The Most Serious And All Pervasive Human Rights Abuse on Earth

Jimmy Carter says much of the discrimination and abuse suffered by women around the world is attributable to a belief “that women are inferior in the eyes of God.” Carter called mistreatment of women “the most serious and all pervasive and damaging human rights abuse on Earth.”

I heard a spot on the national news on my local NPR station quoting a couple of comments from former president Jimmy Carter that caught my interest. When I searched for the speech, I found that Pres. Carter is considered a prominent feminist (at least, he is called that online in some places) and frequently makes similar points during some high prestige speeches. I respect someone who uses their bully pulpit to tell the Parliament of World Religions:

This view that the Almighty considers women to be inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or tradition. Its influence does not stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths, creating an environment in which violations against women are justified.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.


Pres. Carter describes his experiences in the Southern Baptist denomination, which match exactly what I experienced growing up in several other denominations and nondenominational churches. He quotes and summarizes the Bible, and talks about how you can argue the interpretation and the examples either way, and ultimately it comes down to how you want to interpret it – and the fact that it is interpreted in a way that justifies and perpetuates harm to women is a matter of laziness and selfishness and fear, just as the interpretations that justify and cause harm to children, LGBT oriented people, etc. And while Pres. Carter in his speech to the Parliament of World Religions speaks at length about Christianity and touches only briefly on other religions (apparently because his knowledge and experience is on Christianity), he makes it clear he feels all the major religious traditions contribute to the problem, and can contribute to the solution if desired.

He says, “Having served as local, state, national, and world leaders, we understand why many public officials can be reluctant to question ancient religious and traditional premises – an arena of great power and sensitivity.” My natural cynicism about those with power and what they really want says many may not really care one way or the other, or may wish for little more than stability so they can maintain their power – but I think the point is an interesting one nonetheless, coming as it does from someone who has had that power, and still has a lot of power, and chooses to use it this way.


  1. Anemone says

    We talked about this in my Women and Religion class (many years ago). Even in religious traditions with nothing sexist in the original teachings (I think we were discussing Buddhism) the actual practice becomes quite sexist quite quickly.

    The cognitive developmentalist in me thinks cognitive development is a major factor. Blindly following tradition AND simple sex role stereotypes both being less sophisticated than different-but-equal and universal human rights and thinking for oneself.

    • Anemone says

      And if I were a politician I’d be pretty nervous about challenging organized religion, too. People can be very fervent about defending their beliefs. (Not that I’d be a typical politician either.)

  2. The Other Anne says

    😀 One of my dad’s most prized possessions is a signed letter from Jimmy Carter my dad got when he was a kid (he sent a letter to the then Pres first). Probably ghost-signed or whatever, but still.

    I’ve also read recently that “God” had a wife-deity who was written out of the Bible early on. Not only does that destroy gender-eliminating rhetoric from the argument of god, but puts a big question into me: why? If it’s true, why? Well, why is a question I ask all the time about religious practices so it’s nothing new.

    I understand why other people want or need faith in something larger than themselves even if I don’t want, like, or need it. But I cannot wrap my head around religion.

    • Attackfish says

      Hmm, I’m suspicious about the wife-deity thing, because in the original Hebrew, God is referred to in very gender-bending ways. Words that are translated simply as “Almighty” in the English frequently have poetic and very feminine connotations, whereas the word translated as “God” is the gender neutral pleural of “gods”, used to signal that all the divinity of the universe rests in this one figure. It’s not that God used to have a wife, it’s that God isn’t just male. The fact that this is studiously ignored by most followers of Christianity, and even most followers of Judaism who are obliged to learn the Hebrew (The Quran doesn’t have the gender-bending means of referring to God, he is explicitly masculine therein) says a lot about the interplay of secularly derived tradition and religion. (not that there isn’t plenty of gender awful in the biblical text, too)

      • minuteye says

        This is why I’m always very suspicious of people who claim to read a religious text “literally” in a modern language. I’ve spent enough time translating to know that even with the best intentions in the world, a perfect translation is impossible. Add in translators with biases, agendas and different cultural views, and who knows what you’re getting relative to the original text.

