Once upon a time, I was reviewing the individual entries in the Australian Book of Atheism. After I discovered that the essays were just making me grumpy due to the poor reasoning, wild assertions, and general awfulness of the tone, I gave up writing all these down. But I still have my notes. Oh, yes. I still have my notes…
The latest in Australia’s pop-religious discussion is For God’s Sake — a ‘debate in book form’. The book has four authors, one of whom wrote an entry in The Australian Book of Atheism, Jane Caro. I’m no stranger to criticising Caro. One of my biggest complaints is her presentation as an academic expert in the public education debate.
My criticism of her article in The Australian Book of Atheism, however, was so scathing that I refrained from uploading it to this blog. As was fairly evident, I wasn’t the intended audience for the book in general. Despite being an atheist and interested in the history of atheism, this was a book for the happy-clapper atheist. The sort of atheist who happily repeats everything they’ve heard that conforms with their prejudices, biases, and intuitions. The sort of atheist who describes religion as the source of all social evils in the world in one breath, then ignorantly attacks Islam and its adherents in the second.
But reading Caro’s contribution to For God’s Sake made me remember the horribleness of her entry in The Australian Book of Atheism. It seems obvious that terrible things happen when intelligent people say nothing.
Caro’s entry, Why Gods are Man-made, is definitely written in English. Nearly every word is placed competently into an appropriate sentence structure and the paragraphs aren’t too long.
That’s pretty much where the positives of this atrociously ridiculous and ridiculously atrocious article end. Over twelve pages, we will explore Caro’s intuitions about religion — despite her admitting in the opening paragraphs that she has no background with the subject matter. Hers is the Andrew Bolt method of analysis: ‘I read some shocking — shocking! — things in the newspaper about these Muslimians, I tell you! There should be a law against it!’
Caro’s point of interest is feminist interpretation of religion. It’s quickly apparent that hers is a feminism devoid of theory, and anachronistic comments run rampant throughout her ‘analysis’. The most extreme examples of religion are presented to the reader as examples of the mainstream. Although the erotic nature of heaven is relevant to many Muslims, it is presented to the reader as peculiar to jihadists. Similarly, the victim-blaming views of Sheik Hilali are presented as mainstream Muslim views. Victim-blaming views which are prevalent outside religious frameworks is not considered for analysis.
For all its weird assertions, there are only eleven footnotes in this article. Ten if you don’t include the footnote that says the article was cribbed from one of her books (published by UNSW Press, of all things). Seven if you don’t include television shows. Five if you don’t include the references to newspapers. And one of those five is a reference to the Bible.
In other words, it’s a poorly researched piece of rubbish.
The opening four paragraphs outline Caro’s complete lack of ability to discuss the issue she is about to discuss. ‘I regard religions rather the way non-Americans regard gridiron football. I am well aware that it raises enormous excitement and passion among believers, but for the life of me I can’t see what the fuss is about.’ Well it’s a good thing you’re writing an article about the intersection of religion and feminism then, isn’t it?
‘Perhaps it is my unusual position of relatively dispassionate observer that gives me such a sense of certainty about religions being man-made. For me, the evidence for this is entirely obvious. Why else would all these Gods [sic] have such uniformly misogynistic and defensive attitudes towards women?’ she writes. Why indeed? Perhaps there might be an entire body of literature of feminist theology exploring this very topic? Maybe it might be that the expression of the religious belief is shaped by the cultural attitudes of the day?
Caro isn’t interested in any of the existing body of literature. Armed with what seems ‘entirely obvious’ to her, she charges on headfirst into a exegesis of Genesis which, she claims, ‘seems particularly revealing about the unconscious unease men feel in the face of female reproductive power.’ Caro then cites Genesis 2:21-23 which doesn’t explore reproductive power at all. In the next paragraph, we realise that Caro has cut and pasted the wrong part of Genesis. She intends to discuss the Fall — ‘they compound the felony by blaming the other (woman) for their fate, condemned to live in the cruel and brutal reality of the world’ — but that’s all the way in Genesis 3 and Caro has no intention of reading that far into the Bible.
This basic ignorance festers like a weeping sore throughout the next section of her article. For those of us who have read the Bible, we of course remember that the relevant tree in the Garden of Eden was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Caro skips the ‘of Good and Evil’ part.
[E]ven the curse that the Christian God is supposed to have inflicted upon woman because she dared to eat from the Tree of Knowledge — say what? To the non-believer, that this could be a sin is just weird — is extremely convenient for the men relating the story.
Caro belongs to that school of atheistic thought that knowing what you’re talking about is entirely optional when it comes to religion. Caro seems to think that knowledge simpliciter is presented as the sin, rather than the disobedience or the kind of knowledge. It turns out that this is just a flippant comment — one of hundreds in this article — and the conversation slides quickly into a discussion of female mortality rate throughout history. Caro then interprets the Fall as being a way for men to reconcile their enjoyment of sex with the pain and trauma of childbirth.
