Monday, June 20, 2011

Open Letter to PZ Myers

Open Letter to PZ Myers

PZ Myers is an out-spoken atheist and biologist at the University of Minnesota. He runs an immensely popular blog called Pharyngula, which features some beautiful photos of the natural world. Far more popular, though, are his angry, snearing, and not infrequently obscene (though sometimes funny, to give the devil his due) attacks on Christianity. His daily blog often elicits hundreds or more than a thousand almost uniformly enthusiastic responses of like or more vehement sentiment: those few that take issue with anything Myers says, as I have discovered, are not quite welcomed by other posters!

This morning PZ posted a blog called,
"We aren't angry, we are effective, which is even scarier." I'll post a few of his comments here, then my quick response. I may follow up with a more in-depth response later.PZ Myers: "What I'm interested in seeing happen is the development of a strong cadre of vocal atheists who will make a sustained argument, over the course of years or generations, who will keep pressing on the foolishness of faith. I also don't mind seeing believers get angry and stomping off determined to prove I'm a colossal jackhole — that means they're thinking, even if they're disagreeing with me.

"I'll also cop to the obvious fact that, knowing that reason will not get through their skills, I'm happy to use emotional arguments as well. Passion is persuasive. Look at all those assertive Gnu/New Atheists — they are not making Spock-like dispassionate arguments only, although there is a strong rational core — we are hitting people in the gut and telling them to open their eyes. It gives us that unseemly aggressive reputation, but at the same time it's a very effective way to let people know we think they are dead wrong."

My (knee-jerk) response: You're joking, Myers. What I've seen from atheists in this forum so far is a lot of swearing, insults (never so subtle as innuendos, and little real wit, though you get in some amusing barbs), and caricatures, in decending order of frequency. I have yet to see any real anti-Christian argument, sustained or otherwise. Maybe those come in June?

What you don't seem to realize, is Christians can get tough, too. The communists in the USSR started off with insults; that didn't do the trick, so they got nastier, and the Christians got tougher. Wait till North Korea falls, and after 70 years, you will find some very tough Christians coming out of the rubble of that hell-hole. I don't think you're planning to go that far: but don't dream that jeering, or "F YOU" a hundred times (last time I posted here, one of your disciples) is going to accomplish anything but make your own followers dumber and more intellectually complacent.

Or you can try arguing. Let both sides talk, as in a Bill Craig debate, and there's a good chance you'll lose. Make it a debate of books, and you may lose again -- I've shown why the New Atheists, Pagels & Co, and the Jesus Seminar are wrong, respectively, in my last three books, without breaking much of a sweat. I'm thinking I may take on Ehrman, next.

Someday some of your disciples -- maybe even you yourself -- will stop hating, and start to think, even ask searching questions. That's when things might become difficult, and interesting.

In the meanwhile -- it's spring, and the mountain snows are melting -- let the floods of vituperation descend!

How Jesus has Liberated Women V: the Gospels

(Note: to read the whole argument, please start with Part I.  If you would like to skip introductory "framing" type remarks, and my personal story, skip to Part III.)  Follow links at end of each post to the next one.  This post focuses on what Jesus and the gospels have to say about women. -- DM.) 

The Teachings of Jesus

An effect demands a cause.  The cartoon John Loftus posted suggests that the New Testament is the reason why women are oppressed.  It shows a total of five slogans from the New Testament tacked onto the dungeon wall where a (strangely worm-like) woman is shackled:

"Submit to your husband."

"The woman shall be saved through child-bearing."

"I do not permit a woman to teach."

"Do not let your beauty be external."

" . . . as the weaker partner . . . "

We have seen, however, that Christianity has generally NOT had the effect such propaganda would predict.  History shows that dedicated Christians have in fact LIBERATED not hundreds, but billions of women, often in ways as almost as dramatic as literally freeing them from dungeons.  (In fact, they often did free men and women from dungeons -- though yes, some were put in them, too.)

In order to demonstrate that Christianity really has been the cause of liberation for women, I need to show that there is something in the New Testament (as well as Isaiah) that could cause the effects described in the last three posts.  I don't need to show that there are no verses that could harm women.  (Though I will probably deal with such passages in a reply to critics.)  But I do need to point to something in the New Testament that could plausibly have been the source of all the good stuff Christianity has brought women around the world.

Here, I focus on the gospels. 

I will discuss ALL major events and teachings in the accounts of Jesus' life, that directly relate to how men should treat women.  We will touch not on only what Jesus did or taught, but the lessons or implications of the gospels for how women should be treated.  This may make for a long post. 

The Gospel of Matthew

Chapter 1  Joseph was a righteous man, and even when his fiance turned out to be pregnant (not by him!) he decided not to disgrace her publicly.  Lesson:  A just man is merciful even to a woman whom he believes has betrayed him.  (Taliban: Put down those rocks!) 

Chapter 4  Jesus chooses all male disciples.  Lesson: There is legitimate sexual differentiation in religion.

Chapter 5  Not only don't commit adultery, don't lust!  And don't divorce unless your partner has committed adultery.  Lesson: Christianity affirms strong and exclusive marital ties.  This also seems to imply monogamy, since why would one acquire new wives if one wasn't playing the field? 

Chapter 8  Jesus cures Peter's mother-in-law.  She then gets up and takes care of her guests.  (Repeated in two other gospels.) 

Chapter 9  Jesus cures a woman who has been bleeding for many years.  She then raises a little girl from the dead.  (Both stories are repeated in two other gospels.)

Chapter 10  Jesus warns he has come, not to bring peace, but a sword. Families will divide because of him, but commitment to him should have first priority. 

Chapter 12  The Queen of the South will rise up to judge this generation.  She came from the ends of the Earth to hear the teachings of Solomon: now something greater than those teachings are here, yet people ignore it.  Implications: Women can travel, seek education, and be role models for men. 

Chapter 14  The story of Herodias is told in this chapter.  Her daughter dances well for King Herod and his guests, and is offered a reward.  Consulting with her mother, the sweet girl asks for the head of John the Baptist, who has been rebuking Herod and Herodias for their affair.  Lesson: Women can be as evil and scheming as men.  (In case anyone was wondering.)

Chapter 15  Jesus rebukes religious leaders for finding "spiritual" excuses for neglecting the care of their parents.  He cites the "command of God:" "Honor your father and your mother." 

Later in the chapter, a woman loudly appeals to Jesus to save her daugher, who is afflicted with a disorder interpreted as demonic.  Bystanders tell her to shut up.  Jesus seems to put her off at first, by appearing to compare Gentiles like her to dogs.  But even the dogs get crumbs, she replies.  "Oh woman, your faith is great!" he responds, and the girl is healed.  Lesson: What counts is attitude, not gender or (ultimately) cultural tradition.  (And in prayer, persistence.) 

