Feminism and (Catholic) Religion.

14 Jun

This post is probably a bad idea. It will actively offend many people. I will, in contrast to many of the posts I have read about the topic recently, also not qualify it by saying that “not all Catholics/Protestants/Christians are the same and you have to distinguish between their leadership and lay people”, because I do not think that’s true (which is the essential point of this post). And, basically, this is a post about why I think that Feminism (TM) shouldn’t touch (christian, or more specifically: Catholic) religion with a ten foot pole.

I will, however, say that I have mostly encountered the curious intertwining of Feminism and religious beliefs in non-European feminist debates, and while I think that monotheistic religions share the same set of androcentrism, the lack of knowledge and legitimacy to talk about other religions than Roman-Catholic christianity will make this a specifically focused post; and I will be happy to hear counter-examples from other monotheistic or polytheistic religions. I also understand that while I am not a religious person and find the combination of social justice and religion odd at best, people have a right to their own beliefs and ways to make their lives easier and/or find different sources of strength, so I am not judging people for being religious per se, but I am going to judge the hell (harhar) out of a certain religious institution, and out of members who claim they are feminists.

Given the different historical and sociological make-up of many European societies and the US, I have mostly come across US feminists who also defined themselves as religious, specifically christian. I found that combination striking, because it is not only the patriarchal and hierarchical structuring of christian churches that seem to counter every feminist theory and practice, but the underlying patriarchal belief system that, in my view, runs diametrically to every feminist core belief (ha!) one might have, no matter what kind of feminism you pursue.

I, as George Carlin famously said, was “Catholic until I reached the age of reason” (in my case: also, until I realized that all the sexism, essentialized gender roles, heterosexism, and racialized paternalism was propagated in my name, and that no one cared and it did not matter whether I agreed with it or not, because I was part of an association that based its whole belief system and organizational structure on it), and I think the Catholic church clarifies early on who is in real control of one’s body and soul – and that’s not yourself. God is male, Jesus was male, and the one woman* of importance in Catholicism, Mary, was a “virgin” and through immaculate conception gave birth to the most important protagonist – so we like her!

Other women*? Not so much… Eve is the reason all mankind has to suffer, Sarah is a prime example of sexual objectification, Rachel is essentially defined by her (in)ability to give birth, women* of certain power in the Bible are usually described as hot (well, to paraphrase ;)) and simultaneously manipulative (Jezebel), others are weak and dim-witted (Lot’s wife) or defiant and evil (Delilah), and, as my priest once told me, a woman* without “feminine warmth” is a close second to the devil.

But who can blame the bible? It is literature, written by men* of their times (and “their times” is a multitude of different centuries and eras, all rolled into one book). The problem, to me, is that Catholicism defines the bible as the actual word of God, and the word of God is, thus, pretty damned misogynistic.

The organizational make-up of the Catholic church is, therefore, very much consistent. Women* are not allowed to become priests or enter any real position of power, women* are not supposed to have autonomy over their own bodies (both birth control and abortion are sins, since procreation is the purpose of sex that is only to be practised in heterosexual marriage, and life begins at conception; no matter that actually 98 per cent of Catholic women* have used some form of “non-natural” birth control at least once in their lives), and the strictly hierarchical organization with its multitude of dependencies as well as the Catholic churches’ simultaneous obsession with and shaming of sexuality seems to be just one fraction in the massive cluster of sexual assault and rape of children by Catholic priests, and its subsequent deception by the Vatican.

The Catholic church does not only promote misogyny, but is in the thick of heterosexism and cis-sexism (and the occasional Holocaust denial), as continuously shown by Pope Benedict when condemning “homosexual sex” and people’s rights to define their own personal and/or sexual identity. And while people still claim (and may be right in certain regards) that the Catholic church is still a social force of good that helps people in need in this world, it is alway clear where its priorities actually lie, and who is deemed worthy of their help and under which prerequisites, as, again, shown by the Pope who recently reprimanded US nuns for spending too much time with social justice issues and too little time condemning LGBTQ people and abortion.

To me, the Catholic church is not a force for good in this world [and here’s a video of Stephen Fry arguing why not, although I have to add that I disagree with his oversimplified link between Catholicism and Islam in terms of misogyny]. There is no unique Catholic morale, or teaching, or bible passage that supersedes worldly humanitarianism and basic common decency, and is thus the better social code for everyone. The Catholic church is a religious agency with a clear agenda; an agenda that is not even solely defined by talking people out of the need for improvement of their earthly existence by the promise of an alleged heavenly reward (i.e., the linchpin of classic materialist criticism), but by an agenda that aims at strictly enforced discrimination against anyone who does not adhere to their belief system or whose mere individuality is defined as “sin” (more on that in a minute).

The financial and active help the Catholic church brings to certain people in this world is never merely humanitarian, but always linked to a certain kind of conversion and/or credit points for people’s individual absolution scoreboard. The Vatican is one of the biggest enterprises on this planet with a shitload of money, and the privileges white, straight, European men* have do not magically vanish because these men* are priests.

