Saturday, May 3, 2014

Wil Gafney on Rape Culture, Kidnapping of Nigerian Schoolgirls, and the Bible:" We Must Teach the Bible’s Iron Age Theology Because It Permeates Our Culture and Society"

I find Wil Gafney's approach to the kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls to force the girls into rape-marriage illuminating. Gafney's essay is at Religion Dispatches, and follows on the heels of one by Anthea Butler telling the story of the recent kidnapping of some 200 girls in Nigeria by the Islamic theocratic group Boko Haram, which Gafney cites.

Gafney's thesis:

The practice of rape marriage occurs in many cultures and while it is sanctioned by scriptures it actually reflects the antiquated beliefs and practices of many cultures.

As she notes, 

The concept of rape marriage is not unique to these villains or their perversion of Islam. The Jewish and Christian scriptures have their own rape texts. 

And so, 

We must tell the truth that what is biblical is not always godly, holy or even right. 
We must teach the bible’s Iron Age theology because it permeates our culture and society and we must reject that theology when it is death-dealing.  

Gafney concludes (and I find the conclusion powerful),

The objectification of women and girls as objects for rape and forced procreation is the manifestation of the rejection of their—our—humanity. It is older than the bible and the other scriptural texts it permeates. The scriptures are not the source of these ideas. Rejecting scripture or religion will not erase these treacherous ideologies from our midst. They permeate our culture in rape fantasies and the continued erosion and denial of the rights of girls and women to own and control our bodies. We must reject rape culture in all its forms, looking in all our houses, including houses of worship, sacred spaces and sacred texts. 

I call Gafney's argument illuminating. Here's why: it implicitly recognizes that the testimony of the Jewish and Christian scriptures is a very mixed bag, and that this testimony can either be used with liberating purpose to free the enslaved, or it can be used to drag us all back to the Iron Age. Everything depends on 1) who we permit to control the official declarations about what the scriptures mean, and 2) what we decide is central to the scriptures. 

Implicitly, Gafney is arguing, I think, that we live at a moment of human history in which powerful groups within many world religions — she focuses here on Islam, of course, and also Judaism and Christianity — are doing everything in their power to drag the official interpretation of the scriptures foundational to many world religions back to the Iron Age. They're doing so, in particular, in the area of gender.

Their intent is to write in stone — to hammer out with iron weapons — official interpretations of the scriptures that enforce the subordination of women to men, and which make male ownership of women an essential part of the divine plan for humankind. As Gafney rightly points out, there's a basis for these ideas, including the notion that rape and forced procreation are part of God's will for women, right in the Jewish and Christian scriptures themselves. One doesn't have to stretch, to move away from the bible, to find these ideas within the Jewish and Christian traditions, though those promoting their resurrection within various world religions today are deliberately seeking to obliterate centuries of development within various world religious that have chosen to discard the rape-glorifying texts and the misogynistic texts as departures from the central meaning of their holy texts.

We live at an exceptionally dangerous moment in the history of the religions of the world in which some groups are determined to obliterate those centuries of development and return the reading of the holy books of various world religions to the Iron Age. And while it may be easy for many of us to see that recrudescence of religiously sanctioned Iron Age ideas of the place of women in the world in movements like Boko Haram — to see it over there and far away — the challenge is to recognize how much power this same recrudescent movement has in our own culture, where many of us take for granted (because we're constantly bombarded with religious proclamations to this effect) that God intends women to submit to men, that homosexuality is an incomparably evil violation of the divine law, and that women have no right to equal wages or access to contraceptives in health insurance plans which, without any question at all, cover erectile dysfunction drugs for men.

The photo of Wil Gafney is from her Google+ page.

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