Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Jesus Has Liberated Women VI: Lamest Rebutals

In a series of six posts over the past few months, I have argued that, contrary to all caterwauling, over the past two millennia, the Gospel of Jesus has done more than anything else to liberate women around the world. The argument began when atheist John Loftus glibly claimed (as you have no doubt heard many times) that Christianity has terribly oppressed women. I responded off the cuff:

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

John declined the challenge, and went on merrily repeating his claim. But several skeptics asked me to show how Christianity has liberated women, even without a debate partner.

I eventually posted five more blogs doing just that. First, in Part I, I introduced the question, and looked for ways of answering it. In Part II, I told my story, how God led me to work against the sex slave trade and help liberate oppressed women, in East Asia.  Part III offered an overview of the status of women around the world, showing that most countries where women enjoy a high status have been deeply influenced by the Bible.  In Part IV, I showed historically how the Gospel has in fact liberated billions of women, not only in "Christian" countries, but in China, India, Africa, Japan and Korea (at least).  Finally, in Part V, I analyzed every relevant verse in the gospels, showing that the impulse that liberated billions of women clearly originated in the teaching and acts of Jesus.

I expected criticism, and was not disappointed.  (At least as to quantity.)  Over 500 responses of one sort or another were posted, mostly in response to my arguments, in the ensuing conversations here, on Amazon, on Loftus' Debunking Christianity blog, plus some I think on Pharungula

Later, I may reply to the best of these challenges. But to clear the air and (in some cases) for a bit of comic relief, here are the "Ten Lamest Rebuttals on Christianity and Women."

(10) John Loftus: "I know your arguments David. I used them myself."

Both claims are highly unlikely.  John's comments on the subject invariably glide right past my main arguments, and I don't think he's read much of my writing.  Had John even noticed the international UN study I relied upon?  Had he read Stark, or Mangalwadi, or for that matter met the people I have interviewed on the front lines, fighting sexual exploitation in Asia for the sake of Christ.

(9) From Anne Rice, the famous vampire novelist and author of Out of Egypt:

Image result for anne rice"I'm not interested in going to someone's blog and reading the posts there. I will say this: Christianity has never been kind to women, except in its very earliest days.  That was when Christians thought the world was going to end shortly.  As soon as it became an organized religion it oppressed women.  Christians are famously against the equality of women, the rights of women, and women's suffrage."

In response to this criticism on Amazon, I posted some of my more pertinent historical arguments, including much of Part III, the raw data showing that the status of women around the world is consistently higher in countries with a Christian background, in the forum where we were talking. Unfortunately, Anne did not respond to that.

But note the word "famously." This is an Ad Populum argument: everyone knows such and such to be the case, so it must be so!  I am fully aware of challenging conventional wisdom in this series.  Faced with a massive amount of empirical evidence that the Gospel has blessed women, it's not enough to just say, "But everyone knows it hasn't!" 

Mary Slessor, missionary to
Nigeria who radically changed how
womenand children were treated. 
(8) Anonymous: "I would like to point out that women have virtually never been 'allowed' to be preachers, priests or church leaders . . . The Roman Catholic church, with probably the largest single block of Christians will not have women priests.  The Episcopalians are caving a bit but not very fast.  Many Christian women are undervalued and under educated.  I am of course discussing the USA first and foremost.

"David B. Marshall not withstanding, the Christian faith has not valued women very much [unless we are making babies and sacrificing all we have for our husbands and children]."

This was one of the most popular responses, as I expected it to be.  I call it "lame" not because it irrelevant or unworthy of response, but because it does not take into account the vast scope and life-and-death character of the reforms described in my posts.

I show how people inspired by the Gospel rescued millions of women from having their bones broken for fashion, being burned on their husband's funeral pyres, being shut indoors for life, or being sold as children into prostitution.  (I once participated in the latter rescue work to some extent myself.)

Many churches don't allow women to be priests?  Give me a break.  In a perfect atheist world, there wouldn't be any priests.  Shouldn't an atheist credit the Church for protecting women from wasting their lives, then? 

