Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Only religious "morality" would condone "honor killings"

Hi all. I've had a very busy last couple of weeks, and that's kept me away from blogging here as often as I'm used to. A shame, because there has been plenty of good stuff going on worth discussing. But a number of the other top-notch atheist and science blogs have been covering them just fine.

Today I stumbled upon this piece on CNN that reminded me why I needed to get back in the saddle and do my very small but enjoyable part in the growing atheist pushback against religious horror around the world.

The very concept of "honor killings" ought to be oxymoronic. Naturally, it would be a concept that would find a welcoming home in the grisly world of religion. In England, a Kurdish man has been convicted of the murder of his own daughter, because, apparently, she brought "shame" upon the family by leaving her first husband from an arranged marriage and falling in love with someone else. Only in the diseased and violent world of Islam would falling in love be considered shameful and dishonorable, and strangling your own child be considered right and proper.

Now, please don't waste time in the comments section arguing about how this sort of thing is not indicative of the behavior of all Muslims, how most Muslims are fine folks who aren't terrorists or shoe bombers, and who would find this incident utterly appalling. I know this. In fact, having grown up in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates as a child, and thus surrounded by more Muslims in their native habitat than most Americans would ever dream of, I know it better than many people.

The point I'm raising is that, without something like an extremist religion requiring people to live by perverse distortions of what consitutes "moral" behavior, and backing those benighted ideas up with threats of violence, woe, and divine wrath, you simply would not see this kind of thing going on. Religionists often like to accuse atheists of lacking a moral sense. But who's out there in the world slaughtering their own daughters (or, in the "milder" cases, simply sentencing them to be gang raped) under the notion that one is restoring your family's "honor"? I'll give you a hint. It's not the atheists.

Religion distorts moral precepts by tying them to whether one is or is not making a capricious and vindictive invisible magic being happy. On an even simpler scale, religious morality is about nothing more than obeying a list of rules to the letter in the hopes of winning a spiritual kewpie doll labeled "immortality". Very little is mentioned in religious circles about the actual real-world consequences of good or bad behavior having much of a bearing on whether or not said behavior is moral or immoral. In fundamentalist Christianity, morality is especially confused, because while fundamentalists will bleat all the live long day about how our society's morals have gone to hell in a handbasket, most of them will state in the same breath that salvation is possible only through faith and not "works". In other words, it doesn't matter one whit whether you're a good person or not, all that matters is membership in the club. You'd think this view would make morality an utterly irrelevant topic for Christian fundamentalists, but it wouldn't be the first inconsistency they've preached.

As for this situation...well, let me just say that I'm glad absurd PC ideas about "respecting" religion are still drawing the line at murder. But think of other appalling behaviors that have been enabled because the spectre of religion gave them its support. A prime example would be the Catholic child molestation scandal of a few years back. As Bill Maher pointed out at the time, would any parent entrust the well-being and care of their children to a bunch of aging bachelors if it weren't called religion? Likewise, would any parent go against all of their innate, biological drives towards nurturing and protecting their own children from harm — indeed, to the point of wilfully and gleefully killing them in cold blood — if there weren't a religion providing such perverse concepts as "honor killing" to help numb their consciences to the enormity of their deeds? Sure, there have been child-killings by parents where mere mental illness, and not religion, has been the key factor, such as Susan Smith. But then there are Andrea Yates and Dena Schlosser, two mentally ill women whose religious fervor only exacerbated, rather than corrected, their conditions. If God really existed, would he not have seen what was wrong with the minds of these women, and either fixed their malfunctioning cortexes, or at the very least, done something to save the babies before they were butchered? Oh yeah, I forget. God can't interfere with that "free will" thing. Sorry, kiddies.

Far from providing a sound and rational set of moral precepts to follow, religion most often provides flimsy justifications for people to do whatever they were inclined to do in the first place. In most cases, both religious and non-religious people will do what's right and proper anyway, because we have evolved as a social species, and it's in our genes that group cooperation is what will ensure species survival. But when people wish to do wrong, historically, they've had a good friend in religion to give them all the excuses they need. I fully expect that, in prison, Mahmod Mahmod will be able to lay out his prayer mat and bow to Mecca as often as he likes, secure in the twisted confidence that what he did to his daughter was right and proper, and suffering no pangs of remorse whatsoever, other than to think of the Western secular judicial system that sentenced him as a horribly corrupt tool of Satan. When Dawkins says that a strict religious upbringing can be comparable to child abuse, the sad, wasted life of Banaz Mahmod, whose only "sin" was love, will loom large as an exemplar.


  1. Don't forget the "honor killing" of Dua Khalil, who was stoned to death by a mob, members of which also recorded the event on their cell phones and posted it to the internet. Her only "crime" was loving a boy from a different religion, and maybe (or maybe not) converting to it for him.

    Lovely moral people, these religious folks, aren't they....

  2. The Mukhtar Mai (Mukhtaran Bibi) case was even stranger and more horrible.

    She was not sentenced to be gang-raped because of any action she was accused of, but because of the supposed action of her 13 (or 14) year old brother.

    The brother was accused of having a relationship with an older member of a family of a higher caste -- caste still exists among Pakistani Muslims.

    In fact, the accusation against the brother was a cover-up in itself, to hide the fact that several of the male members of the higher-caste family had raped (or at least had sex with) the young boy.

    And, to finish the irony, the person who most supported Mukhtar Mai and kept urging her to bring this into public light was her local imam.


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