In Part I, I talked about how I was unable to reconcile feminism with the strict interpretation of the Bible I grew up with. But I’ve heard more than a few Christians criticize arguments like this by pointing out that fundamentalism hardly represents the whole of Christianity, and that’s an absolutely valid point. After all, doesn’t the Bible say to love your neighbor? Doesn’t it say, “[t]here is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus“? What’s wrong with that?
Not a thing. And before I became convinced for other reasons* that the Christian god (or any god, for that matter) is a figment of popular imagination, I latched onto passages like that for assurance that I was not somehow worth less than the men around me simply by virtue of my biology. I had more options than just being a housekeeper/baby factory/sex slave. I wasn’t expected to blindly obey people who were no more qualified to lead than I, simply because they won God’s gender lottery. Right?
That works for a lot of people. It involves ignoring some of Paul’s** more peculiarly sexist rants, but it can certainly be done. After all, the Bible basically says God values all people equally, right? Let’s take a look:
The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘If anyone makes a special vow to dedicate a person to the Lord by giving the equivalent value, 3 set the value of a male between the ages of twenty and sixty at fifty shekels of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel; 4 for a female, set her value at thirty shekels; 5 for a person between the ages of five and twenty, set the value of a male at twenty shekels and of a female at ten shekels; 6 for a person between one month and five years, set the value of a male at five shekels of silver and that of a female at three shekels of silver; 7 for a person sixty years old or more, set the value of a male at fifteen shekels and of a female at ten shekels.
Note that this is not a passage dealing with slavery — not that those passages aren’t highly objectionable for their own reasons! This is about making a special vow to dedicate a person to God. In other words, this is not about relative strength or how much the labor of an average able-bodied person might be worth. This passage sets out how much these people are worth to God himself. The numbers don’t lie; he thinks men are more valuable. Nice, huh?
You can see this played out in some of the best known Bible stories, too. Remember 2 Samuel 11? It’s one of the stories about King David, “a man after God’s own heart.” Except he wasn’t perfect. In this charming little story, our hero is walking around on the roof of the palace, sees a pretty woman, and sends his messengers to get her. After knocking her up and trying to cover up what happened, he eventually has her husband killed. Then he marries the woman, presumably planning to live happily ever after.
Unfortunately, due some tragically crappy writing, a lot of relevant details are omitted from the story. For example, when David’s messengers went to get Bathsheba, (or, in several translations, “took” her), how much choice did she actually have in the matter? When she got to the palace, how did David go about seducing her? If she had refused his advances, what would have been the consequences? After all, he was the king. As is alarmingly common in Christian narratives about sex, the entire concept of consent is completely absent from this story. We know that what David did “displeased the Lord,” but apparently no one gives a shit about whether impregnating Bathsheba (quite possibly through coercion or rape) and having her husband killed displeased her. It would sure piss me off, regardless of any particular deity’s feelings on the matter.
But wait, there’s more! In Chapter 12, David the hypocrite is confronted with his misdeed. Nathan the prophet decides to tug at David’s heartstrings by telling the same stories, but not naming the characters. David is a “rich man.” Uriah is a “poor man.” Bathsheba is a “little ewe lamb.”
Does this mean there is bestiality in Nathan’s version? No, no, you’re missing the whole point. You’re thinking Bathsheba and Uriah were both victims here, but it turns out that whatever suffering she may have gone through is not even worth acknowledging. What matters here, clearly, is that David took something that was not rightfully his. He had a bunch of wives, but he took someone else’s. Just like that guy who had a bunch of sheep but took someone else’s.
Protip: If the woman in your story can be replaced with a fucking sheep without changing the plot, you are doing it wrong.
Also, in the nonsheep version, Bathsheba’s baby gets sick and dies as David’s punishment. Because she hasn’t already been through enough grief, and the baby’s life is worthless. But God forgives him in the end, so at least there’s a happy ending. Unless, of course, you’re a character in the story not named David.
Yes, I know there are counter-examples. I know some of the women in the Bible kicked ass. But that’s not enough to redeem to Christian god in my eyes. I won’t say that you can’t be a Christian and a feminist; I’m not about to be that presumptuous. But I can’t be a Christian and a feminist. I tried. It didn’t work. And of the two, I prefer feminism.
*More on that later.
** Granted, there is justifiable skepticism as to whether Paul actually wrote those, but they made it into the Bible one way or another. Since I’m not focusing on those passages in this post anyway, it makes more sense to save authorship debates for another day.