“I suffer not a woman to teach”

Christian attitudes to women are well known. Ever since St Paul, in his best Elizabethan English, made the above comment (I Timothy 2:12), Christians have constrained women and their freedoms, always making them subordinate to an “owning” male – father, husband, or even grown sons. Christianity is not unique in this respect – Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and many other tribally derived religions have ossified on this strategy.

But we might have thought it would dissolve in our modern egalitarian post-feminist society. Apparently not. The Bristol University Christian Union has a policy, which apparently the’ve had for some time, that women may not speak at their meetings unless their husband is there. At a modern university. In a secular democracy. In Bristol.

But should we be surprised at this? Religions have a singular task: to determine who is in power. As a side effect of this, they regulate who may mate with whom, and how women may behave given that they are patriarchies. Any religious movement that deviates from this is likely to face severe sociopolitical reassures to move back, and we have seen this happen from the optimistic days of the 1960s and 1970s with inexorable inevitability.

Religion is, in my view, an outcome of our social dominance disposition as a species, under conditions of high population density and the subsequent social differentiation. In other words it’s a side effect of our mating strategies. So of course they have to control women. It’s why they exist.

60 thoughts on ““I suffer not a woman to teach”

    1. Interesting article but it has more than a whiff of special pleading about it. In any case, even if Paul and the Corinthians understood this to be a plea for order rather than female subjugation the Christian tradition as a whole read it as a justification for subjugation. I am here speaking of the institutional aspect of religion, and the Patristic view that informs that tradition is clearly patriarchal. Was it Chrystostom who was rabidly antiwomen? I forget. Augustine seemed to be at any rate.


      1. I completely agree that the ancient and medieval church dropped the ball on this, and too few modem churches promote gender role egalitarianism. I am sad to hear about these cases in current events.

        But I am glad that I typically attend churches that ordain women. And Paul nonetheless talked about women speaking appropriately in church and singled out praise for various female ministers.


        1. Why should modern churches promote gender role egalitarianism? Just like that? Because they are modern?

          What’s wrong with having different roles?


          1. They should do this because it is right to ensure that all adults have rights to live as they choose so long as they injure nobody else. Imposing different roles on society injures those who have subordinated roles imposed upon them. If women choose to join such a church, that’s fine, but churches indoctrinate – literally – children as they are growing up, and that is wrong.


            1. “They should do this because it is right to ensure that all adults have rights to live as they choose so long as they injure nobody else.”

              This is not an argument and it’s also trivial.

              Everyone has the right to live their life as they want to. At the top of the Bible there is a recommandation on what to do and what not to do. But no one stopped Adam and Eve to do what they wanted to do. They had the right to live their life as they chose to, as adults. But their acts had consequences.

              I honestly didn’t expect you to bring up the issue of indoctrinations. Churches don’t indoctrinate, they educate people on their doctrine. Adults have this right to educate children as they think it’s right.

              Society, with newspapers and all media, and the entertainment industry also indoctrinates. But that is not wrong I suppose?


              1. Cristian, it appears that a lesson in definitions is in order. I’m going to bat for John, who is writing to a grant deadline.
                1) Indoctrinate: to teach someone a belief, doctrine or ideology thoroughly and systematically, especially with the goal of discouraging independent thought or the acceptance of other opinions.
                2) Educate: to give knowledge to or develop the abilities of someone by teaching; to train or instruct someone in a particular field.

                Thus, in reply to your question, though it was probably rhetorical, no, all the media and entertainment industries of the world do not indoctrinate, nor do they educate; neither of these teach in the formal sense. Nor would they do so systematically, even if they did teach, as their efforts to deliver a set of beliefs news and entertainment are neither explicit, methodical nor organised, depending as they do on the voluntary participation of their viewers.

                Conversely, the Churches of the world absolutely do indoctrinate, wherever they explicitly stipulate that belief in anything other than their doctrine is forbidden. Remember, to indoctrinate means to teach “especially with the goal of discouraging independent thought”. A doctrine is a body of ideas taught to people as truthful or correct. The key world there is “as” – not necessarily truthful or correct, but imparted as such. When religions claim, as they always ultimately do, that their truth is the only or ultimate truth, they implicitly – and usually explicitly – discourage any argument to the contrary, labeling those who disagree as heretics and evil.

