Jimmy Carter: The words of God do not justify cruelty to women

Jimmy Carter

Former US president Jimmy Carter published an op-ed piece in the Observer (UK) earlier this week about the relationship between women and religion. In it, Carter calls on religious leaders to promote the "dignity and equality" of women. Cartner does not, however, come out against the major religions or their holy books as misogynistic. Instead, he just claims that some leaders are just taking "carefully selected" verses to promote an agenda.

I did not know this, but Carter left the Southern Baptists about 10 years ago because they refused to recognize the equality of women. So it seems like this is a very important issue to him. I found a piece in Salon.com entitled "Jimmy Carter: How religion subjugates women", but I think this headline is a little misleading. It’s not an anti-religion piece, but it does bring up some important points that religious leaders will hopefully consider.

Here are some quotes from the article, and my thoughts. Carter says in the Observer

My decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be "subservient" to their husbands […] This was in conflict with my belief – confirmed in the holy scriptures – that we are all equal in the eyes of God.

I admire the fact that Carter doesn’t believe women should be subjugated to men, and it’s true that some parts of the Bible say women should be equal, including the Galatians 3:28 quote he includes at the beginning of his op-ed (along with a quote from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights , attempting to show it and the Bible go hand-in-hand I assume). However, as The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible points out many other parts of the Bible where women are denigrated, including verses where women are subjugated to men, such as Genesis 3:16 ("he shall rule over thee", King James Version).

Additionally, the first creation account, in Genesis 1, does tend to indicate equality, but the second starting in Genesis 2 does not. Carter is right that Christian leaders sometimes use "carefully selected verses" to further repressing women, but you also have to carefully select your verses to find ones that promote equality. That’s why I feel his statement is somewhat misleading (although not inaccurate), making it sound like the anti-feminist verses in the Bible are hard to find, when they’re not. I’m sure he feels he’s justified in doing this sleight of hand though saying which verses he believes personally (meaning he must not believe the Bible is inerrant) to try to stop religious people from oppressing women.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive area to challenge.

Very true, but as leaders they are supposed to "lead", right? Sometimes you have to pick your battles, but I think ensuring equality for women is not a battle you pick if you’re in power, it’s a battle you have to fight for the majority of your constituents. Women are half or more than half of the population in nearly every country.

The Elders have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights. We have recently published a statement that declares: "The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable."

I think this is an excellent statement. It’s something that both theists and non-theists can get behind.

I understand that the carefully selected verses found in the holy scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. […] During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted holy scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

Again, his heart may be in the right place, but he’s not being completely truthful here. While I’ve read that there are indications that the Bible was tampered with (including the end of Luke I posted about earlier), there’s nothing I’ve read that indicates 4th century leaders rewrote Genesis to make it sound like Eve caused original sin, that she should be subjugated, and a host of other verses that indicate that God (or the leaders writing about him at the time) clearly discriminated against women.

The pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world […] is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God.

I’m not going to refute all of these, but as you may suspect, all of these figures also have times where they do not treat "all the children of God" equally. Moses kills entire races of people under God’s command, Paul tells women to be silent in church, etc. Some anti-feminist verses may be later manipulations, but they can’t all be, can they?

If there are widespread additions, deletions, or changes throughout the Bible on what would seem to be a fundamental issue like whether or not women should be equal to mean, then how can you tell what God wants in the Bible at all? The Bible would seem to be so untrustworthy as to be useless. A better explanation is that the Bible, and other holy books, are not divinely inspired, they were written by men (regardless of the century) who generally wanted to oppress women, with a few dissenters who squeaked in there.

So while Jimmy Carter should be applauded for actively supporting women’s rights and trying to engage the religious community in this pursuit, I disagree with him making it seem like he is fully supported in this by the Bible, The Quran, etc. It is he who is carefully picking and choosing from the same overwhelmingly misogynistic religions that largely served to oppress women in the first place.

Genesis 5 — Be begotten, not forgotten?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Genesis 5 — Be begotten, not forgotten?

Genesis 5 is pretty easy to blog. Mostly a lot of "begats" in some attempt apparently by God’s chosen people to keep a history of their ancestors. There is nothing wrong with doing this of course, it might even be considered a noble sort of pursuit, provided the information you keep is accurate and not just made up.

God was apparently so mad at humans after Adam’s fall that he originally let humans live up to 969 years. As the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible points out, this was despite the fact that God promised Adam he would die the day he ate of the fruit of knowledge. God was only hundreds of years off, which is a lot more accurate than his faithful young-Earth creationists likely being billions of years off about the age of the planet!

