Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Religion can be a problem, but it's not the only one

Some of my friends are preoccupied with religion, and it bores me. It's one of the reasons that I'm less interested in atheist stuff on the Internet too; the constant criticism of religion. One of the latest articles promoting atheism is in Salon - "Religion's sinister fairy tale". The author, Jeffrey Tayler, writes,
We understand the real purpose behind religion whenever it exceeds the bounds of conscience, as it has done throughout history, and seeps into politics.  More than two centuries ago, the English and American revolutionary Thomas Paine penned words that still ring true: “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
The real purpose? It's not that simple, is it? Religions aren't all the same, nor are the religious one homogeneous mass, equally devout, equally duped. I wonder how much the most vociferous critics of religion really know about religion, its complexities and history?

But I've blogged about this before, and about the male bias in atheism too.

I think nationalism and tribalism are also threats to peace and harmony, as the world becomes increasingly over-populated. Yes, of course religion plays a part in all this. Patriarchal religion has been used as a justification for all manner of human rights abuses for millennia, especially the subjugation of women, but it's not the only reason. Misogyny proliferates in a vicious circle, where culturally defined social structures prevent children from learning how men and women can live together on an equal basis. I commented on a New Humanist post about terrorism recently:
The problem isn't just religious extremism, it's also male domination in Islamic societies and the deeply ingrained misogyny that prevails. How can extremism be challenged when hardly any of those involved know what it is to have healthy relationships with those who share their lives? Religion is used to justify the subjugation of women, but it has been regarded as normal for so long that it's like a collective psychosis, almost impossible to change. Without the civilising influence of women, the societies where extremism proliferates can't be fixed. British, European and American politicians may fret about terrorism but the threat to us is insignificant compared with the daily terrors suffered by thousands of women and girls.

One of the consequences of patriarchal attitudes is a resistance to population control, so these societies will continue to grow as the resources to feed, house and employ them decrease. It's estimated that 222 million women worldwide have an unmet need for modern contraception. As David Nicholson-Lord, Optimum Population Trust research associate, said: “Talking about threats to national security without highlighting the growth in human numbers is a bit like staging Hamlet without the prince. Population growth is one of the major forces behind global environmental insecurity, whether it’s the direct effect on issues such as climate change and food, water and energy shortages, or the creation of large cohorts of discontented young people in developing countries, which provide fertile breeding grounds for terrorism."
Not long after I wrote that, I found this article - The Hidden Link Between Women and War. Leith Greenslade writes,
The UN’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence run until December 10, Human Rights Day, and as we reflect on 2014, there is no denying it has been a particularly vicious year for violence against women. The images are forever seared in our minds: the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls, the trafficked Yazidi women, the assassination attempts on Afghan women leaders, the sexual assaults on Egyptian women in Tahrir Square, the horrific gang rapes of girls in India and the brutal honor killings in Pakistan.

These atrocities are all by-products of the resurgence of a particularly ancient kind of war—extremely violent, religiously or ethnically motivated civil conflicts that now rage across parts of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. All of the conflicts involve large groups of young men, undereducated, overarmed and delirious with power; caught in a labyrinth of shifting relationships and competing interests; united in their efforts to control and oppress women and girls.

Why is violence against women central to so many of the conflicts that plague the planet today? What is driving young groups of men to mobilize against women? And what can we do to prevent it?
You could blame religion for all of this, but it isn't that simple, really it isn't, and if you're only interested in attacking religion and not in feminism or population control, your blinkers will continue to get in the way of understanding.