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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Comparing Scriptures on Women: 19 criteria

Image result for jesus woman at wellLet us summarize what we learn by reading what sacred Scriptures of various religions have to say directly about women.  This will also furnish a template for future analysis. 

First, we analyzed every report in the gospels themselves that bare on the status of women in this post, almost six years ago.  Here is what we found:

1. Female seclusion?  Jesus frequently interacts publicly with women.  The concept of Purdah is a non-starter: the gospels assume that women will be fully involved in society.  (Consistent with the thoroughness with women are involved in society in, say, Canterbury Tales, but not in some other civilizations of the time.)

2. Gender roles?  Distinct gender roles in religion seem to be assumed.  Jesus' twelve official disciples, representing the twelve tribes, are all male.  This is consistent with a billion years of biology, in which male and female have commonly taken on complementary roles.  This characteristic is also shared in numerous early and late tribal, Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Roman, Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist societies, and is denied (so far as I have discovered yet) only in certain exotic modern liberal precincts.

3. Female ministry?  Jesus also has numerous female disciples. Their roles and functions seemed to set him apart from Confucius, Socrates, Buddha, and Mohammed, at least.

4.  Females are not limited to domestic functions.  In fact, Jesus rebukes women who try to limit their own role, or that of their sisters, to domesticity. 

5. Property ownership?  Female disciples own property, travel, and are proactive in spiritual matters.  Jesus makes it clear that women should be able to control their own property, even when men scoff at their misuse of that property.  (The woman with the alabaster jar of perfume.)

6. Education?  Women (like the Queen of the South) can travel, seek education, and act as fit role models for men.  (Even one who crashes a party and disrupts calm discourse with an emotional outbursts.)

7. Dignity of volition?  Women are also as capable of gross and culpable evil as men (Herodias and her daughter).

8. Family life?  The idea, so offensive to some today (but also quite rational biologically), that women most commonly find blessing through marriage and childbirth, is assumed, as it is by some other religious teachers.  (Though Buddha seemed to find the whole phenomena of sex quite repugnant or at least harmful.)  Indeed, Jesus takes wedding and marriage as a symbol of God's kingdom.

9.  Widows' rights?  Widows are assumed to survive the death of their husbands, unlike Hinduism as represented in the Law of Manu and in some passages of the Ramayana, owning property, and being active in ministry.

10. Widow's welfare?  Jesus is concerned for elderly parents, and rebukes religious leaders who make excuses for not taking care of them.  On the cross, he also takes thought for the practical needs of his mother. 

11. Jesus thus raises children, a boy and a girl, to life, apparently at least in part out of concern for their parents, male and female.

12. Domesticity?  While assuming and affirming the family, Jesus goes out of his way to point out, even to women, that they should not limit themselves, or be limited, to these roles, but that they should take their own spiritual lives seriously.  When Martha wants Mary to work in the kitchen instead of participate in theological lesson, Jesus sides with Mary.  "Mary has chosen the better part."

13.  Care for women in need?  Jesus often cures women.  On one instance, he does so on the day of rest, explaining that "this woman, too, is a daughter of Abraham," in other words, fit recipient of God's blessings.

14.  Sexual purity?  Adultery is assumed to be a sin.

15.  So, indeed, are lust and casual divorce.  Christianity thus affirms strong and exclusive marital ties.

16.  Polygamy?  This also seems to imply monogamy, since why would one acquire new wives if one weren't playing the field?  Jesus also echoed the Genesis statement, "the two shall become one."  Jesus never sanctions polygamy.  This is in itself a rebuke to numerous religious and political gurus, down through the ages, including Mohammed, Joseph Smith, Hong Xiuquan, Sai Baba, etc.

17.  Harsh legal enforcement?  Jesus did not, however, advocate violent legal enforcement.  Jesus saved a woman who is about to be stoned for committing adultery, before telling her to "go and sin no more."  This pattern can be traced to his father Joseph, a just man who was merciful even to a woman (Jesus' mother Mary) whom he believed has betrayed him.  (Taliban: Put down those rocks!)

