A kind reader, by which I mean Norm Geras, emailed me to point out this absurd piece by Mary Kenny in the Guardian. Norm has already made some pointed comments about it, so I’ll try not to go over the same bit of ground. But there’s really quite a lot to say, because there’s quite a lot wrong with the piece (and the pervasive way of thinking it typifies), so I think I’ll manage to find a few words.
But first I’ll point out one of Norm’s most amusing remarks, in reply to Kenny’s utterly ridiculous ‘Faith is a feminine thing.’
I have some questions here. First, how does Kenny know that faith is feminine? She doesn’t say. But I can think of a few counter-examples: the Pope, Desmond Tutu and a Jehovah’s Witness I once made the mistake of inviting through my front door for a chat. I’m compiling a more comprehensive list but won’t be able to post it till… I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Yeah, it does take some brain-cudgelling, doesn’t it. Hmm, hmm, let’s see, male-type people in the religion game. The Pope? Oh, Norm already said that. Umm – gosh this is hard – oh, how about the Archbishop of Canterbury? Yes, that’s one. Err – that guy on Oxford Street with the ‘End is Nigh’ sign? Is he still there?
So anyway. More seriously.
They want to give their children values. And they quite often feel a stirring of these transcendent values themselves, at about the same time…If you don’t believe me, look at the evidence, and visit a church, chapel or synagogue on a day of worship: you will find that at least two-thirds of the worshippers present are women, and 90% of these are mothers.
How the hell does she know what percentage of the women she sees in various random (note indirect article: a church, not my church, or St. Boniface-on-the-Green’s church, but any old church) religious gathering places, are mothers? Eh? Do they wear badges? Are they marked in some way? Or is she just extrapolating from statistics on what percentage of women are mothers. But that’s not safe – in fact it’s question-begging. For all she knows all the women in those religious gathering places are not mothers, and have come in either to rejoice at their freedom or to pray for conception. She doesn’t get to assume that 90% of any given gathering of women consists of mothers and then tell us ‘See? Look at all the mothers!’
But of course I also wanted to quote the stark nonsense about ‘transcendent values’ even though Norm already has. Note the quick assumption that values are ‘transcendent’ values, and also that church or synagogue attendance has some obvious connection with wanting to give children ‘values.’ And then yawn violently and think about something else.
Then there’s this absurdity:
It is a fairly well-kept secret that feminism originally arose among religious women in the 19th century: from Hannah More and Josephine Butler in Britain to Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the US, feminism was an offshoot of evangelical Christianity, and that spiritual energy still hovers.
How could it possibly be a secret? Were there a great many atheists in the 19th century? Especially among women? (No, I’m not making Kenny’s point for her. The rarity of atheism among women in the 19th [as well as earlier] centuries is a contingent historical fact, not nonsense about the inherent ‘spirituality’ of women.) Of course feminism arose among (mostly) religious women in the 19th century – what other kind of women would it arise among? All those emancipated intellectual women living in their own book-lined flats in London and New York? News flash – there weren’t a lot of women like that in the 19th century. Naturally most 19th century feminist women were religious. It doesn’t follow that they have to go on being now.
For many women, perhaps even most women, some form of religious sensibility is what gets them through the night, and helps them lead the examined life, too.
Possibly. And possibly the same is true of many, perhaps even most men, too. So what? People can always learn to lead the examined life in a secular manner, after all. People change – even women do.