Was this reprieve a blessing or a curse for Adam and Eve? Genesis 5:2 says that God "blessed them". This is the same God who threw them out of paradise and condemned them to suffering and death for all their descendants, all on account of eating some fruit that made them smart. And then after this, God lets them suffer for hundreds of years!  Genesis 5:29 correctly reminds readers that God "cursed" the ground. So it doesn’t seem like such a blessing to me. What on Earth did Adam and Eve, and their ancestors, do with their lives for hundreds of years? Struggle to survive, I suppose. I would think with having very little else to do in those days (few people around to talk to, no pay-per-view…) that it may have been worse than death. Maybe that was God’s idea, to keep them around to suffer even more?!?

I’m glad this is a fictional account, otherwise it would be rather cruel. You could actually see someone enjoying living 900 years nowadays if their health permitted it, but just wandering around the desert for hundreds of years must not have been pleasant. Fortunately, there is no reason, besides the Bible itself, to believe humans used to live (and suffer) that long. I used to take "for the Bible tells me so" as proof enough for anything the Bible said, but realize now that you shouldn’t based your entire worldview on one grossly unproven document, no matter how much it (or other people) tells you it’s true.

About all the people born in this chapter, as far as I know, we find out little to nothing about most of them. Why are they included in the Bible, then? What good is just having someone’s name if you’re trying to remember your civilization’s history? How does a list of random names fulfill God’s holy purpose? God really needed an editor to cut the bloat out of this thing.

We do see that Adam (and presumably Eve) had some daughters in this chapters, though they go unnamed (since women aren’t really all that important). So this may answer how the human race got started: it was brothers and sisters having sex. Don’t try this at home, folks, it’s just some good ol’ family values from the fictional Bible.

Genesis 4 — God hates vegetables

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Genesis 4 — God hates vegetables

Well, it’s time for Genesis 4, the chapter where we find out that God the father, just like George Bush the father, doesn’t like broccoli.

God rejects Cain’s offering of "fruit of the ground" (I think we are supposed to assume this means vegetables, fruits, grains, or something of the sort). God likes Cain’s brother’s offering, however: a dead animal. God just loves the smell of dead animals, as we’ll see in later verses.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I’m a vegetarian. But it still seems silly to me that God would only accept a meat offering. What exactly is God using these offerings for? If he’s hungry, couldn’t he whip up something for himself? If he didn’t like vegetables/fruits, why did he create them and force many animals to eat them to survive? Humans also cannot be healthy if they eat ONLY meat, so plants are a necessary part of his creation, aren’t they?

We also don’t know why Cain is supposed to give an offering to God (as a thanks to God for condemning humanity to pain, suffering, and hard work for the rest of our days?). And we don’t know if God’s instructions were clear about what Cain was supposed to offer (telling from God’s other instructions in the Bible, my guess is, not so much).

In any case, this rejection really upsets Cain and he murders his brother, presumably out of jealousy. God apparently was apparently playing solitaire and couldn’t be bothered to intervene and prevent the death, or heal Abel before his death. So God punishes Cain by making him an endless wanderer who can no longer grow crops. God does put a mark on him though so no one will kill him (too bad he didn’t do that to Abel!). Who this no one is, we’re not told. We’re also not told what Adam and Eve think of the whole thing, other than the fact that they had another son. Cain finds a wife and has kids, and their kids have kids. No mention as to where all the women in the Bible come from, since Adam and Eve aren’t mentioned as having any daughter. Certainly even back then someone must have thought of the fact that this doesn’t explain how humans were "fruitful and multiplied" without committing incest. God could have magically made women appear, but why not mention this in the Bible, then?

We do find out where some of the professions come from: Jubal is the father of all harp and flute players, it would seem. Verses 18-22 definitely sound more like a children’s story or fairy tale than the true word of God (if it weren’t for the killings before and after it in this chapter). Some people apparently still believe this stuff literally?

Anyway, I think the moral of the Cain and Abel story is, if you don’t offer meat to God, you’ll become a murderer with a black thumb (I think that’s the opposite of a green thumb). In light of this, I’m giving up the whole vegetarian thing— I’m going to go out and get some veal and burn it. I’m sure this will please God, and my brother can sleep a lot easier, too.

Genesis 3 — You’ve come a long way, baby…

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Genesis 3 — You’ve come a long way, baby…

I’ve decided, to keep the blog a little more manageable (and to keep me from posts that take hours to write!) I’m going to try to deal with one or two chapters of the Bible at a time. It looks like that should still keep me pretty busy.

So now we come to Genesis 3 . We’ve come a long way from the co-creation of men and women in the first chapter. Turns out, women are to blame for everything wrong on the planet! There’s an excellent song about this, Robert Hoyt ‘s "Genesis 3:6". I don’t get how any modern church can hold that the Bible is the true word of God when it is so clearly misogynistic.

