The End of Religion
Feminist Reappraisals of the State
- ISBN: 9781472470430
- Published By: Routledge
- Published: November 2020
In Constantinian times there was no religion as such. The state was religion and religion was the state. Whatever the religious hierarchy said, that was the law. The End of Religion: Feminist Reappraisals of the State, edited by Naomi Goldenberg and Kathleen McPhillips, contends that religion has become a state within a state, much needed and appreciated by the larger government, and yet defeated and diminished. Religion is now a vestige of its former self. In this essay collection, eleven authors, including Goldenberg and McPhillips, develop this theme.
The book brings a new and different perspective to the relationship between church and state. In her essay, “E Pluribus Patriarchy: Religion and State in the Contemporary US,” Elizabeth Pritchard writes that the state claims to be a sovereign entity and looks down at the church as defeated, delimited, and diminished. Yet at the same time, she says, the state depends on religion for its legitimacy, sovereignty, and survival. The state might also look the other way when it comes to discrimination and sexual abuse in the church. Feminists need to see that the state is not independent of religion but collaborates with it and vice versa. In England, the distinction between state and religion has never been totally straightforward, writes Sukhwant Dhaliwal in “Multifaithism and Secularism in the UK.” The state has shifted the way it spends its money so that it funds various religious groups and makes them responsible for social action. This has removed the burden of responsibility from the state and at the same time has cut funding for secular issues and has enabled more funding for Christian right groups who have attacked women’s reproductive rights and feminist service providers. This flies in the face of the fact that 50% of the people in England claim to have no religion.
Peggy Schmeiser writes that the state sometimes assumes the authority of what constitutes a valid belief. She gives the example of how in 2013 in Canada, the government decided to ban all large or conspicuous religious symbols used by public sector workers in public places. People protested, saying that this practice infringed on their religious beliefs. The court had a large crucifix in the legislature which they argued was not a religious symbol but a part of Canadian heritage. The ban was defeated, but it is an example of the state deciding what or what is not a valid belief.
Barbara Greenberg describes how in the 1800s, the government, along with churches and missionaries, began to work together to assimilate indigenous people into the Euro-Canadian culture. Women were made subject to their husbands and could no longer have a say in whether they could divorce or have any type of sexual freedom. This violence against indigenous women escalated partly because of the church’s negative view of them. It wasn’t until 2007 that the United Nations published a declaration on the rights of indigenous people. Stacie Swain writes that Canadians took a while to act on this since they were more interested in having the people “disappear” into Euro-Victorian society. But in 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau was elected on a platform of “real change.” He initiated this change with a ceremony designed to showcase the diverse set of men and women who make up his government, Ironically, the ceremony itself was an icon of settler colonialism. Swain explains how the church and the state worked on the production together, without any mention of the background violence that made it happen.
Andrew Pump identifies the Catholic Church as caught between its traditional teachings and the positions of new interest groups. The church defends human rights but is against homosexuality and women’s equality. It has a rich social doctrine that is obscured by its focus on sexuality. It recognizes the importance of protecting the environment but attacks environmentalists. It is against abortion but does not seem to recognize the causes behind it. Yet, the state relies on the church for its moral authority, which it uses for political purposes.
“But wait,” writes Geraldine Finn in her chapter, “The end of religion - the end of man.” Finn observes that when we discuss the church, including in this book, we are only discussing men, not women. This was most obvious at the funeral of Pope John II, where there were 157 cardinals, 700 bishops and archbishops, 3000 priests, and a small contingent of nuns. In other venues men can be at war with each other, but one thing they all agree on is the exclusion of women.
In conclusion, religion is still here, but in a vestigial state. The book is rich with stories and examples of church-state relations and how religion is often seen as an “enemy,” not even aware, for the most part, that over half of their constituents are women and minorities. An iconic symbol of modernity is the round table, with representatives of all groups in the world sitting around it. The focus is on “the people.” But “the people” are white, gendered and heterosexual.
“The End of Religion: Feminist Reappraisals of the State” points out an obvious fact. A recent survey found that only 16% of people in the United States think that religion is a very important part of their lives. Many feel alienated from religion, perhaps because of their sexual orientation, their marital status, their race, their perception of unjust treatment by the church. It is true that, as Nathan Kollar says, “We are living in the chaos introducing a new era.” By clarifying some of the problems, this book can point the way to that new era of collaboration and response to the signs of the times.
Winifred Whelan, OSF is a professor emerita at St. Bonaventure University.Winifred WhelanDate Of Review:April 20, 2023