Today's paper (4th Nov) tells of two grim tales. A Pakistani woman was doused in petrol and set on fire by her jilted lover. She was only 20. She refused his marriage proposal and the price she paid for it was her life. 50% of her body was burnt. She died yesterday morning from wounds infected.
Another tale is about stoning in Afghanistan. She was another young victim around 19 to 21. In a video recording, the young lady was seen stoned to death by religious Taliban men. Her crime? She was forced to marry someone much older than her against her will and she eloped with a man her age. It reports that she "can be heard repeating the shahada, or Muslim profession of faith, her voice growing increasingly high-pitched in the nearly 30-second clip."
Alas, the reality is this, misogyny is the world's oldest prejudice and the religion of men has been used against women for centuries. In the Biblical account of the creation of Adam, are women really an afterthought? Are they really the impure sex? Are they Pandora's daughters? The beautiful evil? Because life being a woman in some religiously straitjacketed countries - ruled by a form of self-righteous theocracy under a male-dominated holy groupthink - can be a living hell.
In the name of their gods, women suffered genitalia mutilation to preserve purity and wholeness, incarceration for revealing their ankles and nape of their neck, cruel torture and beatings for driving, talking to men and going out unaccompanied, repeated rape with absolute impunity, and unspeakable abuse, even death, in the name of honor.
Sometimes, driven to near insanity, one is tempted to ask: Does God hate women?
Lesson? I hold up three in earnest and hope.
1) God has nothing to do with it. Many will burn with anger with this statement. But the truth is, humanity will do what they want to do to satisfy their own lust for power, domination and control. They will use whatever that works - religion or otherwise - to perpetuate their fraud, their greed and their evil. We are not only social animals, we are also beasts of violence, and at the same time, priests of purity. The two asymmetrical roles, that is, beast and priest, work hand in glove in an enraptured shadow dance because they are joined as one by an egregious purpose that no words can describe.
Needlessly to say, God does not endorse their thoughts and actions but they are delusional enough to think otherwise. For Blaise Pascal has said it before and I will say it here: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
2) The culprit is identity, tribalism, dualism, and dehumanization. We as social animals seek a group identity; however perverse. When we find it, we congeal together as "tribal" blood is thicker than "outsider's" water. We then put on a veneer of religiosity to add inflammatory credence to our belief, creed and practice.
From there, it is about us versus them, in-group versus out-group, name of our god versus name of their gods. Dualism pits good against evil, but the problem is that evil and good are often used interchangeably as long as it suits the tribal leader's purpose of self-perpetuation.
With a core identity, tribalistic hunger, and dualistic justification, dehumanization of the others come almost second nature to men who are hell bent to make evil a divine decree from heaven above.
3) Jonathan Swift once said: "We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another." Notwithstanding the backhanded compliment, I choose to believe that only religion can tame our inner desires and lust and redeem us once again.
For example, the narratives in the Bible are all about reconciliation, restoration and redemption. Sure, wars and carnage are aplenty but that is because we confront ourselves by confronting our most depraved thoughts and actions. The Word doesn't do cosmetic/superficial changes.
The Bible is true to form and substance. In its form, humanity can do unspeakable evil. But in substance, they can perform the greatest act of kindness, love, sacrifice and repentance. The bridge between them is the Biblical narrative's conclusions, that is, when Isaac and Ishmael made peace at their father's funeral, when Esau and Jacob reconciled in the end, when Joseph and his brothers (and father) were united, when David repented, when Jesus' disciples sacrificed their lives, and most of all, when God himself was crucified.
James Arthur Baldwin once said, "I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain." And after the pain, I sincerely believe, comes a heart of brokenness, contrition, repentance, forgiveness, hope, strength and love.
Let me end with William Blake’s teaser, "Both read the Bible day and night, But thou read'st black where I read white." I guess the Bible remains unchanged. Its narrative speaks of love and of reconciliation when we have confronted the worst of our nature. But it's the human heart that needs changing. For our heart may be above all deceitful, but when wholly transformed, our selfless deeds will stun, amaze and inspire us all. Cheerz.