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Clerics’ ‘dark age’ comments about women causes outrage among their flock

HOW apt! We were just preparing a new caption contest – first prize being Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom’s book Does God Hate Women? – when we learned of the outrage caused by a Kent vicar who urged women to “be silent” and “submit” to their husbands. Benson runs the excellent atheist blog, Butterflies and Wheels.

Caption this photo, and win Does God Hate Women?

According to this report, Angus MacLeay, rector of St Nicholas Church in Sevenoaks, Kent, made the comments – which some parishioners thought were more in keeping with a sermon from the dark ages than the modern Church of England – in a leaflet entitled “The Role of Women in the Local Church”.

'Keep your lips zipped, woman!'

In it, he said women should “not speak” if asked a question that could be answered by their husbands and should “submit to their husbands in everything”.

Using Bible references to justify his comments, he wrote:

Wives are to submit to their husbands in everything in recognition of the fact that husbands are head of the family as Christ is head of the church. This is the way God has ordered their relationships with each other.

In another passage, which appeared under the heading “More Difficult ­Passages to Consider”, he continued:

It would seem that women should remain silent … if questions could legitimately be answered by their husbands.

But MacLeay’s words were too difficult to swallow for the dozens of women who cancelled direct debit subscriptions to the Anglican church and vowed not to return.

On Sunday, the curate at St Nicholas delivered a sermon entitled “Marriage and Women” which also urged women to submit to their husbands.

Reverend Mark Oden blamed the “modern woman” for high divorce rates and told the congregation:

We know ­marriage is not working. We only need to look at figures … Wives, submit to your own husbands.

Barmy clerics McLeay and Oden

Despite the anger and offence caused, Oden stood by his comments.

I did not set out to unnecessarily offend people, but I stand by what God has said in his word, the Bible.

One female member of the church said she was “disgusted” by Oden’s sermon.

How can they talk that way in the 21st century? No wonder the church is losing touch if this is the kind of gobbledegook they want us to believe. I will not be going back to that church and will have to seriously consider my faith if this is the nonsense they are spouting now.

Another member said:

What kind of medieval sermon is that? We are not in the 15th century.

When he reviewed Does God Hate Women? for The New Statesman, Johann Hari wrote:

Every major religion’s texts were written at a time when women were regarded as little better than talking cattle. Their words and commands reflect this, plainly and bluntly. This book starts with a panoramic sweep across the world, showing – with archetypal cases – how every religion has groups today thumping women down with its Holy Book.

In another review, written for the print edition of the Freethinker, Peter Brietbart began by pointing out the plight of Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein, a woman journalist who was arrested last year for the “crime” of wearing a pair of trousers at a Sudanese restaurant.

She was spared a punishment of 40 lashes by a “merciful” Sudanese court which, instead, fined her the equivalent of £130.

At her trial,women gathered outside the court in solidarity. The police fired tear gas and beat them with truncheons.

Wrote Brietbart:

The story made headlines, not because of the idiocy of the sentencing, but because al-Hussein was standing up for women’s rights in an Islamic country. She chose to go to trial, whilst the ten other women who were also seized at the restaurant accepted whipping as punishment.

In Does God Hate Women?, Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom take on misogynistic cultures such as Sudan’s, and illustrate just how much worse it is for women when the men who dominate them really do think that they are doing God’s bidding.

The book opens with a barrage of true stories that leave the reader reeling and furious on behalf of the women who are subject to such humiliating and degrading abuse.

Religious apologist Karen Armstrong is singled out for particular criticism for her suspiciously uncritical view of religious bigotry.

The authors cast a spotlight on Armstrong’s unwavering support of faith, and provide some fascinating contrasts between the established facts and Armstrong’s conciliatory and somewhat deceitful manner of presenting religious history.

The authors are to be commended for their time well spent in pointing out how Armstrong’s paints a revisionist picture of the history of religion.


There is no doubt that religion is used as a tool for supporting and justifying the suppression of women, and choice passages of the New and Old Testament as well as the Koran are dissected in support of this claim.

