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:

Adam Lee has come up with the Bechdel Test for Religion: (via Friendly Atheist)

… 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.  ;)

About puredoxyk

Word addict, kungfu/taiji nut, and life-partner to polyphasic sleep. Rabid fan of as many hobbies as the world will let me pry into its piddly fourth dimension (it helps to have knocked out the wall).
This entry was posted in better thinking, ethics, logos addict, philosophy, worship. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Religion and the Bechdel Test

  1. Shane says:

    Gabriel brings up a good point, 2 of the greatest mass murderers in history – Stalin (40 million killed estimated) and Mao Zedong (60 million estimated), were both atheists.
    Evil people use any tool for control, be it religion, ideas, nukes, or spoons.

  2. Gabriel says:

    I get the server error every time. I think it must be some kind of security feature ;)

    • puredoxyk says:

      *lol* The server error does probably discourage too much idle banter. But it’s not intentional; it’s some kind of misconfiguration I’ve been bringing up to my hosting company for years, but we never seem to be able to nail down what’s doing it. Since all the comments go through fine in spite of it (if they don’t appear, it’s because they’re in moderation, which happens when you’re new), the end result is usually us shrugging and getting too busy to work on it any more, and it’s never gotten fixed. I keep hoping a WordPress upgrade or something will unsnorfle it, but so far, no such luck. ;)

      Terribly sorry about the annoyance it causes to people sometimes, though. If I could at least edit the message, I would make it much more entertaining!

  3. Geves says:

    Does anyone else get the server error when posting?

  4. Geves says:

    The flaw of accepting something which allows no way of being proven false – religion – is a symptom of a mind which accepts things uncritically, it's a flaw of reasoning. Perhaps a cooccurring symptom is a similar uncritical surrendering to vestigual instincts and impulses.
    I'm a bit ignorant of the debate but I see a difficulty in proving religion to be a primary causal agent in any notable violent incidents. There's plenty corrolation for sure, but to introduce a stupid analogy: religion is just a bug of faulty hardware.

  5. Leigh says:

    It's a great little test, and it makes me sad to think of how many organised religions fail to pass.  I have only one qualm.
    "Taking only the good parts" is something I think every person should be doing following any religion: looking at the doctrine with a discerning eye.  Firstly, I challenge anyone to find a religion that is perfect, or only made of good parts.  Since not everything is all good or all bad, you have to pick and choose what to ascribe to in every philosophy, religion, or organisation.  Secondly, I don't think any belief is worth following blindly.  I'd rather people gave more thought to any order they identify with.  I like cheese but I don't like munster, so does that mean I can't say I like cheese?  Of course not.  So maybe I agree with most of soto zen buddhism, but not the smelly bits. What percentage do you have to agree with to identify with a parish?  Most people identify with immediate community surrounding their religious institution, and in some ways, that's okay.  But I agree that ignoring what the wider community does/says/believes and leaving serious inequalities unaddressed is not okay.
    You bring up some very good points, and overall I think the post is a great one.  Thanks for all your thoughtful writing, and keep 'em coming!

  6. Gabriel says:

    Why stop at singling out religion as being "not harmless"? It is likely more people in the history of humanity have been killed in the name of things other than religion than religion itself.
    Isn't the real issue that people will use whatever is at their disposal – whether religious dogma, or evolutionary dogma, or ideological dogma, to further their own agendas for power and control?
    Let's place the blame where it squarely belongs – on people themselves!

  7. Lee says:

    It's always interesting to me to see discussions regarding religion. I have to say that while I don't find an affiliation with any organized religion (or any religion for that matter) this particular situation might have been something I noticed unconsciously and never knew why it bothered me so much.
    It goes beyond just the tolerance of women and equal treatment to more than just the male counterparts of the religions of choice, but also to the human aspect as well. How well does a religion treat their LGBT members (if there are any open members at that). And would the LGBT members be allowed to hold the same positions of power as their heterosexual members. 
    Food for thought, for sure. Interesting reading. 

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