Chapter 19  The Pharisees ask Jesus if divorce is OK.  The Creator made humanity male and female, he responds.  Man and woman come together as one flesh.  Therefore, "What God has joined, let no man pull assunder."  Men were allowed to divorce their wives because of their hard-heartedness, but this was not God's plan.  Lesson: Marriage is for keeps.  Exceptions may be allowed, but they should not be taken for the norm.  Implications: The math seems to imply monogamy: from the beginning, God intends one man and one woman in unity.  The passage also undermines the worldview of the Nigerian chief who told a missionary, "We are the people.  The women are just animals." 

Chapter 22  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding banquet.  There is, however, no sex in heaven.  (Repeated in other gospels.)  Lesson: marriage is good, and is a symbol of higher goods, but is not itself the ultimate good. 

Chapter 23  Scribes and Pharisees are hypocrits because they pray loudly and cheat widows out of their goods.  Lesson: Watch out for religious hucksters like Jimmy and Tammy Baker.  Assumption: Contrary to common practice in many cultures, women should receive and control goods. 

Chapter 25  Heaven is again like a wedding: some bridesmaids get ready in time, while others miss it. 

Chapter 26  A woman with an alabaster jar of expensive perfume breaks in at a party at which Jesus is an invited guest.  She breaks the expensive jar and pours it on Jesus.  People protest that the money should have been spent on the poor instead.  Jesus responds, "Why do you embarrass this woman?  She has done something beautiful for me."  (Repeated in other gospels.)  Lesson: Don't be a kill-joy.  There's room for spontaneous and extravagent emotions.  Implications: Women should be allowed to control their own property. 

Chapter 27  Many women from Galilee who supported Jesus' ministry watch the crucifixion from a distance.  A few mother are named.  Implications: Don't burn widows.  Don't make them stay in the house.  Let them travel, do good deeds, help people. 

Chapter 28  Mary Magdalene and the "other Mary" go to Jesus' tomb to annoint his body.  An angel speaks to them, "He is risen!  Go and tell his disciples!"  They are filled with renewed joy, and go to do as told.  (This story is repeated in other gospels, sometimes with different details.)  Lesson: Women can be worth listening to!  God may speak to them, including at the very most important moments.  This also implies that Jesus was as close, in a diferent way, to his female as to his male disciples. 

At the end of the same chapter, Jesus appears to the disciples, and tells them:

"Go, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you!"

Implications: Missions.  This is to be a worldwide reform movement, as promised by the prophets.  Jesus' life and teachings are not to be limitted to a few local followers, but are to be the model for reform in every nation. 

The Gospel of Mark

Many of the same stories are repeated, with a couple interesting additions:

Chapter 12  Jesus and his disciples watch a widow giving a small amount of money to the temple.  "She has given more than the rest," Jesus says, because she gave out of her poverty. 

Chapter 13  The Gospel will go to all nations.  Alas for the pregnant and nursing in the day of tribulation!

Gospel of Luke

Chapter 1  Luke tells the story in these first two chapters mainly from the point of view of two cousins: Elizabeth, who is upright, fairly well along in years, and barren, and Mary.  Martha rejoices in the obvious blessing: "The Lord has favored me."  Mary takes a little longer to recognize her pregnancy as a blessing, but then recognizes it as not only a personal blessing, but as consumation of Israel's story.  "My spirit is glad God took notice . . . all generations shall call me blessed."  Which, of course, they have.

Chapter 2 -3  The birth of Jesus and his early adventure in Jerusalem are also told from the perspective of Mary, whom one suspects may have been one of Luke's sources, directly or indirectly. 

Chapter 4  Jesus quotes Isaiah: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . He has annointed me to preach the good news to the poor, announce release to the captives . . . set free the downtrodden, announce the Year of the Lord's favor."  Implications: Why not to prostitutes in Thailand?  Or to that woman in her dungeon cell? 

Chapter 7  Feeling compassion for a widow who's only son has died, Jesus raises him to life. 

A female "sinner" then crashes a banquet at which Jesus is the star guest.  Crying loudly, she begins to clean Jesus' feet with her tears and hair.  The host gets upset: who invited this crazy dame?  And doesn't Jesus know what kind of woman she is?  Jesus directs his first remarks to his host.  "I came into your house, and you didn't even provide for your guest's feet to be cleaned.  But here she is, wiping my feet with her hair!  Yes, she was a big-time sinner.  But look at her love!  Those sins are forgiven." 
Then Jesus speaks to the woman:

"Go in peace.  Your faith has saved you." 

Lessons: I don't need to spell these ones out.

Chapter 8  Jesus' chief followers are describe as the Twelve, as elsewhere, plus "certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and diseases," including Mary Magdalene, Johanna, and Suzanna.  One gets the impression some of them were prominent women. 

The stories of Jesus healing the woman with long-term bleeding, and raising the 12 year old girl, are repeated for the third time here.  "Little girl, arise!"

Chapter 10  Luke describes another interesting domestic scene.  Martha and Mary are hosting Jesus and his disciples.  Martha is busy in the kitchen.  Mary is hanging with the menfolk, talking theology.  "Jesus, can't you make Mary get in here and help?"  Jesus responds, as unsual, in an unexpected way:

"Martha, Martha.  You're worried about so many things!  But one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen that, and it won't be taken away from her."  Lesson: Women should get an education, and not just do housework.  In fact, they should set the housework aside when something more important comes along!

Chapter 11  A woman calls out in the crowd, "Blessed is the womb that gave birth to you, and the breasts on which you suckled!"  Jesus responds, "On the contrary, blessed are those who hear and keep the Word of God."  Lesson: Women are meant to be more than just barefoot and pregnant, like Mormon wives.

Chapter 13  Jesus chooses the Sabbath to heal a woman who has been crippled for 18 years.  The ruler of the synagogue in which this takes place complains about the obvious affront to the sanctity of the day.  Jesus responds, "This woman, too, is a daughter of Abraham.  Shouldn't she have been freed of her bond on the Sabbath?" 

Chapter 23  Many women follow Jesus on the way to the cross, beating their breasts.  Jesus tells them, "Weep for yourselves and your children! If they do this when the wood is green, what will they do when it's dry?"  This is, no doubt, a sad prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem. 

Again women are given first notice of the resurrection, and Jesus' male disciples don't believe. 

Gospel of John 

Chapter 2  Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding in the town of Cana.  Evidently it's a poor couple, because they run out of wine, even at their wedding.  (One might conjecture that the Jesus party may not have been scheduled to attend the banquet!)  Reluctantly following his mother's lead, Jesus turns water into wine, which is pronounced the best wine at the wedding.

Lesson: Confirms the goodness of marriage, of wine, and of following one's mother's advise.   

Chapter 4  Jesus meets and dialogues with a Samaritan woman beside a well in the town of Sychar.  Jesus gently lets her know that he's aware of her promiscuous history (the Elizabeth Taylor of Samaria) and present live-in number 6.  The woman recognizes Jesus as a prophet.  He talks about "living water," and she requests, "Give me this water!"    Lesson: Shouldn't Jesus be stoning this woman to death?  (Jewish Law)  Shouldn't he leave her alone to follow her own lifestyle? (modern liberals)  Jesus offers an engaged, patient middle path, that would serve as a model for Christians who reach out to sex addicts and those exploited by the sex industry in love. 

