Would This Feel Like Heaven?

This is something I often wondered growing up as I did, raised by a very devout Christian widow who…well…let’s just say it was very important to her that her children would go to heaven.   Which is why to this day I have never told my mom I no longer believe, and haven’t believed in what is now three years or more.

If I were to imagine heaven, it would be a place where there are no tears, no sadness, no heartache, no despair, no disappointment, no discouragement, no worry, no regrets, no hunger, no thirst, no loneliness, no yearning for things to be different.  Heaven would be all the best things I could ever imagine, like all the most breathtaking natural beauty the earth could offer, only so much more, the colors so much brighter, the sounds so much sweeter.  The air would be like standing in a grove of lilac trees, or in the center of a greenhouse filled with roses.  All would be so glorious you’d want to stand there forever, drinking it in, content to stay still in that moment forever.

As a Christian I had friends who were not, family who were not.  And it bothered me.  Really really bothered me.  My dad’s cousin Evelyn died, and she was an atheist who told me once to my face she had never sinned.  Because she did not believe in sin–which in her view was a man-made invention that made religion necessary.  So when Evie died, I was very sad.  I didn’t want to think of Evie in hell.  It upset me to think of such a wonderful loving lady in such a horrible place.

I have heard it said that hell is not what the bible describes in a literal sense.  Hell is to be eternally separate from God.  Hell is to be able to gaze across a divide at all the joys of heaven, and not be able to go there, not be able to be among all those happy people, but to be stuck forever and ever in a place apart from God.   That’s what hell is.

Now if I were one of those lucky people who managed to make it into heaven, and I looked across and I could see–or even if I couldn’t see, but I just knew, I had friends or family like Evie, in some other place, and they were suffering.  If I knew that because of choices they made in their life as puny and ignorant mortals they were doomed to be punished forever, unforgiven, to a place of despair, of sadness, of pain, of separation, of never knowing the utter bliss I was getting to enjoy…  Would that be very nice for me?  Would I be in heaven?  Would heaven be a happy paradise for me, if I knew across the divide there were people I knew and cared for, suffering–and doomed by my God to suffer forever?  Would that be a happy thing for me?

The only way I would find Heaven a happy place for me under those circumstances, would be if God made my heart very hard so I wouldn’t care anymore.   So I would regard those friends I once cared for and family I cared for as deserving to languish in agony and despair forever.   They would be like my enemy and I would feel how right it was for them to suffer for eternity while I enjoyed happiness beyond my wildest dreams.

If I had to have my heart hardened for Heaven to be a happy place for me–for me to no longer care about people I once cared for now having to suffer, how much more brittle and hardened would God’s heart have to be, considering he supposedly is merciful and “love” is one of his names?   For him to be merciful and loving by nature, and yet able to condemn billions of souls to eternal torment and still go on his merry way being happy in his paradise despite all that suffering going on….wouldn’t he have to shut his ears and harden his heart and cease to be merciful and loving?

He would no longer be a loving God.  He would no longer be a merciful God.  He’d be a cruel and unforgiving God–by so enforcing an eternal horrible punishment upon mortal beings who did for whatever reason, not jump through the right hoops while they were living, and so now they must suffer forever.

It would be different if the rule book were crystal clear and not subject to this interpretation or that interpretation.  But the rule book is not clear.  There are verses in the bible that contradict other verses.  The bible says Thou Shalt not Kill and yet time and time again God kills, or orders his followers to kill.   There is a verse that says not by works are you saved, but it is a gift from god, and there’s another verse that says good works are just a part of what you must do to have eternal life.  There’s a verse that says you should make it known what good works you do, and another verse that says you should keep it secret, and not boast.

Which verses are the correct ones, and which are not?  Why are there cities placed in the wrong countries in the bible?  Why was there a census mentioned in the bible shortly after Jesus’ birth, but the year is off–there was no census at that time per actual history?

If God’s good news is so important, so critical that the punishment is so horrible indeed for those of us who don’t hear or hear but don’t believe…then why isn’t God’s word perfectly clear?  Wouldn’t God insist on it being absolutely clear?  Without flaw?  Without human tampering?    And if our salvation is so important to God, why does he not simply make his existence fact, rather than keep us all guessing?   In all the world there is not one scrap of non-biblical proof of the existence of God, or Jesus for that matter.   Now if God is real, and if his good news is real, and if our salvation is so important to him, so we don’t end up in hell suffering forever while he, God, is forced to shut his ears and turn his back and never forgive–why isn’t evidence of his existence or Jesus’ existence, as plentiful to find as the bones of dinosaurs are?  Why doesn’t God appear and end the doubting that will ultimately cost so many eternal life?  Or for that matter, why did God make Lucifer in the first place, or human beings so fallable as to be capable of sin and then place them right where he knew his imperfect angel was lying in wait?

Or if God doesn’t want to appear?  If our salvation isn’t worth him revealing himself, why not perform the impossible to prove miracles really do happen?  Like, allowing the amputee who has been praying really hard, to have his lost arm or leg grow back?  Or give the woman who had her eyes gouged out by the chimpanzee, new eyes–regrow them in her head?   If God can do anything, these things would not surpass his power–and would leave very little doubt that the supernatural exists.  And yet he doesn’t.

Anyway, I have digressed and I’m sorry.  My point is, even if I were still a Christian, and even if I did make it into this paradise Christians look forward to.  It wouldn’t be heaven to me because I would know my Aunt Evie was being punished in hell–and she was a really neat lady who does not deserve torment and pain for all eternity.  So heaven would become hell for me,  knowing Evie isn’t there and knowing there’s nothing I can do to appeal to this merciless deaf God to hear her cries of torment and forgive.

That wouldn’t be heaven for me, and that would not be a god I would even want to follow.

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REASON RALLY! I WISH I COULD GO!

The below article describes better than anything I have read  before, just exactly WHY I feel the desire to defend what I believe as a non-believer, and so I wanted to share.  Oh, and incidentally, I think it is WRONG that non-believers are deemed unelectable just for not believing in supernatural beings!

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201203/reason-rally-secular-coming-out-celebration

 

Reason Rally: A Secular Coming-Out Celebration

Nonbelievers are finding solidarity like never before
Published on March 14, 2012 by David Niose in Our Humanity, Naturally

 

In a show of solidarity that would have been unimaginable even just a few years ago, thousands will be flocking to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on March 24 in celebration of secularity. The Reason Rally, a day-long event featuring notable entertainers and speakers and attracting busloads of nonbelievers from all over the country, could be a watershed moment for the secular movement. 

The lineup for the day includes a mix of entertainers, public intellectuals, and representatives from various secular groups. All events are free. The band Bad Religion will be performing, and the crowd will also hear from comedian Tim Minchin, popular skeptic and debunker James Randi, and author and scientist Richard Dawkins. Lawrence Krauss, author of “A Universe from Nothing,” whose ideas inspired Miley Cyrus to tweet on the issue (thereby sparking a backlash from enraged Christian fans), will also be on hand, along with many others, to address the secular festival.

 The event is not a protest and certainly not a religion-bashing affair, but instead can be best understood as a coming-out party for an entire movement. This has caused some to belittle the rally, suggesting that demographic unity around the notion of disbelief is itself nonsensical. Such critiques, however, only reflect a failure to understand what fuels the modern secular movement.

It is very true that many Americans—even many who are themselves nonreligious—see the idea of personal secularity as somewhat insignificant. That is, even many nonbelievers rarely consider emphasizing their religious skepticism—their secular worldview—as a primary means of identification. Ask a typical American nonbeliever to describe her basic lifestance, for example, and she may use terms like “liberal” and “feminist” and “environmentalist,” and perhaps numerous others, before reaching any identifier that would raise the issue of religious skepticism.

For many in recent years, however, personal secularity has become an increasingly important aspect of their identity, a clear way of describing one’s basic lifestance in the midst of a political and cultural landscape that has become an anti-intellectual wasteland. As such, the Reason Rally, as its name suggests, can be seen as a public manifestation of the secular trend that vehemently opposes America’s descent into irrationality.

Ironically, the primary root cause of the growing secular movement is the Religious Right. Because politically mobilized religious conservatives have become such a visible force in America, nonbelievers increasingly feel the need to assert themselves as a demographic. Whereas America’s seculars previously went about their daily business without openly displaying their naturalistic, reason-based identity, this indiscreet approach has required rethinking in the face of religious conservatives constantly claiming moral superiority, attacking church-state separation, and tainting public policy . 

Indeed, as the Religious Right has consistently grown in influence for over three decades—to the point that religious fundamentalists are now routinely elected to office in much of the country and are even serious contenders for the presidency (while open nonbelievers are unelectable)—many who are personally secular have come to realize that they can no longer keep their religious skepticism in the closet. As modern America listens to high-profile conservatives talk seriously about limiting access to not just abortion, but now even birth control, the notion of reason has suddenly become important, an affirmative means of standing up and pushing back against faith-based absurdity.

Thus, the Reason Rally.

Some, still feeling uncomfortable with open displays of secularity, insist that we should go back to those days when religion was simply a non-issue, when polite public discussions avoided questions of religion altogether. The Religious Right, however, has made that impossible, and therefore those who are indeed secular are increasingly standing up to demand that the over-the-top exaltation of religion stop, that Americans carefully consider how counterproductive it is to stigmatize secularity in the modern world. 

Thus, the cry of the seculars: We don’t believe. We won’t leave. Get used to it!

Hang on America: On March 24—rain or shine—Secular Americans are coming out.

Pre-order Dave’s book, Nonbeliever Nation, here

Join Nonbeliever Nation on Facebook

Follow Dave on Twitter 

Dave will be tweeting from the Reason Rally all day on March 24

 

As a Woman, what Should I Be?

This is just me writing this time.  Nothing informative.  Just writing how I feel and how I’ve felt a very long time.  As long as I can remember.  It has to do with religion, and with society in general and how I was raised to think and how it has effected me as a person and how I feel it has effected other women too.  Based not on fact, but just what I’ve observed in my almost 50 years.

People have this idea that little kids are oblivious and ignorant of such things as human rights.  I guess as we get older we forget how it was to be young.  I still remember very well, and I suspect my experience is like anyone’s.  I was aware.  I had an opinion.  Things appealed to me or disgusted me or spoke to my heart then just as they do now.  I had perceptions, and a sense of fairness, of right and wrong.  In short, (literally) I was just a little person, as all children are.  When I’d hear adults refer to myself and my friends as “little ones,” ugh!  I hated that term!   I didn’t feel like a little one.  I didn’t feel like anything less.  Not then, and not now.  Because I’m not.  Nobody is.

I remember from a very young age being annoyed to the point of angry at the commercials we were bombarded with.  I was a tom boy when I was little…and I never completely lost my interest in playing in the dirt, as even as an adult I liked digging for fossils and splelunking and hauling up rocks or petrified wood or whatever treasure I could find.  But watching those commercials, what I could see of them through the often side-ways tilted or rolling black and white screen.  Women…raising their families. Women, making dinner.  Women, advertising mops and laundry soap.  Women using Windex, or irons or making cookies, cleaning house, or shopping.  Always made up and wearing dresses, perfect, wearing lipstick even in bed–never a hair out of place.  While men in those commercials washed cars, went camping, or fishing, or were shown building tents, lounging in hammocks, digging, climbing ladders, fishing, playing ball with their sons, working on cars.

Always in the TV shows I watched I would silently rage at the helpless females I’d see portrayed.  I liked the old campy Science Fiction shows back then, the old movies, and always whenever those rare moments would come that a woman would be needed in a scene, she’d faint, or stumble, or fall exhausted to the ground unable to go on, slowing down our heroes from the horrors pursuing them, just waiting to be rescued.  It was the most predictable thing.  I’d sit there and think okay, and now she’s going to fall down…and then she would.  I remember yelling at the TV, even as a small child, “run you guys!  Just LEAVE her!  Run!”

Recently I, out of curiosity, tried to watch some old “Lost In Space” reruns.  OMG…the mother and daughter Penny in that old show were next to useless.  They were only objects to protect…their job…to look astonished, or afraid, or confused, or helpless and vulnerable.  These were the kind of role models I had to grow up with.  If it wasn’t for Vasquez in ALIENS and Zena and Gabrielle in “Zena ,Warrior Princess…”

(I pause in silent homage to the pioneers that had the courage to write women that way–with grit, tenacity, strength–all the qualities I can admire!)

In my last blog some Muslim guy commented that that’s how men should be.  That’s their role and we women in Western cultures who get to actually live our lives and be (at least to some extent) more like what we were made to be, have forgotten this–the fact that some deity designed us to be soft, dependent, loving servants of men–be all those warm and fuzzy wholesome things while our great big sweaty bare-chested males thump their pectorals and lug home dinner to their adoring, families.

Oh please.   And yet it still exists.  Ever watch QVC?  Just watch and listen to the hosts when they’re selling what is traditionally something a MAN would want to buy, vrs. what traditionally a woman would want to buy.  If I called QVC during a presentation to sell a ladder, they might ask me if this was for my husband or my son or my father.  I would say no, you frickin idiot!  It’s for ME.

To be fair the opposite is just as true.  If a single man needed an iron and called QVC and got on the air, probably they’d ask him who the gift is for.

The point being, the programming continues on today.  It’s still apparent in our commercials, and in how we are treated.  I remember when I went to Cycle Barn the first time to look at buying a motorcycle.  The place was crowded with men or men with their sons and all the salesmen were busy.  It took over an hour of standing there looking interested before one of them thought to come over to me.

