Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Holy Self-Righteousness

Let me preface this by saying that I am thoroughly irreligious. I truly cannot fathom belief in a higher power; I can understand participating in religious customs and traditions because that is the culture one comes from, but I can't understand participation out of a fervent belief in whatever the ceremony at hand is trying to accomplish or recognize. I understand that religious traditions truly do work for many people; there are many former addicts for whom their deeply held convictions are the strongest things that keep them from relapsing. I understand that religion and prayer truly do soothe many souls and that belief is the only thing that keeps many from collapsing under the pressure of living and working under unjust conditions (whether man-made or just plain bad luck). I understand that it has generated and continues to generate mobilization and organization for social justice.

What I cannot understand is how some religious beliefs are considered so sacrosanct as to be untouchable and others freely ridiculed at best and viciously persecuted at worst. This hypocritical stance is at the heart of many a cis-supremacist/heterosupremacist's defense of his/her beliefs after the other reasons have been eviscerated: it's against his/her religion, therefore all criticism of that is A Bad Thing™ and an unforgivable sin.

For example, among all fundamentalist Christian sects, women are supposed to be deferential to men. When people bring up the inevitable problems that causes and worsens, the "religion" argument is supposed to halt all debate as one is directed to consult the (translation derived from King James' edict as opposed to original) Bible as some sort of final authority on the matter. There are even websites that sell "chaste" clothing for women. But in the US when one brings up the importance of the headscarf to many Muslims, the first impulse is: 1. to think of the all-encompassing burqa and 2. to talk about how backward Muslims are for oppressing women. This fails to take into consideration that many women choose to wear the headscarf, much like many choose to wear long skirts and even cover their heads, and that in many respects the Muslim world has a history of female leaders, a trend that continues to this day despite the attempts of fundamentalist sects to revise their own histories to excise this inconvenient fact and blame Western society for the presence of such "uppity" women. The fundamentalists' attacks on schools that educate girls and young women in the Muslim world are decried and pointed to as an example of the barbarity of Islam, yet the fact that there are whole religious organizations that have an iron-clad ceiling on the roles women can occupy and that actively discourage women (as well as men, to a certain extent) from pursuing "too much education." The definition of "too much" varies from denomination to denomination, but the double standard still exists. This is seen as somehow sacrosanct and immune from criticism, lest one be called anti-Christian or *gasp* a feminist! The practice of female circumcision is barbaric, yet the Western (or is this primarily an American thing?) tradition of male circumcision during infancy is hygienic in the secular world and a holy ceremony in Judaism. Suicide bombing and IEDs directed toward American troops or American interests are terrorism. Bombing abortion clinics and gay clubs is not, in the non-words of the GOP VP candidate in '08.

To take another example, the issue of gay marriage inevitably leads to "it's against MY religion" and "this will curtail MY freedom of religion". The majority of Americans probably believe that marriage in the religious sense is always between a man and a woman and always has been. Historical inaccuracy and Eurocentrism aside (the Catholic Church at one point did recognize same-sex unions), when one brings up the fact that there are Christian churches that do recognize same-sex unions, that is ridiculed and those churches accordingly called "manipulative," "not Real Christians™," and worse.

Getting away from gay things, because even (or especially) Western left-leaning folk fall into this trap, it's interesting that, say, Mormons are considered cultish while calling Catholicism a cult is verboten. In the wake of the Prop 8 vote, there were many protest signs mocking their style of dress and history of polygamy, many of which were outside Mormon churches. I'd bet my life that if it had been an Orthodox Jewish synagogue they'd been protesting and the signs had been mocking yarmulkes and invoked a few offensive stereotypes, more people would be horrified, for good reason.

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