This post contains my views on religion, which I’ve often found hard to talk about in the way I’d like. The subject is by nature open to some extreme views, please be thoughtful if you want to comment.
Despite seeing so many examples of idiotic thinking, it always shocks me when I see yet another way of looking at things which is fundamentally flawed. And this particular one so crassly demeaning toward women and men. Sheik Hilali talks about women who are ‘dressed indecently’:
If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it .. whose fault is it, the cats or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem.
If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.
Later he said women were
weapons used by
Satan to control men.
Why does Sheik Hilali not see the problem as being that the “cats” were outside? Remove either the “cats” or the “meat” and you get no “eaten meat”. Actually, this allegory annoys me, let’s use the real words for the real things he was talking about and alluding to: the Sydney gang rapes. Re-phrasing accordingly, here is what was said:
“If you take out [a women, not dressed head-to-toe and wearing the head scarf] and place [her] outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without [wearing the head scarf and full clothing], and the [men] come and [rape her] … whose fault is it, the [men] or the uncovered [woman]? The uncovered [woman] is the problem.”
This, obviously, is hugely demeaning to women, and it’s also demeaning to men. While I don’t doubt that the Sheik intended one of those insults, I do doubt he intended the other. His comment implies that men can’t control themselves when women are around. That we are weak and liable to cave in to sexual lust, and that it can’t be our fault when we do because we’re just not strong enough to ever resist “Satan’s weapons”. I find that insulting, and I’m sure most men that don’t harbor a desire to rape would think the same.
Quite rightly Sheik Hilali has been called down by “the community” for his comments. Islamic Council of Victoria spokesman Waleed Ali said:
Anyone who is foolish enough to believe that there is a relationship between rape or unwelcome sexual interference and the failure to wear a hijab, clearly has no understanding of the nature of sexual crime.
Waleed Ali is quite correct, but he’s also wildly miss-understood the Sheik and his comments. In reality this has nothing to do with head scarf’s or how women dress, but everything to do with Muslim religion’s attitude to women, and religion in general. If one believes the Qur’an to the letter, women are the property of men, a completely different class of person. The Sheik either believes whole-heartedly in the Qur’an teachings, which effectively demonstrates that women are to be subjugated, and is therefore ‘doing his moral duty’ as he believes it to be, or he’s a callous and immoral person taking advantage of a particular section of society in order to ‘have his fun’. I think evil people are very very rare, and it’s more likely he is simply a devout Muslim, sees himself as ‘a good man’ and is following the teachings of morality as the Qur’an lays out. Nor should we be so shocked about that attitude to women from a religious tome - the Bible says almost exactly the same things. The Old Testament is a nightmare of human rights violations, torture, gang-rapes (hetrosexual and homosexual), murder, genocide, and other general examples of immorality - all caused by a vindictive, jealous, and extremely un-pleasant God (who, let us not forget, created the universe so we could worship him - then created Hell so we could spend eternity in writhing agony if we used our ‘God given’ free will to decide we didn’t like him). The Old Testament, unsurprisingly, has generally fallen out of favor, to be replaced with the better (but still at times reprehensible and questionable) New Testament.
The fundamental problem
The fundamental problem is this: If a religion teaches something, but that ’something’ is morally unacceptable to the population at large, and a person believes in that religion (and I mean truly believes) - how do we deal with it? You can not shift a true believers faith because by definition they believe it despite a complete lack of supporting evidence and worse still despite any evidence or reasoning against it. Faith is praised in religion as a ‘virtue’, and questioning faith is shunned as a ’sin’ - as such the very process of faith inoculates itself against being disproved. Thus, if you truly believe that God made the world in seven days because you truly believe the Bible is a word for word explanation of everything - no amount of evidence otherwise will convince you of anything else, and the scientifically irresponsible Creationism taught in some American schools is the end result. Likewise, if you truly believe that a martyrs death earns you a fast-track to heaven and a hareem of 72 virgins to pleasure you for eternity (the poor virgins!), then nothing will stop you strapping a bomb to yourself and walking into a crowded street of ‘heathens’ to detonate it. No amount of contradictory passages in your holy book of choice will change the view that those passages are all correct. The stronger the faith, the harder it is to remove. Faith is irrational, and depending on ‘virtue’ of the person holding it, you can’t rationalize it away.