From a merely humanitarian point of view, the Catholic church’s belief system and subsequent structure are both massively discriminating and massively condescending to people who do no believe in the same things Catholics do. Even if certain Catholic communities do not actively discriminate against LGBTQ people, for example, the latter are, nonetheless, implicitly regarded as inferior, since you “hate the sin, not the sinner”. To presume that the mere individual existence of people, because their LGBTQ sexuality or transgender identity, for example, is part of who they are, constitutes a “sin” or “abnormality” that must and can be “cured”,  is horrifying.

So, how on earth can any Catholic person claim they are also feminist? The Catholic belief system negates everything that intersectional feminism stands for, and the active, communal life of Catholic churches may be dominated by women* and may be lived somewhat differently, but is always dependent on and housed by the church as a whole.

This is why I don’t make exceptions for people who say they are Catholics but also feminist and not heterosexist, etc. You have entered (most of you involuntarily, as I) and stayed in a religious institution that claims that your head is infallible and your doctrines are intrinsically just. If you like it or not, the Pope speaks for you, your association forces you to agree. The little freedom people have in their own church communities is exaggerated when it comes to simple questions like that, and the example of the Pope attacking nuns for not being anti-abortion enough and for putting their focus on helping people instead (…you just couldn’t make this shit up…) is giving you the real picture of what it’s all about: people should not be surprised or angry to be perceived as horrible when they choose to associate with horrible people.

It is an individual choice to continuously stay a member of an organization whose monetary, active and discursive influence is primarily used to try to curb the bodily and individual autonomy of people whom the leadership of that organization dislikes, and I find it completely justified to judge people for that choice, as I would judge them for every other choice that directly or indirectly brings harm to other people while the perpetrators claim (divine) righteousness.

If people believe they are feminists and are working for social justice while simultaneously being part of the Catholic church, it is not only ironic, but every form of activist success ultimately evaporates: starting in your own home and questioning your own beliefs and choices: it’s a (feminist) thing. Not actively and/or financially supporting people and organizations who discriminate against certain (groups of) people: it’s a (feminist) thing. Not joining a “I hate gay people” club while preaching LGBTQ rights or a “I hate women*” club while rallying for gender equality: it’s a (feminist) thing. Sadly, explicit Catholic “feminists” are guilty of all three; being a voluntary member of a discriminatory club means you discriminate, and this behavior is no less reprehensible when people combine it with “God”.

28 Responses to “Feminism and (Catholic) Religion.”

  1. Amelia Eve June 15, 2012 at 8:01 pm #

    Not actively and/or financially supporting people and organizations who discriminate against certain (groups of) people: it’s a (feminist) thing.

    This was the tipping point for me in actively leaving the Catholic church (rather than just being a lapsed Catholic). To be a fully adult member of a faith group or congregation, one must contribute to the costs of maintaining the group, whether through direct donation or fundraising activities. And I just could not give my money to those old hypocrites anymore.

    I’ve ended up joining the Episcopal church, which still featues a white male Jesus, but does have many women on the altar. The first time I saw a female priest perform the Consecration was an idescribable feeling for me. Like any group, the Episcopalians also have their flaws, but they come closer to my own ideals without requiring that I give up all my traditions.

    • accalmie June 15, 2012 at 8:20 pm #

      Hi Amelia Eve,

      Thank you for your comment – it is interesting to read about people’s religious paths, and good for you for having found a good, individual alternative! It is so ironic: women* were always by far the majority of the congregation and the support staff of our town’s priest, but you never, not once, saw them anywhere near the altar…

      The main factor for leaving the Catholic church was, obviously, being something between an agnostic and an atheist, but the moment I finally decided to leave was when yet another Pope statement condemned LGBTQ people and called all women* who had an abortion murderers. It wasn’t even news or particularly harsh, it was just a fitting reminder of what community I was still (an inactive) part of.

      Before that, I just couldn’t be bothered to actually leave the church and just ignored it – I did not have to pay anything and it just wasn’t a part of my life anymore, but this finally made me realize that, actually, they are declaring things like that for and from me , and my silent membership meant that I was (perceived as) agreeing, even though it was and is so very abhorrent to me.

      That is why I don't understand if people don't leave when they have fundamental issues with the discriminatory policies and belief systems of the Catholic church, and this is why I think that the help some Catholic activists provide for people in need can never trump the bigger message of disdain for certain groups of people, and one would be better off putting one's energy in secular social activism.

