Saturday, 10 February 2007

It's only appropriate to follow tradition- let the woman make the first move.

Well, World Science has a wide variety of research posted this week. Some cichlids use logic to determine who is the weaker fish in a fish fight, and then hang out with the weaker. Other cichlids have sex with their sisters, possibly to increase parenting skills. There's possibly a rejuvenation pill out there, new ideas on the operation of cosmic blasts 100 billion times stronger than our sun, and a new collider in the works. Action video games help visual acuity more than Tetris, Global Warming is bad, and we're a step closer to understanding how drugs cause hallucinations.

I'm interested in waxing a bit anthropological today though, looking at the African island of Orango, part of Guinea-Bissau. There the women chooses her husband by placing a specially prepared dish of fish in front of him, and he has no right to refuse. Then the woman has four months to build their home, at which point they are officially married. The article is looking at the cultural transition the society is going through, as modern ideas begin to creep in through work off-island- like the idea that the man should initiate.

This has led to some conflict, with different individuals choosing the traditional role and others choosing the modern way. But what I found most horrifying was the introduction of Christian missionary ideas into the equation. Don't get me wrong- got nothing against Christianity, or the right of a religion to share it's ideas. But its the form that this particular sharing is taking that is disturbing.

Christianity has a long and honorable history of sharing about it's ideas, while maintaining cultural purity in every way possible. For instance, the first great female evangelist, Nina, tried very carefully to honor the culture of 4th century Georgia, while sharing about Jesus. At the same time Christians have fought against certain elements of the culture, like the setti practice of India.

But in more recent centuries there developed the missionary practice of ignoring culture if it didn't fit with the particular religious interpretations of the missionaries. Thus the Hawaiians were told to clothe, stop the hula, and restrict their sexual activity, all in the name of a propriety that exists nowhere explicitly in the Bible. Or schools attempted to conflation their country of origin with the culture of the Gospel, believing that the people they were reaching out to needed to become more Western or European or American in order to become more Christian. At times there is a clear moral guideline that needs changing (don't burn women while they're still alive); at other times it's an issue of humility, recognizing that God could speak to different cultures in different ways.

There have been a rash of books in the last couple decades, like Elizabeth Elliot's Passion and Purity or Josh Harris' I Kissed Dating Goodbye, that argue that a woman is told by the Bible and God to be a wallflower, and to wait for the man to act. She must be passive, and he is active. This is simply ordained in the ways of nature, and God. Let's move beyond that this is selective quote mining and proof texts, seeking to simply confirm dominant cultural values. Let's move beyond the ignoring of Song of Songs ("my breasts are as towers") or Ruth (feet were usually a euphemism for another body part in ancient Hebrew culture). It also completely ignores the many strong women of the ancient church, like Junia, the apostle mentioned at the end of Romans. Pederson does an excellent job in her book pointing out the strong feminism of Jesus, Paul, and the early Church, encouraging women in the role as leaders. Sadly a few centuries later this is all erased through misogynist Church Fathers.

Now the missionaries on this island are telling the women it is wrong for them to initiate in relationships. That Jesus is against it. That if they are to be Christian, they have to let the man lead.

I've got nothing against individual women deciding that a man should initiate. In some cultures, this may be more appropriate. But for someone to misuse Jesus and the Bible to argue that this is in the very nature of things is highly inappropriate. This inappropriateness just heightens in intensity when people of another culture are told to change their ways, rather than allow women to initiate and lead.

Whenever we enter a culture, we bring in changes. Most often in the case of the modern West, these are technological changes (and MTV). It becomes incumbent therefore for the guest in a culture to be very careful of the changes they bring. Are these changes truly necessary? Are we truly improving the quality of life of those we are trying to love? I say to these missionaries, that the people of Orango appear to know more about the teachings of Christ and the apostles than you. Sadly by the time the Orango have the technology to be able to read this blog, they will likely also have been thoroughly influenced by the modern ideas of female submission.


Barsawad said...

Very interesting about Orango; still, in most of the Animal world, it's the male who chooses the partner. In all primates, males are the ones who decide.

@bdul muHib said...

I haven't read enough studies of primates to say, so I'd tentavily accept what you say. But with a significant caveat- we find a very high incidence of homosexuality among primates, particularly in the ones most closely related to us, like the Bonobo. Obviously in those cases, half the time there is no male choosing at all.

This is the discussion of the World Science updates as they become available.
Your thoughts are most welcome here.