Search this site
This page is archived; links are no longer updated and some links may not work. Clicking on "home" (top of left column) will bring you back to the active site.
That time of the month
God and menses
By © Martin Foreman
Word Count: 796 words
Publication date: October 16, 2005
In an earlier column I looked at God’s fondness for men and male company. In most of his manifestations Yahweh / Jehovah / Allah definitely prefers his priests to be endowed with penis and testicles.
Long ago, in the distant, polytheistic past, a priest’s genitalia might have played an active role in religious ceremonies, particularly if fertility was invoked. Our monotheistic god, however, prefers privates to remain private – or at least where only he can see them.
Today some strands of Judaism and Christianity maintain that the deity is interested more in what’s in celebrants’ minds than between their legs. Hence women priests and rabbis, but they are exceptions to the rule. For most monotheists only men have a direct line to God.
Part of the problem is menstruation. For Christians menstruation is only excretion, but for Jews and Muslims it’s a Big Deal.
Tuma - the Hebrew word for the status of menstruating women – implies mourning for the potential human soul lost in the unfertilized egg.
The good news is that scholars insist that women in tuma are not unclean. The bad news is that they are still outcasts. For strict Jews, only immersion in a mikvah – a special pool of water – allows women to emerge from tuma and re-enter society.
“No, no, of course there’s no problem. It’s just that before you head back into the kitchen would you mind not just washing your hands, but soaking yourself completely in this tub of water that I just happen to have beside me?”
Logic suggests that if Jewish women are in tuma for the loss of just one ovum every four weeks, Jewish men should spend their lives mourning the millions of unborn souls that spill from their loins as often as once a day.
I’m not just talking nocturnal emissions or masturbation. Millions of the little squigglers expire during each act of love-making. But no, guys, God’s on your side, so forget about the mass murder you committed last night and have a glass of wine while the little woman runs her mikvah.
Islam – surprise, surprise – has no time for tuma’s niceties. In the Qur’an, verse 222 of al Baqarah, quaintly known in English as The Cow or The Heifer, makes it clear that menstruation is harmful and / or renders women unclean, depending on your translation.
So far, so clear, but that is not enough for imams who, like all good theologians, can’t resist making a mountain out of a molehill. Over the centuries hundreds of pages have been written – by men, of course – distinguishing between different kinds of menstrual flow – how frequent, how much, what form and so on.
And like all good theologians, scholars are happier with controversy than compromise – unless of course, it is others who are compromise. The result is that there is no agreed definition in Islam as to the minimum and maximum days blood should be legally defined as menstrual.
While the length and intensity of their periods is obviously of concern to individual women, in the grand scheme of the universe I am not convinced that it is more relevant than the size, shape and consistency of women’s or men’s turds.
If the Islamic theologians are correct, however, Allah is intimately concerned with the length and duration of each woman’s period and spends much of eternity keeping a scorecard on which he can confirm which women are clean and which are unclean at any one time.
Back in the real world… of course religion’s obsession with menses and gender does not reflect the concerns of any deity. It is an indication of the social status of men and women in the different societies where religion flourishes.
God disparages women most in cultures where men have most power and least in cultures where the sexes are most equal. And where the broader culture is relatively liberal, conservative men can still retreat into their churches, synagogues and mosques to worship their penis-loving deity.
What is most disappointing is how often women use religion to collude in this suppression of their own and their sisters’ self-respect and independence.
Muslim women who claim to be happy to cover their limbs, bodies and even their faces never demand that men adopt equally modest attire. Otherwise intelligent conservative Jewish mothers and Mormon wives defer to husbands whose judgment and behavior leaves much to be desired.
It is arguable that men and women understand the world in fundamentally different ways. But even if true, such an argument is irrelevant. The differences are not so profound that everyone’s response to the world around them is primarily determined by their gender.
Religions that establish barriers between the sexes do nothing more than foster prejudice and ignorance. It is time that we stopped tolerating such intolerance.
Email us, pasting the URL into your letter with the comment
This account is protected by Spamarrest.
You will receive a one-off request to verify your email before it is delivered.
If God existed, he would...
admire the beauty of a universe that he did not create
recognize that eternity is meaningless
deny both heaven and hell
disown all men and women who speak in his name
denounce the harm caused by religious "morality"
help the human race to thrive without him
If God existed, he would be an atheist.
What is the difference between science and faith?
science is certain of nothing and requires proof of everything
faith is certain of everything and requires proof of nothing
Which do you trust?
"I know there is no God"
"I believe there is no God"
Check the answer