Tuesday, March 15, 2016

true religions & justifications for domestic violence

I recently came across the article "Do You Feel Trapped by Your Faith? When spirituality and domestic violence cross paths " via domesticshelters.org. As I've had friends who were victims of abuse by husbands and fathers and were told that it was "God's will" by their church pastors, that it was their own fault that they were subjected to abuse, I was very interested in reading this article.

At first, I had high hopes: Julie Owens, identified in the article as a domestic violence advocate and educator who specializes in educating leaders of faith communities about domestic violence, is quoted as saying "Many religions support traditional, sometimes rigid, gender roles. Survivors often hear things like ‘Pray for him,’ ‘God hates divorce,’ ‘It’s your cross to bear,’ or ‘You need to work on your communication skills.’ The focus of the faith leader is often ‘How can we get [the abuser] some help?’" It's nice to see a person of faith admit that this happens, and that this puts the person that is being abused at further risk. She also notes that many abused women have been taught that men should be viewed as superior to women, that physical abuse is a normal part of a relationship, that by improving their own behavior, the abuse will stop, that abuse is a test of their faith in God, etc. And she condemns these teachings. Great!

But then the article says, to get help, a woman that is a victim of domestic violence should first "Look to the true teachings of your religion." The implication is that these true teachings of a religion contradict the justifications for spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence.

Um.... news flash: no one agrees on what the "true teachings" of any religion are. The Church of Christ across the street from me believes that the "true teaching" of Christianity means that musical instruments aren't allowed in their church, and that people going to any other type of church aren't real Christians - it's a church that does not believe in ecumenism. Meanwhile, the Methodist Church across the street from that church plays all kinds of instruments during its services, and its minister and congregation are happy to do joint activities with other churches. Of course, neither church supports marriage equality, so just go four blocks away, to the United Church of Christ church - they have long supported marriage equality!

So... which one is keyed into the "true teachings" of Christianity? Depends on who you ask.

Digging deeper into the theology and history of Christianity, Islam or Judaism - or any other religion, for that matter - can actually lead a person to more theologically-based justifications for even harsher behavior towards women. Finding out more about the earliest believers of a religion, the earliest versions of texts, etc., can provide the basis for savage, even bizarre treatment of wives and daughters. Following the advice from the domestic.org article could actually convince a woman to stay in an abusive relationship - because, like it or not, it's God's will, because the "true teachings" of your religion say so!

Here's my advice: any person or religion that tells a woman that a magical, invisible, all-powerful deity wants her to experience violence, domestic or otherwise, is shit. It's crap. Run! That is NOT anything you should listen to, ever. Don't go to that church or temple, do NOT listen to anyone going there.

If you need a theological justification for better treatment for women from a male family member, you may need to change religions. For sure, you are going to have to abandon any belief in taking sacred texts literally - there's no way to hold on to literalist beliefs and believe that domestic violence against a woman is not somehow justified. There are versions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions that do not believe there is any justification for physical abuse or subjugation of women, that believe any scripture or Hadith that says so is flawed, a reflection of human prejudice rather than anything divinely-inspired. To find such sects, you're going to have to do some deep research. I suggest you start by making a list of churches or temples or other groups that ordain women - they will be less inclined to believe men ever have a right to abuse a woman than other churches.

But you can also consider that, perhaps, it's time to dump religion. There is hope, wonder, joy and empowerment all available without religion. Secular humanism, for me, is about benevolence toward fellow humans - about kindness and equality. Learn about an ethical philosophy centered on the best of our humanity - on compassion, fraternity, human equality, human rights, philanthropy, consideration, understanding, sympathy, tolerance, mercy, and more, without any belief in the supernatural.