Criticizing Religion

The feminist blogosphere is having a whip-round criticizing the Quiverfull movement, a radical Protestant sect that encourages its members to have as many children as possible in order to populate the Earth with white conservative Christians. Lindsay writes about Blessed Arrows, one organization related to the movement that specializes in reversal of sterilization, and that considers women to be mere vessels of God.

[Link] Deni had a tubal ligation when she gave birth to Sera. When Sera as about 9 yo Deni had an ectopic pregnancy… she almost died from this. Needless to say this was very upsetting to Rick… so much so that he (out of fear) had a vasectomy (to make sure it would never happen again!).

The ectopic was actually what the Lord used to reach Deni’s heart… the desire for more children had been there but had been stifled.

Through a series of events and a seminar the Lord began to work on Rick’s heart and he came under the same conviction.


Rick had his reversal done by Dr. Bledsoe in Arkansas. Deni’s was done by Dr. Streeter in Indiana.

The reason for our surgeries was not to have children. It is our act of repentance before God for the sin of cutting off His blessing! If God is gracious to us and it is His will and blessing to us, we would gladly accept the gift of more children. We choose to be content in whatever state we are in, though our prayer and desire is for more children.

As with every attack on religious fundamentalism I’ve seen, there’s someone who insists that people be respectful to Christianity and make it clear that true Christians are sane. This time it’s The Law Fairy, a regular commenter on Feministing who, who first responded to a commenter who declared it a Christian problem and said, “In my mind, 90% of the world’s ills stem from organized religion.” She said,

The problem is not Christians, or Jew, or Muslims, or Hindus, or any other religion. The problem is sexism. The problem is racism. That people are able to rationalize their evil by appeal to religion does not speak ill of the religion itself, but of its adherents. At worst it may bespeak doctrinal weakness — but not malice. As a Christian, I find that my faith is what *drives* me to be a stronger feminist. It’s the reason I care about other women and not my own selfish goals. It’s the reason I care about minorities’ struggles with social oppression, even though I am white and could easily live my life in white ignorance. Religious people have done a lot of harm, to be sure. But religion can also do one fuck of a lot of good, and I think I’m an example of that.

Pointing to, for instance, sexist portions of the Bible only suggests sexism on the part of literalists and authors (and I’m including the Council of Nicea, et al, as “authors” for these purposes). It does not make Christianity a sexist religion (indeed, there’s a great argument that Jesus was a feminist). It just means that many of its adherents view it through sexist eyes. The answer is not, as Elton John ignorantly suggested recently, to abolish religion. The answer is to help religious folks remove their blinders and gain a better understanding of their own faith. I promise you there is good in Christianity, if you bother looking for it instead of judging it because of the imperfect execution. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Then, when I noted religion was also a problem, just like sexism and racism, she complained,

Alon, what do you think is gained by disparaging an entire population of people because of what you *presume* we believe? I tell you I’m a Christian and, rather than inhibit my feminism, my Christianity *drives* my feminism. You tell me my religion is a “problem.”

You’re just being offensive with no point to it. You’re saying to me “I understand what you believe better than you yourself do, and people like you are the problem with this world.” How is this productive? What does this add to the discussion?

Having never been the type who dismissed questions about productivity as concern trolling, I feel I have to give a concrete answer. Right now, criticizing religion is a taboo, and it shouldn’t be. It’s considered fine to criticize people who think that Marx was right or that human psychology can be deduced from selection pressures on hunter-gatherers or that the welfare state promotes laziness. Such views inform many people’s personal identities and social activism, both for better and for worse. Yet religion, which is different from them only in that it’s old and manifestly contradicts reality, gets a free pass. Thus criticizing the wrongness of religion is good in itself as it promotes freer speech.

Second, free criticism of people’s personal views on things is good as a way of undermining movement solidarity, which has been the bane of progressive movements for over 150 years. For a good example of how low-solidarity movements can flourish, consider secularism. PZ Myers is a passionate Gouldian who has nothing good to say about evolutionary psychology. He freely criticizes EP-inspired sexism and racism and notes that in fact these pathologies are problems of EP, not of some radical offshoot. But that doesn’t prevent him from visiting Dawkins cordially. Similarly, I have no trouble arguing on the same side as The Law Fairy on issues like abortion, even though she’s a Christian and admires Catharine MacKinnon.

And third, as I’ve explained in length on this blog, it’s a bad thing for the left to embrace religion. Liberal Christians who unapologetically oppose less liberal Christians, like Barry Lynn or even Ken Miller, are already integrated into the left. Any further pro-religious overture will just get more people who support Harold Ford or even Barack Obama, which will give the fundamentalists a lot more political power in the US than they have now.


3 Responses to Criticizing Religion

  1. Stentor says:

    I don’t think the Law Fairy’s point was that you shouldn’t criticize Christianity. It’s that in her opinion your particular criticisms are unfair because they misrepresent her beliefs. You can certainly then reply that you think your particular criticisms are in fact on target. But an abstract defense of being allowed to criticize people’s religious views misses the point.

  2. gordo says:

    I don’t see why it’s necessarily a bad thing for religious people on the left to embrace religion. Most people on the left are religious, and not respecting their faith is a great way to create a movement that will have no impact whatsoever on the nation’s politics.

    You often rail against Obama, but I find him far less offensive than the secularist conservatives who have been cheerleading the war in Iraq, pushing for the expansion of the police state, and trying to privatize Social Security.

  3. Deep Thought says:

    OK, I am asking everyone else, so I’ll ask you. How is deciding to personally forego contraception racist or sexist?

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