October 15, 2006

Domestic Violence and the Bible Revisited

Since there was some interest in my original post, I decided to do a follow up. In the previous post, I was struggling with the question of whether to introduce religion in general, and the Christian bible specifically, as one of many factors contributing to male subjugation of women. The intent of that post was not to argue that religion causes domestic violence; it was intended as a brief exploration of academic freedom in our politically correct environment.

During the class where I was presenting material on family violence, I ran through all the standard contributing factors. One of these factors was our patriarchical culture. No serious scholar with knowledge of family violence, disputes the importance of this cultural variable. True, it is only one among many, but this does not detract from the importance of understanding it. In addressing the patriarchical culture and related themes (e.g., rape myths, gender role socialization, etc.), I noted that organized religion has helped to maintain male-dominated culture into modern times. I offered the example of the Christian bible.

Looking at Genesis alone, we see numerous examples of a biblical basis for male subjugation of women. Woman is blamed for giving into temptation (3:12-13), and all women are punished by the Christian god for her failure with the pain of childbirth (3:16). Adam's punishment? He is sentenced to work for a living (3:17). Polygamy is condoned by the Christian god (4:19, 23, 26:34, 28:9). Lot offers up his own daughters for gang rape (19:8). We could go on and on because the bible goes on and on, providing numerous examples of male subjugation of women not just existing but being condoned by the Christian god (click here for more examples).

Again, I am not now nor have I ever said that religion causes family violence. This is far too simplistic. As evident by these biblical examples, the Christian bible teaches that men are dominant over women just as it teaches that humans are dominant over the rest of nature. This is an important reason for our patriarchical culture, and this culture is one of many causes of family violence.

As before, my intention here is not really to argue these points with you. They are not controversial among rationale persons. What is controversial, sometimes even for me, is whether and how such issues should be introduced into college-level education. If you believe, as I do, that an important function of higher education is to teach students how to think critically, then information which is highly regarded among scholars (i.e., that which has achieved a reasonable level of acceptance in the academy) is fair game. In fact, one could probably make a compelling argument that teaching such accepted information is mandatory because to do otherwise misleads students about the state of scholarship in a particular area. The key is to encourage critical thinking and debate even in these cases where a consensus position has been reached.

When I brought up religion as an important system for maintaining our patriarchical culture, the students nodded knowingly. This was not the first time they had heard this, and the overwhelming majority (who is also predominately Christian) agreed that religion serves this function. I suppose the concern I expressed in my original post over students becoming upset over this was misplaced. I think I need to give them more credit in the future. Many are here to learn and are at least open-minded enough to struggle with their beliefs.

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