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Non-Egalitarian Religion: Fundie or Otherwise


Soldier of the One

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I don't mean to ruffle anyone's feathers and it is more of a 'thinking out loud, what do other people think' kinda post than anything else, but I was wondering what FJ'ers think about non-egalitarian religious institutions, fundie or mainstream.

Without wanting to resort to broad generalizations (a dangerous thing to do here :lol:), I do think it is fair to state that many posters here have some kind of objection (in varying degrees) to fundamentalism and patriarchy (myself included). Hence, there might be a broad (though perhaps not universal) consensus that non-egalitarian/patriarchal expressions of fundamentalism are frowned upon.

On the other hand, I know that FJ knows a wide variety of posters, including those who are Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant 'fundie-lite'. All, or most, of these communities may not be fundamentalist in the usual understanding of the word but may have prescribed (and limiting) gender roles. So how do religious FJ'ers whose communities do not allow religious egalitarianism (women as clergy, women having equal access to ritual and learning etc) reconcile this?

And how is a fundamental (pun intended) critique of fundamentalism any different from - for example - critiquing the Vatican for not ordaining women priests?

Don't get me wrong: I respect people's individual choices and my question is partially rhetorical (I can quite easily identify very crucial differences between non-egalitarian fundamentalisms and non-egalitarian mainstream religion) but I'd really love to hear people's thoughts since I am a religious egalitarian through and through :)

Peace,

STO

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What do I think about them? Well, I disapprove of non-egalitarian religions, but it's just one of many things I don't like. I have moral objections to many elements of mainstream religion and would say that a religion is immoral if there is sexism, homophobia, or a negative afterlife involved.

In general, I don't think it makes sense to heavily criticize one religion for being sexist and give other religions a pass just because they are more popular. For example, there's a lot of criticism of the Browns from Sister Wives and their brand of fundamentalist Mormonism. Their religion is sexist, but not, IMO, more sexist that a religion that tells women they can't be ministers or priests.

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Hmmm, that seems to be a controversial subject around here, one that has come up before.

My personal attitude is that you have a right to participate in a non-egalitarian lifestyle, and as long as you do not try to force it on others (including others within your religion) by coercion, proselytization or otherwise I have little to say about it.

For instance, there is a world of difference in the way gender roles are handled in Modern Orthodox Jews and Hassidic Jews. One of those I find abhorrent and snarkworthy, the other I feel like, meh, to each their own.

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What do I think about them? Well, I disapprove of non-egalitarian religions, but it's just one of many things I don't like. I have moral objections to many elements of mainstream religion and would say that a religion is immoral if there is sexism, homophobia, or a negative afterlife involved.

In general, I don't think it makes sense to heavily criticize one religion for being sexist and give other religions a pass just because they are more popular. For example, there's a lot of criticism of the Browns from Sister Wives and their brand of fundamentalist Mormonism. Their religion is sexist, but not, IMO, more sexist that a religion that tells women they can't be ministers or priests.

QAF_Rocks, I think you make a few important points here. First of all, I am not sure whether I can tell from your post whether you are religious or not. If you *are* religious, you seem to hold a religious-egalitarian point of view and you are an 'insider' who argues against non-egalitarian religion since you are invested in religiosity in general. If you are *not* religious, however, then this gives you a different perspective altogether - as an 'outsider'. I just wonder whether being being an insider or an outsider makes any difference in the discourse.

Of course, this is a broader question that has no bearing on you personally. It's something I wrestle with too. Is it fair for me as a non-Catholic to criticize the Catholic Church for not ordaining women? Or should I stick to intelligently critiquing my own tradition (Judaism) when it is sexist or homophobic?

This also begs the larger question of how we define sexism and homophobia through a religious lens. Is saying 'because Scripture says so' and being vested in the absolute sanctity of said Scripture more or less homophobic than a secular anti-gay argument? Can we, as you say, give mainstream religions a 'pass'?

Should we give mainstream religions a 'pass' vis a vis their homophobia and/or sexism?

