Thursday, January 18, 2007

Egalitarianism and Religion

Marcus Borg notes in on On Faith post that while there is evidence that Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha were more egalitarian than the religions connected to them came to be in time, suggests cultural drag as the culprit.

Such seems to be the case in early Christianity as well, for Jesus and Paul. Though there was a reaction to this in some documents of the New Testament itself, early Christianity for the first few centuries offered a status and opportunity to women quite different from surrounding cultures.

Why did this change? In a sentence: because of the “drag” of culture, of civilization. As these new religious movements grew and involved more and more of the population, traditional cultural conventions crept back into the religions.

Recent developments are to be commended, even as we need to recognize that they were long overdue. It was only about forty years ago that many mainline Christian denominations began to ordain women. But we now have a woman Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The full and equal status of women is not only one of the fruits of modernity, but consistent with the originative impulse of Christianity.


I think there is much truth in what he says, and in at least a few places we're seeing a return of a long overdue egalitarian impulse. When we look at religious views, we must always recognize that culture will influence practice and belief. My own denomination was influenced not just by Scripture, it was influenced by the revolutionary atmosphere present at the turn of the 19th century. Culture can have both a positive and a negative factor on religion and so we must always be looking at the connections. So, thanks Marcus!

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