I’m not religious. I don’t believe in god. I think religion is a human creation; a result of primitive people trying to explain where we come from, why we’re here and what happens to us after we die, plus a useful and effective form of primitive social control.
One of the things I don’t like about religion is the misogyny and the marginalising of women. The idea that women are helpmeets, always subservient, never equal, let alone in charge is something I can’t live by. The local mosque opens its doors to the public every August as part of the Fringe, with themed food weekends – Arabic sweets, Arabic coffee etc. I’ve been along to a couple of them and I’ve had a look around the mosque. I was talking to one of the men showing people around and I said something about having a problem with the misogyny of religion. He said Islam isn’t misogynistic, it says women should be treated like precious jewels. He genuinely couldn’t seem to get his head around the idea that I don’t want to be treated like a precious jewel, I want to be treated like an equal human being. From the reading I’ve done (which is not exhaustive), only paganism/nature religions and Sikhism seem to have equality for women as basic principles and teachings of the religion. I’m making a distinction between principles and teachings, because it’s pretty clear that both Jesus and Mohammed had a lot to say about being nice to people and respecting people, without saying “by people I really only mean men,” but religious organisations over the centuries have been quite firm in teaching the opposite. Oh, they talk about respect, but how can it be real respect if you only respect women who accept the lowly place you’ve forced them into?
So, women bishops. The Church of England recently voted on whether or not to allow women ministers to become bishops. There were three sections of the Church doing the voting – existing bishops, the House of Clergy and the House of Laity. The bishops and the clergy voted in favour of women bishops; the laity voted no – but only just. The change required a 2/3 majority in each house and although well over 2/3 of the bishops and the clergy were in favour, only 64% of the laity voted yes. So the Church of England missed out on women bishops by a tiny amount.
But that’s democracy. The people campaigning for women bishops didn’t convince enough people to vote for it. That might be because the campaigners didn’t make a convincing argument, or it might be because the no voters weren’t willing to consider being convinced, I dunno.
But here’s the thing: if I believe in Scottish independence, it makes sense for me to join the SNP. Maybe my whole family for generations back to 1707 have believed in Scottish independence. Maybe my whole family have been in the SNP since it was formed. And then maybe I stop believing in independence. I start believing Scotland is better off as part of the union. What do I do? I can stay in the SNP. I can try to convince the SNP to change its policy on independence. I can go to branch meetings, submit motions, vote in favour of a change of policy – but those votes will not be won. Eventually I’ll realise that the party is not going to vote in favour of abandoning its desire for independence. So then what? I could remain in the party, knowing I can’t support its fundamental policy, or I can leave, joining another party, starting a party of my own, or staying out of political parties altogether.
There have been schisms in churches for centuries. There’s the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, the Church of Ireland, the Coptics, the Baptists, the Methodists, the United Reform Church – and those are just the ones that pop into my head without having to think much about it. All of those churches came about because of a disagreement about something. And when the disagreement couldn’t be resolved, the disagreers went away and formed their own church, teaching the things they did agree with.
And that’s what I think should happen with the Church of England. The people who want women bishops, being the ones disagreeing with the established position. should be the ones to leave and form a new, more inclusive, less misogynist church. It wouldn’t be easy – but then, neither, I imagine, would it be to stay in a church which believes half the population shouldn’t have the same rights and opportunities as the other half.