Chapter 15 - Why is God so sexist?

If you are a Christian woman, then in this chapter I would like to talk with you directly and openly about God. And let me get right to the point. When we look at the Bible -- God's Word -- God seems to have a major problem with women.

The dictionary defines a misogynist as "One who hates women." [ref] It defines the word "sexist" as:

  1. Discrimination based on gender, especially discrimination against women.
  2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender
Do you, as a woman, think of God as sexist, or as a misogynist? Probably not -- why would a Christian woman worship God if he were obviously a sexist? When we think of God, we generally do not think of him as hating anyone. Under the Standard Model of God, we think of God as an all-knowing and all-loving father. We think of him as being fair. We think of God as loving each person equally, regardless of any distinction like skin color or gender.

Yet, strangely, we find that God treats women quite differently than he treats men. For example, we find this in 1 Corinthians chapter 14:

    As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
This seems like a straightforward passage. And God is the one who inspired the Bible. In Isaiah 40:8 God says that the word of the Lord will last forever, and he says the same thing again in 1 Peter 1:24-25. So here we have God, in his eternal and everlasting Word, saying that it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Key Point

In the New Testament of the Bible -- God's holy word to his creation -- it says that it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. In 1 Timothy chapter 2 it says, "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent."
Why would God personally create man and woman in his own image, and then silence the women? What possible reason does an all-loving, all-knowing God have to be sexist?

Even more interesting is this question: why would you, as a woman, worship a God who acts like this?

The breadth of God's sexism

There are many places in the Bible where God talks about women. This quote from 1 Corinthians 11, for example, is odd:

    But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head--it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head, because of the angels.
What, exactly, is God saying there? You may find it hard to believe that something that confusing is in the Bible, yet if you look it up you will find it is there.

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Then there is this section from 1 Timothy chapter 2:

    Also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.
It is hard to miss God's meaning when he says something as direct as, "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent." (see chapter 12)

If you think about it, you will realize that God started this type of sexism at the very beginning of the Bible. In Genesis chapter 17 God says:

    This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.
God makes no mention of forming any sort of covenant with women.

There are many other examples that we can find in the Bible:

  • In Matthew 25:1 Jesus says: "At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom."

  • In John 20:17 Jesus says to Mary: "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father," as though the touch of a woman is somehow improper, but a few verses later, is happy to have Thomas touch him.

  • In Genesis chapter 3, God punishes Eve, and all women for thousands of years, with greatly increased pain during childbirth. No such pain is inflicted on Adam.

  • In Deuteronomy 22:28-29 we find this: "If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives." So, what God is saying is if you are a man, and you rape a girl, she gets to be your wife. Very nice.

  • In Ephesians 5:22-24 we find this: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

  • In 1 Peter 3:7 we find: "Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers."

  • In 1 John 2:13, John says, "I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father." No mention is made of women.

  • In Numbers 31:14-18 we find: "Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. "Have you allowed all the women to live?" he asked them. "They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD's people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man." Making sex slaves of women apparently is God's will.

  • And so on. There are many, many examples like these throughout the old and new testaments.
There are other, broader examples of misogyny that are readily apparent in the Bible:
  • Are any of Jesus' disciples women? No.
  • Are any of the elders in the book of Revelation women? No.
  • Are any of the books of the Bible written by women? No.
  • Etc...
God, it would seem, wants nothing to do with women.

The modern rejection of God's misogyny

How do you, as a woman, feel about all of this sexism?

Keep in mind that God's misogyny as portrayed in the Bible has affected society for centuries. The United States constitution, for example, was originally drafted to specifically deny rights to women. Women could not even vote in the United States until 1920, and only then after decades of battle in the women's suffrage movement.

If you think about it, you will realize that something else is odd. In spite of the Bible and its far-reaching effects, and in spite of the fact that the Bible is supposed to be God's eternal Word, modern human beings have advanced well beyond the Bible's teachings. In fact, we totally reject God's sexism. Modern human beings completely ignore God:

  • We make women the CEOs of major corporations.
  • We elect women to high government offices.
  • We appoint women as presidents of universities.
  • We fill our schools with female teachers.
  • We allow women to speak freely in church.
We do all of this in direct defiance of God's Law in the Bible because we know God and his eternal word is wrong.

Why do we completely defy the Bible like this? Why do you, as a woman, reject God's Word when it comes to sexism? I would offer this possibility: We do it because the Bible's attitude toward women is completely irrational. There is no rational reason for women and men to be treated in any way other than equally, and modern, intelligent human beings know that with complete certainty. Therefore, we have to reject what God says in the Bible.

