“Now it is easy to see why the bible – -as with most
other ancient writings – – would treat women as property
rather than as people. Might was truly Right in those days.
The strongest man ruled– he could save you from the enemy,
bring home the ox and take whatever he wanted. Women were
prime prizes for the victors in battle.
But such an attitude should hardly prevail today,
should it? After all, we have learned a lot since then. But
it obviously still has strong effect – – consider that even
today most cities in Canada have to maintain safe houses for
battered women whose partners have become outraged by their
acts of ‘disloyalty.’
I think the reason why we cannot seem to get this
monkey off our back can be traced to two things. First,
this book is still taught as if it were contemporary – – to
children as well as adults, still taught as a guide to life.
But it is not so much the bible itself, as its
interpretation that has perpetuated this disparaging image
And no wonder. Consider some of the statements made
by some of the most respected Christians as they helped mold
the developing European culture: men who not only immersed
themselves in the bible, but were, at the same time, trying
their damnedest to practice unnatural celibacy. It should be
no surprise to us, therefore, that they would come to see
woman as sore temptress – a particular danger to their
status should they succumb to natural feelings. As Barbara
W. Tuchman points out , in “A Distant Mirror” (1978): “Woman
(in the 14th century) was the Church’s rival, the temptress,
the distraction, the obstacle to holiness, the Devil’s
But long before that we have people like Saint
Jerome (Roman theologian, Sermon 354 ) saying: “Holy
virginity is a better thing than conjugal chastity. A mother
will hold a lesser place in the Kingdom of heaven, because
she has been married, than the daughter, seeing that she is
a virgin . but if thy mother has been humble and not proud,
she will have some sort of place, but not thou…”
(( He also advised women ” Virginity can be lost
even by a thought.”) [Saint Jerome; 340-420]
And another wise man proclaimed: “Adam was deceived
by Eve, not Eve by Adam…..it is right that he whom that
woman induced to sin should assume the role of guide lest he
fall again through feminine instability.”
(St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, letter 63, 396) (340-397)
And jolly old St. Thomas Aquinas, ( 1225-1274)
another profound thinker, points out : ” As regards the
individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for
the active power of the male seed tends to the production of
a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the
production of a woman comes from defect in the active power”
(Summa Theologica,Q92, art. 1, Reply Obj. 1)
And should we think this attitude was unique to the
Catholic religion, consider this wise pronouncement: ” God
created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve
spoilt it all, when she persuaded him to set himself above
God’s will. ‘’Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices,
that lead men into error.’
( Martin Luther, The bondage of the Will,
The point is that it is not so much the bible, but
the interpretation of that bible by these celibates that has
ensured the continued survival of this primitive attitude
towards women into this present day. Remember, throughout
most of these last millenniums , these men were the few who
could read and write, and as a result, they have had a
profound effect on western literature in general. Much of
that literature hammers home the message that the only
trustworthy woman is a humble woman, that women lure
innocent man into sin; that women are deceitful by nature.
Every girl grows up with this stereotype drilled into her
And if one thinks this is only true of older
literature, consider the popular movie “Forrest Gump” .in
which the protagonist plays the part of someone who is
obviously favored by his culture’s god. Here we see our hero
as an obedient, clean-minded naiveté;. . Just what a
god likes in his subjects, and God takes good care of him.
The author’s first significant suggestion that
divine intervention is involved is when all the U.S. and
Vietnam firepower combined can’t reach our lad. Everyone
gets it but our boy, despite heroically exposing himself
every which way, as he rushes in to save the wounded and the
dead, over and over again.
But the final proof for his agnostic, leg less
crewman comes when our inexperienced seaman, with his help,
survives a terrible storm despite the fact that all of the
other ships were ripped apart by this angry god’s fury, even
though they were ran by experienced, seasoned seaman .
Leaving our boy alive and super rich. His legless agnostic
gets the message here. Who wouldn’t?
The moral of this story is that blind obedience pays
off. Gods like that. This boy is obedient, follows orders
blindly; never questions why ; good pious lad and he can
obviously have anything his heart desires.
Well, not quite everything– for the girl must die.
She has got to go. Why? Because she lured our innocent hero
into the sinful act. Just like Eve. Just like Delilah. Boy
was born out of wedlock. Can’t have her raising the pure
son, can we?
So even today, this theme keeps getting hammered
into our heads, in one fashion or the other. The story is
told to every adolescent girl out there: here is woman and
look at the harm she does when she steps out of her
stereotyped role of obedient breeder..
Unfortunately, most people don’t even notice how our
literature over the ages has silently implanted this
pejorative concept of a woman in our heads, and yes, that
includes women too. This subliminal message is imbedded in
our poetry, in most of the literature that is taught in our
schools, in our plays, our shows.
So what can we Humanists do to help free our
children from the effects of all this subtle programming?
The task seems insurmountable. Even many active feminists
still cling to the bible as their guide, hoping – -futilely,
I think – -that they can revise the more offensive passages
What, if anything, can we do and how do we go about it?
That is the question I’m asking of us today.
And now let me conclude with another quote:
“It will yet be the proud boast of women that they never contributed
one line to the Bible.”
George W. Foote
and: ” As long as woman regards the Bible as the charter of
her rights, she will be the slave of man. The bible was not
written by a woman. Within its leaves there is nothing but
humiliation and shame for her.”
Robert Ingersoll (1833 -1899)