Religion and the Bechdel Test
One tenet of mine that doesn't go over well at dinner parties is, Religions are Not Harmless.
I could explain it for days, but to be brief, that line I got as a kid about how The Church wasn't really a bad thing because Mrs. NicePerson down the street goes there, and she isn't so bad, is she?…is total hogwash. If Mrs. NicePerson put on ghost-robes and burned a cross, we wouldn't think of that as vindication of the KKK; and the fact that she can ignore intolerance and sexism is a strike against her, not a point for the intolerant.
Also, the fact that some of the trappings of religion include potlucks and community choirs is exactly as vindicating for religion as the fact that some of the trappings of dictatorship include awesome parties and palaces. Throwing nice parties for your chosen few does not exempt you from the consequences of, you know, mass murder and shit.
Anyway, along those lines, I found this highly intriguing:
… I think it’s worth creating a similar test for religion, to help believers notice sexism in their churches they might not have noticed. My suggestion is as follows. For a religion to pass this test, it has to have:
(1) at least one woman in a position of authority;
(2) who plays a formal, recognized role in shaping doctrine or practice;
(3) that is binding on male members of that religion.
If a religion categorically excludes women from all positions of authority, it fails. If it gives women positions of authority, but only so that they can teach and pass on doctrine created by men, it fails. If it permits women to create doctrine, but doctrine that’s only applicable to other women, it fails.
As with the Bechdel test, the mere fact that a religion passes this test doesn’t mean that it’s a feminist or egalitarian religion. It could still be appallingly sexist. It could still have rules that treat women as inferior to men. And it could still be harmful in any number of other ways. But I would argue that this test is the bare minimum — the first necessary, but not sufficient, step for any religion to genuinely treat women as equals.
I think this is a fantastic idea. I'm really curious now as to whether the Shaolin Order would pass…I'll have to figure that out. My "home temple" would pass with flying colors, but one of my points about religion not being harmless is also that it's not harmless to identify with a religion and then claim to only be "into the good parts". (If you claim to be non-sexist but you give money or support to the Catholics, your claim has as much validity as mine if I claim to not be racist but I go to KKK meetings.) So if the Order is sexist in its implementation, then the Temple is by association, and that's not much better. (Then again, I'm moving to where I can't attend the Temple regularly anymore; however I still plan to make regular donations & go back when I can, so it still matters.)
What about other religions? And while the Bechdel test is awesome, what about other tests, or tests for other things that are commonly wrong with religions, like intolerance of people of other faiths, or disrespect for the poor?
Good stuff to think about! Enjoy your brains, everyone. ;)