Happily so much has changed since I was young, since even when I was in my 20’s.    Happily now a young girl can dream big and actually have some possibility of obtaining her dream.  When I was little if I had said I wanted to be a fire fighter or a astronaut or President of the United States for that matter, it would have been a joke to any adult who heard me.  Oh, they’d say “good for you, Diane!” I’m sure.  But they know.  And they would no doubt think that as I grew older I’d put aside these childish dreams and discover a desire to hum as I work, dust as I walk, cook wonderful meals for my man and wait on him hand and foot, making sure a spotless house and well mannered children were there to greet him when he got home.

(Sound of Leave It To Beaver theme music.)

I think organized religion has made boxes and tried to tuck people away inside them.  Women, you go in this box.  It means you can’t be or have or experience anything that’s over here in this box, because this box is only for men.  And men, same goes for you.  Women can’t be masculine because then no man will want them and men, you can’t have feminine interests because that would make you a fairy…a gay…a homo…an undesirable by society.

In other words, anyone who dares to march to the beat of their own drummer…just better not if they want to be loved, accepted, appreciated, all those things we all want to be.

Well I never liked wearing dresses and my favorite color was blue and the only dolls I liked playing with as a child were my brother’s G.I. Joes…and all the cool helmets and fabric clothing and jeeps and guns that were their accessories.  As a child I liked catching snakes and tadpoles and frogs and I liked playing Capture the Flag and building forts with the few boys I found willing to play with me.  I liked to play rough.  I had no interest in jewelry or make up, and I scoffed at grade school girls who wore these things when being a kid was so much better.

Was I abnormal for a girl?  What would have happened to me had I been born and had to grow up in some of these Middle Eastern societies that have these ideas of what women should be vrs what men should be?  Could I have endured being denied the freedoms I saw my brother enjoying?  Hell no.  And if a book told me it was god’s wish for me because I was cursed by being born a female, I wouldn’t feel any love at all for such a god, and in fact I wouldn’t have followed such a deity. Ever!

I did follow the biblical god for over 30 years, because I had blinders on and I didn’t let myself see that the god in the bible is just as sexist, if not more so, than the god the Muslims worship that Christians like to point fingers at and criticize.  But now I see no difference between them, and in fact it seems if you just look at the Quran and the bible and not at the religions and how people interpret these books, it seems from what little I’ve read–the Quran is actually less harsh toward women than the bible is.
So that’s it.  Just felt like writing and saying WHATEVER.  I am glad I didn’t get born 20 years earlier than I did.  I’m glad I was born in the 60’s after all the hardest work was already done by the brave women before me who had the gumption to rail against being forced into boxes. I hope we never, as women, forget how hard our recent forebears had to fight to get the rights we enjoy today, and I hope we never give up fighting–that we never again believe in books written only by men telling us how we as women, ought to be.

Comparison Re. Women/Christian vrs. Islam

This is long but…interesting.   But again my thought is, how much do people of these religions follow the teachings of (or even know about) their holy book?

http://www.twf.org/Library/WomenICJ.html

EVE’S FAULT ?

The three religions agree on one basic fact: Both women and men are created by God, The Creator of the whole universe. However, disagreement starts soon after the creation of the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve. The Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam and Eve is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, he put all the blame on Eve, “The woman you put here with me –she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Consequently, God said to Eve:

“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.”

To Adam He said:

“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree …. Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…”

The Islamic conception of the first creation is found in several places in the Quran, for example:

“O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.’ And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?’ They said: ‘Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost’ ” (7:19:23).

A careful look into the two accounts of the story of the Creation reveals some essential differences. The Quran, contrary to the Bible, places equal blame on both Adam and Eve for their mistake. Nowhere in the Quran can one find even the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Eve in the Quran is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not to be blamed for the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Quran, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.

EVE’S LEGACY

The image of Eve as temptress in the Bible has resulted in an extremely negative impact on women throughout the Judaeo-Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile. Consequently, they were all untrustworthy, morally inferior, and wicked. Menstruation, pregnancy, and childbearing were considered the just punishment for the eternal guilt of the cursed female sex. In order to appreciate how negative the impact of the Biblical Eve was on all her female descendants we have to look at the writings of some of the most important Jews and Christians of all time. Let us start with the Old Testament and look at excerpts from what is called the Wisdom Literature in which we find:

“I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare….while I was still searching but not finding, I found one upright man among a thousand but not one upright woman among them all” (Ecclesiastes 7:26-28).

In another part of the Hebrew literature which is found in the Catholic Bible we read:

“No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman…..Sin began with a woman and thanks to her we all must die” (Ecclesiasticus 25:19,24).

Jewish Rabbis listed nine curses inflicted on women as a result of the Fall:

“To the woman He gave nine curses and death: the burden of the blood of menstruation and the blood of virginity; the burden of pregnancy; the burden of childbirth; the burden of bringing up the children; her head is covered as one in mourning; she pierces her ear like a permanent slave or slave girl who serves her master; she is not to be believed as a witness; and after everything–death.” 2

To the present day, orthodox Jewish men in their daily morning prayer recite “Blessed be God King of the universe that Thou has not made me a woman.” The women, on the other hand, thank God every morning for “making me according to Thy will.” 3 Another prayer found in many Jewish prayer books: “Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile. Praised be God that he has not created me a woman. Praised be God that he has not created me an ignoramus.” 4

The Biblical Eve has played a far bigger role in Christianity than in Judaism. Her sin has been pivotal to the whole Christian faith because the Christian conception of the reason for the mission of Jesus Christ on Earth stems from Eve’s disobedience to God. She had sinned and then seduced Adam to follow her suit. Consequently, God expelled both of them from Heaven to Earth, which had been cursed because of them. They bequeathed their sin, which had not been forgiven by God, to all their descendants and, thus, all humans are born in sin. In order to purify human beings from their ‘original sin’, God had to sacrifice Jesus, who is considered to be the Son of God, on the cross. Therefore, Eve is responsible for her own mistake, her husband’s sin, the original sin of all humanity, and the death of the Son of God. In other words, one woman acting on her own caused the fall of humanity. 5 What about her daughters? They are sinners like her and have to be treated as such. Listen to the severe tone of St. Paul in the New Testament:

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Timothy 2:11-14).

St. Tertullian was even more blunt than St. Paul, while he was talking to his ‘best beloved sisters’ in the faith, he said: 6

“Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.”

St. Augustine was faithful to the legacy of his predecessors, he wrote to a friend:

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman……I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”

Centuries later, St. Thomas Aquinas still considered women as defective:

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.”

Finally, the renowned reformer Martin Luther could not see any benefit from a woman but bringing into the world as many children as possible regardless of any side effects:

“If they become tired or even die, that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth, that’s why they are there”

Again and again all women are denigrated because of the image of Eve the temptress, thanks to the Genesis account. To sum up, the Judaeo-Christian conception of women has been poisoned by the belief in the sinful nature of Eve and her female offspring.

If we now turn our attention to what the Quran has to say about women, we will soon realize that the Islamic conception of women is radically different from the Judaeo-Christian one. Let the Quran speak for itself:

“For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise– For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (33:35).

“The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practise regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise” (9:71).

“And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another” (3:195).

“Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss” (40:40).

“Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (16:97).

It is clear that the Quranic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God’s creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Quran never mentions that the woman is the devil’s gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. The Quran, also, never mentions that man is God’s image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all. According to the Quran, a woman’s role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Quran never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Quran has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharoah’s wife:

“And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: ‘O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.’ And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout” (66:11-13).

SHAMEFUL DAUGHTERS ?

In fact, the difference between the Biblical and the Quranic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother’s ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that:

“The birth of a daughter is a loss” (Ecclesiasticus 22:3).

In contrast to this shocking statement, boys receive special praise:

“A man who educates his son will be the envy of his enemy.” (Ecclesiasticus 30:3)

Jewish Rabbis made it an obligation on Jewish men to produce offspring in order to propagate the race. At the same time, they did not hide their clear preference for male children : “It is well for those whose children are male but ill for those whose are female”, “At the birth of a boy, all are joyful…at the birth of a girl all are sorrowful”, and “When a boy comes into the world, peace comes into the world… When a girl comes, nothing comes.”7

A daughter is considered a painful burden, a potential source of shame to her father:

“Your daughter is headstrong? Keep a sharp look-out that she does not make you the laughing stock of your enemies, the talk of the town, the object of common gossip, and put you to public shame” (Ecclesiasticus 42:11).

“Keep a headstrong daughter under firm control, or she will abuse any indulgence she receives. Keep a strict watch on her shameless eye, do not be surprised if she disgraces you” (Ecclesiasticus 26:10-11).

It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Quran severely condemned this heinous practice:

“When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?” (16:59).

It has to be mentioned that this sinister crime would have never stopped in Arabia were it not for the power of the scathing terms the Quran used to condemn this practice (16:59, 43:17, 81:8-9). The Quran, moreover, makes no distinction between boys and girls. In contrast to the Bible, the Quran considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Quran even mentions the gift of the female birth first:

” To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills” (42:49).

In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly:

“He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire” (Bukhari and Muslim).

“Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers” (Muslim).

FEMALE EDUCATION ?

The difference between the Biblical and the Quranic conceptions of women is not limited to the newly born female, it extends far beyond that. Let us compare their attitudes towards a female trying to learn her religion. The heart of Judaism is the Torah, the law. However, according to the Talmud, “women are exempt from the study of the Torah.” Some Jewish Rabbis firmly declared “Let the words of Torah rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to women”, and “Whoever teaches his daughter Torah is as though he taught her obscenity”8

The attitude of St. Paul in the New Testament is not brighter:

“As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35)

How can a woman learn if she is not allowed to speak? How can a woman grow intellectually if she is obliged to be in a state of full submission? How can she broaden her horizons if her one and only source of information is her husband at home?

Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Quranic position any different? One short story narrated in the Quran sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman whose husband Aws pronounced this statement at a moment of anger: “You are to me as the back of my mother.” This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but did not leave the wife free to leave the husband’s home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam to plead her case. The Prophet was of the opinion that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawla kept arguing with the Prophet in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly, the Quran intervened; Khawla’s plea was accepted. The divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter (Chapter 58) of the Quran whose title is “Almujadilah” or “The woman who is arguing” was named after this incident:

“Allah has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you (the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah, and Allah hears the arguments between both of you for Allah hears and sees all things….” (58:1).

A woman in the Quranic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.

UNCLEAN IMPURE WOMAN ?

Jewish laws and regulations concerning menstruating women are extremely restrictive. The Old Testament considers any menstruating woman as unclean and impure. Moreover, her impurity “infects” others as well. Anyone or anything she touches becomes unclean for a day:

“When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening. Anything she lies on during her period will be unclean, and anything she sits on will be unclean. Whoever touches her bed must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whoever touches anything she sits on must wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he will be unclean till evening. Whether it is the bed or anything she was sitting on, when anyone touches it, he will be unclean till evening” (Lev. 15:19-23).

Due to her “contaminating” nature, a menstruating woman was sometimes “banished” in order to avoid any possibility of any contact with her. She was sent to a special house called “the house of uncleanness” for the whole period of her impurity. 9 The Talmud considers a menstruating woman “fatal” even without any physical contact:

“Our Rabbis taught:….if a menstruant woman passes between two (men), if it is at the beginning of her menses she will slay one of them, and if it is at the end of her menses she will cause strife between them” (bPes. 111a.)

Furthermore, the husband of a menstruous woman was forbidden to enter the synagogue if he had been made unclean by her even by the dust under her feet. A priest whose wife, daughter, or mother was menstruating could not recite priestly blessing in the synagogue. 10 No wonder many Jewish women still refer to menstruation as “the curse.” 11

Islam does not consider a menstruating woman to possess any kind of “contagious uncleanness”. She is neither “untouchable” nor “cursed.” She practises her normal life with only one restriction: A married couple are not allowed to have sexual intercourse during the period of menstruation. Any other physical contact between them is permissible. A menstruating woman is exempted from some rituals such as daily prayers and fasting during her period.

BEARING WITNESS

Another issue in which the Quran and the Bible disagree is the issue of women bearing witness. It is true that the Quran has instructed the believers dealing in financial transactions to get two male witnesses or one male and two females (2:282). However, it is also true that the Quran in other situations accepts the testimony of a woman as equal to that of a man. In fact the woman’s testimony can even invalidate the man’s. If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, he is required by the Quran to solemnly swear five times as evidence of the wife’s guilt. If the wife denies and swears similarly five times, she is not considered guilty and in either case the marriage is dissolved (24:6-11).

On the other hand, women were not allowed to bear witness in early Jewish society. 12 The Rabbis counted women’s not being able to bear witness among the nine curses inflicted upon all women because of the Fall (see the “Eve’s Legacy” section). Women in today’s Israel are not allowed to give evidence in Rabbinical courts. 13 The Rabbis justify why women cannot bear witness by citing Genesis 18:9-16, where it is stated that Sara, Abraham’s wife had lied. The Rabbis use this incident as evidence that women are unqualified to bear witness. It should be noted here that this story narrated in Genesis 18:9-16 has been mentioned more than once in the Quran without any hint of any lies by Sara (11:69-74, 51:24-30). In the Christian West, both ecclesiastical and civil law debarred women from giving testimony until late last century. 14

If a man accuses his wife of unchastity, her testimony will not be considered at all according to the Bible. The accused wife has to be subjected to a trial by ordeal. In this trial, the wife faces a complex and humiliating ritual which was supposed to prove her guilt or innocence (Num. 5:11-31). If she is found guilty after this ordeal, she will be sentenced to death. If she is found not guilty, her husband will be innocent of any wrongdoing.