                Now, I’m a scientist, a biologist. Science teaches a body of knowledge as facts that have been determined and accepted to be true, but it also teaches a method of enquiry that involves the cultivation of independent thought; new knowledge can only be discovered by people who are capable of thinking something different to dogma and doctrine. It is very difficult, nevertheless, to introduce a new idea, especially one that challenges established ideas, but as science is based on evidence, and encourages independent thought and enquiry, eventually, the truth will be demonstrated by so many people that it will replace the previously ‘accepted truth’. As scientists are well aware of this, the truth they teach is always tempered with the disclaimer “this is true to the best of our knowledge”. I have never heard of a religion making any such claim, nor anything close to it.

                Finally, I’d like to address the particularly inane statement you made “This is not an argument and it’s also trivial.” Regarding egalitarian conditions for women even in western society – where such rights are the closest to being on par with those men have afforded themselves for millennia – you would have to be living in a bubble to believe that women are truly treated as equals, in spite of all the efforts to bring about that end. Perhaps you should go educate yourself; women do not earn what men of equivalent experience do, are not promoted as much, there is a glass ceiling, women’s reproductive rights are still an issue, particularly in America, etc, etc.

                Adam and Eve are a pair of fictional characters used to illustrate the fault of women in our allegedly being expelled from so-called Eden, thus justifying millennia of brutal repression and control. That the Virgin Mary is the ONLY woman particularly venerated as a worthy individual in the Jesus Myth shows you how much control matters – she is purported to be holy because she conceived without sexual intercourse: her womb was sanctified by God, who did all his business therein without sex, which would have otherwise been terribly sinful.

                The only other significant woman in the Jesus Myth – Mary Magdalene – was a prostitute, who only gained a degree of elevation by giving up her wicked ways and washing Jesus’ feet with her hair – an act of supreme supplication and debasement, which is hardly a good indication of how open-minded the religion establishment is towards women having the right to live their lives as they wish.

                Regarding Adam and Eve, that you stipulated “their acts had consequences” is typical of a male-dominated, punitive hierarchical thinking; causes have effects. What you are talking about are punishments for behaviour deemed, by the patriarchy, to be unacceptable. Who, exactly, gave the old men of the Church, whose ideas are at least a century out of date, the right to decide what is and what is not acceptable? Oh, right, a bunch of other, similarly ossified old men… Can you see the problem here?

                When the Catholic Church chooses a woman to be Pope, then I’ll give some degree of credence to your argument that religions in general educate, rather than indoctrinate. Such a progressive act by the Church would indicate that the Church, itself, is capable of meaningful change. Meaningful in terms of being leaders, rather than lagging many generations behind the rest of society in the attitudes of their autonomously-selected clergy. Until such a time, in best scientific tradition, the dearth of supporting and wealth of conflicting data will be my guide as to the veracity of your claims.


              2. Clem, thank you so much for your thoughtful, educated and benevolent lesson on whatever you thought you need to teach me.

                Allow me to respond with some definitions myself:

                1) “X pejorative term” – An action by which someone tries and succeeds to harm somebody else.

                2) “Y positive term” – An action which is the opposite of the above.

                Then, I state that your actions are in the first category. No need for me to bring any arguments, I just state it. If you reply, I will state it again. If you reply again, I’ll tell you to stop justifying your actions as if they were cases of 2 and not 1.

                I know better. I know you are wrong and I am right. So you should better go educate yourself. I am a scientist.

                Further. My assumptions are always true. Your assumptions, if they contradict mine, are always false.

                Because I state so.

                You need to adopt my assumptions because your assumptions contain fictional characters. How do I know they are fictional? Because there’s no scientific, falsifiable evidence for they existence in the past, where we don’t have access with any means of measurements. Hence, they are fictional.

                Because I believe so. And my beliefs are better than yours. Because I am modern. And scientific. You are not.

                All your statements are so typical for those in “X pejorative term” category. You should be ashamed of yourself.

                Until you and your tradition don’t change in order to adopt the principles of my ideology, I will not give any degree of credence to your arguments..


      2. There’s a big difference between being anti-women and being anti-something-things-that-women-do.

        If Chrystostom encouraged sexual abstinence, he did that for both women and men.

        The most worshiped saint in the Orthodox church is a woman, Virgin Mary. And not as ‘deity’ replacement, but as an actual woman that lived a life of sanctity.

        Then there’s plenty of example of women saints who are praised and celebrated in the Orthodox churches just as much as men saints.

        The ancient church did not have anything against women, did not considered them to be subhumans or a different species altogether.


