Because I Said So

Tony Phillips' Blog at Open.Salon.Com
MARCH 21, 2012 8:43AM

Whose Values Are They Anyway?

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If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.

(Deuteronomy 22: 28-29)

Whether most Christians know it or not, Christian orthodoxy is chock-full of some uncommonly nasty misogyny and that matters at the moment because as the clock ticks inexorably toward national and state elections in November, all manner of self-styled Christian zealots have taken to playing the values card from their faith decks to stir up some vicarious zeal among otherwise uninspired voters. As a result, women, y’all haven’t been so put upon since the Lord himself spake unto Eve saying, “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.” (Genesis 3:16)

It baffles me that there still exists any such demographic as the female Christian vote. Consider just the following citations and tell me, honestly, do they represent a set of values any right-thinking modern woman ought to get behind?

  • “Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.” (Genesis 19:8)
  • “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the manservants do.” (Exodus 21:7)
  • “If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days . . . But if she bear a maid child, then she shall be unclean two weeks.” (Leviticus 12:2-5)
  • “And if it be from a month old even unto five years old, then thy estimation shall be of the male five shekels of silver, and for the female thy estimation shall be three shekels of silver.” (Leviticus 27:6)
  • “When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife; Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.” (Deuteronomy 21:10-13)

It’s not my place to judge, but were I choosing whose values I wanted represented in my country’s policy-making seats, I don’t think I’d choose anyone whose avowed beliefs render me less than fully human. But what do I know? I’m not a woman . . . and by any real sense of the word, neither is this bitch.

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I'm happy to listen to any contemporary Christian who will honestly say, "Of course I reject the literature of Bronze Age Bedouins." But I haven't heard a lot of that. One can't really have it both ways, can one? Either that tome and its contents do underscore the foundations of Christian belief or they do not. If one ought not cite the notably dense screed of violent intolerance in the Bible, then on what grounds should one cite the bits that are more appealing to a modern audience?
As an feminist and an atheist, my first principle is to respect the dignity and worth of every individual, even the ones I dislike and disagree with, like the anti-feminist legislator you linked to. Please do not call her, or any woman, a bitch — it just perpetuates a hateful attitude of disrespect and disparagement toward women in general.

And I have to agree with BA on everything he said. Most religious people, including Christians, use their faith as guide to living kinder, better lives. The others, who flaunt their religion and use it for power (the Santorums, Gingrichs, Randall Terrys, etc.) are the people Jesus condemned as "Pharisees" and "white sepulchres."
I hear ya, Brunhilde, but again, if the new lot of such reformed, modern believers really want to jettison the canonical work of their faith, then why don't more of them say so? I'm open to the possibility that a self-proclaimed Christian could say, "I consider myself a Christian and I consider the Bible an irrelevant relic of a distant time." If one wants to say such, that's fine with me.

As for Ms. Proud, nah, I'm sticking with "bitch."
I can say it: Of course I reject the idea that the literature of "Bronze Age Bedouins" is a literal template for my behavior, as do the majority of contemporary Christians. I don't personally know anyone, Christian or otherwise, selling daughters as maidservants, taking captives, etc. I don't personally know anyone who teaches or advocates such things. (I also don't know Rick Santorum personally, and I'm glad of it.)

I do know a lot of progressive, feminist Christians who have derived from those and later writings valuable lessons that remain true today. We live in the real world. We engage it realistically. This week, for example, we're talking about the politics of fear. We're talking about valuing the life of a dark-skinned teenage boy. In that context, judging Christians as homogeneously stuck in the Bronze Age, seems a feint in the wrong direction.
Thank you very much for that comment, HL. It's refreshing, honest and encouraging. I suppose what I'd ask by way of follow-up is this: to the extent that you glean from a whole corpus of moral thought and writing those insights and lessons that apply directly and powerfully to your own life as a moral being, and to the extent that you consciously reject outmoded, impractical dogma intended for a different place and time, then why is the label 'Christian' important to you at all? Why not just call yourself an enlightened, advanced, good person? Is it specifically Christ or some message unique to him among all the world's great teachers down through the ages? I'm not asking those things to be argumentative. I do sincerely applaud your conviction and I'm grateful for your comment.