Besides, if a man takes a woman as a wife and then accuses her of not being a virgin, her own testimony will not count. Her parents had to bring evidence of her virginity before the elders of the town. If the parents could not prove the innocence of their daughter, she would be stoned to death on her father’s doorsteps. If the parents were able to prove her innocence, the husband would only be fined one hundred shekels of silver and he could not divorce his wife as long as he lived:

“If a man takes a wife and, after lying with her, dislikes her and slanders her and gives her a bad name, saying, ‘I married this woman, but when I approached her, I did not find proof of her virginity,’ then the girl’s father and mother shall bring proof that she was a virgin to the town elders at the gate. The girl’s father will say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter in marriage to this man, but he dislikes her. Now he has slandered her and said I did not find your daughter to be a virgin. But here is the proof of my daughter’s virginity.’ Then her parents shall display the cloth before the elders of the town, and the elders shall take the man and punish him. They shall fine him a hundred shekels of silver and give them to the girl’s father, because this man has given an Israelite virgin a bad name. She shall continue to be his wife; he must not divorce her as long as he lives. If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of the town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

ADULTERY

Adultery is considered a sin in all religions. The Bible decrees the death sentence for both the adulterer and the adulteress (Lev. 20:10). Islam also equally punishes both the adulterer and the adulteress (24:2). However, the Quranic definition of adultery is very different from the Biblical definition. Adultery, according to the Quran, is the involvement of a married man or a married woman in an extramarital affair. The Bible only considers the extramarital affair of a married woman as adultery (Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22, Proverbs 6:20-7:27).

“If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deut. 22:22).

“If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death” (Lev. 20:10).

According to the Biblical definition, if a married man sleeps with an unmarried woman, this is not considered a crime at all. The married man who has extramarital affairs with unmarried women is not an adulterer and the unmarried women involved with him are not adulteresses. The crime of adultery is committed only when a man, whether married or single, sleeps with a married woman. In this case the man is considered adulterer, even if he is not married, and the woman is considered adulteress. In short, adultery is any illicit sexual intercourse involving a married woman. The extramarital affair of a married man is not per se a crime in the Bible. Why is the dual moral standard? According to Encyclopaedia Judaica, the wife was considered to be the husband’s possession and adultery constituted a violation of the husband’s exclusive right to her; the wife as the husband’s possession had no such right to him. 15 That is, if a man had sexual intercourse with a married woman, he would be violating the property of another man and, thus, he should be punished.

To the present day in Israel, if a married man indulges in an extramarital affair with an unmarried woman, his children by that woman are considered legitimate. But, if a married woman has an affair with another man, whether married or not married, her children by that man are not only illegitimate but they are considered bastards and are forbidden to marry any other Jews except converts and other bastards. This ban is handed down to the children’s descendants for 10 generations until the taint of adultery is presumably weakened. 16

The Quran, on the other hand, never considers any woman to be the possession of any man. The Quran eloquently describes the relationship between the spouses by saying:

” And among His signs is that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them and He has put love and mercy between your hearts: verily in that are signs for those who reflect” (30:21).

This is the Quranic conception of marriage: love, mercy, and tranquillity, not possession and double standards.

VOWS

According to the Bible, a man must fulfil any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman’s vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter’s/wife’s vows, all pledges made by her become null and void:

“But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ….Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Num. 30:2-15)

Why is it that a woman’s word is not binding per se ? The answer is simple: because she is owned by her father, before marriage, or by her husband after marriage. The father’s control over his daughter was absolute to the extent that, should he wish, he could sell her! It is indicated in the writings of the Rabbis that: “The man may sell his daughter, but the woman may not sell her daughter; the man may betroth his daughter, but the woman may not betroth her daughter.” 17 The Rabbinic literature also indicates that marriage represents the transfer of control from the father to the husband: “betrothal, making a woman the sacrosanct possession–the inviolable property– of the husband…” Obviously, if the woman is considered to be the property of someone else, she cannot make any pledges that her owner does not approve of.

It is of interest to note that this Biblical instruction concerning women’s vows has had negative repercussions on Judaeo-Christian women till early in this century. A married woman in the Western world had no legal status. No act of hers was of any legal value. Her husband could repudiate any contract, bargain, or deal she had made. Women in the West (the largest heir of the Judaeo-Christian legacy) were held unable to make a binding contract because they were practically owned by someone else. Western women had suffered for almost two thousand years because of the Biblical attitude towards women’s position vis-à-vis their fathers and husbands. 18

In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Quran:

“He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths” (5:89).

Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths:

“O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful” (60:12).

A man could not swear the oath on behalf of his daughter or his wife. Nor could a man repudiate the oath made by any of his female relatives.

WIFE’S PROPERTY ?

The three religions share an unshakeable belief in the importance of marriage and family life. They also agree on the leadership of the husband over the family. Nevertheless, blatant differences do exist among the three religions with respect to the limits of this leadership. The Judaeo-Christian tradition, unlike Islam, virtually extends the leadership of the husband into ownership of his wife.

The Jewish tradition regarding the husband’s role towards his wife stems from the conception that he owns her as he owns his slave. 19 This conception has been the reason behind the double standard in the laws of adultery and behind the husband’s ability to annul his wife’s vows. This conception has also been responsible for denying the wife any control over her property or her earnings. As soon as a Jewish woman got married, she completely lost any control over her property and earnings to her husband. Jewish Rabbis asserted the husband’s right to his wife’s property as a corollary of his possession of her: “Since one has come into the possession of the woman does it not follow that he should come into the possession of her property too?”, and “Since he has acquired the woman should he not acquire also her property?” 20 Thus, marriage caused the richest woman to become practically penniless. The Talmud describes the financial situation of a wife as follows:

“How can a woman have anything; whatever is hers belongs to her husband? What is his is his and what is hers is also his…… Her earnings and what she may find in the streets are also his. The household articles, even the crumbs of bread on the table, are his. Should she invite a guest to her house and feed him, she would be stealing from her husband…” (San. 71a, Git. 62a)

The fact of the matter is that the property of a Jewish female was meant to attract suitors. A Jewish family would assign their daughter a share of her father’s estate to be used as a dowry in case of marriage. It was this dowry that made Jewish daughters an unwelcome burden to their fathers. The father had to raise his daughter for years and then prepare for her marriage by providing a large dowry. Thus, a girl in a Jewish family was a liability and no asset. 21 This liability explains why the birth of a daughter was not celebrated with joy in the old Jewish society (see the “Shameful Daughters?” section). The dowry was the wedding gift presented to the groom under terms of tenancy. The husband would act as the practical owner of the dowry but he could not sell it. The bride would lose any control over the dowry at the moment of marriage. Moreover, she was expected to work after marriage and all her earnings had to go to her husband in return for her maintenance which was his obligation. She could regain her property only in two cases: divorce or her husband’s death. Should she die first, he would inherit her property. In the case of the husband’s death, the wife could regain her pre-marital property but she was not entitled to inherit any share in her deceased husband’s own property. It has to be added that the groom also had to present a marriage gift to his bride, yet again he was the practical owner of this gift as long as they were married. 22

Christianity, until recently, has followed the same Jewish tradition. Both religious and civil authorities in the Christian Roman Empire (after Constantine) required a property agreement as a condition for recognizing the marriage. Families offered their daughters increasing dowries and, as a result, men tended to marry earlier while families postponed their daughters’ marriages until later than had been customary. 23 Under Canon law, a wife was entitled to restitution of her dowry if the marriage was annulled unless she was guilty of adultery. In this case, she forfeited her right to the dowry which remained in her husband’s hands. 24 Under Canon and civil law a married woman in Christian Europe and America had lost her property rights until late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For example, women’s rights under English law were compiled and published in 1632. These ‘rights’ included: “That which the husband hath is his own. That which the wife hath is the husband’s.” 25 The wife not only lost her property upon marriage, she lost her personality as well. No act of her was of legal value. Her husband could repudiate any sale or gift made by her as being of no binding legal value. The person with whom she had any contract was held as a criminal for participating in a fraud. Moreover, she could not sue or be sued in her own name, nor could she sue her own husband. 26 A married woman was practically treated as an infant in the eyes of the law. The wife simply belonged to her husband and therefore she lost her property, her legal personality, and her family name. 27

Islam, since the seventh century C.E., has granted married women the independent personality which the Judaeo-Christian West had deprived them until very recently. In Islam, the bride and her family are under no obligation whatsoever to present a gift to the groom. The girl in a Muslim family is no liability. A woman is so dignified by Islam that she does not need to present gifts in order to attract potential husbands. It is the groom who must present the bride with a marriage gift. This gift is considered her property and neither the groom nor the bride’s family have any share in or control over it. In some Muslim societies today, a marriage gift of a hundred thousand dollars in diamonds is not unusual. 28 The bride retains her marriage gifts even if she is later divorced. The husband is not allowed any share in his wife’s property except what she offers him with her free consent. 29 The Quran has stated its position on this issue quite clearly:

“And give the women (on marriage) their dower as a free gift; but if they, Of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it with right good cheer” (4:4)

The wife’s property and earnings are under her full control and for her use alone since her, and the children’s, maintenance is her husband’s responsibility. 30 No matter how rich the wife might be, she is not obliged to act as a co-provider for the family unless she herself voluntarily chooses to do so. Spouses do inherit from one another. Moreover, a married woman in Islam retains her independent legal personality and her family name. 31 An American judge once commented on the rights of Muslim women saying: ” A Muslim girl may marry ten times, but her individuality is not absorbed by that of her various husbands. She is a solar planet with a name and legal personality of her own.” 32

DIVORCE

The three religions have remarkable differences in their attitudes towards divorce. Christianity abhors divorce altogether. The New Testament unequivocally advocates the indissolubility of marriage. It is attributed to Jesus to have said, “But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). This uncompromising ideal is, without a doubt, unrealistic. It assumes a state of moral perfection that human societies have never achieved. When a couple realizes that their married life is beyond repair, a ban on divorce will not do them any good. Forcing ill-mated couples to remain together against their wills is neither effective nor reasonable. No wonder the whole Christian world has been obliged to sanction divorce.

Judaism, on the other hand, allows divorce even without any cause. The Old Testament gives the husband the right to divorce his wife even if he just dislikes her:

“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled” (Deut. 24:1-4).

The above verses have caused some considerable debate among Jewish scholars because of their disagreement over the interpretation of the words “displeasing”, “indecency”, and “dislikes” mentioned in the verses. The Talmud records their different opinions:

“The school of Shammai held that a man should not divorce his wife unless he has found her guilty of some sexual misconduct, while the school of Hillel say he may divorce her even if she has merely spoiled a dish for him. Rabbi Akiba says he may divorce her even if he simply finds another woman more beautiful than she” (Gittin 90a-b).

The New Testament follows the Shammaites opinion while Jewish law has followed the opinion of the Hillelites and R. Akiba. 33 Since the Hillelites view prevailed, it became the unbroken tradition of Jewish law to give the husband freedom to divorce his wife without any cause at all. The Old Testament not only gives the husband the right to divorce his “displeasing” wife, it considers divorcing a “bad wife” an obligation:

“A bad wife brings humiliation, downcast looks, and a wounded heart. Slack of hand and weak of knee is the man whose wife fails to make him happy. Woman is the origin of sin, and it is through her that we all die. Do not leave a leaky cistern to drip or allow a bad wife to say what she likes. If she does not accept your control, divorce her and send her away” (Ecclesiasticus 25:25).

The Talmud has recorded several specific actions by wives which obliged their husbands to divorce them: “If she ate in the street, if she drank greedily in the street, if she suckled in the street, in every case Rabbi Meir says that she must leave her husband” (Git. 89a). The Talmud has also made it mandatory to divorce a barren wife (who bore no children in a period of ten years): “Our Rabbis taught: If a man took a wife and lived with her for ten years and she bore no child, he shall divorce her” (Yeb. 64a).

Wives, on the other hand, cannot initiate divorce under Jewish law. A Jewish wife, however, could claim the right to a divorce before a Jewish court provided that a strong reason exists. Very few grounds are provided for the wife to make a claim for a divorce. These grounds include: A husband with physical defects or skin disease, a husband not fulfilling his conjugal responsibilities, etc. The Court might support the wife’s claim to a divorce but it cannot dissolve the marriage. Only the husband can dissolve the marriage by giving his wife a bill of divorce. The Court could scourge, fine, imprison, and excommunicate him to force him to deliver the necessary bill of divorce to his wife. However, if the husband is stubborn enough, he can refuse to grant his wife a divorce and keep her tied to him indefinitely. Worse still, he can desert her without granting her a divorce and leave her unmarried and undivorced. He can marry another woman or even live with any single woman out of wedlock and have children from her (these children are considered legitimate under Jewish law). The deserted wife, on the other hand, cannot marry any other man since she is still legally married and she cannot live with any other man because she will be considered an adulteress and her children from this union will be illegitimate for ten generations. A woman in such a position is called an agunah (chained woman). 34 In the United States today there are approximately 1000 to 1500 Jewish women who are agunot (plural for agunah), while in Israel their number might be as high as 16000. Husbands may extort thousands of dollars from their trapped wives in exchange for a Jewish divorce. 35

Islam occupies the middle ground between Christianity and Judaism with respect to divorce. Marriage in Islam is a sanctified bond that should not be broken except for compelling reasons. Couples are instructed to pursue all possible remedies whenever their marriages are in danger. Divorce is not to be resorted to except when there is no other way out. In a nutshell, Islam recognizes divorce, yet it discourages it by all means. Let us focus on the recognition side first. Islam does recognize the right of both partners to end their matrimonial relationship. Islam gives the husband the right for Talaq (divorce). Moreover, Islam, unlike Judaism, grants the wife the right to dissolve the marriage through what is known as Khula’. 36 If the husband dissolves the marriage by divorcing his wife, he cannot retrieve any of the marriage gifts he has given her. The Quran explicitly prohibits the divorcing husbands from taking back their marriage gifts no matter how expensive or valuable these gifts might be:

“But if you decide to take one wife in place of another, even if you had given the latter a whole treasure for dower, take not the least bit of it back; Would you take it by slander and a manifest wrong?” (4:20).