Chapter 8  This chapter tells the remarkable story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery.  "Should we stone her?"  "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone."  "Woman, where are your accusers?"  "Go, and sin no more." 

Lesson: Again, Jesus walks a middle path between harsh judgement and indifference or exploitation -- the path of love.  "Don't be so quick to judge.  Look at yourself, first.  And, by the way, where did the fellow get off to?"  This is a rebuke to every Muslim mob that to this day stones or imprisons an adulteress in Nigeria or Pakistan -- but also to the modern West, that treats sex as a morally insignificant "choice." 

Chapter 11  Lazarus falls ill.  His sisters call Jesus, hoping he will come and cure him.  "Now Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus."  John is skilled at personal vignettes like this.  Finally, after testing the faith of the sisters -- which he treats as important -- he raises their brother to life.  (Apparently their parents are deceased, which makes this a practical matter, as well as an affair of the heart.)

Chapter 12  Another story about Mary and Martha, revealing Mary as emotional, washing Jesus' feet with her hair, Martha as more rational, disgusted by the sight.  Jesus again credits Mary in her hour of need.

Chapter 19  Several women watch the crucifixion.  Jesus tells his mother, referring to John, "Woman, here is your son."  And to John: "Here is your mother."  Lesson:  Christianity may at times result in the breaking of family ties, but faith in Jesus will also create new families.  Jesus has before seemed to rebuke his mother, but this verse shows that he still takes his responsibility to her seriously. 

Chapter 20  As in other gospels, women are the first to the tomb, and to meet Jesus. 

Reading through the gospels, or through the brief summary I have given, no sensible person, especially anyone who knows something about the status of women in the ancient world, should be left with any doubt that Jesus' teachings and actions were utterly revolutionary.  Jesus' actions and teachings challenge the worst practices in Jewish, Roman, and other civilizations -- beginning with our own practice of running off on spouses, which arguably hurts thousands of times as many women (and men, and children) than, say, witch-burning ever did.  The gospels assume women will control some finances, travel, be involved in ministry, even teach.  They are not naive or sentimental about human nature, including female nature. But Jesus sets a normative pattern of healing, feeding, teaching, respecting, rebuking, and loving women, and allowing to love and express that love as well.  Such horrors as footbinding and widow burning are challenged at the core, as are doctrines such that women need to be born as men to enter into nirvana.  Jesus rescues one woman who is about to be stoned (alone) for adultery, and implicitly challenges the double standard and polygamy elsewhere. 

Clearly, there is an overwhelming basis for relating the liberating effects (described in the previous three posts) to their true cause in the life, teachings, and example of Jesus Christ.

Postscript: But not everyone admits that.  More than 500 posts, largely challenges to my argument, have been posted here, on, or on John Loftus' site.  Some of those challenges are worth serious consideration and response, which I plan to attempt soon.  In the meanwhile, let's deal with the ten Lamest Rebuttals.

How Jesus has Liberated Women IV: The Story

A. Life of Jesus.

The gospels show Jesus as helping women in many ways, including the following: (1) He saved a woman from getting stoned for adultery; (b) He raised a girl to life from the dead. (c) He healed innumerable women, including some who became followers, and Peter's mother-in-law. (d) He raised a widow's only son to life. (e) He provided wine for the wedding of a poor couple. (f) His compassionate teachings seemed to change the lives of several women for the better, such as the woman the well, the lady with alabaster bottle, the woman who washed his feet with her tears.

Of course these accounts are in dispute. If true, however, one can say that Jesus directly improved the lives of hundreds of women in dramatic ways. (See Part IV for details.)

Number of women liberated by Jesus: hundreds directly.

B. Early Christianity

Rodney Stark argues that Christianity helped women in the Greco-Roman world in five principle ways: (a) By discouraging abortion (early methods for which were dangerous, and killed a lot of women); (b) by discouraging female infanticide (extremely common in the Roman world; (c) by aiding widows financially, and giving them useful work to do; (d) by rejecting the "double standard" that men could fool around, but women must be punished for doing so; (e) and by encouraging Christians to care for one another during common epidemics (small pox first struck Rome during this period), which improved chances of surviving disease.

Additionally, Stark, in Rise of Christianity, argues that in fact Christianity encouraged girls to marry later, citing research by Keith Hopkins of 320 girls, showing that 20% of pagan Roman girls married before 13, only 7% of Christian girls, 44% before 15 (pagans) vs. 20% for Christians. (Rise of Christianity, 107).

Even today, childbirth before the age of 15 (apparently in Third World Countries) reportedly leads to the death of the mother five times more often as childbirth after the mother is more mature.  (See here.)  Conditions were, no doubt, far worse for everyone in Antiquity: it seems probable that later marriage saved the lives of thousands of Christian girls. 

Number of women liberated by the Gospel: at least tens of thousands.

C. Medieval Christianity

Christianity was slowly diluted beginning especially with Constantine and Theodisius by three other religious influences: Greco-Roman cultural power; old European pagan traditions; and Islam. After the fall of Rome, literacy declined, the Church monopolized interpretation of the Bible, and few people read the words of Jesus directly. So the so-called Age of Faith was ironically, not always an age in which the teachings of Jesus easily reached ordinary people.

However, the status of women in Medieval Europe was undoubtedly far higher than in its three main rival civilizations: India, China, and the Islamic world. Bernard Lewis, one of the leading scholars of Islam and himself Jewish, noted:

"The difference in the position of women was indeed one of the most striking contrasts between Christian and Muslim practice, and is mentioned by almost all travelers in both directions. Christianity, of all churches and denominations, prohibits polygamy and concubinage. Islam, like most other non-Christian communities, permits both . . . Muslim visitors to Europe speak with astonishment, often with horror, of the immodesty and frowardness of Western women, of the incredible freedom and absurd deference accorded them." (What Went Wrong, 66)

Such observations were made in the 17th Century, already; one cannot easily credit the difference to the Enlightenment.  One Muslim credited the status of women to respect for Mary. 

One gets the feeling, from Frances and Joseph Gies' excellent Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages, that relations between the sexes during this period were overall fairly sane, and that Christianity was a big reason for that. Christianity "demurred mildly" from the general Roman and barbarian assumptions that men are superior in marriage, by insisting that marriage involve "mutual consent (41). Sixth century women inherited money and property, but not land (51). The Church exerted the principle of one wife at a time, which was mostly accepted by the 8th Century (53), ending the otherwise almost universal practice of polygamy (for rich men). Christianity challenged the normal double-standard: "Kings, nobles, and the public in general still felt that a husband could, if he wished, divorce his wife. The Church flatly disagreed." (130)

The importance of opposing polygamy can hardly be overstated.  The sexes are born in equal numbers. When a few men hog most of the women, the surplus men can remain celibate, share women (prostitution), become eunuchs, or kill one another off.  The shortage of women grows more acute when some die in childbirth, as was also common.  In war-like societies, like Mohammed's Arabia, constant battle makes the system work, more or less.  All the other options are far worse, and carry worse implications for society, than monogamy. 