        • Attackfish says

          This. I’m not a biblical literalist, but I know my Tanakh, (and my Quran, it’s such pretty pretty Arabic) so it’s always bizarre to hear people making Old Testament arguments that are based on inaccurate translations. Many of them are convinced that the translations are divinely inspired too, which is why they like to cling to the translation they grew up with as the One True Version, and I usually find that people stop being biblical literalists after taking a biblical Hebrew class and reading it untranslated. Of course a lot of them become even more elitist in it, reading from the original Hebrew and telling all the other literalists that they’re wrong, but they’re the other literalists’ problem.

          • Dani says

            I’ve started reading about the meaning of the original Hebrew of the Bible (though I have to use secondary sources, because I don’t know Biblical Hebrew) and it’s fascinating to read about all of the nuances and symbolism within different words and phrases (it reminds me of why I love languages so much). I used to assume that the translation was divinely inspired, too (not any one in particular, it was more of a subconscious assumption), until I really thought about it, and then I was like “wait a minute…” Now, I have to look a the original language and context (both historical and literary) of a particular text to even begin to feel like I understand it.

            “it’s always bizarre to hear people making Old Testament arguments that are based on inaccurate translations.”

            I notice this a lot. What’s even more head-scratching is when the correct translation is already well-known and understood.

      • SunlessNick says

        Judaism today holds that God doesn’t have a physical gender, but in more ancient times, before it became strictly heno-or monotheistic, it’s theorised that Asherah was worshipped as Yahweh’s wife (that being why she gets more bad press in the Old Testament than Canaan’s other deities). But yeah, it wasn’t femininity that was written out of the divine in Judaism so much as humaniformity.

        (I read once that even the words for man and woman in the Eden story were of somewhat confused gender, but I don’t know the specifics of that, or which parts of the story it would make ambiguous if it’s true).

        • Attackfish says

          There’s also the fact that she was, along with Baal the primary deity of the Canaanites, and she’s the Canaanite form of Innana, the Semitic queen of heaven.

          There is one part where it says that man and woman were created simultaneously, and another with Eve coming from the first man’s rib (or just as easily side, in other words, the proto human was split in two to make Adam and Eve) which some medieval rabbis decided meant there was a woman before Eve, and thus the tale of Lillith was born.

          It gets even more fun with the symbolic wordplay. The word Adama mean’s earth, whereas the masculine version is Adam, who is made of earth. Then Eve, Chava, life, comes from Adam, the earth.

          • The Other Anne says

            I love it when people who know more than me talk about things I’m greatly interested in! This whole thread is incredibly awesome!

          • Patrick McGraw says

            The documentary hypothesis (Wikipedia here: has some interesting ideas about the two conflicting accounts there – basically, that several books of the Pentateuch, including Genesis, were edited together from different documents.

            I’m not well-versed in the subject (read one book about it in my Pentateuch class in college), but it seems like a pretty sound hypothesis.

            • Attackfish says

              It’s a very good theory, and almost certainly right, though they can’t prove it unless the ancestral documents are by some miracle found. And of course those documents were woven together from many different versions of a common folk myth, and thus carries many of the flaws that such weavings naturally create. This makes life very difficult for people who think it’s the perfect word of God, and a whole lot of fun for myth and language geeks like me. It’s why some of the stories are repetitive, why some make no sense (where did Cain, Able, and Seth’s wives come from, for example) and why some parts are narrative and some are chronicle, etc.

              • Anemone says

                I’m sceptical that there are any written documents from before the Second Temple period at all. Conflicting versions of oral narratives, sure, but the First Temple period doesn’t come across as an organized, literate culture to me at all. Big shift with Ezra at the beginning of the Second Temple period. Plus, that’s when they “found” these texts written up and stored somewhere in the old Temple.

