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The Role of Xianity in the Oppression of Women

Jennifer Drouin

For almost the last two thousand years, there has been one single institution which has had a significantly powerful realm of control and oppression over the everyday lives of the majority of individuals, especially women, in Western Europe and subsequently North America. This insidious institution is the Roman Catholic Church, or, in fact, Christianity in general (henceforth written xianity).[1]

Xianity has always been an institution run by men solely for the benefits of men. Priests have always been men, and even now, in the 1990s, it is an uphill struggle for women to begin to change the minds of most men to accept women as priests. Thus, since the institution of xianity has never had the benefit of the insight or opinions of women because of their total exclusion from it, it is logical to assume that there could potentially have been some abuses of the power which this system grants to men. In addition, the exclusion of women from this sort of "boy's club" has provided the opportunity for the existence of a conspiracy of silence as to the specific activities which its members could possibly conduct behind closed doors, for which man would betray the confidence of another by speaking out the sometimes unpleasant truth.

I propose that the leaders of xianity did, in fact, often abuse the unlimited power to which they had access. This organization is, in my opinion, guilty not only of crimes against humanity, but also of hideous offenses specifically aimed at women. In addition, these crimes have taken on numerous forms, such as, crimes of silence and/or propaganda as well as physical crimes. While these charges may seem unfounded, and while I am by no means denying the existence of any positive accomplishments by xianity throughout the course of history, in this essay I will set forth the evidence on which I base these accusations of crimes and I will attempt to prove their validity. I believe that if one specific institution has been oppressing women for nearly two thousand years, it is time for women to finally examine this issue with a critical eye, and if the evidence points towards culpability, then women should stand up for their rights and condemn this unacceptable behavior.

Crimes of Xianity

The Effects of the Virgin Myth

In examining the crimes of xianity and how these acts have oppressed women, it is extremely important to consider the following fact: since women make up more than fifty percent of the population of humanity, any act which directly or indirectly has an adverse effect on the development of humanity will play a role in the oppression of women, for they are half of humanity which would otherwise be more highly developed without the influence of this act. It is for this reason that the following evaluation of the crimes of xianity may not specifically deal with women in all cases, but rather, occasionally, with the general population of which women form an equal part.

The worst and most influential crime by xianity, and one that has caused massive repercussions specifically for women, is the virgin myth. The virgin myth is the phenomena created by a translation error. The "Virgin Mary" was not actually a virgin, but became known as being so only when the Bible was translated in Greek. In the original Biblical version in ancient Hebrew, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a young woman, not a virgin, as explicitly indicated by the Hebrew word "almah" which has no connection whatsoever with the idea of virginity. In Hebrew, the word "bethulah" could have been used to express the virginity of Mary; however, this word was never used. The meaning "virgin" was never denoted until the Bible was later translated into Greek, at which time the word "parthenos," which in Greek does literally mean virgin, was used. The reason why this mistake occurred is unknown, but considering that the ancient Greeks highly appreciated virgins as a sort of precious commodity and an object of worship, it is possible to hypothesize that this error was a result of romanticism on the part of the Greeks who may have wanted to render the Bible more exciting and romantic to read. In any case, it is nevertheless an undisputed fact that the mistranslation came about well after the original transcription of the Bible and xian scholars widely accept this fact.

The problem is therefore the following: if most xian scholars, priests, etc. are well aware of this fact, and a few Bibles have even been changed to correct the mistranslation so that "young woman" is correctly stated, why does nobody speak of this fact? The answer is simple: these men want to continue, rather than condemn, the oppression of women which has come as a direct result of this error.

It is true that the ancient Greeks and Romans worshipped in a certain way virgins in that they were offered as sacrifices, and for something to be sacrificed it must have some worth, and that they were the guardians of certain religious sites. However, until the time of the "Virgin Mary" the concept that being a virgin as an ideal which all women should hope to always maintain was not nearly as profoundly exaggerated. It was only after the wondrous tale of this one specific virgin that the tendency toward the worship of this ideal was solidified. As a result, a snowball effect was created in which the pureness of the "Virgin Mary" became so increasingly respected that a standard for all women to follow developed, forcing women to always try to maintain the same level of impeccable pureness as that of the "Virgin."

