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Religion v feminism: which has done more for humanity?

Religion may bring eternal happiness — but has feminism done more good for humankind than all the gods put together? In this book excerpt, a comparison of the two and why feminism is more derided than religion.

If I were to compare the effect of religion on the health, wealth and happiness of humankind with the effect of, say, feminism, I suspect feminism would win easily. Feminism has never airbrushed men out of the picture — either literally or metaphorically. It has never raised an army, never armed itself and never passed laws restricting the equal rights or opportunities of others. There may have been terrorists who were also feminists — in the IRA or the Baader-Meinhof gang, for example — just as there have been terrorists who were also atheists, but there have been no feminist acts of terror.

Feminism has never killed an opponent. Feminists have died, of course, usually at the hands of the religious. The suffragettes certainly smashed a lot of windows and even set a few fires (always in buildings they knew to be empty), but they never actually hurt anyone other than themselves. Suffragette Emily Davison was killed throwing herself under the hooves of the King’s racehorse at the Epsom Derby, crying “Votes for Women!”, and many of her colleagues went on hunger strikes when jailed for their beliefs, and then suffered the indignity and torture of force-feeding.

The evidence for feminism as a force for good is equally unequivocal. We know, for example, that the best protection for women against violence is the presence and activity of independent feminist community organisations (the presence of churches and houses of worship makes no difference at all). Not just that, either — we also know that in countries with the greatest equality between the s-xes, the life expectancy of men also goes up, because violence in general falls. We also now know, entirely thanks to feminism, that when you educate a girl and give her opportunities to earn money she would not normally have — often due to religious strictures — the benefits accrue to the whole family and community in a way they do not when you educate only boys. The phenomenon is called “The Girl Effect”.

The lives that feminism has directly saved through agitating for women’s reproductive health and rights probably number in the many millions.

Feminism has also encouraged the creation of works of art, from the literature of George Eliot and the Brontes — who, like Eliot, had to publish under male-sounding names to be taken seriously — to that of Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel and Toni Morrison. Simply by agitating for women to have access to the same educational and career opportunities as their brothers, feminism has enabled female artists, musicians, novelists, sculptors and film-makers to express themselves and add to the sum of human creativity.

Until relatively recently, religion helped silence their voices and so stifled female creativity for centuries. That alone is a terrible thing to have done, and all humanity is the poorer for it.

Yet, while we’re still expected to be deferential around religious belief, including the need to obliterate historical fact so as not to give “offence”, feminism is given no such consideration. Feminism (like its sibling atheism) remains open to derision, scorn and a conspicuous lack of respect. Come to think of it, perhaps that’s actually an advantage. Perhaps that’s why such secular movements have arguably been a source of more net positive results for humanity than the more cossetted, protected and one-eyed religions. Until very recently, the one eye through which most religions looked at the world was a male eye. Thanks to secular feminism (a movement that also includes believers from many faiths), humanity is just beginning to open its female eye and see the world as a whole.

In humanity’s slow journey towards taking the female perspective into account — a journey entirely driven by feminism and almost always in direct opposition to religion — we’re seeing that when you do, you also start to take other marginalised groups in society more seriously, too. Children’s rights begin to be asserted, and we are hopeful that the Jimmy Saviles of this world will no longer get away with damaging and exploiting vulnerable children for their own s-xual satisfaction. P-edophile priests can no longer expect that the mystique and status conferred on them by their church will offer them a cloak of silence and protection as they do the same. Taking women seriously means taking what they care about seriously, too — like the right of children not to be used s-xually. Taking women seriously means taking the feminine in general seriously, so it also means the fight for gay and lesbian rights gaining ground. As the work women do gains status, and as much of that work remains caring work, caring gains status, too.

As I’ve stated before, while I acknowledge the gifts religions have given humanity, when it comes to the final balance sheet, their universal oppression, control and stifling of one half of the human race remain — for me — their greatest sin.

*This is an edited extract from For God’s Sake  —  co-written by Jane Caro, Antony Loewenstein, Simon Smart and Rachel Woodlock — published this month by Pan Macmillan Australia and launching at Sydney’s Gleebooks tomorrow

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  • 1
    klewso
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    When was the last feminist war?

  • 2
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Didn’t Bertrand Russell say that belief in the goodness of God is inversely proportional to the evidence? As the climate decays in the decades ahead, we must expect a rise of various religions, providing explanations for the increased suffering.

    Conversely, our own rationalist philosophies, including feminism and respect for scientific evidence, will be under pressure. Now may be the time for us to be engaging the religions, adding our own careful thinking to people of conscience in their ranks.

