The Greatest Sin?

Well, I’ll be posting infrequently, but I saw this today (got up early) and it was too provocative a statement not to post up given that we’ve been talking a little about gender roles recently. Tori Amos, a performer coming to Sydney in concert soon, said this in the Sydney Morning Herald today:

“I’m attracted to the idea of what sin is and how it’s been defined for hundreds of years because, frankly, the patriarchal fathers have the power to define us and how women view their bodies, and the fact they have this power is the greatest sin, an abuse of their power,” Amos says.

Read the rest of the article here.

So, is the fact that certain powerful men have had this kind of power over women and how women view themselves, one of the greatest sins that has been perpetrated on the human race, especially given that we are about 50% women and possibly a much higher percentage within church groups?

Amos grew up being a minister’s daughter and is an undoubtedly intelligent person, in my view. Also, abuse of power is in my view one of the greatest sins, whatever form it takes. It’s the main cause of systemic trouble in churches, particularly when combined with an unacknowledged self interest in outcomes. (When the self interest is acknowledged, there is a chance that its effect is reduced.)

(Disclosure: I am a Tori Amos fan, especially her early work, and loved one of her concerts which I saw maybe 10 years back.)


34 thoughts on “The Greatest Sin?

  1. Everything else!

    Starting with blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, murder/hatred, harming children/the innocent/women, lying/deciet/false witness, abuse of rank/power/position, ignoring God’s Word and commands, summed up as not loving God and people.

  2. &says what’s your point?

    Eve was deceived and but Adam wasn’t and knew what he was doing?

    Beware those who believe their own rubbish

  3. Who are these patriarchal fathers and what power do they have? I’m not sure there is any one group that has the power to “define” anyone or how they view their bodies.

    There are groups with access to power, who tend to work in their own interests. People in the media for instance have access to a certain power and influence, and may present certain images of women. It is whether this image is accepted that determines whether it defines someone. Society in general has accepted certain ideals and images and the responsibility for this is partly shared by the people within it. The people in power (not all of them men) in the media should take a greater share of the responsibility for it.

    Is she making a point that people tend to define sin as a personal moral issue (particularly sexual sin), and that a greater sin is the often subtle and unseen misuse of power? Those in power may want us to focus on personal sin rather than political or societal sin. If so I’d probably agree.

  4. I think that the patriarchal fathers are the early church fathers, and who they actually are depends upon which branch of the church you may be part of.

    A catholic friend once tried to educate me in my ignorance of the early fathers; my evangelical background left me largely ignorant of them. Since then, I’ve become aware that various church groups that trace their history right back to Peter in the gospels, have different ‘fathers’, from early on. For example, Greek Orthodox fathers aren’t all the same as Catholic fathers.

    Wikipedia says:

    The Church Fathers, Early Church Fathers, or Fathers of the Church are the early and influential theologians and writers in the Christian Church, particularly those of the first five centuries of Christian history. The term is used of writers and teachers of the Church, not necessarily saints. Teachers particularly are also known as doctors of the Church.

    The early church fathers defined the faith for centuries; they were (obviously) men; in the process of defining the faith, they would have defined women, and their cultural views on women would have influenced this. There would have been no balancing input from women – for century after century after century. An imbalance of power (having no influence is having no power) that existed for most of a couple of thousand years.

    Understanding of faith defined how many women saw themselves for all that time. If the understanding was distorted, due to the early fathers, then yes, a great sin was committed, albeit unknowingly at the time. At times – not these days in our own churches necessarily – women were viewed as intrinsically dirty and impure, unless they were virgins or impeccable mothers; a sexual slip of their own, or a sexual assault by a man, proved their intrinsic evil. Many abuses to this day have been justified by this kind of thinking, such as the Catholic laundromats of last century in Ireland for example. (Shades of Mercy Ministries, but much worse.) There is a legacy of this kind of thinking still in some church groups and parts of society, more so in certain religious ones.