In modern psychology, I believe such a convenient sleight of hand is called ‘projection’.
What? No. That’s not called projection.
Caro claims that women’s life expectancy is ‘directly attributable to advances in the understanding and treatment of pregnancy, childbirth and, most importantly, contraception.’ The fact that advances in these areas were simultaneous with advances in other areas of medicine, of course, doesn’t get a mention. Caro’s armchair history of medicine ends with a kick: ‘Knowledge [of how to treat pregnancy, childbirth and, most importantly, contraception], incidentally, that male religious leaders were particularly keen to keep hidden.’
Which knowledge of how to treat pregnancy, childbirth, and contraception was kept hidden? Advances in contraceptives, at least, were only really made in the last hundred years or so, and Anglicans, for example, have been quite happy since the 1960s for people to use it. Caro seems to suggest that there was some conspiracy to keep hidden all the world’s knowledge on how to deliver a pregnancy safely. No evidence is cited to support this lunacy.
Caro moves quickly to an exploration of the Holy Trinity. The three persons of the godhead — Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit — miss the ‘logical third member of such a fundamental trinity, the Mother’.
A chimera — a spirit, a ghost with no physical reality at all — has filled the natural place for woman in the famous trio.
What the devil does ‘no physical reality at all’ mean here? Caro’s analysis is that the Holy Spirit was actually supposed to be the Mother, but it transformed into ‘the shifting shape of the miasma’ for some sort of reason related to infants having separation anxiety (no joke, that’s her argument). Most ordinary people would offer some evidence for this thesis. Are there any Biblical references to the Holy Spirit? Why, yes! Is there any possible way to read it as a mutated instance of a mother figure? Not a chance.
Perhaps Caro thinks that the Trinity was a theological concept prior to the Gospels and the references in the Gospel are actually part of some later tradition of substituting ‘Mothers’ with ‘Holy Spirits’? Truly, it is as batshit as it sounds.
No time for any analysis, Caro has moved on to a discussion of the Virgin Mary. The speed with which she moves between Biblical references is rather dizzying. Somewhat like a student who hasn’t read the set text for class and superficially skims through the bits they remember from the movie.
The miracle of Mary, once again, is that she is sexually pure, and that she gave birth to Jesus without experiencing the touch or lust of any man. Indeed, her creation of the Messiah is clearly the exact inverse of Adam’s creation of Eve.
Say what, say what, say what?
Eve is created from one of Adam’s ribs. Mary gives birth to Jesus without having sex first. How is one an inverse of the other? Do we even know what the word ‘inverse’ means?
And that’s it for the discussion of the Virgin Mary. Hell, there’s lots of feminist critique to be had here. Did you know that one of her titles is ‘theotokos’? It suggests that she was merely the carrier of Jesus rather than a parent in any meaningful sense. Masculine theological arguments even strip the Virgin Mary of the maternal connexion to her child. If only there were a feminist who was in the process of criticising theology for being masculinist… Oh, wait! That’s what Caro is supposed to be doing!
But, no. We are treated to weird, weird statements about Jesus being the inverse of Eve, and that Mary’s virginity is somehow superhuman. Don’t let Caro know that Jesus had brothers…
Given what we now know about what is commonly referred to as ‘grooming behaviour’ (a term that usually refers to the methods paedophiles use to reduce resistance and increase compliance in vulnerable children)…
Where the fuck is this sentence going? Seriously, we were just discussing Mary as having a superhuman virginity and now we’re in the murky territory of paedophilia.
… it is hard for a female atheist like me to see such Christian stories as anything other than a series of psychological blows designed to reduce the possibility of women resisting male emotional and sexual domination.
Why did we end up here via references to paedophilia? Honest to God, what the hell is it with pop-atheists and their pathological need to compare religion to paedophilia whenever they can? Fun fact: Dawkins thinks that religion is worse than paedophilia…
Like the damaged child who often both loves and protects her abuser…
Why the flying fuck are we back here?! Religion is nothing like paedophilia. Holy frijoles.
This is the demented style of Caro. Step one: cite the incorrect story from Genesis. Step two: make strange claims about the way the Holy Spirit usurped the Mother in the Trinity. Step three: claim that Mary’s virginity was a superpower. Step four: ??? Step five: PAEDOPHILES AND RELIGION AND RELIGION AND PAEDOPHILES.
The analysis is infantile. There is nothing linking the superficial ‘analyses’ of the religious mythology with this current paragraph where the reader’s senses are assailed with references to paedophilia. Fucking thing needs a trigger warning.
Fortunately, the next paragraph is here to save the day. Where shall we land in Caro’s rando-TARDIS this time? Oh! We’re at those dirty stinking Muslims.
