Against gender roles and other binaries? Blame monotheistic religion.

Against gender roles and other binaries? Blame monotheistic religion.

so·ma / sōmə / noun

–the body as distinct from the soul, mind, or psyche

an·ti·so·ma·tism /ˌan(t)ēˈ s­ōˈməˌtizəm / noun

an·ti·so·mat·ic /ˌan(t)ēˈ s­ōˈmə-tik / adjective

–hostility toward or discrimination against the body, in particular, the Stoic/Christian hatred of the body (Coined by Dr. Matthew Silliman)


Many religious traditions, and in particular, monotheistic Abrahamic (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) religions view the Supreme Being as without origin, for this deity was never born and will never die. This Being, perceived as male, is viewed as perfect, exists completely independently from human beings, and transcends the natural world.

In part, such a Being has no sexual desire, for sexual desire, as a kind of need, is incompatible with this concept of perfection. This accounts for the strict separation between the Creator and the created.

Just as the Creator is distinct from His creation, so too are divisions between the earthly sexes in the form of strictly-defined genders and gender roles. This distinction provides adherents to monotheistic religions a clear menu of their designated socially constructed roles: the guidelines they need to follow in connection to their God and to other human beings.

Central to monotheism is the notion of “dualism:” the belief in binary oppositions with no nuance or middle positions in the universe, such as God/Devil, mind/body, right/wrong, good/evil, right/left, male/female, righteousness/sin, Christian/infidel, and so on.

This is particularly the case in conservative Christian traditions, in which, throughout the ages, denominations have employed a number of texts to justify and rationalize the marginalization, harassment, denial of rights, persecution, and oppression of entire groups of people based on their desires, behaviors, and/or social identities.

I am choosing to focus on conservative Christianity because in European and U.S. contexts, these denominations affect the most social power and, therefore, control. Examples of texts from the Christian Bible used to justify control over bodies, sexuality, and gender include, but are certainly not limited to:

On Same-Sex Sexuality:

Romans 1:26: “In consequence, God has given them up to shameful passions. Their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural.”

Romans 1:27: “And likewise also the men, giving up natural relations with women, burn with lust for one another; males behave indecently with males, and are paid in their own persons the fitting wage of such perversion.”

Timothy 1:10: “For whoremonger, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”

1 Corinthians 6-9: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind.”

On Gender and Gender Roles:

1 Timothy 2:9: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”

1 Timothy 2: 11-12: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent.”

1 Corinthians 11:3: “But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.” 

Coming as it has within the context of Caitlyn Jenner’s talking publicly about her gender confirmation as a transgender woman, Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco argued that, “The clear biological fact is that a human being is born either male or female. Yet now we have the idea gaining acceptance that biological sex and one’s personal gender identity can be at variance with each other, with more and more gender identities being invented.”

He warned of the spread of a “gender ideology” that threatens the foundation of the Church and society itself because of what the Church defines as the biological imperative of the God-given “complementarity” between men and women.

Going even further and mentioning Jenner by name, Evangelical Pastor Dr. Ronnie Floyd of the Pinnacle Cross Church in Rogers, Arkansas asserted that Caitlyn Jenner, by transitioning, had sinned against God just like a family member sins by abusing children. Floyd, the pastor of the church attended by the Duggar family of the reality show “19 Kids and Counting,” promised that God can forgive Josh Duggar because he asked for God’s mercy over allegations that he sexually abused five young girls, including four of his sisters, when he was 14-years old.

Referring to Jenner, an Olympic gold medalist, during a Sunday sermon, Floyd told parishioners: “You dads, make sure you raise your sons around men who are manly….Gender is not fluid.” He said that God can also forgive Jenner for “his” sins if “he” atones.

The Catholic Vatican hierarchy recently fenced off Alex Salinas, a 21-year-old transgender man from Cadiz, Spain, by informing him that it had denied his request to become the godparent of his nephew because being transgender is incongruent with Catholic teaching.

According to the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, its doctrine-enforcing agency, transgender status “reveals in a public way an attitude opposite to the moral imperative of solving the problem of sexual identity according to the truth of one’s own sexuality. Therefore, it is evident that this person does not possess the requirement of leading a life according to the faith and in the position of godfather and is therefore unable to be admitted to the position of godfather or godmother.”

Further Catholic Antisomatism:

Based on Catholic Pope Francis’s recent document “On the nature of family life and marital love” (AMORIS LÆTITIA), Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Caput told unmarried Catholics, divorced Catholics, and Catholics who have re-married outside the Church that they must say caput to sexual relations and “live as brother and sister” if they are still interested in receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and penance (confession). 

He wrote on the archdiocesan website on July 1 that “Catholic belief, rooted in Scripture, reserves all expressions of sexual intimacy to a man and a woman covenanted to each other in a valid marriage,” calling this an “unchangeable” tenet.

Though he did not tell people with same-sex sexual attractions to live as brother and sister as well, he commanded that:

Those with predominant same-sex attractions are therefore called to struggle to live chastely for the kingdom of God. In this endeavor they have need of support, friendship and understanding if they fail. They should be counseled, like everyone else, to have frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Penance, where they should be treated with gentleness and compassion.

While Catholic Church dogma on sexuality and gender is very saddening at best, I do not find it surprising, for it retains an ancient-era consistency. Combined with pronouncements opposing women’s reproductive freedoms, obstruction to contraception, antagonism to the ordination and ascension of women in the overall Church hierarchy, it corresponds seamlessly with monotheistic patriarchal fundamental attempts to control people’s bodies for the greater purpose of controlling their minds, and, therefore, maintaining the Church’s grip on power.  

When patriarchal social and economic systems of male domination attempt to keep women pregnant and taking care of children, they can restrict their entry, or at least their level and time of entry, into the workplace, and ensure women’s dependence on men economically and emotionally. As women produce more and more children, expanding numbers of little consumers emerge to contribute to the Capitalist system ever increasing profits for owners of business and industry.

And when patriarchal social and family structures converge with patriarchal religious systems, women’s, girls’, and intersex people’s oppression and oppression of those who transgress sexual-, sexuality-, and gender binaries became inevitable.

A Fly in the Ointment:

Sojourner Truth, born into slavery who escaped to freedom in 1826 with her infant daughter, became a preeminent abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. Her famous extemporaneous speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in 1851 in Akron, Ohio cut a hole in the Christian monotheistic patriarchal foundation when she proclaimed:

…Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ‘cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.”

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