I'm in the middle of reading Caleb's Crossing right now, the second book I've read by Geraldine Brooks, who I find to be a very gifted writer. The book is historical fiction, focusing on the first Native American student at Harvard. Thus far, its been an interesting read for many reasons.
Early in the book there are some decent theological conversations that take place between Caleb, the Native American, and the narrator, who is the daughter of a minister on this small island off of present day Massachusetts. This is before any "conversion" of Caleb takes place (and Caleb is her name for him, not his own name), and he poses very serious and thoughtful questions to her that result from her insistence that the text of the Bible be taken literally. These discussions are obviously interesting to me to anyone who has read parts of this blog, and even though this is a work of fiction, I find it almost surreal to read the thoughts of faith and doubt that the narrator/character experiences as a result of these conversations.
What makes these conversations even more fascinating is how forbidden they are to the narrator, as a woman, who is told that it is not her place to engage in such conversations or education; who is, in fact, instructed to not listen to the sessions involving her father and her older brother, as it is not the place that God has designated for women; it is not their place to learn these things; rather, they are supposed to only make a good home and serve their husband. In this fictional story, the rigid sexism is more apparent as the narrator has a very sharp mind and wit, and her older brother does not possess anything close to her intelligence.
These ideas seem so foreign to many of us in our modern society and an affront to the very notions of equality. As the book brings out, and what is historically true, is that religion, and this particular instance Christianity, has been used to belittle the capabilities of women, to place them in a role solely as a result of their gender, and not because of their abilities or talents. Our society clearly views such a stance as prejudicial and unfounded, bordering on sexism. But I think we do well to remember that the overwhelming majority of folks during this time did not view their beliefs and actions as wrong in any fashion; they believed, as so often noted in this book for this context, to be God's plan or will for them.
Thus, we would do well to remember, that assuming we believe such beliefs to be very prejudicial, that religion has been misused in the past to support and strengthen such beliefs and positions. I would think it appropriate to therefore be wary of placing too much faith in something "touched" or influenced by man as divine law. Moreover, we would do well to critically examine our beliefs and positions of our society and religions, to see where we might be misusing religious faith today to engage in unwarranted prejudice and discrimination.
Do we believe, accept, and act on certain ideas because that's what we have been told by those in authority? Because we believe a higher power commands it? Because it corresponds with some innate sense of fairness? Because it's "reasonable?" And, in the process of critical examination, what steps do we take to resolve conflicts between our ideas, and the foundation for those ideas?