The Koran suffers particularly under the scrutiny of the authors, for the simple reason that it is the most ethically regressive text. For example, in Islam, the Prophet Mohammed is the example of virtue to which all Muslim men must aspire. Unfortunately, he married a girl perhaps as young as six

years old, providing Islamic scholars the necessary Koranic example to justify such marriages

in the 21st century.

A chapter is dedicated to the blight of Female Genital Mutilation, within which the causes, motivations and prejudices are taken apart and studied. The idea that religion has nothing to do with FGM is scrutinised with illuminating results. The authors note that whilst a religion may not encourage FGM,

there is no better force for maintaining the status quo. And this is not at all irrelevant: an alarming modern example, provided by the World Health Organisation, is that 95 percent of women aged 15-49 living in Egypt are genitally mutilated.

Anyone fighting in the war against FGM will sometimes battle against the religious, but will always battle against men whose heads are brimming with gross concepts of virginity, value, purity and pride.

A highlight of the book is the insightful and objective comparison between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam.

With a sharp eye and plenty of wit, the authors tear apart the CDHRI, showing it to be a truly vacuous and utterly ridiculous document.

Does God Hate Women? is not only a critique of the religious right, but also the secular left, who are so unthinkingly complicit in the protection of fanatical patriarchal domination. The authors are persuasive in making the case that the left should be squarely on the side of the women, not on the side of the cultures that oppress them.

Two claims: first, of cultural imperialism and second, that criticism of Islam is racist, are cut down by Benson and Stangroom with precision and clarity, and they offer original insights into the debates currently raging within the political left.

If you have an interest in the evils of religion, this book will show you precisely what happens when God-believers translate divine misogyny into action against women.

But in a sense, this is also a book for the apathetic and indifferent: some books are weapons that will arm you in debate, some are defensive, and show you what positions are tenable. But this book is a banner, a rallying cry that will make your blood boil and ready you for war against the tyranny of oppression.

And the battles have only just begun.

Closing date for entries is February 20, 2010. The prize for the runner-up is a year’s free subscription to the print edition of the Freethinker.

The results of our earlier caption competition will be announced tomorrow, Sunday, February 14.

61 responses to “Clerics’ ‘dark age’ comments about women causes outrage among their flock”

  1. Urmensch says:

    “It was only after he got no response to his question about when dinner would be ready, that Mustapha realized he was talking to a bin-bag, having mistakenly left his wife out for the refuse collectors.”

  2. Janstince says:

    “You need to separate your polyethylenes from your polyurethanes. Also, trash and recycling pickup is today, wife pickup is Wednesday.”

    “Wife got you down? News at eleven…”

    “For those upgrading to new wives, a general trash pickup will be allowed on the following days… Just be sure to contact Allah directly and if you pray hard enough, the trash men will know when to come by.”

  3. barriejohn says:

    I think burqas are a rubbish idea.

  4. Craig says:

    Waiting patiently for the bus, Aysha wondered why her little sisters were so quiet.

  5. John says:

    It’s still porn; it made me imagine a woman

  6. Sabina says:

    Introducing the revolutionary Trijab! A receptacle for household garbage or a protector of your modesty – use it YOUR way!

  7. Ash Walsh says:

    “Terry Taleban forgot Wednesdays was Bin day in Helmand”

  8. Jord says:

    “Feminism: Is it all just a load of rubbish?”

  9. Jord says:

    “Homeless lady has tent poles stolen overnight. Feeling very blue about the whole thing”

  10. pablo says:

    So a preacher walks into a church and teaches the good word from the holy book. The congregation does not like it, ‘but its true, it in the book and teachings you believe in’ he states. The congregation are disgusted, but with what? This is their religeon. Kudos to the preacher for ramming it down their throats, he was the only one their to have the courage to talk about this, and get the sheep, sorry flock, to understand what their holybook is about. Religon is and always will be a vile practice.

  11. Steve says:

    “Excuse me Ma’am, yes you on the left. I think your headband may be a little too tight?”