet have to do with women's liberation? How does the fact that there's no sex in Heaven liberate women on earth?

Almost all of the passages you've selected have nothing directly to do with women's liberation – they're only examples of helping women. Good lessons, perhaps, but certainly not encouraging women to be economic equals with men, or to get an education, or to be allowed equal access to political power. These are very loose associations on your part. Even your first example of Joseph not wanting to disgrace Mary is an act that could be committed by any non-Christian and is not specific to the gospel of Jesus.

You have listed many examples of Christians doing good things, but have not linked those good things directly to Christianity. I could find many examples of non-Christians and atheists doing charitable works as well. Listing examples of Jesus helping women is not the same as liberating or empowering them. Jesus says a man can't divorce his wife (with one exception), but says nothing about whether a woman has any say in the matter. Why can't a woman divorce her husband if she wants? Wouldn't that be an indication of empowerment? But alas, Jesus is silent in this regard.

I think you've over-generalized Christianity's effect in society by downplaying or ignoring other non-religious factors that have helped to liberate women. I also think the Bible passages you've used as support for women's liberation say nothing of the manner – only that women can be helped, not liberated. Again, correlation does not equal causation. You must demonstrate that Christianity has liberated women to the exclusion of all other factors.

Extian said...

For some reason, the first part of my comment wasn't posted...

David, correlation does not equal causation.

Just because some Christians have done good things does not mean that it is the result of Christianity itself. There are a myriad of other political, economic, and social factors that you are ignoring.

The UN study you cite was a snapshot of 1988 – it wasn't examining the centuries prior, nor was it making the case that Christian countries are better because of Christianity. If you took this survey 1000 years earlier, you would find remarkably less freedom for women (no right to property, no right to divorce, favoring of male heirs over female heirs, etc.) with even more entrenched Christian beliefs (divine right of kings, Inquisitions, Crusades, pope as a political leader, etc.) in those Western countries which are more “Christianized” today.

Your estimates for the “billions” of liberated women are wildly assumptive. How can you know all the factors that played into how women were helped in, say, the first century? Do you really believe that no other cultures encouraged people to care for one another during epidemics? Do you really believe the Gospel of Jesus is the ONLY reason anyone would discourage female infanticide? And do you really believe each of those “billions” of women were liberated as a DIRECT result of Christianity? How selective. You must demonstrate this link.

The wide influence of Christianity might be better explained by the fact that it was adopted by the most powerful empire of the ancient world, and that it was infused with an aggressive missionary bent unlike most religions of the time. Couple that with a formidable military and economic greed (as in ancient Rome and modern-day USA) and of course you'll have tons of Christians running around the world trying to Westernize native populations. This says nothing about Christianity itself; but of course, if you want to look for a link, you will also have to take into account the Conquistadors who sent missionaries to convert Native American populations under the threat of death – not just to Christianity but to the authority of European monarchy, which was seen as an extension of God's rule. I'm sure those indigenous Native American women didn't find it very liberating when they were forced to convert or die. Of course, not all missionaries have done this, but these violent tactics are a big reason for Christianity's influence today.

David B Marshall said...

X: Tangential? Protecting a woman from being selectively stoned to death is "tangential" to the well-being of women?

But you seem to be laboring under a misconception about my thesis, here. Please read again the claim these five posts are meant to support:

"Resolved: That the Gospel of Jesus has done more to help more women than any other teaching in the history of Planet Earth."

The episode of Jesus with Martha and Mary clearly indicates that for women, as well as men, learning truth is "the greater part," that it is more important for women to learn than for men to get their bagels and tea on time. When Tommy Titcombe preached in a village in Nigeria, male villagers gathered to listen. "I said bring your people! Where are the women?" "We are the people," the chief replied. "The women are just animals."

Jesus forever rendered that a heresy to Christians. He also rendered extreme sexual segregation unorthodox.

I didn't say billions were helped during the 1st Century. I'm borrowing here from Rodney Stark's careful discussion, which cites pagans themselves, who noticed the difference.

Since footbinding was outlawed in China, and since missionaries introduced education for women, about three generations of women have lived in China, including about 1.5 billion women. So you're right, that estimate was a little high. Almost all of those women would have had their feet bound, aside from innovations introduced by missionaries and the West. They have also benefited from new science and technology, and many have benefited from education for women, and the outlawing of concubinage. Missionaries introduced all these innovations, and also helped many women before footbinding was made illegal: so perhaps 1.5 billion would be the proper estimate.

