Continuum £14.99 (202pp) £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Does God Hate Women?, By Ophelia Benson & Jeremy Stangroom

I couldn't care less about religion. If I were on a desert island, I'd rather have Katie Price's latest autobiography than the Bible, and the only thing that interests me about churches, mosques and temples is their architecture. I could go through life without ever giving religion a thought were it not for the fact that it wilfully refuses to reciprocate, interfering in the lives of people like me – women, non-believers, secularists - and having an impact way beyond the lives of its followers.

Catholic clergy want to stop women having abortions and in a handful of countries – Chile, for example – they have succeeded in banning it in all circumstances. This doesn't mean that abortions don't take place, just that they are illegal and women more likely to die as a result. In some Islamic countries, perfectly normal sexual behaviour is punishable by lapidation, even if a woman has been raped, while gay men find themselves strung up from cranes. As the last example demonstrates, it isn't just women who suffer from the imposition of religious law, but misogyny is one of the most striking features of cultures where there is no effective separation between faith and state.

In that sense, I'm tempted to answer the question posed by these two philosophers with a resounding affirmative. Judging by what religions say about women and impose upon them, God is either a misogynist himself or he has signally failed to get an equal-opportunities message across to his congregations. But I don't believe in a supreme being and so my response has to be more complex: religions are about patriarchal power, reflecting the societies from which they emerged, and one of the reasons they exist, as the authors understand only too well, is to maintain the status quo.

No one should ever underestimate the normalising effect of the status quo on people's imaginations, turning customs – no matter how illogical, cruel or unjust - into apparently immutable law. In theocratic states, and in extreme religious sects in some democratic countries, the status quo is defined by the subordination of women to men.

That's why the result of the bitter conflicts which break out from time to time is often merely to shift power between males. Henry VIII making himself head of the church in place of the Pope is a good example, while the centuries-old struggle between Sunni and Shia has its origins in a dispute about the Prophet's (male) successor. In their wonderful book, Benson and Stangroom point out that religions tend to feel a need for "ferocious control" - and what they aspire to control most of all is women's bodies.

The authors demolish any amount of modern cant, notably the ridiculous argument that practices such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) have nothing to do with religion. This is not a matter of texts, they point out, but of logic: "The argument in favour of a causal link between religion and FGM is simply that it is absurd to think a practice so bound up in symbolism, myth and ritual, one that is explicitly part of a discourse of purity, virtue and virginity and that is prevalent almost exclusively in societies notable for their high levels of religiosity, might somehow be hermetically sealed off from the influence of religion".

At a time when too many people bend over backwards to avoid offending the sensibilities of those with a belief in the supernatural, Benson and Stangroom provide a breath of fresh air. They subject the core beliefs of the world's leading faiths to the rigorous analysis they sometimes escape out of a misplaced fear of giving offence; they demolish the fashionable charge of "Islamophobia" and demonstrate how it is used (particularly by the hard left) to close down legitimate criticism of aspects of Islam which deny full rights to women.

All this desperately needs to be said at a moment when Christianity, encouraged by militant forms of Islam, is trying to regain its old influence in the public sphere. As this book reminds us, religion brings with it patriarchal ideas about gender difference which claim to honour women but almost always give men power over them.

Benson and Strangroom point out that the God of their title "is a product of history but taken to be eternal, which is a bad combination. That is the God who hates women. That God has to go." Hear, hear.

Joan Smith's novel 'What Will Survive' is published by Arcadia

Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
News
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
news
Arts and Entertainment
Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat and Blackberry Wine, wrote a blog post attacking the app and questioning its apparent 'strong Christian bias'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Leading light: Sharma in London

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
News
Brooke Magnanti believes her reputation has been damaged by the claim
books
Arts and Entertainment
A large fire has broken out in London's historic Battersea Arts Centre
art
Arts and Entertainment
Orla Brady as Anne Meredith, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Joanna Vanderham as Katherine McVitie in Banished
tvReview: Despite the gritty setting, this drama is as fluffy and soppy as a soap opera
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and co-director Richard Glatzer, standing, on the set during the filming of ‘Still Alice’ in New York
film
Arts and Entertainment
Great British Sewing Bee finalist Matt Chapple
tvReview: He wowed the judges with an avant garde dress
Arts and Entertainment
Driven to the edge: 'Top Gear' producer Oisin Tymon is said to have had a row with Clarkson
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nazi officer Matthias Schoenaerts embarks on an affair with married French woman Michelle Williams in 'Suite Francaise'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Prime movers: Caitriona Balfe (centre) and the cast of Outlander
TV
News
Feasting with panthers: Keynes
books
Arts and Entertainment
Strung out: Mumford & Sons
music
Arts and Entertainment
Avant-garde: Bjork
music
Arts and Entertainment
Despite a decade of reform, prosecutions and convictions of rape has remained consistently low
arts + entsAcademic and author Joanna Bourke in warning to arts world
Arts and Entertainment
Electro Velvet, made up of Alex Larke and Bianca Nicholas, will represent the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn