Feminism and Religion: Where Do I Stand? by Kile Jones

Kile JonesHaving recently become a “regular contributor” to this blog, I feel that my first post should be about how I situate myself and my beliefs in this environment. One of the first things I noticed about this blog, is that is has many Catholic, liberal Protestant, and pagan/nature religion/Goddess-followers who contribute (a journal I edit has an excellent article on Thealogy and worship of the Goddess). There are also a few Buddhist, Mormon, and New-Age contributors. In this eclectic mix, I stick out quite a bit. Not only am I a primarily white (my Abuelita was born in Chihuahua) heterosexual man, but I am also a secular humanist and an atheist. In an earlier post I wrote a piece titled “Reformer, Revolutionary, and Rationalist: Three Types of Feminism,” in which I find myself at home with the cultural critiques of the revolutionary and the logical critiques of the rationalist. As somebody who will be contributing my voice, here is where I am situated.

The type of feminism that I find most appealing is one that is not afraid of condemning many organizational, doctrinal, and ritualistic aspects of “religion.” In atheist/feminist circles, when discussing religion, there are no “sacred cows.” The women I am referring to, consider themselves secular, humanistic, liberal feminists, who would rather turn their efforts to publicly shaming religion and religious beliefs that oppress and suppress women (as I said in the earlier blog, I am thinking of women like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and Ophelia Benson). I would also like to mention a good friend of mine, Leanne Dedrick, who has written similar things. These women do not find an egalitarian reformulation of religion, or even a “women’s religion” to be a positive way of bettering women’s status in society. In fact, they think most “spirituality” is directly harmful towards women’s emancipatory causes.

In March 2013, there will be a large group of women and secularists from around the country meeting in Washington, D.C., for the “Women In Secularism Conference.” If you would like to see what they speak about, check out the schedule of last year’s conference (I am a big fan of CFI and have published a piece with them before). There have been a whole host of issues brought up surrounding women in the atheist/secularist movement, cases of sexism, and strong female responses to these cases (for my quick take, see here). Overall, as someone beginning to regularly contribute here, I wonder how the Feminism and Religion community views these women and the criticism they pose to women’s spirituality, Goddess worship, thealogy, etc. So please, what do you think?

Sophia-trapped

Image by David Hayward, otherwise known as the “Naked Pastor.”

Kile Jones holds a Bachelors of Theology (B.Th.) from Faith Seminary, a Masters of Theological Studies (M.T.S.) and a Masters of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) from Boston University, and is a current Ph.D. in Religion student at Claremont Lincoln University.  He also holds a Certificate in Science and Religion from the Boston Theological Institute.  Mr. Jones has been published in Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, Philosophy Now, Free Inquiry, World Futures, Human Affairs, and the Secular Web.  He has presented at Conferences around the United States and the United Kingdom.  He is the Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Claremont Journal of Religion (www.claremontjournal.com). His interests include religion and science, atheism, secularism, and philosophy of religion.  He also reviews books for Reviews in Religion and Theology (RRT) and is a Contributing Scholar for State of Formation (www.stateofformation.org), an academic blog for emerging religious and ethical leaders. 

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15 replies

  1. I plan on attending the Women in Secularism 2 conference in May, as I missed the first one (I have a good excuse; I was getting married that weekend). From this brief post, I think we may be similar in views, regarding feminism anyway. If you plan on attending the same conference, perhaps we can meet and talk some. I like making friends.

    I think that a religion can exist which is healthy for all people, so yes I think that a religion for women is possible. The question for me is whether the religion is itself true. A worldview which is useful, creates community, etc is fine, but I am skeptical as to whether there is a religion that I can respect on its own merits, irrespective of its friendliness to women.

  2. I notice that Kile Jone’s contribution below has been removed from the blog. Too bad. He needs to hear responses to his claims. When he writes, “These women do not find an egalitarian reformulation of religion, or even a Womens Religion to be a positive way of bettering womens status in society. In fact, they think most spirituality is directly harmful towards womens emancipatory causes’, he misses entirely the point that women’s spirituality and the bettering women’s status in society are not always synonymous. Wish it were so. However, what women’s spirituality does do, is restore to women the sacred mirror in which we are reflected positively by deity. Women have been injured to the core by the absence of a god who looks like us, and certainly, the women’s spirituality /goddess movement has reclaimed women’s stake in the sacred. This may not have bettered our status in society or improved our economic prospects, but it certainly healed a wound deep in our souls! While there are people, like Kile, who have no need for a spiritual component in his life and nevertheless cares about human rights and the betterment of women’s lots, Kile’s “type of feminism” sound dodgy to me. Majak Bredell

  3. Kile, you raise some interesting questions. I myself think that whatever relgions say should be able to be criticized on rational grounds, but more importantly even, on moral grounds. Gordon Kaufmann made the argument that all religious claims should be judged on their ability to help us deal with the major crisis of our time which is humanity’s ability to destroy itself. I would add a whole list of moral issues of our time to this list, including slavery, racism, patriarchy, homophobia, war, unequal distribution of weath, etc.

    If a religious person is arguing that questions of this type are out of bounds because “God said”… or “our culture says”…, well, in my opinion, this person is wrong, and we should not “respect” that position. I would find it difficult to dialogue with anyone who did not admit the human element in the construction of religions and cultures and therefore the right of human beings to criticize religions and cultures.

    On the other side, the criticisms many “secular” feminists make of “religion in general” often lack any nuance. I mean is it OK for someone to say Marxism has nothing of value in it on the basis of Stalinist Russia? I would not find that position acceptable. But some secular feminists make no distinction between the Martin Luther King and Ratzinger. Yet this position is considered acceptable in many quarters. In other words, how can I dialogue with someone who makes no distinction between me and Ratzinger?

