Alas, I've jumped into the fray
0 comment Thursday, April 24, 2014 |
I've been trying to avoid the atheism v. religion showdown that's been going on around these parts of late, in part because I don't think that anyone's ever going to arrive at a consensus on this issue, and it often seems that the discussion becomes circular. Also in part because I tend not to have very strong opinions on how others ought to think about these things. I have very strong opinions about how *I* think about these things, but I don't necessarily believe that everyone else should agree with me. So I've just not been participating in this discussion. Then Samia put up a great post about how we are in general too quick to characterize a Muslim woman as an oppressed victim of her religion. (Go read, I'll wait.) This brought things back into the realm of feminism, which I am much more comfortable discussing. I'm responding here to some of her points/questions because in so doing we have diverged from the issue at hand somewhat and I don't want to derail the discussion at hers.First, I think it's important to try to understand/empathize and sometimes it's easier to do if you can find an experience through which to relate to this dehumanizing of an entire group of people for the purposes of furthering a particular agenda. So I'll relate some of my experiences that allow me to sort of "get" the total suckitude of being characterized as some sort of brain-washed victim of one's culture/religion/upbringing.I'm an agnostic ex-Catholic and a scientist, and I feel like I catch it from both sides sometimes. Though I am not a "believer" nor a practicing Catholic I still hold onto some of the recognizably "Catholic" traditions which are not just religious but inextricably linked to the culture and heritage of my family and ancestors. So I get some griping from my family for "giving up my faith for science" and flak from other scientists/atheists/feminists for not denouncing *everything* and still taking part in the "religious" stuff that is culturally and familially important to me. Everyone else seems to think they know what's best for me and they're all at conflict. It's as if my choices, my considered decisions, and my autonomy are not even considered in the critique. (For those of you who are now just itching to disabuse me of my delusions: Yes, I am fully aware that the Catholic Church pulls a whole helluva a lot of cheap punches, which is why I have chosen not to be a member of the Church, though there were other choices I could have made in response. I also know a lot of individual Catholics who are compassionate, reasonable, and intelligent people. My family members being a few of them. Which is why it chaps my hide when people run around screaming that all religious folk are irrational wing-nuts with a political agenda that they'd like to shove down everyone's throat. That's as much of an apologist as I'm ever going to be.) But I'm going to shut up about that now, because this post is not just about me - that was all just to say that the dehumanizing of women who are making a *choice* about their faith and practices really struck a nerve with me. It is denying their autonomy, which is precisely what all these well-meaning folks who have set out to liberate these women from their oppressive religion and culture say they want to give back to them.Enough about that. What follows is a response to Samia, along with a lot of other thoughts that have been rattling around in my head regarding the conflict between scientists/atheists/feminists and mainstream religion in this country.Certainly the attitude in some blog circles will differ, especially since so many of the most prominent science bloggers identify as atheist (in my experience, a few atheist bloggers who constantly write about religion qualify as some of the Most Annoying People in the World). WORD! Yeah, the science blogosphere is hardly representative of US culture in general, which is why I think that your characterization of white Christians in your original post generally holds true. As I said in my comment, being white and identifying as Christian in this country is the norm, and it is regarded as a choice (consider that choosing not to participate in Christianity can open you up to all kinds of evangelist and conversion efforts - "choose the straight and narrow path" and all that), and the right choice at that by most of the general public. Things are different in the science blogging community - being atheist is the norm, and is considered the reasonable, rational, and therefore *right* decision within that community. Everyone's got an opinion on how everyone else ought to think/believe or not think/believe or relate to religion/belief/religious people and their way is always the right way.I'm curious about the trend you mentioned, mostly because I haven't observed it myself. So it's more common to call out a female Christian scientist than a male one?I don't know exactly - in my impression there are more female science bloggers who are openly religious than male science bloggers who are openly religious. It *seems* to me that both catch the same kind of "how can you be a decent scientist if you believe in a deity? (which science can neither prove nor disprove the existence of)" types of trolling. It also *seems* to me that the women get more comments which imply that the reader is writing off their intelligence, whereas the men get more of an attempt to engage in reasonable discussion argument (however annoying that might be). Of course, my sample size (esp. for the men) is quite small so these are only my impressions. "Data" =/= plural of "anecdote" and all that.Is it because people expect women to react more negatively to patriarchal values?I think that people expect women (especially those who identify as feminists) to reject a patriarchal system (i.e., most major religions) in its entirety because it's easy to look at a religion or religious organization and say, "See how it treats men and women differently? See how it is oppressive to women? You can choose to participate or not, so why don't you leave?" While that all may be true, what these people are not accounting for is that we don't completely opt out of a lot of other patriarchal systems (like our society in general, or hell, academic science) partly because we can't without becoming hermits, and partly because there are some things that we actually like about those systems (science? our careers? our relationships with other people?) which we choose not to reject in their entirety. And this is the point that most people don't get. NOTHING is black and white, and people can relate to all kinds of things in non-absolute ways. Just because one person wants exactly nothing to do with anything remotely religious, doesn't mean that another cannot embrace some practices, beliefs, celebrations, rituals, or cultural aspects of a given religion, while at the same time, choosing not to participate in those aspects that are unappealing or which they find to be personally oppressive. (Yeah, I know all about the all-or-nothing clauses in a lot of evangelical Christian churches. But they can't see into your head, so how can they possibly know what each and every member of their flock really believes? Hell, I spent most of my youth professing to believe a whole load of stuff that I never did. Everyone bought it. I just got tired of pretending.)Also, it's very very difficult to make a distinction between some things being a part of one's *culture* v. one's *religion*. Sometimes it's both. (Sidebar: I think that the view of Islam in this country is so black-and-white/all-or-nothing because most Americans have been fed a lot of bullshit propaganda about Islam in hopes that we might feel better about bombing the fuck out of some Middle Eastern countries so as to liberate the poor Muslims from their oppression. Which is no excuse for accepting this at face value and remaining ignorant, but there it is. Does oppression occur under Islam? Yes it does, and it's wrong, but that's certainly not exclusive to Islam, and the oppression is not solely attributable to religion - race, class, gender and all the usual suspects come into play as well. Are all Muslim women oppressed? I can't speak for all Muslim women - maybe we should ask them.)Maybe it's just that we generally feel freer to criticize female life decisions/circumstances/opinions?Yup. This. Because we all know that women are irrational by nature so we need to help the poor girls arrive at some reason, dontcha know.Aren't most scientists in the States Christians anyway?I haven't taken a poll, but I really don't think so. It would not surprise me to learn that of all the scientists worldwide who are also Christians, most would be in the US. However, I do NOT think that most scientists in the US are Christians, which is probably part of the reason why there is SOOOOOOOO much antagonism between the religious right and the "intellectual elite" in this country - scientists are painted broadly as a bunch of heathens who are not to be trusted (probably because most of us are, and most of the non-scientist public in this country professes to be Christian, and evangelical at that). However, some geographic locations (the South?) probably contain a higher percentage of scientists who are Christians (not to be confused with Christian Scientists) than other parts of the country, and if you ever attended/got your biology degree from a college with religious affiliations (as I did, and no, neither Intelligent Design nor Young Earth Creationism could be found in the syllabi), it would be easy to get the false impression that most scientists are also Christians. But geography and affiliations all skew the mean. It's also interesting for me to note that of my scientific colleagues who are open about their Christian faith, only one is white. The others hail from Korea, China, and Taiwan.This isn't really religion-related, but it's kind of natural that people are more logical and clearheaded in some areas of life than others. Just look at how many otherwise intelligent scientists have issues with women+/POC/cultural literacy/the entire subject of gender identity! I'm actually in the process of writing a complaint to my department. "Intelligent" or not, some of those people are straight-up dumbasses.This. Yes. Exactly. Which is why I really wish people would get off the train when they find themselves starting to rail on scientists and/or feminists who also *choose* to participate in a religion that non-participants deem as patriarchal/oppressive/irrational/choose your favorite pejorative. Religion really ain't my thang. So for the most part I don't play. But at the same time, I respect the fact that I have made that choice for myself, and that others are free to choose differently. The sum of my life experiences are a large part of how I've arrived at this choice, and I don't expect others with different experiences to arrive at the same conclusions that I have. Who am I to criticize their choices, or turn them into a poster child for my agenda?