You can say the West would have come anyway, and things would have changed, but that would be conjecture on your part.

I've shown that the positive influence predated the Enlightenment and modern European hegemony. The pattern of evidence given above is overwhelming, and covers each stage of the Christian revolution: you're like a man looking at an elephant, and pretending not to see it.

David B Marshall said...

BTW: Yes, receiving an education is liberating. So are not having your feet bound, being allowed to go out of your home, being healed of a crippling disease, being released from a brothel, and not being burnt on a funeral pyre. Call me crazy.

JBrindle said...

David (not Matt):

Apologies for the name mix-up. I had been reading another blog before yours and got stuck on a name there.

It is often claimed by Muslims that Islam is pro-women, and that the proof of this is that Muslim countries have elected more female heads of state than non-Muslim countries.

I don't find this very persuasive, and for some of the same reasons, I don't find the case you've been presenting to be very persuasive either.

Multiple studies have shown that people tend to interpret their religious texts according to their moral preconceptions, not the other way around. So even though a religious text may explicitly recommend a belief or practice that devalues women, people will downplay, reinterpret, or ignore that text if their moral viewpoint tells them to do so.

Is it plausible that belief in Islam is the primary cause of Muslim countries having more female heads of state than non-Muslim countries? I say it is doubtful. So is it any more plausible that belief in Christianity is the cause of the superior social status of women in the cases you mention (assuming the data are accurate)? I find this also doubtful.

Let me be clear: I am not claiming that Christians have not sometimes seen themselves as being motivated by their religious beliefs in ways that have turned out to benefit women. I am claiming that doctrinal cause and effect is, in general, more difficult to establish than attending to the three rules you suggest.

Here is a counter-thesis: the doctrine that has done more to advance the status of women than any other in history is the doctrine that women are inherently inferior to men. This doctrine was not taken to be undermined, but rather supported, by religious (including Christian) doctrine. For example: http://chnm.gmu.edu/exploring/19thcentury/womenandequality/pop_response.html. I say this doctrine ended up advancing the status of women because it provided women with numerous opportunities to prove it wrong. It is part of human nature that we often enjoy a challenge. The more vigorously male-dominated societies have tried to insist on the inherent inferiorities of women, the more transparently bad the arguments for this have become as women have repeatedly proven themselves capable of the things of which they have been said to be incapable.

Arizona Atheist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arizona Atheist said...

I reworded my previous post.

I find something odd about your use of various countries in part 3 to prove the Christian background lead to womens’ equality. The problems with this are 1. Correlation does not prove causation. 2. If Christianity truly was the reason for the greater equality why in the world is the united states, one of the most Christian nations, ranked at number 18 regarding gender equality in a much more recent 2009 UN “Gender Empowerment” study? This, while three of the most secular countries, Sweden, Norway and then Finland lead the way in gender equality in the top three spots. If Christianity really had that much of an impact wouldn’t we see it in one of the most Christian countries, the U.S.? If it was truly Christianity then why does it, according to you, have an effect in these other countries but not the U.S.? Clearly, something is amiss with these stats and don’t prove what he wants them to.

David B Marshall said...

AA: I SAID "correlation doesn't prove causation" in the post you are commenting on! But it often suggests it, and the evidence I give in the other posts show that in this case, Christianity has in fact vastly improved the status of women around the world.

My thesis is not about "gender equality," which strikes me as an inherently absurd goal. I spend some time in part I pointing out that Nature seems to offer few, if any, examples of pure equality between the sexes, nor is there any reason to expect it. If Sweden, say, elects 55% women to its parliament, and the US elects 25%, that is of no relevance to my thesis at all. In some ways, I would argue, the US often mistreats men because of over-zealous Nanny State secularism. Justice does not mean going to the opposite extreme: Christianity balances good ideals, rather than rushing blindly to some secularly-mandated extreme.

David B Marshall said...

JB: The comparison between the Christian and Muslim arguments fails. Giving one woman a good job in Pakistan (after her father is assassinated) does not mean women in general are treated well there. But UN statistics from around the world DO provide strong and clear evidence that the status of women is relatively high in countries with a Christian background.