One should not paint the picture too rosy.  There were setbacks in Europe as well. After King Alfred's relatively lenient regulations, some laws decreed harsh punishment for women (but not, apparently, men) caught in adultery. During the 11th Century, in most of Europe (though not Spain), women lost the right to inherit most property. These innovations probably didn't grow from Christian influence (for reasons we will see in Part V). Christian innovations clearly did continue to help millions of European women during the Middle Ages, while no such terrible traditions as footbinding or sati were instituted.

The Gies conclude their book:

"In the course of the Middle Ages, monogamous marriage triumphed over polygamy and male divorce power, and gradually shifted its focus away from parental and kinship concerns to the advantage of the conjugal couple."

If nothing else, Christianity helped European women by unifying Europe and helping it defend itself against Isalmic conquest. Where Muslim armies conquered, those who were not killed, were enslaved or made into concubines. Clearly, the status of women was generally far higher in Europe than in Muslim lands.  By helping unify Europe against Islamic conquest, Christianity left European women in relative freedom to the present hour.

Number of women liberated by the Gospel: tens of millions in the Middle Ages, billions in modern times.

F. China

The Gospel blessed Chinese women in profound ways.  The great early 20th Century scholar, Hu Shih, a secular fan of John Dewey, noted:

"Let women serve as oxen and horses.'  This saying is not sufficient to describe the cruelty and meanness with which Chinese have treated women.  We 'let women serve as oxen and horses,' put on yokes, wear saddles, and as if that were not enough, spurs and horse shoes, then chased them out to work!  Our holy Scriptures were of no saving value.  For a thousand years, Confucian philosophers talked about love and benevolence day after day, yet never noticed the cruel and inhumane treatment of their mothers and sisters. 

"Suddenly from the West a band of missionaries arrived.  Besides preaching, they also brought new customs and new ways of looking at things.  They taught us many things, the greatest of which was to look at women as people." 

The custom of breaking the bones of the feet of young girls caught on during the Song Dynasty. The great neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi helped popularize both skepticism, and foot-binding. 

Among other things, missionaries (a) began the crusade against foot-binding.  This was consumated under the Nationalist movement, which itself was led (at first) largely by Christian Chinese.  (b)  Educated women.  One study in Fujian found that almost all women who went abroad to study by the early 20th Century, had been educated in mission schools.  (c) Introduced the idea of monogamy.  Despite their general flexibility, Jesuits refused to baptist Christians with more than one wife.  See Wild Swans, for a vivid picture of what polygamy meant for Chinese women.  (d) Fought social evils like opium addiction and forced prostitution.  Reform an opium addict, and even if he is a man, you help several women.  (e) Introduced science and encouraged economic development, again beginning at least with the Jesuits. 

Number of women liberated by the Gospel: Probably some 1.5 billion. 

G. Japan and Korea

Confucianism had marginalized women, but never to this extent. Buddhism taught that women needed to be reincarnated as men to gain enlightenment: Japanese Buddhism banned women from sacred places:

"In this land of Japan the most sacred and exalted holy places all forbid women to enter." (History of Japanese Religion, 285)

Honen noted:

"Even the temples, like mere heaps of rubbish and brambles in this world of endurance, refuse entry to women, and even the crudest buddha images made of mud and sticks reject their worship. How, then, coudl women be allowed to be reborn in the Buddha-land adn see the Buddha . . . ?" (Ibid, 287)

This was not universal in Japan: the Nichiren sect was kinder to women, for instance. But it was the norm.

Again, Christian missionaries introduced schools around Japan.  In 1900, the Salvation Army (which was doing great things for women in Europe and America, too) led a music troop, and some journalists, through the Red Light district in Tokyo.  They were attacked by thugs, but this led to the liberation of girls who had been forced into prostitution, at least nominally. 

Women Liberated: tens or hundreds of millions. 

D. India

The doctrine developed centuries earlier and was codified in the Law of Manu that women could only be saved by worshiping their husbands as their chief gods. So if the husband died, the best thing to do would be to throw themselves on his funeral pyre and burn themselves to death. This was commonly done, willingly or not.

“In childhood a female must be subject to her father, in youth to her husband, when her lord is dead to her sons; a woman must never be independent.”

Whatever lout she might have been coupled to, a wife must obey:

“Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife.”

If a widow gave into lust (or hunger pains) in this world she was disgraced, and placed “in the womb of a jackal” and tormented by diseases in the next. The Hindu epics then introduced a pious way out of the dilemma: when a man died, his wife might do well to throw herself on his funeral pier. The voluntary practice of sati became common by about 400 AD, though it was sometimes condemned.
To be born a woman, as to be born into a lower caste, soon became evidence of past sin. A father also sinned if he failed to marry his daughter off at eleven or twelve. Female infanticide thus carried religious justification. Even today, ultrasound results in the aborting of hundreds of thousands of baby girls among Indians who can afford it. Women were allowed to own property, however.

Christianity introduced a starkly new concept of feminity to India, and that concept had a huge (though far from sufficient) impact.  John Farquhar describes that impact in a chapter of his book, Crown of Hinduism. Ruth Mangalwadi also discusses the role of the missionary William Carey in particular in The Legacy of William Carey, chapter 2: 'William Carey: A Legacy by an Indian Woman.'

To be brief, among other things, missionaries inspired by the Gospel: (a) began the struggle against sati, which ended in banning the practice; (b) introduced education for girls; (c) set up homes for women who had been forced into "sacred" prostitution; (d) trained many girls as nurses, a profession still dominated by Christians in India; (e) in general, challenged the evil mindset of the Law of Manu.

The status of women is higher in India than in neighbors like Pakistan and Afghanistan, NOT because Islam is inherently more misogenistic than Hinduism.  It is not: in fact, Hinduism as developed in later centuries was far worse.  The difference is that Hinduism was more flexible, and open to new ideas.  Thus some reformers who challenged the oppression of women in India were Christians, but others saw themselves as Hindus, who had borrowed some good ideas from the Bible, and then found justification for those ideas in their own scriptures. 

Women liberated: probably at least 1 billion.

E. Africa

Africa is the most diverse region of those I've mentioned, racially and politically.  I'm hesitant to say much, since I've never been to Africa, and it would be hard to generalize accurately about
 Africa's hundreds of tribes, chiefdoms, and nations. 

Of course the greatest tragedy of African history is the slave trade, which Arabs, Europeans, and Africans all participated in, and were about equally guilty of, near as I can tell.  The relationship between slavery and religion is complex: I think that after centuries of putting up with horrors, Christianity did ultimately play a key positive role in ending it, thus helping millions of men and women, but that will be no part of my argument here. 

As elsewhere, missionaries introduced schools for girls as well as boys that helped many African women. They also combatted such evils as polygamy and human sacrifice in some regions.  "We are the people.  The women are just animals," was a sentiment a Nigerian village chief expressed to a missionary, who did not accept it!  The effort of modern Christians to end war in the Sudan, end slave-trade, encourage sexual commitments (which seems to have helped halt the growth of AIDS in Uganda and Tanzania), and in relief and development projects, must surely have helped additional millions of women in Africa.  I don't know Africa well enough to put a number on it, however. 