  2. Mar June 15, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    Ich würde gerne noch hinzufügen, dass der Papst anlässlich seines Besuchs in Kamerun 2009 gesagt hat, der Gebrauch von Kondomen um die Ansteckung mit AIDS zu vermeiden sei verboten, schlimmer noch, er würde das Problem nur verschlimmern.
    Ich meine, es gibt bestimmt noch 1000 andere Sprüche und Weisen, in denen die Katholiken Menschen diskriminieren und unterdrücken, aber das hier fand ich schon echt hart.
    Auch hart finde ich diese Hypokrisie: “Gott//Die katholische Kirche liebt euch, wir tun alles für euch, vertraut nur auf uns dann wird es euch gut gehen.” Dabei helfen sie nur bestimmten, privilegierten Gruppen, und allen anderen heucheln sie was vor und halten sie immer wieder hin, halten sie dabei aber schön bei der Stange, damit sie sich ihre Privilegien immer weiter sichern können. *uarg* (Sorry, mehr pseudo-Objektivität oder wissenschaftliche Kühle geht bei dem Thema nicht)

    • accalmie June 16, 2012 at 11:30 am #

      Hallo Mar,

      danke, auf jeden Fall! Stephen Fry erwähnt das kurz im Video, dass der Papst es nicht auf die Reihe bekommt, zufrieden damit zu sein zu sagen, dass die katholische Kirche Abstinenz vorzieht und man deshalb Kondome nicht verwenden solle, sondern so unfassbar widerlich ist, die Lüge zu verbreiten, Kondome schützten nicht vor AIDS (wobei der Papst das geschickt verpackt hat in seiner Formulierung, um sich nicht vorwerfen lassen zu müssen, er habe direkt gelogen, aber implizit kommt genau diese Aussage durch, und explizit war das wohl die Intention, so verstanden zu werden…). UGH…

      Generell haben es katholische Würdenträger mit der Wahrheit nicht so: Meisner phantasiert auch ständig irgendwelche abstrusen Schwangerschaftsabbruchszahlen herbei. Das Problem ist dann natürlich, dass man sich auf eine solche Debatte einlassen soll, statt grundlegend festzustellen, dass es die katholische Kirche nichts angeht, wer und wie viele Menschen einen Schwangerschaftsabbruch vornehmen lassen oder Kondome benutzen; aber möchte man “immanent” diskutieren, dann ist es schon ziemlich bitter, dass die Herren* sich noch nicht einmal selbst an ihr neuntes Gebot halten.

  3. JeseC June 18, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    As a self-identified Catholic feminist, I don’t see the church as another organization in the same way that a particular charity is an organization. I’m not a relativist or pluralist about religion – I think there is a fact of the matter, either Jesus is God, in which case I should follow the religion he founded, or he isn’t, in which case Christianity is simply an incorrect view. Same deal with specifically core Catholic doctrines such as the real presence – they are either true or false.

    I think this is often the fundamental difficulty in the conversation between religious and non-religious feminists. I don’t see my religion as “choosing” an organization to be associated with, in the same way I might choose a social club. I see it as a matter of truth and obligation – given certain things I believe to be true, I think I’m obligated to both stay with the Catholic church (primarily because of the sacraments) and to work to reform it where it is wrong.

    Do I think this means other people are wrong? Yes, of course. Do I think they’re bad people for being wrong? No, no more than someone who does a math problem incorrectly is bad. Do I think they’re going to hell? No, actually I think that’s rather silly and quite contrary to God’s nature.

    • accalmie June 18, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

      Hi JeseC, thank you for commenting. I am afraid that I disagree with basically everything you have written here.

      The fact that you don’t see the Catholic church as an organization or your faith as a choice is, of course, how many religious people argue, and yet exactly what I am talking about. This initial declaration raises your faith and your organization above criticism, and the fact that you think that your faith obliges you to stay in a church that preaches misogyny, heterosexism, cis-sexism, and the cover-up of child rape, is the point of my essential criticism: you can’t advocate feminist theories while being a member of a group that negates everything feminism stands for, and claim one can’t question your feminist credentials because your faith has nothing to do with them or stands above them because it structures your very being. If a belief system is steeped in misogyny and perpetuates that through sexist practices and rhetoric and teachings, I do not see a reason to raise it above scrutiny, and I don’t think you can call yourself a feminist.

      You may not think that LGBTQ people are inherently sinful, or that people who do not believe in Catholicism will “go to hell”, as you have also written, but you believe they are wrong. Of course you do, because you think you know The Truth (TM) and that Truth is ultimate. This is extremely condescending, and while you might not think I am going to hell, you think I am living a wrong existence.

      Your math problem is a good example for that: you have written you don’t think that not believing in God is more reprehensible than getting a math problem wrong. But while math might have a lot to do with philosophy, it is also a science that can be tested in the same manner by everyone. You can prove why your answer is right in math. And the only thing you get (or prove to be) right or wrong is a particular math problem, not an entire belief system. You, on the other`hand, assume you are right, and not only right about a particular instance or moral dilemma, but right about the entire make-up of this world, a view that divides up people (…not numbers and signs…) who adhere to your believe and who do not into right and wrong, enlightened and ignorant, and sometimes good and bad. While you think that telling someone that not believing in something that fundamental is not a big deal, it is a big deal when you think that they’re inherently wrong, but you can’t prove why and they just have to take Catholicism’s word for it. Your “proof” is that you believe this to be right. Catholicism takes a book that has been written over centuries by a multitude of people and declares it to be the word of God. Catholicism cherry-picks which rules of this book to follow and which it’d rather ignore. And that is how this faith is done. Well, I don’t believe in that. And my proof that feminism and Catholicism are incompatible has been spread throughout this post, link for link.