    Appalled though we may be by past actions of religious zealots, these may be the very people who will most vigorously press for action against ongoing greenhouse damage. If they are seeking guidance from their own religious conservatives, perhaps our voices should be there for them to hear.

  • 3
    81dvl
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I applaud this article. All of it had to be said. This kind of ‘Truth and reconciliation’ recognition of historic culpability needs to be constantly revisited if a time of truly equal opportunity is ever to be achieved.

    I rejoice in these times that seem to have stopped treating religion as unquestionable. The list of social crimes is even wider. It extends to genocide.

    In the interest of adding momentum to feminism, can I comment on ‘male feminism’?

    Initially, as a hippie baby-boomer, I had no trouble assimilating feminism simply on (what should have been) obvious egalitarian terms. In late teens I marched against the Vietnam invasion, and I marched against sexism. If I had supported socialism, I would be a socialist. In supporting feminism, I am a feminist.

    Your article adds weight to the fact that feminism still has a long way to go - a long way - but there have been some inroads.

    I am approaching 60 now and my views and support remain unchanged. In your opening sentence you mentioned “men” as the culpable collective. For many years now I have been wondering if this - which is common - risks restricting the support of male advocates.

    The elimination of sexism needs all the support and press it can get. For decades I, and most men I know, have stoically taken it on the chin; being lumped with the guilty, because it was necessary. While I was a teacher we went through a period in the early 90’s, of “Positive Discrimination” where women - staff and students - were given advantage. We all supported this and I saw it introduce real and pleasing change.

    My point is that I think that we may now be at the time when the significant percentage of aware men are taken into the fold by coining some new term that would separate them from the implied and laboured concept that (all) Men = bad. You did this in your opening sentence. Perhaps something more creative that ‘sexist males’, but the desired effect would be to separate aware males from the stupidly sexist. It may induce some of the culprits to want to be identified on the other team. Whatever, it should be much less likley to diminish support from ‘beleagured males’, and it is my feeling that the percentage of supportive men is significant, relevant and not guilty.

  • 4
    Toodles
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for writing this article! I had a vague feeling this book would be full of crap, and now I have some evidence!

  • 5
    Serenatopia
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    There are so many pigeon holes in this article that there ain’t enough pigeons to go around!
    The arguments are nauseatingly simplistic Feminism=Atheism=Gay&Lesbianism=Freethinking
    Religion=Patriarchy=Oppression=Pedophile Priests
    Yes — -perhaps you need to research history to realise that what makes people good is not someone’s gender, background,political or religious affiliations age or sexual orientation — -What makes people good are their personal choices and actions — -
    Lord Wilberforce was a male of the patriarchy but he fought against the British slave trade — -he did this in the name of Christianity — -on the other hand the Pope lodged the Crusades and massacred millions in vain — -he also apparently did that in the name of Christianity — -is Christianity what makes people good or bad? — -of course not — -though both Wilberforce and the Pope would argue otherwise — -it is their personal choices and their individual characteristics that makes them the way they are — -
    I have worked with enough Gay and Lesbian Bullies to realise that not all homosexuals are nice —  — but since when did someone’s sexual orientation mean a deeper understanding of the struggle for identity? And since when did Feminism mean a deeper understanding of the feminine?

  • 6
    David Thompson
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Yes, when was the last feminist war? Religion has been the bane of every group that is not part of the “in-group” since man created god. Misogyny has certainly been religions strong suit. I look forward to reading your book.

  • 7
    Pusscat
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Great congrats, Jane, for making these points, and for making them so compellingly. I’ll be parting with the cash very gladly to buy your book when I’m at gleebooks to hear Anna Golgsworthy later this month.
    But you know, for me personally, the final q.e.d. tends to be something like:
    Well, perhaps the ideal might be to be a committed feminist, who also has a religious affiliation selected after as much or as little prior comparative research as circumstance and personal taste may dictate.
    After all, the best way to change ‘em, is to join ‘em first and then get active from within, in collaboration with the other sisters you find there, of course.

  • 8
    Pusscat
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Ooops, typo, that should be Goldsworthy, and Anna’s Unfinished Business (Quarterly Essay #50) is such a good read thgat I really hate having mucked up her surname like that.

  • 9
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    The ultimate Chauvanist,(in the original Parisian sense, as well as current gender usage) J-P Satre (shame on de Beauvoir) said, when asked why he had, or attempted, an intellectual meeting with the thuggish Andreas rather than the brains, Ulrica, “it was the Baader-Meinhoff gang”.. coff, bloody, coff.
    One of those xtian loonies (‘scuz tautology) a couple of years ago, ranting about the perfidy & danger of female priests, warned that “priestesses were involved in child sacrifice & prostitution” .. on the basis of.. SFA, rather like all godbotherers.
    On a personal note, I am totally opposed to the idea of female priests.
    Coz I’m opposed to priests. And religion.