    I’m speculating that quotes like these below are the kind of thing Ms Amos is referring to:

    “The female is more imperfect than the male. The first reason is that she is colder. If, among animals, the warmer ones are more active, it follows that the colder ones are imperfect”
    – Galen, a medical expert of the 3rd Century

    “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother; it is still Eve the temptress that we must be aware of in any woman… I fail to see what use women can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”
    – St Augustine of HIppo (354-430)

    “…Woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex, while production of woman comes from a defect in the active force.”
    – Thomas Aquinas

    “God maintained the order of each sex by dividing the business of life into two parts, and assigned the more necessary and beneficial aspects to the man and the less important, inferior matters to the woman”
    – Early church father John Chrysostom (AD 347-407)

    “Men should not sit and listen to a woman…even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they came from the mouth of a woman”
    – Origen (AD 185-254) – church father

    “Do you not know that you are [each] an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. On account of your desert – that is, death – even the Son of God had to die.”
    – Tertullian (AD 155-220)

    “Women must neither begin nor complete anything without man: Where he is, there she must be, and bend before him as before a master, whom she shall fear and to whom she shall be subject and obedient”
    – Martin Luther

    Thanks to J. Lee Grady’s book, 10 Lies the Church tells Women, which I was able to quickly grab the quotes from – there were lots more!!

  5. Plus many people couldn’t read and didn’t have access to the scriptures except via what they were told in church.

  6. Wow those quotes are a bit of an eye-opener. I didnt know so many of them had that attitude.

    This kind of thinking was a part of the Jewish tradition too. It is still a part of traditional Jewish man’s morning prayers to praise God for not having made him a woman. In speaking to women and including them in His ministry, Jesus affirmed the status of women. Some of the early Christian communities would have been quite radical in including women. But it obviously took a long time to filter through to the entire church and society.

    Is it the greatest sin? Difficult to say. Is a leader who encourages an attitude more at fault than the man who oppresses someone because of that leadership? The bible says leaders will be judged more harshly.

    Leaders are also followers, often they jump on to movements early for the leadership opportunities they hold. They are merely following a viewpoint and leading others to follow it. Its often difficult to say where the original attitude came from. Everyone has a responsibility though to challenge and enquire from the scriptures before they lead anyone else.

  7. I notice that none of those quotes come from anyone from the first and second centuries.

    Augustine was one of the worst men ever … “Lord save me from sinning … but not just yet”

    He lived a life of extremes. Orgies were not uncommon.

    So, once he had joined the church, he clearly put the blame on women, when he was the only one to make such choices.


  8. Galen’s views on women and coldness were influenced by Aristotle, who lived 384 BC – 322 BC. Aristotle also held that women were inferior because they are colder. Wazza has referred to the predjudice that existed in Jewish society. Plus, in Roman times, women were commonly the property of men, whether it was their husbands or their fathers.

    The thing about these quotes is that they were by such influential people – who remained influential for centuries and even today in the Catholic church for example. Much discrimination was entrenched in society against women as a result, the worst resulting in all kinds of abuse. It is similar to racial discrimination and its shameful results. It shows what harm false teaching can do.

    It is all the more amazing then that Jesus treated women so well, that he was surrounded by women with no regard to the potential shame of it, and that women participated in early church ministry beside Paul and other men.

  9. “I’m attracted to the idea of what sin is and how it’s been defined for hundreds of years because, frankly, the patriarchal fathers have the power to define us and how women view their bodies, and the fact they have this power is the greatest sin, an abuse of their power,” Amos says.

    I guess ideally no-one should have the power to compel people to view themselves in a certain way. Amos suggests this power is still being exercised. As we look around it’s certainly still true. From some sects of Christendom to Islam to the corporate psychopaths promoting anorexic models and teenage porn stars. It’s existed throughout ages, in the footbinding of Chinese woman to genital mutilation in Africa to temple prostitutes to the oppression of the church and on and on.

