Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How the Bible has Ennobled, Protected and Elevated the Female Sex

Ironically, Christianity continues to receive a bashing because of its alleged maltreatment of women. Sociologist Alvin J. Schmidt attempts to address this challenge by comparing the fate of women in Christian nations to those living under other belief systems:

• Whether in Saudi Arabia or in many other Arab countries where the Islamic religion is adhered to strongly, a man has the right to beat and sexually desert his wife, all with the full support of the Koran, which says, “Men stand superior to women…But those whose perverseness ye fear, admonish them and remove them into bedchambers and beat them; but if they submit to you then do not seek a way against them” (Sura 4:35).

In contrast to this, the Bible informs that in Christ, “There is neither…male nor female” (Gal. 3:28). Both are equally precious before God. In fact, the Bible instructs us to grant even greater honor to the woman to compensate for her weaker physical status. The Greco-Roman culture was little different from the Islamic:

• A respectable Athenian woman was not permitted to leave her house unless she was accompanied by a trustworthy male escort, commonly a slave appointed by her husband. When the husband’s male guests were present in his home, she was not permitted to eat or interact with them. She had to retire to her woman’s quarters. The only woman who had some freedom was the mistress. (How Christianity Changed the World, 98)

Rome was little different:

• The man had supreme, absolute power over his children even when fully grown, including grandchildren. He alone had the power to divorce his wife, and he also possessed the power to execute his children. He could even execute his married daughter if she committed adultery…He had “full authority to chastise his wife and, in some cases, even kill her…” [Rudolph Sohm]…”Women were essentially a slave of man’s lower passions” [Raphael Patai] (Schmidt, 100-101)

Despite the women-ennobling message of their Scriptures, the Hebrew commentaries – the Talmud and Midrashim – disparaged women:

• Barring women from testifying in court (Yoma 43b). And like the Athenians, the Jews barred women from public speaking. The oral law that “out of respect of the congregation, the woman should not read [out loud] in the Law [Torah]” (Megillah 23a). Another rabbinic teaching proclaimed that it was “shameful” to hear a woman’s voice in public among men (Berakhoth 24a). Still another taught, “Let the words of the Law [Torah] be burned rather than committed to a woman…If a man teaches his daughter the Law, it is as though he taught her lechery” (Sotah 3.4). (Schmidt, 102)

What a contrast this is to the prophet Joel’s divine proclamation:

• I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28-29)

While the Jewish Talmud states, “He who talks to a woman [in public] brings evil upon himself” (Aboth 1.5), Jesus cut through these unscriptural taboos. Women followed Him and were gladly received into His presence. In contrast:

• Men in ancient societies…commonly married child brides, often as young as eleven or twelve…Research shows that Christian women married later than their pagan Roman counterparts They not only used their freedom to marry later, but they also…they also had the choice as to whom they married. Under patria potestas the Roman woman had so such choice. (Schmidt, 111)

Married women had to be veiled even in Israelite society. Polygamy also reigned. Schmidt concludes,

• As a result of Jesus Christ and his teachings, women in much of the world today, especially in the West, enjoy more privileges and rights than at any other time in history. (115)

It was Christian teachings that had put an end to many misogynistic practices:

• For hundreds of years India’s cultural custom of suttee, the burning alive of widows [even teenage widows], was an integral part of India’s Hindu-oriented culture. When a woman’s husband died, she, as a good and faithful wife, was expected voluntarily to mount her husband’s funeral pyre and be cremated with him. If she refused, she was often put there by force, even by her son(s). (Schmidt, 116)

A woman’s value was solely based upon that of her husband. This practice was also found among many other peoples “and by some American Indians before Columbus arrived” (116). The painful and crippling practice of foot-binding was widely practiced in China. Feet were forced into tiny shoes to make the women more sexually appealing to potential husbands. Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette explained that without bound feet, the woman would be “disgraced and it was impossible to get a desirable husband for her.”

• It was Christianity’s influence that eventually led the Chinese government to outlaw this dehumanizing practice in 1912. Lin Yutang has shown that Christian missionaries led the crusade to abolish foot binding. (Schmidt, 119)

Clitoridectomy (“female circumcision”) is still widely practiced in non-Christian nations:

• Minimally clitoridectomy involves the removal of a young girl’s clitoris. Frequently, however, the procedure also includes removing the inner and outer labia, and sometimes “almost all of the girl’s genitalia…” [Linda Burstein]. (Schmidt, 121)

Schmidt concludes:

• Before Christianity arrived, century upon century had brought little or no freedom or dignity to women in any pagan culture. In short, where else do women have more freedom, opportunity and human worth than in countries that have been highly influenced by the Christian ethic? (122)

Even in modern day China, the State has co-opted her reproductive rights, limiting her to a one child policy. In many other countries, girl babies are so devalued, that they are aborted or abandoned at a much higher frequency. This speaks profoundly about the value they place on the female sex. In contrast, the Bible is the great equalizer:

• Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:7)

Husbands are thereby warned that if they mistreat their wives and fail to respect them, God will turn his back upon them. Nevertheless, many will respond that the Bible continues to relegate the woman to a diminished role. Admittedly, the Bible does set forth some role distinctions. However, we have to ask if these role distinctions ennoble or degrade.

In the early 70’s, I lived in Israel on some of the most radically socialistic kibbutzim of the Hashomer Hatzair movement. These radical socialists had disdained all role distinctions, even marriage. Even the children were regarded as the common property of the community and not of a particular mother and father. In order to prevent any class distinctions from arising, the communal responsibilities were shared equally. The men would therefore have to “man” the baby houses.

However, by the time I began my trek through these communes, things had already begun to change. Husbands had settled down with their own wives, and their children would join their respective parents after work and school. Also, the men would no longer do their duties at the baby houses. The women had already staked out their claim to this domain.

Why had this reversal occurred at such radically socialistic communities? Sexual realities weight heavily upon us. Men are not only different morphologically, they also have different inclinations and strengths. Consequently, the babies are best nourished by those who have more of a heart for them.

Radical feminism has done a great disservice to females. While it has pointed to wrongs that needed to be addressed, feminism has also demeaned the very areas and duties where women excel and has extolled those professions where they are not equipped to compete. Men make better firemen and construction workers. Women keep better homes and children. If we fail to recognize these distinctive inclinations and abilities, we degrade those we are trying to elevate.

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