The Curious Case of ‘Emily,’ a Compassionately Progressive Religion Apologist
I recently met a woman, let’s call her Emily. Emily is a brilliant, vibrant, fascinating, compassionate and progressive young woman who, despite her forward-thinking ways, surprised me by revealing herself as a religion apologist.
Emily and I were discussing pseudo-progressives and some big names in the entertainment world came up. I noted how Bill Maher has come under fire from many leftists for his denunciation of Islam. I then said I applaud Maher for having the courage to speak the truth about the more deplorable elements of Islam, and that I agreed wholeheartedly with his assessment.
This Emily did not like. Even though we’d only recently met, I figured she could read me (literally and figuratively) well enough to know that I, like Maher, equally despise all religions, at least those of Abrahamic lineage, and that my opposition couldn’t possibly be considered bigotry because my loathing is of a philosophical, not human, nature.
Despite Emily’s insulting allegation that I could tell her all I knew about Islam in two minutes or less, and despite her snarly accusation that I was speaking in a “prosecutorial” and “repetitive” manner, I pressed on with my argument. It went something like this:
1 -The holiest texts of all of the Abrahamic faiths endorse, instruct or command genocide, mass murder, slavery, (child) rape and other crimes against humanity.
2- Religion is, and always has been, a means of social control. It oppresses, represses and terrorizes those over whom it has power and prevents countless millions of people from living happily as they wish.
3- Even if her argument that religion does plenty of good for plenty of people is true, Abrahamic religion has visited as much, probably more, death, destruction, oppression, repression, bigotry, misogyny and various other ills upon humanity, effectively negating its good deeds.
To my first point Emily replied, and I paraphrase, “Most adherents of Judaism, Christianity and Islam do not believe in those awful things.”
That’s better than the demonstrably fallacious apologist argument that “Yes, but that’s the Old Testament, and those awful passages are but historical accounts and cautionary tales, not divine commands.”
What part of “The Lord Almighty says kill both man and woman, child and infant/kill all the women who have slept with men, only the young girls who are virgins may live and you may keep them for yourselves/slaves, submit yourselves to your masters” is “historical” or “cautionary?”
Continuing, unsuccessfully, with my argument, I asserted that even if most Jews, Christians and Muslims don’t endorse — or even roundly reject — the horrific contents of their holiest books, their continued membership in organizations whose holiest texts do endorse such crimes deserves nothing but condemnation.
Here’s a question for Emily: Imagine a government or corporation was discovered to be actively harboring and protecting thousands of child rapists and molesters amidst its ranks — would you not denounce said government or organization and, if you were a member or affiliated with it, resign immediately?
By the Pope’s own estimation, two percent of Catholic clergy are pedophiles. That’s more than 9,000 individuals, and until very recently the Catholic church went out of its way to shelter and protect these child predators.
Plenty of religion apologists would answer, “But this is different, this is religion.”
How, exactly, does “this is religion” render the commission — and concealment — of crimes, of child rape, somehow something less than grounds for immediate and unconditional rejection of the criminal organization?
The answer to this question has something to do with ‘God,’ a shared Abrahamic deity figure whose existence is substantiated by precisely no empirical evidence at all.
We must respect peoples’ religious beliefs, the religion apologist asserts. No matter how ludicrous or criminal these beliefs may be. No matter how much they oppress, repress and terrorize countless millions of lives in every corner of the world where Abrahamic religions wield power.
What, dear Emily, is to be respected in ‘divine’ belief systems which divide the world into ‘believers’ and ‘infidels,’ with the ultimate goal of universal conversion and subjugation, with death or eternal ‘soul’ damnation for those who reject this hegemony?
Applying this same logic (a difficult word for people of ‘faith’), would the religion apologists demand respect for a government or corporation whose members commit crimes which those organizations then conceal?
Or, on a grander scale and returning to our earlier examples of horrific crimes against humanity endorsed and commanded by the Abrahamic religions’ holiest texts, would the apologists implore deference if a constitution or corporate charter codified support for genocide, slavery, rape, bigotry, sexism and slavish worship of deity figures for which there is absolutely no evidence?
Forget the ‘grander scale.’ Witness the countless human tragedies caused by Abrahamic religion. Here is but a sampling:
-The millions of gays and lesbians who cannot marry who they love in the “freest nation on earth” because fundamentalist Christians continue to throw their formidable power behind marriage prohibition.
-Yet millions more sexual minorities, religious converts, ‘blasphemers’ and ‘apostates’ who face imprisonment, torture and execution in fundamentalist Muslim societies.
-The retardation of vital human progress in science, including in advancing stem cell research and combating climate change, by Christian fundamentalists espousing a literal biblical worldview.
-The colonization, ethnic cleansing, occupation and apartheid visited upon Palestinians by Zionist Jews, acting as ‘God’s Chosen People’ reclaiming their ‘Promised Land.’
This is but a small sampling of the immense, worldwide suffering inflicted upon hundreds of millions of people by Abrahamic religion.
But are all religion’s good deeds to be ignored, asks the religion apologist?
Again, I’ll use an example any good progressive can appreciate. The United States is one of the world’s largest foreign aid donors. But it is also the world’s leading arms dealer, and no other nation’s government and military have killed more innocent people in more foreign lands over the past half century than those of the USA.
Walmart operates a rather substantial charity arm, donating around $1 billion annually to numerous worthy causes around the world. But the company, either by itself or through subsidiaries and suppliers, is also guilty of widespread environmental destruction, deadly factory conditions, child labor, brutalizing workers who attempt to unionize, wage theft, bribery, tax evasion and racial and gender discrimination.
Should we forgive the latter crimes because of the former good deeds? Of course not. If this logic applies to governments and corporations, should it not also apply to religions?
But this is different, this is religion, the apologist still insists.
Then double-damn those who commit crimes in the name of ‘God,’ for they have manipulated the fears and the faith of a largely ignorant flock for their nefarious purposes.
I suspect Emily’s religion apologism is rooted in the fact that, as a girl, she was educated in a Catholic school in the world’s largest multi-cultural, multi-faith democracy. No, not the United States. India. And Emily is very sensitive to what it means to be a religious minority in a nation where many view you as ‘other,’ as ‘the enemy.’
I’m not sure if Emily is a person of faith, but I understand that her dogged defense of Abrahamic religion — especially Islam — is based on the fact that most opposition to Islam here in the United States is rooted in bigotry, Islamophobia and Christian notions of superiority.
I tried to assure her that my disdain for Islam can be attributed to none of the above. As I said earlier, I deplore all Abrahamic religions equally (well, maybe Judaism a little less since it is non-proselytizing), and for good reason. Reasons which Emily, like any reasonable liberal, ought to not only understand, but support based on progressive notions of equality, freedom and justice.
These notions are largely anathema to Abrahamic religions. Reason dictates true progressives would, therefore, reject those faiths. But then reason is also anathema to belief systems built upon a foundation of suspension of reason and logic.
As the great Protestant reformer Martin Luther unequivocally asserted, “Reason is the Devil’s greatest whore… Reason must be destroyed. Faith must trample underfoot all reason, sense, and understanding, and whatever it sees must be put out of sight and … know nothing but the word of God.”
Those words may have been written half a millennium ago, but their spirit lives on among countless Abrahamic adherents to this day, even in the most advanced societies on earth, poisoning entire nations and stagnating the progress of humanity.
Quite frankly, I am surprised that a brilliant, compassionate progressive like Emily remains a staunch apologist for belief systems which place fear above love, and slavish devotion and subjugation to a sophomoric, insecure, psychotic (imaginary) deity figure above maximum human development and happiness.