      Finally, I do not agree that this is a mere “either christian faith is right or wrong and you have to go the whole nine yards” issue – people can be spiritual, they can believe in a christian or whatever God, and still not believe in religious institutions. That doesn’t make their faith less powerful or less right; it does, however, make their humanitarianism more believable.

      [edited for clarity and to remove spelling carnage]

      • JeseC June 19, 2012 at 1:21 am #

        I never said that my faith is “above scrutiny.” I just think if you want to criticize it, you should at least interact with the reasons that people have. You’ve stated your reasons; I’ve stated why I don’t think they work. I don’t believe that the misogyny that you quote is an inherent part (and actually one or two of the things you mentioned are directly opposite of Catholic teaching). I think that if being part of a group that practices misogyny were a disqualification, then we ought to give up on western society altogether.

        I’m not sure how you’re getting from “we can’t test this like a scientific theory” to “it’s just an assumption.” Of course I have proofs – not scientific proofs, but proofs none the less. Most things we believe aren’t amenable to that kind of scientific testing – including, I might point out, feminism. I believe in feminism because of philosophical reasons, not because of anything that science says (I think it has precious little to say on the matter either way). Same way I believe in Christianity. I believe it because of a combination of arguments for theism, arguments about the nature of God, and historical evidence. Philosophy is all about arguments and proofs, they’re just not the same kind of proofs that science uses, because science has a different subject matter.

        This believing you have The Truth is just a fact of human existence. If I didn’t think there was a truth about right and wrong, what reason would I have to offer for any humanitarian work? Why should I do otherwise than whatever brings me the most pleasure? I work for equality because I believe that equality is right and inequality is wrong, because I believe that racism and sexism and homophobia are, intrinsically, wrong.

        Even on other things – I think Obama is a better president than McCain would be, so I think that people who vote for McCain are ultimately wrong. I think that (for example) people who are against groups reclaiming words that have been used to hurt them are wrong. Every time I hold and affirm a belief, any belief, I am committed to saying that I think people who disagree with me are wrong. We couldn’t say anything without that.

        • accalmie June 19, 2012 at 10:43 am #

          I never said that my faith is “above scrutiny.” I just think if you want to criticize it, you should at least interact with the reasons that people have. You’ve stated your reasons; I’ve stated why I don’t think they work. I don’t believe that the misogyny that you quote is an inherent part (and actually one or two of the things you mentioned are directly opposite of Catholic teaching). I think that if being part of a group that practices misogyny were a disqualification, then we ought to give up on western society altogether.

          Actually, JeseC, you have said that you believe that your form of religion is The Tuth – that is why you are believing and that is why everyone else is “wrong”. If that does not put your faith above scrutiny, I am not sure what does. You have not stated why you do not think my reasons “work” for making the case that Catholic faith is incompatible with feminism; you have merely stated why you believe in it. If you think that what I have quoted is not a proof of misogyny, I would love to hear what “one or two things” are “against Catholic teaching”. I also tried to make very clear that continued, voluntary membership in a private discrimination club is incompatible with feminism.

          Most people in Western societies are born into those and have a choice on how to act within and from their society – most of them do not have the choice or the opportunity to leave; and being born into privilege is not your fault, it’s what you make of it. I was a member of the Catholic church because I was baptized as a baby – that wasn’t my choice. But it was my choice to realize that I will not have the discrimination of certain groups of people proclaimed in my name, and I chose to leave. There’s a difference.

          I realize that certain family constellations and other forms of pressure might make it difficult for some people to leave the church, even if they wish to – but there’s a difference between hesitance and the declaration of Catholic feminism, which is an oxymoron to me.

          I’m not sure how you’re getting from “we can’t test this like a scientific theory” to “it’s just an assumption.” Of course I have proofs – not scientific proofs, but proofs none the less. Most things we believe aren’t amenable to that kind of scientific testing – including, I might point out, feminism. I believe in feminism because of philosophical reasons, not because of anything that science says (I think it has precious little to say on the matter either way). Same way I believe in Christianity. I believe it because of a combination of arguments for theism, arguments about the nature of God, and historical evidence. Philosophy is all about arguments and proofs, they’re just not the same kind of proofs that science uses, because science has a different subject matter.

          I am afraid our understanding of “proof” differs quite greatly – that you personally have experienced the existence of God is not a proof, it is your experience of faith . I am not going to invalidate that, but it is certainly not the same thing as proving why women* are systematically discriminated in our current social structures.

          I agree that first-hand experience is an important part here, too, but there is so much more: laws, customs, economic make-up, political decisions, wage gaps, cultural practices, essentialist gender roles, etc. Everyone is capable of observing and experiencing them (as discriminatory and as privileging), and there are lots of sociological, economical, historical, cultural, etc. studies to “prove” it; again, proof, for me, means that a theory has been tested with a transparent methodology and the results can be checked by everyone. Of course, empirical studies and scientific objectivity are thematic clusters that bring a whole new set of criticism that I partially agree with, but it is still different from “I believe, so it must be true”.

          I do not “believe” in feminism as you believe in Christianity, I think feminism is a necessity born out of discrimination that is actually historically and currently observable and structures people’s lives. When you point to “historical evidence” of God, I simply have to ask: um, what?