As for my own tradition: I want to be very understanding and respectful of Orthodox Judaism. I respect the integrity with which they want to approach their (and our) Scriptural sources. On the other hand, I disagree with some important (and distinguishing) features of Jewish Orthodoxy on social, moral, scientific and theological grounds. How do I walk the narrow path between 'relentless Ortho bashing' and 'so open-minded my brain falls out'? I am still trying to find that balance and with that, trying to honor my own (egalitarian) community, our non-egalitarian communities and my own sense of (religious) self.

Ah... so many questions, so few answers and feeling surprisingly lacking in eloquence to articulate them properly today :)

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Hmmm, that seems to be a controversial subject around here, one that has come up before.

My personal attitude is that you have a right to participate in a non-egalitarian lifestyle, and as long as you do not try to force it on others (including others within your religion) by coercion, proselytization or otherwise I have little to say about it.

For instance, there is a world of difference in the way gender roles are handled in Modern Orthodox Jews and Hassidic Jews. One of those I find abhorrent and snarkworthy, the other I feel like, meh, to each their own.

Emmiedahl,

Oh I am sorry - I must have missed previous threads discussing this. (I also, silly me, have not been able to locate the 'search function' on this board. FAIL).

I didn't mean to open a nasty can of worms. This is just a question I seriously wrestle with and that taps into all kinds of questions of tolerance and cultural relativism.

I posted as soon as you did and you may have missed my responds to QAF_Rocks.

Anyhow, I think you raise a valid point. 'Coercion' is probably a big, distinguishing factor in this discussion. How coercive are non-egalitarian communities? I'd wager to say that a Modern Orthodox Jewish community is far less 'coercive' than a sectarian, fundamentalist, isolationist community (of whatever creed). So yes, I largely tend to agree with you. The same applies to same sex (civil) marriage, which I wholeheartedly support. Then again, I do not want to enforce my lifestyle onto others or have others enforce their lifestyle onto me.

Thanks for making me think :)

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I'm not religious, and as such am an outsider to all of it.

My instinct is NOT to give "mainstream" religions a pass. if everyone involved is voluntarily there (but of course that can be a sticky question!) then I'm generally fine day to day with "live and let live," but on the other hand, I don't believe in any of those scriptures, so the various arguments that boil down to "that's what we have to do because that is how God made things" don't have any particular weight with me, and so no, I don't think non-egalitarian religious arguments should have any more of a "pass" than non-egalitarian secular arguments. To put it another way, most people from any religious tradition know of other religious traditions which they don't believe in and so consider to be irrelevant or superstitious, well, I think the same of theirs. So I think they can "get" where I'm coming from, even if we don't agree.

I realize that is controversial, and I usually don't bother making the posts where I might get into an argument about it with someone who is being reasonable with me. Live and let live, again.

Perhaps it boils down to freedom, if someone is truly voluntarily participating, and I respect that person, I will respect their right to hold views I don't agree with and not go around causing unpleasantness, because that is about respecting a person, not their religion (which I might consider to be nonsense). On the other hand, if people start using those religious arguments to coerce other non-voluntary participants into certain practices, I will speak up.

Still though, my paper gets endless letters to the editor about the evils of homosexuality (to name only one topic - we get creationism debates too) and they will appeal to their higher power, saying in effect "I didn't choose to have this belief, God has ordained it so it's somehow different from your garden variety bigotry, I should not have to take responsibility because God says this" and I have absolutely no patience for those arguments.

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Soldier of the One, I don't think we have ever had a dedicated thread. It just comes up occasionally when talking about religious ideas. I appreciate that you started a thread on the topic.

I *do* believe that people have the right to dislike any or all religions for any reason or even none at all. I was just referring to my own way of judging good vs. bad. I can especially see why a person who has been victimized by religion would want to say Fuck It All. There are negative things that go with the good.

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I am a Christian who was raised in a not-too-fundie, but non-egalitarian tradition (Southern independent Bible churches that were Baptist-like), and I am still a Christian, but I now have decided and promised to never belong to or regularly attend a church that does not fully treat women and LGBT people as equals.

...yeah, it's kind of hard to find a church like that close to me here. But I hope sometime I will!