                • Attackfish says

                  But he have texts. They’re just short inscriptions on stone or in clay, which can be put down to the deleterious effects of time on scrolls I mean, let’s face it, we don’t have a lot of long texts from long after we know they started writing said long texts. I’m not saying the documents were full accounts of Genesis, or anything, but the Torah may well be stitched together from a number of shorter recordings of oral tradition.

        • Attackfish says

          Judaism isn’t uniform. I know that Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism holds to God’s gender neutrality, but do you know what Orthodox sects say?

          • SunlessNick says

            I’m pretty sure the Orthodox hold God to be without gender as well; asking whether God is male or female is like asking how tall he is. “He…” because even when lack of gender is the belief, somehow the male pronoun still ends up being the “right” one to use in languages that divide them. Which makes the neutrality ring a bit hollow.

          • SunlessNick says

            Or was that a rhetorical question, and you know differently, and I am wrong about the Orthodox view?

            • Attackfish says

              I don’t know, actually. But you’re right, using He makes gender nutrality reing hollow to me too. Always has. It is not thusly in the Hebre text. God gets God’s own pronoun.

            • zivya says

              hi, orthodox jew here :)

              we get taught g-d has no body and no form of the body, neither male nor female. no head, no arms, no genitals.

              this comes up in bible study class, where such phrases as ‘outstretched arms’ and ‘great wrath with smoke coming out of his nose’ are explained as common metaphor which helps humans understand things.

              also, g-d’s name tends to be male, but the word for the divine presence is female. also there are places where ‘g-d tended to you’ as the nation came out of egypt uses the same word as ‘writhing on the birthing stool’ which tends not to be a common male activity…

  3. sbg says

    I ♥ Jimmy Carter.

    I remember once having a conversation with my mother about work. I referenced the bishop and used the pronoun “she”. There was intensely uncomfortable silence from my mother, a devout Roman Catholic. I … had a sad. My mother couldn’t even articulate why she thought it was “wrong” for a woman to hold the position of bishop (or even priest), relying solely on “that’s what the Church teaches” as her reasoning. Well, that’s not really reasoning at all on an individual level, is it?

    • The Other Anne says

      It’s not just what the Church teaches–it’s in the Bible.

      1 Timothy Chapter 2 Verse 12: But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.

      1 Corinthians Chapter 14 Verse 34: Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.

      Anti-theists love to bust these out when arguing with Christian women. But it’s usually used in a “shut up, bitch.” way over an “well what do you think about this verse, being a preaching woman of christianity?” way. I’m on the fence right now on a lot of anti-theist arguments, because I do consider myself anti-theist but I’m also non-confrontational, and I know that atheists are often told to “shut up, that’s why,” because I have been told that on multiple occasions, so it’s hard for me to really get a good larger picture of the whole thing.

      • sbg says

        Well, my point was more that my mother has zero inclination to distill the anti-woman stance of her church and belief system beyond, “It’s what they’re telling me to do, so it must be right.”

        Those quotes only remind me that the Bible is a book written by men a long, long, looooong time ago and reinterpreted to suit at will, by men. 😉

        • The Other Anne says

          :) I was just trying to add that the church has their book to back them up, unfortunately, which probably has a big hand in the “what they’re telling me” part of your mother’s stance.

          And yeah, your second paragraph, 100%.

      • Anemone says

        Ah, but those texts do not come from God, they come from Paul. We can ignore him. (Wasn’t he a lawyer or something?)

        • Patrick McGraw says

          He did write “test everything, hold onto the good” in regards to people’s religious proclamations and such. I have no qualms about applying that to Paul’s own writings.

        • firebird says

          I have been told Saul/Paul was a rabbi before the Damascus road experience, which would make him a priest sort of and a lawyer sort of. I don’t know if that is hearsay or recorded somewhere. The New Testament says he was commissioned by the “Jews” in Jerusalem to root out, question, torture, kill and/or bring back to Jerusalem for trial the Jews who had converted to Christianity – if he was a lawyer or priest he was an overly active one. His actions sound more like a Temple guard/hit man/enforcer.

        • says

          Ah, but those texts do not come from God, they come from Paul. We can ignore him.