I love the paradise that is offered to Islamic Jihad [sic] warriors and suicide bombers. Apparently, as martyrs for Allah, they will receive their reward in heaven by disporting themselves with 72 virgins.
I love the use of the word ‘apparently’. It suggests that Google was only installed on one computer in her house and it wasn’t the one on which Caro was currently typing. Three pages of this excruciating rubbish ago, Caro informed us that she’d be concentrating on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Clearly Muslims are either Jews or Christians in Caro’s world. At this point, who really cares? Caro’s probably run out of bits of the Bible that she knows from Christmas animations and so we’re on to supposed stories about those loltastic towel heads.
Caro’s analysis is a bunch of recycled jokes — one from Stephen Fry — about the 72 virgins in heaven. Are ‘Islamic Jihad warriors’ fighting a holy war for the poon? Caro seems to think so. Fuck socio-economic/historico-political reasons for things. LOLOLOLOL 72 virgins. Probably nuns. All whores. (Reference to ‘whores’ entirely Caro’s — that progressive feminist).
Honestly, if it weren’t so terrifying, such infantile and entirely one-eyed visions of the afterlife would be simply hilarious.
This is coming from a person who thinks ‘Islamic Jihad warrior’ is a thing. I hear those Catholic Jihad warriors are a sight to behold, but not nearly as fearsome as the Confucian Jihad warriors.
Of course, apart from what they reveal about the religious fantasists, they are irrelevant, given that no living person can actually know what the afterlife […] might be like.’
It’s impossible to know what the point of sentences like these are. ‘Oh, you thought I was going to do an analysis of the subject matter? Silly rabbit, the subject matter is irrelevant! Religion is a sham. Time to cash my cheque.’
Given that prophecy is totally a thing in the Bible — as is revelation — it seems that some living people might know what the afterlife is like.
If there really is a God, it just seems far too convenient to me that such a divinity would enable the powerful — virtually all of whom where men — to so comfortably exorcise their psychological demons via religious stories and rules.
Right. So if you were analysing this question seriously, your first question might be: ‘What can be said about the filtering of divine experience through the male experience?’ What you can’t say is: ‘Isn’t it convenient that religious answers turn up Milhouse for the men in society? Therefore, it’s a sham.’
Let’s compare this with science. If I pointed to all the examples of scientific theories which suggested that white males were somehow naturally superior to men and non-whites, would this give me a legitimate reason to dismiss science as a sham? Of course not. There’s cultural and social influences in science, just as there are in theology. Thus, I have to be clear about what I’m analysing at any given moment to make sure I’m not blaming X for a feature of Y.
The size of testicles and amount of sperm produced is nature’s way of giving the male its best chance of passing on his genes.
Without this innate biological imperative to pass on DNA to the future, how do we explain the fact that virtually all religious traditions reserve their harshest punishments for promiscuity or infidelity for women, while turning at the very least a blind eye to the much more frequent transgressions of men?
Uhhhhh… What? Are we in evolutionary psychology land all of a sudden?
If you believe in religions, gods of all kinds are entirely happy to see one half of humanity held in subjection to the other half.
I once fell asleep drunk in a friend’s bathtub. The friend had an infant sibling who had magnetic cut-outs of Miffy (who’s a weird cartoon rabbit thing) stuck to the walls of the bathtub. When I half awoke in drunken stupor, I freaked out due to the complete lack of sense these images were making. Caro has cunningly reproduced this feeling of disorientation with her writing style. Did you know she lectures in communication? And she writes like this! I know! So weird.
To a feminist like me, it is fascinating that witch-hunting reached fever pitch in the reign of James I.
Okay? I’m not even being mean. All of these quotes are about paragraph apart. Remember that old science fiction show, Sliders? They jumped through a portal and didn’t know where they’d end up next? That’s this essay.
Where will we end up next?!
Recently I attended the wedding of two sad young people who had fallen under the sway of what sounded to this atheist like an extremist Christian cult. I later found out that they were Baptists.
Why isn’t there a Jane Caro e-books account on Twitter?
We are now half the way through this train wreck and I have no idea what the message is. Women have had a shit run? Yes, yes they have. Religion has added to the shit heap? Sure. I’m still none the wiser as to why Caro thinks this is the case because she seems almost theory-phobic. There’s no analysis. It’s like a magpie has collected a sequence of banal paragraphs out of compulsion rather than out of purpose.
Women’s lives only began to improve when feminism emerged, thanks to the secular revolution of the Enlightenment.
It’s difficult to know where to begin with this sentence. What does it mean that women’s lives ‘only began to improve’ when feminism emerged? It is certainly true that feminism has improved the lives of women in the West, but women didn’t live in an unchanging stasis prior to the emergence of feminism. The status of women — just like the status of every other group that wasn’t ‘affluent white male’ — has been fluid throughout history. Indeed, feminism was only possible because women’s lives had improved to the point where feminism could flourish. Women becoming literate predated feminism, yet there was a point in history where literacy was an exclusively male event (for a given value of ‘literate’).