The influence of the idea of the Virgin is still very powerful in current society. In order to prove this theory, only the very simplest of experiments is required. It becomes evident that the myth of the "Virgin Mary" has had an effect of incredible magnitude on North American society as soon as one asks a small child of only six or seven years of age the following question: "What does the word "virgin" mean?" The first response that an innocent child will give is a reference to the "Virgin Mary," even though the child is too young to understand the general significance of the word. This image has so cunningly entered society that it is impossible for anyone, even a child extremely well sheltered from the media, to avoid seeing or hearing about this image. For example, even if children come from totally secular families who would deliberately protect them from this image, after only four months in elementary school, these children would be subjected to the idea in the form of a xmas play or xmas carols for a school concert. Even supposedly non-religious organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides (who, incidentally, now refuse membership to any child whose parents openly declare to be atheist), or for that matter any other extra-curicular activity, are not at all conscious of the sexist images that they are instilling in young children's minds. It is for this reason that the image of the "Virgin Mary" has so effectively infiltrated into current society and popular culture. Thus, without any longer deliberately seeking to propagate these stereotypical images of women, xianity has successfully instilled these images in the minds of innocent children who, still to young to properly judge for themselves, may one day grown up and continue to believe in the validity of this myth.

One of many possible repercussions could be that of young girls believing than being anything less than a perfect model of female pureness would devalue them as an individual person. Young boys could be equally influenced and subsequently begin to exhibit contempt or disdain for any woman who wasn't a virgin, as is already usually the current situation now (i.e. the stud/slut paradox). In adults, the results of the stereotypical images implanted in young minds becomes obvious. Often men, and sometimes other women, fail to accept that the true nature of women does not exclude sexuality. This denial of reality can theoretically lead to many other problems for women, such as, but certainly not limited to, being labeled as sexually promiscuous for nothing more, and often much less, than having the normal sexual habits which men are permitted. In fact, because of the intrinsic genetic need to procreate, it would be going against almost every atom in a woman's body to blindly resist the natural desire for sexual activity, and as this would be quite difficult for most, it could only lead to unhappiness. The virgin myth is partly responsible for these complications to the natural order of humans, and by setting standards so high than few women can resist the natural urge to not follow these ideals, and this myth has caused women to be oppressed both sexually and emotionally.

It is thus obvious that xianity has a wide influence on everyday lives, even unintentionally, all because of the absolute refusal of xian leaders to take the initiative to correct openly and persistently a common falsehood of which they are aware. This conceited denial of their responsibility to correct the lies which they willingly spread is an obvious example of their unwillingness to change the stereotypes of society in order to stop denying women the equality which they so rightly deserve.

There are many other ways in which xian leaders have condoned stereotypical images of women with their reluctance to correct the common misconception of the virgin myth. Simone de Beauvoir, in her book The Second Sex, explains how men and women are often falsely compared as binary opposites, such as, sky/earth, strong/weak, breadwinner/housecleaner, etc. The same method of judgment can also be applied to individuals who fall within a common category, and, unfortunately, this is what has happened to women. In creating the almost unattainable ideal of perfection, that of being a virgin for all of one's life, xianity has created one element of a binary opposition, and has also started the process of labeling individuals according to this ideal. All those who do not meet the high standards of this ideal must, according to xian logic, be categorized as the opposite of it. And so began the heightened disdain attached to those who were not virgins and the extremely commonplace use of the word "slut." 