  1. I’ve always seen religion as a reflection of our instincts and biology. It has to be, since god doesn’t exist (and can’t even be properly defined, except as a purely human construct). The strange thing is that even in non-religious, post-feminist societies, “feminist” men are attempting to control women, while other women attempt to exercise influence over that control. Isn’t that the way it works with religion? As someone who’s never been religious, it scares me. I’m realizing that god is unnecessary for a male-dominated and hierarchical power structure that works in a similar way. It’s all about sex and power in the end. But maybe I’ve always known that.

    That’s why I think it’s important that women leave their mark on science by becoming scientists and not just criticizing it (though I’m perfectly fine with apt criticism from non-scienists as well). Anyway, I’m really sexist like that.


    1. One thing about these patriarchal traditions that often surprises me, though it really shouldn’t, is how older women will work hard to reinforce and sanction this structure. It is women who practice FGM, for example. I think of this as Medical Student Bastardisation – we went through it so it’s okay. Some of the greatest exponents of female subjugation in religion are women. I expect it is because they have made a life under that regimen, and so they have heavy investments in its success (a reason why feminism is such a threat to many women).


      1. Yes, I always have to check myself when it comes to that, because I begin thinking, “Well, that was never a problem for me, so why should it be for you?” And I know that’s wrong. But then I think, “Well, that really worked to my advantage when I was young, so am I disadvantaging young women by taking trying to take it away from them in the name of feminism?” And I’m not sure of the answer. Also, the following is what really gets me into much hot water: I don’t see men in the Western world as privileged anymore. Yes, in some ways you are. But in other ways, women are also privileged (and *feeling* this way automatically disqualifies me from being considered a feminist in certain circles). In other words, I like being a woman, and I’d never trade. That’s, of course, excluding other shades of privilege, such as class, attractiveness, race, sexual orientation, and so on. But in reality all of these elements, plus situational privilege, play a part.

        Having thought about all of this, I’ve tossed aside the word “feminism” as something that sounds too selfish, doesn’t always consider the interests of other groups, and dismisses good arguments on the basis of perceived privilege. It can also be needlessly divisive and invite backlash.

        But I still support women’s rights and remedial action as necessary in every possible way. Or so I hope and try.


        1. One could say the same of Abolitionists or Civil Rights activists (in their various guises in different countries). Individual movements tend to have that feature in common because they’re attempting to solve a specific set of problems, and not all problems.


          1. I’ll echo bluharmony’s views. I don’t deny the feminists’ arguments for sexual equality. I suspect there are areas where Mens Rights Activists have also identified sexual attitudes which work against mens’ sexual equality. I just think that basing one’s life around ‘feminism’ or ‘MRA’ to the exclusion of other considerations can be counter-productive. I find some of the views of extreme proponents of either side irrational. Your views may differ.

            However, in terms of this blog, it will be interesting to see how SB4.0 could address the issue of sexual equality. Is sexual equality (or the perceived lack of it) a learned behaviour? Is there a genetic predisposition which favours dominant pair-bonding? Or are we too deeply immersed in our society to dispassionately work on the science without preconception? Should it be tackled at all?

            I suspect the lure of sexual issues in sociobiology has led previous versions of SB into irretrievably muddied waters. Journalists mis-report findings and everybody brings their own preconceptions to any debate. Even if John’s SB4.0 gets off the ground there will be plenty of people aching to find fault.


          2. Neither the Abolitionists nor the Civil Rights activists tried to take away the rights of others. In fact, African Americans are still suffering from significant racism today. Further, biological differences between men and women clearly exist, while this cannot be said about racial differences. When a man bears a child and goes through the hormonal changes during menopause, or even experiences the very real symptoms of PMS, please let me know. While none of this justifies discrimination, and may even require affirmative action to address, obvious biological differences can’t be denied, nor should they be. This applies to our brains, as well as our bodies. And one doesn’t even need to address the question of adaptation vs. selection to realize it.


            1. As a sort-of-related comment I recommend the essay ‘The Trouble with Testosterone’ in a book of the same name by Robert M Sapolsky. When mixing groups of males in a social group the initial levels of testosterone (androgens) are not useful for predicting aggressive behaviour. Behavioural differences drive the subsequent hormonal changes.

              The essay ends “…our behavioural biology is usually meaningless outside the context of the social factors and environment in which it occurs.”