          This believing you have The Truth is just a fact of human existence. If I didn’t think there was a truth about right and wrong, what reason would I have to offer for any humanitarian work? Why should I do otherwise than whatever brings me the most pleasure? I work for equality because I believe that equality is right and inequality is wrong, because I believe that racism and sexism and homophobia are, intrinsically, wrong.

          No, actually, it’s not. I don’t think that feminism is The Truth because that’s just what I believe as a human being. I think feminism is a necessary philosophy and policy to achieve gender equality, and I will argue with people why that is a good idea. There is no transcendental Truth in there, it is a political and social goal, born out of earthly structures.

          And you are mixing up what I was saying about “right and wrong”: You think that people are right and wrong, not their actions . I believe that there are actions that are right and actions that are wrong – but I don’t think that people’s whole existences can be divided up in these categories, in contrast to Catholic belief. And if you actually believed that racism/sexism/heterosexism are “intrinsically” wrong, then why exactly are you supporting one of its greatest proponents on this planet, a church that believes that gender essentialism, heterosexism, cis-sexism and racialized paternalism are intrinsically right?

          This is exactly what I was talking about in the post. People can hide all along behind The Truth and theism and Jesus and whatever, but this basic question is the big elephant in the room that just can’t be avoided. You haven’t answered it, by the way, other than saying that you believe. Well, I don’t think that’s a sufficient reason. And I know that none of the people in power within the Catholic church actually care whether you agree with same-sex marriage or not; it is a doctrine that has to be followed. You’ve signed up for that with Catholicism, and you’re supposed to follow whatever its leadership tells you to – your wiggle room is very limited, and you as an individual do not have the power to change this intrinsically discriminatory institution.

          The Pope would (and did) rather re-integrate Holocaust deniers than admit that the use of condoms prevents HIV or admit that Leviticus or Romans or Corinthians really aren’t all that great a bible passage to deduct an alleged sinfulness of “homosexuality.” This is what is happening, and it is happening for and from you, and this has very real consequences for many people.

          Even on other things – I think Obama is a better president than McCain would be, so I think that people who vote for McCain are ultimately wrong. I think that (for example) people who are against groups reclaiming words that have been used to hurt them are wrong. Every time I hold and affirm a belief, any belief, I am committed to saying that I think people who disagree with me are wrong. We couldn’t say anything without that.

          I’ve tried to answer that before: this is not about the kind of “right and wrong” that your religious belief categorizes people with. Catholicism says people are living a wrong existence if they don’t believe in Catholicism (as Stephen Fry has quoted, and it is quite known, isn’t it: extra ecclesiam nulla salus).

          I disagree with people who say heterosexist things because I think those things are wrong. I disagree with them because I think they profit from saying and acting on these things, and that people are discriminated against with the use of these words and actions and suffer from that. I do not think that people who say/do heterosexist things are spiritually damned. I think they’re assholes. There is a difference between intervening in the name of a deity and intervening in the name of humanitarianism.

          And now, I’d really rather not keep debating who’s got the Bigger Truth, but the actual topic.

          • portokali June 19, 2012 at 11:50 am #

            I have a question for JeseC (and it’s not meant to offend, I’m genuinely interested):

            Do you think the Catholic church has a realistic chance to change so radically that it will one day be a feminist organisation? If so, which changes do you think would be necessary – to me, the abandonment of the Bible as unchangeable truth and the removal of an infallible male leader are the first things that come to mind – and would the church be in any way recognisable after that?
            I’m asking because you said you saw it as your job to correct the church where it is wrong. I agree that bringing about change from within can be a worthwhile project – but only if there is good reason to assume that such change is possible.

  4. portokali June 19, 2012 at 1:01 am #

    Let me first say that I’m almost entirely with you on this, and I’m very happy that I stumbled upon your blogpost, which addresses some points that have formed in my mind recently as well, but expressed them much better than I could have. Thank you for that!

    However, I do think JeseC (whose clarity and honesty of argument I greatly appreciate!) has a point, and it is one that has been troubling me for a while. I’m not a believer (never have been), but it strikes me as true that IF I believed that God* supported only one correct way of life, I would naturally promote that way of life or at least try to live it myself and silently feel bad for those who don’t.

    If I genuinely believed I knew that an all-powerful and all-knowing entity (a) exists, (b) has set up rules as to what I should and shouldn’t do and say and even think and is going to enforce them, and (c) has disclosed their will to me (and not to all the other people who think they know it, too), then I would most certainly act on that perceived knowledge as well. (Whether I’d do it happily and out of genuine respect or merely out of fear – I’m not much of a hero, and eternity is a long time – is another question). If I thought God* wanted me to attend a certain church, I would probably do so. And JeseC obviously believes that God* requires humans to be part of the Catholic church in order to lead the good life, and concludes from that that it is reasonable to be and remain part of it. I can follow that conclusion. It’s the premise I find unconvincing.