          Unless you’re one of those who believe that every author of the Bible was divinely and directly inspired by God, and thus every word of it is to be taken 100% seriously.

          (I know the idea doesn’t hold logically, what with all the contradictions, but some people believe it. =/ )

  4. says

    If memory serves, some years ago (90s?), the Southern Baptist leadership announced that men were meant to be the “servant leaders” of households. Meaning, men were supposed to lead their families in a most unselfish and thoughtful sort of way… but it still meant having a penis made you the leader even if you had terrible judgment, couldn’t grasp things like finance, had Narcissistic Personality Disorder and thought your kids were convenient for fucking, or enjoyed beating the shit our of your wife whenever work was tense, or were otherwise totally unqualified to be in charge. I’ve seen many dysfunctional traditional families that would have at least been far LESS dysfunctional if Mom had been in charge – or even had EQUAL power to a father in society (see Dolores Claiborne) – instead of Dad.

    Anyway, IIRC, that announcement prompted Jimmy Carter to leave the Southern Baptists because he just couldn’t get on with that idea. And I just loved him for it immediately, because the belief that men are somehow auto-qualified to control households, despite the plethora of really lousy individuals from both genders (who should not even be in control of a pet rock farm) is not only stupid, but malicious. It’s designed to perpetuate men are predators whose main prey is women and children. That’s not sustainable.

    • Attackfish says

      2000. He also started up a new Baptist movement in 2008 to counter the Southern Baptist convention and the racism/sexism/classism/general bigotry he observed within.

    • Dani says

      Jimmy Carter, that’s awesome.

      I interacted with a lot of Southern Baptists in college, and heard the “servant leader” thing a lot. My pastor (who was a Southern Baptist) I think was truly a good man, and always made the “servant leader” thing seem doable and good, but I always wondered about the things you mentioned, Jennifer.

      And then, of course, I’ve heard this same theme interpreted much more darkly, like when some men are hesitant to address domestic abuse in the church because it would discourage wifely submission or something. :/

      • says

        I think a “servant leader” deal CAN work, when the leader is loving and couldn’t be happy with their partner/kids being unhappy. It’s just bad as a rule for everyone, because then you do get the sort of problems I mentioned.

        Your second paragraph – it’s even more insidious than that. If you know your church thinks men rule, and you’re being abused by a man, why would you go to the church for help? You feel isolated and alone, and honestly? They probably WILL squirm desperately to find a way to dismiss your problem as not as bad as it sounds, or not believe you, or anything to avoid confronting the man. But that’s not just a church thing – that’s our secular culture, too.

        • says

          If you know your church thinks men rule, and you’re being abused by a man, why would you go to the church for help?

          This. A friend of mine was Catholic and married to a domestic abuser and rapist (in hindsight, she now believes he was raping other women as well as her). She tried for years to get help from the Catholic church; she talked to bishops, monseigneurs, priests, theologians, nuns, Opus Dei people, editors of Catholic magazines and a circle of lay Catholic women. She tried for ten years, probably asked at least fifty people. She desperately wanted at least one person to support her; she needed her decision to be right with God and wanted just one other person to validate her.

          Some of them said her husband was sinning by hitting her, but told her the answer was religious marriage counseling. Well, that only works when the other person wants to be there and she caught hell from him for “airing their dirty laundry”. Some of them even said it was her fault for not being a good enough wife. None of them would admit she was being raped, because she was married after all. None of them would concede even the slightest bit that perhaps the marriage couldn’t be saved, because marriage is eternal in God’s eyes after all. Every one of them told her that God wanted her to save the marriage and save her husband’s eternal soul from the sin of abusing his wife.

          When she finally screwed up the courage to leave her husband, she left the Catholic church as well. She feels very strongly that the church betrayed her and abandoned her, considering the vast number of Catholics she asked for help. She still considers herself a Catholic when it comes to beliefs about the next world, but when it comes to this one she is through with them.