  • 10
    Andrew L
    Posted Tuesday, 2 July 2013 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

    Spot on Jane Caro!

  • 11
    Pointy Hatted Party Monster
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 12:24 am | Permalink

    I’d like to echo 81dvl in saying that not all feminists are women. Some of us have even grown up with feminism being a normal part of the brain-furniture.

    But come on, playing nicely might involve pointing out the vast tracts of logical vacuousness in this little homily.

    Religion per se is not the problem. Religion is not even the same as a church or churches, which are being conflated here or we are just witnessing a rhetorical throwback to the seventeenth century.

    The problem is patriarchy. True, it gets a free pass in all manner of religious organizations. But in the world for which Jane Caro is writing it is hardly true to say the patriarchy’s baleful influence is expanding other than in Roman Catholic and mad-as-hell pentecostal outfits, both of which are really a sign of it’s eclipse elswhere. If you think being a woman involves oppression by a determined patriarchy, then try being any of the right-hand-side bits of the GLBTI acronym, especially the T and I.

    Think about it. Until last week we had our first female PM, who stood steadfast in her defense of patriarchy to the last. Remember those relentless talking points about working families (= mum, dad, kids, alarm set early)? What about the blind intransigence on same-sex marriage, from someone who clearly lives in what we could truthfully describe as a sort of alternative family setup? Don’t forget that she demonstrated her openness on the issue by refusing to eat with at least one real-live gay couple. What about the cutting of payments for single mothers? Oh, and how many Sunday morning press conferences did Julia Gillard hold at a church gate while giving lip service to the likes of those dreadful men from the ACL? Is it fair enough to say that our valiant atheist former PM did her bit to support the exact style of brain dead patriarchy that’s been drilled into the populace through nearly twenty years of paterfamilias conservative orthodoxy?

    Clearly patriarchy does not *need* religion in order to do its work. Patriarchy is the problem, but you wouldn’t guess it from what Jane Caro has to say.

    Since we’re talking about suffragettes and moral balance sheets, let’s do a little audit and turn the question around and refine it a little bit.

    Where would the womens movement, including feminism, be *without* churches such as the C of E?

    The suffragette movement was about as militantly atheist as Queen Victoria. It was actively fostered and affirmed by a style of C of E broad church evangelism that was quite widespread until about the time of the Beatles first LP, and can still be found thriving in Anglican parishes in the leafier parts of the main cities. The suffragettes certainly had a great deal of their inspiration and support in church-sponsored organizations, even if some of the sympathetic clergy (yes, all men back then) demurred at setting buildings alight or jumping in front of horses. To say the suffragettes were all about womens’ rights to the exclusion of any religious content is completely untrue.

    Look, it’s totally banal to say that the churches have been involved in some pretty horrendous bits of history. Courtesy of various parliamentary inquiries and a Royal Commission, some of it is coming back to haunt hierarchs of all kinds (say hi to the Catholic Archbishops of Melbourne and Sydney, the Moderator of the Uniting Church, and whoever is the nominal leader of the Salvos, for example). And yes, sometimes church structures are oppressive in ways that run counter to what the organization is meant to be about. It’s not news, but find any functioning organization with a bit of history that doesn’t require its people to accept some sort of discipline. Try being an honest gay priest in the Roman Catholic Church if you want to see the sort of equivocal silence and destructive double-think necessary to survive in such a resolutely homophobic institution where the discipline has become an end in itself. This is not to deny the problems that keep swirling, but in the Catholic Church women generally have an easier go of it in that they’re not generally asked to deny something fundamental about themselves.

    But the churches also have a long history of leading change in promoting social welfare, child protection, making health care available through clinics and hospitals, and establishing schools, higher education institutions, just to name a few. Some of the churches are active in promoting initiatives to counter domestic violence (here’s one example: http://www.melbourne.anglican.com.au/ServingCommunity/src/Pages/Prevention-of-Violence-Against-Women.aspx).

    People in churches haven’t done this merely to be nice, or to hide some unspeakable secret under a veneer of good manners. These sorts of things are what the churches exist to do. If you like, they form the core agenda, you know, the stuff about healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, protecting and seeking justice for the oppressed, and to love people when it is widely thought fashionable or convenient to vilify them. And I’ll bet that if Jane Caro wanted to come and volunteer at the church-based food centre I work for, she’d be welcomed with open arms. Nobody’s interested in debating the ins and outs of the filioque, and anti-religion ideology might not go down so well either. Especially if it’s from a book.