This is the biggest set up of all time, both for women and for humanity as a whole. If God created everything, including the serpent, the infamous tree of knowledge, Adam, and Eve, then whose "fault" is it that Adam and Eve ate of the fruit? If I construct a building and it crumbles to the ground a week later, do I blame the building, or my design? Everything was exactly how God created it. Either he really screwed up royally in his creation and didn’t know his creations Adam and Eve would be imperfect and sin (meaning God isn’t so perfect and all-knowing after all), or else he cruelly set up Adam and Eve to fail by putting all the ingredients there for them to fail and then punishing them for the inevitable.

If he didn’t want Adam and Eve, and all of humanity afterwards, to suffer interminably on the Earth, there was plenty God could have done to prevent this.

1) God could have not created the serpent. Now, most Christians assume the talking serpent is the Devil. This is not stated in Genesis, and there are other examples of talking animals in the Bible (the donkey one is my favorite). But let’s assume it was the Devil. Where in the creation story did God create the Devil? If he’s a fallen angel, yet more proof of God’s fallibility. Or maybe the Devil existed prior to creation? Why wouldn’t an all-powerful God destroy the Devil, or at least warn Adam and Eve he’d be lurking around trying to trick them? It simply makes no sense. In any case, with no serpent, there’d be no Fall of Man (and Woman).

2) God could have not created the Tree of Knowledge, or not put it in the Garden of Eden. Why put a big tree in the middle of the garden that Adam and Eve weren’t supposed to eat from? If God really needed this tree for some reason (to help him remember not to create all the animals, plants, and humans a third time??), there’s plenty of real estate on earth he could have used besides that Garden. There was no reason for it to be in the Garden if he wanted Adam and Eve to leave it alone. Or better yet, God could have just not created the tree to begin with. Or…

3) God could have not forbidden Adam and Eve from eating the fruit. If this was a test, then what was the test for? Certainly God, who created everything, would already know that Adam and Eve would be tempted and would eat from the tree. Why go through the whole charade to begin with? Why forbid them from something that he knew they would do anyway: why not just damn humanity from the get-go?

Most importantly, which a lot of people don’t know or don’t think about, the full name of the tree that was forbidden was called the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil". The symbolism behind the whole thing is atrocious. Basically, God wanted to keep Adam and Eve stupid. Eve ate it in part because she wanted to be smart: "And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof" (Genesis 3:6 ) The Bible even says that part of the reason Eve wanted to eat the fruit was because she thought it would make her wise. What’s wrong with wanting to be wise?!?!

Apparently, it was evil for Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of this true. But how were Adam and Eve to know this? It goes to reason that they didn’t fully understand good and evil until they ate of the tree, right? The lesson here appears to be that it’s best to blindly do what you’re told, whether it’s right or wrong. Humanity was condemned forever because, instead of just blindly doing God’s bidding, we were curious what it might be like to be wise. God’s so nice to us. The whole idea of book burning  makes a lot more sense…

4) God could have paid attention to his creation and intervened before they partook of the fruit . What’s up with God walking around the Garden when the fate of humanity was at stake?!? The Bible says after Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit, "they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day." So God apparently only cares to come visit Adam and Eve during the part of the day when it’s not too hot out (whose fault would that be, by the way?) . So God didn’t know the serpent was tempting Eve and couldn’t have come intervene? Even Spiderman has "Spidey sense". Apparently Spiderman is better than God is at telling when something wrong is happening.

5) God could have just forgiven Adam and Eve . This seems to be a recurrent problem for God. He just can’t find it in his Holy heart to forgive people. Obviously Adam and Eve didn’t know any better. Why couldn’t God just forgive them and, if he really felt someone had to pay, why not only punish the serpent, since it was his idea anyway? Instead, he condemns an entire species for all eternity based on one incident. Not very forgiving of him.

I’m sure I could think of other alternatives, but that’s plenty for now.

It’s also interesting to note that God didn’t want humans to live forever (3:22). There was a second magical tree in the Garden that would have let people live forever if Adam (and presumably Eve) would have eaten from it. If this was the case, and God didn’t want humans to live forever, why not warn humans not to eat of that tree, too? Or was it only after the fall, when  humans knew good and evil and had "become as one of us", that God didn’t want humans to live forever (if they stayed dumb he wouldn’t have cared)? Now that humans were smart, he didn’t want them around forever. Who knows?

Notice how the women gets punished in Genesis 3:16: God out-and-out says that Adam should "rule over" his wife (when did they get married, by the way??), and by extension all husbands over their wives. She will also have painful childbirth and bear children "in sorrow". People say childbirth is a beautiful thing. If they say that, they are missing the point apparently because God wants it to be painful and sorrowful. Adam in the next verse is punished not just for eating the fruit; the first thing he is chastised for is  choosing to listen to his wife. An important life lesson: God is more important than your wife or family. (By the way, Jesus thinks so, too .)

