"Exhibiting You" - Story

Why Religion Should NOT be Respected

By: Thomas Brorsen Smidt
Submitted: 07/06/2008

“My Mullah always told me that infidels like you are really ignorant, that they are low class; which you are - mocking my prophet, how dare you?”(1) This is a reply that I received from a young religious gentleman on an online debate forum in which I had (respectfully I think?) explained the grammatical origins of the word ‘Islam’. This is NOT the kind of online response you are most likely to receive from all believers who hold their faith near and dear, but the undeniably insulted sentiment of a statement like “how dare you” really makes we wonder whether this is indeed a symptom of an ongoing tendency in the religious debate; namely that criticising or being disrespectful to people’s faith and religion is somehow just not considered to be common courtesy.

There seems to be an overdramatic sensitivity towards religion which I believe has been fashioned in part by the baffled and insulted look on the faces of your average religious acquaintances. This happens undeniably because it is absolutely natural for a common-sense person to respond to hurt feelings with a bit of sensitivity. But, as I will argue, it is this kind of attitude that has ultimately led us to a world situation in which cultural dissimilarities are no longer identified as being interesting heritages to be explored and willingly shared among people who actually desire to learn from each other’s beliefs and values. No. Instead this attitude has driven some people not only to be quiet bystanders when crimes are committed in the name of religion, but to actually condone and even encourage such ridiculous behaviour in the name of ‘cultural understanding’ and religious moderation – two notions that undeniably make way for religious fundamentalism.

To mention just a few examples, there was for instance the notorious case of Christa Datz-Winter; a German judge who denied a Muslim woman to divorce her husband because, as the judge said, beating your wife was fully in spirit of the Muslim Moroccan culture from which the couple originated.(2) There is the Archbishop of Canterbury who promoted the idea of incorporating parts of Sharia law into the British judicial system. As he put it himself: “An approach to law which simply [says that] there's one law for everybody, I think [is] a bit of a danger”.(3) And recently, after “Egypt, Pakistan and Iran angrily protested attempts by a humanist group to link Islam to human rights abuses such as female genital mutilation and so-called honour killing of women”(4), the president of the UN Human Rights Council Doru-Romulus Costea stated that the council was henceforth “not prepared to discuss religious matters in depth”.(5)

The above-mentioned are only about Islam – and this is a very deliberate experiment on my part. Because in the light of the arguments that I have set forth so far, I do not in any way doubt that the first retaliatory replies to my article will seek to take advantage of this particular fact; that I singled out Islam and did not treat all the Abrahamic dogmas with equal ‘disrespect’. In writing an article like this it is considered common courtesy for me to include some other religions as much as I in a political debate would HAVE to criticise John McCain after I had just insulted George Bush – otherwise wouldn’t poor George’s feelings get hurt? But even though Islam might be the religion that has moved farthest into our otherwise very secular political sphere, here in Europe at least, none of it is directly Islam’s fault. As the always so controversial Pat Condell has stated: “[Islam is] just being true to itself. It is our fault for indulging religion in the first place.”(6)

In order to avoid the label of ‘Islamophobe’, I might as well mention that the two other Abrahamic religions are as much at fault. I will single out the Abrahamic religions with a good conscience as these three desert dogmas all stem from the same patriarchal patriarch of patriarchs whose most famous deed was to tie his son Isaac to an alter on which Abraham would unquestionably have stabbed his own son to death had an angel not interfered (God was busy that day). Abraham did this in order to prove a point of faith which so many people to this day believe to be the cornerstone of their religion: That you do not question God no matter how big a jerk he is. Combine an irrational mindset like this with our sensitivity towards what religion has had to offer the world, and we will see that this has led us to, among other things, a society in which Christian religious nut cases have made it all the way to the top in American politics. Here they have made it impossible for presidential candidates to be non-believers and at the moment the vast majority of them and their followers (in spite of any opposition that is) are trying to reintroduce Creationism back into American schools, make sure homosexuality becomes a crime not just in select states, and last but not least ensure that women are robbed of their reproductive rights – all because of the American Judeo-Christian tradition. But every Abrahamic religion has its own dogmas which are and will always be part of its teachings no matter how we twist it. We can’t just edit the following out of the scriptures: Judaism tells us that “anyone who touches [a woman before and immediately after her period] will be unclean” (Leviticus 15:19), Christianity stubbornly claims that “the head of the woman is man” (1 Corinthians 11:3), and in Islam it is taught that women must “guard their unseen parts [and as] for those from whom you fear disobedience, […] send them to beds apart and beat them” (Quran 4:34).

Perhaps out of fear of not being able to worship, a lot of women will argue that religion is not at fault, but that it is the patriarchal system that is to blame. But religion is very much at fault as religion itself was invented by patriarchy. Patriarchs are the middle-men between a god and a female worshipper who wishes to exercise her spirituality in private – because God forbid that a woman would find strength through spirituality to stand on her own two feet. No, these middle-men are clerics, priests, mullahs, reverends, ayatollahs, rabbis, imams and vicars – men whose job it was and is to make sure that women stay inferior to men. Some might also argue that this does not take place here in the West, but then stop for a moment and consider what pro-life movements, the Alliance Defense Fund, abstinence organisations, and the anti-gay movement all have in common. They are based solely on faith and the right to tell other people what to do in the name of religious dogma. Arguably they all have the same objective in mind, which is to defend the nuclear family – for only so shall women continually be kept in the home, away from economic opportunity and a chance to have a say in society.

I mention all of this in order to emphasise what it is that we as common-sense individuals are silently condoning when we decide to treat religion and faith based action with unconditional respect. Imagine if the same kind of respect was considered mainstream courtesy in politics; that we would not be allowed to disrespectfully disagree or make satirical cartoons of the men in power without having to worry about hurt feelings or maybe even our lives. Most political ideologies even have at least some kind of reason and logic to back themselves up. Religion has no such thing, and yet we go out of our way to show sensitivity and respect to something that defines itself by lack of evidence.

We are all aware that religion historically has been a disaster for humankind and womankind in particular, and we know that women are still being suppressed in the name of religion around the world. Why would we condone such things with silence, respect and sensitivity? I am not saying that people should not be able to believe or worship whatever they want or that we should not tolerate the fact that worshipping deities will always have a place in this world, but the minute an essentially irrational belief of this kind begins to manifest itself in actions that are damaging to me or my fellow human beings, I see no reason to respect it anymore than I would respect a misogynist politician.

Every single leap of progress that womankind has taken towards an unfortunately still distant future of equality has been achieved through means of reason and consciousness-raising by women who were not afraid to do so. They fought for the freedoms that women of the West enjoy today, and for this freedom to be infested and taken back to the 7th century by man-dominated religious dogma that gives praise to a God that demands young women sold as slaves, one prophet who insists that women learn in full submission, and another prophet who sexually consummated his marriage to a nine-year-old girl I find totally and utterly unacceptable. Some incredibly brave women fought for this freedom, and it is not ours to give away by quietly submitting and giving in to emotional religious drama queens who just happen to feel insulted.

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