This week, both the Washington Post and Al Jazeera reported on arrests made in a Pakistan “honor killing” case. Seventeen year-old Ambreen Riasat helped her friend elope with a secret boyfriend, and when village elders found out about it, they drugged Riasat, strangled her, strapped her into a van and set it on fire. Thirteen men were arrested in the case, as was the girl’s mother who cooperated with the tribal elders and allegedly handed her daughter over to these sacks of shit.
According to Al Jazeera, nearly 1,000 women were killed last year in murders that were predicated by “alleged adultery, illicit sexual behavior or…women defying their family in the name of love.” The Post reports that between 2004 and 2015 almost 9,000 girls and women were killed in similar circumstances.
Honor killings are not new, nor are they specifically related to Islam. In an Inter Press Service interview with Rana Husseini, author of the book Murder in the Name of Honor, the interviewer says, “You mentioned in a PBS interview that honour [sic] killings are not a religious issue but a cultural one.”
Husseini replies, “Unfortunately, a lot of people think these murders are related to Islam. These crimes happen in all religions. I have reported stories of women killed by family members in Jordan who were Christian. In Italy, there are men who kill their family members in the name of honor. It happens in the Hindi faith, too.”
With all due respect to Husseini, an incredible women’s rights advocate and journalist, she too easily sidesteps religion’s role not only in honor killings but in the creation of culture. What behaviors a deity sanctions or proscribes are foundational to how people in a society respond to one another.
Religions grow out of a community’s need. We can debate the merits of those needs, but on a purely mathematical level, a faith is an extension of what a culture desires (or, more accurately, what those at the head of the culture’s pecking order want).
In European Neolithic populations, we can see the spiritual significance placed on the hunt – cave paintings at Lascaux and Chauvet demonstrate this. They needed to kill animals to survive, and there was a sense of awe and reverence around this essential topic.
Egypt’s seminal (pun intended) myth regarding the yearly flooding of the Nile grew out of the necessity for water in an arid landscape. Hence, we have the story of Osiris and Isis, reenacted yearly during the Abydos passion play, a powerful reminder of the forces to which humans are bound.
A Mayan cosmic goddess is sacrificed and from her broken body grows the world tree. Priests of that culture did the same to humans, feeding the tree with human sacrifices as a way to keep the cosmic order in tact.
The inhabitants of the Greek empire, especially the women, participated in the frenzied rites of Dionysus as a way to release the terrible social pressures they faced in a regimented, patriarchal culture.
Judaism developed a war god for a war tribe intent on conquering other lands.
This is all based on the needs of the people involved; therefore, religion is intimately tied to culture. How a god or set of deities interacts with their chosen people has a direct bearing on what a community will tolerate. The Sumerian mega-goddess Inanna was known to be a patron of hierodules; therefore, the entire role of women and sexuality in that culture was vastly different from a society adhering to a myth where a woman causes a man to be cast out of paradise.
We must look to the root myths of any culture if we’re to truly understand a people, and we can not gloss over those religious stories when trying to suss out the myriad factors contributing to savagery. We can’t turn a blind eye to the connection of a vicious patriarchal god to a vicious patriarchal culture. We can’t pretend that the myths of Judaism/Christianity/Islam don’t indulge the worst in human behavior, despite those same religions’ exhortations to heal the world. (P.S. A world ruled by a jealous god is a sick one.)
Religions work on two different levels – the individual and the political. The individual’s relationship to a set of divine powers is based on that person’s experience, both as a member of a community and as an individual within that community. Francis of Assisi was both deeply involved in the happenings of his Medieval world and transformed by a personal revelation of what god was to his eyes. After further encounters with his god and gaining followers, he eventually became secondary to the political workings of the Franciscan bureaucracy, which continues to this day. (Just look at the gorgeous and obscenely un-Franciscan cathedral dedicated to the humble saint in his hometown.)
Carl Jung said, “Religion is a defense against a religious experience.”
And truly, this is why the Scourge…well…scourges the endless news stories where faithful followers engage in barbarism because they’re following a defense instead of an experience. Anyone who truly lives what could be called a “religious experience” – whether that occurred in a house of worship, hiking a mountain range, having orgiastic sex, creating music – knows that it is a self-shattering occurrence, and that’s terrifying to the status quo so highly valued by hierarchical cultures. To contain whatever radical revelations we have, we organize it, slap rules on it and stuff it into a limited frame of reference called mundane reality. Then we worship the frame instead of the art inside it.
And then we kill women, or queers, or brown people, because god promised us a promotion if we played by the company handbook.
Until next Sunday…the heretic’s day.
In other news of the faithful:
Archaeologists in Syria are starting to get a better sense of the devastation wrought by ISIL on the pre-Muslim artifacts in the area. That’s what jealous gods encourage in their followers.
The same Alabama chief justice who brought you a Cecil B. Demille-worthy statue of the Ten Commandments ordered that state probate judges had to deny same-sex couples filing for a marriage application. He’s been suspended from the bench and faces a hearing. As with Kim Davis, if you can’t do your job, get another one.
The Afghani child who was photographed wearing a homemade soccer jersey saluting his favorite soccer player Lionel Messi (and then got an actual, autographed one sent to him) gained a lot of attention internationally and, unfortunately, at home. The Taliban threatened the boy’s family for not having the child studying the Koran instead of soccer and now the family fled their country to avoid further persecution. If there’s any just god in the universe (and the Scourge is dubious), this kid will hopefully become a star soccer player.
Christians ranted at Target shoppers this week, because the company instituted a policy whereby transgender people could use the bathroom they feel is appropriate. “Preachers” and other nuts went into Target stores in various locales around the U.S. and shouted about the apocalypse, wickedness and the need to “repent” (which, if you watch the video, is not an easy word to pronounce if one is missing his front teeth).
And finally, seats at a Pennsyltucky church were going at a premium. Two men got into an altercation over who was sitting where. A fist fight ensued and ended with one man pulling out a gun (in church, mind you) and killing the other. Those who live by the gun will die by the gun.
(Above photo: Aqeel Ahmed/AP)