              The implication for me is that while we might argue that humans ‘left the savannah’ with a set of behaviours and genetic predispositions that enhance those behaviours, it is possible that our current behaviours are far more dependent on our current society/environment than any ‘savannah predisposition’.

              Perhaps John’s phylogenetic bracketing is a better approach, but how do we untangle nature and nurture when, perhaps, they shouldn’t be separated?


        2. Sure, the feminist goal of gender equality is selfish, but only if you think that equality is a bad idea and one gender should have more power and privilege than the other.

          All groups striving for equal rights have faced hostility and backlash; it is expected and a usual part of the process. It is rare that anyone gives up power without a fight.


          1. I sort of agree with Silberstein, with the caveat that i think that in reality feminism is not selfish.

            Sure its goal is to level the playing field, and thus give women the same rights as men, which in most cases will increase womens cotro over their own lives.

            But leveling the playing field will also benefit men. MRA’s and feminists are actually in agreement on many fronts.

            Take child rearing. It has been the domain of women for many years, thus reducing the liberty of women, and depriving men of possibilities.

            As is now clear, women are not better at rearing children than men, and as this realisation sinks in, men will both be able to participate more in the rearing of children, and the unfair treatment of men in regards to parental rights will even out.

            Thus a feminist issue is also an MRA issue, recognizing that both sexes have an eauql part in rearing children.

            I once had friend complain that if a man worked a 60 hour week when his children were small to make sure that the wife could be the primary caretaker, then in case of divorce, the woman would be most likely to gain full rights to the children.

            Well sure – if they made it so one partner was the primary care giver, then the children ought to stay with the primary care giver.

            Had both partners had the same chances of a high paying job, and if they had split the parental duties, the situation would be different.

            Thus the culprit is the dysfunctional gender roles, not the call for more equality


      1. Well, Tyndal could hardly have used Elizabethan English …. but I know that I’m being pedantic past the point of silliness. In any event, an interesting post.


  2. With all due respect, you seem to be quite misinformed on this subject. At least in regard to the facts within the Orthodox churches.

    The concept of power, or who’s the boss, is a secular one. Christ turned the concept upside down. Whomever is in charge, should serve everyone else.

    So if a man has some sort of leadership role in a family or community that is to serve the others, to be the smallest of all.

    No one in the orthodox churches really has the leadership. Everything is decided in a synod. If a community has a leader, than that leader is a leader because of his or her ability to lead. She will not use the position as a position of power.

    There are women monasteries that have a woman as a leader. They also have a priest for services and confession. But the exclusivity of men to be priests is a whole different matter. It’s not like that because men should have power.

    I’ve seen no case, not ever, of women who were told to shut up unless their husband is present. That’s an absurdity, and your generalization is unfortunate.

    Women have a very important role in the education of children. Which, by far, is the most important thing a family does on Earth. So I’d say that’s quite a lot.

    You, atheists or agnostic, always seem to view things in terms of ‘may’ or ‘may not’. Just like that. As if there’s people who find a pleasure in setting interdictions. That’s might be the case with some. But not all.

    What you don’t seem to understand is that we don’t live our live by a set of rules, by a set of what we may or we may not. We have a purpose with our lives that goes beyond this life. Atheists and agnostics have a purpose that it’s found within the boundaries of this life. That’s why the life of atheists becomes more and more meaningless as they approach the end of it.

    That being said, what we may or may not do is closely related to the purpose of our lives.

    A woman or a man is free to do whatever they want. Be however or whomever they want. Heck, change their gender once in 5 years.

    But the questions is whether what they do will work for the fulfillment of their purpose in file. And as Christians of different denominations, we all adhere to different set of norms, and traditions.


    1. So if a man has some sort of leadership role in a family or community that is to serve the others, to be the smallest of all.

      Yeah, sure – all patriarchal misogynist traditions claim that. “We men are only serving those we have authority over”. And oddly they end up controlling what women can do unless some secular intervention is made.


      1. Isn’t “misogyny” subject to a definition? Your argument seems to be based on *your* definition of misogyny just so you’re able to accuse my tradition of misogyny.


        1. I think Cristian is right. After all, a lot of people claim that American slavery was racist… but isn’t racism just a *word*? Of course, those with an anti-slavery bias will just *define* that word so that slavery turns out to be immoral. But that’s not an argument, that’s just semantics! you can’t just use *your* definition of a word whenever you feel like it! Thank you Cristian for bringing up this interesting and helpful point.