The Enlightenment was more about rational theology than about secularism (for reasons I’ve outlined elsewhere relating to problems conceptualising ‘secular). In the case of women and feminism, it could easily be argued that the emergence of ‘rationality’ as a measure of personhood created the space for feminism (and the anti-slavery movement). Caro doesn’t make it clear what she means by referencing the ‘secular revolution’ in relation to feminism.
Even as women’s march towards equal rights has gathered pace, at least in the West, the religious have variously continued to oppose higher education for women, higher status employment for women, their right to vote, their right to enter parliament, their right to their own earnings and property, their right to their own children after divorce or separation, their right to learn about their own bodies, their right to refuse sexual intercourse in marriage or agree to it before marriage, their right to divorce, contraception, abortion, and sexual information.
Sure, but what does this have to do with religion? Let’s wear a different hat. It turns out that ‘Pick Up Artists’ and Men’s Rights Activists are more likely to be atheists than theists. So it’s not just the religious who have opposed gender equality.
This isn’t meant as some kind of ‘tit-for-tat’ rebuttal. It’s meant seriously. If I start pointing to examples of where people with beards, for example, oppressed women, I would not be justified in claiming that possessing a beard entails being a misogynist. The same is true with religion. Caro is relying on her intuitions about religion to find examples of where religion has been the expression of female oppression. But this is not revealing whether or not it is religion that is causing the oppression. If we’re seeing the same sort of anti-feminist claptrap from the atheist crowd, it signals that there’s something deeper beyond the theist-atheist divide which is resulting in sexist attitudes.
But all this is too difficult for Caro, who’s jumped over to a discussion about Queen Victoria. Now we’re talking about developing countries denying the existence of rape within marriage (who knew that New South Wales was considered a developing country in 1980?!). Now we’re talking about Archbishop Hollingworth. Now we’re talking about Sheik Hilali.
Because why the fuck not?
In Islam, according to Sharia law, it is acceptable to cut off the hand of a thief, no matter how flagrantly the person who has been robbed was flaunting their wealth.
[W]henever I hear someone fulminating about sex and morality I automatically suspect them of being in denial about their own kinky sexual behaviour.
I’m glad to see this feminist critique of religion has been so very adult.
It is no coincidence that societies where women enjoy high levels of personal freedom are the richest and most stable in the world.
In Wikipedia’s lists of countries by GDP per capita, Qatar appears in the top three of all the listings. United Arab Emirates was listed in the top three of another. But let not the facts get in the way of Caro’s intuitions about the world. Caro claims that these countries are also the most secular…
Caro ends her article claiming that it would have been impossible in one chapter ‘to do justice to the price women have paid as a result of man-made religion.’ Given Caro’s ADHD mode of analysis, I believe that she would not be able to perform the task. Perhaps if the editors had asked a competent writer to provide a chapter, we might have seen the price women have paid as a result of religion.
It is the simple fact of the one-eyed nature of all the world’s religions that finally convinces me that all gods are man-made.
But Caro explicitly stated that she was going to focus on Judeo-Christian religion, so she hasn’t demonstrated the ‘one-eyed nature of all the world’s religions’. Throughout her ‘analysis’, she barely discussed religion. A few superficial references to stories half-remembered is not a demonstration that religions are one-eyed.
There is so much that is written on the subject of gender, feminism, and religion that it is inexcusable for Caro’s article to be this poorly researched. This is the atheist equivalent of the fundamentalist Christian claiming that bananas prove that the world is intelligently designed. It’s sitting in an arm chair and arrogantly deciding that all the relevant facts and analyses are immediately apparent to you. No work is needed. No research is needed. No thinking things through is needed. All that is needed in pop-religion is a good hard reckon.
And thus Caro concludes her article with yet another ignorant statement:
Even Buddhism, that last refuge of the fashionable Western mystic, has a different attitude to the female of the species. After all, why hasn’t the Dalai Lama ever been reincarnated as a girl?
Yes, why isn’t Guanyin a girl?
New Atheism sucks because all of its prominent writers are imbeciles.
- The Australian reviews “For God’s Sake” (antonyloewenstein.com)
- Back in the back of a Cadillac… Why do New Atheists hate Islam so much? #atheism (onlythesangfroid.wordpress.com)
- Sunday Brunch – Jane Caro (2/12/12) (blogs.abc.net.au)
- Doesn’t religion cause most of the conflict in the world? | The panel (guardian.co.uk)
- Reddit’s frontpage: goodbye atheism and politics, hello gifs and earthporn – Memeburn (atheistassessment.wordpress.com)
- Atheism: A Lack of a belief in God (inspiringchristians.wordpress.com)