Thursday, April 12, 2012

Men and the religion versus science thing

Men have been dominating atheist debate. Well, they would, wouldn't they? After all, the monotheistic religions - Christianity, Judaism and Islam - are patriarchal, while the main critics of religion in atheist circles are mostly male. It's become a contest between science and religion, while the history and sociology of religion, particularly the history of women's role in religion, has been largely ignored.

I've written about this sort of thing before - click here to read it. Was reminded of it again by two things. The first was a thread on Facebook about original sin, linked to the TV debate in Australia between Richard Dawkins and Cardinal George Pell. When asked about the story of Adam and Eve, Pell said,
Adam and Eve are terms - what do they mean: life and earth. It’s like every man. That’s a beautiful, sophisticated, mythological account. It’s not science but it’s there to tell us two or three things. First of all that God created the world and the universe. Secondly, that the key to the whole of universe, the really significant thing, are humans and, thirdly, it is a very sophisticated mythology to try to explain the evil and suffering in the world.
Dawkins said,
I’m curious to know if Adam and Eve never existed where did original sin come from? But I also would like to clarify the point about whether there was ever a first human.
Both of them ignore the history of the allegory, which is important. If you don't understand how and why this story developed, you won't understand where modern Christianity and Judaism get some of their ideas, and how the mythology has been twisted so that Eve became the villainess, rather than the heroine of the story.

The second TV programme that reminded me of the masculine bias in explaining religion is the current BBC and Open University series, Divine Women. Click here for the OU page. If you concentrate on demolishing Biblical mythology without understanding the shift from matriarchies to patriarchies, and how old myths have been changed to reflect male power, your understanding of religion will be limited. Male bias in religion is bad enough, but male bias in atheism is just as annoying.

One of the reasons that female goddesses predominated in the past was that only woman can give birth; they were venerated because of it. Paternity wasn't recognised. When it was, that's when the shift happened, as men sought to claim their offspring and the ownership of their property. This is still a major factor in religious justifications for the subjugation of women today. Men are excused for spreading their seed (a man's got to do what a man's got to do, or he'd go mad with frustration - or something along those lines), while women who lie with men who aren't their husbands are vilified.

Click here to read how the Creation myth was copied from an earlier Sumerian myth.

Painting of "The Fall of Man" by Rubens, whose women were realistically voluptuous, just as most early female fertility figures or goddesses were.
Photo of a female fertility figure, probably a goddess, seated between two leopards and giving birth, from Catal Huyuk, an Anatolian settlement, Turkey.  c.7250-6700BCE


Jonathan (@MrPalomar1) said...

It's a recently discovered pleasure to read what you have to say, and thank you for drawing my attention to the Divine Women series. While your argument is broadly familiar to me I am rather better versed in literature than ancient religions so I look forward to the second episode and discussion of the Ancient Greeks to maybe fill in some gaps for me. I wonder how crucial they were to the shift from matriarchy to patriarchy or if this was a development already underway. I am thinking of Aeschylus's Eumenides and Apollo's decree that matricide is a lesser crime than patricide because the mother is 'merely' the vessel to carry the father's seed. That this is a key element in the founding myths of Athens (a city very close to my heart as I lived there for several years) suggests it was already a rather less controversial idea then than we might imagine it ought to have been.

Margaret Nelson said...

Thank you Jonathan. I can see that I have something to learn too, about the Greeks.

Jonathan (@MrPalomar1) said...

Just want to correct myself. The decree I mentioned was that of the goddess Athena - Athens' presiding deity - having been persuaded by Apollo.

T.K. Thorne said...

Your post reflects the research I've done for the past five years to write two novels based on this subject. It is indeed liberating to understand what happened to the feminine divine, especially in the Hebrew traditions. I would love to share my novel if you are interested. Noah's Wife won ForeWord Review's book of the Year for Historical Fiction. First chapters are at
(Pardon, if this shows up multiple times. I'm having trouble getting past the robot checker!)