          1. Thanks Nick! I appreciate your understanding.

            My point, which it seems I didn’t make clear enough, it’s that your position, like John’s also, is a moral position. And you can not make a moral argument against a different moral system, except for the points which the two systems have in common.

            The anti-slavery movement was a moral movement with moral grounds.

            You make an analogy. A weak one. And just as weak as an argument.


            1. You can make an argument with movement. I make a different analogy. As weak as it also seems, I didn’t make John’s a anti-slave in common. And your point, which it’s that you can not make a moral moral system, except for that: my point, which it’s *not* on moral grounds.

              Isn’t “misogyny” subject to be based on of misogyny just seems to a definition? What about racism? Do the two conflict?


              1. Slavery and racism *and* misogyny are immoral because we consider them to be immoral. That is not the case with the speed of light, Earth mass or fluidity of water.

                BUT, my point was that John has a different definition of what means to be a misogynist.

                What he doesn’t seem to understand or he doesn’t make obvious that he understands is that we all ground our moral views on different system of beliefs.

                And if it’s beliefs that back us up, you can not say that what I do is wrong because what you do is right.

                Nothing in this world is right or wrong in an absolute sense. Specially if you don’t believe there’s a God.


              2. I mean if Christianity’s core principle is love, the new commandement is ‘Love each other as I (Christ) have loved you’ (to the death), and Paul tells christians “Men, love your women as Christ loved his Church (to the death)”, and you still call us misogynists, then obviously we different views (definitions) on what love and hate (myso) is.


              3. Since my English is so bad, I’m OK with other people sounding like they’re drunk. So instead of asking you why the comment didn’t make sense, I took what I could understand from it and responded.

                If this is your way to respond to an argument, you might want to think what this says about your ability to be honest.

                So much about being an atheist and a good person. You don’t need an imaginary friend to be moral, but you won’t be anyway.


          1. Absolutely not, unless you’re deeply convinced of its validity.

            But that was not my point. You are free of accusing us for being misogynists, but your accusations are just as grounded as our understanding of what love is, what is the human nature, gender roles, and the purpose of this life. It’s a matter of value systems grounded on belief systems.

            But then, your accusations are in block towards all Christian denominations, which I find unfortunate. There’s plenty of historical data which can prove that we don’t hate women. As long as there’s women saints, that means that women teach us a lot. So you most probably misread that verse.

            You seem to forget or to ignore that this ‘teaching’ is strongly related to the spiritual purpose of our existence, again something that we believe we have. If this purpose is null, as you believe, yes it doesn’t make sense to attribute different gender roles.

            But if it’s not null, as we believe it’s not, then there’s a lot to talk about what love means, humility, the role of silence and obedience for both men and women.


            1. Stop trying to justify treating others as unequal when no inequality exists. Women are not children in need of protection and guidance from their husbands/brothers/fathers. There is absolutely no reason why women cannot teach men or govern men – none.


              1. You’ll most probably don’t understand a thing from the conference (it’s in Romanian), but here’s one of many examples where women teach us, men and women.


                She a well respected romanian orthodox noun. And we are very traditionalists. What is valid for us today, was valid 1700 years ago for the ancient church.

                So stop being angry and try to inform yourself on what the real world is like exactly.


              2. Cristian, you appear to think my argument is all Christian traditions are misogynist, you are a Christian, therefore you are misogynist; when in fact I am arguing that all Christian traditions tend towards misogyny. Individual cases of a tendency to egalitarianism doesn’t undercut my major claims. I know Christians who are as equality-minded and pro-women as anyone not a Christian. There are movements in many, if not most, churches that are trying to change the tradition, and an individual case won’t make the case to the contrary. The fact remains that the tradition itself is misogynistic.

                This is like Muslims who try to defend their religion as “a religion of peace” because there are imams who promote that. It’s a No-True-Scotsman move. Most Islamic cultures are combative, and what makes them peaceful in these cases is the influence of secular culture, not the tradition itself.

                When the tradition itself is generally in favour of women’s equality, then I can say the opposite of this. Until then I can say Christianity is generally about the subordination of women. Deal with it.


              3. John, I respect your opinion, if that’s what you mean by “deal with it”. Otherwise, you offer little to none evidence for very broad statements because what you state is “well known”.

                I should have realised that this is one of those posts in the spirit of “we know we are right, we suffer not being told otherwise”.

