Women Gender And The World Religions Essay


Discuss about the Control of Women’s Sexuality has been a Key Concern of all Major World Religions.


The conditions imposed on human sexuality by Judeo-Christians and also the sexual prohibitions that have been imposed by other religions like Islam, have originated from ancient tribal of the Jews. In those early times, it was considered that whites were properties and there were laws that were particularly codified for protecting wives, livestock and dwellings as their significance can be clearly seen in the Jewish law. The belief held by different groups were also hugely diverse, ranging from the approval of homosexuality, prostitution, having sex with slaves and the liberal views regarding divorce to an 180 degree shift in these areas. It was feared by Judaism that the Jewish race may be diluted if liaisons are allowed with the non-Jews. As marrying a Jew and giving birth to the Jewish children was considered as a significant requirement for this, the need was codified by the scriptural laws which govern sexuality. At this point it is worth mentioning that effective birth control was not present in those days. In those days, primarily even raping the wife was treated as a sin that had been committed against the husband and his family and not a sin against the wife. In fact, most of the early scholars agreed that the sexual restrictions that have been mentioned in the Old Testament are more concerned with maintaining the property and the requirements and the survival of the Jews as the race instead of sex itself.[1]

It was in the fourth century when St. Augustine, who had himself admitted having major personal problems with sex, had the responsibility to form the views of the Christians regarding sex. The problem is that he had been sex that under the modern-day psychology, he would have been mentioned as borderline psychotic and obsessive-compulsive.[2] However, the bases of the ideas of St. Augustine were received by him from the mind versus body views that were quite popular in those times, the views that have been repudiated since long by the more enlightened and modern thinking. As weather reports, after leading a lascivious and wanton lifestyle, Augustine changed dramatically and let his mistress and children. He vowed to become a celibate. Afterwards, he had the views that "flesh" was sinful, wicked and flawed. At the same time, Augustine also considered himself to be a staunch Catholic.[3]

In view of the strong anti-sex views held by St. Augustine, it is surprising and perhaps baffling for some that according to this saintly man, prostitution was required as a necessity in the society. It has been said by him that if prostitution is expelled from the society, everything will be unsettled on account of lusts. In this regard, father Thomas Raush from the chair of Theological Studies at the Loyola Marymount University, it is indeed regrettable that the influence and the negative appraisal of security by St. Augustine, which were the result of his own struggles to be chaste, had such a negative impact with the Christian tradition.[4]

Perhaps it is also equally surprising for many that Thomas Aquinas, who also has a significant impact on Christianity, was also of the view that prostitution has to be seen as a necessary evil in the society. It is worth mentioning that these examples have not been sighted with a view to advocate prostitution but only to reveal how the views regarding sexuality has changed within the Church. According to the modern Christian scholars, stronger words than the term 'regrettable' has been used to describe the damage that has been cause over the centuries as a result of the warped views of this man, particularly concerning the rights of woman.[5]

A question which arises in these circumstances is that why didn't the priest craft of the day just ignored the views of St. Augustine. The first reason was that the religious, political and economic interests of the religious establishment of the day were served by these views. Particularly, these views help in maintaining the interests of the male-dominated religion. However, apart from the church politics, the men were aware of the greater sexual capacity of the human and they also feared it. The result was that the woman who enjoys sex were condemned by the religion as being 'evil'. Later on, in the history, these women were also termed as witches and therefore they were tortured and killed.[6]

Similarly the priest craft was aware of the fact that as a result of controlling the sexual life of their subjects, they will be in a position to achieve a significant level of control on the personal as well as the spiritual lives of the people. The control of the priest craft was not only bolstered by the threat of eternal hell but it also allowed religion to commercialize the forgiveness of sexual sins. Hence, husbands and wives were required to look towards rabbis and priests (most of them were celibate) instead of each other for sexual permissions. According to the highly religious law, very restrictive laws have been established for governing the questions like "when and how often" of between the marriage partners and sometimes even sex was limited to the so-called missionary position. There was a time in history when the “sex police” had been used by the Catholic Church. Therefore, religion could order the burning of her marriage couple at the stake if it was found that they were having sex with women on top. In this way, sex could be had only in order to conceive children and the males (and particularly the females) were considered to be sinful if they enjoyed sex at this may send them to hell.[7]

Much later on when the woman were not considered as the property of men, the Church which was still dominated by men felt that woman need to be controlled through religion. It was the same Church who had pronounced Mary Magdalene as a prostitute even if there was no biblical evidence to support it. Although there have been efforts to eradicate the evidence, still the recently discovered documents reveal the evidence that not only Mary Magdalene was the favorite disciple of Jesus but in the beginning, she was a powerful figure who had played a significant role in the development of Christianity.[8]

