Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Queen Guinevere and The Way Christians View Women

While reading a helpful book about constructing fiction, I came across a line that startled me. The author was using the King Arthur tale to illustrate the use of symbols in story. He commented that by placing women on a pedestal, chivalry made all women into symbols and divided them into the "Christian binary of madonna and whore."

It's an unusually succinct summary of a popular interpretation of how Christians view women.

And, alas, there are and have been some Christians about whom the comment is accurate--Christians who see sexual purity as the only really important virtue or who judge men and women according to different laws. Yet in the context of the history of the orthodox Christian faith and the stories it has produced, the comment displays a bit of willful blindness.

It is ridiculous to complain that a knight's love interest is a symbol without admitting that so is the knight. It seems obtuse to point out that the Arthurian women were either "good" or "bad" without noticing that the male characters are also divided between those who are brave and pure and those who are cowardly and evil. The point of the stories isn't to show us multiple facets of the character's personalities but to present listeners with inspiring types who are general enough to allow anyone to imagine himself in their place.

It also displays a peculiar modern bias to assume that characters who get their own fight scenes are automatically more well-rounded.

More importantly, though, the overall message of the Arthurian story is not that women are either madonnas or whores. Guinevere didn't fall alone.

Christians don't think women are sinners by virtue of being female. Christians think women are sinners by virtue of being human.

The point is that in a paradise constructed by humans, sin conquers even the most strong and the most fair. Sin destroys everyone. That is actually a rather democratic message.

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