    But there’s more. In parts of the developing world the churches provide healthcare and education to all, irrespective of their social or ethnic status. They do this because local or national government can’t or won’t (um, might that be because of social or ethnic status being embedded in an unapologetically patriarchal political system?). If you think women in the developing world are motivated to seek education solely on account of feminism, then you’re choosing to ignore big parts of the picture. They might relate to some of the concepts, but for many of them feminism of the Jane Caro variety is yet another expression of the arrogance embedded in Western imperial ideology and therefore to be resisted. How do you square that off with the amount of church-sponsored schools in the developing world that offer access to educational opportunities for girls and young women? Do they not foster the “girl effect”?

    Most of the anti-religion argument here and in the companion piece published in today’s Guardian is a bit beside the point because it proves nothing other than the limited worldview of the author. Reducing the effects of feminism to the creation of aesthetic objects and texts while equating it to health reform or a virtuous failure to produce massive acts of terrorism is a drastic category mistake. Just about as silly and counterproductive as equating religion with churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, and then rolling it all up as patriarchal oppression.

    If Jane Caro is seeking to balance some metaphorical ledger of sins and virtues, then it is going to take some seriously creative moral accountancy. On balance, it’s just not black-and-white, and might involve some uncomfortable truth-telling about how religion has aided and advanced all the positive things she reckons it has ignored.

    So let’s take a deep breath and repeat until it finally sinks in: patriarchy is the problem.

    Now I’ll go back to the modest stuff I do, helping out with feeding the hungry, etc.

  • 12
    Pusscat
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Gosh THANKS for the astonishingly excellent Comment you’ve posted on Caro’s piece, PHPM.
    I mentally pigeonhole Gillard’s blemishes (including her inexplicable rejection of marriage equality, along with Manus Island and the mining tax disaster) in the same slot with EG Whitlam’s Khemlani fiasco and the Cairns/Morosi nonsense (if you are old enough to remember those very non-ornamental aspects of EGW’s otherwise praiseworthy three years).

  • 13
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Wow! Incredibly simplistic view of history. These sorts of articles seem to fill the web just someone too lazy or restricted by the editor to actually raise a case on a subject. Much , much easier to just broad brush a discussion and basically titallate with ignorant jibes.

    Starting to look like the re-incarnation of tabloids.

  • 14
    Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    @Pointy Hatted Party Monster. I actually believe that Religion is part of the problem because at the heart of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish religions is a book that condones all sorts of carry on as well as slavery (aparently it’s ok to enslave a new zealander or sell your daughter into salvery). OK I’ve heard the old argument that ‘you’re not meant to take it literally..” but unfortunately you have a fair few adherants who do, and they range from the mothers in Balaclava wearing wigs to cover their hair to the ranting preachers in the city who tell me I’m going to hell. FIX UP YOUR BOOK FIRST.
    Oh and Yes some christian organisations do some good work with the down and out but they are also heavily subsidised by the taxpayer and donations from non-christians to do so. In the Victorian era, when church attendance was at its highest, there was incredible poverty which religion failed to address until the welfare state came into being. Maybe its time for religion to have a good hard look at why it has failed so badly at it’s stated aims.

  • 15
    Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    BTW Nice one Jane, needed to be said.

  • 16
    Jane Caro
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I usually don’t comment on my own pieces but I am intrigued that I have been accused by 81dvl in the following terms; “In your opening sentence you mentioned “men” as the culpable collective.”
    I am intrigued because this actually is my first sentence; “If I were to compare the effect of religion on the health, wealth and happiness of humankind with the effect of, say, feminism, I suspect feminism would win easily.”
    Where do I mention men at all? Let alone as a “culpable collective”? Feminism as a collective noun certainly does not exclude male feminists, of which there are and always have been many. Humankind, I would argue includes both men & women in a way that the more commonly used mankind does not.
    I mention men a total of 3 times in the piece, twice as “men” and once as “brothers”. At no time do I hold all men responsible for women’s lower status, I hold religion to account, yes, and I stand by that.
    Supporting the rights of women via feminism (beautifully defined by someone else as the radical idea that women are people) is not a zero sum game - its not women versus men at all. Indeed, I believe as women gain rights, so will men. Feminism is a human rights issue, just as anti-racism or gay rights are.

