Morality. The purview of religion. Or so religious spokesmen – and they are always men – assure us. And far too many of us go along with assertion and pay heed. But the unasked question is whether or not the application of some religious moral code is warranted when it comes to human activity. Why do religious spokesmen speak out as if authorized by god to make moral pronouncements on so many human issues and religiously tread without thought or care to human rights and the dignity of personhood and why are they not held to account by the majority of us?
We are treated to a non-stop litany and repeated insertions of moral pronouncements by various clergy whose only expertise is the imaginings of theology to deeply affect attitudes and practices and funding of issues outside of the religious purview – medical issues like abortion and research, legal issues like gay rights and marriage, political issues like constitutional reform and education, and so on. Into this arena of human activity comes religious pronouncements using morality as a wedge to pry open every human activity and concern possible – from diet to dress to sex to parenting… there is no end – to allow religion to be seen as relevant and meaningful even when it has no legitimate expertise or informed opinion about the activity or issue itself.
Far too many of us go along with this charade, this crock. But at what cost? What is the downside to granting religious imaginings and moral judgments filtered through various Iron age moral codes and their often ignorant and anti-intellectual immoral conclusions a place at the modern discussion table? There are many costs and most relevant to all is the cost to human rights and human dignity we allow to be sacrificed on the alter of religious morality by tolerating this public interference.
Take, for example, this article in the Ottawa Citizen from which I have posted some excerpts (but note the article’s repeated dichotomy about muslim versus christian rather than religious versus secular – you’ll see what I mean in a moment) :
When Shazia Hidayat was training for the Olympics in her native city of Lahore, Pakistan, she was forced to jog through the streets in the middle of the night with her brother cycling beside her. A woman, particularly a Christian one who did not cover her head, was not safe working out during the day. So Hidayat would wake up at 2:30 a.m., don a baggy T-shirt and full running tights for modesty, even in 40C weather, and run 15 to 20 kilometres.
When she dared run in public mixed-gender races, groups of men hurled stones and shouted insults. At other times, extremists from certain mosques threatened her life, yelled it was shameful for women to exercise in public and even confronted her with a Muslim “husband” whom they ordered her to marry. She would then, by law, be automatically considered a Muslim. They saw Hidayat not as a strong role model for girls, but as a symbol of moral decay.
Women, particularly Christian women, must keep a low profile in a country whose supreme court has outlawed kite flying, and whose legislature passed a law last month banning non-Muslims from becoming prime minister.
In 2005, Hidayat decided to run in Pakistan’s first mixed-gender marathon through the streets of Lahore. This would be the third attempt by athletics officials to hold a mixed event. At a race earlier that year, extremists had forced the cancellation of a race in the city of Gujranwala.
“Several hundred activists affiliated with the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (a coalition of Islamist political parties) used petrol bombs, clubs, and bricks to attack participants, organizers, spectators, and police at a mixed-gender marathon in Gujranwala. The activists torched 19 vehicles and smashed windows in the stadium and adjacent buildings. Police used batons, tear gas, and firing in the air to restore order. The clash resulted in injuries to 15 persons,” read a U.S. state department report.
At a second attempted mixed marathon race, police arrested participants — particularly the women — and detained them for several hours before the race was cancelled.
On the eve of the Lahore Marathon, various extreme religious and political leaders vowed to protest or threatened violence against any woman who ran, or those who organized the race.
In The Daily Awaz, a Lahore newspaper, religious figure Allama Muhammad Mumtaz Awan vowed his followers “would make bitter protest and take out rallies today against the shameless Marathon Races that are being officially promoted in support of moral corruption and nudity and in violation of Islamic culture and decency. At this occasion all … will make loud protests in the mosques during the Friday congregations and move condemning resolutions through the worshippers against the Marathon race that is being undertaken at American instigation to promote western culture and civilization.”
Hidayat and hundreds of other women from Pakistan, Europe, Kenya and other countries defied the threats and ran anyway. Hidayat, wearing a T-shirt and full tights, was ridiculed and called vicious names. Many men threw stones at her and the other women.
Hidayat notes things are improving for women and Christians in a few limited ways, but regressing in many others.(Pakistan’s 18th amendment, passed into law last month, states that 21 days after each general election, “the National Assembly shall, to the exclusion of any other business, proceed to elect without debate one of its Muslim members to be the Prime Minister.” The president of Pakistan already had to be a Muslim, so religious minorities are now disqualified from holding the country’s two most powerful positions.)
So Hidayat has left Pakistan and come to Canada to live, work, and run in – of all places – Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (bit nippy for half the year). Pakistan’s loss, Canada’s gain. But she did so not for reasons of being a woman, particularly a christian woman, as the article would divert us into believing, but for exchanging religious oppression for secular freedom… including being a woman without cost and being a christian without cost.
Is running a moral issue? Well, no… as long as it is done by a human equipped with a penis. I guess god’s okay with the morality of a running man. But apparently, no vaginas are allowed to run in public by order of this same imaginary sky father as some would have us believe. Why? Religiously inspired morality! But just look at how convoluted the reasoning must be – empowered only by religious belief - to turn the running by a woman into a moral issue! And one set up that – oh by the way – just so happens to directly detract from her rights but not his. Coincidence, I’m sure.
Not surprisingly, the morality of misogyny itself is never at issue when religion comes calling to drive a wedge into separating the rights and opportunities of men from the rights and opportunities of women; isn’t it high time religious misogyny itself becomes the central issue each and every time religious interference is brought into the public domain?
Unless and until the basic tenets of religious belief becomes a workable model of equality that enhances human rights and human dignity rather than intentionally detracts from this respectable moral goal, the pronouncements about applying religiously inspired morality to human issues have no legitimate place. And a good start to this rejection of religious interference on legitimate moral grounds is for enlightened and educated individuals to grant no audience whatsoever to the hypocrisy and duplicity that empowers religious morality to be inserted into the public domain.