Friday, December 6, 2019

Does God love women?

I got into a conversation about this question the other day, and it reminded me what a big problem it was for me years ago. If God loves men and women equally, why did he create a world where we are so unequal?

I started out with church teachings. Why all the obey your husband stuff when it's led to and covered up so much abuse? Why did the church declare it a sin to deny sex to a spouse about a thousand years before it bothered to mention you need consent for sex within marriage? Why did church teaching, when it mentioned women at all, bind up more burdens instead of addressing our particular vulnerabilities and enjoining men to respect us? Was God not aware that men would oppress and abuse us?

I could go for the low-hanging fruit: the permission of sex slavery in the Old Testament, the burdensome menstrual laws, stuff like that. But I don't think I even have to. I can admit there were moments when the Bible goes beyond the culture where women's rights go: forbidding men from divorcing their wives, blaming lust on men's eyes instead of women's clothes, Jesus having female disciples. But is it really enough, given how oppressed women were? For centuries of Christianity, women were not given a choice about who they married or much of anything afterward. They spent most of their time pregnant and very often died before their time in childbirth. Millions of women throughout history have been killed by their husbands, and until the last few decades, they had no legal remedy to escape a violent man. I think if God had a problem with any of this, he should have said something. He could have demanded women be treated as equals, in explicit terms; or put women in some kind of leadership role in the church so they could have said something.

But all of this is almost a side note. This is stuff the Christian God did and failed to do, contributing to the oppression of women. But people might rightly object: Women were oppressed before Christianity, in almost every* culture in the world. So why blame Christianity?

[*There's some evidence Paleolithic women weren't oppressed, but we can't really be sure. If you focus on recorded societies, the majority have been patriarchal.]

This isn't really an excuse for the Christian God, or any god for that matter. After all, God created the world, right? So we have to ask what, in the conditions of the world, makes women oppressed. Is God responsible for any of that?

Well, women are physically weaker on average, that's one thing. We get pregnant, for another: being pregnant or nursing makes us vulnerable. Then there are the psychological differences between men and women. I keep batting back and forth about how real those are, but I think it's fair to say that there's at least some kind of average difference: men tend to be more aggressive, for one thing. They commit by far the majority of violent crimes. Culture surely plays into this, by telling men what is expected of them, but I think testosterone does play a role as well, in increasing anger and aggressive tendencies.

If I were making a planet, I definitely wouldn't give half the people a physical advantage and then give that same half more anger and tendency to dominate. I'd either make everyone as equal as I could, or I'd make the stronger ones the biggest natural altruists.

Even today, violence against women is an ongoing problem. An estimated 35% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence, half of them by someone known to them. 137 women are murdered by a member of their own family around the world every day. 72% of human trafficking victims are women and girls.

Okay, so what if we ruled out all effects of the patriarchy? While I can't hold God blameless for making us vulnerable to it, it is of course mostly the fault of human action. If all men shaped up their behavior overnight, would life be fair for women?

No. No it wouldn't. We have periods, of course, which aren't evolutionarily necessary (most animals don't have them) and which are unpleasant in the most ideal scenario. On top of that, many of us have severe cramping or mood disorders related to our periods. Between 10 and 20 percent of women have endometriosis, where endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus. It causes extreme levels of pain every month. There are some treatments but no cure.

Pregnancy causes further problems: some of us are lucky and suffer only "minor" annoyances like feeling nauseated for three months solid, heartburn, hemorrhoids, dislocated pelvic bones, and so on. Others get nightmarish problems like hyperemesis gravidarum, where one vomits so much it becomes dangerous. A Facebook friend of mine is right now, thanks to medication, able to keep down about 300 calories a day and fluids. That is as good as modern medicine can do for her. Often women with hyperemesis suffer tooth and esophageal damage from all the vomiting.

Then of course there's pain in childbirth, which no treatment can completely take away. My labors have been brief and uncomplicated, but it's still the worst pain I've ever felt, for hours. After birth, pain and disability continues during a recovery period when we're also expected to care for a newborn.

In short: life for women on this planet is worse. The writers of Genesis knew that, hence the story of how it's all a punishment for Eve's sin. Both domination by men and physical suffering are mentioned. It's not unfair, they tell us, because Eve did eat that apple first.

How is it fair to distribute punishments like that? Could God instead have allowed both sexes to experience the same punishment, given they both ate the same apple? Of course he could. He is all powerful, right? We are told this way is more "fitting."

If you're keeping track, that means thousands of years of oppression and suffering for women were considered an acceptable tradeoff for God to have things be poetically appropriate. It wasn't worth raising a finger to prevent.

This is just one of many injustices in the world that make it hard to believe that there is any kind of just God. All we know of God is the visible world he created, which is unjust. I can't expect that the life after this, if there is one, is any more fair in its punishments or any more merciful to the vulnerable than this world is.

And that's part of why I'm still not a believer in any deity. Any one that's responsible for this world probably doesn't have anything good in store for me later.
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