The Changing Place of Women in Traditional Religion
July 17th, 2009 ·
As women are becoming increasingly dominant in academia and the philosophically oriented professions, more and more are beginning to take on authority in matters of spirituality. It is not only in the more liberal Protestant churches and Jewish temples in America that we see this, but in the Catholic Church as well. There are even hints that women are beginning to step up and preach Islam. It appears that only Orthodox Judaism has held a very strict gender line; although I cannot say for sure that this is the case, it certainly seems to have maintained tradition to a greater extent than most other religions. As far as Hinduism and Buddhism are concerned, they are fairly inconsequential in America — at least for now.
Having been raised Catholic during a time of great change in the Church – the 1970s-80s – I never quite understood how consequential the changes the Church had gone through following the Vatican II Council were until I was an adult and read the history. I studied Latin in school, but heard precious little in church, and the role of the priest did not seem significantly different from the women who read from the lectern during most services. I later learned that my particular church had become a haven for lesbians, and was forced to curtail its activities following then Cardinal Ratzinger’s evaluation of the Seattle Archdiocese, which was sparked by some strange politics and practices in the early 1980s, including political support for Communist insurgencies in Latin America, gay activism and the widely ignored – and widespread – indulgence in pederasty.
These practices have changed, and the Church has taken on a more traditional demeanor, but the damage has already been done, and it seems that more and more men are fleeing religion, viewing it as an apparently hostile and inscrutable institution (this has some parallels with the male flight from higher education). So what we are seeing today is women defining Christianity from every part of the spectrum. We have women like Katherine Jefferts-Schori heading up the Episcopalian Church in the US and taking it down the path of outright, flaming heresy, and then we have a number of more conservative Christian women writing their own opinions about their particular church, coming close to preaching in their own right. Many conservative Christians celebrate the appearance of conservative female Christian writers, but they seem to forget that this upsets the entire notion of Christianity, which is that the Church shall be led, first and foremost, by men. There is really no argument about this in scripture.
What this says to me is that the decline of Christianity is by no means over. In fact, I would argue that even conservative women, if they take on authority in their particular religion, will only hasten the process. The truth is that it is demoralizing for men to have to listen to a female know-it-all preach to them about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and most young men will in all likelihood reject religion entirely, as they see it as offering no escape from the submissive role they must assume in all relationships with women in the secular world. Who could imagine that a shrill priestess could compel young men to get married, when they have been chafing under female authority from the time they first learned to walk on their own two feet?
The emergence in the mainstream of American women assuming authority in matters of religion is a clear indication of the impending collapse of the social norms that have sustained our society for centuries. It’s anyone’s guess what will replace them, but a growing number of people are suggesting Islam will ultimately prevail over a weakened, spiritually emasculated West, just as Christianity vanquished the tired paganism of the Roman Empire.