    I therefore think that, as much as I’d prefer it to be otherwise, it inescapably comes down to whether the foundation of the beliefs in question is plausible. I don’t think this topic can really be discussed without addressing the basis of the truth claims the respective faith group makes. But while I think this is a valid and perfectly permissible discussion, it usually doesn’t get you anywhere (and would probably go beyond the intended scope of this excellent blogpost).

    • accalmie June 19, 2012 at 10:17 am #

      Hi portokali – yes, I realize that some people believe their faith is the only way to live in this world. Obviously, that is a premise I disagree with, but it is also not one that is up for debate for said people. The problem is that once you have established this premise, every form of criticism becomes somewhat irrelevant, because as you can see, we are now talking about whether Truth or God or religion is the right premise or not, and we don’t talk about the problems with one specific religion I have tried to point out in the post. This might not be an intentional derailing, but this certainly happens a lot when people try to criticize certain religions for their discriminatory structures and beliefs. And I really don’t want to play that game here, because whether or not someone believes in Catholic christianity is not the issue here – the issue is what this implies in terms of feminism.

      • portokali June 19, 2012 at 11:35 am #

        I tried to make it clear in my last sentence that I had absolutely no intention of derailing the discussion into metaphysics. I merely wanted to express that I somewhat understand the feeling of religious people that they haven’t got a choice except abandonning their particular belief, which is not an option for them. If that belief tells you that you’re required to be in the Catholic church, then the Catholic church it is, and if that requirement is a core part of somebody’s faith (as JeseC has stated that it is), it is impossible to criticise the membership in the church without automatically criticising an important part of the expressed faith.

        I completely agree with you – and that’s why I like your text so much – that any adult has to justify themselves for the actions of any organisation they have joined or not left on their own accord, and like you, in the case of the Catholic church, I haven’t heard a good justification yet and don’t really see how there could be one.

        • accalmie June 19, 2012 at 11:45 am #

          Hi portokali, just to clarify: the “derailing” reproach wasn’t solely directed at you, I am sorry that I gave you that impression. It is more a sign of frustration that, as you rightly point out, it seems to be impossible to have this debate with some people who are religious, and, more specifically, think they are Catholic feminists, without having to slide into the Truth discussion and the discussion on whether their God is existent or not. I understand that this is the fundamental question for many people who believe, but it is not mine – the post, obviously, is about what a certain, allegedly strictly personal, belief subsequently does to other people. Apparently, there’s just no point in trying to show that supporting religious institutions that actively discriminate against certain people does have an impact on said people, no matter your personal anti-sexism or anti-heterosexism; and that, to me, this is a question on whether individuals think their Truth supersedes people’s civil rights.

          • JeseC June 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

            I never denied that it does have an effect; I just think that if it is the case that if Christianity is true, then you ought to practice Christianity. I bring up truth because I see no reason to be committed to, say, racial equality, unless I believe in the truth of that equality. Truth is not relative to individuals; I can persuade and be persuaded that something is true or false, but I cannot choose my truth the way I choose my food. Experience is relative, but truth is not.

            I do think that there are certain obligations that I still have. I don’t give money to my parish church (though I am looking into religious women’s groups that I would be comfortable supporting). I speak out when I think the church is wrong. I think that’s my obligation – as I can I speak out to say “no, they do not speak for me on these matters.” I think I have an obligation as I can to work for change in the church.

            I’m not saying your criticisms are wrong, or that they’re not worth talking about. I just think that means the proper action to take, if you believe in a certain conception of God, is to work towards reform. I think portokali is on the right track here – we’re just going to be talking past each other on this stuff, because we have different views on the foundational stuff of Christianity and the Church (none of which have anything to do with gender, sexuality, or race, in my view).

            I’ll address the rest of the stuff later, when I have time to do a proper analysis.

          • accalmie June 19, 2012 at 6:28 pm #

            Honestly, JeseC, I don’t see the point. Catholicism is unique in certain regards when it comes to the extra ecclesiam nulla salus-claim and what it implies for everybody else, and while you insist that there cannot be a divide between your being and your belief, I fundamentally disagree. I think you have a choice between a personal believe that is discriminating against whole groups of people, and believing in God and even a religious institution that at least does not pursue this line as aggressively as Catholicism.

            I don’t think that belief is an excuse for bigotry. And yes, I think that bigotry is also the voluntary support of private institutions that advocate bigotry, even if you disagree with certain doctrines. I do think your Truth is your choice. And if this Truth that is supposed to be righteous and just, has to ignore the diametrically opposing actions and rhetoric of the institution that claims said Truth, I would probably wonder whether this Truth is actually the right one.

            You connect divine Truth to fights for social justice, and I fundamentally disagree with that as well; I don’t need a divine Truth to tell me that racism is bad; I tried to elaborate on that in my previous comment. You say your Truth is not relative, but to me, your Truth is merely your experience. You argue for reformism, and I repeatedly tried to make the point why that does not work within Catholicism (and for this, there is actual historical proof).

            All in all, I don’t see the point in further discussing the validity of your belief system and the validity of catholic Truth, when this post is actually about the perpetuation and enforcement of discrimination towards certain people through Catholicism. It is not about faith, it is not about Truth, is is not about any other concept people hide behind when defending being part of a discriminatory institution; it is about a religious institution that victimizes people and has been from its very inception. The fact that people think they cannot make a distinction between their faith and themselves, or their religious obligation and actual opinion is one of the problems I am criticizing.