    The evil is that the church had anything to do with compelling people to believe anything. So, yes, they shouldn’t have had the power to dictate and spread erroneous ideas.

    About the early church, I think that discrimination against woman was already entrenched in society as you point out, in Jewish, Greek and Roman culture. Christianity obliterated the idea of women as chattel or slave and gave her honour as equal in Christ. It meant that women would enjoy, for a short time at least, the right to participate fully in the Christian life and culture of her times as an equal with her brethren. The non-descriminating nature of the Gospel itself and the unparalleled equality it furnished to it’s adherents of any background combined to undermine the concept of the Roman household with it’s male head as owner and possessor of all that lies within, of things and animals and people.

    It’s well known that church woman of the first century ministered and prophesied, speaking by inspiration to build up, encourage and comfort believers. That they worked side by side with Paul and the apostles in the work of the ministry as mentioned. But socially, all this created a lot of resentment and hostility against Christians and from some Christians.

    It wasn’t long before she once again became unjustly maligned and subject to male domination in every sphere of life, the culture and prejudice of the world allowed, I believe, to dampen the Gospel and destroy in so many ways the freedom Christ gave to her.

    Even so, sections of second and even third and fourth century Christianity upheld equality in Christ for women. I think Bull’s point about second century ideas is an interesting one because it’s true that the rot in terms of views on women digressed to the state of stupidity and outright malevolence shown in later centuries.

    I guess at one point beliefs concerning the inferiority of women came through the idea that because eve sinned first that God somehow despised her and destined her to be less ‘worthy’ even of Christianity. Possibly helped by Jewish traditions as Wazza pointed out, or just natural predjudice. Slaves and woman had similar struggles. Early Fathers spent time reiterating the truth of inclusiveness and equality in Christ and rejecting worldly distinctions:

    …”as the Word shows His compassion and His denial of all respect of persons by all the saints, … For He casts away none of His servants as unworthy of the divine mysteries. He does not esteem the rich man more highly than the poor, nor does He despise the poor man for his poverty. He does not disdain the barbarian, nor does He set the eunuch aside as no man. He does not hate the female on account of the woman’s act of disobedience in the beginning, nor does He reject the male on account of the man’s transgression. But He seeks all, and desires to save all, wishing to make all the children of God, and calling all the saints unto one perfect man. For there is also one Son (or Servant) of God, by whom we too, receiving the regeneration through the Holy Spirit, desire to come all unto one perfect and heavenly man.”

    Hippolytus written around 200 A.D
    The Extant Works and Fragments of Hippolytus Part II.—Dogmatical and Historical. Treatise on Christ and Antichrist.

    Lactantius, writing in the early fourth century, 310?, continues to uphold equality between all Christians although he doesn’t mention woman specifically, they’re included as individuals and referred to amongst the brethren:

    “…He bestows on all equity and virtue. In His sight no one is a slave, no one a master; for if all have the same Father, by an equal right we are all children…. neither the Romans nor the Greeks could possess justice, because they had men differing from one another by many degrees, from the poor to the rich, from the humble to the powerful; in short, from private persons to the highest authorities of kings. For where all are not equally matched, there is not equity; and inequality of itself excludes justice, the whole force of which consists in this, that it makes those equal who have by an equal lot arrived at the condition of this life. …the true good was not discovered by philosophers, because they were ignorant both of its origin and effects: which has been revealed to no others but to our people. Some one will say, Are there not among you some poor, and others rich; some servants, and others masters? Is there not some difference between individuals? There is none; nor is there any other cause why we mutually bestow upon each other the name of brethren, except that we believe ourselves to be equal. For since we measure all human things not by the body, but by the spirit, although the condition of bodies is different, yet we have no servants, but we both regard and speak of them as brothers in spirit, in religion as fellow-servants.”

    Lactantius, The Divine Institutes – Book 5, bits from chapter 15, 16.

