From Mimi and Eunice.
In pointing out Christianity specifically, I do not wish to protect any other religion. I do think most religions are elitist, and insofar as a religion is defined as worship of God, all religions are fundamentally elitist by definition.
The patriarchal nature of religion is well understood and a lot has already been said on that particular topic. What I want to do here is go beyond that conclusion and look at the fact that religion is inextricably bound to hierarchy and acts as a major vector of its propagation.
Whenever I talk about a topic like this, I get some benign fans of religion comment that I’m misrepresenting Christianity and that it’s really a religion of peace and understanding, that Christianity is not hierarchical at all, and that in fact Christianity is radically egalitarian because it’s all about “loving one another,” the Golden Rule, or things like that. They read the Bible very, very, very selectively.
Now, I have nothing against people who want to believe in such claptrap. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong about loving one another or the Golden Rule (although the Golden Rule is ultimately a support of the status quo). There are always religious people on both sides of any issue, including the good side, because holy texts can be made to support one’s personal position no matter what it is. But by whitewashing Christianity, they are thereby whitewashing the hatred for homosexuals, children, women, POC and Jews supported by the Bible. Liberal pick-and-choosers act as a defensive screen for the conservative hate-mongering bigots.
It has been a common observation that religion bolsters existing power structures. There are many possible reasons for that. Clearly a religion will spread much more readily if it is supported by the power structures in place (e.g. Christianity and the Holy Roman Empire).
But equally importantly, religion has probably always been a tool of cultural identity and social cohesion, therefore it must be conservative in the cultural sense (that is to say, it must always be reactionary in nature in order to fulfill the role of cultural identity). In Western cultures, where extreme power disparity has existed for a long time, this means that religions must support hierarchical thinking. In other cultures, which were more egalitarian before they were colonized or converted, traditional values may be less hierarchical, but this is not the case for Europeans.
So for us, religion is primarily a hierarchy-building and hierarchy-justifying enterprise. But because holy texts can be used to justify anything, they have also been used to justify various forms of egalitarianism; most important in this regard has been the belief that, thanks to Christianity’s innovative universality, salvation is available to all regardless of sex or race. But, and here’s the rub, salvation itself is not actually universal, only access to salvation, which means that anyone who is not Christian is still an enemy. And the demonic is beyond even access to salvation, so any group of people labeled as demonic is automatically excluded from salvation.
But these meager scraps of egalitarianism thrown to us as a consolation prize still exist within a context of universal power. We are only equal insofar as we are all subservient to God, creations of God, and made equal according to God’s plan. When God’s plan states, or is interpreted as stating that certain people (children, women, Jews, black people) deserve a lower place in the social hierarchy, then the egalitarianism goes out the window.
Equality must always give its seat over to the elitism of God-belief. It remains, as everything else in Christian “morality,” relative and conditional. God is the source of salvation, God is the judge, jury and executioner, God sends you to Hell (regardless of Christians’ delusions on that subject). Consider for example this statement from Christians For Biblical Equality:
We believe in the equality and essential dignity of men and women of all ethnicities, ages, and classes. We recognize that all persons are made in the image of God and are to reflect that image in the community of believers, in the home, and in society.
The first sentence makes no mention of the “biblical” aspect of this “biblical equality,” but the second sentence gives the game up: “biblical equality” can only be “biblical” by first acknowledging God as the ultimate cause and absolute standard, of which we are only a pale reflection. “Biblical equality” hides God as a jack-in-the-box behind its pretenses of “equality.”
Christians ignorant of history like to make ridiculous claims that Christianity eliminated slavery or that Jesus was pro-women. Given how much slavery there is in the Bible, and how slavery is not denounced anywhere in the Bible, and how slavery, you know, still exists even in Christian countries, the first claim is rather silly.
As for the second point, well, it’s interesting to note how badly Jesus talked to his own mother, treating her little better than a dog. While he gave lip service to loving your neighbor, Jesus, everyone’s favourite empty cypher or vanity mirror, never spoke up against any hierarchy, notably including slavery.
The Bible was a hierarchy manual and has been used as such for centuries. The us v them mentality has always been part of Christianity, because Christianity divides people in two categories, saved and unsaved, orthodox and heretic, good and evil.
All the major hierarchies are represented in the Bible: Patriarchy (under the guise of “complementarism” and the otherization of female biology as “unclean”), heteronormativity (promoting the death penalty for homosexuals), childism (promoting violence against children, including the death penalty), anti-environmentalism (stating that nature is the property of humans), natalism (be fruitful and multiply), statism (Romans 13), and so on.
What is the message that religious fanatics feed to their children? That they should live in fear: fear of God, fear of sin, fear of Hell. Whether you like it or not, religion is used to keep children in line, even by theetie-wheetie liberals (and yes, even atheists sometimes send their children to church in the hopes the fear will rub off!). Fear has always been a tool used to keep people in line.