            There’s enough space for the discussion of faith, reformism, and literal or nonliteral bible studies already. If you and portokali would like to continue this discussion, I can connect you via your e-mail addresses.

          • portokali June 19, 2012 at 11:10 pm #

            Thank you, but that won’t be necessary. Like I already said, I don’t believe that would get us anywhere. I made *one* point in that direction (which I almost regret), but like you, accalmie, I’m actually much more interested in the political dimension.

            I don’t see why the question of potential reforms would be unrelated to that, though. I think it is very relevant to your main point: Whether or not there is a good chance that the church is going to turn away from discriminatory doctrines in the forseeable future is important if you want to decide whether it is an organisation a feminist can be in. Unfortunately, I have to agree that there hasn’t been much evidence so far that the Catholic church is in any way willing to move in that direction. Discriminatoty practices are reinforced every day.

            I also think that the claim that those ideas have nothing to to with the foundation of the religion is incorrect. I think that in her original post, accalmie did a good job at outlining how the church is a patriarchal organisation through and through – a structure that everyone who submits themselves to it as an authority automatically supports – and that can’t possibly be said to have nothing to do with gender, race and so on. It has a lot to do with it. If your aim is to bring the world closer to gender equality (which it must be for a feminist), you’ve got to explain how an organisation that acts as a moral authority and is run exclusively by men is going to help us in that struggle.

            I also have a problem with the comparison of religion and feminism as similar categories of belief. I don’t “believe in feminism”, either – it’s not a faith, it’s a means to an end. I happen to think that it’s the right means to the right end (and there is data to back this up), but feminism basically tries to render itself unnecessary, which is why there is no church of feminism.

            (I’m sorry, accalmie, for this long post. I tried to keep my points strictly political.)

          • accalmie June 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

            thank you, portokali, i appreciate this statement. i have to admit that you are right that reforms would be an essential part to the question whether the catholic church could be home to feminists; i brushed that off too quickly. I think, however (and you have basically already said that), that the foundation, tradition and current doctrines are so openly anti-feminist that i consider this goal to have always been and to always will be a futile battle. the intentions of catholics who disagree with these doctrines might be very admirable and honest, but i would still question why in the face of all the things one has to battle within one’s own church one doesn’t conclude that this is a fight that cannot be won; it is not an individual struggle, it is a structural barrier you can’t overcome within this church.

  5. tlfk June 19, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    I appreciate this piece, as I have struggled to understand how a progressive person who also belongs to this church can claim to “make change from within the church”, when what we are talking about here is a vast global institution that does things like publicly threaten to excommunicate elected officials for a pro-choice stance…seems a pretty tall order for one lay person in the church to be able to successfully pull off (the change from within). And if you are just identifying with them, but don’t share their more draconian beliefs….well, I don’t think you can get a pass for your part in propping them up via your inclusion in their membership numbers and donations.

    I grew up in the Catholic Church, and left it a long time ago. And I was comfortable with that, having not had really strong feelings tied up in a spiritual belief system. I do understand why others may feel “why should I have to leave my belief system because of those others?”, but I am not sure how easily an institution like the RCC can absorb those changes – they are pretty fundamentalist, at their core. What do you think of groups like Catholics for Choice, who ID as Catholics, but actively try to bring accountablity and change (one of their big campaigns is getting Catholics to publicly say the church hierarchy does not speak for them)?

    • accalmie June 19, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

      Hi tlfk,

      Thanks for your comment. I wasn’t sure if your question is directed at JeseC or me, so I’ll just throw in my 2 cents: as I have tried to clarify in the post and comments, I don’t think that reformism within the Catholic church can be effective at all.

      I think it is a method for some Catholic people to make themselves feel better in the face of Catholic dogmas, but the thing is: the church hierarchy speaks for them. Always has, always will – it is part and parcel of being Catholic. And if my activism was being brushed off by a Pope who finds it necessary to warn nuns (a group of women* a little higher in the hierarchy, theoretically, than “ordinary” female lay people) to not be so engaged with social justice but spend more time attacking abortions and LGBTQ people, I would seriously ask myself what the hell I was still doing in this club.

      I understand this is difficult for many people, and of course people (myself included) want to believe that their activism is making a change. Defeat, however, could never be clearer than in the case of liberalism within the Catholic church – it’s not even David against Goliath, it’s like being a pacifist working in a tank factory and donating regularly to the military industry at the same time. They don’t care that you prefer love and flowers and preach peace, they’ll run you over with the tank you have helped built. And who could blame them? They preach it regularly, it’s no secret.

      The german author, Erich Kästner, wrote a poem that was not intended as a comment on the Catholic church, but, in my view, is spot-on: “Was auch immer geschieht: Nie dürft Ihr so tief sinken, von dem Kakao, durch den man Euch zieht, auch noch zu trinken.” [The metaphor doesn’t translate into English, but it’s basically about not sinking so low to actually believe in and promote the discrimination you have been faced with and that has worked against you all along].