Your comment about what "multiple studies" allegedly demonstrate, is too vague to evaluate, and seems to fly in the face of the evidence we're looking at.

At the end of your post, you offer a creative and interesting counter-proposal, but not I'm afraid a persuasive one. Nazis proposed that Jews were inferior and should be wiped out: they were treated as such, and disposed of as such. Muslims proposed that Christians and Jews were inferior, and should pay special taxes: so they did, for 1300 years. Islam also taught that women were inferior: and so they have been, and are, treated. The Law of Manu taught that women should die before remarrying: and so many did die, without shaming men by proving their great value, instead. I really like this Yin Yang type thesis, and it may work on rare occasions -- like a vaccine, when the dose is very weak. But unfortunately, it flies in the face of most actual history, where the justification of bullying is often followed by a great deal of actual bullying.

Arizona Atheist said...

David,

Yes, I was simply emphasizing this fact. Your data doesn’t necessarily prove what you claim. Second, yes of course it wasn’t about gender equality, but that was one line of argumentation that you used to “prove” your case. I looked at that one argument and it seems very faulty to me. It wasn’t my goal to refute your entire post. I’ve already uncovered the problems with several of these arguments because you used a few from your book. I don’t need to do it again.

More importantly though, you ignored the thrust of my argument. Why, if Christianity engenders equality among the sexes, does the U.S. have such a poor standing in that regard and some of the most secular countries are at the top of the list?

Thanks.

JBrindle said...

David:
Suppose I propose that Christianity has done more to encourage the oppression of women and minorities in the Western world than any other doctrine. How would I go about establishing this? Well, by your criteria, "I need to show that there is something in the New Testament ... that could cause the effects...."

Well, the case for women is easy enough. You've already given us some of those texts:
"Submit to your husband."

"The woman shall be saved through child-bearing."

"I do not permit a woman to teach."

"Do not let your beauty be external."

" . . . as the weaker partner . . . "

The case gets easier if we also include Old Testament texts (and we should, since Christianity embraces those texts as well).

In fact, we know that opposition to advancing the status of women and minorities has often been explicitly opposed by Christians who referred to those texts.

I think in any given case where the advancement of women and minorities has been opposed in the Western world we can make at least as persuasive a case that Christianity was the cause of opposition as we can that it was the cause of promotion. Furthermore, we know that in many cases opposition to the advancement of women and minorities was opposed with EXPLICIT reference to Christian doctrine (you may argue that such instances constitute misuse of such doctrines, but that is irrelevant given the standards of doctrinal cause and effect you have embraced). But what can be said for your thesis? Where are the cases where the status of women has been advanced through EXPLICIT reference to Christian doctrines?

It seems what you've got, instead, is a case where you need to argue that in spite of the fact that there was a prevailing belief in the inferiority of women that was often justified by explicit appeal to Christian doctrines, there was nevertheless a subcurrent of causal influence working away in the collective subconscious of Christians that pushed them in the direction of improving the status of women against their conscious will.

So while Ephesians 5:23 is explicitly cited in defense of opposing equality for women, ("the man is the head of the woman, just as Christ also is the head of the church. . . . just as the church is subject to Christ, so must women be to their husbands in everything.") at the same time, according to you, there are other Christian doctrines that are worming their way through the subconscious of these people whispering to them that men must subjugate women in a Christ-like way.

Well, possibly.

Much more significantly, though, there are so many political, philosophical, cultural, and economic variables that your analysis leaves out that are very plausible confounds for your causal thesis. This is the real problem with your case, I would argue. Look, you may be right. But to make a strong case for any statement of the form "A is the cause of B" you need to show not only that A is positively correlated with B, but also that B could not plausibly be caused by C, D, E, F, G,.... You don't seem to even ask, much less seriously consider, whether there are other factors in the societies that have embraced enhanced social status for women that could plausibly have played a causal role. Realistically, it is highly implausible that Christianity is the only cause of the improved status of women (I hope you would at least acknowledge this). So how do you undertake a comparative analysis of these factors to show that Christianity was MORE influential than any of these other factors? It's a bit like asking whether a given military victory was more the result of the genius of a particular general than it was the terrain, the weather, the equipment of the soldiers, the abilities of the soldiers, tactical training and experience, etc.

