Recently I proposed that sexism is a human problem, not specific to atheism or to in fact to anything-ism. At the same time I suggested that atheism had nothing to offer by way of solving the sexism problem. No one disagreed, and I think there are both empirical and theoretical reasons to consider that a solid conclusion. Sexism is a human problem, and there’s no help for it in atheism.
As for the various religions and cultures, sexism pbviously runs rampant in Islam, traditional Chinese culture and Hinduism, and a host of other -isms besides. What then about Christianity?
I’ll have much to say about this, all of which will depend on getting our definitions straight.
Like “atheism,” the term “Christianity” can refer to more than one thing. There is the social realm of churches and those who call themselves Christianity, which constitutes Christianity in one sense. There is also the set or sets of ideas that form the theological/theoretical basis of Christian belief. The question, Is Christianity sexist? is therefore really two different questions and requires two different answers.
So as this series continues I will make clear which Christianity I am talking about when. The social aspect of Christianity I will call ChristianityS, and the theological/theoretical aspect I will label ChristianityT.
The term sexism has multiple meanings, too. For some, wherever women are treated differently than men, that’s sexism in operation. I cannot agree with that. Women and men are different, and for that reason it can be (it isn’t always, but it can be) right and appropriate to treat them differently.
There is a wrong and immoral form of sexism as well, obviously; and for this series I am using the term sexism only in that sense. I summarize it as the use of power by men to dominate or subjugate women. That power is typically expressed through a whole spectrum of means ranging from open violence to subtle yet strong social cues. It might be on an individual level, as in a man physically striking his girlfriend, or institutionalized power, such as for example the infamous corporate glass ceiling.
Now of course the line between (a) innocently treating the sexes differently just because they are different, and (b) culpably abusing power with respect to women, is hard to define and harder yet to agree upon. I do not mean to imply that the difference is obvious or easy to identify. There are gradations and other complications. Still I’m hoping you’ll see as I continue this series that we can make some headway on these questions anyway.
The time will come, later in this series, when I will have to address the question of men’s and women’s roles, and whether there are legitimate and proper differences between them. This is where that line of differentiation is most controversial. Some readers will want me to jump there immediately, since they take it that differentiated roles amounts to prima facie proof of Christianity’s (both S and T) sexism. I’m not starting there (though I will get there eventually) because I don’t want to feed the misconception that that one controversy is the whole story. There’s an historical backstory of which most people, Christian and atheist alike, are ignorant. And it makes all the difference.
This post sets the stage by defining terms. That’s enough for now; there’s more to come soon.
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