So, we can’t deal with views like that of Sheik Hilali by changing the attitude of ‘true’ believers, though we may have some effect on the armchair believer. But it’s not the armchair believer that enacts the teachings of the religion, so that’s a hollow victory. Would it be possible to change the teachings of those religions instead? It’s very unlikely - because religious teachings are generally absolutes and not open to question (they are often understood to be the very word of God). Despite this the Catholic church is doing a reasonable job of picking and choosing and ‘interpreting’ itself into a semblance of acceptability as time wears on. The Old Testament has now been reduced mostly to ‘allegory’, despite the fact that no-where does it say this, and despite the fact that for centuries it was taught as an absolute truth, resulting in holy wars and hundreds of thousands of violent deaths over the ages. Quite how the Catholic church decides what is allegory and what is absolute I do not know, as the book itself doesn’t make any distinctions. The relatively fast shift of Catholic teaching is, I feel, one reason why Catholic church attendance is falling so rapidly in the UK. One thing religion needs to survive is an absolute conviction that it is right and un-changing. That’s what modern Roman Catholic doctrine has lost (which is no bad thing in my mind).
How do we address religion in a modern society?
Let me make myself clear: I do not think that people are a problem. I do not think that those who have faith are in themselves a problem (often, they never really had a choice as to what they believe). I think religion itself is a problem for a responsible society, because religion is irrational, intolerant, and fundamentally unstable in any mixed environment.
I respect and understand why people end up believing things which, without the support of the religious process through the formative years of childhood, they would never otherwise contemplate without strong evidence to back it up. I tend to view believers as victims of circumstance. For, if all those Christians had not been born in the West, they would in fact all be Muslims. And if those Muslims hadn’t all been born in the East, they’d in fact be Christians. A believer simply believes in whatever religion was dominant in the place, family, and society of their up-bringing. That’s why ‘conversions’ are so rare.
Many believers who have niggling doubts find it extremely difficult to stop believing. They can find it equally hard simply to be seen to no longer believe. This difficulty is due to the power of religion as a psychological and social device. I myself was born and raised a Roman Catholic. My family were doing everything in their power to bring me up in the best possible way they knew how, and for all the best reasons - love being chief among them. I am extremely thankful and grateful for having such a loving and caring family. Part of their belief in “doing what is right” was to teach and raise me as a Catholic. Even though for many, many years I’ve had issues with “my faith”, and for a number of years have rejected the idea of religion entirely - I’ve never been able to just come out and say “I don’t believe in Christianity, or any religion”. And that is because I have been raised a Christian, and because I understand why. As a result I do not want to upset my family. Some people wouldn’t want to reject their faith in case they were branded a heathen and in the process effectively lost their family. It is something that faith can do - tear apart an otherwise loving family. Fortunately I don’t feel that would be the case with my parents and grandparents. Yet, even writing this post and contemplating ‘letting the cat out of the bag’, I feel guilt. I feel like I may be letting people I respect and love down. It’s an emotional topic, despite the fact my convictions are solid, and have been for years. I do not want my family to be worried for me. I do not want them to think I could end up in a Hell which, for them, is real. So, it’s taken many years of thinking, many years of emotional see-saws, many years of “playing the believer” - and even now, at 25 - it’s still incredibly difficult for me to completely break free of the grip and consequences of being brought up in a religious environment, by posting this. As a result of my upbringing I understand how incredibly hard it can be for people brought up in a religious manner to reject that religion, even given the fact they genuinely disbelieve and need no further convincing.
So what can we do to improve the situation in which we find ourselves? How do we deal with religion in a modern and ever-more intermingling society? I don’t think it is a situation which can be improved overnight, or in a few years. It will take a few generations. My only suggestion would be to ensure an educated and religion free up-bringing of our children. That we as a society stop automatically deferring to religion as though it was worthy of the ‘respect’ that it so dogmatically demands, because it is not. It is a relic of the past with a tenacious and dangerous grip on the future. It is an uncompromising irrationality visited upon generation after generation through the indoctrination of children, who’s minds by their very nature are incredibly susceptible to such a process. The only thing to do is break the cycle, and that will take time, and bravery that may be hard for people not brought up in such environments to understand.