The Problem of Being Female

I have always felt a little strange with the whole idea of placing women upon a pedestal. And yet with all its glory and idolatry, women continue to have diminished roles within society due to lasting traditional views and criticisms.  Really more than anything though, there continues to be a struggle in the minds of men and society as to the image of women.  It’s as if they don’t really know how to define them, as if they are an enigma.

Women are typically put into archetypical roles such as the “pure”, “saintly”, “virginial” maiden (who is most commonly put upon a pedestal), the nurturing mother figure, the spinster, the temptress, the witch, etc.  The list goes on!  Women are idolized yet hated at the same time.  How can this be logical?  For so long in the Church, women were the instigators of evil thanks to Eve, yet in the middle ages and the times of courtly love, women could be idealized as the personifications of the soul; they were the gateways to salvation and the ultimate Truth.  The best example of this is Dante’s adolation of Beatrice and his entire journey to seek the redemption of his life in the Divine Comedy.  Yet at the same time, women are the “embodiment of evil” in so many other cultures and religions that they are forced to be in minimal, perhaps miniscule roles within their society.  In India and other countries, female infanticide are still prevalent because girls are considered less than people, but the authorities don’t do anything.

Being regarded as a demi-god is no better though.  In the Middle East, women are “sacred” and therefore strongly discouraged and sometimes barred from going to school and getting an education because they will lose their holy natures.  So in the midst of being “sacred”, they have to submit and obey the strict rules of a male society while not knowing any better.  Even if you entertain the idea of woman being “sacred” in such a way, it still comes across as ridiculous.  If something is sacred then how can it be justified that men (who are not divine by nature) have rational grounds to be in control of a concious sacred thing?  Apparently there’s nothing more sexy than a goddess in servitude…

Women are perceived as symbols for their actions, or rather the projected virtues of another person upon them.  Carl Jung said that,

“[…] a symbol loses its magical or, if you prefer, its redeeming power as soon as its liability to dissolve is recognized.  To be effective, a symbol must be by its very nature, unassailable.  […] it must also be sufficiently remote from comprehension  to resist all attempts of the critical intellect to break it down; and finally, its aesthetic form must appeal so convincingly to our feelings that no argument can be raised against it on that score.”

So then, if we apply the idea of women as symbols to Jung’s description it can be shown that women cannot possibly remain as such.  Not only can women possess flaws (or losing their “redeeming power”), but the degree of their beauty (physical or inner beauty) varies from each person that meets them.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is this: women as a whole are not perfect, neither are they evil.  I guess it just bothers me  that there is so much inconstancy in the view of women to distinguish them as things rather than people.  History has shown the mindset that being female is synonymous to being property, sexual objects, and whatnot.  It’s only been recently in the 20th century that women have been given a voice to vote and even then that’s okay in a few democratic countries.  There continues to be issues regarding women’s rights.  I really hate that title.  I understand the concept that’s being expressed, but the fact of the matter is that the term “women’s rights” serves as yet another way to seperate women from being considered human and a part of society.  You never hear about Hispanic rights, Native American rights, or African American rights, or anything like that.  They are all unified under “civil HUMAN rights”.  To exclude a group of people from this term alienates them so that they feel at odds against society.  Gloria Steinem illustrates this point so perfectly in her satire piece “Womb Envy, Testyria, and Breast Castration Anxiety: What if Freud were female?” with the gender roles in society being flipped so that it is a matriarchal society where men are seen as the inferior and weaker sex.  By this reversal of gender roles does Steinem show the level of injustice towards people being treated in this way.

So I say this as a woman: yes, we are biologically different than men, but that doesn’t make us evil or divine, or more susceptible to either of those two respectively.  We are neither goddesses nor demons to be abhorred and suppressed.  We are human.  Yes, we have implications, just like everyone else, but it should not be brushed aside or heavily emphasized to make us feel like a separate entity of the world.

