Friday, August 16, 2013

Nothing like listening to a sermon to remind me why I don’t go to church.

A book caught my eye today through a social media link called God Behaving Badly. It’s written by a pastor trying to explain some of the more “difficult” passages in the bible from the outlook of a conservative theologian. I’m always interested in this kind of stuff because I like to see if the other side is making any new or innovative arguments, but I really hated the idea of coughing up nine bucks for the book when I was fairly certain from the description that it was not going to have anything particularly original. Plus I always hate the idea of giving money to an evangelist, it makes me feel a bit dirty.

Since I couldn’t find a free copy online so I thought I’d look on YouTube to see if the guy had done any live talks that had been recorded. While looking I ran into a video where an unrelated pastor was doing a talk about the same subject. 

What’s this? A pastor wearing jeans and sandals. A bare brick wall? A Mac Book on a table. Yeah this church has a bit of a hipster vibe. Thought to tell the truth this was the sort of church I tended to be attracted to when I was a believer. I was a college student for most of that time after all.

In any case, the preacher is speaking about sexism in the bible and trying to explain how it doesn’t really exist. Now, I will give the guy a bit of credit here, he actually seems to really work hard reinterpret the bible as non sexist. And he doesn’t skip out of dealing with the more difficult passages. As opposed to people like Pastor Steven Anderson who the Friendly Atheist has written about several times who seems to outright revel in the sexism of the bible this guy does actually work rather hard to clean up the Bible’s image.

Unfortunately he fails in this task quite spectacularly. The sermon starts out with him reading a pithy top 10 list of reasons god created Eve including things like “God was afraid Adam would get lost in Eden because he wouldn’t ask for directions,” I know he only intended this to be a funny opening, though it was absolutely not funny, but either way, starting out by making blatantly sexist jokes was probably a poor way to start this topic. He then goes through several passages. He explains the passage in Genesis 2:18-25 which refers to woman as man’s helper. He claims the word helper doesn’t imply secondary class since the term is used to refer to god as well in the Bible, but it seems like he misses the basic point that claiming women exist primarily to help men is inherently sexist.

He brings up several other verses, like the one is 1st Timothy 2 that is used by most churches as a justification to not allow women any positions of authority in the church. One of the things I’ve always found interesting about this verse is that it never specifies whether the writer believes this rule should apply in all situations or only in church, and some churches even read the statement in 2:15 about childbearing as a statement that only women who give birth can be saved. The passage is actually quite confusing even for fundamentalists, but he fails to bring up these problems at all.  Of course he acknowledges that his church does prevent women from having positions of authority over men, which should be a straight up admission that his church engages in sexism. He does not do this though, instead he makes several arguments to justify this interpretation as not actually being sexist.

The first thing he does is to essentially make a separate but equal argument. He does this by bringing up the old, “women are just different than men” canard. This argument is unfortunately pretty common even outside of the church circles, anyone remember “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus?” However, I’ve written several times (here for instance) about the shoddy pseudo-scientific nature these sorts of claims. Typically these arguments are built around questionable statistical inferences and anecdotal evidence. The pastor doesn’t surprise in this area as he brings up the differences between he and his wife as proof. Unfortunately for him it doesn’t get around the basic problem that his church is taking the position that women are not suited for certain types of jobs merely because of their gender. This is sexism, no matter how you spin it, no matter what bible passages justify the position.

Then he makes the argument that all people, including men, are called to be servants by the bible so rather than a put down of women these passages are good things. Basically he is saying that women should feel special because god has given them a special calling to be the servants of men. Now don’t all the women reading this feel special? It’s like they are saying everyone is called to service one another, but women are called a little bit more, and don’t be angry at men for this because it’s not us men who are being patriarchal, it’s God’s law. Convenient how that works right?

Interspersed in these arguments he brings up passages in the bible where women are given authority or power in some way as an argument that the bible is not sexist. I found this odd since this argument seems to actually contradict the others. Of course, I am happy to acknowledge that the bible contradicts itself on this issue, but he want’s to treat these passages as clarifications of passages like the one is 1st Timothy instead of contradictions. The thing is the passages don’t really support that kind of interpretation.

You know, when someone like Anderson, or James Dobson opens their mouth to speak on feminists issues I usually find myself getting angry at the outright unapologetic sexism in their attitudes, but with this I honestly feel pity. He seems like a decent guy who doesn’t want to be sexist, and therefore really wants the religion he believes in not to be sexist. He really does his best to preform a balancing act between this desire and his desire to maintain a fundamentalist approach to the bible. I feel for this guy precisely because I used to be this guy, but in the end we just have a fundamentalist who really wants to have his cake and eat it too, but unfortunately for him one can either believe the bible is morally inerrant or be a feminist, it is not possible to do both.

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