Can you see the contradiction there? We are mere mortals, and we have told our all-powerful God that he is completely wrong.

The funny thing is, billions of Christians still worship God and claim that the Bible is the word of God. Women will happily stand up in church and proclaim how much they love God, in complete defiance of God's word. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will trumpet his support for the Ten Commandments, which come from the same book that tells women to shut up and be subservient (see Chapter 13 for details on Justice Scalia).

What is going on here?

Rationalizing misogyny

If you are an unbiased observer, you probably find this situation to be mystifying. There is not any room for misinterpretation when God says, "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission." Nor when God says, "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent." Why would God say that if he did not mean it? And why would Christians allow women to speak in church and teach in our schools given that God specifically forbids it?

A religious person might say, "God had to 'fit in' with the customs of the time." We discussed this argument in Chapter 13 when discussing slavery. What does your common sense tell you? If God -- the all-powerful creator of the universe and father of mankind -- wanted women treated equally, all that he had to do was set things in motion when he created Adam. Or God could have written a twelfth commandment that said, "Thou shalt treat men and women equally." God could portray men and women as equals throughout the Bible. Half of Jesus' apostles could have been women -- that would have made things utterly clear. If God wanted men and women to be equal, he would have made it happen.

You can think about it, and think some more. No matter how you slice it, the sexism is there, plain as day in the Bible. There is no ambiguity. We are forced to conclude God is an all-powerful misogynist, are we not?

In chapter 17 we will discuss the following comment in detail, but it is important to introduce it here: if God is going to take the time to write and publish "the Word of God," why does the book contain so many problems?

  • Why isn't each page of the Bible astonishing us with its brilliance and insight, and filling us with wonder?
  • Why, instead, does the Bible contain so much nonsense or, in this case, bigotry?
  • Why are Christians constantly having to justify, rationalize, excuse and explain the Bible? In this case, we find modern Christians trying to defend a God who obviously dislikes women on many different levels.
  • Why didn't God understand how he would look to intelligent human beings in the twenty first century, and get it right when he wrote the Bible? The fact is that we are forced to completely ignore God when he says, "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent." No one believes that, most especially the 50% of the population who are female.

Key Point

To any unbiased observer, the reason for rampant sexism in the Bible is very easy to understand: The Bible was not written by God. It was written by primitive men who were flagrant sexists. Just look at how men in primitive countries like Afghanistan treat women today. Those are the kind of men who wrote the Bible. God had nothing to do with this book.
If you are a Christian, I would ask you to consider the two possible ways to explain the sexism that we are seeing in the Bible:
  • You can assume that God actually did write the Bible and truly is sexist and misogynistic. In that case we are directly defying God's word today by allowing women to be equal to men.

  • Or you can assume that God had nothing to do with the Bible. In that case, the Bible is meaningless and we can discard it, as discussed in Chapter 13.

Drawing a simple conclusion

To any unbiased observer, the reason for sexism in the Bible is very easy to understand: The Bible was not written by God. It was written by primitive men who were flagrant sexists. Just look at how men in primitive countries like Afghanistan treat women today. Those are the kind of men who wrote the Bible.

And we all know it -- Christians and non-Christians alike. The reason why modern societies (including most Christians living in those societies) completely reject sexism is because we all know that the Bible's sexism is wrong. It is exactly the same situation we see when Christians face slavery and animal sacrifice in the Bible. Christians and non-Christians alike reject the Bible's teachings in these areas because the Bible is obviously wrong. The part that is profoundly strange is that, while completely rejecting these parts of the Bible, Chistians will claim that other parts of the Bible are God's word. They seem to be blind to the obvious contradiction.

At some point, Christians have to accept the evidence that we all can see: Either God wrote the Bible, or he did not. If he did, then he is wrong, and we should reject the Bible and him. If he did not, then we should reject the Bible.

This fact should now be apparent to every woman, and to any rational man.

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by Marshall Brain

New York Times Coverage
discussed in a
New York Times piece
by N. D. Kristof.
For a counter-point to Mr. Kristof, please see
Chapter 26.

Recommendation by Sam Harris
Sam Harris recommends WWGHA in his book Letter to a Christian Nation.

Endorsement by Richard Dawkins
In a New York Times Letter, Richard Dawkins calls WWGHA a "splendid Web site."

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