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QAF_Rocks, I think you make a few important points here. First of all, I am not sure whether I can tell from your post whether you are religious or not. If you *are* religious, you seem to hold a religious-egalitarian point of view and you are an 'insider' who argues against non-egalitarian religion since you are invested in religiosity in general. If you are *not* religious, however, then this gives you a different perspective altogether - as an 'outsider'. I just wonder whether being being an insider or an outsider makes any difference in the discourse.

I'm an atheist, so I'm definitely an outsider to the conversation. I don't believe any religion is factually true, so I would criticize their supernatural claims on an equal basis. However, there are some religions that I find morally objectionable due to their promotion of inequality, both in how they treat other people on earth and what they teach about their afterlife concept. For example, I would not agree with liberal Christian universalists about the existence of the supernatural, but I have no moral qualms as long as their organization is fully egalitarian and inclusive.

Of course, this is a broader question that has no bearing on you personally. It's something I wrestle with too. Is it fair for me as a non-Catholic to criticize the Catholic Church for not ordaining women? Or should I stick to intelligently critiquing my own tradition (Judaism) when it is sexist or homophobic?

Sure, I think it's fair. I'm not someone who believes that religion deserves special treatment just because it's religion. We should always treat people respectfully, but we don't have to respect their beliefs. People aren't their beliefs. Religious and political views are always up for criticism. If some remote tribe decides to sacrifice virgins to appease their god, it's perfectly fair for outsiders to condemn that behavior. If someone beats their children with plumbing line because they think their god is telling them to do so, I won't tiptoe around and say that I respect the belief that leads to that behavior. You don't have to be a member of the religion to say that such abuse is immoral.

This also begs the larger question of how we define sexism and homophobia through a religious lens. Is saying 'because Scripture says so' and being vested in the absolute sanctity of said Scripture more or less homophobic than a secular anti-gay argument? Can we, as you say, give mainstream religions a 'pass'? Should we give mainstream religions a 'pass' vis a vis their homophobia and/or sexism?

Personally, I can't give mainstream religion a pass. Homophobia is homophobia and sexism is sexism, regardless of where it originates. I don't believe that any scriptures are of special, supernatural origin, and thus all religious homophobia and sexism comes entirely from human beings. If modern people choose to promote those teachings, I don't give them a moral pass. They're responsible for what they believe and for what they teach others.

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Personally, I can't give mainstream religion a pass. Homophobia is homophobia and sexism is sexism, regardless of where it originates. I don't believe that any scriptures are of special, supernatural origin, and thus all religious homophobia and sexism comes entirely from human beings. If modern people choose to promote those teachings, I don't give them a moral pass. They're responsible for what they believe and for what they teach others.
I think you maybe put it more succinctly than I did, but this is where I'm at as well.

Particularly the "you're responsible for what you believe" part.

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On the other hand, I know that FJ knows a wide variety of posters, including those who are Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and Protestant 'fundie-lite'. All, or most, of these communities may not be fundamentalist in the usual understanding of the word but may have prescribed (and limiting) gender roles. So how do religious FJ'ers whose communities do not allow religious egalitarianism (women as clergy, women having equal access to ritual and learning etc) reconcile this?

And how is a fundamental (pun intended) critique of fundamentalism any different from - for example - critiquing the Vatican for not ordaining women priests?

Don't get me wrong: I respect people's individual choices and my question is partially rhetorical (I can quite easily identify very crucial differences between non-egalitarian fundamentalisms and non-egalitarian mainstream religion) but I'd really love to hear people's thoughts since I am a religious egalitarian through and through :)

Peace,

STO

As a Catholic, that's something I ponder now and then. Why aren't there women Catholic priests, when Episcopalians and many other denominations have been ordaining women for many years now? And how does that jive with my personal desire for equality among the sexes?

I know my dad called me a "radical liberal feminist" because I didn't want to be given away like chattel at my wedding--I wanted to walk down the aisle as equals with my husband. And that was when I began wondering truly--is the Catholic church actually being sexist?

It does basically boil down to different interpretations of Scripture. I remember reading somewhere about female deacons in the New Testament, since the letter writers occasionally exhort people to pay attention to female religious leaders in certain areas. I wish I could remember where I read it--it was a fascinating analysis. Some people say that because there were no actual female "bishops" women can't be priests. Others argue that women can be priests, but they can't be bishops. Still others argue that women could become deacons, but not priests. It depends on the interpretation of the various titles or roles that were used to describe these female leaders.