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Education Crisis Part 2

I have recently finished reading the book I Am Malala and I’ve discovered something that probably seems like common knowledge. Because of a lack of education, people are unable to make the best choices for themselves and allow someone else to think for them. What I love about Malala is her inner drive and passion for education because she realizes that it can make us better people. An education can go a long way to helping us make the right decision in times of crisis. But in Pakistan, the government began dictating religion thanks to General Zia. Every school in the country replaced the religious studies class with Islamic studies. So rather than broadening the minds of the youth to tolerance of other religions, you only impress one point of view, making the populace easier to control because ultimately, they don’t know any better. Malala and her father both stress that knowledge has the power to solve so many of the problems that are begun by ignorance. Ignorance is what has allowed the corrupt politicians to take advantage of the people. With a proper education can people actually begin to think for themselves and not fall under the delusions of radicals such as the Taliban.
So how does heavy influence of strict religion by those in power affect our feelings of education? Typically, religion is what helps people develop a sense of morals and feelings of how to live their lives. Education can have the power to strengthen one’s faith in morals and ethics, and to live more tolerably with other people, yet at the same time, religion is so powerful to us as people that we would abandon all ideas of education if it made us question ourselves and lose the sense of security that goes with faith. This is how people like the Taliban and individuals like Fazlullah have such a strong influence, because they condemn education as a destroyer of faith. One of my favorite quotes comes from Immanuel Kant in which he says “Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction of another”.  It’s as if people like the Taliban take advantage of the people’s faith’s in order to satisfy their own wishes.  They tell the people that if they send their daughters to school, they will go to Hell. To people who are devout in their religion, this is a huge blow. They are abusing religion to keep people scared and in their place so that the people will not think for themselves
What struck me the most was the similarity between the Pakastani and American cultures. She says at one point how the people of her village are big with conspiracy theories and how they claim 9/11 was revenge on Americans for what they had been doing to people around the world. I don’t think this is too different from what Jerry Fallwell said about 9/11 being caused because God was angry with homosexuals, abortionists, and whatnot. I mean, it just made me think “Wow, people ARE alike all over aren’t they?” The people of Malala’s home think poorly of all Americans, while some Americans think that all Muslims are terrorists. Neither one are right, but yet they still think that because of a lack of open-mindedness.

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Education Crisis

I’m still continuing  to further comprehend the extent of the scope of power that the establishment clause of the first amendment possesses.  It emphasizes that government should not establish a national religion and favor one religion over another.  One of the biggest hot topics that this includes is the presence of religion in public schools.  Now I’ll admit I’m a little biased because I went to a private Christian school but I’ve observed students that left over the years to go to public school and their performances there, not to mention the overall performances of public schools across the nation.  I may be completely wrong in this, but a lot of people, if they are able to afford it, are putting their children in private schools, regardless of their religion, because private schools are providing better educational opportunities than public schools.  Is it possible that the people that do put their children in public school care more about the child’s religious freedom rather than their education?  It just seems there is an overwhelming theme of “should we have prayer in public schools” rather than being concerned if our students can do basic arithmetic or read.

Even now, there are controversies here in Texas on teaching creationism or intelligent design in public schools so that students won’t feel discriminated against because of the theory of evolution, which I actually think is really stupid.  This sounds like the government giving preference to a specific kind of religion which is in direct contrast with the first amendment.  In many ways, Texas politicians seem to think that the only children that go to public school are Christians which is presumptuous on their part.  The point of public schools are that regardless of religion, they are supposed to provide a foundation of education that will enable them to survive in the workforce and society at large.  With the way public education is nowadays, there is no challenge or a motivation for students.  Besides, rather than teaching students to do well and actually retain knowledge, they teach to the TAKS test (or another version of the test depending on what state you’re in).  Most of the students that slacked off and got lousy grades in my private school went to public school and got straight A’s.  That tells me something.  There are loads of other issues going on as well that may contribute to this.  There is a great documentary called “Waiting for Superman” that goes further into the dilemma of the educational system in America.  Among the problems are the teacher’s union and cutting of funds that go toward public education.  I also like to think that the the lawsuits concerning religious disputes in the schools are another issue that drains further funds from the schools as well.