  • 17
    81dvl
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Hello Jane;

    I regret you are upset. You are right, it was in your second sentence and a fairly marginal call from me at that. Even so, I think my point still stands. Do you think I’m wrong?
    Your reply above does seem a fairly adversarial reaction and I would hope you wouldn’t rejoice in the fact that I felt uneasy at even broaching the subject. Why is that? Humankind does airbrush mankind but again, fair enough; also there is still no common opposite to misogynist - and I have met some. I don’t think I went anywhere near a zero-sum game and such extremes are not helpful. What I am advocating is the same inclusiveness you are.

  • 18
    @chrispydog
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Interesting comments, thoughtful and well argued.

  • 19
    Jane Caro
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    Hi 81dvl
    Not upset, just bamboozled, particularly by your reference to the first sentence.

    The second sentence - about airbrushing men out of the picture - refers to the context from which this extract was extracted. I had just finished discussing the well-known case of an orthodox Jewish newspaper airbrushing Sec of State Hillary Clinton and defence advisor Audrey Tomlinson out of the famous shot of Obama and key officials (which included those two women) watching as Osama Bin Laden was caught and killed. They did it because they disapprove of women in leadership & believe representations of women may cause impure thoughts in men.

    Read the book (For God’s sake, an atheist, christian, jew and muslim debate religion) and you will see exactly what I mean.

    It can be the trouble with extracts.

  • 20
    Pointy Hatted Party Monster
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    @ Shaniq’ua Shardonn’ay

    Well, if religion equalled religious texts minus interpretation, then we’d all be in a lot of trouble. The need for interpretation is why we theology is more necessary now than it has ever been. The only antidote to bad religion is better religion, unless you really want to give a free pass to ignorance and aggression by treating it as the only normal expression of faith. That would be like saying more politicians should be like Cory Bernardi, and that the natural party of government in Australia is the Democratic Labor Party.

    Think about it. Even a fundamentalist understands that not everything you read in the Bible is there because it’s commended and therefore must be done. Lots of the negative stuff is there precisely because it demonstrates the contrast and leads back to the positive commands to feed the hungry, clothe the naked (and so on). You’re reading astonishingly literally for a modern well-educated member of the voting public.

    Looking to the positive commands that really do animate religious people, you might consider that Christians do a lot of stuff because they follow the idea (which is in the book): feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort and defend the oppressed, love those it is thought convenient to think poorly of. These are ideas that lie at the heart of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but you’d never guess it if you keep insisting that the book is all.

    Social welfare in the Victorian era: you bet the welfare state, I raise you the Salvos, Vinnies, Mission to Streets and Lanes, Community of the Holy Name, Sisters of Mercy, and these are just the Christian organizations still in operation for starters.

    Since 1900: the Brotherhood of St Laurence, pretty much everything we know about from the Uniting Church (and there’s a lot of that).

    Name one secular welfare agency with a history during or prior to the nineteenth century and you win.

    Name one welfare agency that has ever been able to meet all needs without a diverse funding base, and you can feed the 5,000, walk on water, and raise the dead. I’d like to meet you so we can talk through some knotty questions I’ve got.

    Until then, patriarchy (which doesn’t *need* religion per se) is still the problem.

  • 21
    Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    There is a secular welfare agency that has suceeded in feeding and clothing the vast majority of Australians, it’s called the government. Welfare started in this country in the early 1900s and I would argue that if the Christian welfare organisations had been more successful we wouldn’t have a need for state welfare. Unfortunately there are just too few religeous people who were willing to part with their cash to make the religeous welfare model work. It failed spectacularely to feed the hungry and heal the sick and I really wonder whether it would survive at all without the tax breaks and government funding it relies heavily on.
    Regarding the fact that religion relies on ‘interpretation’ to work and that ‘bad religion’ is the problem I would argue that rejection of religion as a solution has brought more tolerance to the world. Again your ‘better religion’ is failing to counter this, why? Is it God’s Will?