It's the fact that the Catholic church does not ordain women that is one of the reasons why my Protestant husband decided not to be Catholic, when he was searching for a new church to belong to (the one he used to belong to was mainstream, but they looked down on anyone who was less liberal than the pastor--and as liberal as my husband is, he felt like he didn't fit in because he wasn't liberal enough).

But how is this different from the Patriarchy movement? Isn't it patriarchical of the Church to deny the priesthood to women? It could be. After all, the justification comes from biblical and historical sources, as interpreted by years of tradition.

On the plus side, the Church doesn't treat women as chattel, despite what fundie Catholics tend to say. It is actually traditional for the couple to walk down side by side in their wedding, instead of being given away. Women aren't seen as baby breeding machines, as much as the Couple to Couple League propaganda wants it to be. In fact, the Church just encourages couples to be open to life and to have children responsibly as they can reasonably care for, and that's interpreted by the pew-sitters as they see fit.

They do see women as independent people worthy of equal respect, not something that men must always have authority over. This is what I've learned, and what my husband has learned, as I recatechized myself through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, when I needed to teach myself what the Church really teaches, instead of what my dad teaches.

Yet, why are women relegated to only marriage, singleness, or the consecrated life? Why can't they be ordained? And why is or isn't it patriarchical?

I think religious egalitarianism is a continuum, where things don't fit neatly into boxes. Certain denominations are more egalitarian than others.

If I had to try to explain why I don't view the Catholic Church as a oppressively patriarchic denomination, I would say that it's because women are seen as people capable of independent thought, women aren't viewed as property or wayward children who need a man to guide them at all times. It's because women aren't expected to pop kids out like their vagina is a clown car. They're not told they're slutty creatures that need to be covered up so not to be temptresses. It's because women DO have some role in the church governance and operation. I was a lector for a while. Women sit on the parish council. Women run the office. And at my parish, adults are the altar servers, and some of the altar server positions are actually equivalent to deacon responsibilities (since we rarely have deacons at the monastery/parish). So, in that case, women are very nearly deacons here, even if they do not take part in the celebration of the Eucharist.

While we're not as egalitarian as the Episcopal church, we are not patriarchical for these (horribly rambling) reasons. That is why I still feel comfortable being Catholic despite my fundie Catholic upbringing. The fundie Catholics are NOT the norm, nor are they extolled as excellent examples to follow.

I'm really sorry I'm a rambler :oops: , I was just trying to think out loud. Thanks for bringing this up as an interesting topic!

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I think another important part of this conversation is the role of reform movements within non-egalitarian traditions. Pretty much the only reason I can continue to identify as Catholic is because I've stumbled upon what I call an "alternative liberal Catholic universe," which consists primarily of women's religious communities (nuns/sisters), lay-led faith communities, and reform groups such as Roman Catholic Women Priests, Women's Ordination Conference, Call to Action, Dignity, Catholics for Choice, etc. I can only speak for Catholicism because that's my tradition, but I'd assume that other non-egalitarian traditions have reform movements within them.

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How do I reconcile it? Welcome to the story of my life....did I mention that I'm a feminist lawyer who belongs to a Hasidic Jewish congregation? So yeah, there are times that I pick and choose, times that I cringe, times that it looks like I'm debating both sides of the issues on different sites, and times that I come up with some great synthesis.

I know this site focuses mostly on Fundamentalist (Protestant) Christians, but I know very few of them IRL. So no, I don't think that there should be some artificial divide between criticizing QF and criticizing fundamentalist trends in Judaism or Islam, because I know far more of the latter than the former. Google the demographics of Toronto and its surrounding areas (Markham, Richmond Hill, Thornhill, Vaughan, Brampton).

Here's my personal take on it, so far:

1. I care about Judaism. I want to be connected to it and learn more about it.

2. I want my sources to be direct and honest. Sometimes, I won't like the results, but that's better than being fed mush. I learn from a variety of sources, and appreciate those that are most complete.