Private schools on the other hand have an established religion and are typically not funded by the state (there have been exceptions in history to this) but they have the initiative to actually educate students and send them off to college.  More and more people are realizing this and are sending their children to private schools because they want their children to be more successful in their careers and in dealing with the world.  It didn’t really matter what religion you were.  It was an Episcopal School, but a lot of the classmates in my high school were Baptist, Jewish, Islamic, even some Atheists.  They tolerated the Episcopalian overtones knowing that they were getting a better education.  Also, we were never taught Creationism.  No, we were taught Evolution because they did not want us to close our mind from other viewpoints.  We are rapidly approaching the fact that we as a species are growing into a global community.   The rest of the world is superior to us in education and that’s a problem to us as people.  From a lack of education do people do terrible things that endanger both them and make the world into the cesspool that it already is.  I know that sounds pessimistic, but if we are not able to amend the religious and educational issues going on within our public education system, a large majority of people are going to cripple their own lives and the lives of others.

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Government Restrictions on Religion

In my religion and politics class, I have recently come across a statistic in my textbook that concerns the public’s view of the government and the relationships between church and state.  Apparently in 2007, the same number of people that approved of the FBI to keep a watch on cults (nearly 57% of the population) were similar to the number of people that wished restrictions on Krishnas and satanists.  The first thing I thought was “okay, why Krishnas and Satanists specifically?”  Why not Wiccans or Scientologists?  Those groups are so different from one another on a religious spectrum.  Then I took another look and saw the wish to restrict satanists was actually lower than Krishnas (maybe 3% lower).  By this viewpoint, it sounds like American’s have more issues with Krishnas than Satanists which blows my mind.

I am no expert on either religion, but Krishnas do not strike me a particularly dangerous and Satanists are more Atheistic.  If you go to their respective religious homepages  iskcon.org and churchofsatan.com, you can see that they are not inherently evil religions, yet they receive a bad reputation as cults perhaps due to the fact that they are minority religions in the U.S.  People seem to think that Krishnas are trying to brainwash others to join their religion through their literature.  I think it’s true that they are an evangelical religion and like other evangelicals of other faiths, they enthusiastically want to share their faith with others because it holds a truth that has improved their own lives.  Satanists are a little different because they don’t really reveal themselves in the public eye like the Krishnas do and therefore are more mysterious and likewise potentially dangerous to the majority religions.

Perhaps the statistic I saw only used Krishnas and Satanists as an example of the relationship of the inherent mistrust that larger, well accepted religions feel about smaller obscure ones.  Take Catholicism for example.  Even though the Catholic church was the original form of Christianity which all other denominations stem from, Catholics were largely regarded early on in America and even to today as a cult and called “Mary-worshippers”.  The first amendment of the constitution obviously states free speech but also freedom of religion.  In the free-exercise clause it clearly states that the government will not prohibit one from practicing the faith one possesses.  If the government did this, it would be favoring a specific religion, and make them hypocrites, liars, and an un-reliable system of democracy (regardless that they may be already).  The free-exercise clause ensures that minorities have a chance to participate and actually survive in this nation.  Going back to the statistic, if more than 50% of the population wants restrictions on these groups, regardless of the ideas of whether or not they may be cults, how is that not the government favoring certain kinds of religions over others.  It sounds like a violation of the free-exercise clause.  If you put a restriction on a religion, ANY religion for that matter,  is it really freedom of religion or free speech at that point?

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Jonathan Edwards and Slayer: a Match made in Hell

Back in high school for my AP English class, one of the texts we had to read was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. Naturally we had to dissect it and try to figure out how it was a good example of persuasive speaking for that time period.  One of the prominent things I remember thinking was, “wow!  This would make a sick heavy metal song!”  I am one of those people who are so lovingly referred to as a “headbanger” so hopefully my ideas won’t seem too farfetched when I make comparisons.