In the film Les terribles vivantes, renowned feminist Nicole Brossard addresses this issue. She states, " On dit toujours que le patriarcat a proposé trois images de femme : la Mère, la Vierge et la Putain. Mais il ne faut jamais oublier cette autre image de la femme dont on ne veut pas entendre parler et qui est très importante, qui est celle de l'Amazone, qui est celle de la sorcière, et dans le fond, c'est le féminisme, c'est la femme qui remet en question un système ."[2]

The first three of these categories, that is Mother, Virgin, and Slut, can also be separated into two higher divisions: before and after marriage. Until just recently, in the history of women, the life of a woman was always centered around marriage in that, until puberty the education of a girl was mostly a development of those skills necessary for running a household and once puberty was reached, the girl was expected to be married. There was very little choice in the matter on the part of the girl, and even if she had had the choice, she would have probably in most cases chosen marriage anyway because she was raised to believe that this was a logical, necessary step in her life.

The classifications of Mother, Virgin, Slut are therefore divided as follows. Virgin or Slut are two binary opposite categories in which girls are placed before marriage, and once she has reached the age at which she can marry, she quickly becomes a Mother. Once she has become a wife and mother the status of Virgin or Slut is no longer discussed by society with such criticism for the village gossips wouldn't want to destroy the stability of a family in which the husband may not be aware of any possible promiscuity by his wife.

With this classification neatly and tidily wrapped up by society, the only problem left to deal with was that of how to classify those women who did not fit into these categories, that is the Amazon and the Witch. The Amazons were warrior women from Greek mythology and didn't even exist during the time when xianity sprung forth. As for the so-called witches, xianity found a simple, efficient, and absolutely brutal way to resolve its problem of women who refused to conform to traditional stereotypical ways of life, such as staying single as an "old hag." Xians killed them. The number of people (80% women) estimated to have been burned at the stake or tortured to death for supposedly being witches is over 235,000--and this does not include the millions also killed for being heretics. All of these deaths were executed in the name of xianity and deemed necessary for its survival. Evidently, it was the innocent women, not xianity, who were in danger of extinction. 

Another lack of respect for women as humans can also be seen by examining the "Virgin Birth" in respect to the very base on which xianity is founded, the "Holy Trinity." The xian religion portrays itself as coming directly from three figureheads, all of which are male and which are not even assisted in any way by women. As Mary Daly illustrates, in the "Virgin Birth," Mary did nothing to contribute to the birth of Jesus but was merely a "vessel" used by a male God (henceforth written Q)[3] and the male "Holy Spirit" for their own self-serving purposes of producing a male son. While some xians may argue that Mary contributed to the birth, Daly interestingly points out that the "Holy Spirit" which impregnated Mary and the painless and effortless birthing process took away any contribution which Mary could have given. This whole process could be compared to that of a scientist artificially growing a plant. The scientist can simply create the germination of a seed in a test tube, put the seed into a flower pot, and when the flower has started to grow take the plant out of the pot and transplant it in a garden or wherever is desired. What real contribution does the pot make? If there is no pot, the flower can still be grown in any other container such as an old, plastic ice-cream container or even a coffee cup. The flower pot is not necessary and doesn't stimulate the growth of the plant, the scientist does. In addition, if Mary doesn't experience the pain of childbirth, there is no difference between her as a vessel and the flowerpot from which the scientist removes the plant. So, because of the 'Virgin Myth," the role of women as the bringers of life is also demeaned for she does nothing which could not be done without her by male Q's.

Silence, Propaganda, and Flawed Logic

Besides the biggest crime of the silence concerning the virgin myth, xianity is also responsible for many other wrongs caused by silence, propaganda, and a failure to correct flawed logic. For example, one case of failure to correct flawed logic is that of the myth of "Eve's Original Sin." Xian leaders insist that the pain women endure from menstruation and pregnancy is a punishment from Q. This lie is easily disproved by science and logic, yet xian leaders continue to tell the story and insinuate that all women are guilty of the mistake of one fictional woman. There is much scientific evidence which disproves the misconception that Eve was the first woman on Earth. For example, Louis Leakey's 1948 discovery of Lucy, a 20 million year old female hominid, greatly predates the time of Eve as suggested in the Bible. In addition, Charles Darwin's theory of evolution which is accepted by most scientists eliminates the possibility of Eve as the sole female from which the world's entire population originates, as other near-human species preceded the humans of biblical times (and the females of these species would have to menstruate and become pregnant in order for the species to reproduce and eventually evolve into human form).

