Since it was Easter Sunday, the Christian god was more popular than usual. Those seeking company, craving tradition or in need of nostalgia had flocked to the church.
I craved nostalgia. Growing up in a Christian household, Easter Sunday and church went together like free will and damnation. Through applying the appropriate amount of pressure, a guilt level curated via decades of training at Bible Bootcamp, I convinced my atheist boyfriend to attend.
As the lightbulbs dimmed, a serious drum beat began. It marked the start of the worship ritual.
The audience began to sway and hum. They sang along with an enthusiasm that would make the cast of The Wiggles green with envy.
Amid the worship, I felt a small tug on my sleeve.
God darn it, if I was going to drag an atheist to Church, they had a moral obligation to mock during the holy crusade.
“What’s the question Kate?” said my atheist boyfriend.
“What question? No one has asked a question yet.”
“Well, then why does everyone have their hands up?”
There was no question. My atheist was mocking a rather absurd practice found in Christian circles. For those not in the know, when Christians become particularly excited by worship, they raise their hands to the sky.
Before I could help myself, a smirk spread across my face.
The action of teasing Christianity is normalized. It is funny. It is even expected. God darn it, if I was going to drag an atheist to Church, they had a moral obligation to mock during the holy crusade.
Yet, would the same be true had we attended a mosque or a temple?
While it is perfectly normal, perhaps expected, for a college educated, left-leaning individual to critique Christianity, the same is not true for other religions.
We strive to have a multi-faceted human heritage that can be passed onto future generations, not a white-washed, imperialistic monoculture that is populated with Starbucks, Apple and the other symptoms of western capitalism.
In the western intellectual playground, Christianity is the kid no one likes. Dressed in behind-the-times fashion, such as wedgie invoking shorts and tan high-kneed socks, Christianity is consistently at the mercy of playground bullies while other religions are left unpoked and unprodded.
Yet, much like a playground full of mischievous children, all religions have been little shits at some point. Yes, Christianity has an abhorrent history of bullying the other children, yet all religions have stuck gum under the table, pulled Becky’s hair and drawn a penis on the chalkboard. Nevertheless, in the western intellectual space, it is not popular nor permissible to mention this for fear of being dubbed culturally insensitive or bigoted.
Even the Buddhist teachings of karma have an acceptance, even glorification, of suffering because any happenstance is a result of evil wrongdoings committed in a past life.
On my most recent excursion to the grocery store, I found myself lost in the specialty section of frozen meats. I was looking for some pathetic vegetarian variety of the burger (I regretfully settled on a soy-bean mush masquerade). Yet, I did find myself curious about halal meat.
Halal is a form of slaughter specific to the Islamic faith. Arabic for ‘permitted’, halal refers to meat that has been prepared per a strict set of laws. One such law, the Dhabihah, requires a deep incision with a sharp knife on the neck that cuts the jugular vein. To be considered halal, the animal must be conscious and healthy before slaughter and all the blood must be drained from the body. Jewish kosher meat is prepared in a similar manner.
In practice, the animal is often strung upside down by the ankles alongside a line of other terrified beasts. As their legs break under the pressure of their own weight, it waits, petrified, for the butcher to slice its neck and drain its body.
The Farm Animal Welfare Council (KAWC) stated that some animals, such as the chicken and turkey, were likely to be conscious for up to 20 seconds after the incision.
There is a bitter irony to placing halal meat beside vegetarian products.
Religions are constructed by humans, as such they fall prey to the human thirst for power and control. Yet, it isn’t simply problems with specific scripture, or specific events, that make them problematic.
To credit Canadian regulations, all halal slaughtered must be stunned. Yet, European nations, including the UK, grant exceptions to stunning based on religious grounds.
This is baffling. In a period where animal rights are gaining traction, converting even the most unlikely into soy-bean-burger munchers, it is shocking that liberal leaning governments are accepting of a clearly barbaric practice. Especially when Christians attempting to ban same-sex marriage on the grounds of ‘religious freedom’ were resoundingly denied.
Culture arising from religious practices is precious in a period of mass globalization. Protecting the unique nuances of humanity’s differences is important. We strive to have a multi-faceted human heritage that can be passed onto future generations, not a white-washed, imperialistic monoculture that is populated with Starbucks, Apple and the other symptoms of western capitalism.
the slippery slope fallacy is forgotten and critique is confused with condemnation.
Yet certain religious practices and ideologies are unacceptable. Alongside halal and kosher, consider the Manusmriti, widely regarded to be the most important and authoritative book on Hindu law dating back 1,000 years. Dividing Hindus into four categories, it justifies the caste system as the foundation of order in society. Even the Buddhist teachings of karma have an acceptance, even glorification, of suffering because any happenstance is a result of evil wrongdoings committed in a past life. Contrary to the fashionable caricature, hell, fire and brimstone are just as prevalent in Buddhism as the damnation found in the bible.
The examples are endless. Religions are constructed by humans, and as such they fall prey to the human thirst for power and control. Yet, it isn’t simply problems with specific scripture, or specific events, that make them problematic.
Regardless of which religion, all utilize a set of ideologies and practices to categorize. Since it is religious, this categorization transcends arbitrariness and becomes preordained, casting certain individuals as ‘righteous’ or ‘enlightened’ while others are condemned. This categorization will violate human rights. The massacre of Rohingyas, a Muslim minority, at the hands of the Myanmar state, a majority Buddhist institution, is a striking, current example.
Yet, criticism’s leveled at religions not of western descent are often shunned by those who prefer to romanticize. Due to a history of appropriation, westerners are often silenced by a chloroform soaked gag, accused of cultural genocide when attempting to impose rights due onto the environment, animals and people.
For example, take Maajid Nawaz, a British Pakistani Muslim. A former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a Muslim extremist group, Nawaz is the prominent leader for a movement toward ‘secular Islam’. Still a Muslim, Nawaz is focused on combating radicalization through Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. Throughout his work Nawaz has been critical of Islam, advocating reformation.
This has earned Nawaz a bad name.
Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), a respected legal advocacy organization with an admirable history of fighting the Klu Klux Klan and systemic racism, released a list of 15 ‘anti-Muslim extremists’. Nawaz was named on the list, alongside figures such as David Yerushalmi, a man who claimed that “black people are the most murderous of peoples” and that “there is a reason the founding fathers did not give woman the right to vote.”
If we cannot transcend our fear of being ‘culturally insensitive’ to question the misdemeanors of religious practices, eastern or western, we will pay the price.
Nawaz’s crimes? It is claimed by SPLC that Nawaz borders on anti-Islamic extremism because he supports surveillance of radical communities if it “prevents people getting killed and committing terrorism.”
Regardless of whether one agrees with Nawaz’s views regarding surveillance, in a society shaken by the actions of terrorists, this debate is necessary. Those who debate in an informed manner, enthused with respect for human life and identity, should not be put on ‘hate lists’ previously reserved for bigots such as the Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan.
Yet, the respectability of the SPLC and the wide acceptance of their ‘anti-Muslim extremist’ list is a symptom of the times, a period where the slippery slope fallacy is forgotten and critique is confused with condemnation.
Yes. It is true that an individual’s spiral into bigotry and racism can begin by questioning and doubting the validity of certain religious practices. It can start with a theological critique of a verse in scripture and distort into a furious, irrational and racial hatred. However, racism does not necessarily follow from critique. After all, the price society has paid for freedom of speech is high, and a society void of this fundamental right would not progress. If we cannot transcend our fear of being ‘culturally insensitive’ to question the misdemeanors of religious practices, eastern or western, we will pay the price.
Currently, a line of cows are strung up in a slaughterhouse, petrified as they await slaughter in a brutal and unnecessary manner. Simultaneously, young Indian girls are denied education and forced into back breaking labor due to the laws of a text 1,000 years old. Finally, thousands in Myanmar watch as their lives descend into ash and bone.