the ‘big issues’ and the problems in these men’s approaches. I, then, will widen the net and direct my considerable anger at day-to-day life. This basically means I’m criticising you, or lots of people you know. Not very charitable. It might help to admit that I was wholly guilty of all the things I lambast until I was c.17, and still perpetrate in countless ways.
When I say ‘widen my net’, I mean I will be looking, not just at the de Bottons – who either accept there is no God, or deny that the question is important and live like theists – but also at uncommitted theists – those who identify as Christian but don’t do much ‘Christian’ stuff like attending church, praying etc. I group these together because, in my probably-ill-informed-or-biased-and-certainly-too-overgeneralising opinion, their actions are functionally so similar that what differentiates them is mental only. I argue that both groups fall back on the received wisdom of our Christian cultural heritage, making gendered, moral and political choices with little thought or responsibility. This, of course, feeds into my existential responsibility thesis. It also forms the basis of one of my attacks on those who oppose Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, in that a zero-sum adherence to the ‘value of life’ and ‘right to live’ blinds many both to the pro-choice arguments, and to the possibility that people who do not hold life in such unquestioning esteem might want the freedom to make other choices.
My concern is that too many ‘atheist religionists’ and casual Christians tend to represent and act on traditional values, which arise from Christianity, where after some evaluation, their stances would be different. Because I am a prick, I think such an approach is lazy, and makes the thinker easy prey to the hilarious knee-jerk reactions of the Daily Mail (current readership 4.4 mil), political soundbites and outdated, harmful stereotypes. Applying such stereotypes (which I’m splitting into Patriarchy, Gender & Sexuality, and Race) appears worse, intellectually less honest, than a ‘committed’ theist making similar or more extreme assertions, backed up by belief in an Absolute God.
It’s difficult to deny our Christian heritage. It informs out language (“Thank God!”, “Bless you!”, “My Lord”, “Jesus”, “Damn”, “Fucking Hell”) and our thought patterns –our dualist belief in the ‘mind’ (sic. ‘soul’) as separate to the body, for example. [We can say “I hurt my arm” where monist-influenced languages say “I hurt the arm that is part of me”.] It gets
everywhere, whether we consider it or not. Why there’s no work at weekends. Why we drink and sing at Christmas. Why this summer, millions of people have repeatedly called on the flying spaghetti monster to save the Queen (who is, apparently, in near-constant danger.) Why we still have a monarchy at all. Why they don’t like to play tennis on the middle Sunday of Wimbledon. Most traditional first names.
The above aren’t necessarily harmful. Indeed, some are quite fun. It’s the things below which are harmful, and you’ll probably disagree that a Christian past has major power creating the things below. I can’t convince you. I can direct you to Foucault or Nietzsche, both of
whom go into great detail explaining how the parameters of our worldviews are defined and enforced by the cultures in which we grow, learn and live – our cultural paradigms, epistemes, perspectives. It doesn’t matter if you or your parents weren’t religious or were, whether you love Alice Cooper or not, Christian heritage has still influenced you*. A lot.
Christianity has few female role models. The most important one’s most important action was to give birth. The next most important was a prostitute. The other famous one was so stupid and naïve that she brought an eternal curse on all humanity. And was naked when she did it. Bitch. Jezebel was a bit naughty too. And a whore. The religion arose in a primitive desert tribal culture which saw women as possessions, legitimate spoils of war, who must be secluded during menstruation, who should be burnt to death if they commit adultery, who tend to fuck everything up if they exercise any power. Really, they fuck things up by doing anything except staying quiet, beautiful and obedient.
Men, on the other hand, get a wider spectrum. They can do evil, fo sho, but they can also liberate their people from slavery, live to 900, found kingdoms, conquer subhumans, and even build boats which save every species on the planet from extinction. Oh, and most prophets are men. And God-made-flesh was a man. And most of Jesus’ chief followers were men. Feck, even Satan is male. To the Christian mindset, you need a cock to do anything important.
Don’t forget, of course, that women are a corrupted version of men. They are tempters, morally and physically weaker, likely to manipulate and deceive their way through life. They’re good for preserving their (Very Very important and valuable) virginities so they can perform cisgendered, heteronormative intercourse, childbirth, childrearing (but not in any complex or important education), and cooking. Asides a little high-point in the Anglo-Saxon 900s, Christian women have been unable to possess property, choose or divorce their husbands, resist marital sex, work, or vote. In America, one of the main reasons women finally got the vote was by pointing out to Woodrow Wilson that they (‘they’ being middle-class and white) were more deserving of votes, and a necessary counterweight, to that of the blacks. What a compelling last resort.
You’re probably thinking, “Well, OK, but that’s all hundreds or thousands of years in the past. Or…at least a few decades.”
A few decades. Martial rape was legal in the UK until 1991 (and within a few decades of that in other Western countries.) Not to dwell on so cheery a topic, but it appears that various old white men still don’t get it. Women are still overwhelmingly assumed to want to look attractive to men, to get married, to have children, to raise those children whilst their husband works, to ‘love, honour and obey’ him.
“What a fuss about nothing!” I hear you cry.