It appears, then, that the Gospel of Jesus has in one or more significant ways, helped 5 billion or more women.  I have not tried to be exhaustive, of course. 

I have also said little about medical practice.  Probably billions of women have been treated by Christian doctors who saw their service as a service to God, in many cases when no other doctor was available.  I have said a little more about education: my wife is one of billions of women who have benefitted, even as non-Christians, from being taught by Christians who also saw their work as a ministry.  I have overlooked many tribes where women were treated with little respect, that have begun to change that with the coming of Christianity. 

Clearly, though, the picture of the Church as a dungeon that imprisons women is not only nonsense, it is the opposite of the truth.  Nothing has liberated more women than the teachings of Jesus Christ. 

But let's now focus more directly on those teachings, so as to make the connection even clearer. 

(Note: If you found this interesting, please consider reading Jesus and the Religions of Man, which includes quite a bit of the information in this post, and a lot else besides!)

How Jesus has Liberated Women III: A UN Survey

Modern Overview

I.  Overview of the Status of Women   I will begin with an overview of the status of women around the world, from the United Nation's 1988 Population Briefing Paper: 'Country Rankings of the Status of Women: Poor, Powerless and Pregnant.'

The subtitle, which seems to put pregnancy on a par with poverty, may help indicate where the paper's authors are coming from.  Some of the criteria by which they analyze the status of women seem to reflect this western feminist agenda.  However, one has to start somewhere, and this paper gives a good general snapshot of the state of affairs by 1988. The authors did NOT seem to mainly interpret these findings in terms of religion, but in terms of poverty, as the subtitle also indicates.  (Certainly, that is how the article reporting the study, which I first read while living in Taiwan, interpreted it.)  It is helpful, I think, that the study authors do not appear to come to the issue with a religious bias.  While perhaps biased in other ways, in relation to religion, it's reasonably objective. 

One bias they may hold, that may scew some relevant findings, is they seem to accept communist figures, which probably deserve skepticism, too sanguinely.  Also, they omit questions of great importance to many women, such as, "How likely is your husband to be a raging drunk?"  That would no doubt have pushed the Soviet figures lower.  "How likely are you and your husband to get divorced?"  That question is not entirely ignored, but should perhaps be more central, and might scew US figures lower.  It is also hard to evaluate fairly, since divorce might be a sign that women can free themselves from oppressive husbands, or that husbands can free themselves from inconcenient wives -- or any combination thereof. 

I'll first show which countries come out on top in four of the five categories.  (I'm missing figures for the fifth category, "social equality.")  I'll list countries by religious background.  It should be remembered, however, that some of these countries have been influenced by a given religion for millennia (India, China, Taiwan, South Korea, European countries, Israel, Japan, Thailand), while others have only been influenced for one to three generations (most African "Christian" countries.  Latin American countries are harder to generalize about: some countries are largely native American, others are mostly immigrants from Europe or Africa. Anyway, Latin American countries seldom figure prominently at either extreme in the poll.) 

After that, I'll list 12 countries that have the highest and lowest scores overall.   

In Part IV, I'll show how we got from there to here, and how Christianity has helped women not only in the "best" and most "Christian" countries, but in societies around the world.  Then in Part V, we'll look more closely at the gospels. 


Of the top 17 countries when it comes to employment, Mozambique is a mix of Muslim, Christian, and animist.  The rest all have a Christian background.  (The authors point out that a lot of men have emigrated from Mozambique for work, which may skew that country's rating.) 

Of the bottom 20 countries, Lesotho, a poor land-locked country in southern Africa, is now 90% Christian, from an animist background.  The other nineteen countries at the bottom in this category, are all strongly Muslim.  India, the world's largest Hindu country, stands 25th from the bottom. 

Buddhist countries mostly stand somewhere in the middle (as perhaps appropriate for followers of the Middle Path): Thailand, Taiwan, China, with Japan a bit higher than middle.  So is the Hindu nation of Nepal. 


The top 12 countries in this category all had Christian backgrounds.  Number 13, Israel, was predominantly Jewish. 

The country at the bottom in this country was Benin, an African country on the Atlantic coast and has 54 living languages and the world's lowest literary rate.  No religion had a majority in the country, though Christians are now listed as its largest minority, also with large minorities of Muslims, animists, and followers of Voodoo.  The Hindu country of Nepal came second from the bottom.  Liberia was seventh.  The next 13 were Muslim countries, after which came India, then China about eight notches up.

Again, Buddhist countries tended towards the middle: Thailand a bit lower, Japan marginally higher. (Yet surprisingly low, considering its economic development.)

Marriage and Children

Another of the criteria in this category seems a little strange -- the authors of the survey seem to assume that women are better off having fewer babies.  Surely that depends on whether women (and their husbands) WANT the babies.  Read Cheaper by the Dozen on the beautiful possibilities of large families.

Nine of the top ten countries were influenced by strongly Christian, mostly Protestant, traditions.  The exception was Taiwan, at number #4.  China was at #11, its highest ranking -- perhaps because of its one-child policy, an advantage unfair to women forced to have abortions!  In general, the survey seems to give communist countries too much credit, partly perhaps because its authors share some of theirvalues, partly because they took official statistics (on the eve of the Velvet Revolution) too seriously. 

The bottom ten countries in this category were all Muslim, with an extremely wealthy countries, Saudi Arabia, occupying the very bottom spot.  Hindu Nepal and India were also fairly low, while largely Buddhist (and wealthy) Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong were a bit above the middle. 


The top 22 countries in this category all had a Christian background.  This included two relatively poor countries, Poland and Chile. 

The four bottom countries are were Muslim, including Afghanistan, dead last.  Next came Nigeria, about even between Christian and Muslim, with some animists.  After that was Nepal, Hindu, Mozambique, mixed, and Malawi and Rwanda, Christian, but only for a couple generations.   

Social Equality

Specific data is missing for this category, though it is factored into the overall data, below. 

Overall Ranking for Status of Women (Color-coding: red for Christian background, green for Muslim background, purple for Hindu, pink for Buddhist.) 

Top 20

East Germany
USSR (in its last full year of existence, at the time)
New Zealand
West Germany
Great Britain . . .  21st
Japan . . . 34th

Bottom 20 (from worst)

North Yemen
Saudi Arabia
India . . . 23rd worst
China . . . just below the middle

Provisional Conclusions

If Christianity has locked women in a dungeon, it seems to have been a sloppy jailer, and seems to have to outsourced almost all jail-keeping duties to other cultures.  In fact, the data strongly suggests the opposite: that where the Bible has been influential, for whatever reason, women enjoy better health, more education, better working conditions, and more control of their families, than in the rest of the world.  The contrast with Islam is starkest, with ancient Hindu countries also stark, but also noticeable with Buddhist countries.  Nor can this be blamed purely on economics: rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Libya, Kuwait and (to a much lesser extent) Japan tend to do surprisingly poorly. 

