Discrimination against women in religious doctrines and in the practice of religion (also in the refusal to admit women as priests) has had a pervasive effect throughout society of maintaining the belief in the inferiority of women, and has become ingrained into civil law over the centuries. It represents a particular distortion of so-called 'traditional' values, particularly sexual morality, which uses the female gender as symbolic of the human lower nature.
Women can never be ordained as Roman Catholic priests. In the case of Judaism, the common starting point of all sects is that the sexes were created differently. Man is seen as endowed with the intellectual capacity to come closer to his creator through study and prayer. Woman, imbued with natural modesty and intuitive understanding, is assigned the task of imitating God's work by procreating. However valued a woman is in the domestic sphere, her role is seen as essentially supportive. Jewish men begin each day with the ritualized prayer thanking God "for not having made me a women". In orthodox Judaism, women can never be rabbis, nor can they mingle with men at prayer in the synagogue.
To counteract the sometimes admittedly negative aspects of a male image of deity by simply replacing it with a female image seems to be as helpful as replacing one brand of dogmatic fundamentalism by another. What is really needed is spiritual growth which transcends any such anthropocentric emphasis upon culturally-condition ideas about gender.
It seems to be the great strength of the ancient religions that they have beliefs to which they have clung tenaciously for thousands of years and have always as a result stood a certain way apart from whatever happened to be the moral fashion at the time. In today' world, differing roles for women and men in some traditional religions are incorrectly perceived as discrimination. In Roman Catholicism the status of men and women in religious orders is equal. The Blessed Virgin Mary is placed above all saints and angels and is said to embody the ideal of womanhood. In Judaism, it is the woman of the house who lights the Sabbath candles, and in popular tradition, while men were preoccupied with Torah study and other religious observances, Jewish mothers became the economic centre of power in the family. Judaism does not have to contend with the theological problems that come with the manifestations of God as a male; it just does not have any of that theology that sets men above women. In the essentially religious state of modern Israel, the fact that Ms Golda Meir could become Prime Minister indicates the recognition women have obtained in the Jewish faith. Discrimination against women in religion has been expressed more clearly in continental European Protestantism against the background of class-oriented, hierarchical society, and in Hinduism. Islam, Buddhism and indigenous religions rather provide different societal roles for women, expressly admitting their equality with men in terms of personal religion.