      • tlfk June 19, 2012 at 9:07 pm #

        My question was for you, thanks for answering. And fair enough, on your answer;). I guess sometimes I just want to support CFC b/c I feel like they are at least trying, and it is unlikely the RCC will not be a mainstream religion anytime soon. And I appreciate their effort.

        • portokali June 19, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

          But they have been excommunicated, haven’t they? Don’t get me wrong, that may well be considered as speaking in their favour, but it’s hardly change from within any longer.

          accalmie, I love the Erich Kästner quote in this context! :)

        • accalmie June 19, 2012 at 11:45 pm #

          @tlfk: i understand that and i do find it remarkable that people try; i’m afraid, though, that in my view, this is unconvincing at best and dishonest in the worst case. furthermore, while the RCC is far from being the majority religion in the US, actually over a third of germany’s population is roman-catholic, and where i am from originally, half of the people are. so this is a topic that is important to me because the roman catholic church still has a disproportionate influence on supposedly secular politics in this country (…it has decreased over the years, but it is still existent).
          @portokali: i love that quote, too :)!

  6. JeseC June 21, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    I don’t intend to derail, so I’ll leave it at this comment unless someone specifically wants to talk to me. It’s clear that we have fundamentally different ideas of Truth. To me, the concepts of equality and civil rights are simply meaningless without truth (religious or otherwise; I don’t think religion has anything close to a monopoly on truth). I don’t think you or I have any experiences unless there is a truth of the matter – else you could say that you have experienced racism, and I could say that racism doesn’t exist, and without truth neither of us would be right. If truth is not an absolute, then I have nothing in life other than to do whatever pleases me – because there is no “truth” about human value or right or wrong, no reason why equality is better than racism if I would personally benefit more from racism. Truth is what allows there to be equality. I don’t think any of that has anything to do with religion. But if you have no absolute truth, then we are merely talking about our own personal preferences when we say that something is bad or racist or sexist. I only care about these things because I think it is Truth that people are fundamentally equal.

    There simply isn’t any conversation there. I don’t know how to make sense of a world where truth is not an absolute. Like I said, I have plenty of reasons and arguments that I could offer for why I think religion is true – arguments that are not based on my experience. I won’t offer them here because this is not the space for them. But I don’t see how we can have any discussion at all, about anything, without first asking what is true.

    • portokali June 21, 2012 at 11:59 am #

      (This may look like derailing around the middle of the post, but bear with me, I’m getting there! :))

      I agree that there most certainly is such a thing as objective *factual* truth. Something either exists or it doesn’t. There is a definition of racism, and by observing the world and applying that definition we can tell whether it exists. And it does.

      Whether there is objective *moral* truth is much less clear to me. What is clear, however, is that as humans, we are social animals. In order to be happy, we need functioning relationships in a functioning society. So we constantly try to figure out what kind of world we’d like to live in. You’ve said repeatedly that without an objective standard you’d just do whatever you like. That is probably true. But I doubt that getting short-term pleasure at the cost of other people is what you like. We humans can plan ahead. We can aim for the long-term pleasure. A racist action, for instance, might be likely to help me achieve something. But it is not going to help me achieve what I *really* want: a world in which nobody has to suffer unnecessarily. Because I believe that ultimately, that is the kind of world from which I am going to benefit the most – as will everyone else. We’re in charge of this planet right now, and we can either chose it to be the one we and the next generations will want to live on – or not.

      We all agree that sexism is not going to help with that. Surprisingly (for me), it seems like we also agree that religion is not what gives us our moral standards. If that’s the case, then a religious (and every other) institution can and has to be judged by the standards for an “ideal world” that we’ve worked out together. It needs to be decided in every individual case whether they work for or against our ideal conception. My conception of an ideal world does not contain sexism. That’s why I’m in favour of working against sexism – and against working for it. And therefore, I have a problem with an institution which seems to me to be working for it and to have no intention of stopping to do that in the future.

  7. Samia June 21, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    I only care about these things because I think it is Truth that people are fundamentally equal.

    Yes, there is truth, but no, that’s not it. Truth is: Oppression exists. Wanting to end it is not truth, it’s just what I want.

  8. Cluisanna June 24, 2012 at 1:18 am #

    I agree with you, and I want to add: I think an important part of feminism is to question things that are “common knowledge”, but actually have no proof – e.g. “men are stronger than women”, “women are emotional, men are logical”, “if a woman is dressed immodestly, men can’t help themselves and will rape her”, “all men have penises and all women vaginas”, and of course, “there is an invisible patriarch in the sky who watches you all the time!” I am for equality because there is no convincing argument against it.

    • accalmie June 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm #

      I am for equality because there is no convincing argument against it.

      Ha! Thank you, Cluisanna – you basically summarized everything I’ve tried to write in a single sentence :)!

  9. zweisatz June 28, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    Here is an article that may show some more reasons why the Catholic Church is quite disturbing. http://bigthink.com/daylight-atheism/todays-reasons-to-quit-the-catholic-church?page=all

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