The only exceptions are a few African countries that have only recently become Christian, or were still only just partially Christian by 1988. 

How can we explain these dramatic figures?  The simplest explanation is that Christianity (and possibly Judaism) have consistently elevated the status of women, while Islam and Hinduism have lowered it, and Buddhism has had a more mixed effect.  But perhaps one shouldn't jump to this conclusion too quickly.  One possible alternate explanation is that the Enlightenment freed women in Europe first, and then, by  extension, those countries influenced most deeply by European colonialism, which also happen to be those that were "Christianized." 

But as I will now show, Christianity in fact began liberating women (how many, I will also give a rough estimate in each historical era) long before the Enlightenment.  Finally, I will then demonstrate the source of that influence: the teachings of Jesus.
How Jesus has Liberated Women II

My story. 

We were told, before we visited this village in northern Thailand, about another visit, the year before. 

A picture I  took when
we arrived in the Thai
hill village.
 The Christian outreach team, which was doing evangelism and various good works, had to spend the night in the village.  Villagers told the men to say in one house, and the women in another.  The men were then asked, "How about a girl for the night?"  Villagers were willing to sell their daughters, and no doubt in the past had sold their daughters, for a pathetically low price. 

They didn't know that AIDS was just around the bend. 

I had heard about the problems hills tribes in the Golden Triangle were facing while we were in Hong Kong preparing for the trip.  Much of the territory was disputed between a patchwork of states, tribes, and drug warlords. Nationalists from China were well-armed, and the Burmese government was trying (and is still trying) to snuff out resistance among hill tribes, at any cost. Opium and heroin were staples of the economy, and girls were trafficked across porous borders for the enormous sex trade that had grown up in Thailand.
Theoretically, there seems little reason why any of this should have bothered me.  "No man is an island," John Donne pointed out.  But according to John Hartung, cited by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, evolution cannot easily explain why we should care about those who belong to different tribes from ourselves.  Furthermore, both Dawkins and Hartung believe that the God of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, exacerates the tendency towards tribal miopia. 

In fact, many Westerners and Japanese who visited Thailand seemed to welcome such attitudes, and the cheap sex and drugs that came with them.  What is more natural?  Whatever feeble instinct we might have towards universal compassion, surely history shows that the male instinct for getting laid is far stronger!

But while in Hong Kong, I had taken to reading the prophet Isaiah. It almost seemed as if he were touched by the plight of such pitiful hill tribes:

“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness . . . ’”

Isaiah’s searing denunciation of oppression also caught my eye:

“But this is a people plundered and despoiled; all of them are trapped in caves, or are hidden away in prisons; they have become a prey with none to deliver them, and a spoil, with none to say, ‘Give them back!’” (42:22)

Girls were, in fact, sometimes chained to beds. The police having been bribed, indeed, no one did seem to stand up and say, "Give them back!" I underlined the last lines of a passage from Isaiah 61 in red, where he seemed to offer hope, though:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners.”

“Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free . . . Then your light will break out like the dawn . . . “ (58:6)

While the rest of the team set up to put on a show about Jesus, I went behind the hut to pray. 
Snake Alley, Taiwan; I took
this picture on the sly, thus
the weird angle.

I had been praying, as an evangelical, since I was a boy, but this time, something unusual seemed to happen.  I suddenly seemed to see this village as if it were in itself and entire planet.  I seemed to hear (not verbally) a voice saying, "Just as my Son entered the world, so my children also need to enter into this little world, and give their lives for it." 

I began to weap for these girls.   

I have never been back to that village.  But years later, while living in Taiwan and encountering horrible forms of sexual exploitation (see picture above right), I began crusading against the sex trade there, and for the young women who were exploited by it.  I wrote articles for a local newspaper, preached in churches, and sent out letters to alert churches in tribal villages. 

Along the way, I met others who seemed to have heard the same call.  I visited an American-Taiwanese couple who had a dramatic conversion experience from the drug culture (he was a Vietnam vet), and ran a rehab center for drug addicts, also taking in prostitutes rescued by the police.  I met Baptists and Presbyterians who ran centers for such girls, and a YWAM group in the Philippines who helped 150 women a year out of the sex trade. I visited Jackie Pullinger, the charismatic English woman who tells her story in Chasing the Dragon.  The woman who served us water had spent a lifetime as a prostitute. 

Studying world history, I came to the conclusion that this was no fluke.  The Gospel of Jesus, I came to believe, has done more to help more women, than any other force in human history. 

In Part III, I will offer an overview from a UN study, that describes the status of women in 99 countries around the world, and show how Christian influence generally correlates to a higher status for women. In Part IV, I'll argue historically that the Gospel itself is responsible for elevating billions of women around the world, even in "non-Christian" countries like Thailand and Taiwan.  Then in Part V, I'll consider every passage in the gospels related to women, and show where that power originated. 

How Jesus has Liberated Women I: Intro

One of the most popular criticisms of Christianity is that it has hurt women, imprisoned them in a dungeon with chains around their wrists, in spirit if not in body, as this cartoon shows. 
Atheist author John Loftus recently posted this cartoon (which actually does abuse women, by making them look like they are missing upper bodies and necks, and their legs are made out of silly putty), reciting the usual refrain from the Atheists' Catechism:

"One of the main reasons I do what I do is because of what religion has done and continues to do to women. I argue against religion for that reason alone."

My gut reaction was to challenge John to a duel:

"Resolved: That the Gospel of Jesus has done more to help more women than any other teaching in the history of Planet Earth.

"I challenge you, John."

John, unfortunately, said he doesn't have time for this debate right now.  Several of his followers, however, insisted I defend my claim (on-line -- like John, I've written about the effect of religion on the status of women in previous books, especially Jesus and the Religions of Man). 

(Update: More than three years later, Loftus STILL has not responded substantively to this series, though he has responded triflingly, more than once.   Loftus also recently edited a book called Christianity is Not Great, which perpetuates these falsehoods -- see my review of Annie Gaylor's wretched chapter.)

Three books and a dissertation await attention, also unweeded vegies and a dog wanting to run . . . But this is a vital topic, often raised by skeptics, and worth attention.  So here goes: I hope this will prove a helpful resource on this vital issue. 

My initial argument will take five posts, then I will post responses to criticism.  This first post is introductory, and explains what I plan to argue and how. 

In Part II, I tell my personal story, as it relates to this issue.

Parts III and IV gives the meat of my argument.  In Part III, I show that, based on objective research, the status of women tends to be consistently higher in societies deeply influenced by Christianity than in other socities. 

In Part IV, beginning with the life of Jesus, I then show how people inspired by the Gospel have in fact FREED billions (yes, that's a b) of women down through the centuries, from dungeons of various makes and models -- including in non-Christian countries.  I argue that the Gospel not only explains the UN data given in Part III, but that evidence UNDERSTATES the positive influence of the Gospel on women throughout human history, and around the world. 

