Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Problem of Interpretation: Theological misogyny

So I read this story in the Huffington Post about an Afghan actress killed by a Muslim mob, apparently for playing roles “against Islamic values”.  As bad as the story already is, it gets worse when you read that her friends - who managed to escape the attack - were then arrested for “moral crimes”, subjected to virginity tests, and may find themselves jailed.  At face value, it would seem that the sexist teachings of Islam are to blame for this crime, but is this so?

There is a common view in the West that Islam is not to blame; rather such crimes are committed by the sort of misogynists common in all cultures, and the difference is that these men use Islam to justify their actions.  We could draw a parallel with Christian misogynists, who might well quote the Bible to defend their sexist attitudes.  It’s not religion, it’s bad people using religion in bad ways: or “bad religion”, as it’s often labelled.

I am surprised how many people find this argument persuasive.  When one looks at the Quran, or the Bible, a rich treasure trove of conflicting moral values is revealed.  It’s a real buffet for ethical cherry pickers of all hues.  The misogynist Christian can quote:

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. ( 1 Timothy 2:11-14)

Whereas the feminist can quote:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Similarly, apologists for Islam might quote the Quran to support the “moderate” thesis that Islam is compatible with modern views on sexual equality:

O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness --- on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. (Quran 4:19)
Their Lord responded to them: "I never fail to reward any worker among you for any work you do, be you male or female - you are equal to one another.” (Quran 3:195)
Others might quote sexist statements from the Quran:

And let two men from among you bear witness to all such documents [contracts of loans without interest]. But if two men be not available, there should be one man and two women to bear witness so that if one of the women forgets (anything), the other may remind her. (Quran 2:282)
If you fear highhandedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. (Quran 4:34)
Hot on the heels of such quotations, is usually some defence of why the “moderate” or “misogynist” teachings are the correct ones to follow.  This is the “good religion” v “bad religion” dichotomy again.  An oft overlooked fact is that these discussions are an implicit admission (by both camps) that the Quran contradicts itself.  Alas, it would seem this is no more than a trifle for believers…

I call this “The Problem of Interpretation”, and it’s a real bugger.  In a nutshell, the problem is this: who is the arbiter of what “interpretation” is correct?  I can read the Quran (or the Bible), interpret it my way, and you could read it and interpret it completely differently.  Who can say which of us is correct?  Do we look to religious “experts”?  Well firstly, how do we decide who the best “experts” are, and secondly, what happens when the “experts” disagree?  And even if they agree, is there any reason to believe they’ve decided on the right interpretation?  The Catholic Church sought a solution to this very problem, by appointing the Pope as infallible judge.  The sectarian splits throughout the Christian world are testament this “solution” has rather fallen on its arse.

The problem of interpretation is why so many different Christian denominations exist today.  The truth of the matter is that these religious books are whatever the reader wants them to be.  The Bible is not the “ultimateguidebook for life”, it’s a whole library of guidebooks catering for people of all political persuasions.

Likewise, the Quran, and its accompanying Hadith, can be used to justify slaughter of non-Muslims, or equal rights for women.  Truly if either book is God’s Word, he’s not making it clear enough what he wants us to belief, or how he wants us to live!

The apologist for Islam, and for religion in general, therefore ignores one of the main problems inherent in religion: it provides supporting arguments for virtually any position you want to take, and – most dangerously – it provides the argument on the basis of divine authority.  What can you say to someone who honestly believes their interpretation of scripture is God’s own?  Only religion offers divine authority for someone’s opinion, and that is why it continues to be a dangerous concept whose power we must abate.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

What to do, with Charlie Hebdo?

Oh Charlie, what have you done?  My loveable, but foolish son.
Don’t you see your gross mistake, to draw cartoons so sure to wake
the fury of the faithful crew – Muhammad’s men will come for you…

And if they do not get you first, our liberal friends might quench their thirst,
for keen are they to tolerate, religious men who spread their hate
by false pretext of religious rights – then claim it’s us who pick the fight!

You stand accused of hateful spite - lumped in with the Nazi right -
branded an Islamophobe, a scourge to faith across the globe.
All hail the rule of blasphemy… the pious law to crush the free.

It pains, to explain, the plainly true, what’s clear to me, should be to you,
That on these rocks our freedom fails – now’s not the time to turn our tails
and strangle our democracy. Hold fast, Hebdo, and we’ll all be free.

Charlie Hebdo Cover

Selective Blasphemy

The hypocrisy of the Arab world's blasphemy laws...

Jesus & Mo on Islamists

The Jesus & Mo cartoon strip is on the money again.

Here's The Onion cartoon that's being referenced:


Wednesday, 19 September 2012

A Geological timescale for Creationists

If you're a young-Earth creationist who believes the Earth is only 6000 years old, you have some problems with things like fossils.  Do not fear!  Some saintly type has drawn up the following geological timescale for you.  You might still have some problems - what with humans not being around when Jesus walked the Earth - but I'm sure these issues are no more than trifles to the mind of the Bible literalist.

As for Christians content to describe the Old Testament as no more than stories... Well, don't sit too easy either, as you have to wrestle with the fact that the genealogies provided by our esteemed Gospel writers,  Matthew (1:1–17) and Luke (3:23–38), show that they were young-Earth types as well.  I suppose you could say they just got this bit wrong?  I wonder what else they got wrong?

Nothing to do with religion, you say?

I often hear the refrain "That's nothing to do with religion, that's cultural/bad people/bad religion/response to oppression/response to Western aggression etc".  Well, that's what this blog is about: many evil acts are carried out only because of religion.  Without the religion, they wouldn't happen. Here's one:

To quote Steven Weinberg:

“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

Friday, 14 September 2012

Islamist Apologists

And once again we see the rage, Abrahamic faith takes centre-stage:
"Allahu akbar!" comes the cry, "Take to the streets - avenge this guy
Who made a film we can't abide!"...
...and here's the ruse for homicide.

Angry mobs of devotees, march their way to embassies,
To smash the windows; break the doors; "It's time to teach these Western whores,
about respect for our beliefs - let's give the diplomats some grief..."

Frightened men hide and cower, so far now from US power.
There's nothing here to hold the hate - the Muslim mob will break the gate,
to exact revenge Muhammad's way.  God is Great?  Not today.

And now arise the liberal free, to blame Western profligacy
in Muslim countries far and wide: "Blame yourselves for this homicide!"
FFS.  What can you say, when thinking people think this way?

Is it not quite clear? Do we need to explain, how religious thinking is to blame?
When blasphemy is valid defence, for rioting and violence,
Freedom dies, and worse than that, we all submit to the Theocrat.

Not now, my friends: hold your ground, Democracy will not be bound,
by any kind of religious decree - every man must be free,
to think, to write, to criticise.  Be bold, go forth, and secularize.