Another example of xian faulty logic and promotion of an unfounded truism is the ceremony of baptism of infants. In this ritual, the priest excuses infants from their "sins." Since infants at this time are often too young to even speak or feed themselves, it is extremely illogical to accuse them of sins for they are capable of nothing more than lying helplessly, dependent on others. The possible results of this ceremony which may still seem innocent and harmless can have strong ramifications for children. If the parents believe sincerely in the words of the priest, they may continue to wrongly accuse children throughout their childhood for having misbehaved when, in fact, the children would be innocent of any real wrongdoing. These accusations, both those of the priests and/or those of the parents, if repeated often enough, could severely damage the confidence and the self-esteem of many children. They instill feelings of imperfection and culpability in both male and female children which could, later in life, be responsible for hesitation on the part of the children to attempt to accomplish certain tasks or goals due to these feelings of unworthiness. The progress and natural development of children could be greatly hindered.

One of the most reprehensible crimes of propaganda perpetrated by xian leaders was the 5th century declaration that women did not have souls. Here, one could easily enter into the philosophical debate as to what a soul actually is, but even by avoiding this issue, the xian argument which lacks any proof at all can still be refuted by asking how their conclusion is reached and by what method they actually proved that men themselves have a "soul." In any case, the decidedly sexist conclusion of the xian leaders shows clearly their total disrespect for women as these men equate them with the soulless animals of the time rather than with humanity.

As well as spreading lies as to the nature of women, male xian leaders may be responsible for the crime of deliberately hiding manuscripts which would have greatly elevated the status of women in society at the time of the writing of the Bible. Shortly after W.W.II, Coptic texts were discovered in Upper Egypt which were written at the same time as those of the twelve apostles described in the Bible. These texts were apparently written by seven other apostles who were all female. Could it really be just a coincidence that all the texts written by women were hidden from the world in a cave for almost 2000 years while the texts of the male disciples all survived? It would not be illogical to assume that it is possible that these texts were purposely omitted from the Bible by male xian leaders who wanted to protect their (im)balance of power over women. Not surprisingly, these texts have been most easily recognized by those churches which have the most open attitude towards the rights of women to become priests, etc. The other churches who refuse to recognize the authenticity of these texts are those which obviously still support the oppression of women and wish to keep a veil of silence over the fact that women were important leaders at the time of Jesus, not deserving the awful treatment that their church sanctioned against women. This whole affair just helps to further prove the suggestion that xian leaders did, and still would if possible, effectuate a conspiracy to degrade the status of women in society. They could not allow the existence of documents in which women were equal to men as disciples so they had no choice but to conceal these documents.

In addition, these same xian leaders of the same time period who might have concealed or edited documents promoting women, did absolutely nothing in order to edit those biblical texts which degrade women and which were later used as justification for abusing them. Many Biblical passages promote the subjugation and abuse of women. While the worst of these passages are mostly in the Old Testament to which most modern xians no longer adhere, these passages were followed during the majority of the history of xianity. As well, there are still several other degrading passages in the New Testament in which xians still believe today. For example, the Bible states that man was made in the image of Q whereas woman was merely made from a man. According to the Bible, women should be silent in church and learn about their religion from men outside of church, should be governed by men, and should submit to their husbands. In addition, Mary is unclean after the birth of Jesus, Jesus scorns his mother and refuses to bless her, Eve is considered sinful while Adam is said to be blameless for destroying paradise, and Biblical heroines are admired for their obedience. Early church writer Tertullin described women as the "gate of Hell" and Martin Luther, creator of the Baptist faith, said that "if a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it."

Physical, Financial, and Sexual Abuse

In addition to the crimes of silence, propaganda and faulty logic, xianity is responsible for many other physical, financial and sexual crimes against both women and humanity as a whole. As was already briefly mentioned, the biggest physical crime by xianity was the Inquisition and the witch hunts. Xian leaders organized a secret police to hunt down and to torture anyone who appeared to even slightly disagree with xian dogma. Often these were innocent people, but even for those who really did disagree with the xians, what right did the xians have to torture and execute those who peacefully practiced their own different religion in the privacy of their own homes hurting nobody? The xian leaders created a reign of fear and terror which hindered the development of humanity, not only by the millions of deaths, but also by the uncertainty which citizens living during this time would have felt. Who would be brave enough to experiment scientifically or try to invent a new tool to improve everyday life if everyone was afraid to be different for fear of execution?

