How are religions so ignorant

Religion and modernity

Birgit Heller

To person

Dr. phil. habil., Mag. Dr. theol., born 1959; Professor at the Institute for Religious Studies of the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Vienna, Schenkenstrasse 8-10, 1010 Vienna / Austria. [email protected]

In the 1950s, when the question of gender was still largely irrelevant to research, the religious historian Friedrich Heiler referred to the major religions of the present day as "men's religions". [1] He didn't mean that women didn't play a role in these religions. Without the multitude of female believers and their services, most religions would not be able to survive. Heiler recognized in the "high religions" an oppression and disregard for women, which sometimes degenerated into misogyny. Men would claim the decisive initiative, creativity and direction of religious organizations for themselves. For a long time, Heiler's findings went without a response. Only in the past 20 years has the realization grown that the major religions of the present are largely androcentric in character and, moreover, have religiously legitimized male dominance in society. [2] The traditional conceptions of the rights and duties of the sexes are largely based on the model of the polar gender roles of a heterosexually oriented social order. The religions all emerged in the context of patriarchally organized societies and ideologically underpinned male-dominated social structures. There are many similarities, but also some differences, between the individual religions with regard to the extent and forms of legitimation and exercise of male dominance. The lines of argument, however, are very similar to each other.

Religions and gender are closely intertwined. The traditions, symbols, views and practices of those religions that claim universal validity and see themselves as responsible for human salvation are anything but gender-neutral. Mostly the man is seen as the standard of man.

The woman: mother and / or virgin?

The mother's important role in maintaining the paternal line leads to strong male control over women, who are religiously legitimized. Women are urged to be faithful and obedient to their husbands. The husband can receive divine status in this context - so the Hindu woman should regard the service of her husband as her personal worship. In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, male supremacy and control over female sexuality are underpinned by various means such as the mythologist of the first creation of the man, the effective stereotype of the sinful Eve or the supposedly stronger female instinct. Linked to this is the high priority given to virginity and the severe punishment of adultery - especially on the part of the wife. Adultery on the part of the man with an unmarried woman or a prostitute is sometimes punished more mildly or even tolerated.

The strict control of the woman in every phase of life by father, husband, son or brother ensures the purity of the lineage. In this context there are also the numerous special rules for women in the form of special clothing regulations or the targeted restriction of freedom of movement. The religious significance of women is based in large part on their role as mother (of sons). As a mother, the woman is exuberantly adored, according to both Hindu and Muslim tradition, the adoration of the mother exceeds that of the father many times over. However, the Hindu mother worship - unlike in Islam - is also related to the worship of a divine mother figure.

Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, as fundamentally universal religions, have similarities. Universal religions apply to all people. They emphasize the equality of people in terms of their healing abilities and personal experience. The family is of secondary importance in view of the emerging group. Therefore, the role of women as mothers is emphasized differently. While in Islam the pattern of patriarchal mother worship predominates, the mother role of women in Buddhism is almost irrelevant. Sexual intercourse and childbirth are the central symbols for arrest in the birth cycle, for the thirst for life. Against this background, motherhood cannot have a positive connotation. Out of the insight into the transience and entanglement of human existence, preference is given in the Buddhist traditions to the monastic or at least sexually abstinent way of life. The legends that tell of the birth of Siddhartha Gautama, who later became Buddha, set a standard for ideal conception and birth. Accordingly, Queen Māyāvatī receives the future Buddha not through sexual intercourse, but in a vision. She dreams that it will enter her lap in the shape of a little white elephant. Birth does not take place in the normal way either, as the child steps out of the mother's side.

Christianity occupies a middle position in a certain way. Since early Christian times, religious authorities have valued the virgin way of life for women in principle higher than the role of mother. In the cult of Mary, the ideal of virginity is linked to the veneration of the Mother of God. There is no doubt that old goddess traditions - such as the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis, who was venerated in southern and central Europe well into the post-Christian era - are in the background. Many famous Marian shrines are located in old cult sites that were previously dedicated to various goddesses. It is not for nothing that Mary has been called the "secret goddess in Christianity". [3] However, the icon of Our Lady represents an unattainable ideal for mortal women. The model of the virgin mother is fundamentally beyond the possibility of imitation.

Religious Offices for Women?

In the development of the universal religions, women were actively involved and were able to take on various roles. For example, many women followed the Buddha's call or actively supported him. A famous and often quoted story presents a woman named Kisā Gotamī as a model for the typical path of a person who experiences death leads to following the Buddha. The songs of the enlightened nuns (Therīgāthās), from the early days of Buddhism are among the oldest testimonies to women in religious history. Although no women were among the disciples of Jesus Christ, they are an essential part of his followers. Many of them - such as Maria Magdalena, Johanna, the wife of Chuzas, Susanna, Marta and Maria - are known by name. Women were the first witnesses of the resurrection and in early Christian times they were able to exercise religious offices (such as the Apostle Thekla) or attain high honors through martyrdom. The wives of Muhammad not only exerted a great influence on him, but also played an important role in tradition. After the founding phase, however, women were pushed back into subordinate roles in all of these religions.

The various religious traditions show strong similarities, but also peculiarities with regard to the position and role assignment of women. The important offices and management functions are traditionally claimed by the male followers. The gender hierarchy is anchored in the religious organizational structures. The prevailing social order is reflected here, but it is also legitimized at the same time. As an expression of the divine will, the ruling order is sacrosanct and withdrawn from any criticism. The exclusion of women from religious roles and offices is attributed in part to the female biological functions of menstruation and childbirth, which are considered impure. The general equation of women and sexuality has had an even more serious effect.