A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker on the local Christian radio station sharing the results of a recent study about Americans and the Bible. To him, one of the most “interesting” findings was that more men than women believe that the Bible is a Holy Book: 90% of men vs. 78% of women. There was a hint of smugness in his voice when he said, “Huh, I wonder why that is.” If I’d had a phone number, I would have liked to call in and give him a few theories about the discrepancy — theories that have nothing to do with the idea that “through woman man fell.”
Just so that we’re on the same page: if I had been included in that survey, I would have been in the 78% that believes the Bible is a Holy Book. But I don’t believe that it’s error-free, that it shouldn’t be questioned, or that I must adhere to everything written in its pages. I do not believe it’s got the final word on God’s thoughts, opinions, and wishes for and about humanity. And one of the reasons I don’t believe all those things is because, as a woman, it’s much harder to reconcile what we know in our hearts to be true — that we are created in God’s image, perfect, wondrous, loved, gifted, and full of dignity — with what we find in the actual text of the Bible: that our names aren’t worth recording in family trees, that we’re unclean during menstruation and after childbirth (even though we’re expected to spend an inordinate amount of time childbirthing or wringing our hands because we’re not childbirthing), and that we’re meant to submit to the men in our lives. Not only that, but we have to work much harder to make patriarchal stories universal stories: there are only about 100 women named in the Old Testament, where there are almost 1500 men. The ratio of women in the New Testament is twice as high, but anyone who can do a little math knows that still doesn’t come close to equal representation.
We have to work harder to believe the stories and lessons in the Bible really apply to us: we have to accept that every time we see the word “men” it means “everyone,” except when we see it associated with priestly duties, in which case men definitely means men (and women means men, too).
I’m reading the Bible cover-to-cover for the second time in my life; the first time I did it, I was in high school. And my patience for the litany of wars and conquests and men begetting men is thinner now than it was when I was 16. I’m not one to “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and I do still believe that God reveals truths that are eternal in the Bible, that the Bible is a Holy Book. But I have to say, if the Bible were mostly a book about women like me, about stories and histories that I could relate to, well, I’d probably be a lot more apt to call it a Holy Book without qualifications, too. But as women, it’s a lot harder to justify our allegiance with the Bible, because it has been and will continue to be used against us. And if that means that 12% less women than men believe the Bible is Holy, that shouldn’t come as any surprise to someone who even takes a cursory glance beyond the statistic.