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Violence Against Women:
Philosophical and Religious Foundations of Gender Morality

James W. Prescott, Ph.D.
Institute of Humanistic Science San Diego, CA

Published in New Perspectives, 3/4 1995 (pp. 16-18)

The reasons that civilization is failing is because we have failed the children of the world and this failure includes all the major religions of the world. An analysis of the roots of this failure has lead to the discovery of its most significant root: the failure to address the unique role of Woman and of Woman as Mother in world societies. The condition of children in the world is clearly inseparable from the condition of woman in the world. And so we must first examine and understand the condition of children in the world and of civilization itself.

It is from dualistic moral philosophy and theistic doctrines that woman is formally declared by fiat as being unequal, inferior and subordinate to man including her moral inferiority to man. Even the enlightened Aristotle had his flights of irrationality when he affirmed the inherent inferiority of woman to man and the justification of human slavery:

"Also, as regards male and female, the former is superior, the latter is inferior, the male is ruler, the female is subject" (Politics Bk. 1, Ch. 4)
and
"He is by nature a slave who is capable of belonging to another." (Politics, Bk. 1, Ch. 4.)
And Pythagoras gave explicit moral characteristics to gender. "There is a good principle which has created order, light and man; and a bad principle which has created chaos, darkness and woman." {Quoted in Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1953)}. The moral philosophy of gender morality is reinforced in the theistic theologies of gender morality. For example:
"Woman is the origin of sin, and it is through her that we all die." (Ecclesiasticus 25:24)
This view of woman as the embodiment of sin and wickedness is also reinforced in:
"As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten." (St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica)
The dualistic philosophy and theistic theology of gender morality, has had and continues to have devastating consequences for woman and her children. As death of the body is necessary in some  religions for salvation, re. the Crucifixion, so too is the death  of woman (and her body) necessary for the death of sin and wickedness. For example:
"...I took this woman (in marriage) and slept with her and did not find proof of virginity in her', then the girl's father and mother shall take the proof of her virginity to the elders of the town, at the town gate...if, on the other hand, the accusation is true and no proof of the girl's virginity is found, then they shall bring her out to the door of her father's house and the men of her town shall stone her to death...She has committed an outrage in Israel by playing the prostitute in her father's house; you shall rid yourselves of this wickedness."  (Deuteronomy 22:14-21)
Should it be noted that no man has been stoned to death because he failed to be a "virgin" on his wedding bed?

In this theology of sin, death and salvation, woman also dies another death. In "The Gospel According to Thomas" (Log 114:21-24), the following words are ascribed to Jesus Christ:

"See, I shall lead her, so that I will make her male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of Heaven."
The death of Woman qua Woman is now complete. Was this borrowed from Pythagoras?

It is emphasized that there is not a single major religion of the world which has affirmed the full equality (moral, social and political) of woman with man and that this "existential reality" reaches back to the darkest ages of antiquity. And we have yet to progress from those dark ages. Why? And what are the consequences that this arbitrary "Gender Morality" has upon the children of woman?

The moral tradition that human life begins in sin and with sinful woman: "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalms 51:5) not only characterizes woman as the "prima genitor" of evil but it also burdens the innocent newborn with "original sin" which brings violence upon the child for the sin and evil that is within him/her: "Withhold not correction from a child; for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell (Proverbs, 23:13-14).

The "body as evil" ethic is again portrayed in Romans 8: 13, "If you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the spirit you put to death the evil deeds of the body, you will live." This war against the "evil body" and the death of the body for the sake of the "soul-spirit" and given its tragic Pythagorean gender equation has made woman and her children its primary victims of violence.

Religious doctrines that equate woman with evil and man with goodness established the inherent inequality of woman with man and provides the moral basis for her subordination to man. This gender inequality is affirmed again and again in various ways in both the Old and New Testaments. As early as Genesis 3:16, we witness the following:

"To the woman he said: 'I will intensify the pangs of your childbearing, in pain shall you bring forth children. Yet your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall be your master"; and "for man did not originally spring from woman, but woman was made out of man; and man was not created for woman's sake, but woman for the sake of man." (I Corinthians 11:8-9)
The virtual human universality of these moral traditions which have preordained the fundamental inequality of woman and man - of female and male - of body and spirit - must represent the single greatest flaw in the histories of human religious morality and thus, must command the universal indictment of the world's religious which espouse these human inequalities. This inexplicable philosophical/religious moral disorder of male-female inequality has brought violence upon woman, her body, her children and the body politic of all humanity.

It is for these reasons that not one major religion of the world has been successful in the moral education of its members to avoid violence against the body of woman and of her children.

Until woman is affirmed as fully equal to man; has complete and autonomous control over her own body, particularly her sexual body, it will not be possible for woman to become mothers by choice and to give birth to only wanted children who are nurtured and loved - the foundation for a peaceful, harmonious and egalitarian humanity.

as the reader may surmise, this  Humanist's perspective is that the role of "Reason", per se, plays a secondary role in the development of the Humanist Persona, particularly for children, as Aristotle so rightly observed:

"As the body is prior in order of generation to the soul, so the irrational is prior to the rational. The proof is that anger and wishing and desire are implanted in children from their very birth, but reason and understanding are developed as they grow older. Therefore, the care of the body ought to precede that of the soul, and the training of the appetitive part should follow; none the less our care of it must be for the sake of the reason, and our care of the body for the sake of the soul."
   Aristotle – Politica (c. 350 B.C.)
and as Walt Whitman so eloquently stated:
"If Anything is Sacred
The Human Body is Sacred"
   Walt Whitman – The Children of Adam (1872)
Following are examples from  selected Poet-Philosophers to provide a needed balance to the ultra-rationalism of certain schools of modern Humanism which illuminates the centrality of human love that is essential if war against women and children is to end:
"Woman loves with her whole soul. To woman love is life, to man it is the joy of life."

"But where the body of the beloved person is made the sole object of love, or if sexual pleasure only  is sought without regard to the communion of soul and mind, true love does not exist. Neither is it found among the disciples of Plato, who love the soul only and despise sexual enjoyment. In the one case the body is the fetish, in the other the soul, and love is fetishism."
   Baron Richard von Kraft-Ebing – Psychopathia Sexualis (1866)

"Woman is, for man, the symbol and personification of all the fulfilments we look for from the universe. The theoretical and practical problem of the attainment of knowledge has found its natural climate in the problem of the sublimation of love. At the term f the spiritual power of matter, lies the spiritual power of the flesh and of the feminine."
   Teilhard de Chardin – The Evolution of Chastity (1934)
"Love is our response to our highest values - and can be nothing else."
   Ayn Rand – Atlas Shrugged (1957)


Text republished with the kind permission of James W. Prescott. Transcribed by Soonnu M. Nalladaroo. Please inform us about any spelling errors you find. If you want to write a translation, please contact Erik Möller.