In the case of the wife choosing to end the marriage, she may return the marriage gifts to her husband. Returning the marriage gifts in this case is a fair compensation for the husband who is keen to keep his wife while she chooses to leave him. The Quran has instructed Muslim men not to take back any of the gifts they have given to their wives except in the case of the wife choosing to dissolve the marriage:

“It is not lawful for you (Men) to take back any of your gifts except when both parties fear that they would be unable to keep the limits ordained by Allah. There is no blame on either of them if she give something for her freedom. These are the limits ordained by Allah so do not transgress them” (2:229).

Also, a woman came to the Prophet Muhammad seeking the dissolution of her marriage, she told the Prophet that she did not have any complaints against her husband’s character or manners. Her only problem was that she honestly did not like him to the extent of not being able to live with him any longer. The Prophet asked her: “Would you give him his garden (the marriage gift he had given her) back?” she said: “Yes”. The Prophet then instructed the man to take back his garden and accept the dissolution of the marriage (Bukhari).

In some cases, A Muslim wife might be willing to keep her marriage but find herself obliged to claim for a divorce because of some compelling reasons such as: Cruelty of the husband, desertion without a reason, a husband not fulfilling his conjugal responsibilities, etc. In these cases the Muslim court dissolves the marriage. 37

In short, Islam has offered the Muslim woman some unequalled rights: she can end the marriage through Khula’ and she can sue for a divorce. A Muslim wife can never become chained by a recalcitrant husband. It was these rights that enticed Jewish women who lived in the early Islamic societies of the seventh century C.E. to seek to obtain bills of divorce from their Jewish husbands in Muslim courts. The Rabbis declared these bills null and void. In order to end this practice, the Rabbis gave new rights and privileges to Jewish women in an attempt to weaken the appeal of the Muslim courts. Jewish women living in Christian countries were not offered any similar privileges since the Roman law of divorce practiced there was no more attractive than the Jewish law. 38

Let us now focus our attention on how Islam discourages divorce. The Prophet of Islam told the believers that:

“among all the permitted acts, divorce is the most hateful to God” (Abu Dawood).

A Muslim man should not divorce his wife just because he dislikes her. The Quran instructs Muslim men to be kind to their wives even in cases of lukewarm emotions or feelings of dislike:

“Live with them (your wives) on a footing of kindness and equity. If you dislike them it may be that you dislike something in which Allah has placed a great deal of good” (4:19).

Prophet Muhammad gave a similar instruction:

” A believing man must not hate a believing woman. If he dislikes one of her traits he will be pleased with another” (Muslim).

The Prophet has also emphasized that the best Muslims are those who are best to their wives:

“The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives” (Tirmidthi).

However, Islam is a practical religion and it does recognize that there are circumstances in which a marriage becomes on the verge of collapsing. In such cases, a mere advice of kindness or self restraint is no viable solution. So, what to do in order to save a marriage in these cases? The Quran offers some practical advice for the spouse (husband or wife) whose partner (wife or husband) is the wrongdoer. For the husband whose wife’s ill-conduct is threatening the marriage, the Quran gives four types of advice as detailed in the following verses:

“As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, (1) Admonish them, (2) refuse to share their beds, (3) beat them; but if they return to obedience seek not against them means of annoyance: For Allah is Most High, Great. (4) If you fear a break between them, appoint two arbiters, one from his family and the other from hers; If they wish for peace, Allah will cause their reconciliation” (4:34-35).

The first three are to be tried first. If they fail, then the help of the families concerned should be sought. It has to be noted, in the light of the above verses, that beating the rebellious wife is a temporary measure that is resorted to as third in line in cases of extreme necessity in hopes that it might remedy the wrongdoing of the wife. If it does, the husband is not allowed by any means to continue any annoyance to the wife as explicitly mentioned in the verse. If it does not, the husband is still not allowed to use this measure any longer and the final avenue of the family-assisted reconciliation has to be explored.

Prophet Muhammad has instructed Muslim husbands that they should not have recourse to these measures except in extreme cases such as open lewdness committed by the wife. Even in these cases the punishment should be slight and if the wife desists, the husband is not permitted to irritate her:

“In case they are guilty of open lewdness you may leave them alone in their beds and inflict slight punishment. If they are obedient to you, do not seek against them any means of annoyance” (Tirmidthi)

Furthermore, the Prophet of Islam has condemned any unjustifiable beating. Some Muslim wives complained to him that their husbands had beaten them. Hearing that, the Prophet categorically stated that:

“Those who do so (beat their wives) are not the best among you” (Abu Dawood).

It has to be remembered at this point that the Prophet has also said:

“The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family” (Tirmidthi).

The Prophet advised one Muslim woman, whose name was Fatimah bint Qais, not to marry a man because the man was known for beating women:

“I went to the Prophet and said: Abul Jahm and Mu’awiah have proposed to marry me. The Prophet (by way of advice) said: As to Mu’awiah he is very poor and Abul Jahm is accustomed to beating women” (Muslim).

It has to be noted that the Talmud sanctions wife beating as chastisement for the purpose of discipline. 39 The husband is not restricted to the extreme cases such as those of open lewdness. He is allowed to beat his wife even if she just refuses to do her house work. Moreover, he is not limited only to the use of light punishment. He is permitted to break his wife’s stubbornness by the lash or by starving her. 40

For the wife whose husband’s ill-conduct is the cause for the marriage’s near collapse, the Quran offers the following advice:

“If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband’s part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best” (4:128).

In this case, the wife is advised to seek reconciliation with her husband (with or without family assistance). It is notable that the Quran is not advising the wife to resort to the two measures of abstention from sex and beating. The reason for this disparity might be to protect the wife from a violent physical reaction by her already misbehaving husband. Such a violent physical reaction will do both the wife and the marriage more harm than good. Some Muslim scholars have suggested that the court can apply these measures against the husband on the wife’s behalf. That is, the court first admonishes the rebellious husband, then forbids him his wife’s bed, and finally executes a symbolic beating. 41

To sum up, Islam offers Muslim married couples much viable advice to save their marriages in cases of trouble and tension. If one of the partners is jeopardizing the matrimonial relationship, the other partner is advised by the Quran to do whatever possible and effective in order to save this sacred bond. If all the measures fail, Islam allows the partners to separate peacefully and amicably.

MOTHERS

The Old Testament in several places commands kind and considerate treatment of the parents and condemns those who dishonor them. For example, “If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death” (Lev. 20:9) and “A wise man brings joy to his father but a foolish man despises his mother” (Proverbs 15:20). Although honoring the father alone is mentioned in some places, e.g. “A wise man heeds his father’s instruction” (Proverbs 13:1), the mother alone is never mentioned. Moreover, there is no special emphasis on treating the mother kindly as a sign of appreciation of her great suffering in childbearing and suckling. Besides, mothers do not inherit at all from their children while fathers do. 42

It is difficult to speak of the New Testament as a scripture that calls for honoring the mother. To the contrary, one gets the impression that the New Testament considers kind treatment of mothers as an impediment on the way to God. According to the New Testament, one cannot become a good Christian worthy of becoming a disciple of Christ unless he hates his mother. It is attributed to Jesus to have said:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he can not be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Furthermore, the New Testament depicts a picture of Jesus as indifferent to, or even disrespectful of, his own mother. For example, when she had come looking for him while he was preaching to a crowd, he did not care to go out to see her:

“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone to call him. A crowd was sitting around him and they told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’ ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said,’ Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.’ ” (Mark 3:31-35)

One might argue that Jesus was trying to teach his audience an important lesson that religious ties are no less important than family ties. However, he could have taught his listeners the same lesson without showing such absolute indifference to his mother. The same disrespectful attitude is depicted when he refused to endorse a statement made by a member of his audience blessing his mother’s role in giving birth to him and nursing him:

“As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.’ ” (Luke 11:27-28)

If a mother with the stature of the virgin Mary had been treated with such discourtesy, as depicted in the New Testament, by a son of the stature of Jesus Christ, then how should an average Christian mother be treated by her average Christian sons?

In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood is unparalleled. The Quran places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty:

“Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood’ ” (17:23-24).

The Quran in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother’s great role in giving birth and nursing:

“And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents” (31:14).

The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad:

“A man asked the Prophet: ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father'” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners. 43

FEMALE INHERITANCE ?

One of the most important differences between the Quran and the Bible is their attitude towards female inheritance of the property of a deceased relative. The Biblical attitude has been succinctly described by Rabbi Epstein: “The continuous and unbroken tradition since the Biblical days gives the female members of the household, wife and daughters, no right of succession to the family estate. In the more primitive scheme of succession, the female members of the family were considered part of the estate and as remote from the legal personality of an heir as the slave. Whereas by Mosaic enactment the daughters were admitted to succession in the event of no male issue remained, the wife was not recognized as heir even in such conditions.” 44 Why were the female members of the family considered part of the family estate? Rabbi Epstein has the answer: “They are owned –before marriage, by the father; after marriage, by the husband.” 45

The Biblical rules of inheritance are outlined in Numbers 27:1-11. A wife is given no share in her husband’s estate, while he is her first heir, even before her sons. A daughter can inherit only if no male heirs exist. A mother is not an heir at all while the father is. Widows and daughters, in case male children remained, were at the mercy of the male heirs for provision. That is why widows and orphan girls were among the most destitute members of the Jewish society.

Christianity has followed suit for long time. Both the ecclesiastical and civil laws of Christendom barred daughters from sharing with their brothers in the father’s patrimony. Besides, wives were deprived of any inheritance rights. These iniquitous laws survived till late in the last century46.

Among the pagan Arabs before Islam, inheritance rights were confined exclusively to the male relatives. The Quran abolished all these unjust customs and gave all the female relatives inheritance shares:

“From what is left by parents and those nearest related there is a share for men and a share for women, whether the property be small or large –a determinate share” (4:7).

Muslim mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters had received inheritance rights thirteen hundred years before Europe recognized that these rights even existed. The division of inheritance is a vast subject with an enormous amount of details (4:7,11,12,176). The general rule is that the female share is half the male’s except the cases in which the mother receives equal share to that of the father. This general rule if taken in isolation from other legislations concerning men and women may seem unfair. In order to understand the rationale behind this rule, one must take into account the fact that the financial obligations of men in Islam far exceed those of women (see the “Wife’s property?” section). A bridegroom must provide his bride with a marriage gift. This gift becomes her exclusive property and remains so even if she is later divorced. The bride is under no obligation to present any gifts to her groom. Moreover, the Muslim husband is charged with the maintenance of his wife and children. The wife, on the other hand, is not obliged to help him in this regard. Her property and earnings are for her use alone except what she may voluntarily offer her husband. Besides, one has to realize that Islam vehemently advocates family life. It strongly encourages youth to get married, discourages divorce, and does not regard celibacy as a virtue. Therefore, in a truly Islamic society, family life is the norm and single life is the rare exception. That is, almost all marriage-aged women and men are married in an Islamic society. In light of these facts, one would appreciate that Muslim men, in general, have greater financial burdens than Muslim women and thus inheritance rules are meant to offset this imbalance so that the society lives free of all gender or class wars. After a simple comparison between the financial rights and duties of Muslim women, one British Muslim woman has concluded that Islam has treated women not only fairly but generously. 47

PLIGHT OF WIDOWS

Because of the fact that the Old Testament recognized no inheritance rights to them, widows were among the most vulnerable of the Jewish population. The male relatives who inherited all of a woman’s deceased husband’s estate were to provide for her from that estate. However, widows had no way to ensure this provision was carried out, and lived on the mercy of others. Therefore, widows were among the lowest classes in ancient Israel and widowhood was considered a symbol of great degradation (Isaiah 54:4). But the plight of a widow in the Biblical tradition extended even beyond her exclusion from her husband’s property. According to Genesis 38, a childless widow must marry her husband’s brother, even if he is already married, so that he can produce offspring for his dead brother, thus ensuring his brother’s name will not die out.

“Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Lie with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother’ ” (Genesis 38:8).

The widow’s consent to this marriage is not required. The widow is treated as part of her deceased husband’s property whose main function is to ensure her husband’s posterity. This Biblical law is still practiced in today’s Israel. 48 A childless widow in Israel is bequeathed to her husband’s brother. If the brother is too young to marry, she has to wait until he comes of age. Should the deceased husband’s brother refuse to marry her, she is set free and can then marry any man of her choice. It is not an uncommon phenomenon in Israel that widows are subjected to blackmail by their brothers-in-law in order to gain their freedom.

The pagan Arabs before Islam had similar practices. A widow was considered a part of her husband’s property to be inherited by his male heirs and she was, usually, given in marriage to the deceased man’s eldest son from another wife. The Quran scathingly attacked and abolished this degrading custom:

“And marry not women whom your fathers married–Except what is past– it was shameful, odious, and abominable custom indeed” (4:22).

