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Chris Brown and Rihanna: The Religious Underpinnings of Domestic Violence

04/20/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We think we've come a long way, baby. Not! Today's teens have shown that we're still living out patriarchal myths dating back at least five thousand years. Talk about recycling old stuff! The whole media circus surrounding the Chris Brown and Rihanna "incident" has actually done us all a favor by bringing our cultural attitudes about domestic abuse and dating violence into public conversation. If we all keep talking about it, maybe we can finally wake up from the stupor of religious myth that has us place blame on women and defend men -- no matter what.

When we consider that 34% of female murder victims are killed by someone they are or have been intimate with, we can see why we desperately need to rip away the justifications for domestic violence. When we learn that almost half of Boston teenagers in a recent survey say that Rihanna was responsible for the beating she got from Chris Brown, we may be shocked. But we shouldn't be. We all have core beliefs that would really shock us if we stopped to examine them.

One of those unconscious beliefs is that if something bad happens, it's the woman's fault. After all, who believed that old snake in the grass and ate the forbidden fruit that got us kicked out of Eden? Adam was innocent. Chris is the man; he can't be at fault.
So what do women do? We blame ourselves. We excuse the guys. If a gal gets pregnant, it's her fault and her responsibility. Boys will be boys; he was just sowing his wild oats. Rihanna could wind up going down the tubes because the belief will be she's at fault and she's trying to pull him down. We will forgive Chris.

Tyra Banks said she was emotionally abused while in her 20s. Even though she was one of the top ten models in the world at the time, she stayed with her abuser because her self esteem was on the floor. As she told Oprah, "I stayed because I felt like if I left and he didn't change and didn't treat me how I felt I deserved to be treated, I was a failure."

Where does this crazy mixed-up set of signals come from that says women are "less than" men? Well, the Bible for one. In Genesis, Adam's role is to be Eve's master: "...thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." Passage after passage reaffirms the unworthiness of women and their subservient position. No different than the traditional Islamic saying that "A woman's heaven is beneath her husband's feet," or Paul saying in Romans in the New Testament that the "natural use" of women is to provide men with sex.

Think that was all a long, long time ago? Here's Reverend Pat Robertson, the noted Christian evangelist: "The Feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians." And in 2000 the nation's largest Protestant decision-making body -- The Southern Baptist Convention -- added into their core teachings that a woman must be subject to her husband in all things, which they call "headship." The husband, no matter how much of an ignoramus he may be, must prevail.

It doesn't matter if none of us go to church or temple or mosque anymore, women have absorbed a gazillion years of being treated like chattel, while men have soaked in a fervent belief in their right to be obeyed. It's the same myth of feminine inferiority that allows mankind to rape Mother Earth and destroy the environment.

Somehow, a woman who gets beaten like Rihanna "deserves" what she gets, since she must be inherently evil or have done something bad to bring about that response. It's a convenient myth for the patriarchal mindset that still rules much of the world, and is followed closely by "stand by your man, no matter what." You love him, so you have to forgive him. His misbehavior was likely your fault. Take him back and pray it doesn't happen again. After all, a woman is "nothing without a man."

Clearly, many of Brown's teenage fans, his fervent supporters, don't understand the difference between aggression (what she allegedly did) and abuse (what he allegedly did). Like "nikita," who posted this typical message online: "well that's what rih rih gets for running her mouth!! Love u chris brown blessings to u." A study done in 2005 showed that one out of every three teenagers knows a friend who has been hit, punched, kicked, slapped, choked, or physically hurt by their partner. We should teach our kids the difference between the two. Quickly.