          • says

            *nods* Additionally, the religious idea that people can always be redeemed no matter what often gets in the way of church leadership recognizing: they have to WANT redemption. If they don’t, and they are seriously depraved, then they are just predators and will remain so until they are stopped or dead.

            In truth, it really isn’t a conflict. Nothing in any religion I know of suggests that people can be redeemed against their wills.

            I have known ministers and other religious folk who get all this and have no trouble making PRACTICAL recommendations to abused people. It’s hard to imagine someone like Jesus putting somebody’s ideal household arrangement ahead of the well-being of abuse victims, given how little regard he had for the Pharisees’ rules and how happy he was to hang out with outcasts they had no time for.

            • Dani says

              That’s a really good point. I wonder too if it has to do with people not wanting to get their hands dirty. Like, if the depraved person just says he’s sorry, then they can smile and forgive him and everything can be sunshine and rainbows again. Except…no.

        • Dani says

          Yeah, it angers me no matter where it happens, but I think I take it more personally when people who claim to worship the same God I do abuse and enable abusers.

          • says

            *nods* That makes sense – they’re damaging the credibility of a belief system you care about. I think it would do world religions no end of good if people would not only stop sheltering abusers, but call them out. Call out the members of their religion who are doing things that run exactly counter to it – stop making excuses for “one of our own” and give them an incentive to atone.

            Interestingly, one of the reasons we don’t know for sure whether abusive personalities are capable of rehabilitation at all is that our society provides so little incentive for them to change. There are hardly any repercussions to what they do. If they were ostracized socially, whether by their chosen religion or other sectors of society, it might just turn out they CAN change.

      • firebird says

        I think the concept of thinking of yourself, if you are a leader, as a servant to those you lead, is reasonable. It’s certainly better than lusting for power and using and abusing it anyway you can to keep it. What is often insidious in human propaganda is when we marry a good concept to a bad one and justify the bad one with the good one we claim is a necessary part. The bad idea here is to think that people are entitled to leadership/power because of gender or class or any other characteristic that doesn’t allow for checks on whether they are any good at it or using power badly to harm others, and simultaneously the idea that all human families must be one man leading one woman who is submissive and their children who are obedient.

        • says

          It all sounds like it goes back to the Divine King idea, where a ruler had divine right, and *of course* he was going to rule with the gentle hand of God because he was God’s representative on earth (like the Pope).

          All of this assumes, as Jenn said, that the person in charge is capable of compassion and holding to the highest standards.

          Yeah, like that happens most of the time. /sarcasm

    • Patrick McGraw says

      Gets back to my theory that the major reason for their opposition to same-sex marriage is that it CAN’T conform to their “the one who has the penis is in charge” rule. And if society sees such marriages as normal, it may start to question how that rule can be applied to mixed-sex marriages.

      So basically, I think the anti-equality movement’s claim that same-sex marriage threatens their existing mixed-sexed marriage tradition is true. As if I needed more reasons to support marriage equality than that “equality” part.

  5. says

    <3 <3 Jimmy Carter <3 <3

    Bless him.

    I have explored a lot of different places religiously, and I have been most disappointed in my utter failure to find a truly gender-neutral religious community. To be honest, however, I have not been strongly feminist for long, and for many years, even as I was discontented and unfulfilled by all the divine manliness surrounding me, I believed that those who worship the divine feminine were "trying too hard". I cringed when people referred to God as She. These folks especially bothered me, even as they attracted me. At the same time, I could not accept the obvious sexism in almost every religious organization I encountered. After much meditation, it has come clear to me that if I’m going to follow any deity, it will be a nominally female one at this time in my life, as I submerge myself in birth work; and that language matters, and sexism is a plague in otherwise uplifting communities. So, that’s where I am, and thank the Lady.

  6. Sally says

    *No* religion extant today is ‘good news’ for women…

    And this is why ‘Religion’ should be finally flushed down the S-Bend of History!

    How do we do this, Anemone? By improving the lot of every person on earth to the extent that they are fully in control of every aspect of their lives, economic as well as social, and thus render meaningless their need to compensate for their shitty present circumstances by hoping for ‘pie-in-the-sky-when they-die.’

