Curiosities Why must we “respect People’s religious beliefs” if they are oppressive?
I used to be a Christian at some point. I have since dissociated myself from religion and right now I am not entirely sure about the existence (and omnipotence) of deities. It’s interesting how the way one looks at and experiences the world changes when they are no longer religious. I even think back to […]
I used to be a Christian at some point. I have since dissociated myself from religion and right now I am not entirely sure about the existence (and omnipotence) of deities. It’s interesting how the way one looks at and experiences the world changes when they are no longer religious. I even think back to some of the things that I experienced but deemed them ‘acceptable’ because religion teaches one to accept them as such. I went to a Christian boarding school and there, no woman stood at the pulpit because the Bible does not allow women to speak up in church. If a teacher had a message for the school, she had to get a man (even if a student) to relay that message to us. At the dining hall, no girl- prefect or not- was allowed to say prayers before we ate. If the girls managed to get to the dining hall before the boys did (which was usually the case since our dormitories were closer to the hall), we had no option but to wait for the boys to show up. This practice reeked of misogyny and how society (taking directives from religion) has such a low regard for girls or women. But, because we are taught to accept religion without questioning it, such practices were seen as anything other than oppressive or sexist.
I have been noting with great puzzlement how some activists tend to call on people to respect people’s religious beliefs. Activists of all sorts or any folks who are against oppression of people will vehemently call out racism, sexism, queerphobia and other forms of oppression. But, they draw the line when it comes to religion. Why is this the case, especially when one considers how religion and religious beliefs form the foundation for some of the forms of oppression that we all get so enraged about? Why is this the case when history is marred with instances of people using their religious beliefs to subjugate, oppress, murder and pillage? Are these folks religious themselves? Are they afraid to offend a very large group of people who subscribe to various religions? Are they afraid to criticise religion because they, too, believe it is venerable and sacrosanct and must never be criticised lest one stands to face the full wrath of the gods they worship? Or religious zealots because let’s face it, some folks have taken matters into their hands and given themselves power to punish those who transgress.
This question has really been weighing heavily on me for a while now especially since, whenever I criticise religion, I do it much to the chagrin of theist folks who always take offense at the criticism. Why do we have to respect religion or people’s religious beliefs?
For a system that is responsible for many of the world’s atrocities, why must we hold religion in high esteem? Why do we have to respect people’s religious beliefs when we know that it is because of these beliefs that many Jews were persecuted and murdered for being ‘Christ- killers’? The Israelites occupied Palestine because they believe that as the chosen people, it is their God-given right to take that Biblical land. It is because of religious beliefs that we have groups of people who are ever ready to kill in suicide bombings, an act they believe to be honour killings and will earn them a seat in paradise. We have children denied access to life-saving healthcare , denied their right to education or married off even to men old enough to be their grandfathers because people are adhering to their religious beliefs.
Don’t get me started on queerphobia in the religious space. Many people live in closets because they fear the consequences on their livelihoods should they come out in a society that believes being queer is ‘unholy’. We can talk about the mathematician, Alan Turing , who was accused of homosexuality in 1954. He killed himself- this was a much better option for him than having to choose between chemical castration or being imprisoned for 2 years. We need not even look back that far when there are more recent instances of religious intolerance. Look at Saudi Arabia and many other Islamic countries; queer people are gruesomely put to death as punishment for this ‘offense’. Why is religion bothered so much by what people do and with whom? It is always interesting to note that what two (or more) consenting adults decide to do receives more derisive attention than issues of child marriage and paedophilia in the religious space.
Thanks to technology, we are able hear of all these hateful acts done in the name of religion in different parts of this world. In so many countries, homosexuality is considered a crime, one is only ever fortunate to reside in a country where this isn’t the case (even though this will not mean there are no instances of queerphobia). Some LGBT+ folks have been excommunicated from their religious institutions or asked to step down from their leadership positions because religious folks could not ‘condone such behaviour’ or as many like to refer to it, ‘lifestyles’. The mother of Sean, featured in Olly Alexander’s Growing Up Gay documentary, could not bring herself to accept her son’s sexuality. Her reason? She feared that if she went to heaven and he went to hell, she wouldn’t know what to do. Most queer folks are not allowed to marry in a society that is still predominantly queerphobic. Facing all kinds of discrimination, some have been rejected by families, fired from their jobs, passed up on an opportunity to get a job because people feel justified to express their hate in the name of religion. And yes, religious beliefs do mould the way society functions.
Queer people are sexually assaulted by (mostly) bigoted men and one can always expect a religious person to remind us what the Holy Books say about homosexuality and suchlike. To such people, people would avoid being raped or killed if they would just do as the Bible says. If those people happen to think like the Westboro Baptist Church , Pat Robertson or Steve Anderson , they will not shy away from expressing their satisfaction at what they consider puritanical acts because, according to them, the world is engulfed by a lot of ungodliness which needs to be purged one way or another. Richard Dawkins got it right, ‘Hate only needs to prove it is religious then it stops counting as hate’.
Why do we have to respect people’s religious beliefs when it is because of those beliefs that some people, children included, are being tortured or killed if they are accused of or suspected of practicing witchcraft? Remember the boy Hope , a Nigerian child who was left to meander the streets of Nigeria after he was suspected of being a witch. Were it not for the woman who found him and helped nurse him back to health, the little boy would have been reduced to dry bones by now.
The evidence keeps growing that depicts the intolerance of religion or its complicity in the oppression of certain groups of people. Some might say religious extremism is the problem but, in all actuality, religion is the problem. If there was no religion, then there would not be religious extremism. It is sad to note how many folks are more concerned about distancing themselves from such fundamentalist faith than they are about actually interrogating their religion and understanding why there would even be extremism and moderation in religion. Folks whose religiosity is moderate tend to claim that the gods they worship are loving. One can expect to hear some religious leaders talk about how the god they worship loves all humans regardless of gender or sexuality when other religious leaders denounce homosexuality because the god they worship forbids it. It does get a bit confusing, doesn’t it?
It is baffling how persecuting and killing are done in the name of the same gods who are held to be gods of love and peace. And if, by moderate religion, some folks are showing restraint then one can only ask why they restrain themselves? They are restraining themselves from doing what? Surely, if they didn’t believe that most of the religious principles are sinister, there wouldn’t be any need for ‘moderation’. Could it be that some folks are inventing deities which are more accepting and fit into the ideal picture of them being loving and merciful instead of the gods, in whose name so many atrocities are being committed? Could it be that people select different parts of their religious teachings which they then abide by? If that is the case, doesn’t it also give credence to my question, why must we respect religion (confusing and divisive as it is)?
As a queer person who criticises religion, I know I am unsafe in a world driven by religion; a world where most will do anything to defend their religious beliefs. I ask again- why must I respect people’s religious beliefs?