By Karen Garst
After finishing my first book, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion, I had a chance to attend several secular events including the Women in Secularism Conference. This was excellent and I had the opportunity to meet many interesting women. So instead of going back into retirement, I decided to write another book. The result is Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom.
Each of the essays in this book examines one aspect of the impact of the three Abrahamic religions on women: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In the first essay, licensed professional mental health counselor Candace Gorham, author of The Ebony Exodus Project, dives deep into the impact of religion on our psyche. She outlines the basics of mental illness that can be caused by religion, including depression, anxiety, shame, and guilt. Gorham also discusses the ineffective religious treatment for mental health problems such as pastoral counseling, conversion theory, and faith healing.
Lauri Weissman, a professor of communications at a top-ranked American university, gives an overview of the first in the three Abrahamic traditions, Judaism, and its proscriptive roles for women. As “an oppressed and isolated minority within an oppressed and isolated minority,” Jewish women have endured millennia of religiously justified misogyny. Scriptural disgust for female bodies and demand for ritual purity enforce an essential “otherness” by which women are excluded from leadership roles and core practices of many Jewish communities. These earliest attitudes are replicated by Islam and Christianity, which hold some of the same core texts to be sacred.
Alexis Record, frequent book reviewer and blog contributor, expands Gorham’s discussion by focusing on the impact of childhood indoctrination. Record was raised in a fundamentalist household and was educated using Accelerated Christian Education. In 2001, Norway banned the curriculum for violating their Gender Equality Act. A mother’s roles are discussed as “helper, cook, cleans house, washes and irons clothes.” Record concludes with an action plan to help children know what is true and to give them the tools they need to distinguish facts from beliefs.
Dr. Valerie Tarico, author of Trusting Doubt and blogger at www.valerietarico.com, gives an insightful analysis of the treatment of women in the Bible and early Christianity. Her work outlines the tendency of Bible writers and subsequent Christian leaders to eliminate any notion of a feminine divine and to paint women as unclean, dirty—literally property to be owned, given away, sold, or claimed as spoils of war by powerful men. Christian apologists like to ignore the Old Testament and focus on the New Testament. Yet as Tarico outlines so well, it is hard to ignore the statements of early Christian fathers or the roots of their disdain for women in the Bible itself.
The third Abrahamic religion, Islam, is explored by Hibah Ch. Ch is a Syrian expatriate born and raised in Aleppo in a conservative Muslim family. She left Islam in her twenties and now studies chemistry and mathematics in the United States. Ch reveals that female deities in the Arabian Peninsula were initially revered but subsequently destroyed by Islam. In addition, there were successful business women and female rulers prior to Islam. Inspired by the patriarchal norms of Judeo-Christianity, the founder of Islam, Mohammed, adopted many of their negative proscriptions regarding women.
Aruna Papp, author of Unworthy Creature: A Punjabi Daughter’s Memoir of Honour, Shame and Love, was born and raised in India. The oldest of seven children, Aruna’s formative years were governed by her father’s pastoral service, the culture of honor, and her yearning for an education that eluded her. In an abusive arranged marriage, Aruna immigrated to Canada with two small daughters. Here she learned about rights and protections Canada offers to women. She embarked on a frightening but empowering journey that lead to two masters’ degrees, and a second, loving, and mutually respectful marriage. In her pioneering career counselling immigrant women, Aruna is recipient of dozens of awards, including the Toronto Women of Distinction. Aruna facilitates training on “Risk Assessment: How Honour Based Violence differs from Domestic Violence.” As a Canadian Delegate at the 57th Session of the UN Aruna spoke on Honour Killing in the West countries.
The next two essays, written by Valerie Wade and Deanna Adams, outline the impact of religion on African American women. Wade is a historian at Lynnfield Historical Consulting, where she assists families with genealogical research and conducts workshops on preservation and other history-related topics. Adams is the author of the blog Musings on a Limb, where she expresses her views as an African American atheist, professional, and mom on subjects related to the intersectionality of racism and skepticism. She currently serves on the board of the Humanists of Houston. Wade describes the culture in Africa prior to the Middle Passage of the slave trade. In many societies in Africa, there was a strong influence of female goddesses like Mawu, Yemoja, and Ala. The advent of Christianity, with its rampant misogyny, however, put African American women in a double bind: they were disadvantaged because of their race and because of their sex. Adams continues this history and states that during the civil rights era, Christian churches held back and many avoided involvement. Just like in the churches, women’s involvement in civil rights was more as workhorses. After this era, the prosperity gospel phenomenon took much of the women’s hard-earned dollars. Other impacts such as the prevalence of domestic violence and the lack of psychologically sound support also contribute to the struggle of African American women today.
Marilyn Deleija, born in Guatemala, and raised in Central California, gives a unique prospective on what it means to be an Atheist Latin immigrant. She has worked hard to be politically active in her community and has also helped to improve political information access to them. She is a local volunteer in Central California and has helped in moving her community progressively forward. In her essay, her experiences reflect what she sees needs to be changed with regards to religion and how it can affect local communities, but more specifically, Hispanic prominent communities, like places she grew up in.
Hypatia Alexandria introduces herself as a multi-faceted individual, dedicated to promoting secular values as well as social, political and business interests in the US Latino community. She completed her education in an all-girls Catholic school. Thus, she is well aware of the huge impact of religion, particularly Catholicism, on the US Hispanic Population. She writes and discusses the influence religion has on Latino women and the multiple barriers they face in achieving true gender equality. Hypatia cofounded Hispanic American Freethinkers (HAFREE), a non-profit organization that encourages critical thinking in the US. She is currently a PhD student at Virginia Tech.
Kayley Margarite Whalen, digital strategies and social media manager at the National LGBTQ Task Force, adds yet another dimension to the subjugation of women by religion¾that of a transgender woman. In her essay, she weaves her personal journey both as a transgender woman and as an atheist along with current research on gender identity. It is an issue that virtually all religions have not yet come to terms with.
Dr. Abby Hafer, author of The Not-So-Intelligent Designer, takes up the discussion of evolution in her essay. She points out that evolutionarily speaking, females are the first, original sex. She contradicts the argument from nature by showing the many different gender roles and forms of sexual expression that exist in the animal kingdom, and points out numerous fallacies in the idea of intelligent design, in particular with regard to women’s reproductive systems. She shows how the Abrahamic religions go out of their way to trap women, and reveals that the natural rate of spontaneous abortions makes the evangelicals’ God by far the world’s busiest abortionist.
Gretta Vosper, author of With or Without God and Amen: What Prayer Can Mean in a World Beyond Belief, leads a congregation in Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, the United Church of Canada. She is in the middle of a controversy and may lose or leave her position because she is an atheist. She explores how her congregation developed around her after her declaration of atheism and how she has attracted congregants who want the community that a church provides but none of the doctrine.
If you have a chance to read the book (it is available for pre-order here), please go to my website and vote for Faith or Freedom (and a short review on Amazon would be much appreciated). The book will be available June 1.
March 24, 2018
 Jonny Scaramanga, “Norway Banned ACE. Could the UK Follow?” Patheos, August 4, 2014, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/leavingfundamentalism/2014/08/04/norway-banned-ace-could-the-uk-follow/.