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Mar 26 2006

Sunday Jesusianism

Over breakfast—a humorless, hairy cup of herbal tea and a bowl of curried dung granola—I’ve been reading the Patriarchy Manual. By which I mean the Bible, the durable bestseller that gives modern misogyny its legs.

Boy-o, is that shit a hoot. Like the part where Jesus says, “Woe betide the Dean of Admissions who accordeth that women may comprise greater than 60 percent of any university student body, for upon him or maybe her if she was lucky enough to get the job will fall the painful thwack of the Sword of Legal Dude-Approved Sex Discrimination.”

Jesus. For a fictional character upon whom much of modern civilization pretends to be modeled, he’s one sick mutha. He puncheth in the gut with one hand, but patteth on the head with another. For instance, after ensuring the ascendancy of honky males in the US, he’s breaking with a 2000-year tradition in Kerala, India by allowing premenstrual girls to serve as altarboys in the Catholic church there.

But don’t get excited, Jesus hasn’t gone all feminist on our asses. A Kerala priest—priests, you may recall, are guys who claim that the ghost of a dead Jew from the Roman Empire talks to them all the time and yet are rarely thrown into nut-houses—reassures us that this is “certainly not a first step towards ordaining women as priests.” No, it’s just a clever gambit to lure preteen girls into the nunnery, where they will have fulfilling lives as celibate brides of Jesus and priest-slaves. Patriarchy is safe, for the nonce, in the Jewel of the Arabian Sea.

43 comments

1 ping

  1. Cass

    Well, it beats having your husband set you on fire because your dowry doesn’t meet his expectations. Or dying horribly of AIDS because he chooses to fuck around on you. Or having him murder your infant daughter so he doesn’t have to pay out HER dowry someday. Or… well, you get the idea. As dismal as life in a nunnery may be (O.K., undoubtedly is), there’s much, much worse fates awaiting many of these girls.

  2. Crys_T

    Aren’t all those stereotyped actions of people on the subcontinent related to religious beliefs other than Catholicism?

    Not that I’m trying to make a “civilising” claim for Catholicism–my own ancestors knew first-hand about the Inquisition and all that–but, come on, if there is a time in which the idea that countries are neither homogenous nor monolithic needs to be stressed, that case is India.

  3. zuzu

    The altar attendants at my nephew’s First Communion were girls. This was at the chapel on Marine Base Quantico (which has a bald eagle’s nest in the spire where the cross would be), though the Navy chaplain was an actual priest.

    The fact that this was the first time I’d seen this probably doesn’t mean much, since it’s the first time I’ve stepped inside a church on a Sunday for about 25 years.

  4. Cass

    I wasn’t trying to make any arguments either for or against Catholicism, or “native” south Asian culture… just making the observation that becoming a “bride of Christ”, a Buddhist nun, or any of the other cultural equivalents around the world has traditionally been one of the few escape routes (short of suicide) for girls unwilling or unable to put up with the random horrors visited upon them by the institution of marriage.

  5. CafeSiren

    Unless I missed it, the original blogger on the Kenyon College piece (to whom Twisty links) is missing the point about affirmitave action in higher ed admissions: Affirmative action was not meant to achieve proportional representation (51% female, 12% African-American, etc.) in higher ed, but rather was meant to address persistent inequalities by providing historically disadvantaged groups with the education needed to qualify them for employment, advancement, etc. on the same basis that white males have always had. Now, if someone can prove to me that having only 40% male student body in US colleges and universities is measurably disadvantaging them (proportional to their relative numbers) in terms of opportunities for employement, advancement, and even political power after they graduate, then I’d agree that we’d reached the hypothetical “tipping point,” and that white dudes now needed aff action of their own. But, since that doesn’t seem to be the case, I call bullshit.

  6. Cass

    On a related note, this is an absolutely brilliant essay I stumbled across a a couple of years ago, on the connections between female “saintliness”, anorexia, and life under the patriarchy. Were I running a blog of my own, with a following as large and devoted as that of our beloved host, I’d certainly put this in my “required reading” section:

    http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n05/mant01_.html

  7. Cass

    BTW, Twisty, did we catch a sly allusion to this…

    http://www.mrs.umn.edu/~merrill/oppenheim.jpg

    …in the post above?

  8. suezboo

    Cass, I read that essay. Fascinating analysis and story. Thanks for the recommendation.

  9. teffie-phd

    I would rather be a nun, hanging out with the other smart girls in a life basically without men, compared with many of the other options girls in Kerala face–an Indian state which is probably the most progressive in the country.

    Hell I would probably rather be a nun if I were poor in my country too. They have the chance at education, they work outside the home and their every day lives aren’t as governed by patriarchy/heteronormativity than most secular women like me who are married with kids etc.

    That being said, I think Catholocism in particular and religion in general are tools of the patriarchy. But if those were my only choices I can see why women did choose the church. Beats stripping.

  10. aldahlia

    Yeah, the Vatican officially allows girls to server as altarboys, if the priest and bishop at the specific church approve.

  11. Pinko Punko

    I was trying to think of something humerous re:Vatican’t but the ol’ eyes see red when I think of that particular institution.

  12. Arianna

    Aldahlia – Thanks for pointing out the priest bishop rule, because I was reading this going “wtf”, as having grown up Catholic and having spent 4 years of that as an altar server (we don’t call them altar-boys here anymore since most of them in the town I grew up weren’t boys), I hadn’t realised that girls weren’t allowed to be altar servers everywhere, having been taught all my life that the Church was always and everywhere the same.

    Mind you, I gave up on Catholocism when I was 13.

  13. aldahlia

    Arianna – Yeah, it does sort of mess up the “same everywhere” thing, but so does the “native language” mass. And, Twisty–it’s not intended to turn girls into Nuns. The move to include girls as altar servers was meant to fill in the gaps in places like the US and Europe where Catholicism has fallen so out of favor that there aren’t enough boys attending to get the job done. It’s actually a hotly contested move within the church, because some folks think it leads to a lack of boys turning priest in churches where girls are included as a “fairness” measure instead of an emergency fill-in.

    The bride-of-christ imagery hits basically ALL girls at confirmation, altar servers or no.

    Neither Nuns, Priests or Monks have to actually be virgins… they just have to take a vow of celibacy when they leave the laity.

    As for the Virgins (Mary or otherwise) the actual story behind why some female saints are specifically designated Virgins occasionally has vaguely patriarchy-blaming implications. When a saint is designated a virgin martyr, they include the Virgin part to emphasize that she *refused to get married.* (Which a lot of the time why they martyred her.) When you look at the bulk of pre-Rennasaince saints they were usually women that outright refused to marry for one reason or another.

  14. aldahlia

    Er, the bulk of *FEMALE* pre-Rennasiance saints.

  15. Wolke

    CafeSiren, I too felt Majikthise was missing the point.
    “Race- and class-based affirmative action is often justified by appeal to the value of diversity. Arguably, all students are better off if they are exposed to a broad range of experiences and ideals. Education is supposed to broaden people’s horizons. So, it’s mutually beneficial for students from different backgrounds to go to school together. If nothing else, it’s instructive to be exposed to people who aren’t exactly like you.”
    This is not a justification for affirmative action that I’m familiar with.
    Also, I completely disagree with this:
    “All other things being equal, it’s probably better to be closer to gender parity, if only because students seem to prefer it. Of course, whatever benefits may accrue from male preference are offset by the fact that the class is less academically qualified overall. Still, maybe a gender balance closer to 50:50 is a superior social environment, at least for girls who want boyfriends.”
    The issue here is not the environment best suited to find a boyfriend but justice. A female student who gets turned down for a guy in spite of superior qualification will hardly appreciate the superior social environment that supposedly results from gender parity.
    I found A white bear’s commentary more to the point:
    http://istherenosininit.blogspot.com/2006/03/more-bs-at-nyt.html

    Btw, where can I find instructions on posting comments, like using italics? Thanks

  16. Ms Kate

    I think all good Christians should preach against homosexuality in equal measure to the amount of time Christ himself spent preaching against homosexuality.