    (Yes, I am prepared to debate the reasons for the re-emergence of religion, especially fundamentalist religion, on the late C20/early C21 landscape, but ‘Hathor’ is not the forum for doing so — let me simply paraphrase Trotsky’s summary of the rise of Nazism … “Every so often, humanity needs to spew up its undigested barbarism.”)

    • Cinnabar says

      I remember reading an article on once (it was years ago and i can’t remember the author or the link right now) talking about this idea that – in a nutshell – we should simply abandon religion because so much of it has been shitty for women for so long and nothing good can come of it. The article raised a very interesting point that I’m going to try to summarize from memory:

      Religion and spirituality are important to a lot of people; they derive a real sense of comfort and community from their beliefs. We can’t completely ignore their needs and shut out the concept of religion entirely. A better idea would be to change it, just like we did with every other sphere of life. Organized religion can be seen as just another example of the “Old Boy’s Clubs” that have infested so much of the public domain and make all efforts to shut out women. But we fought for the right to vote, to own property, to work, to be part of a governing body, to not face harassment simply for existing, to be seen an human beings.

      Dismissing religion in its entirety – and this was the author’s point that really stuck with me – would be just another way of saying “Boys will be boys”. Instead, we should hold them to the high standard that they deserve. Religion IS capable of being better and we shouldn’t let it get off so easily. We don’t detroy the old boy’s network by ignoring it or demanding it go away. We bust in there and smash the thing to pieces by our very presence.

      Okay the last line about smashing things was entirely mine. I’m pretty sure she didn’t say anything like that. 😛 Personally, I’m not religious and not a big fan of religious tradition. I fall on the side of, “Prove to me it’s NOT shitty towards non-cis-men and then I’ll decide if it’s worth it.” I don’t need to fear divine punishment or be bribed with some eternal reward to be a decent human being. But I can accept the comfort it brings to others and its importance to them. It’s fine by me AS LONG AS it’s not causing harm.

    • Anemone says

      This may seem somewhat off topic in places to people, but I have a new laptop and am at the library, so can post really really really long answers today!!

      People will always have spiritual needs, no matter how bad religion is, just as people will always have emotional needs, no matter how abusive relationships can be. (Ditto for intellectual and physical needs.) The problem is not the having of spiritual needs, but the inadequacy of religion as it currently exists to meet those needs, free of dogma.

      We live in a world where most educated adults use linear logic to make sense of things. Linear logic is simple machine logic, not the complex logic of living organisms, but we and our society are living systems, not machines. Linear logic has a tendency to assume (or want to assume) that there is one right answer, and that we need to order things into linear hierarchies (with men at the top, of course!) to make sense of the world. People who are limited to linear logic tend to ignore or suppress anything that conflict with the world view they go by, because that is the best they can do. It is not a choice for them, because they cannot imagine doing anything else. Fortunately not all linear world views involve oppressing people – some include an abstract sense of universal human rights.

      Also fortunately, we have been moving away from a strictly linear world view over the last generation or so. I believe it started with a move away from authoritarian parenting after WWII, triggered by researchers finding a link between authoritarianism and bigotry. And the first generation to be raised after that shift were the ones who got involved in the second wave of feminism, the civil rights movement, environmentalism, etc. – movements that stressed the rights of people (and ecosystems) who traditionally did not have a voice because it conflicted with the powers that be.

      But religion falls behind.

      I’m going by what Clifford Anderson (1995) wrote in The Stages of Life (and my own unpublished research that uses his as a starting point). It takes longer to grow up these days (a phenomenon researchers have noted but not yet agreed upon) because people are developing internally more before settling into adult social roles. Anderson and I both believe this is because the internal development needed to grow beyond linear thinking takes time to figure out, especially without a road map. (Just as it takes many years of formal schooling to get comfortable with linear logic – there isn’t any in preliterate societies, including First Temple and older Jerusalem – that’s why there’s so much internal inconsistency in the oldest religious traditions.)