Widows and divorced women were so looked down upon in the Biblical tradition that the high priest could not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a prostitute:

“The woman he (the high priest) marries must be a virgin. He must not marry a widow, a divorced woman, or a woman defiled by prostitution, but only a virgin from his own people, so he will not defile his offspring among his people” (Lev. 21:13-15)

In Israel today, a descendant of the Cohen caste (the high priests of the days of the Temple) cannot marry a divorcee, a widow, or a prostitute. 49 In the Jewish legislation, a woman who has been widowed three times with all the three husbands dying of natural causes is considered ‘fatal’ and forbidden to marry again. 50 The Quran, on the other hand, recognizes neither castes nor fatal persons. Widows and divorcees have the freedom to marry whomever they choose. There is no stigma attached to divorce or widowhood in the Quran:

“When you divorce women and they fulfil their terms [three menstruation periods] either take them back on equitable terms or set them free on equitable terms; But do not take them back to injure them or to take undue advantage, If anyone does that, he wrongs his own soul. Do not treat Allah’s signs as a jest” (2:231).

“If any of you die and leave widows behind, they shall wait four months and ten days. When they have fulfilled their term, there is no blame on you if they dispose of themselves in a just manner” (2:234).

“Those of you who die and leave widows should bequeath for their widows a year’s maintenance and residence. But if they [the widows] leave (the residence) there is no blame on you for what they justly do with themselves” (2:240).

POLYGAMY

Let us now tackle the important question of polygamy. Polygamy is a very ancient practice found in many human societies. The Bible did not condemn polygamy. To the contrary, the Old Testament and Rabbinic writings frequently attest to the legality of polygamy. King Solomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3) Also, king David is said to have had many wives and concubines (2 Samuel 5:13). The Old Testament does have some injunctions on how to distribute the property of a man among his sons from different wives (Deut. 22:7). The only restriction on polygamy is a ban on taking a wife’s sister as a rival wife (Lev. 18:18). The Talmud advises a maximum of four wives. 51 European Jews continued to practice polygamy until the sixteenth century. Oriental Jews regularly practiced polygamy until they arrived in Israel where it is forbidden under civil law. However, under religious law which overrides civil law in such cases, it is permissible. 52

What about the New Testament? According to Father Eugene Hillman in his insightful book, Polygamy reconsidered, “Nowhere in the New Testament is there any explicit commandment that marriage should be monogamous or any explicit commandment forbidding polygamy.” 53 Moreover, Jesus has not spoken against polygamy though it was practiced by the Jews of his society. Father Hillman stresses the fact that the Church in Rome banned polygamy in order to conform to the Greco-Roman culture (which prescribed only one legal wife while tolerating concubinage and prostitution). He cited St. Augustine, “Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife.” 54 African churches and African Christians often remind their European brothers that the Church’s ban on polygamy is a cultural tradition and not an authentic Christian injunction.

The Quran, too, allowed polygamy, but not without restrictions:

“If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, marry women of your choice, two or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with them, then only one” (4:3).

The Quran, contrary to the Bible, limited the maximum number of wives to four under the strict condition of treating the wives equally and justly. It should not be understood that the Quran is exhorting the believers to practice polygamy, or that polygamy is considered as an ideal. In other words, the Quran has “tolerated” or “allowed” polygamy, and no more, but why? Why is polygamy permissible ? The answer is simple: there are places and times in which there are compelling social and moral reasons for polygamy. As the above Quranic verse indicates, the issue of polygamy in Islam cannot be understood apart from community obligations towards orphans and widows. Islam as a universal religion suitable for all places and all times could not ignore these compelling obligations.

In most human societies, females outnumber males. In the U.S. there are, at least, eight million more women than men. In a country like Guinea there are 122 females for every 100 males. In Tanzania, there are 95.1 males per 100 females. 55 What should a society do towards such unbalanced sex ratios? There are various solutions, some might suggest celibacy, others would prefer female infanticide (which does happen in some societies in the world today !). Others may think the only outlet is that the society should tolerate all manners of sexual permissiveness: prostitution, sex out of wedlock, homosexuality, etc. For other societies , like most African societies today, the most honorable outlet is to allow polygamous marriage as a culturally accepted and socially respected institution. The point that is often misunderstood in the West is that women in other cultures do not necessarily look at polygamy as a sign of women’s degradation. For example, many young African brides , whether Christians or Muslims or otherwise, would prefer to marry a married man who has already proved himself to be a responsible husband. Many African wives urge their husbands to get a second wife so that they do not feel lonely. 56 A survey of over six thousand women, ranging in age from 15 to 59, conducted in the second largest city in Nigeria showed that 60 percent of these women would be pleased if their husbands took another wife. Only 23 percent expressed anger at the idea of sharing with another wife. Seventy-six percent of the women in a survey conducted in Kenya viewed polygamy positively. In a survey undertaken in rural Kenya, 25 out of 27 women considered polygamy to be better than monogamy. These women felt polygamy can be a happy and beneficial experience if the co-wives cooperate with each other. 57 Polygamy in most African societies is such a respectable institution that some Protestant churches are becoming more tolerant of it. A bishop of the Anglican Church in Kenya declared that, “Although monogamy may be ideal for the expression of love between husband and wife, the church should consider that in certain cultures polygyny is socially acceptable and that the belief that polygyny is contrary to Christianity is no longer tenable.” 58 After a careful study of African polygamy, Reverend David Gitari of the Anglican Church has concluded that polygamy, as ideally practiced, is more Christian than divorce and remarriage as far as the abandoned wives and children are concerned. 59 I personally know of some highly educated African wives who, despite having lived in the West for many years, do not have any objections against polygamy. One of them, who lives in the U.S., solemnly exhorts her husband to get a second wife to help her in raising the kids.

The problem of the unbalanced sex ratios becomes truly problematic at times of war. Native American Indian tribes used to suffer highly unbalanced sex ratios after wartime losses. Women in these tribes, who in fact enjoyed a fairly high status, accepted polygamy as the best protection against indulgence in indecent activities. European settlers, without offering any other alternative, condemned this Indian polygamy as ‘uncivilised’. 60 After the second world war, there were 7,300,000 more women than men in Germany (3.3 million of them were widows). There were 100 men aged 20 to 30 for every 167 women in that age group. 61 Many of these women needed a man not only as a companion but also as a provider for the household in a time of unprecedented misery and hardship. The soldiers of the victorious Allied Armies exploited these women’s vulnerability. Many young girls and widows had liaisons with members of the occupying forces. Many American and British soldiers paid for their pleasures in cigarettes, chocolate, and bread. Children were overjoyed at the gifts these strangers brought. A 10 year old boy on hearing of such gifts from other children wished from all his heart for an ‘Englishman’ for his mother so that she need not go hungry any longer. 62 We have to ask our own conscience at this point: What is more dignifying to a woman? An accepted and respected second wife as in the native Indians’ approach, or a virtual prostitute as in the ‘civilised’ Allies approach? In other words, what is more dignifying to a woman, the Quranic prescription or the theology based on the culture of the Roman Empire?

It is interesting to note that in an international youth conference held in Munich in 1948 the problem of the highly unbalanced sex ratio in Germany was discussed. When it became clear that no solution could be agreed upon, some participants suggested polygamy. The initial reaction of the gathering was a mixture of shock and disgust. However, after a careful study of the proposal, the participants agreed that it was the only possible solution. Consequently, polygamy was included among the conference final recommendations. 63

The world today possesses more weapons of mass destruction than ever before and the European churches might, sooner or later, be obliged to accept polygamy as the only way out. Father Hillman has thoughtfully recognized this fact, “It is quite conceivable that these genocidal techniques (nuclear, biological, chemical..) could produce so drastic an imbalance among the sexes that plural marriage would become a necessary means of survival….Then contrary to previous custom and law, an overriding natural and moral inclination might arise in favour of polygamy. In such a situation, theologians and church leaders would quickly produce weighty reasons and biblical texts to justify a new conception of marriage.” 64

To the present day, polygamy continues to be a viable solution to some of the social ills of modern societies. The communal obligations that the Quran mentions in association with the permission of polygamy are more visible at present in some Western societies than in Africa. For example, In the United States today, there is a severe gender crisis in the black community. One out of every twenty young black males may die before reaching the age of 21. For those between 20 and 35 years of age, homicide is the leading cause of death. 65 Besides, many young black males are unemployed, in jail, or on dope. 66 As a result, one in four black women, at age 40, has never married, as compared with one in ten white women. 67 Moreover, many young black females become single mothers before the age of 20 and find themselves in need of providers. The end result of these tragic circumstances is that an increasing number of black women are engaged in what is called ‘man-sharing’. 68 That is, many of these hapless single black women are involved in affairs with married men. The wives are often unaware of the fact that other women are ‘sharing’ their husbands with them. Some observers of the crisis of man-sharing in the African American community strongly recommend consensual polygamy as a temporary answer to the shortage of black males until more comprehensive reforms in the American society at large are undertaken. 69 By consensual polygamy they mean a polygamy that is sanctioned by the community and to which all the parties involved have agreed, as opposed to the usually secret man-sharing which is detrimental both to the wife and to the community in general. The problem of man-sharing in the African American community was the topic of a panel discussion held at Temple University in Philadelphia on January 27, 1993. 70 Some of the speakers recommended polygamy as one potential remedy for the crisis. They also suggested that polygamy should not be banned by law, particularly in a society that tolerates prostitution and mistresses. The comment of one woman from the audience that African Americans needed to learn from Africa where polygamy was responsibly practiced elicited enthusiastic applause.

Philip Kilbride, an American anthropologist of Roman Catholic heritage, in his provocative book, Plural marriage for our time, proposes polygamy as a solution to some of the ills of the American society at large. He argues that plural marriage may serve as a potential alternative for divorce in many cases in order to obviate the damaging impact of divorce on many children. He maintains that many divorces are caused by the rampant extramarital affairs in the American society. According to Kilbride, ending an extramarital affair in a polygamous marriage, rather than in a divorce, is better for the children, “Children would be better served if family augmentation rather than only separation and dissolution were seen as options.” Moreover, he suggests that other groups will also benefit from plural marriage such as: elderly women who face a chronic shortage of men and the African Americans who are involved in man-sharing. 71

In 1987, a poll conducted by the student newspaper at the university of California at Berkeley asked the students whether they agreed that men should be allowed by law to have more than one wife in response to a perceived shortage of male marriage candidates in California. Almost all of the students polled approved of the idea. One female student even stated that a polyganous marriage would fulfil her emotional and physical needs while giving her greater freedom than a monogamous union. 72 In fact, this same argument is also used by the few remaining fundamentalist Mormon women who still practice polygamy in the U.S. They believe that polygamy is an ideal way for a woman to have both a career and children since the wives help each other care for the children. 73

It has to be added that polygamy in Islam is a matter of mutual consent. No one can force a woman to marry a married man. Besides, the wife has the right to stipulate that her husband must not marry any other woman as a second wife. 74 The Bible, on the other hand, sometimes resorts to forcible polygamy. A childless widow must marry her husband’s brother, even if he is already married (see the “Plight of Widows” section),regardless of her consent (Genesis 38:8-10).

It should be noted that in many Muslim societies today the practice of polygamy is rare since the gap between the numbers of both sexes is not huge. One can, safely, say that the rate of polygamous marriages in the Muslim world is much less than the rate of extramarital affairs in the West. In other words, men in the Muslim world today are far more strictly monogamous than men in the Western world.

Billy Graham, the eminent Christian evangelist has recognized this fact: “Christianity cannot compromise on the question of polygamy. If present-day Christianity cannot do so, it is to its own detriment. Islam has permitted polygamy as a solution to social ills and has allowed a certain degree of latitude to human nature but only within the strictly defined framework of the law. Christian countries make a great show of monogamy, but actually they practice polygamy. No one is unaware of the part mistresses play in Western society. In this respect Islam is a fundamentally honest religion, and permits a Muslim to marry a second wife if he must, but strictly forbids all clandestine amatory associations in order to safeguard the moral probity of the community.” 75

It is of interest to note that many, non-Muslim as well as Muslim, countries in the world today have outlawed polygamy. Taking a second wife, even with the free consent of the first wife, is a violation of the law. On the other hand, cheating on the wife, without her knowledge or consent, is perfectly legitimate as far as the law is concerned! What is the legal wisdom behind such a contradiction? Is the law designed to reward deception and punish honesty? It is one of the unfathomable paradoxes of our modern ‘civilised’ world.

THE VEIL

Finally, let us shed some light on what is considered in the West as the greatest symbol of women’s oppression and servitude, the veil or the head cover. Is it true that there is no such thing as the veil in the Judaeo-Christian tradition? Let us set the record straight. According to Rabbi Dr. Menachem M. Brayer (Professor of Biblical Literature at Yeshiva University) in his book, The Jewish woman in Rabbinic literature, it was the custom of Jewish women to go out in public with a head covering which, sometimes, even covered the whole face leaving one eye free. 76 He quotes some famous ancient Rabbis saying,” It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered” and “Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen….a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty.” Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman’s hair is considered “nudity”.77 Dr. Brayer also mentions that “During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman’s failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for this offense.” Dr. Brayer also explains that veil of the Jewish woman was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman’s inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband. 78

The veil signified a woman’s self-respect and social status. Women of lower classes would often wear the veil to give the impression of a higher standing. The fact that the veil was the sign of nobility was the reason why prostitutes were not permitted to cover their hair in the old Jewish society. However, prostitutes often wore a special headscarf in order to look respectable. 79 Jewish women in Europe continued to wear veils until the nineteenth century when their lives became more intermingled with the surrounding secular culture. The external pressures of the European life in the nineteenth century forced many of them to go out bare-headed. Some Jewish women found it more convenient to replace their traditional veil with a wig as another form of hair covering. Today, most pious Jewish women do not cover their hair except in the synagogue. 80 Some of them, such as the Hasidic sects, still use the wig. 81

What about the Christian tradition? It is well known that Catholic Nuns have been covering their heads for hundreds of years, but that is not all. St. Paul in the New Testament made some very interesting statements about the veil:

“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head – it is just as though her head were shaved. If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” (I Corinthians 11:3-10).