David B Marshall said...

JB: Part III shows a remarkably strong correlation between Christian influence and a high status for women in countries around the world. Part IV shows that dedicated Christian reformers were, in fact, largely responsible for many of the key reforms in history that helped women, and not just in those countries. Part V gives dozens of verses from the gospels themselves that could plausibly inspire such reform.

True, my case would become even stronger were I to show that these reformers cited those or other such verses as justification for their reforms. But you can't seriously be challenging my argument on that ground, can you? Surely you don't imagine that there are no such quotes?

This is a blog, not a book. I have never seen a skeptical blog that offered this much evidence for anything, frankly. Were I to begin citing quotes from the principles involved in the reform -- as in fact I did in my case (Part II), I would have to write a book. Maybe I will, but I can't afford to do that much work for what is still, after all, just a blog.

Yes, it's fair to cite verses that seem to run either way elsewhere in the Bible. But I maintain that the gospels have priority. Christianity is, by definition, primarily about Jesus, and Christians those who, first of all, follow his model.

David B Marshall said...

AA: I see I'm getting a small amount of traffic from your site. I'll guess that means you mentioned the fact that we're talking. I hope your references are not as rude and adolescent as some have been in the past. I don't feel like looking right now, but if I find you're using this conversation in crude ways, I'll ban you from this site. A certain level of maturity is requested from people who post here. Just a word of warning.

"Your data doesn’t necessarily prove what you claim."

No, and "prove" is a strong word. But the data isn't alone.

"Second, yes of course it wasn’t about gender equality, but that was one line of argumentation that you used to “prove” your case. I looked at that one argument and it seems very faulty to me."

But you don't cite what you're trying to disprove. What did I say, which those facts overturn?

A culture is like a large ship, like the Titanic. It seldom can turn on a dime. It is built up over centuries of influence. And it's a simple fact that the Bible was deeply influential in building the cultures which score highest in the UN survey. If some have become secular since, that does not negate their history.

"It wasn’t my goal to refute your entire post."

What did I say, do you refute? I do not make this argument in anything like this detail in The Truth Behind the New Atheism.

"More importantly though, you ignored the thrust of my argument. Why, if Christianity engenders equality among the sexes, does the U.S. have such a poor standing in that regard and some of the most secular countries are at the top of the list?"

I don't think I said Christianity "engenders equality among the sexes." If you want to refute an argument, you have to refute what's actually said, on its own terms, and not reimagine it into something different.

Also, see above. That ranking is high enough: more women than men now go to college, our state has two female senators and a female governor, the state favors women over men in custody battles, sometimes with gross unfairness. Aside from a high divorce rate -- which hurts everybody -- and unmarried childbirth -- which hurt women and children most -- there are no great systematic evils against women like child marriage, female circumcision, exclusion of women from education, confining, widow burning, female infanticide, footbinding, etc.

If and when great evils arise in the US, the Gospel will surely oppose them, as it opposes abortion and infanticide, and helps American women and men in many ways already

Arizona Atheist said...

AA: I see I'm getting a small amount of traffic from your site. I'll guess that means you mentioned the fact that we're talking. I hope your references are not as rude and adolescent as some have been in the past. I don't feel like looking right now, but if I find you're using this conversation in crude ways, I'll ban you from this site. A certain level of maturity is requested from people who post here. Just a word of warning.

No, I didn’t get rude at all. For the record, I am not by default rude to everyone I meet. I reward kindness with kindness and rude behavior with the same. If you want to be treated respectfully by me you must earn it and not act like a jerk, as you’ve been throughout these years. I am perfectly willing to debate/discuss whatever you’d like civilly as long as you act the same, and leave out your petty little put downs and insults. And please, you can begin to offer your evidence during our exchanges anytime...I’m still waiting...

I don't think I said Christianity "engenders equality among the sexes." If you want to refute an argument, you have to refute what's actually said, on its own terms, and not reimagine it into something different.

