Do women hate god?

Kristin Aune brings the good news. She and a colleague surveyed “nearly 1,300 British feminists” and guess what?

The results show that, when compared with the general female population, feminists are much less likely to be religious, but a little more likely to be interested in alternative or non-institutional kinds of spirituality.

That’s a relief, isn’t it? Much less likely to be religious but oh whew, a little more likely to be “spiritual.” At least they’re not all hopelessly atheistic and bad.

[Pat] Robertson was worried that feminism was challenging traditional Christian values – at least, values he considered Christian. Many liberals and feminists, concerned about the rise of fundamentalism and its erosion of women’s rights, conclude similarly that feminism and religion have little in common. As Cath Elliott put it:

Whether it’s one of the world’s major faiths or an off-the-wall cult, religion means one thing and one thing only for those women unfortunate enough to get caught up in it: oppression. It’s the patriarchy made manifest, male-dominated, set up by men to protect and perpetuate their power.

Well said. At least I think so, but Aune doesn’t.

Sidestepping the arguments about whether or not religion is irredeemably oppressive to women (Christina Odone has refuted Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom’s recent claim that it is), it’s important to ask why feminists think like this.

Yes but before we do that, let’s pause over that claim about Odone. Did she refute our claim (we didn’t make that claim, in fact, but it’s perhaps close enough)? No; she disagreed with some of it, but that’s not refuting it. Besides, Odone of course was reviewing our book from the point of view of a dogmatic Catholic, which is no doubt why the Observer wanted her to be the one to review it. She was never going to agree with most of it, was she.

Second, feminism’s intellectual public voice has largely been a secular one. As the philosopher Rosi Braidotti has argued, European feminists are heirs to the Enlightenment rationalistic critique of religion, and socialist feminism (with its dismissal of religion) was one of the major strands of British feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s. Even today, feminist academics tend to dismiss religion as unimportant and not worth of studying. It is likely that this secularism has influenced today’s feminists, perhaps without them noticing. (Whether this secularism has much to offer the millions of women who are, by socialisation or choice, religious, is a prescient issue that is being raised especially by postcolonial critics.)

Yes, postcolonial critics, who see (or claim to see) universal rights and egalitarianism as a narsty colonialist plot. I’ll stick with the Enlightenment “rationalistic” critique of religion.

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