                Time after time I have been told here that we are misogynysts, and I justify it. No matter what arguments or data I bring to counter that.

                And it’s ok for you to take extreme cases as being the norm, but it is not enough for me to present numerous historical actually relevant cases to counter your generalizations.

                You just know better! Well good luck with that in your attempt to make the world a better place.


              4. I am not taking extreme cases as the norm. These cases are the norm. What is extreme in Christianity is the movement for women priests, and equality of gender roles.

                This varies by country, the urban/rural divide, and the era, but the overall fact is that Christian tradition is misogynistic. You might like to read Mary T. Malone’s three volume series on Women and Christianity, or read this paper. Women are highly constrained in what they can do and are subjugated to men across the tradition, and in other religions like Judaism and Islam.


              5. Being or not being a priest is not something that is subject to restrictions based on gender. There are more restrictions. Most of the men don’t qualify for it. But the first reason for not qualifying as a priest is feeling ofended by not being a priest. This is something you would not understand since you’re not part of the tradition.

                More, you start at the wrong place. You look at your tradition and see (some) men doing something no women does. And although all women in our tradition are OK with that, you, from outside, insist on calling them subjugated and humiliated. You choice, but you might very well extremely wrong.

                You don’t understand nor you seem to be willing to try to see thing as they are: part of a religious tradition. Hence, a system of belief.

                If you ever, just once, call us having ‘an imaginary friend’, not matter how smart or scientific you are, you will not understand</strong. Your derogatory attitude will not allow you to accept our premises and our natural conclusions.

                We have a set of beliefs about the human nature. Why is there a woman and a man in the first place. Being able or not being able to be a priest follows from that. Is not a merit. It's not something to be proud of.

                It is a buren, although you understand to be ironical, as usual, and not believe it. But you don't know how it's like. You have never spent countless hours a day, days a week, year after year, listening to people problems, their darkest fears and sins.

                Instead of making a study on what women in our tradition think or feel, you, from outside and from a distance, assume things. And write papers on 'well known' issues.

                Well, you don't know. You are not an orthodox. You live in a country where orthodoxy is a minority. Orthodoxy is pretty much incomprehensible to the protestant world and also to the catholique church. We're separated by centuries and centuries of history and their evolution.

                I have many friends which are not orthodox christians that have a very hard time understanding the basic principles of our understanding of the gospel and the commandement of love.

                Which brings me to this last issue: You got the issue raised by Paul all wrong. It is explicitly stating that a woman should dominate a man. You must be familiar with cases in which a mother/wife is literally abusing emotionally her husbad or children. This is wrong and this is what Paul is not suffering. Just as the opposite case.

                His interdiction does not allow men to dominate women. We have a commandement ourselves too, which is love. “Men, love your women as Christ love his Church”. You seem to ignore or be depth to this words.

                We can not love and dominate in the same time. If you have a concept of love in which this is possible, great. But we don’t. Christ did not dominate women. He listened to and cared. Starting with his own mother, then many women around him which proved to be more faithful to him then even the apostles.

                We know that. We see that. And we always did.

                You don’t know what the norm is. You look at Christianity with Hitchens’ eyes, with preconceived ideas. It’s obvious because you talk as if Protestantism and american evangelical churches and orthodox tradition are pretty much the same. When in fact they are not at all.

                For one thing, we don’t consider ourselves saved. And being saved depends on our love for others, on caring and treating others as we treat ourselves.

                But all you see is a room in which women are not allow to enter. Good for you!


              6. I wasn’t so clear on the reasons for not being a priest. They are many reasons for which a person can not be a priest. I, for instance, can not.

                I insist that you need to understand the theology behind this. It’s not power. It’s not the need to dominate. Because we don’t.

                You don’t see it through. You don’t see the priesthood in action day by day. You don’t think of the consequences. You judge things as being right or wrong with your secular perspective on right or wrong.

                You don’t believe in God, call it an imaginary friend, yet you tell us what is right or wrong. You call all these women that accept not being priests ‘indoctrinated’. As if they don’t have a mind of their own, like you do. How is not that humiliating? How is not that misogynist?

                As someone said here: the hundreds of millions of women that accept it are not children. They are believers and don’t need non-believers or believers men to take care for them.


            2. Me absolutist? compared to you?
              You are insisting on absolute gender roles – if you are born a man you automatically get to do certain things without reference to the individual.

              Give me some secular reasons why women should not be priests. Why women should not lead men? Why women should be covered? These are issues in the church – maybe not your individual church – but in major Christian denominations.