Your study and the ones I reference used almost identical data to arrive at their conclusions, such as employment, education, and health of women, so it’s not as if these studies are completely different. They’re more similar than different. Second, the UN study shows the general status of women in a country. Yes, it’s compared to a man’s but it still shows what a womans’ status in her society, which was the entire point of your argument. Which reminds me. If you believe a ranking of 18 is “high enough” what do you say about a ranking of 37 for the U.S. regarding gender equality, according to the most recent 2010 Human Development Report? Obviously, gender equality (and hence the status of women) is getting worse and worse in the U.S., which refutes your entire argument. This, while those secular countries remain at the top of the list.

By the way, I did cite my references. I told you I looked at the 2009 UN “Gender Empowerment” study and the 2010 Human Development Report. Both of these are very easy to find with a quick internet search.

A culture is like a large ship, like the Titanic. It seldom can turn on a dime. It is built up over centuries of influence. And it's a simple fact that the Bible was deeply influential in building the cultures which score highest in the UN survey. If some have become secular since, that does not negate their history.

I doubt the bible had much of an influence on the European countries (I’ve read completely the opposite, by the way), and you fail to cite your source so there is really nothing for me to rebut without more information. Second, if Christianity did have an effect you should see it wherever Christianity is located (at least to some degree) but clearly we do not (and it’s actually getting worse), therefore, your argument is faulty.

David B Marshall said...

Ken: I have a better idea. How about if we just ignore each other?

Your new post seems to ignore most of the points I've made, anyway. You're supposed to be critiquing my argument, remember? My argument is not about "gender equality:" as the first post makes clear, I find that an absurd standard.

The idea that I need to cite a reference to prove that Christianity has had a deep influence on European culture, is why I prefer posters who, frankly, know more about the world than you seem to. What can I do but shake my head at that? Have you read no European history at all? Never dipped into the Divine Comedy or Fairy Queen? Never listened to Bach or Handel? Or even, for that matter, read any Bacon, Hugo, or Voltaire? You get offended when I suggest you educate yourself and claim I am "insulting" you: but that, I perceive, is what you need to do.

As for the idea that I've treated you meanly, again, I can only shake my head. Have I posted snarky reviews of your work on numerous websites? Been rebutted, then deleted what was rebutted? Sworn at you and tried to discredit you? (I haven't even tried to find out you last name!) Jumped up and down to get your attention, then turned around (when I got it) and told other people to ignore you? Posted obscenities about your friend?

If you think I'm really the one at fault, here, then my suggestion is, again, simple: let us ignore each other. You can console yourself with the thought that my loss will be the greater. And I will tell you, "Go in peace and be happy."

Arizona Atheist said...

Your new post seems to ignore most of the points I've made, anyway. You're supposed to be critiquing my argument, remember? My argument is not about "gender equality:" as the first post makes clear, I find that an absurd standard.

My post didn’t ignore your points in the least, as I addressed this complaint not only here in the comments but at great length in my post, so this is a pointless objection.

The idea that I need to cite a reference to prove that Christianity has had a deep influence on European culture, is why I prefer posters who, frankly, know more about the world than you seem to. What can I do but shake my head at that? Have you read no European history at all? Never dipped into the Divine Comedy or Fairy Queen? Never listened to Bach or Handel? Or even, for that matter, read any Bacon, Hugo, or Voltaire? You get offended when I suggest you educate yourself and claim I am "insulting" you: but that, I perceive, is what you need to do.

And as usual you would rather talk down to me than cite any evidence. I’ve read about the history of Christianity in the European countries but I wanted you to cite your source of information so I could fact check it. It is typical, is it not, to cite references? You asked for mine and I replied. I ask you and you refuse and talk down to me. Again, another non-argument from you.

As for the idea that I've treated you meanly, again, I can only shake my head. Have I posted snarky reviews of your work on numerous websites? Been rebutted, then deleted what was rebutted? Sworn at you and tried to discredit you? (I haven't even tried to find out you last name!) Jumped up and down to get your attention, then turned around (when I got it) and told other people to ignore you? Posted obscenities about your friend?

If you think I'm really the one at fault, here, then my suggestion is, again, simple: let us ignore each other. You can console yourself with the thought that my loss will be the greater. And I will tell you, "Go in peace and be happy."


You have been very rude since the very beginning and you cannot deny that. I’ve never posted “snarky” reviews of your book. My review of your book contains my honest opinions, and facts that clearly rebut your arguments and claims. Heck, even your buddy Dr. H recently told me my review was a “well written and well-researched essay.” Of course, we’ve been down this road before, haven’t we? Just like now, you refuse to engage my arguments and level these silly criticisms against me, just as you refused to engage those posters at P.Z. Myer’s website.

