To me, talking about faith in any public way is quite a scary topic because if you make incorrect inadvertent comments in any way, people will just come at you. They come after you, and they put you on your knees, so there is no room for mistakes in any way.
Despite all of this I think it is an important conversation that needs to take place no matter how much it makes us feel like we are stumbling around in the controversial darkness. Bit dramatic I know but I am sure you all get the picture. The goal of this conversation would be to build empathetic paths back and forth to each other’s positions.
So, first of all, I am going to declare my history with faith and religion or lack thereof. I was christened a Catholic, had a Catholic education but was never forced to be an active member of the church by my parents. Which to me has always been a positive because it has let me decide that I do have faith that there is something much bigger than us, but it does not have to be kept within the confines of the Catholic church? Which to me has always been a place where issues of equality and gender quickly breed.
To me, God did not have to be decimal with the ten commandments, if he hated same-sex relationships he could have made eleven. But he didn’t, so y’know. I think with all the hardship in the world I am pretty sure God does not see what we all do in bed and decides to create natural disasters. I think he’d have a bit more common sense than that and a little more appreciation for what he has created. The bible to me is filled with examples as to why I do not think that is how our Christian God would want us to live, and no matter how much you massage that text and how loving and accepting congregations are nowadays, it is that prejudiced understanding that they are working from. So that is my issue.
Whatever you believe about the creation of the Bible, it was of course written by a man because it doesn’t pass the Bechdel test does it?
The role of religion in a feminist’s life is always going to be a tricky topic because so many religions rely on patriarchal structures and the blind, or near-blind, acceptance of the appropriateness of those structures. It usually doesn’t help, either, that most religions come down on the wrong side of many of the policy issues of importance to feminists, like reproductive rights or the socially or politically-mandated roles of women in the family. The acceptance of religion, for many feminists, might mean coming to a personal conclusion that what you consider the fundamental tenants of faith are compatible with one’s world view. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not preaching intolerance or condemning those women who do choose to follow a faith because we all need something to help us get by in this life: I’ve decided that feminism is my particular opiate.
I think when it comes to faith, everyone has a personal journey and a personal decision. Men and women have used religions and faith to justify committing acts of unspeakable horror is not an argument against the existence of God or the wrongness of religion. Acknowledging that is the most important point I think we should all take away from this discussion. Many of the goals of the feminist movement are in opposition to the current (human) interpretation of God’s wishes, but that is not an argument that feminism and a belief in God are incompatible.
I believe that faith and religion are two different beings, I have faith, but it does not fall into a particular religion. So to me, faith and feminism can co-exist. The thing about feminism is that it’s about empowering women — and that means all women – regardless of differences. And while I may personally find most religions inherently misogynist and oppressive, that does not give me the right to deter any other woman from finding spiritual nourishment in a religious community. If feminism becomes synonymous with anti-religion, we risk alienating the women we seek to uplift and support.
While modern religions are all very male-centric, they only mimic the world that we live in. That is, religion isn’t the problem. Our world is male-centric. And our job as feminists is to make spaces for women to be the person they choose to be and to live their lives the way they best see fit. Women of faith should not sacrifice their spiritual beliefs because organized religion is inherently misogynistic, just as we do not abandon our parents who might believe in traditional gender roles.
As someone who grew up attending Catholic school I think that given the nature of religions and their followers, progressive change will not come by external forces. Progressive change comes when the people within demand it. Not when they abandon it.
If we want religions to become more accepting and forward-thinking, we have to accept the women and men who are trying to make progressive change happen from within their religious and spiritual organizations.