Some people argue that we chose to sin and disobey God, so it is our fault that we are not closer to God. The reasoning goes that God wanted to give us free will so we could choose to love him with all our heart. But we chose instead to disobey God and turn away from him, so we deserve to be punished. The sad part is, people actually believe this, even though it makes absolutely no sense. God created us so that we could sin against him,  put a tree there that we couldn’t eat from, and then had (or let) a talking serpent talk us into eating that fruit. And that’s why women have to listen to men and suffer or die in childbirth, why men have to work so hard, and this original sin is, according to many Christians, why we will burn in hell forever unless we love and accept God into our lives. Why would I love a being who set us up like this and after all this time still hasn’t forgiven us. (God will only consider letting us into heaven if we believe that he sent his only Son to be savagely killed by us, and if we eat his Son’s flesh and blood to celebrate this fact. Makes sense to me…)

So we went from Genesis 1, a fairly poetic way of looking at the start of the world, to a completely crazy story saying how women (and snakes) are to blame for people suffering forever because the first two humans ate some fruit that they thought would make them smart.

Time flies when you’re blogging the Bible. I’ll have to finish more on this another time. All this talk of fruit is making me hungry.

PS God was nice enough to make clothes for Adam and Eve after the fall. Was he regretting all the heinous punishment he just inflicted on his creations and decided to make it up to them by making them some clothes?

In the beginning…Genesis 1 & 2

Saturday, September 06, 2008

In the beginning…Genesis 1 & 2

I’ve been reading Genesis, and it’s actually amazing how tame the creation story is compared to much of the rest of the Bible. I’m also realizing though that I can’t possibly comment on every single thing I find wrong (or right) with the Bible; I’ll eventually have to pace myself. But for now, I’ll do a couple of the first chapters of Genesis. I may come back and look at some parts more in detail later; for now, this is a quick overview.

Genesis 1. Might as well start with the beginning. Obviously, scientifically the 7-day creation story (or 6 days, plus a personal day for God) is complete nonsense, but the idea behind the whole thing is kind of nice and the language is actually poetic. Some people claim that the days aren’t real day as we humans count them, or that it’s not meant to be literal. Then why not just explain that in the Bible?? The darn thing is certainly not meant to be concise as it is, so a few words of explanation here or there wouldn’t really have hurt.

The first creation story (Genesis 1)  seems to put women on a level playing field with men, which is a very good thing, but not in sync with the rest of the Bible and pretty much most civilizations until very recently (we’re still not at total gender parity, but thankfully we’re light years ahead of some of the stuff in the Bible I know is coming up). There are theories about different authors being responsible for the various parts of the Pentateuch (5 so-called books of Moses), so it’s hard to say if it was some fairly forward-thinking writer whose ideas in the first chapter of Genesis were merged with most of the other xenophobic, women-hating  blood-thirsty wackos who wrote the rest of the Bible, or if it’s just a fluke that there was something laudable so early on in the "great book".

I personally don’t like though the idea that God gives humans "dominion" over everything on Earth. I don’t know what gave humans the idea that we could just do whatever we wanted to the living things on the planet. I think this is a huge problem in human history, and the Bible isn’t the only problem-causer. We think we’re so smart and advanced that we are better, or at least separate, from every other living thing on this planet. Which apparently means we have the right to destroy and abuse everything with impunity at our every whim. Given the planet’s rapidly deteriorating health and how many species have gone or may soon be extinct due to human "mismanagement" of the planet, if God really did put us in charge of the Earth, he really screwed this one up.

Genesis 2. One thing the Bible can be thanked for is the idea that even an all-powerful being needs a day off from work every once in a while. Although there is a lot I don’t like about the Sabbath, Genesis 2 at least set a precedent for taking a break from work. It’s too bad this arguably worker-friendly beginning is offset by the whole pro-slavery thread that runs through the Bible (even Jesus gets in the act, but that’s many books later that we’ll see that).

Humans are created again in Genesis 2 (God can be forgetful at times). When Adam doesn’t take to any of the animals God creates for him (again, he already forgot he created the animals! Maybe that’s why they went in by twos, or sevens, into Noah’s Ark?), then God decides to invent a woman (again) by forming her from Adam’s rib this time around.

I don’t know which is worse, being made out of some wet clay like Adam was, or out of a man’s rib like Eve was. I think this storyline, whether intentionally or not, serves to go against what many cultures believed: that women are the sacred givers of life. Since women give birth, it seems like a logical way of looking at things. But since God tells us in the Bible that Eve came out of Adam’s rib, then obviously women come from men, and not vice versa. This conveniently (intentionally or not) reinforces men’s claim to dominance over women.