              Why not just say you will treat people as individuals without reference to gender? Is that so hard?


              1. Also you should not be complaining about John’s bringing up this isssue, but complaining that many Christians continue to discriminate against women.
                Let’s try to direct our anger at the right targets.


              2. “There is absolutely no reason ”

                I didn’t say that. You said it. I can’t give you a secular reason, I am not secular. Being a priest is not for secular reasons.


  3. John if you would like to cite some authentic Elizabethan spelling you could try this. Although I could think of a host of reasons why you should read it.

    Proto history of S.B, the way in which female identity serves as a model for the argument for specialism within the sciences and which science should be on top (supernatural or divine of course). List goes on.


    Increasing use of psychology, starting to look at the anatomy of the brain does make a difference from the typical view of women in the medieval period but not by much.

    If you want a wise child then it has to male and medicine demonstrates this. Medicine suggests that while women may be slow of wit (the have memory and can learn things like Latin by rote but unable to move this further and develop wisdom) its not however the result of a sinful nature.

    Its demonstrated that it is not women’s fault, its natural, the result of cold and moist environment. So some small movement from typical medieval depictions of women.

    Separation, division, hierarchy within sciences, the world of the hard and the soft, reflects this natural order.

    A slow witted beast with a distinct sense of order creeps slowly towards modernity.


  4. Very interesting premise of religion being linked to mating strategies. Having followed the polygamists that got sentenced to prison here in Texas, it makes a lot of sense. They actually made mating rituals a part of the religion.


  5. You wrote:

    “Religions have a singular task: to determine who is in power. As a side effect of this, they regulate who may mate with whom, and how women may behave given that they are patriarchies. Any religious movement that deviates from this is likely to face severe sociopolitical reassures to move back, and we have seen this happen from the optimistic days of the 1960s and 1970s with inexorable inevitability.

    Religion is, in my view, an outcome of our social dominance disposition as a species, under conditions of high population density and the subsequent social differentiation. In other words it’s a side effect of our mating strategies. So of course they have to control women. It’s why they exist.”

    John, you usually don’t oversimplify to that extent—though it’s hard to blame you if the stupidity of such atavistic dolts leaves you in a grump. I am, as it happens, right in the middle of working with a woman coming out of a form of fundamentalism with similar tendencies, and see first hand how destructive they are.

    Purely anecdotal evidence that undercuts your description: I doubt that you personally would ever have the slightest inkling to establish (or belong to) a dominance-oriented institution in order to fulfill any mating urges of your own. And there are millions of kind, decent men who also feel this way.

    Obviously, many institutions, religious systems included, are set up in a way to play out social dominance drives, particularly in non-egalitarian cultures. Organized religion, in the broad sense, is an institutional locus of the human search for meaning contiguous with (and not always distinguishable from) government, political, economic and cultural organizations, kinship structures, etc. (just how broadly one takes the idea of “institution” here presumably governing just what sorts of societies the word can be applied to).

    However, that is only one aspect underlying the human search for “spiritual” meaning.
    To review (what you are well aware of): From our earliest days, regardless of how authoritarian or egalitarian the culture, children have natural tendencies toward vitalism, essentialism, anthropomorphism, and dualism. Most children imbue “life” and personality onto objects and have sensations of being connected to nature, or part of a “life force” (which explains why Star Wars had such an intuitive punch for so many.) All this occurs long before puberty and can last well past child-bearing age. Note: our embodied cognition may underlie many of these experiences.

    There are myriad other motivations: we find it difficult to conceive of our own death and non-existence, we crave a sense of the ineffable, have needs for belonging, purpose, to feel special and to identify with “something” beyond our personal selves, to relieve our suffering and cope with despair. On top of the social needs for shared ritual and celebration, and multiple other motivations, we are driven to search for meaningful patterns and stories, in order to create a coherent conceptual schema out of the vast stimuli our brains perceive, transduce, reconstruct and associate.

    Neuroscience research has been showing that many of these strange sensations and experiences that we assumed were ineffable actually do have particular correspondences and correlations in neural activity. Many parts of the brain (areas of the temporal and parietal lobe, insula, etc.) are activated when we have so-called mystical experiences, from a sense of awe and a sense of presence, to out-of-body experiences. Also, the brain searches for homeostatic balance between pleasure, familiarity and novelty.

