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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 21 June 2012

The Secret Story of Women, Religion and Civilization

While couched in the perspective of Christianity, this article (and the editor’s response) speaks to a much broader theme that we see reflected across religions, politics and culture.

The lines drawn here are between:

- individual freedom (without responsibility) vs. mutual respect

- staunch traditionalism in the face of social change (people in the centre/left might associate progress with moving forward, but for the right it’s synonymous with an erosion of traditional values) against progress

- the all-too-human ability to interpret phrases or edicts through our own preferential lenses vs. the way things truly are beneath perception

Christ, of course, was a progressive (as depicted in the New Testament); he’d have been pretty pissed off with much of what was done in his name (I intentionally avoid caps for “he” and “him” – don’t think he’d have approved of that, either).  Just as Islamism cherry-picks from the Koran to justify spousal abuse and violence that are rooted in cultures that predate Islam, Christ gets used as an excuse in a way that would be pretty hard to justify at the Pearly Gates, if you believe in heaven.

On the other hand, when you strip away the dogma of religion, culture and tradition, there is another interesting connection that materializes.

In “traditional” societies where males are dominant, women do much of the labour.  The men conserve energy, look tough, mate and compete with other males.  The goal is to be the guy the women want to mate with, put on a display and have those women come to you.  Responsibility isn’t the issue – only carrying on one’s genes is.

This is quite a common theme throughout the natural world, with lions being a nice, visual example.  Lion males don’t hunt, don’t rear – they can’t afford to expend the energy.  All that energy needs to be saved for strenuous competition with other males and the maintenance of displays of threat or prominence, like the peacock’s tail or a pretty car.

In “traditional” societies – human and otherwise – women/females are responsible for food, child-rearing, etc.  They don’t have time for much else.  It’s also not uncommon for women to collaborate on these inherited chores in collectives.  One has to wonder if the Taliban could have been born anywhere other than a heavily mountainous terrain that discourages broader social development and reinforces tribal organization.

Now, go back to humans for a bit.  What happens in marginalized communities where there are mothers with kids of dead-beat dads?  What do those dads do with their time?  I’ve been around the world and have seen a common theme in slums and ghettos from Morocco to Bolivia to Toronto – mothers with multiple children, sometimes from multiple males, living in squalor conjointly and trying to work together to bring their kids up well while the dads are at coffee shops or popping caps into each other.  A generalization, to be sure, but one I’ve seen enough to feel comfortable in making.

Now, take a look at broader demographics trends – where women are denied access to education and opportunity, society remains “traditional” or rather, tribal; male-dominated, violent, greater populations but less quality-of-life and shorter life spans. 

On the other hand, where women have a greater role in society, we see progress – greater education for all, greater development, more collective security, opportunity and above all else, shared responsibility that surpasses gender barriers.

With that in mind, take a fresh look at fundamentalist Christians who want women to be in the home, espouse “traditional” values and look disparagingly on equality and opportunity as “godless” and divergent traditions as pagan.  Look at al Qadea, aiming to feudalize society and marginalize women.  None of that really has anything to do with religion – in fact, religion as a concept has been a key development allowing us to embrace progress.  These behaviours, these trends are really about biology, a kind of social evolutionary laziness.

It’s a laziness that’s in vein, too – the larger populations get, the more pressure gets put on those populations to have order and structure to avoid epidemics and systematic violence.  It’s marginalized groups, particularly women, that see emerging problems and fight for the right to be part of the solution.  Which brings up another interesting phenomenon – the role of female figures in religion.  The concept of an earth-mother is not an uncommon one.  Archaeological evidence supports the notion that even Yahweh was originally depicted as having a consort, Asherah.  There’s a whole untold story behind faith, religion and the evolution of society just itching to be told.    

Religions allow people to collect behind an idea that is bigger than themselves.  That feeling of “being connected” actually triggers a neuro-chemical response – if you’ve ever had a “eureka” moment, you’ve felt those neurotransmitters at work. These interpersonal (and inter-synaptic) collaborations allow people to develop solutions to the problems that emerge from cohabitation; solutions like shared infrastructure, waste disposal and health care – all things that are pretty complex and therefore require specialization.    Technology allows us to scale up the Maslow hierarchy, as does aesthetics, music, etc.

Far from being a threat to social cohesion, the empowerment of women is what allows society to flourish.  But we already knew that, didn’t we?

1 comment:

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