St. Paul’s rationale for veiling women is that the veil represents a sign of the authority of the man, who is the image and glory of God, over the woman who was created from and for man. St. Tertullian in his famous treatise ‘On The Veiling Of Virgins’ wrote, “Young women, you wear your veils out on the streets, so you should wear them in the church, you wear them when you are among strangers, then wear them among your brothers…” Among the Canon laws of the Catholic church today, there is a law that requires women to cover their heads in church. 82 Some Christian denominations, such as the Amish and the Mennonites for example, keep their women veiled to the present day. The reason for the veil, as offered by their Church leaders, is that “The head covering is a symbol of woman’s subjection to the man and to God”, which is the same logic introduced by St. Paul in the New Testament. 83

From all the above evidence, it is obvious that Islam did not invent the head cover. However, Islam did endorse it. The Quran urges the believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty and then urges the believing women to extend their head covers to cover the neck and the bosom:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty……And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms….” (24:30,31).

The Quran is quite clear that the veil is essential for modesty, but why is modesty important? The Quran is still clear:

“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested” (33:59).

This is the whole point, modesty is prescribed to protect women from molestation or simply, modesty is protection. Thus, the only purpose of the veil in Islam is protection. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil of the Christian tradition, is not a sign of man’s authority over woman nor is it a sign of woman’s subjection to man. The Islamic veil, unlike the veil in the Jewish tradition, is not a sign of luxury and distinction of some noble married women. The Islamic veil is only a sign of modesty with the purpose of protecting women, all women. The Islamic philosophy is that it is always better to be safe than sorry. In fact, the Quran is so concerned with protecting women’s bodies and women’s reputation that a man who dares to falsely accuse a woman of unchastity will be severely punished:

“And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations)- Flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors” (24:4)

Compare this strict Quranic attitude with the extremely lax punishment for rape in the Bible:

” If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives” (Deut. 22:28-30)

One must ask a simple question here, who is really punished? The man who only paid a fine for rape, or the girl who is forced to marry the man who raped her and live with him until he dies? Another question that also should be asked is this: which is more protective of women, the Quranic strict attitude or the Biblical lax attitude?

Some people, especially in the West, would tend to ridicule the whole argument of modesty for protection. Their argument is that the best protection is the spread of education, civilised behaviour, and self restraint. We would say: fine but not enough. If ‘civilization’ is enough protection, then why is it that women in North America dare not walk alone in a dark street – or even across an empty parking lot ? If Education is the solution, then why is it that a respected university like Queen’s has a ‘walk home service’ mainly for female students on campus? If self restraint is the answer, then why are cases of sexual harassment in the workplace reported on the news media every day? A sample of those accused of sexual harassment, in the last few years, includes: Navy officers, Managers, University professors, Senators, Supreme Court Justices, and the President of the United States! I could not believe my eyes when I read the following statistics, written in a pamphlet issued by the Dean of Women’s office at Queen’s University:

  • In Canada, a woman is sexually assaulted every 6 minutes,
  • 1 in 3 women in Canada will be sexually assaulted at some time in their lives,
  • 1 in 4 women are at the risk of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime,
  • 1 in 8 women will be sexually assaulted while attending college or university, and
  • A study found 60% of Canadian university-aged males said they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they wouldn’t get caught.

Something is fundamentally wrong in the society we live in. A radical change in the society’s life style and culture is absolutely necessary. A culture of modesty is badly needed, modesty in dress, in speech, and in manners of both men and women. Otherwise, the grim statistics will grow even worse day after day and, unfortunately, women alone will be paying the price. Actually, we all suffer but as K. Gibran has said, “…for the person who receives the blows is not like the one who counts them.” 84 Therefore, a society like France which expels young women from schools because of their modest dress is, in the end, simply harming itself.

It is one of the great ironies of our world today that the very same headscarf revered as a sign of ‘holiness’ when worn for the purpose of showing the authority of man by Catholic Nuns, is reviled as a sign of ‘oppression’ when worn for the purpose of protection by Muslim women.

What do Bigots Dream?

Just thinking about orders or organizations like the KKK.  Just the fact that people of equal beliefs (in how the world SHOULD be according to their view) exist in numbers great enough to form whole organizations. That’s scary. That’s a lot of hate.

To the members of the KKK specifically I would ask… why?   Nursing hatred is an accurate term because hatred needs to be fed.  And you feed it from within.  It depletes you.  It needs energy and fuel, and it needs to grow to survive.  Where there is hate it is next to impossible for love to exist.  Tenderness.   Caring.  Compassion.  Because hate hardens the heart, and burns away every other feeling.

That said, I’m trying to imagine this glorious utopia that would exist if such a group had its way.  Seriously.  This is just what I’m imagining a bigot might want to make his country his own again, and of course in the below example my bigot is a white male because I’m imagining he is KKK.   As I hope most of us understand bigots can be either gender and come in any color.  But what I see of hate spam email I sometimes get….a lot of it expresses indignation by whites toward non whites or people of other ancestries/languages.

So ok, what would be the possible changes we might see if the KKK or people like them (skin-heads, the more extreme conservative Christians, etc.,) could have their way.

Well, all or most people who aren’t white enough would be kicked out of the country, for starters.  Doesn’t matter if your grandparents or even their grandparents were born here in the good old US.  Doesn’t matter if the only language you speak or have ever learned is English and you have a respectable job in a nice neighborhood and drive a nice car and your kids are straight A students in school.  You’d be out.  Sent packing.  Because your skin isn’t white.  Because you clearly are therefore UN-American.

Doesn’t matter if you or your mom or dad or their parents fought or maybe even died fighting for this country in a war, either.  You’d be pointed in the general direction of the country where your ancestors are assumed to have originated from and you’d be told to “go home.”  Most likely you’d be allowed to pack a few suitcases but, really, with the guys swarming around your yard in white cloaks and throwing bricks and burning crosses, and brandishing guns & threatening your children, how motivated would you be to abandon your stuff to save yourself?

That’s if you’re lucky.  Some might not be so lucky.  Some might be told they can only stay if they give up their right to person-hood, their right to consider themselves human beings.  They’d be told you can stay but you’ll live in only crappy neighborhoods, only allowed to earn under minimum wage (if that) and be limited to menial labor type jobs, and you’d only be permitted to breed in small numbers.  Your kids, if they are allowed to learn to read or write, would never make it past the six grade, and certainly any hope of college would be cease to be.   You of course would not be able to use the same doorways as white people, or drinking fountains, or even go into many restaurants you used to enjoy.

Again, that’s if you’re lucky.  Perhaps those guys in white cloaks would deny you even the chance to live in slums and live independently.  Perhaps instead you’d be reduced to being thought of as livestock and forced to work for free, facing the terrifying possibility of being whipped or beaten to death or lynched or burned or have your ears, fingers and genitals cut off if you should try to run away.

As for women, well ladies, forget being able to vote.  Why would we need to, anyway, right?  We have our husbands to do it for us.  Or at least the 50% of women in this country who happen to be married do.  I’m sure we’d lose our right to own property.  Perhaps we too would be denied a higher education.   Certainly we’d be denied enough right of person-hood to have any say over what happens to our bodies.  We’d be forced to carry babies whether we want to have a baby or not.  In that way we’d be breeding stock, and of course this is a good thing because it would mean more white babies in a world where white people are (horror of horrors) fast becoming a minority.

I’d say too there’d be no inter-racial marriage anymore–in fact anyone of any other color just looking at a white woman would probably meet with a terrible end.   But would there even BE people of other races allowed to live here anymore?  Possibly not.

Let’s see.  What about the pros to living in this country once all the UN-Americans are driven out or taken control of?  There’d be less people here for one.  A lot less people.  Your opinion would again be the voice of the majority.  You could decide who gets to be successful and who does not.  Male only clubs would thrive once again and women would be denied the chance to play most sports.  White males would have their land of opportunity for ALL back but for only themselves to enjoy again.   Everyone else would be put in their place.   Children would address adult men as “sir,” and little girls would only be allowed to wear dresses and only cross their ankles.

As for gays, sorry guys and gals, but you’d be out too.  But in a much more permanent way, I’m afraid.  Because, you see, you are an abomination in the eyes of God, so you’d be perfectly okay to slaughter on sight–in fact they might put a bounty on you to encourage your demise until you return to hiding in closets and pretending with all your might to be something else.

Witches too, I’m thinking, would be in danger, or really anyone with a faith that isn’t the national religion, which of course would be Christianity in its most conservative form.  The bible would be taken literally.  Women would not be allowed to speak in church or instruct or have any authority over men (sorry Sarah Palin).   Women who committed adultery (or raped without crying out in a city) would be killed or severely punished, while the men could do whatever they please….

Hmmm.   Have I left anything out?

Of course I’m exaggerating here.  But by how much?  What do bigots dream?  If this country is so not right to them, what would they change about it?   What would they want to keep the same?  How far back in time would our society plummet?   What would be required to make them content?  I’m pretty sure i can safely bet that English would become THE only language permitted.   Of course if you’re lucky you might still be allowed to speak your native tongue in the privacy of your own home.  I’m also pretty sure discrimination would be okay to openly demonstrate/practice again.  Women would go back to having lower wage secretarial type jobs.  And as I said above, minorities would find their rights greatly diminished–assuming they’re even allowed to still live in this country.

So ok, this is getting long.  I was just in the mood to have a rant this morning and now I have.  Yes, I am white and yes, I also sometimes find having to hear Spanish and other languages being spoken around me rather annoying.  But nothing in this world remains the same.  It’s too bad that it can’t be the way it was–back in the day when immigrants came to the United States to become Americans rather than be whatever nationality they are, here.   Used to be immigrants would gradually learn the national language and become, well, Americans.

Perhaps this newest wave will too, eventually. At one point when Europeans first came here, Irish, Norwegian, German, etc., they too spoke their own language and were discriminated against by others who did not.  How many generations passed before they were mostly speaking English too?   I like to think that the great melting pot is still what it is, and we just happen to be seeing a new wave of first generation immigrants coming into our country.   Do we open our arms to them and adapt, which is what America has been tooting its horn about that this is what our nation stands for?  Hoping they too will make some effort to adapt to us rather than try to replace us which may be how it also seemed when the first non-English speaking Europeans came here?   Yes, our country will change.  Nothing stays the same, ever.  We have new cultures now pouring into the mix.  But this is America.   Land of the Free, Home of the Brave, and the equal chance to pursue happiness for all.

Or I would like to hope.

Two Kinds of Human???

I’m not going to bore people with long paragraphs copied and pasted from other websites written by people who actually know what they’re talking about.  For me it’s an interesting subject and so I’ve read up a little.  If you want facts rather than my just throwing out thoughts of things I’ve read, there’s this thing called GOOGLE.  You can Google the various words for one kind of human.  They range from psychopath, sociopath, antisocial personality disorder.  If you want the facts, and why the terms referring to the same personality type have changed over the years, you can read about it too, like I did.

So here are my thoughts about the two kinds of human that exist.   Most of us know there are two kinds.  We don’t need some psycho-babble label for it.   There are givers and takers.  I think we’d all agree on that–I’m sure every human being has met both.  So what makes a taker a taker and a giver a giver?  And what about users?  Are they just like takers, or…something else?

Not to say being a giver is always a good thing.  A lot of givers give in order to get, whether it be a thing, or a feeling, or attention, or love, or shelter or security, or children, or whatever.  A lot of people with low self esteems are givers–perhaps because they feel they have to compensate for not being enough.  I do that myself, and have done for years, making me a prime target for…that other kind of human.   But I digress.  Some people feel they have to give to fulfill their part of a contract or agreement.  For example. say I’m married to you so we have sex (or at least early on we do until I tire of it), even though I don’t like sex and could live the rest of my life without it.  Yes believe it or not, some people, men and women alike, don’t like sex.  But they want to be married, they want love, they want a family and all the joys that come from having a family and companionship, so…they put up with the sex.  They learn to enjoy things about it like…being close to the person they love.  But the act itself…they could take or leave.

That’s a giver giving because he or she believes it’s part of the arrangement.  Part of getting what they want means giving what the other person wants.  The bad thing about this kind of giving is eventually the giver gets tired–and then perhaps that happy situation starts falling apart.

There are also those really wonderful noble people who truly love to give purely for the joy of giving and not to get anything back or achieve any agenda.  This is a rare type of giver.  Most people who give, if they are going to be completely honest with themselves, are giving hoping for something, whether it be a closer friendship with someone, or to show someone they care, or to repay someone for a kindness given…something.  Most people give for some kind of reason, and some are very good reasons.  Giving to the poor or less fortunate.  In cases like this what do you get?  You get the happy feeling that comes from knowing you helped someone.  Same thing when you find a hurt animal and rush it to the vet.   You’re not going to get anything for the act of kindness…you might even have to pay a hefty vet bill for an animal that isn’t even yours.  But you get that feeling, and to some of us that feeling is a wonderful reward.

