Jeannette and I attended a wonderful panel discussion on Women, Faith, and Society at the U of MN on Thursday night. The event was hosted by Campus Atheists and Secular Humanists, and co-sponsored by the Baha'i Association, Women of Virtue, Hindu Student Society, and the Muslim Student Association.
It was so interesting to hear perspectives from different people who come from different cultures and different belief systems. For the most part, there was agreement among the panelists regarding the suppression of women, and how religion may play a part in that.
The atheist speakers were Cynthia Egli and Nuzi Haneef. Cynthia appeared to hold a grudge against "Conservative Christians," calling them harmful, and that they were invading our schools and government. She didn't cite specific examples of this harm, or examples of suppression by this group, which was unfortunate, because her argument took on an angry, unjustified tone. She believed that religion should be phased out in the world, and that the suppression of women has continued throughout history as a result of religions which have been established by men, for men. Nuzi was more rational. She believed that religion has suppressed women, but it is not a function of religion to suppress women. This was the point the other panelists agreed upon for the most part. She does not believe in a god, but did not advocate for the removal of all religions.
Suhag A, Shukla, a Hindu, described Hindu as a way of life, rather then a religion. Duty is most important, that women and men have different roles. In Hindu, God is half man, and half woman. Through the talk, she stressed how important it is to not judge suppression of women from outside of the culture. A Western woman may see an Indian woman doing certain things, or dressing a certain way, it is important to try to imagine existing in that culture, before determining that legitimate suppression is taking place.
The Women of Virtue, Julianne Moch and Suzi Sunderman, were the most disappointing panelists. It's not because they are Christian, but because they were the least prepared. Every other panelist had notes in front of them, explaining their group's perspective on the suppression on women. These women had no notes, but instead openly admitted to not being academics, but could speak form personal experience. Rather then answering the forum's question, Suzi told a personal story about how she found Jesus. He appeared in her bedroom one night, and saved her from her addiction to sin. Her vice was women, and Jesus cured her from the disease of homosexuality. Julianne mentioned she was in a death spiral before she became born again. that was their response to the question, "Do Organized Religions Suppress Women's Rights?" Suzi was asked why churches are lead by men, why Catholics don't have women popes, or priests. She said she read the Bible front to back, and didn't read any passages which treated women any differently then men. At the end of the discussion, in her closing statements, Suzi, rather then emphasizing her points, which she didn't have any, she took the opportunity to preach. Not only was this unprofessional considering the academic setting of the discussion, but it was disrespectful of all of the different groups in attendance. It was also rude of Cynthia to mention that there should be less religion in the world, but Suzi was seeking converts to be "drenched in the blood of Jesus." Most unprofessional was her closing statement, "God doesn't believe in atheists."
The Muslim representatives, Faiza Hashim, and Jamila Kosobayashi, brought an interesting persepctive. Islam, Faiza mentioned, is the most disorganized religion. While everyone has core beliefs, there are many different was to practice Islam. Islam is so diverse, if you give a monster Islam, they will use it to their advantage. If you are peaceful, you can use it to your advantage. I think that is similar with most religions. You can interpret passages of scripture a certain way, or give emphasis to sections as you wish. A question was raised about Muslim women wearing certain clothes, or overing their faces. Jamila told a story about going on Haig and seeing millions of different women, all dressed differently. The Koran instructs women to dress modestly, and men as well. In different cultures, that means different things. The Bible also instructs women to live modestly in 2 Timothy.
Baha'i is a religion I hadn't heard of before. Ben Milston, and Mona Majid explained a little more about their faith, and how it treats a woman's rights. It fosters understanding and unity. They believe that all religions are noble, and have the same goals for the soul. Equality between men and women is central to Baha'i. Inequality impedes social progress. Scriptures are sexist, but modern society removes male dominance. Without feminism, the world will not know peace. This group appeared the be the most welcoming, and supportive group, right from it's inception. A central theme of the religion is equality, so I don't understand how anyone can criticize this religion for suppressing women.
i hope to attend more panels like this. It was great to hear so many different voices, even if some of them were angry or disrespectful.