The role of religion in a feminist's life is always going to be a tricky topic, because so many religions rely on patriarchal structures and the blind, or near-blind, acceptance of the appropriateness of those structures. It usually doesn't help, either, that most religions come down on the wrong side of many of the policy issues of importance to feminists, like reproductive rights or the socially or politically-mandated roles of women in the family. The acceptance of a religion, for many feminists, might mean coming to a personal conclusion that what you consider the fundamental tenants of a religion are compatible with one's own world view even as the way they've been misinterpreted by the leaders of the religion isn't.It could be a rejection of organized religion, a movement toward so-called "spirituality," which is seemingly defined by an amorphous belief that there's something out there that you believe in and try to live your life by, or it could mean a rejection of the existence (or potential existence) of God. Cath Elliot, writing for The Guardian, believes that a belief in God is fundamentally incompatible with feminism. I believe that Cath Elliot is one of a number of reasons many women are reluctant to identify as feminists. Elliot is taking issue with a recent Julie Burchill piece in the paper in which she declares herself a "Christian feminist" and talks about her movement from atheism back to faith. It's not in any way a great piece, being as it calls all atheists "killjoys" and "smug," harps on about how she volunteers and that atheists don't do enough good for their fellow humans. It's smug and self-satisfied in its eye-rollingly annoying expressions of how great being a Christian is. So I wouldn't begrudge Cath Elliot a certain amount of gagging after reading it. But just because the piece is cringe- or gag-worthy doesn't make Burchill — or anyone else who practices a religion — not a feminist. Elliot heads straight for the opposite pole, calling the term Christian feminist "an oxymoron... on a par with 'compassionate conservative' and 'pro-life anti-abortionist'." She proceeds to explain that all religion, all belief in God, is derived from patriarchal structures designed to exalt men and trample women and thus all religion and even a belief in God is fundamentally incompatible with feminism. She recounts her tales of never finding a religion in which she felt she belonged; she states that religion itself is responsible for the murders of women, the denial of education to girls, the spread of AIDS in Africa and on and on — never thinking to separate the people who do such things falsely in the name of religion from the religion itself. In the end, she metaphorically pats the foolish women who have religion or a faith in God on the head with a nice little Marxist send-off:
Don't get me wrong, I'm not preaching intolerance or condemning those women who do choose to follow a faith. We probably all need something to help us get by in this life: I've chosen nicotine as my particular opiate, but whatever floats your boat.
Well, then. Can't imagine why people would condemn feminism at all after that sort of indictment of religious faith! When it comes to faith, everyone has a personal journey, and a personal decision. That men and women have used religions and faith to justify committing acts of unspeakable horror is not an argument against the existence of God or the wrongness of a religion. That many of the goals of the feminist movement are in opposition to the current (human) interpretations of God's wishes is not an argument that feminism and a belief in God are incompatible. It might be an argument that a particular religion is incompatible, if you buy that a scriptural interpretation is a fundamental principle of a religion — but many people, particularly in America, don't. Myself, I'm a very committed agnostic — so committed to agnosticism that I'm agnostic on the existence of God. I would like to believe in God and/or a religion, or even not believe in God entirely, because I feel like faith in one of those things would be easier than questioning all of them simultaneously. If people like Burchill and Elliot have found the certainty they are comfortable with, I'm envious. But Elliot's insistence that her way is the only way, and her passive-aggressive dismissal of women who have faith that God thinks that we're all equal (which, by the way, is a central tenant of the Bahá'i faith, if you're looking for a religion about equality) rubs me six kinds of the wrong way. Throwing women who believe in the fundamental equality of the sexes and the existence of God isn't good feminism, it's just mean, exclusionary religious belief. I'm Not Praying [The Guardian] For the Love of Christ [The Guardian]