Xian leaders also created that which would be called today a get-rich-quick scheme. This was the plan of indulgences. When St. Peter's cathedral was being built in Rome, the present Pope wanted to raise money to pay for the cost of construction. He exploited the people's fear of death by selling insurance to eliminate past sins guaranteeing that anyone who bought an indulgence would go to heaven upon death. After producing huge revenues and profits with this scheme, he created five other indulgences in which he sold, for example, insurance for relatives, future sins, and dead relatives already in hell. This plan became an easy means to exploit people's fear of death in order to personally benefit financially.

Another physical exploitation of humanity by xian leaders was, and in some countries still is, the practice of holy wars in which many xians and non-xians lost their lives fighting simply because their religious leaders told them to do so. In the Middle Ages alone, there were four Crusades to "defend" the "Holy Land" (i.e. exploit and rob others, as well as rape the women that they met along the way ) and two Children's Crusades. In all of these crusades many thousands of innocent people were blindly sent to their deaths believing that they were protecting their faith. The xian leaders were not ashamed to send many people to their certain deaths just so that the church could feel reassured in their conceit that they were superior to the Muslims.

In the ninth century, xian leaders actually encouraged the rape and abuse of women. Noblemen had a "natural right" to rape peasant women and to deflower the brides of their vassals. Sex without values (rape, prostitution, sadism) was not a serious crime; however, according to xian leaders, sex with love was a sin. The more serious xian sin was not sex but rather pleasure. Xians encouraged this attitude and thus condoned the practice of raping and abusing women. If the xian church preached that this was acceptable behavior, what protection did women have at this time and how could they resist or protest? The xian dogma placed them in an inescapable, perilous situation.

In modern times, the xian leaders whom society is supposed to trust have continued to betray those who are helpless to defend themselves. For the first time in history, sexual abuse by priests is being made public and the perpetrators are finally being held accountable for their heinous crimes. For example, sexual abuse of young boys by priests in Newfoundland at the Mount Cashel orphanage has recently come to the attention of the public and compensation is finally being awarded to the men who suffered as young, defenseless boys. While the blame must be rightly placed on the individual priests who committed these acts, society must not forget that it is the xian religion in general which is also greatly responsible. The xian faith forbids that priests marry or have sex (so they won't be corrupted by "awful" women) which is an unnatural condition to place on any human. As a result of unnatural conditions, these priests logically commit unnatural acts such as forced sex with young boys. Besides hindering the development of many potentially positive contributors to society, the acts of these priests also have large impact on the lives of many women. Of all the boys abused by the priests, 80-90% grow up to abuse others that they meet in the course of their lives, and most of their victims are women. If the priests had not abused the boys, these same boys would not be likely to abuse women and a certain percentage of women victims of violence would have been spared the aggressive treatment that they suffered.

Today, it is the religious fundamentalist groups that fight most vehemently against the improvement of women's rights. Religionists defeated the American Equal Rights Amendment of the 1980's. In 1995 at the Beijing United Nations Conference on Women, REAL Women, an anti-choice, "pro-family," xian political lobbying group, fought against the promotion of rights for lesbians and urged women to refuse reproductive health and fertility regulation fearing that these might lead to abortion as a right. In Langley, BC, the "family values," anti-homosexual group "The Promise Keepers" have established their national headquarters in order to lobby for building strong marriages through Biblical values. They promote the image of women as "wanton, devious, unclean, treacherous, ignorant, and singularly responsible for the sins of the world."