  • 22
    Pusscat
    Posted Wednesday, 3 July 2013 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for another inestimable contribution to the thread, Ms Party Monster.
    Shaniq’ua, you know, one only needs to do a little casual googling around Comparative Anthropology to realise that, with a few instructive and significant counter-examples, patriarchies are ubiquitous over the last few millenia planetwide, whether or not they happen to occur alongside formalised hierarchical religious structures and written scriptures.
    And sure, I’m all for saying “humankind” and using gender-neutral pronouns and letting off a bit of steam occasionally about all those various clerical men who wear frocks from all over. And so are most other feminists of faith everywhere.
    But all that argy-bargy, not just from you and Jane and Richard Dawkins, but generally in our you-beaut capitalist “post-religion” we’re-so-much-smarter-nowadays-than-they-were-then fabulous digital age? It doesn’t really interest me.
    And here in Western ex-Christendom, we’ve freed ourselves so completely from that bizarre persistent human delusion that we are accountable for how we exercise moral agency, that we’ve enthusiastically whizzed right past 400ppm carbon in the atmosphere recently without even noticing. Ain’t it grand to be “free” to do that!
    But I digress.
    As my pithy Pointy Hatted sister re-iterates, for feminists, the enemy is patriarchy. Full stop.
    In a world where 600-million-plus women and girls live in countries where rape within marriage attracts no legal sanction whatsoever, we simply don’t have the spare time or the spare bullets to waste on trying to shoot down religion.
    When we’ve finally brought down the last shred of patriarchy everywhere, I’m open to rearranging the deckchairs on any epistemolgical Titanic you care to name, Shaniq’ua, and that would be lots of fun, certainly.
    But just now, we have more pressing business elsewhere.

  • 23
    Pointy Hatted Party Monster
    Posted Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 12:15 am | Permalink

    @ Shaniq’ua Shardonn’ay, the welfare state as you describe it didn’t exist until after 1945. It has absolutely no history prior to that time.

    If you’re going to talk about the Victorian era, then you need to talk about it as it was, not how you imagine it might — or ought to — have been. So far you seem to have a very fuzzy Sovereign Hill notion of the nineteenth century.

    Let’s start by clearing up the funding furphy. In the nineteenth century church welfare agencies received precisely ZERO government funding. Government wasn’t into welfare when Tommy Bent was Premier the first time round: they were too busy rorting the railways and talking about setting up a local peerage so that Sir William Clarke could wear his coronet to Spring Street without being the only one in a giggle-suit.

    While government was arguing about how low property rights could be lowered without creating a universal franchise, social welfare in this country was being pioneered via the efforts of London-based missionary societies and other religious orders, all starting in the late-eighteenth and early- to mid-nineteenth century. The practical stuff was started up and carried on by all manner of nuns, deaconesses, ladies visiting societies, religious orders, and parish clergy.

    When government did finally get around to serious social welfare work after 1945 it quickly got cold feet, given that it took less than 60 years for the engagement to go from a good start to the present pathetic near-finished level. Just to name three well-known church welfare agencies, Vinnies started up in Australia in 1854. The Salvos arrived up in 1880. The Mission to Streets and Lanes (now Anglicare) began in 1886, and built on initiatives going back to the 1840s. Are you spotting a contrast between churches and government in terms of length of engagement with social welfare yet? Or do you genuinely believe it’s all a mish-mash of only seeing the present in the past?

    Since the mid-1990s our political parties have caved in to such wicked and frivolous ideological scruples that they now send money that would otherwise have been used to fund perfectly good government agencies to the church agencies that were left when everything else was withdrawn. The situation of tax breaks and funding you describe is the current policy of government OUTSOURCING its own functions to church welfare agencies. If you think that’s a problem, then I can find at least a couple of hundred people who share that view. You’re welcome to come along and meet them next Sunday.

    Seriously though, think about it. I’ve said it before in relation to the developing world, and it bears repeating about our situation here in this prosperous nation: the churches are often the only providers left standing when government cannot or will not do the work. The churches do it because they follow this mildly odd guy who got strung up ages ago for saying we should love each other, and that our worth in the eyes of God rests entirely in how we treat the poor. All the stuff about restrictive gender roles and keeping the masses under strict oppression is PATRIARCHY.

    It looks like our wager still stands. I’m waiting to see if you can feed 5,000, walk on water, raise the dead, and so on. Healing the sick with your shadow would be way too cool, if you’ll permit me to watch.

    Oh, and keep smiling: patriarchy is still the problem.

  • 24
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Some quite educated responses. However as an observer I fail to see the relevance of the discussion. On one hand religion cops the blame for most of the bad things in the world and on the other it’s due to the patriarchal system.

    If one agrees with both points …so what?

    Institute a matriarchal system? Go ahead please ..most men I meet would be happy for women to take control. Men are also trapped in the system. Demeaning the sexes and asserting blame is a spectator sport. Feminism moved in the right direction by raising awareness and continuing to do so. I must move in the wrong circles because I dont meet “the bad guys” nor the “ratbag” feminists.

    I feel certain that most rational people are screaming out (quietly) for a better system but see no evidence that , particularly in times of conflicts, that women will be a much kinder alternative. A little bit like democracy which needs to be continually massaged.