In Part V, I trace this influence in detail to the gospels.  I describe all major passages in the gospels directly and specifically touching on the status or happiness of women (plus a few others), to show why all this influence was not a fluke, nor should it be credited mainly to, say, the Enlightenment. 

(Update: more than three years later, the series continues, and is likely to evolve into a book.  Click the "Christianity and Women" tab below to pick and choose which episodes in this fascinating ongoing saga you would like to peruse.)  

A. What I mean.

By "Gospel," I mean the teachings and actions of Jesus, as described in the New Testament. 

By "help" I limit my argument to worldly effects: how the Gospel has led to women living healthier, more fulfilled, happier, and especially longer lives.  I'm not going to talk about how the Gospel brings women (or men) into heaven, since we can't see that.  Nor am I going to talk about the moral benefits of, say, chastity or sexual faithfulness, since atheists often fail to recognize those benefits, unfortunately.  I'll limit our argument here to benefits that are obvious and tangible.

B. Background 1: the Biome

Voltaire was surprised when fossil fish were found in the mountains, knowing that fish live in the ocean.  How did they get there?  Of course!  Pilgrims and crusaders often trek in the mountains!  He suggested, "Rotten fish were thrown away by a traveler and were petrified thereafter." 

When you find something in an unexpected place, it is natural ask, "Where did it come from?"  Our first question, too, must be, "Where does sexuality begin, au naturale?"   

Justice and equality are not obvious characteristics of how plants and animals relate to one another, including when it comes to sexuality.  Some spiders eat their mates.  Male lions or bears sometimes kill cubs born to their mates by other fathers.

In most advanced species, females seem to sacrifice more for their young than males.  The male emperor penguin, though, tends to his wife's egg for months at a time without eating, while she goes fishing.  

Wolves are, in their family habits, more likeable than most. Males sometimes have been seen giving mates a break from child-rearing, so they can go hunting.  But as with most species, there is a general distinction of labor between sexes.  One finds little trace of pure equality in the natural world: like the perfect circles Platonists thought the planets revolved in, equality is a philosophical ideal, not an empirical reality.

So looking at animal life in general, it would be surprising to find perfect equality of status AND function among humans.  Nor does one. 

C. Background 2:   Human Society

Great variety in the relationship between the sexes can also be found among early tribes.  In some, women seemed to enjoy a reasonably high status.  In others, like the Yanomamo in Amazonia, and the Yali in New Guinea, women were treated as property, or unabashedly raped when opportunity presented itself.  (See, for instance, Napoleon Chagnon, Yanomamo, or Mark Ritchie, Spirit of the Rainforest.) 

In graves by Paleolithic campsites in North America, men and women have been buried with tools they used in their lifetimes.  The tools tend to be gender-specific, but both sexes are about equally well-furnished for the afterlife. 

As people settled along rivers and began to build up advanced civilization, society became more stratified, with the chief, a king, or a class of aristocrats, being increasingly treated as superior, even divine, compared to commoners or low caste tribes.  The status of women varied from culture to culture, and could change.  Women led troops in battle during the Shang Dynasty in China -- in other ways an oppressive and cruel era.  But under the influence of Confucianism, the role of women became increasingly domestic, even while society in general grew a bit gentler.  By the Song Dynasty, 1500 years after Confucius, the practice of crushing and binding girls' feet to make their walk more sexy, became fashionable.  Similiar trends in India led to the practice of sati, or burning (especially upper-caste) widows after their husbands died, to tend them in the next world.  Women had some freedom before the time of Christ in India, but increasingly lost it over subsequent centuries.  While Mohammed married a career woman, Muslim doctrine likewise made it increasingly difficult for women to participate in public life in most Muslim countries.

So "progress" is not automatic. Often, new ideologies, and new canons, seem to justify and regularize new patterns of oppression, whether or women, or, say, of outcastes, unbelievers, or Jews. 

The status of women seems to have been relatively high in parts of Europe before the birth of Christ.  Still, Romans saw the husband as a family dictator.  Girls were usually married at young ages.  Abortions, which were very dangerous, were usually decreed by the husband.  But upper-class women could live comfortably, and with a fair degree of freedom.  The examples of India, China, and Islam show that things often get worse for women over time as a civilization matures, though.   

D. How can we demonstrate historical causation? 

One skeptic asked me for "some way of reliably tracking the historical impact of doctrines in a comparative fashion."

A generally fair-minded atheist named Neil warned me not to use a double standard when it comes to the effect of Christianity:

"Of course, most apologists will still blame the religiously inspired wars, holocausts, bigotry, oppression and tyranny that may have occurred on simple 'human nature,' no matter how obvious the religious justifications.  Funny how that works in the apologist brain...all great achievements require religion, and human nature is not enough, whereas all the wars and abuses are not the fault of religion, just human nature- even when the directives come straight from the pulpit or the 'word of god' itself.

"So what about it David?...are you at least honest enough to take some of the bad with all the good?"

There warnings came in ironic contexts: (1) Following a rant by Iranian Marxist Maryam Namazie, against religious inquisitions.  When I pointed out that Marxists have carried out far more nasty inquistions of their own, several atheists refused to admit that those inquisitions had anything at all to do with atheism, even while blaming Christianity for the Medieval inquisition.  So the warning about "taking the bad with the good" seemed a bit misdirected, in the original conversation.  (2) PZ Myer had also just claimed that religion inhibits creativity.  This in the face of the obvious fact that religion has inspired much of the world's great architecture, music and painting.

Neil's warning is worth heading.  It IS easy, for all of us, to play the game of, "Mine is mine, and yours is negotiable" when it comes to influence. But this sword can cut more than one way.    

How do we know if A caused B?  Let's start with four simple rules:

First, A must precede B. This may seem obvious, but it is remarkable how often the principle seems to be forgotten. In this case, what it means is that Christianity cannot be blamed or credited for a state of affairs that were general before it came into the world. For instance, Christians did not invent marriage, since people were getting married long before Christ was born.  Christianity may conceivably have made monogamy more popular, though, since polygamy was accepted in most societies around the world when Jesus was born. 

This is why I began with a few remarks about sexuality in general.  We need to know where the fish started, before asking how it got to the top of a mountain.

Second, immediate influences seem more likely than distant influences.  A book can change how people treat one another across long gaps in time: you might read the Discources of the Stoic Epictetus after work today, be moved by the 2nd Century Roman's noble teachings, and mend your life accordingly.  But more often, we are influenced by teachings that we see lived out around us.  Even when a teaching is codified in a text, what moves us more is how people in a community of faith with which we come into contact, interpret that text.  This is a well-known principle of sociology. 

Third, something in the alleged cause should explain its supposed effect. If Islam is blamed for encouraging prepubescent marriages, one should find something in the life of Mohammed or Quranic teaching that encourages or allows men to marry young girls.  (Such as his consummating marriage to the 9-year old Aisha.)  If Christianity is credited for saving girls from footbinding in China, the case that it did so is stronger if we find that Jesus or the apostles helped women in similiar ways in the New Testament (as we do). 

