The Nature of Gender and Religion
The dimensions of religion has spawned various criticisms and raised several issues that are subjects of arguments for individuals who see the controversies in various aspects of religious practices and traditions, symbolisms or representations, and such. One such issue has something to do with gender-specific roles – that is the use and differentiation between the male and female gender in religious transcripts such as the Holy Bible or the Scriptures, and the defined roles and responsibilities of men and women on their rendered worship services to the Divine Being. This unfairness of inequality on gender in the sphere of religion has motivated criticisms and protests from the female population fuelling the drive to establish concepts and theoretical perspectives that support the background and framework of the progressive model of theology that follows feminism.
Reviewing the Scriptures being utilized by Jewish and Catholic religious institutions has proved the ascendancy of the male gender within its structure and content, solidifying discrimination and inequality on how religious concepts and information are presented to the public. Although there have been various resolutions implemented by concerned institutions that address the issue of gender inequality and sensitivity under the context of religion – that is, the revision of some of the words in the Scriptures motivated by the need to follow inclusive language at all times – the issue is still a grave matter that individuals should be aware of and be informed about. Ruether has argued that it is not a trivial matter, and it should not be simply associated to the dynamic qualities of linguistics but also to the gender-specific values, beliefs, and traditions by individuals who are highly responsible for interpreting and spreading the content of the Scriptures.
Condoning the issue of religious practice as predominantly male creates an imbalance and power struggle within the structure of society. In addition, as religion is a powerful source of authority and influence, particularly in creating cultural foundations, beliefs, values, traditions, rules, mores, and such, it creates prescribed labels or roles on the nature or characteristics between men and women. The representation of the Divine Being or God as a male, through words that imply such thought including “He,” “Him,” “Father,” “Abba,” and such creates a thought or an idea fuelling the desire of men to establish a society that strictly follows patriarchal rule. Women become only subordinates or secondary to the ties that men have with the righteousness of God as the Divine Being. (Ruether, 298)
Moreover, men impose their close semblance or likeness to the nature of God and use this idea to create ways and means to rule over women and society in general. Utilizing the sociological approach to scrutinize this matter leads to the establishment of results or conclusions that reveal gender prejudice and bias as men suddenly become entitled to afford extremely high regard, respect, or reverence from the rest of society, making women less important or secondary individuals whose roles only make up of minor ones as indicated by the Scriptures – that is, the use of the terms such as “handmaid,” “seamstress,” “laundress,” and such. (Ruether, 298)
Not only does patriarchal theology create imbalance and unfairness as explicated by the field of sociology, but it also disregards some accounts and revelations in the Holy Bible which represents the female population otherwise. Some parts of the Scriptures solidify the thought of the exceptionality and significance of the female population in this world and God’s perceptions and intentions of women. There are various evidences which discount the dominance of the male gender in representing God, as other passages from the Holy Bible regard the superiority or extraordinariness of women in soul and spirit. Ruether adds a verse from the Holy Bible – 1 Corinthians 11:3 and 7 – which represents the woman as the subject of praise and grandeur of man’s life on earth. In addition to this, God was not fully referred to as male. Other passages from the Scriptures represent the existence of femininity in the image and likeness of the Divine Being. However, changes and transformations done in the Scriptures were either implanted to deliberately or unintentionally diminish the concept of feminism in the Holy Bible. (Ruether, 299)
With this in mind, Ruether questions the impositions of religion which downplays the importance of the roles that women play in establishing a religious culture that follows the positions, regulations, and arrangements established by God. The subordinate status of women under the context of religion is completely unacceptable as it is not backed-up by religious claims and assertions presented by the Word of God, and the non-existence of the respect for humanity under the patriarchal model of theological concepts. The dimensions of theology and religion should be transformed giving way to equality and fairness under the guise of integrating the structure of patriarchal and feminist theology. (Ruether, 303)
