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A free woman

Christianity-and its "death by torture"- is the path to liberation

Issue: "Dating and courtship confusion," June 4, 2011

After 40 years of women's liberation, you'd think we would be happier, but getting what you want is not necessarily conducive to happiness. Certainly not if a column by Paula Kirby in The Washington Post is any indication. In 10 paragraphs she angrily stomps over territory covered many times before, but with an outrage so raw she might have missed the revolution.

"Religion lies about women" is the title, religion being her catchall term for monotheism in general, and Christianity in particular. She begins with a blast at Paul's address to wives in Ephesians 5. That sets up her first argument: "Religion" equates women with children and slaves, because those are the other groups admonished "to embrace their inferior status with cheerfulness and enthusiasm." The fact that history was not yet ripe for emancipation means nothing: Paul's counsel is "a blot on the dignity of humankind."

Argument two: "Abrahamic religions fear women and therefore go to extraordinary and sometimes brutal lengths to control them" because the source of evil is located in Eve, ­correct? Not according to God, who held Adam directly responsible and dismissed his attempt to blame it on his wife. It is in Adam we all die, not Eve, and the ground is cursed because of him. She shares his guilt, but not his responsibility.

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Argument three: "Religion" reduces women to breeders, "and a hundred times woe to the woman who actually dares to terminate a pregnancy she does not want!" A woman's value is only as an incubator; she "has in herself no intrinsic worth whatsoever." But "intrinsic worth" is exactly what Kirby would deny the unborn child, who is as likely to be female as male. The facts of biology stand as they are; her quarrel is with Darwin, not God.

Argument four: "The New Testament is woefully short of significant female characters, and a brief look at those who do make it to the hall of fame will suffice to tell us exactly how they were perceived," i.e., as prostitutes or virgins. But a longer look reveals Lydia, Phoebe, Martha, Joanna, Mary the mother of John Mark-all respectable women in responsible positions, more than can be found in other contemporary texts. Even Euodia and Syntyche are commended as fellow laborers alongside that old chauvinist Paul. Kirby's cruel stereotypes of Mary Magdalene and the mother of Jesus show far less nuance than the New Testament.

Her greatest logical error is false assumption, the idea that humanity would have developed into a much more reasonable and tolerant species if it weren't for "religion." There's no evidence for this. In fact, if we accept a Darwinian hypothesis, which is the only other game in town, humanity clawed its way up from a slime pit and could have extinguished itself many times over. Religion, as a glimmering of something higher than the self, was not a step back but a step up.

But her real beef is emotional, not logical. "Religion is one lie after another," including the lie that "death by torture is presented as an act of love." Perhaps we're getting to the heart of things here. That "death by torture" evidently weighs heavily on her, when it could set her free.

For we're asked not to submit to fallible men but to Christ, the lover of our souls. And submission to Christ means liberation from necessity, circumstance, setback, envy, resentment, and eventually death. The wife-and-mother role looks small when married to a couch potato in a houseful of unappreciative kids. But what if Prince William asked us to marry him? And what if, instead of mindlessly popping out babies, we were invaluable links in a royal line? What's demeaning about motherhood, when the Lord of all creation chose to be a mother's son? What's the problem with being a wife, when the King of the Universe wants to marry us?

True freedom is not obsessed with getting what's mine, but owning what is God's. Happy the woman (and man, for that matter) who can let go of herself and clutch even the hem of that royal garment.

Email Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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