Two Reasonable Reasons: there was a point in history when it was found that sex helped in transmitting some of the life-threatening diseases. A number of deaths took place group diseases like syphilis that were transmitted. Sexually under these circumstances, it was argued that the spread of sexually transmitted diseases can be controlled if limitations placed on the sexual partners. This was the line of reasoning that was particularly significant because in those times, safe sex practices were not prevalent.[9] The next reason behind imposing restrictions on the sexuality of woman by various religions was that before the introduction of effective birth control, commonly sex resulted in pregnancy of a woman. The religious leaders were wise enough to recognize that under the circumstances, theoretically, a woman may get pregnant even every year of the marriage. During the times when the women were married in very early age, this could result in a great number of children. At the same time, many women died in those days during childbirth.[10]

In this way, during those times, lesser children could not be considered as an asset, particularly when it comes to providing the required labor in the farms and homes but it was also acknowledged that there are many couples who were not in a position to take care of a large number of children. Such a situation would clearly have a negative economic and religious influence. Hence, the reason was given that the sex between couples needs to be controlled or modified by adopting different means.[11] Therefore, as the church had a great influence on the people, it was considered that the sexual prohibitions it should also be imposed by the Church.[12] Later on, effective birth control techniques became commonly available however the Catholic Church particularly banned it is the reason that it may result in enjoying sex which was considered as the major sin, without having concerns regarding pregnancy.[13]

Another thing that needs to be noted is that the Bible is not nearly as "asexual" as we may assume it to be. Therefore, there are certain explicit references present in the Bible to the joy of making love. For example, in the Song of Songs which is considered by many as at least semi-pornographic, provides a significant example (despite the attempts made by the translators to make it less graphic). In this way, although the attempts have been made to make the Song of Songs as some sort of an allegory, according to the modern thinkers, the Song clearly reveals the joys of sex that are experienced by the lovers.[14]

As a result of the thinking that has been driven for centuries according to which sex was considered as a sin, and when this thinking has been conveyed as the so-called traditional values and enjoyed the support from law, sex emerged as an embarrassing and a taboo. Only during the recent years, the fundamentalist Christian belief has come out openly so that topics like human sexuality can be discussed openly and in a positive way even if it is still very restrictive.[15] Similarly the persons who have faith in the prevailing religious belief are always conscious of the presence of more sexually liberated and even the views which are more morally responsible.[16] The result is that these persons try not only to have control over their own sexuality but at the same time, they also want to control experiences of others.[17] Hence, "illicit" consensual sex is considered by some as being more destructive for the society than other reasons like violence. But in the modern times, there are many people who have questioned and abandoned these antiquated beliefs. As the effective birth control techniques are available nowadays, the main reason for prohibiting sex among the people is now to control the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. When adequate precautions have not been taken, the risk is really significant and devastating consequences can be seen. Similarly even if the religious and social restraint may appear to be illogical and outmoded, it also needs to be realize that as a result of the prevailing social views, violating the restraints may result in significant personal, marital, social and in some cases even legal consequences. Although the principle of separation of church and state is practiced, still a number of modern laws are based on prevailing religious beliefs.[18]

In case of the three major religions of the world, Islam, Christianity and Judaism, the people worship a supreme, omni-potent deity who is the prominent power in the universe. Both God and Allah are given the credit for having created this universe and the forms populating the universe as well as, most importantly with the creation of mankind. These religions have been created for guiding the believers in appropriate ways to live their life as a direct with each other. These religions have constructed their basic beliefs on the concept of a single figure that has created and rules the heavens and earth. In this regard, the Jewish deity does not have a specific gender, in case of Christianity and Islam, this lady is considered as having male persona. In this way, in case of these two religions, the most basic element or the main God that is credited with creating the whole world as well as religion and the human race excludes the feminine influence to a large extent. Apart from the conception of the nature of Allah and God, both these religions construct the gender identities and boundaries for men and woman that impose limitations on the capacity of both, particularly the woman. Although in the early years of these religions, often a significant role has been played by woman, either their role was ignored or such influence was only valued for its knowledge of matters of the house and family, and in this way, starting a cycle of undervaluing the real potential of women and disempowering the woman in the religious hierarchy has only efforts were being made by the modern women in recent years to break it.[19]