    Many of the views of later church leaders are indefensible, not just concerning woman. The early writers were wrong about a lot of things but they didn’t kill each other over their differences.

    Tertullian said a lot of great things however that quote is not one of them. I guess the context softens the idea a little but I’m out of time.

  10. I lost a comment in the spam thingy. Maybe because it had a couple of links. Perhaps someone could check the bin. If you find any old comments of mine you could delete those, they’re obsolete. Just today’s comment would be good.

  11. Comments end up needing approval if they have two or more links in them.

    Very interesting quotes, Hal – thanks for writing all those out.

    It is good to see the positive quotes, and the contrast with the negative quotes shows just how revolutionary they must have been.

    There were also some ridiculous things written about why slaves were inferior to both men and women. There was (is) a definite need to regard people as lesser beings in order to subordinate them with a clear conscience.

  12. Scripture can have a gradual effect on society over hundreds of years as people discover (or rediscover) its meaning.

    The Liberty Bell in Pennsylvania was inscribed with the verse “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof.” Leviticus 25:10

    Originally inscribed by Penn when he was Govenor of the British colony, he probably would not have been able to conceive of how influential that verse would be, or the ways it would be employed to grant freedom and liberty.

    It was of course used by the Revolutionaries when the republic was started. Then by the abolitionists to rally around the cause of freedom for the slaves. Then it was used by the suffragettes in the struggle for the right of women to vote. And then by the civil rights movement.

    I think this was more than a symbol, that the prophetic power of those words has changed history.


    This link is to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald today about white ribbon day, where men where a white ribbon to protest against violence towards women.

    It describes a massacre of women by a mentally disturbed man whose Algerian father believed that women should be subservient to men. It describes how there has been a backlash against the feminist movement, and violence towards women has risen steeply in recent years. It shows the link between these attitudes towards women and the mistreatment of women.

    Re the Liberty bell – that is very interesting. I don’t know if it was the prophetic power of the words on the bell or not, but I’d have to believe that at the very least, the act of inscribing those words on the bell was inspired. How fantastic. I wish we had something like that in every country.

  14. “Scripture can have a gradual effect on society over hundreds of years as people discover (or rediscover) its meaning. ”

    Absolutely. Now more than ever we have the chance to rediscover its meaning, and examine the meanings attributed to scripture in the past. Something not to be taken for granted or neglected.

  15. Imho the greatest sin is pride or self-conceit. And even as some of the cited church fathers had such erring opinions about women, I think most of them had a good understanding of that. However, some of the sins mentioned in previous posts are logical or direct outcomes of pride/self-conceit (unbelief, lack of love for others and god, abuse of power and wealth to name just a few). You may also read in C.S. Lewis book “Mere Christianity” where he discussed it in one chapter. There is a recording of it on YouTube and the chapter is in part23-25.

  16. Hmmm, yes – pride could have motivated some of those comments about women. They certainly lack both love and understanding of that subject, though some of those church fathers were very insightful in other areas.

    I speculate that believing that women are lesser would give those men a comfortable feeling of superiority (a la ‘thank you Lord that I was born a man’) which could be pleasant to bask in.

    Jesus was a truly remarkable man in this area, treating women with equal dignity – no wonder women loved him deeply.

  17. “Jesus was a truly remarkable man in this area, treating women with equal dignity – no wonder women loved him deeply.”

    Paul treated women equally as well. People fail to see what he is addressing in the church when he is talking about women needing to be quiet or needing to wear a head covering.

    The fact that women could LEARN in the church was a big deal in those and that men had to HONOUR their wives (honour being you respect those ABOVE you, like a citizen would to Ceasar).

    I hold the belief that all sin is equal under the banner of unbelief. But I agree that the ‘next’ greatest sin would be pride. Interestingly it is the most incurable. I remember reading somewhere that those suffering from Narcissism and another two psychological symptoms are incurable.

  18. Off topic I know but am tired of feminism. My gut response is it has done some good things, and lead to some not so good things.