18.  Women as oracles?  God speaks to women, even at such important moments as the resurrection.

19.  International reform?  The gospels are proactive in the face of evil.  Jesus has come to "preach good news to the poor and announce release to the captives."  Jesus also sends his disciples out to all the world to make disciples, who presumably will follow his example and teachings, including those listed above.  .(That being what a disciple does.)  

Now let us briefly compare these traits, empirically derived from the gospels, with how women are treated in the Quran.  This is a very

Mohammed and women:

1. Female seclusion?  Unlike Jesus, Mohammed not only affirms seclusion of women, he takes the initiative to prevent his own harem from having "intercourse" (figurative or literal) with other males.

2. Gender roles?   Strictly defined.  Men is early Islam were warriors, and women, their common captives and slaves.

3. Female ministry?  The relationship between the Prophet and everyone else is assumed to be starkly asymmetrical.  Mohammed hardly even has what one could call disciples. 

4.  Women are pretty much limited to domestic and / or seductive activity. 

5. Property ownership?  Mohammed's first wife owned property, which probably explains why he married her.  It is not clear to me how much later wives owned.

6. Education?  Unclear.  I don't know of any passages of the Koran that touch on the issue.

7. Dignity of volition?  Unclear.  

8. Family life?  Mohammed affirmed and practiced polygamy, which assumed the importance of family life, but shed the seeds of

9.  Widows' rights?  Mohammed's first wife was a widow with property and business.  However, when he conquered enemies, he took wives or slaves of the men his armies had killed, obviously not always willingly on their part.  (In one case raping the wife of the dead many that very day.)

10. Widow's welfare?  Limited to being given -- willingly or not -- a new home.  But Mohammed also made it clear that if any of his wives walked out on him after he stole his nephew's beautiful wife, they would be cast out by the community and suffer extra torments in hell.

11. Unlike Jesus, Mohammed healed or raised no sick or deceased girls.

12. Domesticity?  Mohammed's favorite wife, with whom he had relations when she was only nine, because a public power in later Islam.  And his first wife was a businesswoman.  So Muslim women need not be entirely limited to the domestic sphere, though that seems to have been the norm.

13.  Care for women in need?  Sometimes Mohammed married the wives of conquered foes or fallen (or unfallen) followers, sometimes he enslaved them.

14.  Sexual purity?  You'd have to define that pretty loosely, to include Mohammed.  It would have to include raping slave girls and "spoils of war," also seducing comely wives of step-children and "marrying" young children.  Not a chance.

15.  Islam undermines the sanctity of marriage by many of these acts, though it also affirms marriage, to the convenience of Mohammed.

16.  Polygamy?  Mohammed limited his followers to four wives, plus slave girls, but did not so limit himself.

17.  Harsh legal enforcement?  Mohammed warned of, and perhaps exercised, harsh penalties in this world, and also warned of even harsher penalties in the next, for women who walked out on him.

18.  Women as oracles?  Aisha may have been speaking the divine mind when she suggested that Mohammed was using God as excuse for his own desires.  But I'm not sure how warmly later Muslims affirm her criticism.

19.  International reform?  Compared to Hinduism influenced by ideas like those in the Law of Manu, despite its many cruelties and injustices, Islam was probably still somewhat better than later Hinduism, until it was reformed under Jesus' influence in the 19th Century.  But overall Islam has more often proven an impediment to raising the status of women around the world, as it clearly remains today.

These nineteen criteria thus provide a template by which to compare the impact Jesus and other spiritual founders had on the relations between the sexes.  They demonstrate, in their first application, just how dramatically superior Jesus was to the founder of Islam, which is often simplistically grouped with Christianity as an "Abrahamic religion."  (Abraham's own record, by the way, was more neutral: not so proactively rapacious as that of Mohammed, but not positively and ingeniously reformist, like that of Jesus.  Abraham let his primary wife down more than once, but he did not seem to commit such crimes as those one finds justified in the very pages of the Koran.)

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