    [Numerous published (and well-replicated) studies addressing the above are on hand, of course.]

    In the sense I intend, this search for meaning is the concrete necessity for conscious minds (those arising from brains neurologically organized along human lines, at least) to draw, out of a world far too complex for any individual to grasp, an organization of the mechanisms of attention and emotional salience that makes possible the activities of everyday life. In your terms, perhaps it could be considered the realization of the Umwelt. While there may be a danger that such a description could be taken as an eliminativist thesis, the point is actually to connect our scientific descriptions to the tangible experience of everyday life, not declare that experience illusory and dissolve it away.

    This search for meaningful schema is so powerful, I put forth that if all religions were abolished and eliminated, new spiritual systems would immediately spring up in crevices of society everywhere.


    1. I am only focussing on the institutional or sociopolitical aspect of religion – the reason why reliious institutions exist. Not only are the “spiritual” (I prefer the term noumenous) psychological experiences ubiqitous, I think they long predate both religion and agriculture. So when I refer to “religion” I mean by that religious institutions and traditions.


      1. I assumed you were speaking of institutional religion–but it still seemed too generalized a statement for describing the purpose of all systems that identify as religious—how do you categorize Quakers, Unitarians, Sufi groups, Reformed Judaism? and any number of other evolving movements that are organized, but also inclusive, non-patriarchal and non-authoritarian—at least in many instances? Is “religion” the term you really want to use?


  6. What I was trying to say (but maybe not clearly): Religious institutions (or for that matter: cultural, political, socioeconomic, academic, etc.) are not necessarily established for the reason you stated: “Religions have a singular task: to determine who is in power.” And, to link that to adaptationism, “In other words it’s a side effect of our mating strategies” is not your normal mode of addressing complex human dynamics.
    (You know better than that and I can refer you to your own past beautifully-written and richly-textured insights.)

    The researchers who have studied Social Dominance Orientation, Authoritarianism, System Justification, Ingroup/Outgroup membership, Social Identity, etc. for decades (Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto, Robert Altemeyer, John Jost, Mahzarin Banaji, Emily Pronin, Susan Fisk and numerous others) from many perspectives: have shown that there are many reasons that (any type) of institution can become authoritarian and dominance-oriented. But we are also learning that healthy development, and early brain wiring for empathy and prosocial concern can counter such tendencies, even on a collective basis.


    1. I am a great fan of Sidanius et al and he will be collaborating with me if I get my fellowship on social dominance in humans. But let’s shift the example here. Suppose I say “political institutions are there to maintain social dominance, and in a patriarchal society they are an outcome of our mating strategies”? You might counter that this is due to d-behaviours and they will tend to redevelop if you erased them. I would agree. But culture can modulate behavioural development, and so we can have an egalitarian society anyway, depsite these d-behaviours..

      Similar things can be said about military behaviours, sporting behaviours, etc., but they are all outcomes of our social dominance orientation, and their culturally evolved function is to control mating opportunities. Religion is one outcome of mating and dominance, like these other institutions. I know religion has an underlying numinous psychology, as sport and martial behaviour have their own underlying causes. But the institutional aspects of these behaviours are due more to socioeconomic evolution than to biological evolution. Given the biological dispositions, and the cultural situation (mostly, agriculture), these institutions are explicable.


  7. I just remembered about this episode from the life of Mary of Egypt. It is read every year during the Easter fasting period. You may not find it as being true, but we take it as such. I believe it’s relevant about the position of a priest and a priest *dominates* women.

    “Why did you wish, Abba Zosimas, to see a sinful woman? What do you wish to hear or learn from me, you who have not shrunk from such great struggles?”

    Zosimas threw himself on the ground and asked for her blessing. She likewise bowed down before him. And thus they lay on the ground prostrate asking for each other’s blessing. And one word alone could be heard from both: “Bless me!” After a long while the woman said to Zosimas:

    “Abba Zosimas, it is you who must give blessing and pray. You are dignified by the order of priesthood and for many years you have been standing before the holy altar and offering the sacrifice of the Divine Mysteries.”

    This flung Zosimas into even greater terror. At length with tears he said to her:

    “O mother, filled with the spirit, by your mode of life it is evident that you live with God and have died to the world. The Grace granted to you is apparent — for you have called me by name and recognized that I am a priest, though you have never seen me before. Grace is recognized not by one’s orders, but by gifts of the Spirit, so give me your blessing for God’s sake, for I need your prayers.”


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