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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman as Doctor Who and Clara behind the scenes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cheery but half-baked canine caper: 'Pudsey the dog: The movie'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce leads the MTV VMA Awards 2014 nominations with eight

music
Arts and Entertainment
Live from your living room: Go People perform at a private home in Covent Garden

theatre
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor