Jimmy Carter is a good man who came to a good and humanistic conclusion that discrimination against women and girls is unacceptable. However, I disagree with his rationale that male religious leaders who think otherwise must be basing their conclusions on faulty interpretations of their holy books.
The only proper interpretation of passages like Exodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” is to ignore them, which was not done by those religious leaders in previous centuries who were responsible for the deaths of thousands of “witches.” Our holy books may contain many fine passages and guidelines for how to treat our fellow human beings. But is it any surprise that these same holy books, written some 2000 to 3000 years ago, also contain many vile portions that reflect the misogynistic and patriarchal culture of the time?
The U. S. Constitution, of much more recent vintage, was written by founders who understood that this outstanding but imperfect document was a product of its time, and they made provisions for future generations to amend it as needed. Alas, conservative religionists permit no such escape clause for their founding documents, and I think I know why. When we begin to pick and choose from so-called holy books, we recognize that these books are products of fallible human beings. Such a revelation led me and many others down that slippery slope to secular humanism.
Thomas Jefferson did not call for any binding biblical amendments, but he did do the next best thing. He wrote his own amended version of the Christian Bible, leaving out miracle stories, and kept only what made sense to him. He referred to what remained as “diamonds in a dunghill.” Not surprisingly, the religious right of his day attacked Jefferson for being an infidel and a filthy atheist.
As a humanist, I don’t have to do cartwheels (Carter wheels?) to find passages in holy books that justify equal treatment of women. We know through common sense and experience, rather than through ancient religious traditions, that treating women as equals is the right thing to do. This frees us to advocate for other important issues like world peace, which humanists alone cannot bring about. That will require peace among world religions, and abandoning the many harmful practices their holy books prescribe. Equality for women is a good place to start.
Image via Ryk Neethling.