As an avid book collector with an eye for the quaint and peculiar I’ve developed a compulsion to ‘rescue’ the more curious publications I come across while scouring the shelves of any given second hand store and provide them with faux sanctuary in my personal library. I thought it might be fun to share some of these gems with you here on the blog in an ongoing series. Let us begin!
One such book is ‘Feminism and the Word of God’ by Patrick J. Zegenhagen, published in 1984 by Assembly Press, QLD Australia. If you want to understand why the theologically inclined Tony Abbotts of this world believe that men and women each possess fundamental and distinctive qualities which favour men holding positions of authority within the church and else where in society, then this is the book for you!
Motivated by the “heresies” of women taking on roles within the church previously reserved exclusively for men, Zegenhagen argues in defense of a (sexist) position declining in social favour due to “radicals” and “extremists” within the church, including folks he calls “biblical feminists” (I should like to meet these biblical feminists, they sound EPIC!). The following passage pretty much sums up his gendered world view:
“..observation will confirm that those attributes most suitable for the leadership role (creative imagination, both scientific and artistic, abstracting, projecting, multiplying, analysing and problem solving) are more common to men than they are to women, and that those which complement such attitudes (co-operation, personalising rather than abstracting, socially relating and nurturing) are more common to women..” (p.62)
He goes on to cherry pick from scientific studies on sexual difference to back up his view (whilst castigating feminists for doing the very same thing). Zegenhagen is convinced that god assigned men and women, not only with specific characteristics, but with specific roles and with specific personalities as well, “..observation supports the fact” he says. Observation is truth! Mr. Zegenhagen’s observations do NOT concur with my observations… it seems that someone has a limited sample from which to observe, and I do not think that it is moi.
As an atheist who is part of (what Zegenhagen calls) “the ethical bankruptcy of humanism” (p.8) I can’t take the sexist musings of a theologian shrouded in biblical quotes terribly seriously. It is however interesting to see how a misguided soul doth defend such antiquated draconian drivel. As Zegenhagen goes to-and-fro between he and his opponents arguments, what he inadvertently reveals most strikingly is the endless number of contradictions within the bible, leading any observant reader to conclude that it is near impossible to form a solid argument based on what is written within it, for a contrary position is likely to be contained therein as well. Either sides of ‘the woman question’ and other biblical debates seem to be stricken with congenital selectivity, although Zegenhagen of course believes his view is more defensible (presumably because as a male he is bestowed with superior capacities of reasoning and analysis than his feminist foes. Ha!)
The author claims that “sexual characteristics” (masculinity and femininity) are fundamental, whilst also asserting that these same characteristics “ought to be encouraged”. Surely if sexual characteristics were fundamental.. they would not need any encouragement, for they would just ‘be’ by virtue of being fundamental. Or something.
I can well imagine that this is the sort of text the likes of Tony Abbott have consulted and willfully absorbed in order to hold the kind of views towards women which Prime Minister Julia Gillard quite brilliantly called bullshit on in parliament last week. This book may have been published in 1984 in the context of “biblical” feminists finding some voice and influence within the church at that time, yet nearly 30 years on the status quo more or less remains in place, so this “outdated” text is still disappointingly current.