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The Liberator of Women

August 18, 2008


Is Christianity hostile to women? Modern culture seems to think so. Some churches do not allow women to be in the clergy. The New Testament speaks of wives submitting themselves to their husbands. Christians are portrayed as being patriarchal. Is this fair? Does Christianity put women down? Or is the history of Christianity and women different than most people think?

How have other religions, historically, treated women? Today and historically, Islam holds that the testimony of a woman is worth less than a man. Wives can be beaten under Islamic law. A woman who is raped is considered guilty of a crime under Sharia. Honor killings - the execution of a woman who has had sexual relations, including involuntary sexual relations - has reached America and Europe. Islam has always been very brutal towards women. The Prophet does not even allow women a happy afterlife, noting that most of the people in Hell are women.

What about Eastern religions? Buddhism maintains that women are on a spiritually inferior level than men. Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, originally did not even allow Buddhist nuns to form orders like Buddhists monks, because he said that women were so far down the level of reincarnation that a religious order for women made no sense. A woman, according to Buddhist tradition, cannot reach Nirvana; she must first be reincarnated as a man, who can reach Nirvana in this lifetime. Virtually all leaders of Buddhism - Dalai Lama, Panchen Lama, Rimpoche, and Chubilkans - must be male.

Hinduism takes a similar view. Prior to marriage, a woman, according to Hindu tradition, does not have a spiritual existence and a woman cannot reach spiritual salvation unless she is married. Hindus practiced female infanticide and the Vedas have many warnings about women, saying things like "Women are the root cause of all evil." The Hindu practice of the suttee required that a widow burn herself to death on the funeral pyre of her dead husband.

Judaism was more sympathetic to women than these other world religions, but even Judaism was treated women profoundly differently than Christianity. In an Orthodox shul today women still sit separately from men and men still may thank G-d that they were not born a woman. An Orthodox married woman who wants a divorce must get a Get, permission to divorce, while an Orthodox married man does not have to do that. A Jewish man, under traditional Jewish law, was allowed to have more than one wife. European Jews, a few hundred years ago, banned this practice - but only in those Christian nations - and Sephardic Jews have never ruled that having multiple wives was wrong.

Compare these religions with Christianity. The "one man, one wife" ideal was not invented by Christianity, but the idea that a man could only have one wife and that he must be faithful only to her was a Christian ideal. Christians believe that God was born of a mortal woman and that the first people to see Christ after His resurrection were women. Paul, so often accused of being unkind to women, actually created an entirely new status for women in human history when he wrote in Galatians 3:28 that there is not Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but that we are all one body in Christ. Christianity, from its beginning, said that one man and one woman married became one flesh.

If Christianity was much more sympathetic to women than other religions, then one would expect to find that women were especially drawn to Christianity - and that is just what happened. Putting religious belief aside, how do secular historians explain, out of all the many religions that the Romans saw, Christianity won the hearts of the Roman people? The irreligious historical explanation is that Christianity, uniquely in the Ancient World, treated women as spiritually and morally equal to men. Women were particularly drawn to this new religion which preached that everyone, male and female, was equal in the sight of God.

Equal does not mean equivalent. Aside from a brief cul de sac into modern radical feminism, no people anywhere at any time have thought that men and women were equivalent - that the two sexes were simply interchangeable parts - but Christians have always thought that men and women were equal in God's eyes.

Ironically, the same radical feminists quickest to blame Christianity for the unequal status of women in the world ignore the fact that all of their sisters in early feminism, when feminism simply demanded equal rights, were devout Christians. More than that, these early feminists found only one scripture upon which to advance and defend their claims for equality: The New Testament.

Enemies of Christianity have tried to defame the faith in many ways. One of the silliest is by accusing it of being, somehow, hostile to women. No religion in the Ancient World was more sympathetic to women than Christianity. No civilization in modern times has been kinder to women than Christianity. Christ and Christians are hostile to women? No: There's not a lick of truth in it.

Copyright ©2008 Bruce Walker

 


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