So what are takers?   I think the line between giver and taker is rather blurred.  A giver can also be a taker, if my above thoughts are correct.   Any time I give hoping to receive or achieve something, in that way I’m passively being a taker.  I think all of us are takers to some degree, just like I think all takers can also be givers.

So are there two kinds of human, or are we all capable of being both at any given time? Well, I do think we’re all capable, but I also think from what I’ve read, there are significant differences between the person with (most modern term for it) antisocial personality disorder, and well, the rest of us.

In the cetacean family there are two types of killer whale.  The Orca, which is the whale you see mostly along the Puget Sound here in Washington State, or at Sea World, unfortunately, where these massive creatures will hopefully teach our young to appreciate the beauty and value of other life forms.  But there is also the Sentient Killer Whale…and I’m hoping I have the term right.  It’s been a long time since I took that cetacean class at the UW.  Again I digress.   Sentient killer whales travel in pods that are more like wolf packs.  Or they might also hunt alone. They prey on larger baleen whales, and on seals or sea lions.  Red meat is part of their diet.  Whales of this sub-group of Killer Whale, again if my memory serves me, swim virtually silent in their pods, whereas the Orca pods like what you see in Free Willy communicate back and forth as they travel along.

Are there predatory people and people who unwittingly transmit signals they are easy prey?  I believe so.  From what I read of persons with antisocial personality disorder (and there are different levels to this from mild to extreme), they are either lacking in a conscience or are deaf to it.   When I say conscience I mean that little inner voice that tells us something is right or wrong, and makes us feel badly after we unwittingly or deliberately hurt or wrong someone.

An extreme example of someone without a conscience–Albert Fish the cannibal from the early 20’s who preyed on and ate little children.  He is what inspired the Hannibal Lector character in Silence of the Lambs.  Add to this list any person who goes around brutally killing or raping people…likely this is a person who sees weaker people as prey or mere objects to use or manipulate, or enjoys feeling power over another person.  This is the classic psychopathic personality people think of when they hear the word psychopath, and why the term has been changed because, probably 90% or more of people with antisocial personality disorder live next door, or work on your same floor, or ride in your carpool, or go with you on hunting trips, or drive your Taxi cab or style your hair or meet you at the bar to play pool.   Sociopaths, or the more recent term antisocial personality disorder, are users, as opposed to just takers.  We’re all takers, just as we’re all hopefully givers, even if sometimes for self serving reasons.  But users?  People who prey on the gullibility of others, take advantage of the desire to help that some of us have, or do good to prove our worth…these are the psychopaths who live among us every day.  They are con artists.  They are parasites who find lonely women (or men) to befriend and let care for them, buy for them, do for them.  They are people who marry the older wealthy widower or widow for the money and then somehow manage to walk away with their pockets full.

A great example of a lesser sociopath, and by lesser I mean one who isn’t a serial killer, read or watch “The Stoning of Soraya M.”  If you can stomach it, that is, and it’s a movie I watched that I will never watch again.  Soraya’s husband is a monster.  Literally.  If there is a word for the slime around the base of toilets, that would be him.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Stoning_of_Soraya_M.

There are lots of examples of users.   The guy who gets a girl drunk (or visa versa) and then works for an hour to guilt trip him or her into having sex, or the person who convinces you to take him or her home and then you wake up in the morning and find your apartment’s cleaned out.   Users like what you have and want it, so they pretend to be your friend.  They let you assume what isn’t true, and let you come to trust what shouldn’t be trusted, and then they walk away laughing, leaving you feeling like a fool.

And they don’t feel guilt.  You can cry and try to make them see what it’s done to you, their actions, and they feel nothing.  They don’t understand, quite honestly, what the big fuss is, or why you’re upset.  Their conscience is clear–because they don’t have one.

So that’s my little thing about the two kinds of human.  I don’t know if really there are two kinds.  But I do know I read that something like one in every three men tend to have some degree of antisocial personality disorder and one in every five women.  So the people like myself with low self esteems wanting to please please please in order to have friendship, caring, love…really need to ask ourselves what signals we are putting out there.  Do we walk around with a big SCREW ME OVER neon sign on our foreheads?  How much using do we have to endure before we realize that it sucks to be someone’s prey and it’s better to be a little less trusting–a little more lonely.  Sometimes lonely is better than giving your trust to a sociopath.  Yes, really.

Growing Up Plain

I have a friend (guy) who helped open my eyes to how people are asssigned value in this culture.   He is average, however he decided one day in college he’d hang out more with beautiful people.  He told me about a girl-friend he had in college whom he broke up with.  I asked him why and his response was, “I thought I could do better.”

Better.   As in…better looking, I presume?   And better-looking = better, apparently?

I read a statistic once that ugly or not-so-cute babies are held less and fussed over less than cute ones are.  I believe this.  I believe from birth to death, people born with the disadvantage of not having the best genes, suffer a lot more hurts than the people who are deemed “better.”

I used to think it was because I was tall.   I watched one man I had a crush on, go out of his way to comfort a cute, petite woman after her boyfriend dumped her.  Rather than hang out with the rest of our group after a show, he went to sit with her in a car for, oh I don’t know, over a half hour.  Being concerned.  Holding her hand, perhaps, or just giving her the comfort of his presence.  She wasn’t interested in him, but he was attracted to her, and oh boy, could he be caring.

This same guy, once he learned I had developed feelings for him, started living with me 24/7 even though he had his own apartment down the street.  This was right after his cat died and at first I thought he just needed comforting, which I was very ready to give.  He slept on my couch and stayed in my home to cat-sit my cats when I was away.  Because he started doing this right after he learned I had feelings for him, I thought it meant he reciprocated in some small way.  Perhaps he was wanting to get to know me.  Perhaps he cared.  Definitely I assumed from this behavior I had made a friend in this man.

After about 8 months of this I came home one day from work in tears.  I had just learned at work that my mom had a stage 4 cancer near her colon and would need to have surgery and chemo.  I sat on the couch with tears running down my face.  He was lying on the floor facing the television.  I told him in a choked voice what I had learned from a phone call at work about my mom.  He shot over his shoulder, without looking away from the TV, “oh, that’s too bad.” 

Silence.  I continued to sit there.  I was feeling ripped apart because this was a mom I had hoped my whole life to bond with, had striven my whole life to be someone she could love, who had been my only parent growing up, and i was afraid she was dying.   Did this man get up to come sit by my side, hold my hand, say something to comfort me or give me a hug?  No.  He watched TV.  I finally said something about needing a hug–he mistranslated that as something else and made it clear there would never be anything physical between us.  Yes, like that had been on my mind right then.

I’m a big girl– 5’10”.  I’m also average looking.  I’m one of those people who if I really try, I can clean up nice, but I am not a beauty and I highly doubt I could ever be cute.   Once again, as I had discovered my whole life, it wasn’t bad for me to feel sad and cry.  It didn’t create feelings of concern or sympathy or compassion in this man I had opened my home to and allowed to stay with me who I had thought was my friend.   It was like I wasn’t even in the room.

This is the kind of thing I have lived with my whole life.  I had a crisis happen to me about two years ago and I thought my world was coming to an end.  I had this guy who told me he preferred to hang out with beautiful people in college, call me long distance and try to talk me out of killing myself–it was probably the worst day of my life.  He reassured me I hadn’t lost his friendship just because this bad very unfair thing had happened I had not asked for, and we’d still be in touch.  Long story short…the things he said didn’t happen.  He was too busy with his job and his life and his battles.  It was hard for me to have to accept the fact all my worst fears had been true.  I would not see this friend as much as before–I would not get to know him and his wife so much as before.

But then after a year of not seeing this friend because of this unfair thing that happened to me, there he is suddenly wanting to help out another friend of his–a beautiful woman who needed his help.  Suddenly he had the time, could walk side by side with her and be there for her.

It made me remember what he said about preferring beautiful women and it stirred up a lot of old hurt for me–made me fear I was an embarrassment to him; someone he didn’t want to be seen with.

All the times I grew up having to learn that for average or plain people it isn’t true–you can’t be anything you want if you put your mind to it.  You can’t be a cheerleader if you’re plain.  You can’t be in a beauty contest.  Your ability to become a lead singer of a rock band is less.  Your chance to act on stage and certainly your chances to be a leading lady, are less.  Do you have any hope of being a sports reporter if you’re a woman and plain, or overweight?  Doubtful.  Will there ever be a woman president, maybe.  But a plain woman president…doubtful.  Just look at all the attention that was given Palin for her looks.

Bottom line, our society prefers beautiful people.   Go to DisneyLand and ask one of their artists to draw your portrait in pastel colors–you will find your image deliberately doctored to make you look rather like you could fit in well with the Mickey Mouse Club.  My nose was suddenly little and perky.  Every flaw like my strong chin was softened.  I looked beautiful in that portrait.  It didn’t look like me.  So I asked the artist and she told me that’s how they are told to draw the pictures.  Because apparently the world according to Disney needs to be perfect and beautiful.  Go and watch the movie “War Horse” (terrible film in my opinion) and you’ll see more of this same attitude.  Every person in this film is physically beautiful.  Even the poor farmer doesn’t have dirt on his clothes.  

I remember once in grade school.  I was the poor kid in my class.  I had only one parent so I wore hand-me-downs and ugly coke bottle glasses.   I had crooked teeth, and a brother who was a bully and everyone knew it.   So I was not among the beautiful people.  I was one of several outcasts in my school.

One day we were in PE playing baseball on a hard field of red gravel.  I was running the bases and a pretty blonde girl named Melinda tripped me.  On my way to a crushing fall I side-swiped her with my shoulder and she went down as well.  I stood up crying, both knees bloody with red rock imbedded under the skin, and the same with the palms of my hands.  She stood up covered with red dust but no cuts, no bruises, no wounds.  The class gathered around her.  Even the PE teacher went to her.  She was escorted to the bathroom to clean up.  I walked behind them crying with blood running into my socks.  Not a single person so much as noticed me.  

That was the day I realized–it wasn’t just the cruelty of kids; even adults have more sympathy toward the fallen, possibly hurt beautiful little girl than the definitely hurt big and plain one. 

I also noticed growing up…when cute pretty girls cried….it generated hugs and sympathy and fussing over.  When big plain people cry, it’s just ugly.  It’s…annoying.  Or maybe funny.  Humorous.   Big girls shouldn’t cry.  Big girls should be stronger than that.  Big girls don’t need comforting.  They don’t need protecting.  And certainly big plain girls don’t.

This is what I learned very early in life.  “I learned the truth at 17.  That love was meant for beauty queens.  And High School girls with clear skinned smiles, who married young and then retired.”   That’s how the song goes.  Only for me I learned the truth at about age 8, and I have been living in it ever since.

At a bar one day I had a bartender accidentally spill a pint of beer into my lap.  I took it like a good sport.  Stood up and even tried to help them wipe the counter off (they did that before they thought to offer me a towel), and laughed at the blunder.  But then after about 20 minutes it became clear to me no one was going to apologize for the fact i had beer all over my velvet blouse and pants.  I said something to the head bartender.  He said “oh well, accidents happen.”

I had been at that bar waiting for a friend and now I smelled like a brewery.  I had to drive home and change and come back–about 20 miles round trip at a time gas was through the roof expensive.  Not a soul at that restaurant seemed to think this was a bad thing.  No one apologized.  Not even the manager when I went to him.  No one offered to cover my dry cleaning bill.  No one thought about the fact it cost of gas for me having to go home and change.

I have seen beautiful women or even just pretty women have something dumped on them.  Any one of the women around me at this bar in fact–had the same thing happened to them, people would have been falling all over themselves to apologize, to offer her a towel, to perhaps offer her a drink or meal on the house to make amends.  Something.   But that’s not how it happened for me.  Funny thing.

I used to think it had to do with the fact i’m tall, and big women don’t elicit the same kind of response as little cute women do.  But I have a friend who is very little–but plain.  One day she was carrying a big case of water bottles up a flight of stairs and a male friend of mine walked past her–said hello as he did, and kept going.   I watched this and thought, now if this same little person had been younger and cute or pretty, how different it would be.  This man would have stopped–in fact he would have hurried toward her to help her, take the heavy load from her arms and carried it for her.  But I think it was because she wasn’t young, and wasn’t pretty, that she did not inspire this kind of response.

I think it’s hurtful to be the one dumped because someone feels they can do better.  I think it’s hurtful to be ignored when one is hurting because one is not cute or pretty or little or whatever it is that deserves a caring response.   I never understand it when little women tell me they wish they were tall.  I look at them and think how lucky they are.  The only thing worse than being big is being plain and big–plain and big I think might be worse than being plain and little.  Especially if you’re a woman.

It’s really too bad people can’t see beyond physical appearance and see a person’s heart, see the beauty that isn’t skin deep, and the worth all of us have just as living breathing, unique human beings.  Beauty is in all of us.  Sometimes you have to look into someone’s eyes.   I met a woman at a restaurant where I work who had a rather profound disfigurement.  So profound I had to take a breath before I looked at her, so I could control the look on my face.  I found out something interesting about this woman.  After the initial contact, I found out she was truly a kind and sweet, nice person.  I found I saw beauty when I looked in her eyes.  And suddenly it wasn’t so hard to look at her.  Suddenly I didn’t see her disfigurement so much.  Instead I saw a person, and someone I could like.