    Our Heavenly Father said a consequence of sin and an enduring curse til He comes again will be:

    “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

    I absolutely do not condone violence towards women in any shape or form, but I wonder if feminism – and the social consequences of it in western countries – has actually simply changed how violence manifests towards women – especially as I think a large number of people have attachment disorders carried forward from early childhood.

    Feminism in its own way has sought to break this curse, and I simply don’t think it can be done without Christ – wthout letting loose other harms.

    I think it interesting how we seek find something to excuse our (my) sin.

    David said: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.”

    We rail against women being oppressed, the gross injustices in the world etc etc – which is only right if there is any love in our hearts, and yet Psalms and Romans tell us:

    “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

    Tori Amos wants her freedom, and she might think she has it – but be careful what you wish for.

  19. It’s a swinging pendulum … it’s gone too far the other way and we are seeing the beginnings of a backlash.

    Essentially … women have not only been told that they have dignity and self-respect and equality under the law etc … they have also been told that they can only have dignity etc if they stop working in the home as a home-maker and get a ‘proper’ job or better yet a ‘career’.

    Well, I am an IT professional. I do not have a career. I have a job that pays the bills … I get to also meet non-christians in my daily work. That’s the only thing I find fulfilling to be honest.

    Male and Female are now being denied the dignity of being who they really are and finding fulfillment in their daily work if it involves childcare or ‘traditional’ gender roles in some other area.



  20. Yes, I think those are all good points.

    MN’s point about feminism trying to break the curse is interesting – I have to agree that on its own it wont and hasn’t succeeded. I think we’ve seen lots of evidence of that although a lot of good has been accomplished. For example, it is great as a woman to be able to be in the workforce, and have the option of a life that is not completely dependent upon the presence of a man, whether it be a father or a husband. It is great not to be regarded as property, to have access to the entire education system and to be recognised as having independent abilities to think and contribute to society in valuable ways across the entire spectrum of human endeavour. A great very recent example would be the two plastic surgeons who completed the separation of the twin girls joined at the head last week – both women. This would have been unthinkable in fairly recent decades.

    On the other hand, household tasks still have a very low value and many women, myself included, find these take up most of our time. It is actually a constant effort for me to remind myself that these mindless, repetitive tasks that seem to achieve nothing, are actually valuable work. Personally, I find a conflict between doing that work and other income earning work (for me, from home), which I regard as more valuable just because it is paid. Not to think this way is very hard. If you spend your time doing work that you, let alone others, tend to regard as having little actual value, it is hard to regard your life as achieving much of value. I know this can apply to boring repetitive insignificant tasks that many of us do in the workforce too, but those are usually paid, so still have been attributed with some value.

    Unfortunately feminism has devalued the work that women do in the home, effectively devaluing the lives of women who choose to take this path for a time (or permanently). At the same time it has freed women a lot in other ways.

    btw – I really don’t enjoy doing ‘childcare’. I’m a very good example of a woman who isn’t particularly well suited to it just by virtue of my gender. I do it out of duty (I’m talking about creche work etc). There are other women who are brilliant at it and find fulfillment in it.

    I have also had a career. In fact, I’ve had two in the workforce, including managerial roles. I have no illusions about work being fulfilling in all cases. That is a myth that kids are taught in school. Still, there are some very fortunate people who find their career niche, which is wonderful.

    Neither my career nor my home life define me as a person or as a woman. (Thank goodness!)

    I believe that in Christ we have the opportunity for the kinds of relationships between men and women where the curse IS broken. He has redeemed us and set us free. When we submit to Christ, and to one another, we enter His Kingdome, where the curse does not affect us. In Him, we no longer need patriarchal marriages, and in Him, we can treat all people with the dignity and compassion that He intends, rather than overlaying a worldly system of gender judgement.