(7) Angela Hoescht and an anonymous blogger whom I suspect is her as well, posted a critique that was also vacuous in an interesting way.  She began by throwing out a series of intimidating (I guess she hoped) criticisms of my methodology, choice of vocabulary, etc:

The term 'Biome' is used by scientists to classify particular ecosystems according to their vegetation structure, environmental characteristics, physiognomy. Hence, it is ridiculous to speak of 'the' biome, but only 'a' biome. This whole section borders on the inane . . . Really, David, you don't even know what you're talking about here and you expect people to take you seriously?

Apparently, in a long series of posts, I must have used the word "biome" in place of "biosphere," the intended term.  Certain kinds of skeptics make much of such typos in lieu of actually engaging the argument, for obvious reasons. 

A second post immediately followed, from someone calling (her)self "Anonymous,"
which went on in the same vein and style for some time. I didn't define my words clearly.  I am historically uncritical.  I'm "not thinking hard."  I invent a scurrilous historical methodology.

All this came in response to Part I; the poster evidently hadn't read the more substantial historical arguments later in the series at all.  But after all this posturing and posing, (Hoescht) finally offered a single substantive argument, and that is where things become amusing and interesting:

"As far as 'healthier' and 'longer lives', you should take a look at the several statistical studies that have linked religiosity and health, for instance at the Office for National Statistics UK.  I don't think you are going to like what you find there, especially for female health.  Here, for instance is a 2001 study which reports that the incidence of poor heath among muslim, christian and jewish females is several percentages higher than the males, and that muslims, christians and jewish reported more ill health than the general population."

Sure, let's look at that study.  Here's the first graph given on the website, a 2001 survey of health complaints by residents of the UK of various religions, corrected for age:

Notice that it shows that male AND female Christians report not more, but FEWER health problems than Muslims, Hindus (with a huge gender disparity for these two), Buddhists, "no religion," and "others."  The only group that reported better health was Jews, the other group imprisoned in a tradition informed by a biblical paradigm.   

So after all the pretentious, hand-waving blather, the only concrete argument Angela and Co offer actually extends and supports the case I am making, while pulling the rug out from herself, sending her own arguments crashing to the ground with a loud "thump."   

(6) "Absolutely!  Being blamed for original sin and the fall of the human race, tortured in the Inquisition, burned at the stake as witches, declared unworthy and too unclean to perform priestly duties, being traded and bred like livestock and having laws enacted that deny you basic rights of self-determination has been AWESOME!"

I suspected this poster had not read the articles.  But when I asked, she admitted,

"They are well-written and obviously well-researched articles with many excellent points. I tip my hat to you as a writer!"

All right, well thank you.  Apparently the poster thought, rather than debate my "well-researched points," she'd go after issues I hadn't raised -- the best defense is a good offense, and all that. I'll deal with some of these arguments later in the series.

I do wonder what she meant by "being bred like livestock," though.  Normally when a farmer buys a hen, the chicken stays in the hen-house and is mated to a rooster.  The farmer's treatment of a new wife is generally rather different, even if mating and production of a new generation of human beings also occurs.  Is reproduction itself the problem? 

In the ancient world, children often had little choice about whom they would marry.  As Rodney Stark shows, if anything, Christianity gave women more choices. 

(5) Arizona Atheist (Ken): "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."

I show, in Part III, that most countries in the world where the status of women is high, have a Christian background.  That is what leads this poster to try to deny what would seem undeniable, that Christianity has deeply influenced European culture over the past 1700 years. 

My initial response to Ken's skepticism about whether the Bible "had much of an influence" on Europe was simple incredulity:

"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?"

But Ken's apparent assumption that modern Western culture was created by modern westerners fifteen minutes ago, unfortunately seems quite common.  Most seem to credit the high status of women in the West to something called "feminism," which they imagine appeared in the 1960s, the 19th Century, or during the "Enlightenment."  This is just one of many forms of historical amnesia that the West seems to suffer from, typified by pejorative use of the word "Medieval."