Cont.

Arizona Atheist said...

Sorry, but you’ve never “rebutted” me. The only thing I believe would even remotely quality as a rebuttal was when you pointed out a few unintentional errors in the very first draft of my review, which I acknowledged and corrected a few years ago. Other than that you have never “rebutted” me, much less given actual arguments about why I was supposedly wrong.

As far as posting “obscenities about your friend” (I’m assuming you’re referring to JR), he outright lied about me and insulted me probably worse than you ever did, and I’m not going to get very angry about that? No, I am not at fault here and my anger was completely justified. I do, however, take responsibility for my reactions to your and JR’s insults and whatnot against me. I could have handled that more calmly, but I don’t take kindly to being lied about and insulted.

Perhaps you are correct. I’ve tried in vain for years to get you to engage me and my arguments and you continually refuse. I guess all I can say is I hope you will reflect upon how you often treat skeptics, with your “snarky” attitude (I’ve seen your many posts around the web at Debunking Christianity, Amazon, etc.) and change your behavior. And here is some honest advice. If you want people to take you seriously you must do two things. One, begin to cite your references for your claims and stop dismissing people for no reason. And for god’s sake (a little sarcasm there) stop insulting and talking down to those you disagree with. Those two little things will afford you greater respect than you currently have. Your issue is not necessarily that your arguments are bad, but how you approach others in debate/discussion. One might not agree with you, but they will at least respect you if you refrained from doing what I mentioned above.

David B Marshall said...

Ken: Do you really want to lump yourself in with the posters at Pharyngula? For every poster there who tries to engage Christian opponents, ten or twenty just swear at or post obscenities about them. I've never seen so many angry and foul-mouthed people in my life.

On the few occasions that I answered you, I answered the substance of your arguments. I defy you to point to a forum in which you made substantive arguments, and I answered, but failed to address the substance.

But enough personal history. Here is a detailed historical argument that the Gospel has blessed women around the world for thousands of years. You seem to want to object, but the substance of your response so far has not, in fact, engaged my argument in a significant way.

Arizona Atheist said...

On the few occasions that I answered you, I answered the substance of your arguments. I defy you to point to a forum in which you made substantive arguments, and I answered, but failed to address the substance.

That's actually very easy. The only hard part is searching through Amazon to find the relevant discussions, which I don't have time to do. But if you'd like to prove me wrong feel free to browse the forums yourself for as many instances you can find where you effectively responded to me.

But enough personal history. Here is a detailed historical argument that the Gospel has blessed women around the world for thousands of years. You seem to want to object, but the substance of your response so far has not, in fact, engaged my argument in a significant way.

As I said earlier, my goal wasn't to refute your entire series of posts. I've already addressed most of your other claims elsewhere and my intent was to only refute that one argument, to which you've failed to effectively answer. Ironically, I suppose this could be an example of where you refused to deal with the substance of my argument. You ignored most of it anyway since I took your objections into account with my response.

David B Marshall said...

Heh. It's easy to find places where I don't answer your substantive arguments, but you don't have time to do it, so you want me to find them, instead? If you don't have time to support your own argument, what are you doing here to begin with?

What I mainly remember from Amazon is asking you, several times, to give your best arguments against my book in that forum. You refused to do so, demanding instead that we visit your site. I did go over there once, and read about 7 pages of your "review," without finding any substantial challenges.

But a few skeptics have mentioned your "review." Once I'm done with the project I'm working now, later in the month, maybe I'll read through more of it, and deal with it. I probably won't have time to read and respond to 80 pages, so can you tell me where your most important argumements are?

Arizona Atheist said...

What I said wasn’t an “argument,” I just stated a fact. The fact that you refuse to deal up front with my criticisms and tout your authority as the final word and when I object and ask you to provide facts and evidence to back up your claim and you rudely dismiss me. That’s happened more times than I can count.

Yes, I did refer you to my blog several times but I also have posted many arguments on Amazon that have largely gone unanswered, if not outright ignored (your continuous refusal to deal with your factually incorrect telling of the Sternberg affair is one such example).