  21. As a foot note – the research is coming thick and fast – the majority of women and a lot of men for that fact – want to be work full time and be defined as a ‘successful’ career person. Will be interesting where we all end up with that one, because the monied people and ruling elites all need us to be ‘units of production’.

  22. Allowing both men and women to work part time and not be held back in their careers would be a wonderful thing.

    It’s very difficult to work part time in some industries. (My first one was one of those.) It’s not really seen as a serious career choice, but more as a circumstantial necessity. Frequently part time work is difficult due to the nature of the job and the deadlines involved – it can be difficult to split some tasks up between more than one person; good organisation is essential.

    If it were consistently possible for men and women to work part time in responsible and skilled positions successfully and have that accepted as normal I think we’d see a better balance of many work and personal lives; it would greatly help families, anyone studying, and anyone who had other interests which couldn’t be pursued easily by working full time. I also think it would go some way towards making equality less of a gender issue.

    I’ll be advising my daughter, when she chooses her line of work at some stage, to have a think about whether periods of part time work or absences from the workplace will fit with her choice. I was not encouraged to consider those things, and in hindsight, it was very relevant and would have been helpful.

    Will I advise my son of the same thing? Well, he’d probably benefit from choosing something with the option of part time choices as well at some stage, whether he wants to be a house dad for a bit, or pursue some personal interests. Who knows what life holds these days, and flexibility is very helpful.

  23. I think the feminist movement had to happen, like other movements. Yes the pendulam is swinging back and I think women are respected and valued more. I don’t think anyone likes housework, its drudgery, but I think its good for one’s character to do it. I know so many women who get cleaners as they have to work but personally I couldn’t let someone clean my toilet bowl, that’s kind of demeaning. I think identity is an interesting thing and that’s what a person needs to clarify for themselves. What is my talent/s. It could be from writing books to being a great host. We are complex creatures. My parents valued and treated us equally (genderwise)and we are not “hairy” arm blatant feminists and the men aren’t sissies, in fact they are v good fathers and carers (but we do have mixed feelings about housekeeping, my brother has a cleaner and has no kids at home now)

  24. “I don’t think anyone likes housework, its drudgery, but I think its good for one’s character to do it. ”

    Yes, fair enough. But what I am failing to communicate is probably that people are often valued on the basis of what they do – housework is drudgery and regarded as of little value. The tendency is then to devalue those who do it en masse compared to those who do something in the paid workforce. So a particular gender has been valued for a very long time based on this low value task.

  25. RP: “But what I am failing to communicate is probably that people are often valued on the basis of what they do – housework is drudgery and regarded as of little value.”

    Ah yes and then we go full circle back to the greatest sin unwittingly.

    Value based on what we do in terms obtaining money, power, the accumulation of things – he/she who dies with the largest number of toys wins – even isolation/hermitism – as opposed to value being based buildng relationships generally and specifically and in terms of nurturing and looking after our world.

    We voted with our feet, broke relationship, and it is not what God wanted or intended.

  26. Yes, that does link everything.

    When we broke relationship with God, we broke relationship also with one another. One of the consequences was that the world often values people by what they look like or do etc rather than by the things that we value in relationships, which tend to have more to do with character and what is inside a person. This has contributed to gender inequity, racism and all kinds of discrimination.

    Whereas in Christ we are renewed and hopefully can value what is inside a person rather than the externals, removing this kind of worldly discrimination. So Paul of course pointed this out.

  27. Which makes it all the more important that churches don’t emphasise externals when discipling people, but the internal qualities which are really things that cannot be measured.

  28. yes I agree the west are insatiable consumers and success seems more about career than character. I don’t mean to sound like housework is insignificant, it isn’t, but it isn’t popular in oz as a pastime…lol, Yes the larger churches like to emphasise mammon as being a blessing. I have an ongoing debate with a Catholic friend who quotes “poverty is a curse” does anyone know where that is in the Bible, OT, I assume. I don’t think that’s fare to the people who happen to be born in poverty.

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