Of course, we should not be simplistic about causation, especially with so overwhelming and important a phenomena as sex.  We begin with universal, "basic instincts" for mating, dominating, and caring for young.  Culturally, each society has its own customs and ways of thinking before Christianity arrived.  Human beings are also creative.  There is no simple, deterministic calculus by which we can easily weigh all the variables.  Often, the unexpected occurs -- practically the definition of the word "romance."  One cannot predict the plot of Romeo and Juliet.  Nor could one predict a priori that foot-binding would arise in China, or the flourish with which the Aztecs developed the age-old Mesoamerican rituals of human sacrifice.

But fourth, causation is also clearer if the change moves "uphill against human nature." Why would any man want to have sex with more than one woman? The answer is too obvious, at least to men, to need stating.  Lust and philandering need no explanation, nor do rape, polygamy, or the enslavement of the weak.  But loving those who belong to out-groups is contrary to our strongest instincts, and therefore requires an explanation. 

E. My Procedure

(III) One fairly objective (though imperfect) measure of the status of women was a survey taken in 1988 by the United Nations in 99 countries.  I'll use that survey to roughly measure the influence of religions on the status of women around the world.
(IV) But correlation by itself may not prove causation.  Nor is the influence of a religion always limitted to that religious community.  So I will then try to show how committed Christians improved life for women, not only in "Christian" countries, but on all inhabited continents. 

(V) One can then look for evidence in the example and teaching of a religious founder, and in its sacred books, to explain how the fish got to the mountain-top.  My last post will give that evidence in detail, focusing on Jesus' life, teaching, and actions, in the four gospels.

Let me begin, briefly, with my own story.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Did Marx Promise to Abolition Religion? 

In my last post, I contrasted the words of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, with those of Jesus Christ.

Marx & Engels: "Communism abolishes all religion, all eternal truth, all morality." 

Jesus Christ: "Don't think I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets.  I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill." 

A skeptic who calls himself Mowicus did what skeptics should do, and looked up the Marx quote, which he found is from chapter two of The Communist Manifesto.  He then posed this fair-minded challenge:

"I looked up the context of this quotation, as I've encountered bogus Marx quotations in recent times. I'm not sure how you intend it to be seen, but the way it's used in your post it looks like Marx/Engels are asserting and agree with the substance of the quotation while in context they give it as a bourgeois objection to Communism. I'm not sure they don't completely dismiss it, but I'm not sure they affirm it either. How exactly do you see this quotation?"

This is a good question, and I think answering it will help explain Marx' complex, and often tricky, attitude towards religion, and the attitude his followers adopted in various Marxist movements and states.

Sizeable works have been written on various aspects of this question -- I've often recommended David Aikman's detailed historical study of the role atheism played in the lives and thought of Marx, Engels, and Lenin.  (Though it's a little hard to come by, since it was a dissertation under my old prof, Dr. Donald Treadgold, at the University of Washington, at least one skeptic did order it through an interlibrary loan on my advise.) 

Here I'll be brief. 

In short, I think Marx and Engels are giving this as a failed objection to communism, but not as a false charge. In other words, yes, they implicitly admit that communism does abolition all these things (whatever that means), but that it is no crime to get rid of them (whatever "crime" can mean when morality has been abolished!)

Meaning is derived from context, and the context here is (a) a particular passage in the Communist Manifesto; (b) the book as a whole; (c) it's historical background; (d) the life and thought of its authors, that Aikman explores; (e) how it would be interpretted by Marx' most dedicated or powerful followers, especially in communist-ruled territories. 

From the first two, Marx and Engels are making several charges against their own movement, worded as the abolition of things thought fundamental -- private property, family, religion and morality.  They throw these charges out and wrecklessly affirm them.  Marx and Engels then accuse their supposed class enemies of doing something worse, and that the thing "abolitioned" -- private property, family, morality -- is no more than a mask for something horrible:

"Do you charge us with wanting to stop the exploitation of children by their parents?  To this crime we plead guilty . . . The bourgeois clap-trap about the family and education, about the hallowed co-relation of parent to child, becomes all the more disgusting . . . by the actions of Modern industry." 

It's a little hard to make out Marx' real intentions, here, at times.  His cynical interpretations of his enemies' motives and actions are typical, as is his equally naive assumption that with the "proletariat" in charge, or rather intellectuals like himself, funded by capitalists like Engels, everything will be extraordinarily cool.  Marx probably didn't intend to abolition families: he had one of his own, even if highly disfunctional, and he did seem to love his daughters, in his strange way.  But he certainly did mean to abolition at least large-scale private property, which he treats in the same way, here. 

Certainly, Marx hated God.  He was an atheist, because he denied believing God, but I am not entirely sure he was telling the truth.  (Aikman takes seriously a radical alternative suggestion by Richard Wurmbrand, that I will not go into here, as it would disrupt the discussion.) 

Certainly, Marx and Engels wanted to end religion, and conventional moral rules, and thought communism would do both. 
I go into this in some detail in Jesus and the Religions of Man, and conclude that Marx and his revolutionary followers actually accepted three different moral systems: (1) Christian morality centered on love, by which they debunked the capitalists (this is implicit in Marx' sarcastic and over-the-top criticisms of them in Communist Manifesto, including in this passage). (2) "The ends justify the means," by which they justified their own actions, such as bank robbery, assassination, shooting peasants, imprisoning thought criminals, again including measures mentioned in this passage, etc; (3) Nanny-state morality, by which, having attained power, they harranged citizens to work hard, not spit, not drink too much, have lots of babies or not too many babies, help fellow citizens (if they're not counter-revolutionaries or suspect elements), etc.

The Marxist attitude towards religion was even more complex and flexible. Communism was almost always hostile, but usually pretended to allow some religious freedom, since religion was supposed to fade away on its own, in theory.  Sometimes the state went to an enormous extent to fool people into believing in religious freedom. Often, though, the persecution was intense, including mass-murder and gruesome enslavement and torture, though even then the state usually pretended some pretext, for example by trumping up criminal charges against pastors. Sometimes the doctrine of a "Common Front" was adopted, for instance in response to the Nazi invasion in the USSR. These ambiguities allowed (and allow) many Westerners to fool themselves about the true stance of the communist party towards religion, and even to simply overlook mass murders, torture, destruction, and lies on a massive scale.

In China, I would argue, the attitude towards religion, while still hostile, has since Mao died (and most surviving pastors released from prison) evolved into something pretty traditional.  At the top, party members are mostly skeptics, much like the neo-Confucian literati after the Song Dynasty or so.  They allow several forms of "orthodox" religion, adding "Protestantism,""Catholicism" and "Islam" to the traditional three (Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism).  Worship outside of approved locations, and by approved methods, is in theory not allowed, nor are certain teachings (end times) or activities (miraculous healing).  And some movements are heavily persecuted as perceived threats to social peace or to the state.  But this is traditional in China: Marx I think probably has only a very little to do with what goes on there, these days.

But certainly, the attitude of Marx and Engels, and the actions of the communist movement as a whole, show that "abolish religion" was not at all a false charge, or intended as one, though methods and ultimately attitudes would vary.