About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Women cannot teach men, Bible says

Here we go again. Although we are at the beginning of the 21st century, living in the technologically most advanced country in the world (not to mention the self-professed best democracy on the planet), we keep jumping back to pre-Roman times. The minister of a Baptist Church in Watertown, NY, has recently fired Ms. Mary Lambert, a woman who taught Sunday Bible school at the church for more than half a century, on the grounds that, well, she is a woman!

You see, according to the “Reverend” Timothy LaBouf (who is also a member of the City Council), the Bible says that women should stay in their place and cannot teach men. So, the logic goes, Ms. Lambert had to stop what she had been doing for 54 years before the Church's administrators caught up with their reading of the sacred scriptures.

The Mayor of Watertown, Jeffrey Graham, ain't happy about this, commenting “those are disturbing remarks in this day and age. Maybe they wouldn't have been disturbing 500 years ago, but they are now.” Or they should be. The funny thing, of course, is that Rev. LaBouf is technically correct: the Bible (1 Tim. 2:12) does say “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Hard to misread this one!

It is interesting, from a secular rational perspective, to see how the people involved deal with the situation. Neither Ms. Lambert nor the Major dare take the obvious step and denounce the “sacred text” as nothing but the misogynistic writing of ignorant men who lived thousands of years ago, to be dismissed on the ground that our understanding of human ethics and rights is much better now, thank you very much. Nope, they instead accuse Rev. Graham of not understanding Christianity, of reading the Bible out of context, etc. It is simply incredible the sort of mental somersaults that religious belief leads otherwise sane and reasonable people to do.


  1. This isn't anything new, unfortunately, and the continuing appearance of somersaults performed by some posters on this blog indicates that mental contortions are not going to go away any time soon.

    I, myself, took a long time to come out of the cult of christianity. When your worldview is based upon the assumption that God exists (and in particular Jesus the Christ, etc), it's very difficult to make a huge step and consider the possibility that One doesn't exist. Once you do, you find a great simplicity in seeing how life really is, and you cease having to make excuses for your god.

    Any ideas as to how to make this happen on a large-scale basis?


  2. Such mental gymnastics are always most prevalent when someone tries to apply a select edict from the bible to justify their personal prejudice. My personal favorite are those people who insist on applying Leviticus to gays, but have no problem having bacon and eggs for breakfast, shrimp cocktail for lunch, all while wearing mixed fabrics. With the bible, it really must be "all or nothing" otherwise it's all just hypocritical bible buffet.

  3. I love the idea of an "hypocritical bible buffet." I can so visualize people stuffing themselves on it...

  4. I would like to correct you you should have said you can't believe Hillery had the overies "to directly take on Donald"

  5. What we should really be concerned about is that the (religionists, especially the bible literalists) keep their "bible buffets" (Gary, I love your turn of phrase) within the confines of their churches, cathedrals and tabernacles. As long as they stay there and don't try to bring it out into the street to impose their unpalatable diet on the rest of us. I can live with that.

    Being somewhat of a pragmatist I realize that the abolishment of religion is something that is not likely to happen, regardless of how desirable that might be. If we were to proselytize in the name of atheism and/or agnosticism we would be doing, in part, what we so abhor in those who attempt to proselytize for religion.

    If the wall between religion and government and religion can be repaired (it has sustained some serious damage in the past few years) and maintained a great service will have been done for this country.

  6. What Dennis said.

  7. I was in a rush and didn't know if I would get to comment further but thought you hit the nail on the head pretty well. As much as I dislike religion, I have no problem with them enforcing their rules within their own walls. I saw a bumber sticker the other day that sort of epitomizes my attitude: "Against abortion? Don't get one!"
    I get a chuckle out of all of the news stories about various religions voting on whether or not women can be preachers, gays can be preachers, weddings can be same sex, etc. My problem, as you mentioned, is when they try to take it outside the church and use the power of government to force everyone to live by their religious rules.

    p.s. Massimo, have you ever blog-surfed? Click on that [Next Blog] button a few times and see what's out there. It's disgusting how many blogs are devoted to religion: "Hi, my name is Joe and I'm a born again Christian. This is my blog about how Jesus saves my life every day." yada, yada, yada. Of course every once in a while you get pictures of naked women which kind of makes up for all the religious junk. ;-)

  8. Hi Massimo,
    I apologize, for this is not being a comment on this post. Instead I have a more general suggestion and comment.