So my question is this: why is it that Jonathan Edwards’ sermon has been so influential to politics and Christians for so long yet both Christians and politicians alike are more hasty in censoring Slayer even though their lyrics are really not all that different from Edwards’ sermon?

When Edwards gave this sermon, he was a part of a congregationalist colony where the laws of the church were synonymous with the laws of the government.  When the Puritan system was starting to shake up from religious revivals thanks to preachers like Whitfield, people like Edwards had to devise a new way to keep their church members and their citizens in their proper place in society.  Apparently the best way to do that was to use a super strong scare tactic.  If you seriously sit down and read this thing, it’s pretty freaking terrifying!  For instance, this passage:

“If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.”

That’s…..pretty brutal.  The graphic nature of this passage would have been one to strike fear into most churchgoers because, let’s face it, being crushed by an omnipotent being and having your blood splayed onto him like Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is terrifying.  But that is what makes it brilliant rhetorically.  Edwards knows his audience are Christians in the colony who only want to learn the right way to live, therefore they can be easily swayed by messages that may be more appealing personally.  Yeah it may be nice for the individual, but the Congregationalist Church being in power at that time did not want to lose the influence it had held over the people for some time.  This was Edwards’ way of winning back citizens  to the classic Puritan fold.  He told people that if they did not change they’re ways, God would hate them forever and  then all of Heaven would come together to watch them suffer in the abyss of Hell:

“Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might, and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable strength of your torments. You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty.”

This sermon is what has sealed Edwards’ place in American History: his use of language that was able to win over churchgoers and citizens of the colony in one fell swoop.  I think this has been very influential for fellow preachers and politicians alike throughout the years.  Who hasn’t heard a politician speak so adamantly about the tenets of his political platform as if it was their religion?  Are not politicians preachers for civil law and order amongst a group of people?  Edwards goes to show that imagery and language are key to entering the minds of the populace in order to gain control of their “vote” towards what religion should be in power.

But what about Slayer?  Like Edwards’ most referenced and taught sermon, they speak of very graphic imagery of Hell.  One need not doubt this after reading the lyrics of Behind The Crooked Cross.  However, they were affected by the wishes of the PMRC (Parents’ Music Research Center) which was founded by several wives of senators who wanted to censor music for the graphic violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use that may be present in a song.  They succeeded enough in getting the Parental Advisory Sticker put on albums with questionable content.  Ever since, Slayer has come under intense criticism for the political nature and anti-Christian nature of some of their songs including Cult, Angel Of DeathJihad, and Hell Awaits.  The band itself has been called Satanic, regardless of the fact that Tom Araya, the lead singer, is Catholic.  Once when questioned on the lyrics shown below, Tom Araya stated that God doesn’t hate, they just make great lyrics.  Here is the beginning of Disciple:

“Drones since the dawn of time
Compelled to live your sheltered lives
Not once has anyone ever seen
Such a rise of pure hypocracy
I’ll instigate I’ll free your mind
I’ll show you what I’ve known all this time

God Hates Us All, God Hates Us All
You know it’s true God hates this place
You know it’s true he hates this race”

From a certain perspective, how is this no different from the words of Edwards telling his congregation about the fickleness of their actions and the intense anger of God?  Slayer also achieves to pervade itself onto the mind of their listeners with the help of fast paced riffs and pounding drums to emphasize the rhetoric of their message in the lyrics.  The sound of the thunder and rain at the beginning and end of Raining Blood is there to effectively transport the listener to the greater reality that is Hell.  Is this not like Edwards as well who wants the citizens of his colony to see the horrors of Hell if they do not turn away from the teachings of people like Whitfield?  Only in intent do they differ.  Slayer says this to raise a point about the danger of extreme religiosity and its effect on people.  This is why they come under attack from church goers and religious politicians in general because it offends them and, like the accusation of Socrates, is the corrupter of youth.  Yet are these the same kinds of people that proclaim Edwards to be America’s greatest theologian?  I would love for them or any other metal band to condense Edwards’ sermon and make it into a metal song just to see if it is strongly criticized for its content.

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