Conclusion

It should be obvious that xianity has committed a serious crime in that it has severely limited the development of humanity over the past two thousand years, especially the development and equality of women. These crimes have taken on several forms, from the promotion of religious catechism with no scientific basis to the real rape and destruction of the lives of innumerable young boys. The support of dogma that xian leaders knew to be false, such as the virgin myth, has been directly responsible for the subjugation of women and their unequal status in society. In fact, much of the Bible, especially the Old Testament is a "handbook for the subjugation of women," and xian leaders have done nothing to correct the falsehoods written in this "holy" text.

Why has this patriarchal, oppressive institution survived for so long and successfully continued its immoral activities without opposition? The answer to this puzzling conundrum is simple: for the same reason that xian leaders successfully profited from its subjects by selling indulgences. Xianity is based on the exploitation of people's rational fear of the unknown, their fear of "the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns." Xianity abuses the natural, human fear of death in order to maintain its reign of power over the general population. Women have never revolted and risen up united against this oppressor because they are also afraid of death and "hell." "The fear of Q will therefore repress any impulse towards revolt in the downtrodden female."

 

It is obvious today that most women are reluctant to openly speak out against xianity and its treatment of women. It must not be forgotten, however, that of the 50% of humanity that is female, only 10% are atheist (i.e. critical of xianity), thus only 5% of the entire world's population would perhaps consider this an important issue. Fortunately, many men are also recognizing the crimes of xianity against women and are publicizing articles on this subject. However, women should not leave this task, this battle which is rightfully theirs, to the men to accomplish. It is time for women to stand up and openly defy the most powerful institution in the history of their subjugation. The backward, anti-women views of right-wing, religious fundamentalists will continue to gain growing support if action is not swiftly taken to contradict and condemn their sexist, dogmatic voice of oppression. Since the public's ignorance is the greatest weapon in xianity's attempted conquest of women, women must make the general public aware of the sordid past this dangerous, dogmatic institution has tried so hard to conceal. Xianity does not strive, as it might claim, for the betterment of man, but rather for the subjugation of women.

Notes

[1] In researching this subject, it became apparent to me that the majority of secular groups or individuals widely prefer the use of xian for Christian (and its derivatives, etc.). This modification is effectuated in order to eliminate the name Christ from these words so that there is less emphasis placed on his importance as a religious and/or historical figure to be worshipped. The origin of the use of the letter "x" to replace the name of Christ actually comes from 12th century xians who placed more value on the "x" than on the name Christ; however, because most xians are generally unaware of this historical fact, most secular scholars opposed to the hold which xianity has placed on society have adopted it for the specific purpose of eliminating the name Christ. In keeping with the views of those scholars who have adopted this particular orthography, I also will henceforth spell these words using the "x." Return to text

[2] "We always say that the patriarchy has proposed to us three images of women: the Mother, the Virgin, and the Slut. But it is important to never forget also this other image of women which we don't want to hear about and which is very important, that of the Amazon, that of the witch, and in the end it is feminism, it's the woman who is questioning the system. "
Nicole Brossard, interviewed in the film: Les terribles vivantes. Directed by Dorothy Todd Hénaut, Office national du film Canada, 1986 Return to text

[3] The use of the name Q to replace the name God is justified by the same explanation used in the describing the use of "xian" (see note 1). "Q" like the letter "x" is a neutral name which does not only invoke in the reader's mind the tradition image of a gray haired man with a long beard wearing a long white robe, as does the name God. The use of another name thus helps in eliminating this sexist image of an almighty being that is male rather than female or androgynous. In Gyn/Ecology, Mary Daly also chooses to change the name of God to another name, in her case a "gynomorphic" being. In my case, I have chosen to borrow the term "Q" from Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the television series Star Trek, because he uses this term to denote an omnipotent, alien being, but one that does not necessary exercise control over the lives of humanity on Earth, thus allowing in the use of this name for the possibility of the existence of human free will, a concept which is often not expressed by traditional religious dogma. As well, I believe that the modification of the traditional language created by men is, in this case, in keeping with the current feminist trend of changing language to reflect what women might or should want to express by using new, modified words that help serve this purpose. Return to text




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Published:
  1998-03-25

Categories:
  Christianity, Religion and Violence

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