  4. One reason I do the research I do is listed in my first book: “5. Today, as in the past, religion and the Bible play a major role in shaping the position of western woman – even if one is an atheist. As Fiorenza states, biblical religion is still influential today, so a cultural and social feminist transformation must take into account its impact. If one simply ignores the biblical tradition, one runs the risk of being subject to its tyranny without realizing it.” In both my books, the analysis of biblical material may help people with this issue – current religious beliefs do still affect ALL of us.

  5. Whether or not one gives any credence to the highly controversial ideas of a “god[dess?] gene” or an evolutionary role in life of religion, it’s interesting to me that some people–Carol, Majak, and me, to take just three examples–are interested in a religious or spiritual side to life, and some (like a friend who self-identifies as Jewish but is absolutely disinterested in practicing Judaism or anything else, or an artist friend who is bored by the whole subject) are just…not.

    For me, the exploration of the numinous, a reconnecting with the sacrality of nature, the discovery of the Goddess (Majak’s “sacred mirror,” which gives me back my deepest identity) have been an integral part of defining myself consciously as a feminist and connecting to the woundedness of the world as well. The two are, for me, inseparable and constantly inform each other.

    I agree wholeheartedly, Carol, that we need to be self-critical and self-reflective in religious matters as in other cultural constructs, that nuances are vital and that no questions should be out of bounds. In that lies the reason no one will ever confuse you with Ratzinger and his ilk! :-)

  6. P.S. to Jennifer: if you want a quick immersion in “biblical tradition” and its continuing influence on life, move to the buckle of the “belt” here in the South! ;-)

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    Carol: I agree with much of what you say. These “secular feminists” do not see a big difference between a “spiritual” person and a “religious” person, namely, because they think both of these terms lack rational justification or moral consideration. Atheists and secularists have long been criticized for lacking “nuance.” I think that they could be more specific, but it is not as if their generalizations are not often the case.

    Majak: You say, “Women have been injured to the core by the absence of a god who looks like us, and certainly, the women’s spirituality /goddess movement has reclaimed women’s stake in the sacred.” Just because there was a “male” god does not mean we need to replace it with a “female” one. “My type” of feminism, and the women who proclaim it, think that this is just replacing one irrational claim with another. Women are sacred, not because of any god, but on their own merit and worth.

    Shaunphilly: I agree that “truth-value” is important, but I, and many others, think that an abandoning of spirituality and religion is a positive thing for everyone, especially women (given what religion and spirituality has done to them).

    Jennifer and Onoosh: Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.

  8. I think the atheist movement has a lot of problems with women, and it is just as male dominated and sexist as the religions it claims to abhor. So lack of belief among men doesn’t mean they will be all that different from dominators in religious circles.

    One of the most powerful aspects of women’s spiritual movements is that they are about liberation, first liberation from all male dominance and male gods, and second about the liberation to work on what moves women and inspires us the most. I consider myself in the tradition of Mary Daly, where she had a profound connection to nature, and to the cause of women. But first, her quest to break free of patriarchal mind bindings and creating the tools for women to radically reconstruct the world were essential. She wouldn’t have much use for liberal feminists and their placating ways, and she would have had no use for the male dominated atheist gatherings nationwide.

    I don’t put much stock in any male commentary on women, but I do fight for the liberation of women from all of patriarchy, and all of male speech, and if this can be done spiritually, or politically, or through poetry, music and metaphor, I’m all for it.

  9. Turtle Woman: I agree with you. I am likewise against all forms of sexism and misogyny. I wrote a piece for this blog earlier that talks about Mary Daly: http://feminismandreligion.com/2011/12/06/reformer-revolutionary-or-rationalist-three-types-of-feminism-by-kile-jones/

    I would just say that atheists generally vote for women’s rights, same-sex marriage, education reform, immigration rights, environmental concern, and other causes you might agree with. I, like you, have a problem with sexism in the unbelieving community. Best.

  10. I would guess that part of what Turtle Woman is alluding to is that atheism for many is rooted in the traditions of rational individualism of the enlightenment with or without the addition of Marxism. This means that atheist traditions may be rooted in some notion of universal reason and a kind of absolutism, rather than in standpoint theory, which accepts the finitude of every standpoint and of “reason.” Atheist traditions also may not be rooted in a relational worldview and the interdependence of life. Atheist traditions may favor rational beings over “less rational” human beings (women, the lower classes, the primitves, etc.) and over the whole of the natural world which the enlightenment viewed as nonrational and not intelligent…. I suppose this means that atheism is not a position, but a series of postions, some of which have more validity than others. An atheist with a relational worldview based in standpoint theory and who affirms intelligence throughout the web of life is not necessarily the atheist one generally meets. However these positions might well be held by the average “irrational” Goddess feminist one might meet. So who is the more rational, if being rational means holding positions that help us to make sense of the world and solve the problems we face today?

  11. I see that your background includes a Bachelors of Theology, a Masters of Theological Studies and that you are currently going for PhD in Religious studies. Oh, and you hold a Certificat in Science and Religion. I am curious as to how you reconcile your skepticism with theology?

    Kile: I have a Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science from the University of Washington. I spent my career in the biological and environmental sciences having done both field and lab work. I can even do parametric and non-parametric analysis if necessary. My choice of a PhD in Women’s Spirituality has always seemed a natural part of the journey as the area is both broad and deep, on a spectrum that runs from attempts to free Christianity from mysogeny to an amazing openness to empirical processes and discoveries. I find Women’s Spirituality to be an ongoing, dedicated, and entirely open community of problem solvers and healers.

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  1. A Pro-Science, Skeptical Woman Speaks by Kile Jones | Feminism and Religion
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