There are many questions in our universe that are left unanswered, and there are images tucked away in the cosmos still yet to be seen. Humans live their lives only knowing some of the ways of the world, and at other times they may not even know their own selves. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world each offering a solution to the great mysteries of the world. They do their best to set aside a collection of world views and belief and cultural systems that may act as a moral compass. The meaning of life and the origin of the universe can be explained away for now with dogma, but when you look at the roles given by women in the majority of the world’s more popular religions, one begins to wonder if women are seen as equals to men in a spiritual sense.
It’s apparent in popular society that women are not treated as equals, at least when it comes to being paid equal wages. Women are misrepresented in government, in other parts of the world they are not able to move forward in their career or go on to higher education, and are often taught through the media and the world around them that their body and their selves are less-than that of men. But as the body is separated from the equation, and the value of the soul and one’s spiritual self is on the table, do those same negative perceptions of women carry over into the world of religion?
New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof, wrote an article published on January 9, 2010 called ‘Religion And Women.’ Kristof goes on to explain how the majority of different faiths all around the world help perpetuate the profoundly unethical oppression of women, and how in most religions today women are excluded from their hierarchies and rituals, implying that females are inferior.
I have been to numerous Roman Catholic churches throughout my lifetime and have never seen a female priest or Cardinal. Pope Benedict XVI has retired and there is no way a woman could be considered for the papacy in this round of possible candidates. There are fewer female pastors in the world, and women still only make up about a third of all seminary students and are even paid less than clergymen in American churches, according to data from the Association of Theological Schools, which I suppose is better than women making up less than a fifth of seminary students as they did 30 years ago.
“The New Testament quotes St. Paul (I Timothy 2) as saying that women ‘must be silent,’” writes Kristof about the Christian Bible. “Deuteronomy declares that if a woman does not bleed on her wedding night, ‘the men of her town shall stone her to death.’ An Orthodox Jewish prayer thanks God, ‘who hast not made me a woman.’ The Koran stipulates that a woman shall inherit less than a man, and that a woman’s testimony counts for half of a man’s.”
There definitely seems to be a deep rooted history of misogyny even when it comes to gender in a spiritual sense, and the majority of the established churches today have a long way to go before they can consider themselves open-minded, fair and understanding.
Although Kristof does make several points suggesting that religion is partially to blame for the unfair treatment and the continuous position of inequality forced upon women, he does talk about how religion can reverse these negative views of women and make a positive change, and of course there are conversations starting around the subject of including more women in religious roles.
“Paradoxically, the churches in Africa that have done the most to empower women have been conservative ones led by evangelicals and especially Pentecostals,” explains Kristof. “In particular, Pentecostals encourage women to take leadership roles, and for many women this is the first time they have been trusted with authority and found their opinions respected. In rural Africa, Pentecostal churches are becoming a significant force to emancipate women. This is a glimmer of hope that reminds us that while religion is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution. The Dalai Lama has taken that step and calls himself a feminist.”
It is only when our moral and ethical beliefs are open to encourage fairness and equality that the earthly world can have justice and peace. The way we look at each other philosophically and spiritually makes all the difference in how we as humans will progress in the future, and valuing all life while respecting everyone’s opinions is the key to all this happening.