      Anderson talks about a shift to organic thinking. I prefer to think of it as complex nonlinear logic (chaos, complexity, emergence). (Anderson is a Freudian, I’m a Piagetian.) You can also look at it in terms of Jung’s individuation. It’s all different ways of looking at the same thing, sort of. (I think you can individuate without developing the logic, but I don’t think you can develop the logic without individuating.) Either way, you can reach a point, if you keep going, where you are no longer theory-driven, you no longer need people to be a particular way (though obviously you don’t want them hurting you), you are no longer projecting your own shadow self onto other people, and you stop caring so much about finding “the right answer” and “the right way of doing things” because you know that theories are like words – they’re never exactly right but you pick the best ones to describe what you’re seeing and hope it makes sense to the people you’re talking to. I finished this transition (and integrating my fourth Jungian function) when I was 35. That doesn’t make me God, just an adult inside and out. Plus someone who had a lot of time on her hands as a young adult.

      When religions reach the point where their leaders are fully individuated, completely comfortable with the fullness of human diversity, and comfortable with conflict being an important part of living systems that should be worked with, not suppressed, then they can stop clinging to theories and worrying about being right and start thinking about being useful to people. Instead of having preachers, we would have guides. I figure sometime in the next 50 years. In the meantime all we can do is develop ourselves and wait for the day when there are enough of us to shift the definition of normal and adult.

      But we won’t get there if we try to throw out spirituality completely.

      There is research that shows that a majority of people have mystical experiences at some time or other in their lives, and that most of these experiences are experienced as adaptive. I don’t think that will change, no matter how much we eradicate poverty and abuse. Lawrence Kohlberg, the researcher who demonstrated that there is a natural logic to morality, struggled with the meaning of life and ended up killing himself after he contracted a serious illness. :( Besides, mystical experiences just plain feel nice. Even if we don’t need them, it sure is nice having them.

      People need something bigger to tap into from time to time. That’s just human nature. Same as we need friends and families and causes to join.

      Of course people interpret mystical experiences in the context of their cultures/beliefs: God, angels, saints, ghosts, telepathic aliens, humming planets. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is that there is something objective to spirituality that we *can* build on without getting all dogmatic.

  7. Anemone says

    I’m a little confused about why there is so much more fundamentalism in the US than in other industrialized countries. 30-40% self-identify as fundamentalist in the US versus 8% in Canada versus half that in Europe (I think those numbers are from the 1990s). One Canadian in Washington suggested that it was a way of proving that USians weren’t godless Communists. I’m guessing that the US doesn’t have a Communist party? (Canada has two! Want one?)

    • sbg says

      Fear. The US is a country filled with people afraid of everything, and I think they need that super fuzzy fundamentalist blanket to wrap themselves up with at night.

      • says

        Yes, and don’t forget history: Britain’s criminals went to Australia, but their fundamentalist types all came here, where they faced no opposition to their beliefs. Not many of them went to Canada in the first place. But if they’d gone to, you know, Iceland and faced no opposition for those beliefs, my guess is Iceland would be a hotbed of fundamentalism.

        I suspect fundamentalism appeals to a certain personality type, and whatever circumstances created that personality type in that group (biology? culture? combination?) remains present in the population. It’ll self-perpetuate until some force of biology or culture stops it.

        • sbg says

          Yes, and it’s very, very easy for people in power to use this to their advantage, whether they themselves have fundamental beliefs or not.

          • says

            Yep – and while there’s potential to manipulate people through ANY belief system they have (including secular ideals), it’s especially easy with fundamentalists because fundamentalism is so black and white, it really doesn’t allow for the sort of critical thinking that might enable them to recognize they’re being manipulated by someone who convincingly “talks the talk” of being one of them.

  8. Vinka says


    I agree with your interpretation of the religious objection to gay marriages. Not only religious, but homophobic secularists fear the same thing. In addition, they fear that they might be latent homosexuals themselves – an intolerable idea to a macho-male. Something about protesting too much springs to mind.

    Patrick McGraw,

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