    Everytime you have something published in magazines like Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer, or Philosophy Now why not mention the article and then invite comments about it here. I realize there may be copyright issues with posting the article here.

    I would suspect that many of your blog readers might also read your articles in those magazines, and if they don't they should!

    Anyway, the reason I say this is that I often wish I could comment on or ask a question about these articles.

    Anyway, just a suggestion.

  9. Sheldon,

    good suggestion. I do alert subscribers of my Google group when new articles are published, and they are often posted on my web site as well, but I'll try to remember to post something on the blog too.

  10. But what Dennis said goes against what Darwin did and what Massimo is doing :)

  11. The drift of nearly all human interaction is to subjugate women, if not by one means then another. And it is not that all men completely believe this, (my father obviously didn’t) but almost all men and women will support it, unless taught to do otherwise.

    Massimo, if you happened to be speaking in lecture hall, giving a lecture on the finer points of (?), and a girl of 20 something pipes up and says something thoroughly irrelevant and then continues on to ask a question of you that has no relation to your topic whatsoever, what would you do? Why do you think she has done that? Likely, because she does not have the education to make the connections to what it is that you are disclosing to your audience?

    That is what was happening in the time which Timothy wrote this to his brethren in the church. In the time that Timothy was speaking of, women were seldom educated (a cultural matter) much less learning anything having to do with the Bible. Therefore it would make perfect sense that if the Rabbi was speaking, that women were not allowed to speak out without any context to place their ideas or questions within. It would be natural and better for the women to be taught by their fathers, brothers or husbands at a later time, then not taught at all.

    In the OT, Solomon was taught by his mother, and the "Deborah" was a Prophetess. Esther also was the person God used so that Israel escaped the anti-semtic hand of Hamen. So it seems to me that if there was an actual (not just practical) prohibition against women ever leading or being part of God's plan for the world, I would imagine that it would have been given more importance than just a passing cultural commentary in the book of Timothy.

  12. (Titus 2:3-4)I have only notice this is the only time a woman is allowed to teach is when she is old and she is only allow to teach the younger women not the men.I have read the scripture(1 Tim. 2:12)a few years ago. I tried to stand up for it but through hetero-suggestion I accepted the fact that women should have equal rights.Now I read the scripture again and there is nothing wrong about it. It implies what is says and it is correct. Do I mean a woman does not have the ability to Teach or pastor a church. No.She has the ability but it is not lawfull. For eg. Do I have to ability to comit adultry? Yes I do. Does that make it lawfull for me to do? No. 2nd eg. Do I have the ability to murder? Does that make it right for me to murder. No. So philosophilically I mean ability does not give right or makes it lawfull. The major problem in today society is that we pick and choose which law we want to follow. Just like paul said in 2 Timothy 4:1-5. So people beliving that women should hold an equal role in church only proves how truthful the bible is. If the entire christian world would have follow the laws to the dot then the bible would be a lie.

    Ok so let say it continue that women are given equal rights in churches and nothing arise to put an end to it, well what it means is that The Lord God has given us over to our sin and this in turn will destroy us. For The Lord God will neither spare the men who tolerated it from the women who commited the shame.For the Lord god acted the same way towards Eli and his son in 1 samuel 2:27-36. So Eli honour his son more than God and suffered. So if men in the churches will not rise up against this shame so will the men suffer for honouring the women more than God.

  13. Just a thought about the Bible buffet as referenced earlier. I really think that if you look closely Leviticus is not the only place to condemn homosexuality in the Bible. But I'll return to that in a second.
    The reason why Christians feel they can eat whatever and not uphold those types of commandments from the Old Testament is that in Christ the Law has been fulfilled. God actually commands Peter to see what had been unclean as clean (Acts 11) and to eat of all God's creatures. In Christ, though, the works-oriented salvation has been abolished. The clothes we wear, food we eat, and rituals we perform no longer have weight on our salvation. James calls us to good works as a result of such salvation, but it cannot add to or take away from you being saved. (That is a huge discussion that won't fit here) So that's just a thought on how Christians view the Bible and not really thinking of it as a buffet.
    On the homosexual issue, say that Leviticus doesn't matter because it's the "law" (although we don't really fully believe that we can ignore it, let's just say so for arguments sake), homosexuality is also condemned in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 6:9.

    Now I'm not saying there are not a lot of Christians out there living hypocritical lives and not taking the Bible literally, but from one Christian attempting to take the Bible for what it says and live radically for Christ (although not perfectly for Him), here's a take on what you've mentioned.


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