Well, I’ve heard other words cried. Words like “Slut”, “Whore”, “Slag”, “She loves da cock!”, “Frigid bitch”, “Bint”, “Tease”, “Big tits”, “Homewrecker” and the topical ”Calm down dear”. So that’s what my fuss is about. That and a million other things done by millions of men and women, daily.
Our culture, including most conversation, schooling, tv, magazines, press and films, still objectify and belittle women to a colossal extent. Culture evolves, sure, but it doesn’t make ‘clean breaks’. There are strong links to say, 1950s culture, which has strong links to, say, 1900s culture. Indeed, there are still plenty of people who were alive and actively participating in and promoting 1950s culture. Which means that, broadly speaking, any woman we see can be broadly categorised as ‘sex object’ or ‘not sex object’. And if she’s “sex object”, especially one that happens to be young, or physically fit, or dressed in anything less than artic furs or battle-armour, acting meek, or confident, or drinking, or dancing, she’s probably up for it, and it’s fine to shout the above slurs at her, harass her at work and on public transport, touch her inappropriately in nightclubs, or assume she must be lying when she claims she was raped. And if she’s “not sex object”, she’s probably not important, and, incidentally, is probably bitter, angry, frigid, broody, bad at parking, hopeless with computers or a lesbian. If “not sex object” seems to act like a sex object, then hooray! She’s a loose-moralled cum-guzzling superwhore.
Because post-Christianity makes work, clothing, politics, socialising and sex into moral issues. It forces you to make moral judgements about other people’s choices. If you’ve grown up in this culture, even if you are pretty enlightened and are totally down with the concept of extramarital sex and one-night-stands, I’d bet you still feel a twinge of concern or condemnation if you consider a woman who has (totally consensual, safe) sex with multiple partners in a week. Because that’s how sluts act. Women do not want to be called sluts. Avoiding being characterised as a slut informs how most women dress, socialise, act and drink. Men do not want their friends/daughters/sisters/god-forbid-wives! called sluts. We assume, at the very least, there is a self-esteem issue going on there. Probably a serious one. Either that, or she’s loose-moralled. It’s simply impossible that she enjoys something, and chooses to enjoy it with multiple people. Demonize her! Thunderbolts and lighting, we must repeatedly offend this harlot before she corrupts any more innocents! It’s the only way!
[Well, it’s not the only way. If she continues not to know her place, you can always hit her. It’s for her own good.]
When I’ve argued this before, I’ve been told that the above paradigm is not a result of Christian (or Abrahamic) culture, it’s simply “how humans operate”.
That’s life. Our biology defined our roles, and men come out on top. We’ve given them maternity pay and had a female prime minister – who predictable ballsed it up – what more do they want?
Our situation feels like the only option is ‘the way it is’ because it’s all we’ve ever know. It’s all our families and our friends have ever known, it’s the way things are in our history books and our home-videos and our fading newspapers and family photographs. It’s even the way fictional societies operate.
But it’s no more fixed than Mitt Romney’s political stances. Lots of cultures don’t even have our gender dichotomy! India has Hijra, Samoa has fa’afafine, Cook Island Maori have akava’ine, Lakota had winyanktehca, Northern Piegans had ninauposkitzipxpe, Montenegro has/had muskobanja/ostajnica. They have three genders, or fluid gender traits. Mindboggling!
Then we’ve got the Classical world, which saw heteronormative sex as a bit icky – real men were expected to woo, and fuck, attractive teenage boys. Pass on their wisdom through friendship, and strength through the beast-with-two-backs. Characters in Plato’s works consider buggery. Spartans disliked heteronormative sex so much that they only performed that onerous duty with anonymous women, whose heads were shave to seem boyish, with the lights out. Alexander the Great would stick it in just about anything. He did a massacre when his childhood boyfriend died.
Gender-egalitarian cultural systems, and , FUCK!, Matriarchies have existed. Humans have had those. Real humans. Early contact with Hopi Native Americans revealed a culture that was matrilineal, matrilocal, and matriarchal. Women dominated clan, household and economic systems. Even after a healthy dose of GOOD EUROPEAN CONTACT, women still took equal role in political decision-making.
Likewise, the historic Iroquois Confederacy maintained ‘gynaecocracy’ for hundreds of
years, with women politically active and even able to decide when to go to war! Women were expected to be strong and hard, and they controlled the crop, which gave them great material power, deciding where communities should be built and the terms of peace treaties. Women made up a caucus who chose leaders, and women were roughly half of those leaders. Women also monitored and maintained a veto over male activity, and decided whether criminals were executed. We might note a link between conceptions of women as ‘nurturing’ due to being in touch with the spirits, and their control over land, and subsequent political control. Looks a bit religious to me!
There’s so much more! I’m sure you’ll eagerly await part II where we’ll look at attitudes to sexuality (i.e. Sodomites), abortion, other races, masturbation, consent, circumcision and neo-colonialism.
*I’m speaking primarily to Caucasian peoples here, although other races whose heritage is religious will have similarly formative influences, although the nature of those influence might differ. The BBC has a long, somewhat surprising but by no means exhaustive list here.
Feel free to comment!