Ruether points out how the image of God will transcend the limits and restrictions presented by patriarchy and looks into the ability of man to rationalize the “non-gender” being of God and relate the use of seemingly patriarchal words as terms or words that describe the righteousness of God. For instance, the word “father” should not be taken as reference to the male gender, but as a term or a word – a verb, for that matter – that represents how God guides, directs, and cares for His children. In addition, how God acts toward man is not limited to being described as “fathering” but also “mothering” as well. Another consideration is the image of God as the savior who sees everyone as His children and is willing to become Savior to those who repent of their sins regardless of gender. Surely, God does not label people according to gender, but according to the kind of life they live on earth for the glory of God. (Ruether, 303-304)
Perhaps, Ruether’s thoughts about the need to transform theology and religion were motivated by the effects and influences of patriarchic theology to society. The realm of society is directly affected from prejudices and biases that often lead to violence, such as domestic abuse, hate crimes, and other forms of discrimination. Looking at the situation of women around the world, not only hate crimes but most crimes are committed against women as motivated by the idea of male dominance. Although sexual violence may be committed by both males and females, it is more common for men to commit such crimes against women, ranging from wife battery, to rape, to incestuous relationships, and such. (Birkey, 2000)
Fuelling religion as patriarchal worsens the matter as religion is highly influential in shaping culture and even personal values and beliefs. Ideally, religion should influence positivity and morality in all aspects of living – that is, eliminating hate, injustice, war, and such. Solidifying religion as a “man’s world” only worsens the non-existence of morality in society, which encourages inequality and the dominance of the male population.
On the part of women, the impositions of religion as patriarchal, influence how they embrace their worth and importance to God as one of His creations. Their being secondary to the power, influence, authority, and command of men in the male-dominated context of religious practice hinders them from establishing a solid connection or relationship with God. Looking at the religious culture of Islam dominated by the male population, the effect of their religion as a ruling identifier of their life and culture influences the position of women and society and how they worship Allah, particularly in the mosque. Women position themselves at the back of the mosque, while men stay in front. This particular set-up establishes the symbolic primary and secondary positions of men and women during worship, resulting to discrimination and inequality. (Brachear, 2006)
This situation raises an inquiry of why people must allow these things to happen. Some Moslem women are airing their concerns and protest against the discrimination that they experience, asking for equality in terms of the manner of worship that exists in the patriarchal Islam. (Doole, 2008) The point of the matter is, religion constitutes free will – the freedom or choice of deciding what religion to belong to, what religious practices to observe. With this in mind, people should realize that choosing religion also means that the individuals who chose to be Moslems, Christians, Jews, and such, made the decision and immersed themselves into the religious culture as human beings, and not as men or women. In addition, existing religions should help in establishing a society that strictly observes ethics and morality as it is an influential institution that shapes the culture of man and the structure of society. As a major institution of society, it should abolish any practice that promotes inequality, injustice, or immorality for that matter, particularly gender bias and prejudice. Realizing the importance of doing so will help in eliminating societal issues that defies human rights as gender roles are diminished and a society that regards human life and human rights and respects the dignity of human beings is spawned from transforming religion and freeing it from a patriarchal stance.
Birkey, Del. (2000). “The Patriarchs are Coming! Why Are They Arriving On The Scene
And In Our Churches?” Retrieved from The House Church Central. 08 December 2008. <http://www.hccentral.com/birkey1/patri.html>.
Brachear, Manya A. (2006). “Newsworthy Citation: Mosque’s Curtain Rises Again After
Much Debate, Sexes Pray Apart.” The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from Scholar of the House. 08 December 2008. <http://www.scholarofthehouse.org/necimcuriagc.html>.
Doole, Claire. (2008). “A Call to End Patriarchal Islam.” Retrieved from The Human
Rights Tribune.” 08 December 2008. <http://www.droitshumains-geneve.info/A-call-to-end-patriarchal-Islam,3099>.