December 22, 2008

Religous Outrages For Your Holiday Reading Pleasure

Outrage #1: Saudi court tells Muslim girl, aged 8, that she has no right to divorce the 58-year old guy who her father married her off to in exchange for about $9,000. Well, actually, the court told the mother that she had no standing to nullify the marriage, because no one has told this girl that she's married yet. And it's supposed to be okay because the husband promised that he wouldn't consummate the marriage until she turns 18.

I'm well aware that arranged marriages are an accepted part of a lot of cultures and some arranged marriages work out just fine. I think that if the parties consent to the arrangement, that's okay although not the way I would prefer to see things. I also think that the parents of the children involved owe it to their kids to do some research and spend some time with the families in question to see if the match will be good for their children -- and my hope is that this gets done in most arranged situations.

But this is basically one guy selling his daughter to another guy like he would livestock. A girl that young obviously cannot consent to a marriage. She has little concept of what that even means. Marrying her without her understanding or consent to the act is selling her. It's slavery and it's an act of astonishing evil on the part of both the father and the "husband." I can think of no moral justificaion for this state of affairs, no matter how desparate the family's financial circumstances are.

The moral outrage here is powerful enough to transcend culture. There are limits to what a culturally-tolerant person needs to put up with before getting pissed off. I don't pretend to know precisely where the line is between stepping back from something about another culture that offends you and issuing a moral condemnation from beyond the seas. But riutalized gang-rape, female clitoral mutilation, and selling your own children (or buying them) are all beyond that line.

At this point, the girl's only real hope is for the King to step in to the process and annul the marriage, and presumably pay off the lech who tried to buy himself a little girl in the souk. Fat chance of that happening.

Outrage #2: Christian church in Jacksonville, Florida blackmails a woman who is no longer in the church's congregation because she refuses to stop sleeping with her boyfriend. The letter containing the blackmail is laced with citations to Biblical authority to support the proposition that Jesus wanted churches to blackmail their former parishioners. So, if this woman does not break off her "sexually immoral relationship" with the boyfriend, the church elders will condemn the relationship in front of the entire congregation.

I can see the church saying to her, "Look, you either start living your life morally or you stop being a member of the church." It's the church's right to exclude anyone for any reason, particularly one that is related to their behavior. And it appears that she's made that choice for them already, so that ought to be the end of the story.

Now, it seems to me that substantial components of Christian teachings deal with the recognition that all humans are sinners and that God will forgive sins. But I'm not a Christian, so it's possible that there's something about this state of affairs that I don't understand. I can only take the church elders at their word that they are indeed fulfilling the mandates of their religion by blackmailing their former parishioner like this.

As far as I am concerned, she has no reason to be ashamed of sleeping with her boyfriend. She's divorced and therefore single and an adult; she can sleep with whomever she chooses (and who consents to sleep with her which I'm assuming her boyfriend has). Better yet, she beat the church elders to the punch by sending out press releases and getting the story picked up by the national media. Good for her. Now the inevitable condemnation from the church will do nothing because she's already let the cat out of the bag herself; she's now immune from blackmail. In fact, if I were her, I'd take it a step further. I'd mail the church elders an open letter that says:
Greetings. As if it were any of your business, I am f***ing my boyfriend on a regular basis. I don't intend to change this behavior at any point in the foreseeable future, because I enjoy f***ing my boyfriend. Now, you may not approve of this and that's certainly your perogative. But if you gossip about me, from the pulpit or elsewhere, bear in mind that in addition to a boyfriend with whom I'm regularly enjoying pleasures of the flesh, I've also got a lawyer with whom I'm regularly consulting. Her kids need orthodontia. In closing, I suggest that you re-read Matthew 7:1-6. Please do not contact me again, for any reason, ever.
Actually, no I wouldn't mail a letter like that if I were in her shoes. I wouldn't have joined the church in the first place. And given that she admits she's sleeping with the guy, the accusation of adultery is probably true and therefore not actionable. But you get the point -- the right response is to tell the church elders that they can kiss your ass.

Outrage #1 is obviously a graver moral transgression than Outrage #2. But frankly, it's sort of expected. And because it's a graver moral transgression, I find it less interesting, because there is less room for debate or disagreement. But both of them are out of line, crazy applications of religion that accomplish little other than hurting innocent people.

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