3. I don't project my own interpretations on to others, but try to learn from them directly about their own POVs. That doesn't mean that I always agree - I often don't. However, I appreciate the I have had opportunities to learn from Jews across the spectrum, both IRL and online. Misunderstandings and projecting interpretations are IMHO a huge problem across the board. I don't think it's okay to assume that a Hassidic rabbi isn't shaking a woman's hand because he's a raging sexist, but I also don't think it's okay to assume that a woman wants to be a rabbi only because she's a raging angry feminist who doesn't care about Jewish law.

More to follow in part 2:

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Part 2:

4. I appreciate that I have found remarkable men and women across the Jewish religious spectrum, who have taught me things and served as inspirations. In particular, I have seen women in even very traditional settings who are intelligent and independent and willing to speak their minds. Therefore, I don't approve of blanket stereotypes and dismissals of entire groups of people.

5. When it comes to egalitarianism, I care much more about substance than form. I don't really care, personally, about taking on ritual commandments for which women have no obligation, or wearing traditional male ritual religious garments instead of traditional female religious dress. I do care, however, about the exclusion of women from areas of religious authority. There is an opinion on the very left wing of Modern Orthodoxy (aka Open Orthodoxy) that states that there is no technical reason in Jewish law to prevent a woman from being a rabbi.

6. I have issues with backlash, and with growing tendency to follow fundamentalist trends. It's a growing problem. My grandmother drank the socialist Kool-Aid in the 1950s, and it turned out that our faith in Communism was misplaced. I don't want history to repeat itself, but this time on the right. My disillusionment with the left doesn't mean that I'm willing to blindly follow any lunatic on the right, and ignore basic intelligence and common sense.

7. I have an issue with some of the modesty obsession, but also realize that it is interpreted (and marketed) in different ways. I have no problem with dressing in a way that is nice, but not overtly sexual. I also don't have a problem with personal standards that draw a line which is a safe distance from "too sexual", and which say, "I have standards for myself, they are not negotiable, and I want to present myself to the world in a certain way". To a certain extent, the standards are quite similar to professional dressing standards in my area (ie. conservative profession in a cold climate). I do have a problem with any assumption made about women who do not follow these standards, which I consider to be beyond the "overtly sexual" line. For example, wearing pants or a short-sleeve t-shirt are common, and hardly the same thing as walking down the street in a G-string.

8. I completely disapprove of modesty being used to limit women, or make them invisible, or discourage any sort of individual expression, or banish them from the public realm.

more to come with part 3

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Part 3 (final part!):

9. I have some respect for limits on physical contact, esp. in an era of "zero-tolerance". At the same time, I think that the person with those personal limits has the onus to make sure that they do not embarrass other person. If you don't shake hands with someone of the opposite gender, don't leave them there with an outstretched hand - make sure that you are holding something and give a big smile and nod.

10. Beyond ideology, you either project a sense of caring about someone else, or you don't. I initially chose a non-egalitarian synagogue over an egalitarian one for the simple reason that the rabbi at the first one greeted us personally with a smile, insisted that we stay for dinner, and showed deep warmth and concern toward every human being that walked in. Nobody in the egalitarian synagogue seemed to notice that we were alive. [Not a general comment on the philosophies, just an observation about these 2 particular places.]

11. I've noticed some feminist trends even in Orthodox circles, practices and texts, and I embrace them. Mikvah (the practice of immersing in a body of water 7 days after menstruation) is controversial, but I embrace the interpretation that it is a way to be in control of one's sexuality, and I love the idea of skinny dipping as a form of worship. I don't think that anyone can read Judges, chap. 4 and NOT think "girl power!" - I mean, you've got Deborah being not only a wife, but also a prophet, a judge, a successful military commander and a peacetime leader of a nation for 40 years, plus Yael killing the enemy general. I also note that Chabad Lubavitch encourages a VERY active role for its women - each center isn't just run by a rabbi, but by a husband/wife team.

12. Theologically, there are teachings that G-d has both masculine and feminine aspects, and that the first being contained both aspects before being split into male and female. This works for me on a metaphorical level. I've also seen an argument that while the male aspects became dominant in an imperfect world, that the feminine aspects will rise during the Messianic era and that the modern women's movement may foreshadow the ultimate redemption of humankind.

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