Last night’s The Ascent of Woman (BBC2) did a fine job of demonstrating how the recent trend for monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam being the main ones) merely inherit a somewhat older tradition of patriarchy.
The systematic oppression of women for which they have become famous, a system of male domination, of our very discourse, imagination, as well as politics and ethics and law, in short of society ‘itself’ in fact seems to have emerged with the transition to settled, agricultural civilisation, itself a fairly recent innovation in human affairs. Yet, we should not deny, run away from, or refuse to confront how much the texts and practices of the monotheistic religions cement and uphold this presumably ultimately unsustainable, and certainly decidedly immoral, state of affairs. In the field of sexual morality and public law, this tension currently seems to be manifesting around LBQT rights, especially marriage equality, versus the religious right. Friends will have shared my horror at the recent deadly attack on a gay parade in the Middle East by a mad, reactionary and possibly evil Orthodox Jewish nutter with a knife, not to mention the unmentionable judicial practices of Islamic State (TM) on the issue of their queer brethren.
More recently the case of Kentucky County clerk Kim Davis, who in the latest twist currently faces jail in America for being a religious person who refuses to issue, in her secular capacity as a county clerk, marriage certificates to same-sex couples. I’m no expert on American law but it seems to me a fairly open and shut case. She’s trying to plead the case offends her ‘due process’ and ‘religious freedom’ (the latter of which is of course a precious right in the US), but I don’t see it. If her county duties are secular, I don’t see how she can claim they infringe her religious freedom. The latter, really a measure of her religious commitment to an anti-gay stance, can be exercised by her with no restraint, except to say that it is incompatible with her public duties. To put it more bluntly, if she doesn’t want to issue same-sex marriage certificate she can quit. Her religious freedom doesn’t entitle her, either morally or, I presume legally, to impose her religious beliefs on the public office she occupies. She’s making her ‘religious freedom’ a wedge to effect a legal battle over public policy. Counter-arguments have mentioned that she’s a three-time divorcee, which do make the point, I recall ably made once by Sir Peter Tatchell in one of his amusing stunts, that why stop at outlawing gay marriage on religious grounds. If the full force of the god-given laws of the Good Book were to be applied, various sexual ‘crimes’, as well as breaches of culinary and commercial etiquette, would be subject to the harshest of punishments up to and including a slow and painful death. In the case of Ms Davis the point is perhaps weakened when one discovers the woman’s three previous marriages all occurred before she became a ‘born-again’ religious fundamentalist/political activist.
The so-called new atheists (remember them? Dawkins, Hitchens et al) would take delight in forensically eviscerating the moral preachments of holy texts such as the Bible. In this tradition I very much enjoyed reading this piece [
http://www.independent.co.uk/…/what-marriage-would-look-lik…] in the Independent by Valerie Tarico a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington, which may owe its commission to the current battles waged by the religious over public policy on marriage, in this case. The piece is called “What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible”. Quite clever and modern piece in that it has a kind of clickbait title and proceeds with a fairly standard expose on the horrendous laws recommended by the Old Testament on these matters. It’s not hard to make the Bible look evil, and Ms Tarico does so efficiently and learnedly while maintaining a modern, webby, ‘listicle’-infused tone. But then, at the end, the piece simply dares to refuse any false consolation in false objectivity, and states a bold and straightforward opinion, that opposition to Gay marriage”by conservative Christians has little to do with biblical monogamy. Many who call themselves Bible believers are simply change-resistant. What really concerns them is protecting the status quo”. Tarico closes by confidently and winningly predicting “Freedom to marry will expand, as will other rights related to sexuality, reproduction, and family formation; and some conservative Bible believers will adapt to these changes as they have others: reluctantly and with angry protests, but in the end accepting the new normal, and perhaps even insisting that it was God’s will all along.”
What a brilliant ending that plays with the way the religious often retro-fit contemporary norms into the divine plan. Note how the Pope is currently shifting ground on abortion, suggesting for the first time that it might be possible for women who abort, provided they repent (I believe the word used is ‘contrite’, which suggests ritual humiliation), to be forgiven by the Church. Modernisation moves in mysterious ways.