  • 25
    Pusscat
    Posted Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Very well noted, Harry Rogers, and you are absolutely right that patriarchy and matriarchy are equally likely to lead to bad, bad outcomes for both males and females.
    In one sense, in that they are both inflexible hierarchies and thus cannot accommodate the absolute individual uniqueness of each one of us 7.1 billion Citizens of Planet Earth, there is no difference at all between Pat and Mat.
    For this Anglican Christian Feminist at least, the goal is to progressively drop the social systemisation (because it dehumanises both Us and Them equally) and get down to a bit more respectful person-to-person mutual help and support and encouragement.
    After all, we sure didn’t make this little blue dot we’re sharing, but the fact that we are, in fact, all here sharing it briefly just does seem to make some people wonder a bit, if they choose to consider it a little.
    I venture to surmise that that viewpoint may be informing part of what Ms Party Monster’s been saying about the social welfare agenda of the Salvos, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and their numerous ilk.
    And of course, perhaps there’s much more besides.

  • 26
    @chrispydog
    Posted Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Power goes to the blokes, and the more caring, or feminine side of Christianity if you will, gets to mop up. But what truly perplexes me is why so many women are enablers to these power structures: from utter subservience to offering their own children to the service of men who abused them. Why do some women want to be Catholic priests? It’s the incongruity of a doctor being a mass murderer in my mind, because the real message is not kindness and love, but male power, as the recent revelations of the covering up of the abuse of children proves.

    Marx called it ‘false consciousness’; so do I.

  • 27
    Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay
    Posted Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Pensions started in Australia in the early 1900’s (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/94713ad445ff1425ca25682000192af2/8e72c4526a94aaedca2569de00296978!OpenDocument)
    I have no problem with your argument that social welfare was church based until then, my point is that it was an abject failure leading to the welfare state. I’m well aware that the 18th century wasn’t Sovereign Hill - that’s the point.
    I agree with you on the Outsourcing issue, among other things it making food, shelter and medical care a charity rather than a right and it also helps the government to keep down costs by paying the people who are employed by welfare agencies much less than they are worth, and Anglicare is guilty here http://www.smh.com.au/business/employers-oppose-equal-pay-push-in-welfare-sector-20100609-xwxf.html.

  • 28
    Serenatopia
    Posted Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

    Thank you everyone for your insights. Ultimately labels and generalisations are not going to reveal the solution. There are many honorable people working for good in Christian or religious institutions — -but there are probably as many working to manipulate these power structures for their filthy advantage — -is an atheist feminist leader going to be more honorable or moral than a Catholic Shoppie leader? These labels are meaningless…give them context ie Gillard vs Rudd and you will immediately understand how meaningless they are — -is an African American feminist woman in leadership going to be less war-mongering than a baby boomer catholic Anglo Saxon white male? Just take a look at Condi.Rice? As Harry Rogers stated — -these are irrelevant categorisations !

  • 29
    Pointy Hatted Party Monster
    Posted Thursday, 4 July 2013 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    @ Shaniq’ua Shardonn’ay

    Government pensions are not the sum total of social welfare. Giving people money is not the same as attending to their quality of life, although it makes a difference compared to not giving them money.

    If you’re going to keep flogging the welfare state horse, consider that the first theories with any prospect of being put into effect emerged in response to the Great Depression. The welfare state as we understand it is a product of the post-1945 reconstruction of Britain, overseen by J.M. Keynes. Since the late-1970s that system has gradually been dismantled by conservative governments, all on regressive ideological grounds.

    Church-based agencies were the only effective social welfare operation up to and well beyond 1945. Since they’re still functioning and there’s no signs of decline in the need for them and most agencies are expanding, how have they proved ineffectual? Evidence, please.

    And if you’re going to drag abuse into the discussion, well, some of us are quite a bit ahead of you on that one. Roll on the Royal Commission, I say, and not a moment too soon. You’ll probably discover that the Anglican Church is the only religious institution in the country to have taken the issue seriously enough to be proactive in a meaningful way. If you want a rundown of what’s happening in Victoria, look here and compare along denominational and sectarian lines: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/fcdc/article/1786

    RE the wages case you’ve cited. I happen to know some of the people involved in it. Outsourcing is the basic problem here. It’s not as if you’d go into running a welfare agency for the executive perks and bonuses, even if ‘business’ is booming. It is a problem when the agency workers are not far from the breadline they’re meant to be staffing, but would you really prefer the work wasn’t done because of one wages dispute?

    Church-based welfare work is not a matter of past history as you’re trying to make out. It is a highly-contested part of the present, and I would suggest that it is one of the last bastions of real critique of the policy distortions wrought by the sorts of deliberately stupid economic ideology that dominates our collective political thinking right now. If you doubt what I say, then you’ll have to book your Sunday brunch table in that swanky cafe for an hour or two later than usual. I can find a couple of hundred people you might want to meet.