What is the difference between being “better,” and being someone of quality?   Does someone who judges people’s value according to their age, size, looks, or how popular they are, have quality?   Is that a kind of person I would want to be.  No.

Depression & Addiction. Would Die To Make Them Stop.

Making it stop, making an end.  Every day that crosses my mind.    Being atheist removes the unnatural dread of death for me that religion creates.  i was hit on the head with ice-skates once and I remember how that was.  I fell, saw my older brother fall to try to avoid hitting me, his skate came up–darkness.  That was it.  I didn’t feel the cut of the blades across my forehead, leaving a -1 scar that would last for many years.   I don’t recall the throng of people who gathered around or my Aunt Eve placing my head in her lap.  What I do remember is waking with blood in my eyes and wondering where all the people had come from.

In that moment of black out, time stopped for me.  The time it took for those people to gather round, and for my Aunt who was an RN, to show up.   There was no pain from the blow, no fear or distress.  I was completely unaware.   And now I’m thinking, that is death.  Or that is how death is if in fact all the hopes in an afterlife we humans like to hold dear, are false.

Is that so bad?   One friend put it very well.   “I didn’t mind not existing all the millions of years before I was born, why should i mind not existing after I die?”  

Or if there’s an afterlife, and evidence doesn’t disprove it any more than it proves it, I really do think it’s a natural condition same as our physical life is a natural condition.  There are no hoops to jump through.  No holy rituals one must complete.  No giant man god in the sky who’s unending ego must be appeased.   It’s just something that comes after the darkness, after the body shuts down, when the energy leaves the body and who knows, perhaps takes with it a little echo of what we are.

Why do I sometimes wish to die?   Because I have depression, and because people with depression are subjected to a stigma.  Now if I had cancer, or heart disease or any other physical illness, I am quite sure my friends or the people who cared, would still be there for me.  But any form of mental illness, which, by the way, is just as much a physical illness people can’t help as cancer or heart disease or anything else, is not the same.   Having any sort of mental illness effects the way your brain works. It effects the way your thoughts come across in your head.   Mental illness distorts your thoughts, or makes your brain less efficient at processing them.   Little problems seem huge.   Or at least that’s how it is with depression and anxiety disorders.   The person with these illnesses, reacts differently than people without them.  And in doing so, drives friends away at the precise time encouragement, support, and kindess would help the most.

I used to love my life.  I used to laugh and look forward to new experiences.  I engaged in the world around me.   Since depression has cost me the few friends I have, and left me feeling outcast and unwanted at a time I could really use some support, I find myself with nothing to look forward to.  The friends i miss, do not miss me.  Because I was a burden to them.  I didn’t mean to be, but I was and people do get tired, even nice, well meaning people.   But unlike them I am unable to abandon myself, and so on I must plod mostly alone, understanding that my illness is punishing me by taking away my already small ability to have/keep friends. 

Or so it seems.    So every day I must fight to find reasons to get out of bed.  This is what depression is.   I find there are a lot of addictions in the world that hide behind labels calling them something else.  In addition to the known addictions like cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse, there is also addiction to anything else that we might use as a crutch to get through our day.  Many people are addicted to work, and the feeling of success and worth it brings.  Or people can be addicted to people, which I was.  I was addicted to how wonderful it made me feel being around people who treated me like I was okay too, like I was wanted and liked and cared for.  I loved how that felt.  I loved how it made me feel.  I didn’t want to lose that, and when I did it tore me apart; what little I had left of happiness fell to pieces, and why is that?  Because I had a dependency on other people to give me that warm fuzzy feeling I loved so much.   I went years hoping to have the company of people I respected who seemed to actually like me and accept me flaws and all, and having people like that, knowing people like that, gave me happiness I hadn’t felt for a very long time, if ever.

This was a nice thing for me at the time, but it had a negative side.  Without knowing it, I became addicted to that.  I never developed any ability to make my happiness on my own.  I needed something on the outside to make it for me, other people to make it for me.   And people get tired of making happiness for someone else.  It’s hard enough learning how to make happiness just for yourself–but to have someone else dependent on you for their happiness–that gets very tiresome after awhile.

So that was my addiction, and it helped ease my depression having those people, and then when I lost the support of those people, I fell to pieces, just as much as any heroin addict or alcoholic would fall to pieces cut off from his/her drug.

Another addiction of course, is religion.   That crutch that people need to feel good about themselves.   Doesn’t matter if no one else likes me, Jesus is always there–he will never forsake me.   Or…I wouldn’t be such a loving person as I am if I didn’t have Jesus.  Because of Jesus I am saved, because of Jesus I am not an abomination in god’s eyes anymore–a sinner.  I am a new being, born again.  I am saved.

See, I had that addiction too, but losing the people in my life I thought cared for me because I developed this illness, made me realize or become aware that people are not reliable or dependable.  Sometimes they’re not even what they seem to be.  And learning this about people I had grown to care for very much, made me want to remove any other falsehoods I didn’t realize existed, from my life.   Any crutch I might turn to like so many alcoholics turn from one addiction–alcohol–to another–religion. 

But I am not writing about religion.  I am writing about dependency and how easy it is to fall to addiction and dependency when you have depression, because with depression you will do and try anything to feel good.  To have a reason to get out of bed.  To not step in front of a train once you discover how to get on the tracks.   To not OD or jump off bridges or in front of Metro buses. 

People think it’s selfish and cowardice to comit suicide.  I submit that no one does so lightly.   The people who kill themselves have very likely gotten tired of trying and failing all the time, tired of succeeding and having no one notice.  Because really, it’s only the failures people notice who want to find fault with you–see only the disappointments in us to justify their actions in turning their backs when we needed them most.   And it’s the aloneness people can’t bear.  The feeling like nothing they do will ever be enough or help enough.  Death is scary–thanks to threats of hellfire or the fear of not existing anymore or…whatever, and many religions even threaten mentally ill people who die because of their mental illness are going straight to hell, so….it takes a lot of desperation to make someone, esp. a religious someone, suicidal.  It’s only when life is scarier and the pain becomes so unbearable that people want to kill themselves–just to make it stop, nevermind whatever fears they have.

It is hard work to love and care for a depressed person.  But it’s even harder work being in our shoes.  Because depression isn’t like a lot of other illnesses.  Many people don’t understand they have it.  Many people who do, don’t know how to regain control of their thoughts they can’t seem to manage anymore.  Everything seems huge.  Overwhelming.  You walk around feeling like a shattered vase just barely holding itself together–and if a strong wind comes you’ll fly to pieces across the road.  That’s depression.  When you want and need a loving heart to hold you, help you glue the cracks so you don’t fall apart, so you can at least function again even if you’ll never again look brand new.

But it’s work to care for someone with depression, or any mental illness.  It’s work.  Because just like AIDS or Hepatitis C or cancer or heart disease, depression isn’t fun, and it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t easy.  It hurts, and it kills just as readily as these other illnesses, and the person inflicted is just as wanting to be cured, to feel well again, as any other sick person.  But they have to go every day completely alone, feeling completely like they will never measure up or be loved or wanted or accepted or cared for–that they’ll never be whole enough again for such things.

Sometimes death seems better.  Sometimes I wish for the black oblivion I felt when those ice skates hit my face.  Even non-existence would be a gentle peace and an ending to a hurt I often find unbearable.  

And I could deny it that I think of death.  I could deny it to keep my friends from having to worry.  But that would be a falsehood too.  So instead I say every day I have to struggle to get out of bed, find a reason.  My reasons are my animals.  I have little animals who need me to go to work so I can feed and shelter and care for them.  These are my reasons, and really my only reasons.  Because my animals love me even when I’m struggling.  Even when I’m in pain.  Even when I’m damaged and I don’t know yet how to make me better.  My animals do not turn their back or judge me, and they are always there.  I can’t disappoint them.  I can’t let them down.  And they, in turn, are honest with me.  They never give me false hopes, or false caring.  They simply are what they are, and they love me.

This is my reason–because of my little animals.  I do not put my hopes in some world yet to come.  I don’t believe there is such a place.  And I do not turn to Jesus to make me happy, because that’s just one more crutch, one more addiction, one more hoping for something outside myself to make my world right for me.

Happiness, real happiness, doesn’t depend on things, or imaginary friends, or other people, or such and such working out just right.  Happiness is a decision.  A choice we must learn to make.  Those thoughts that seem so big and terrible, that the depressed or anxious person must battle every single day just to get through from dawn to dusk–only we can decide which ones to believe and which ones to reject, which ones we want to attach to and let them control our mood, our emotions, our life, and which ones we decide aren’t worthy of us.

Everyone hates me.  No one loves me.  All my friends were fake.  I’m not worth anyone standing up for and supporting me.   These are the thoughts I get every day that make me want to shrivel up and die.  Every single day.  These are the foes I battle.  And don’t talk religion with me.  It’s because of religion I have many of these thoughts now.  This programming I can’t be whole and healthy and good without the help of some god.  See, that’s not true.  I was born beautiful, and good, and perfect, and exactly what nature meant me to be.  I am a happy and wonderful, loving and good person.  All I have to do is believe it about myself.  Really believe it.  And not look outside myself for other things to make my happiness for me.

That is the key to survival for me.  The key to finding reasons to get through each day.  The reasons must come from within, from myself.  Not from drugs.  Not from therapy.  Not from self help books.  But from me.  Every day I need to make the decision which forces inside I want to control me–which thoughts I want to take seriously and which ones I want to recognize are just the bullshit religion I was fed or the negative  messages I let myself believe all my life from my mother or the people I liked who couldn’t like me.

God Is Merciful…But Only If You’re A Man

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/31/women-religion-equality
Great article I found
God is merciful, but only if you’re a man

Jew, Christian or Muslim … whatever the faith, women are still treated with disdain or worse

There is plenty to criticise in Islam’s view of women. Last year, the Observer told the story of a man in Basra who stamped on, suffocated and then stabbed to death his 17-year-old daughter for becoming infatuated with a British soldier. The relationship apparently amounted to a few conversations, but her father learnt she had been seen in public talking to the soldier. When the Observer talked to Abdel-Qader Ali two weeks later, he said: “Death was the least she deserved. I don’t regret it. I had the support of all my friends who are fathers, like me, and know what she did was unacceptable to any Muslim that honours his religion.”

This was clearly extreme, but the truth is that the God many people believe in – whether Muslim, Christian or Jewish – hates women. Take America’s Southern Baptist Convention, which declares in its faith and mission statement: “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.” That’s fair enough, isn’t it? After all, he’s probably stronger than she is.

Or there’s the Catholic church. The Pope put things more suavely in an address in 2008: “Faced with cultural and political trends that seek to eliminate, or at least cloud and confuse, the sexual differences inscribed in human nature, considering them a cultural construct, it is necessary to recall God’s design that created the human being masculine and feminine, with a unity and at the same time an original difference.” The insistence on difference is the necessary first step to insisting on inequality and subordination and it is a step that popes have been taking at regular intervals for decades.

In November 2006, Nicaragua enacted a ban on all abortion, with no exceptions, even to save the mother’s life. The law was ratified by the National Assembly in September 2007. Both the original enactment and the vote in September 2007 were widely attributed to the influence of the Catholic church. In a report this month, the United Nations Committee against torture called Nicaragua’s total ban on abortion a violation of human rights.

Then there is Judaism. In one neighbourhood in Jerusalem, religious seminaries flank streets with yellow signs that warn: “If you’re a woman and you’re not properly dressed – don’t pass through our neighbourhood.”

So why is it so often women who fill the pews? Is it a form of Stockholm syndrome? Religions do a good job of training people to be obedient and loyal to the authorities and women in particular are raised to be both devout and submissive. Religions are sticky: they are hard to abandon and that is doubly true for women, given that subordination and unshakable fidelity are their chief duties.

The fact that women are defined as different from men (“complementary” is the religious euphemism) and confined to narrower, more monotonous lives as a result, means that they have more need of the excitements and passions of religion. For women, religion often is the heart of a heartless world. All they have to give up in exchange is their right to shape their own lives; as long as they behave themselves, all will go swimmingly.

The intimate and inescapable connection that contemporary liberal believers like to see between God and love, theism and compassion, is largely a modern invention. It’s far from universal now and it was vanishingly rare in the past. St Francis was an eccentric, not an exemplar. The painful truth is that still, to this day, most people who believe in a god believe in a god who is often vindictive, punitive and sometimes just plain cruel. The Ryan report on abuse of children in Irish industrial schools, released two weeks ago, provides a mountain of searing evidence for that. For decade after decade, generation upon generation, the religious congregations in charge of the institutions saw nothing wrong.

One survivor of Goldenbridge, the most notorious industrial school for girls, run by the Sisters of Mercy, told the commission: “The screaming of children will stay with me for the rest of my life about Goldenbridge. I still hear it, I still haven’t recovered from that. Children crying and screaming, it was just endless, it never, never stopped for years in that place.” Many of those children were there simply because their mothers were unmarried or divorced.

The God we have in the Big Three monotheisms is a God who originated in a period when male superiority was absolutely taken for granted. That time has passed, but the superior male God remains and that God holds women in contempt. That God is the one who puts “His” imprimatur on all those tyrannical laws. That God is a product of history, but taken to be eternal, which is a bad combination. That is the God who hates women.

So why do so many women put up with it? Partly because God gives with one hand what “He” takes away with the other – God consoles people for the very harshness that God creates. It’s the sad, familiar, heartrending bargain in which the victim embraces the perpetrator, in some complicated, confusing, all-too-human mix of appeasement, need and stubborn loyalty. The fact that the embrace is all on one side is resolutely ignored.