Unfortunately it also just ignores many of the facts given in these blogs.  Christianity began helping women from the very beginning, in the person of Jesus himself.  That positive impact continued in Antiquity and the Middle Ages.  Furthermore, great modern reform movements, around the world, were usually inspired by the Bible, and through Christian missions in particular.  These are the facts, documented in detail in the series, in enough cases with citations (Stark, Gies, etc): it does no good to ignore them. 

(4)  Tokolosi: "The change in women's rights and roles in the past 50 years is *entirely* due to changes in cultural norms *away* from Christian/Biblical values, which the church fought all the way... but now conveniently embrace.  These "conservative Christian" women blessed enough to be alive at this time to enjoy their current status are blissfully ignorant of history.  (Of course, Sarah Palin is ignorant of nearly everything, but that's another issue.)  Your premise is total BS."

Another reader who spouts out without drinking first.  Posts 3, 4, and 5 are all about history and biblical values.  Most of the data I offer clearly involves changes that began, and even that occurred, hundreds or thousands of years ago, not "in the past 50 years."  "What do they teach them in these schools?"   Not history, apparently.  

(3) From a female biologist: "the people who support David's premise are conservative Christians who have testes."

A form of the "genetic" fallacy only a biologist could love. 

(2) Seraphimblade: "I mean, the church has always been so good to women.  Forcing rape victims to marry their attacker (if they're lucky, if they don't scream loud enough they get killed right alongside instead), repressing their sexuality (often under threat of violence), telling them they're "unclean" for a perfectly natural biological process that happens to every woman around once a month, and of course, demanding they "submit" to their husbands.  Oh, I forgot, they also of course "protect" the poor little dears from having any type of leadership position in their organization.

"Ah, but that's ancient history, you say . . .

"So now, you have a culture that still is highly sexually repressive, especially for women (the whole "purity" thing), wants to force women to act as incubators for unwanted pregnancies, still by and large looks askance at women who seek any type of position of power (and many fundamentalists are against women doing anything but babies and cooking), were at the forefront of attempts to deny women the right to vote, hold office, and work, deny children comprehensive sex education (while this is harmful to everyone, it's especially harmful to women, who must bear the heaviest consequences of this lack of education), and overall seem to want to go back to the "submit" days.

"Your blog can't change reality.  And reality is, Christianity is bad news for women's rights.  I don't even have to be a woman to know that."

Like many other responses, this post simply ignores all the historical, sociological and bibilical facts I gave in Parts III, IV and V. 

My method in these posts was to begin with neutral, general data that gives us an objective view of the status of women around the world.  Answers that cherry-pick incidents in 2000 years of history, either favorable or unfavorable, should not be given the same status either as international surveys, as sweeping historical trends, or as a complete study of gospel references. 

The poster's talent for bombast is, however, impressive. 

Isn't it curious that Christians are blamed (here, and elsewhere) both for making women "breeders" and also for "repressing" sexuality?

What does that mean?  That the Bible reinforces the family.  It therefore tells us to be "fruitful, and multiply," but to do that within committed and loving relationships. 

How horrible is that!  How many millions of kids today don't know what the word "Daddy" (or, sometimes, "Mommy") means because their parents think the biblical stress on sexual self-discipline and commitment should be ignored?

There's a lot more ranting I'd like to do on that subject, but you've been patient enough.  It's time we announced the winner of the prestigious new Lamest Rebuttal Award.

Drum roll . . . And the winner is:

(1) "I'll bet the only thing David is an "expert" at, is wife-beating."

Yes, I have to admit I do beat my wife up sometimes. Just this morning, for example, I was translating a paper by about 6:30, while she was still sound asleep.  This sometimes happens when you're a morning person. 

It is hard to see why this lucky guess about my sleeping habits is relevant to our subject, though. And contrary to the claim that that's the "only" thing I'm skilled at, most people admit that I'm good at other things, too -- parallel parking, for instance, and making pizzas.  But for some obscure reason, Amazon deleted all of this character's ditsy and obscure, if harmless, comments.  Perhaps they disapprove of what C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery."

Next article in the series: Acts of the Apostles, on women.  

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