    I’m still waiting to see you walk on water, feed 5,000, raise the dead, and heal someone with your shadow.

    Oh, and patriarchy is still the problem.

  • 30
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Friday, 5 July 2013 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Serenatopia and Pusscat,

    I feel obliged to respond just to acknowledge both your intelligent and mature comments. Keep up the good work because unless there is logical debate on these issues instead of personal dogmas there will be no progress.

    I find in too many discussions these days people seem to satisfy their internal angst by “spraying” blame in any direction with no discipline on themselves to enquire and educate.

  • 31
    Blueblood
    Posted Friday, 5 July 2013 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    @PHPM, it’s worth remembering that not being religious was, and in many places still is, to place yourself on the outer edges of society, so it’s not surprising that welfare remained under the umbrella of religious groups for so long.

    The Smith Family is an Australian, independent non-profit children’s charity which was established in 1922, which I do realise is twentieth century and therefore does not fit the boundaries of your challenge, but there it is.

  • 32
    Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay
    Posted Friday, 5 July 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    @Pointy Hatted Party Monster: “And if you’re going to drag abuse into the discussion”
    Where did I mention abuse?

  • 33
    Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay
    Posted Friday, 5 July 2013 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    Church welfare organisations functioning is not a measure of their effectiveness.
    Results are.
    The Welfare state has done a much better job of feeding and housing the needy than church based organisations ever did.
    Yes I know you do things apart from ‘giving people money’. I know several people who work in counselling for church based organisations. I also know many who have used those services. I still don’t think they are as important as basic food and shelter - which the welfare state managed to provide for the majority of Australians where Church based organisations failed.
    And yes maybe the people who work in welfare should go on strike rather than accepting the wages they do. It’s the reason so many of them leave the business and the reason I would never do it for a living.

  • 34
    Posted Saturday, 6 July 2013 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    It was predictable-in retrospect that males could say what they liked about women. When Christianity, Judaism and Islam kicked off women hadn’t been taught to read. Interestingly, few men had been educated either. This makes it odd that there were so many men who suddenly did become literate when their god handed down rules to follow. Overnight they were able to interpret and write down his words???!!!

    There was a very interesting doco on Channel two which made a point that prior to the emergence of the desert religions, many countries believed that women were the natural leaders. (I admit to no further research on this subject.)

    A common cry amongst the religionists is that…”Where would the world of art have been without the great paintings of Michelangelo - ditto sculpture and architecture, and the painters of the Renaissance whose work drew upon the Bible?” The answer is amazingly simple. Great artists will come to the fore no matter what the subject matter. BTW great Islamic art is glorious, despite
    the taboo on human depiction.

    The devout are always pointing out the great charitable work done by the various religious charities. Of course, they do-by using the taxpayers’ money to support them; their buildings, and educating their brain-washed children.

    In all, Jane has a more than valid point when she lauds feminism. It started off from a minus two-thousand percent base line, just for a start.

  • 35
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Sunday, 7 July 2013 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    I think people seriously miss the point about religion no matter what the faith.

    Religion is created by the people as a need. The state and the churches developed to fill that need. They each told a different story…Christ, Buddha, Allah etc .

    The absurdity of life demands that 95 % of people need something to hang their hat on be it fables or after life re assurance. Those that condemn religion don’t really understand the human condition.

    The atrocities in life are committed by people ..not religion or governments. Just as men and women continue to societally evolve their attitudes change and with each new generation. Some for the benefit of mankind ..some for the detriment. It seems you only have to look in the mirror to understand history.

  • 36
    Serenatopia
    Posted Monday, 8 July 2013 at 1:07 am | Permalink

    Beautifully expressed Harry Rogers — -the need to worship and glorify something greater than yourself is what legitimises and sustains religion — -those in power understand that and have used religion including nationalism and secularism to distract and divide the masses — -religion is merely a tool — -in itself it is an intangible phenomena and cannot create wars and destruction…people are the war-mongers, not abstract ideologies…

  • 37
    Harry Rogers
    Posted Monday, 8 July 2013 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    OK Serentopia I’m stuck with the human condition of flattery..false I hope not.

    Thank you for your comments.

    I’m hoping for another word in the scheme of things other than the divisive word “religion”.

    I feel particularly a need to counter points on this subject purely from the need to reassure other “quiet” readers and commentators that there are real people alive and well out there who on a day to day basis who have no need for Trumpet blowing ideologies or personal angst driven catharsis to express their own genuine points of views.

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