    In otherwords, they should have somebody else say they said something vaguely negative about it once every 50 years.

  17. Christopher

    My favorite part of the bible is where Lot is entertaining the angels, when the whole neighboorhood comes to his door looking to do some good old fashioned raping.

    So Lot comes out, and says, “Look, I’m entertaining right now, and I really wanna impress these guys, so I’m gonna have to ask you not to rape them. Look, look, I know you guys had your heart set on raping somebody, and I’m not about to say no to you, especially since Bob leant me that hibachi. So come on into the back yard, I’ll fry up some brauts and you can rape my daughters. I know they aren’t men, but come on, they’re still pretty damn hot.”

    I mean, what the fuck is that about?

    Liberal Christians usually say that the bible is metaphorical, but what in the hell is that a metaphor for?

  18. sage

    Christopher, This is my favourite passage also. The best is when Lot comes out of his house in the morning and has to step over or around his servant girl (who was also gang raped) to send off his friend. I think the neighbourhood wasn’t originally looking to do some raping, however, they wanted to kill Lot’s buddy who had cheated them. Lot gave up some worthless women to save his buddy’s ass because that’s just the kind of stand-up guy he is. The lesson is do everything to help a friend even if he’s been a jerk to others (enough to inspire mob retaliation). The bigger lesson, of course, is that women are here for bartering purposes when necessary.

    And teffie-phd, Stripping vs. church? I think it’s a close call.

    I wrote a bit on recovery from Catholicism here if anyone’s interested.

  19. Kelda

    You don’t have to refuse marriage to be a holy virgin – there was one Anglo-Saxon saint (arg… forgotten her name) who was regarded as Extra Special because she preserved her virginity within her marriage. Given that her husband was a big hairy Anglo-Saxon king either a) she (or her biographer) was a big fat liar, or b) her husband *really* didn’t do women. There’s another one who was given Miraculous Powers to leap over a 12ft wall when her husband was coming to demand his conjugals. And spent a couple of hours hanging onto a nail behind a tapestry to hide from him. Although given the definition of marriage in the Catholic church they weren’t technically married until they’d had sex.

    There’s a theory that early post-conversion nunneries (which there were rather a lot of) in England were to do with discouragement of infanticide:
    King: Rats, another girl. ‘Scuse me, just off to abandon her to the elements.
    Priest: Stop! Thou shalt not kill!
    King: You didn’t say that before the battle last Wednesday.
    Priest: Um… that was different. God said you could. And gave you victory! This is slaughter of the innocents!
    King: It’s a girl. You hate girls. Foul temptresses you said.
    Priest: Aaaaum. Well, not if they’re virgins. Holy virgins. Not foul temptresses.
    King: Dude, your religion is screwed up. If you want her to live so much, deal with her.
    Thus nunneries :) Oh, and there’s the ‘Christianity test’ – baptise a random infant daughter. If daughter lives, this God chap is worth following – if she dies, he’s obviously rubbish.

  20. aldahlia

    Kelda, you don’t actually have to posess an intact hymen to be a virgin martyr, either. There a a lot of virgin martyrs that were raped as part of their martyring.

  21. Princess of Cybermob

    Thou blameth the patriarchy in a hilarious wayeth!LOL

  22. Grace

    Kelda, I’m laughing now, having re-read Bede quite recently …

    Somebody upthread is confusing Lot and the guy with the concubine in Judges, which are similar stories except the latter is considerably more fucked up. Lot’s daughters were not in fact raped, and they escaped to commit incest with their father in order to preserve his male line – their idea, not his – whereas the concubine in Judges gets raped, killed, CUT UP and sent throughout the land of Israel to call the tribes to wreak hideous vengeance on, I think, some Benjaminites.

