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March 29, 2004

Academics Discovering Benefits of Organized Religion

The historical storyline that American schools and culture taught many Gen Xers was the Zinnesque one that history is one long example of oppressors (usually white men) using traditional organizations to suppress everybody else. Thus, organized religion was wholly iniquitous, with very little by way of benefit for participants; marriage was a lopsided relationship not unlike servitude for all women — even if they didn't know it to be true. The happy side effect worldview, for academics, is that they can discover the reality of a social dynamic from the early 1900s as if recovering long-lost documents from prehistory.

My fellow Aquidneck Islander, URI history professor Evelyn Sterne has written a book along these lines with respect to the Catholic Church in Rhode Island:

"We think of the Catholic church as a conservative institution and in many ways it was; it was against birth control for women and against an attempt in the 1920s to pass an Equal Rights Amendment," says Sterne.

"On the other hand, the church provided an institution where women were encouraged to become active in public life," said Sterne. "For many women the church was the only institution it was acceptable for women to belong to. Women were seen as society's moral guardians, a natural extension of the role they played at home.

The religious vision of equality that makes Sterne's "on the other hand" misplaced is just different (better, I'd say) than the flat one with which feminists have squashed our culture. The Church's sociological positions — on everything from birth control to labor unions — don't issue forth from an animus against women, but rather a sustained effort to work toward a society that acknowledges and strengthens that which makes us fully human — fully woman and fully man.

I should note that I don't intend my general scorn for academics to taint my reaction to Sterne; we ought to applaud her willingness to challenge intellectual presumptions. However, this manifestation of those presumptions is worth a wry smile:

"Church wasn't just a place to worship," said Sterne. "For women, who were seen as the moral guardians of society, church was an acceptable place to go to get outside the stresses of family life and meet with other women. Women pushed the church to get involved in public life."

Now, I'm confident that the role of women in the Church has been a crucial part of maintaining and guiding the effort, but wasn't it... well... Christ who pushed the Church to get involved in public life?

Posted by Justin Katz at March 29, 2004 1:45 PM

Did Jesus demand separation of church and state and demand that any politicians who do not share his viewpoint on every single issue be thrown out of office?

I also can't imagine that Jesus would approve of things like a church which stood by during the sexual abuse of many thousands of children by their clergy for decades going around saying that any homosexual or homosexual couple should automatically be kept away from children and not allowed to have any legal benefits of any kind. I also don't think that Jesus would, as the Vatican does, say that if a little boy does not spend enough time playing sports, or if a little girl does not spend enough time playing with dolls, that they need to extensive religious therapy so they won't grow up to be homosexual.

Posted by: Bill at April 4, 2004 4:29 PM

Sorry, Bill, although your comments to other posts were reasonable, you've lost me with this one. For one thing, I'm not sure why citations of imperfection constitute a rebuttal to the post.

Posted by: Justin Katz at April 4, 2004 7:51 PM