Over at David Marshall's blog he's written a series of posts about how Christianity has supposedly raised the status and well-being of women throughout the world. In my review of his book I tackle some of his claims on this issue. The only argument that seems half way legit is that of Christianity's positive influences and reforms in India. All the others are factually flawed in some way, or Marshall greatly exaggerates the role of Christianity.
In the third post of his series he references the same outdated 1988 paper he used in his book. For part of my research I looked at a 2009 UN Gender Empowerment study which showed that the united states' ranking in gender equality was number 18. The countries that occupied the top spots were Sweden, followed by Norway and then Finland, some of the most secularized countries.
In Marshall's book it doesn't explicitly say where each country is ranked in the status of women but in his blog post he gives some basic information from his cited paper. According to his outdated source, the united states was ranked number five, while the U.S. is currently occupying the 18th spot. If Christianity did have any influence, it seems to be slipping fast. Furthermore, in Marshall's study two of the most secular countries, Finland (1st place) and Sweden (2ed) top the list as having the most gender equality. Given these facts, I find it absurd that Marshall argues that Christianity is responsible for the improved status of women in these countries since they're secular and the majority of inhabitants are non-religious, agnostic, or atheist!
Marshall may complain that his study and my study are not looking at the same data so my study is irrelevant but this is a failed argument. The reason is because both studies do compare most of the same or similar factors. Marshall notes that his study compared the following: employment, education, marriage and children, and health. The UN study looked at the percentage of women in high governmental positions, their status in the workforce, maternal health, and education. These two studies look at almost entirely the same issues: they both look at the employment, education, and health of women, some of the most important indicators of equality.
While looking a bit further into the issue I looked up the 2010 Human Development Report and found something shocking. The united states' ranking for gender equality was 37. The country with the least gender inequality was – you guessed it! - secularized Netherlands. In second place was Denmark, and in third place, Sweden, each secular countries.
I will once again pose the same question I asked Marshall on his blog, to which he never responded: Why, if Christianity engenders equality among the sexes, does the U.S. have such a poor standing in that regard and some of the most secular countries are at the top of the list?
If Marshall's argument had any validity I don't see why he would have such a hard time answering such a simple question.
Update – 8-2-12
It's come to my attention that David Marshall has singled out one of my comments on his blog regarding this pathetic argument of his about women and Christianity. On a post he titled Lamest Rebutals Awards [sic] he wrote (my comment he is responding to will be in italics),
(5) Arizona Atheist: "I doubt the bible had much of an influence on the European countries (I’ve read completely the opposite, by the way), and you fail to cite your source so there is really nothing for me to rebut without more information. Second, if Christianity did have an effect you should see it wherever Christianity is located (at least to some degree) but clearly we do not (and it’s actually getting worse), therefore, your argument is faulty."
I show, in Part III, that most countries in the world where the status of women is high, have a Christian background. That is what leads this poster to try to deny what would seem undeniable, that Christianity has deeply influenced European culture over the past 1700 years.
My initial response to this post was simple incredulity:
"Have you read no European history at all? Never dipped into the Divine Comedy or Fairy Queen? Never listened to Bach or Handel? Or even, for that matter, read any Bacon, Hugo, or Voltaire?"
But the poster's assumption, that modern Western culture was created by modern westerners fifteen minutes ago, unfortunately seems quite common. Most seem to credit the high status of women in the West to something called "feminism," which they imagine appeared in the 1960s, the 19th Century, or during the "Enlightenment." This is just one of many forms of historical amnesia that the West seems to suffer from, typified by pejorative use of the word "Medieval."
Unfortunately it also just ignores many of the facts given in these blogs. Christianity began helping women from the very beginning, in the person of Jesus himself. That positive impact continued in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Furthermore, great modern reform movements, around the world, were usually inspired by the Bible, and through Christian missions in particular.
Marshall writes, “I show, in Part III, that most countries in the world where the status of women is high, have a Christian background. That is what leads this poster to try to deny what would seem undeniable, that Christianity has deeply influenced European culture over the past 1700 years.”
This is just idiotic hand waving. In the above post I completely demolish Marshall's claim that in Christian countries women are treated better. The facts flatly refute this inane statement. His appeal to European history is nothing more than a smokescreen. He provides absolutely no evidence in support of his case. The evidence he did cite I already refuted. If anyone is denying the undeniable it's David Marshall (but what else is new?). As to what caused the rise of female equality I'd say a large chunk of credit should go to the womens' rights movements. But whatever the cause, it certainly isn't Christianity.