    LIberal Christians don’t all treat the Bible as exclusively metaphorical. (In that respect we have NOTHING on the Middle Ages, who allegorized it practically out of existence.) What we do do is acknowledge that it is a) historically conditioned and b) susceptible to interpretation on many, many levels. The big thing to point out with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is that the sin they are being punished for is not, in fact, homosexuality, but failure of hospitality and – hey, look! – RAPE.

    A whole lot of extremely weird shit happens in the Bible …

  23. Arianna

    Sage – You got a get out of Catholocism free card just for vomiting? Lucky you. I was violently ill on my first communion, but that didn’t stop my parents. I look so sick in the pictures you can imagine the touch of green against my frilly white dress. My confirmation was a joke – we did it as a group so I said “no” when we were supposed to be affirming our vows or whatever. I suppose that means I was never confirmed (thank the gods, forcing us into an “eternal commitment” at age 11 seems a bit rediculous to me. And to think, I was just pissed because they wouldn’t let me choose Brigid as my confirmation name (I guess they knew that even though she was a saint, she was really a Goddess).

    I notice your blog says you’re from Canada too – did you go to Catholic school too? I’m a 10-year veteran of Ontario’s Catholic school system.

  24. grrr kitty

    see, i think Christ is cool. it’s his derned followers who pervert his message and anger me all the time. i don’t remember reading anything that said Yea verily, wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, some other poor fella is going to get the crap kicked out of him. nor can i recall any injunctions against educating and/or ordinating females coming from Jesus. that particular bit of weirdness came from Paul, who certainly had problems with women. i blame you-know-who for taking stuff out of context and turning scripture into a tool of oppression.

  25. Cass

    Sorry, Arianna, I don’t think there’s anything in Church doctrine about a right of confirmation refusal. You’re going to Heaven, to hang out with people like John Paul, St Augustine and General Franco, and share needlepoint tips with the Blessed Virgin.

  26. Arianna

    Hm… Well, I don’t know, because I figure the whole thing hinges on the fact that they’re asking you to “confirm” your baptismal vows, and when they did the whole “Do you reject Satan and all his blah blah blah” stuff, since I was saying “no” in the crowd (mostly because I didn’t want to get stuck with Gabrielle as a confirmation-name at the time, now I’m just thankful I said “no”), I actually anti-confirmed myself, as much as I’m confirmed on paper :P

  27. Cass

    I guess its time for me to confess here that (being the good girl I was at the age of 12) my own confirmation in the Episcopal church went through without the slightest show of reluctance on my part. Perhaps the safest thing for both of us is just to indulge in as many of the Seven Deadly Sins, as often and with as much gusto as possible…

  28. Arianna

    I’m a big subscriber to the Seven Deadly Sins, particularly Sloth, Gluttony and Lust :)

  29. sage

    Grace, You’re right. I was thinking of Judges. This is what happens when you go to public school instead of the good lord’s school. I know the stories, but the names get muddled.

    Arianna, When I was ready for school, we had just moved next to a public school; my mom would have had to drive me to the closest Catholic school. She got tired of doing everything right by the time she got to me, so I’m the only kid in my family educated by sinners. Lucky bloody me!

  30. Arianna

    Wow, you really did get a get out of Catholocism free card!

  31. BetaCandy

    It always blew my mind when churches would split over the issue of whether to allow gays to join the congregation, but they would let known adulterers in without a second thought. Let’s check the Bible for a quick half-time score:

    Adulterty: 1 commandment, numerous passages and lectures
    Homosexuality: about 2 asides

    And no, S&G doesn’t count because it was actually about the worshipping of Ba’al instead of Yahweh, which just happened to involve huge orgies in which all sorts of extramarital sex was happening, of which homosexuality was just a part.

    I’m getting this strange idea that God actually takes more issue with people’s inability to keep promises than which gender they lean toward, but that’s probably just because I haven’t had a frontal lobotomy and can read for myself.

  32. kathy a

    hee. my parents got churchy just before i started kindergarten, so 2 sisters and i were baptised together. the 2-year-old yelled NO to the question about abhoring the devil and all his works, but the godparents covered for her. she probably crossed her fingers during confirmation, too. but i guess it is probably the paperwork that counts, so one day she’ll be heaven-bound, if that turns out to be an option.

    when i was 13 and 14, i went to religious retreats at an episcopalian convent with a bunch of similarly age-challenged girls, our duffle bags stuffed with as much junk food as we could carry. this was about the time i was figuring out that the whole god thing did not make sense to me, no matter how hard i tried, but the nuns were patient and forgiving, and they pretended not to notice when we climbed on the roof or had hysterical fits during silent breakfast, and we got to wander off to the local botanical garden and natural science museum. so i turned out a live-and-let-live atheist.

    my atheist daughter ended up in a catholic high school. i figured a religion class wouldn’t kill her. i didn’t figure on her getting all A’s in religion, but it turns out that is the one class where they get to discuss some of the big stuff in life — fairness, how to be human, how to debate issues. she came home shaking with fury one day after an abortion discussion. the very next day, she was thrilled to have expressed her thoughts cogently in a discussion about the death penalty, a subject on which she is informed and has strong views.

    long way of saying, this branch of the patriarchy is better for my daughter than some other local branches. but we blame.

  33. TP

    Hey for sheer looniness you gotta read The Book Of Morman.

    That shit is truly wack, and very bad english to boot!

    I converted to Catholicism as an adult, so a lot of the stupid shit never concerned me much. I just can’t hope for any institution in our Patriarchy to be even close to perfect, so why not go with the original church? Any church you want to go with is fine with me, even no church at all.

    I just love some of the things Jesus was supposed to have said, the subtlety of his words, and the overwhelming fact that, whatever the faults of the church and the crazy believers in the church may be, the religion is based to an enormous degree on forgiveness, a virtue that has saved me from bitterness and despair many times.

    I have a superstitious need to believe in mystic shit, and some of it is christian. But I tsk tsk the godbag crazies out there screwing it all up for everybody, and regret that they choose to blacken my good name with their hate-mongering woman-oppressing patriarchal brush.

  34. kathy a

    sage, wonderful post on your place. so many of my friends are recovering catholics. i think i’m second-generation [all the guilt, none of the ritual], since my dad was originally catholic — one of his cousins was even a nun before she became a civilian.

  35. hedonistic

    There’s an idea . . . bloggers reminisce about their most spectacular deadly sins! We could have Blog in Favor of the Seven Deadly Sins Day! It would sure beat that “things you don’t know about me” fad from a few months ago, eh?

  36. Thalia

    Reading all the above I just gotta gloat a bit–

    Ha ha, I was never even baptized, na na ny’nyah nuh! (all singsongy of course)

    Damn it just makes me so happy and so grateful that my parents weren’t the religious type and now I’ve grown up to be a Goddess-worshippin’ Pagan and since I wasn’t baptized I can still see the faeries and all that cool shit, and I don’t have any of that stupid-ass monotheism spiritual markers hanging about my ethereal auric level or whatever that supposedly never go away, written in indelible spiritual ink or whateva. Not me! Yay!

  37. Arianna

    Oooh I’d love a “Blog for the Seven Deadly Sins” day! I’m tired of blogging against things, about time we got to be in favour of something :).

    I got fully immersed in the Church as a child, baptised at 1 month, first Communion in 2nd grade, Confirmation in 6th. I’d questioned it pretty hard before Confirmation, and by the time I finished my Catholic elementary school (8th Grade) and went to a Public Highschool, I’d given up entirely. Took years to get rid of the compulsive running back to confession though, and I still have some pretty crippling guilt issues. It was also really, really annoying to find out when I went to highschool that while us Catholic kids were way ahead in French, Art and History, we were cripplingly ignorant of science. I suppose this is why I’m doing English Lit & History double major now.

  38. Twisty

    “Twisty–it’s not intended to turn girls into Nuns.”

    I repeat only what the priest told the reporter.

  39. Sylvanite

    Heh. My parents didn’t send me to Catholic school because they still remembered the nuns. What is it about so many nuns that they seem to be shriveled and bitter old women who love to whack hands with rulers? Lack of sex? Too many encouraged to take male names as part of their orders?

    It’s just as well. I realized around my first communion that the tale of Jesus’ resurrection made no sense to me. I would have spent a lot of miserable years in Catholic school, since I had the sense that there were questions I wasn’t supposed to ask. It baffled me for many years, really. Why did all the adults I knew, who certainly seemed intelligent enough, believe what seemed like patent nonsense? I concluded that religious faith was something I was too young to understand, and that surely it would all make sense to me by the time I was old enough to be confirmed. When I was old enough to be confirmed, I realized that it never would make sense. I then couldn’t wait to go to college, because I would never have to go to church again.

  40. Arianna

    My favourite was when my parents sent me to some godbag camp when I was 8 (the same camp they kept sending me to for years to straighten me out, though it just made me worse – I ended up in the cabin with all the other pagans and rebels sent by their parents to get straightened up), shortly after a trip to the natural history museum. My parents might be godbags, but at least they believe in Evolution. So, we’re learning about the book of genesis and how God created the world in 6 days and all of that, so I stand up and, in my sweet, innocent 8-year-oldness, ask how that could possibly make sense, vis a vis the dinosaurs and the period between their extinction and humanity’s evolution.

    I got yelled at and sent back to my cabin for the rest of the day, which was pretty sweet since I had a good stash of books and candy.

  41. Viveth

    There isn’t one single form of religion that I wouldn’t put on my own personal spectrum somewhere between “strangely delusional” and “pure evil.”

    There are plenty of things in the this world to love, fear, and be amazed by. Why ask for more? Why let yourself and others be manipulated, oppressed, and brutalized by those who give it to you?

    I’m always puzzled by A-la-Carte-Christians who pick and choose a couple of items from the Christian doctrines and pretend that they can ignore the rest and it wont matter. That’s the worst kind of delusional. The evil that comes with Christianity doesn’t just go away because you don’t like those parts. You’re supporting evil, and giving power to the godbags, you can’t pretend that you don’t bear any responsibility for it.

    Those of you that are “a little bit Christian” or an “a-la-carte-Christian” or a “Christian to be accepted in the neighborhood” need to take a look at who you’re casting your lot with.

    If you want to believe in god, but you can’t take everything that comes with Christianity, go for it. Just don’t call yourself one of them.

    It’s all or nothin’ baby.

  42. aldahlia

    Ariana–I got kicked out of a Southern Baptist Vacation Bible Camp for asking if we had to honor our Mothers and Fathers if they were abusive or abandoned thier kids when I was in 3rd grade.

  43. Arianna

    Aldahlia – Wow, thats a way better story. I can’t remember what denomination was running this camp when I was there, it was a Christian camp all the time, but all the denominations in the area took turns running it. Pretty funny that they actually sent you home though :).

  1. Blaming Takes A Holiday at I Blame The Patriarchy

    [...] An example of the sort of thing an actively blaming spinster aunt must address: this morning I got an email from a woman who says her 17-year-old daughter has been reading I Blame The Patriarchy. The daughter is apparently troubled by my post on altar girls in India, wants to know whether nuns are being raped, and if so, why there isn’t “big outrage” over it. [...]

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