There are many fundamental tenets of the religious theology of Islam, Christianity and Judaism that they share with each other, including the nature of God, the structure of up to life, nature of life on earth and the guidelines for exemplary as well as the sinful behavior of the humans. Even if a marginal difference is present in the details of each creation myth, the basic concept consistently talks of an omnipotent being who has created light and matter out of light and nothingness.[20] Genesis of the Torah as well as the Bible mentions that "in the beginning, God created heaven and earth". Earth was empty and it did not have any form, there was darkness on the face of depths but God's Spirit moved on the surface of the water. Therefore God said "there shall be light" and light came in existence. When God saw that light was good, got divided light and darkness.[21] The creation of earth by God and its animal and plant inhabitants took place in a period of six days and on the seventh day, God said let us make man with our image and likeness. A similar story regarding creation is also present in the Koran over a period of six days. It starts with Allah ordaining the creation of earth and heavens out of nothing. In this way, God and Allah created earth out of lack of matter and similarly humans were created to populate the earth out of the same lack of being. Therefore at the most basic level, both men and women were created from the same substance. It has been claimed by Islam, Christianity and Judaism that at the fundamental level of theology, all human beings appear to be equal before the God/Allah. According to the basic religious theory of every religion, there is the concept of a supreme God figure who has created the earth and mankind. It is expected that the human beings will follow the religious rules and guidelines that have been provided by the God and by his prophets on earth.[22] Only by following these teachings, the human beings can hope to find God in heaven. Although it may be expected by the people that they will be punished for sinning and they may have to face the displeasure of God and Allah if get involved in sinful behavior, if they remain pure and holy in their heart and repent for their sins, the all merciful and forgiving God and Allah will forgive them.[23]

According to the religious texts of Judaism, women and women's roles have been described as different but equal from men and their roles. According to the Torah, women are considered as beings who are constructed or built instead of being formed as men and corresponding disparities have been assigned to the subsequent nature of men and women.[24] Traditional Judaism provides that women have a higher level of “binah” (intelligence, edition and understanding) as compared to men and therefore, the historical female Jewish religious figures like Rebecca, leah, Sarah and Rachel were considered to be superior to the patriarchs (Jacob, Abraham and Isaac) in prophecy. It was also believed that women had a high level of tznius or modesty and also bina yeseira that can be described as greater intuition which facilitates deeper understanding of others and therefore connection with them.[25]

The religious views of Islam are in certain ways similar to the views of Judaism. In this case, women are considered as being basically different from men and therefore they have different religious roles, and if these roles are fulfilled faithfully, provide the same heavenly rewards and punishments that have faced by men. In general, both men and women have to follow the religious guidelines that have been provided by Allah as best as they can and in the same way, they should also try to remain pure and holy before God.[26] The holy and the sinful behavior has been described by the Quran which equally admonishes men as well as women to follow the religious rules.[27]

However, it also needs to be noted that attempts have been made to control the reproductive rights of the woman under the guise of religion. It has been claimed in this regard that as God has put a soul in the womb of a woman, it is the will of the God that the baby should be borne. In the same way, under the guise of religion, it is expected that women should shave their heads or they should wear a wig, only due to the reason that their real here are considered as a temptation that is evil.[28] Similarly, in the name of religion, girls are forced in arranged marriages at even the age of nine. Similarly, religion does not generally provide the right to woman to become religious leaders and sometimes the women are not even allowed in the places of worship. In this way, we see that religion is used as a reason or as an excuse for the subjugation of women. However in most of the cases, no mention of these practices has been made by the religion directly even if they are used to justify these practices.[29]

In fact we only come across the translations of ancient texts in the languages that are spoken by the people in the society and at the behest of men who were in charge of the region, the cultural practices were inflated from these ideas. Then culture holds on to keep these practices alive. This makes sense as the men are in power and they want to keep all the people in a state of powerlessness. Therefore half the job is done when they instantly discount 50% of the population. Whenever these practices are challenged, the men only have to point out at the holy book and threaten not only with the help of their man-made power structure but also from the powers provided by the Almighty God.[30] However the point is not if it has been explicitly stated in the religious books that women have to be treated as second class citizens. The issue is if religions have been used as a justification for exerting control over women.[31]

In the end, it can be said that although the major religions of the world profits that they treat men and women equally however the truth is that the religious doctrine are restrictive towards women. They want to delegate women to the home and also after making women completely submissive to and dependent on men. These religions have also described women as the weaker beings and therefore they need protection from their husbands in order to survive in the world and also for appropriately understanding their religion. As the religious education and religious power were denied to women, they were trapped within the confines of their narrow rules. If only men were allowed to interpret the religious texts and the relationships that exist between God or Allah and the mankind, women may never hope to completely reclaim their religious independence.


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