Whether religious or non-religious, stories are important to our humanity. Before we were watching stories on tv and movie screens, we were reading stories in books and papers. And before we were reading stories, we were telling stories through an oral tradition. Stories help us find a way to relate to our world, to understand it. Sometimes we recognize our struggles in the struggles of fictional characters. Sometimes a story helps us make sense of something tragic that happened to us and helps us to move forward.
Some stories speak to us deeply and resonate. Others don’t.
There are many reasons I was never drawn to Christianity. And a big one is that the stories were never that compelling to me. My view of human nature is rooted in modern psychology. My dad was a behaviorist who had the works of B.F. Skinner on his shelves. After attempting a few other majors in college, I eventually followed in my dad’s footsteps with psychology, and followed up with a Masters in Counseling. Now we have more of an understanding an appreciation of a human’s innate cognitive abilities and how that affects us. In short, I don’t see humans as sinful and in need of saving. I see humans of capable of doing good things or bad things depending on many different factors, but overall I believe if you put a person in their best environment you will see their best self. So this view of humanity as needing a savior never struck a chord with me, and if anything, seemed to undermine humanity’s strengths.
While a lot of Christianity seems like a bad retcon headed by a god who is deeply immoral and abusive to me (that’s a whole different blog post), there’s another more basic reason that the stories weren’t compelling, and that’s because there weren’t many interesting women in the New Testament.
I’ve always enjoyed stories about strong women. From She-Ra to Pippi Longstocking, Princess Leia, Jadzia Dax, Kira and Wonder Woman, to real life heroines such as Amelia Earhart and Harriet Tubman, I devoured their stories growing up. As one of two sisters, I also loved reading stories about sisters, such as the Little House on the Prairie books and Little Women. And I strongly resonated with Belle from Beauty and the Beast, the hopeless bookworm and outsider, because that was me when I was 10, constantly being told by teachers, “you’re so pretty, if you would just smile and stop being so weird and reading all the time you might just make a friend.”
As I got older and went to college I found a new type of heroine in Japanese anime with Lina Inverse, a woman who always saved the day, who didn’t care about conventional female norms, and when the love of her life was kidnapped and held hostage, she had to go and kick ass to rescue him. However, despite all of her strengths, Lina was a deeply flawed character. She was a glutton, rude, and selfish. But she was allowed to be rude and selfish! As someone who feels like I always have to be polite and consider everyone’s else’s needs, seeing a woman saying to hell with that was liberating. I don’t relate to Lina because I’m similar to her, but I love her because there are times I would love to just say something mean to someone without being wracked by guilt over it for years to come like she does. That’s a freedom she has that I don’t.
And now I am excited about all of the new stories about strong women coming out. From Katniss to Elsa and Vanellope, my daughter will have a lot more heroines to chose from than I did growing up. Because it is these stories that resonate. I love seeing stories about women meeting challenges, saving the day, rescuing their lovers, taking down the patriarchy. I love seeing their relationships with other women, whether they be sisters or best friends, enemies or lovers. ore so, I love seeing them in relationships with men who love them because they are strong, men who accept them flaws and all.
And Christianity? You have the tired virgin-whore dynamic with Mary Magdalene and Mary mother of Jesus. Just like in Saturday morning cartoons growing up where you had to option of choosing which of the two girls you wanted to be in a cast of seven or so (Miss Piggy or Skeeter? The girly-girl or the Tom Boy?), you can either be the perfect, chaste ideal of womanhood that no woman can live up to, or the vile whore.
Now, I am aware that in early Christianity Mary Magdalene was actually a more interesting character and that she most likely was not a prostitute. In early Christianity she actually had a place of prominence as the First Apostle who witnessed Jesus after he was resurrected and was told to spread the good news. But this was also a good argument for women to be priests, so mainstream Christianity ditched that, and how they did that was to smear her by making her a prostitute. And reading about the history of Mary Magdalene is fascinating, and a narrative of her fighting against the forces of patriarchy that eventually took over Christianity is an interesting story. That said, it’s not the one that won out.
This virgin-whore dynamic fails to take into the account the complexities of human nature. As a woman, it is not that appealing. I don’t want to be the perfect, pure Madonna (I have major issues with the notion of purity). Woman are people, who can do good things or bad things. Further, having two women on opposite ends of the spectrum bypasses the struggles that most women in the middle of the spectrum feel. And let’s not even get into the fact that the measure of whether or not we are good people shouldn’t depend on the number of men we’ve slept with. In all, it’s a narrow and rather insulting story that didn’t interest me that much.
Christianity’s lack of female heroes is something noted often in history books, and how women in different societies made up for this deficit is a interesting subject in it’s own right. And while a woman who is a Christian has motivation to find ways to inject strong women into Christianity, such as reclaiming Mary Magdalene as the First Apostle, as a non-Christian, I don’t have any motivation to do so.
Further, Christianity always comes down to a core message that women need a man to save them. No thank you.
I’ll stick with Lina Inverse and River Song and Elphaba. They can save themselves.