A Hindu honor killing

I recently posted a rant concerning honor killings, using an Iraqi Muslim example. Well, I just ran into a Hindu example that is just as horrifying to modern liberal moral sensibilities.

Again, note the connection to religion. There should be no surprise here: traditional communities depend on their religion for their sense of moral order. Any moral order is kept in place by a degree of coercion, and one important function for old-fashioned religion is to tell when coercion, including violence, is legitimate. And again, note how many in the community concerned celebrate the act of violence as honorable, as a cleansing, as a way to restore the proper moral order.

Is religion then a bad thing? Maybe. I don’t see that we can say a lot based on such examples, other than that since just about everything in traditional communities is entangled with their religions, their religions must be involved in whatever we praise or condemn about them. If we dislike violent control of sexuality, yes, we can assign some blame to traditional religions. If we like the warmth of tight-knit communities as opposed to modern individualism and anomie, yes, we can praise the religions that condition people to go beyond their selfish inclinations and commit to a higher purpose.

And then there is the complication that traditional religion is not all of religion. There are plenty of modern, individualistic variants and interpretations of supernaturalistic belief systems. They tend to go along with the modern, liberal moral consensus.

So if we’re looking for a secularist case against religion in general, it’s not easy to get this on the basis of sweeping statements about what kind of social order religions support. Maybe we can try to argue that there is something about supernatural belief—the attitude of “faith” is a good candidate—that tends to make it dangerous or dysfunctional too often in modern conditions. Maybe liberal religions are quasi-secular to begin with; their positive (from our point of view) characteristics come about despite their endorsement of transcendent realities. There are respectable arguments in favor of such a view. I don’t, however, think that the case has quite been made yet.

About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01646695343010829642 Ellen

    Dishonor killings have more to do with culture than with faith, Taner.

    Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
    “Reclaiming Honor in Jordan”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10778996187937943820 Taner Edis

    Ellen R. Sheeley: “Dishonor killings have more to do with culture than with faith.”

    That sort of clean separation between culture and faith itself strikes me as a modern attitude. People who do honor killings rarely go around saying they punished their sister because it happens to be their culture, it has nothing to do with faith.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09010421115826273321 Rourke

    “So if we’re looking for a secularist case against religion in general, it’s not easy to get this on the basis of sweeping statements about what kind of social order religions support.”

    Very true. The arguments must vary depending on who you’re talking to. I’ve found this out from trying to condemn (mostly) moderate Catholics with anti-Protestant fundamentalist arguments. Then, of course, there’s the degrees of variation within a particular “moderate” or “extreme” community. To continue using this example, there are Catholics who are pro-choice just as there are Catholics who want the Papal States back in power. To argue against the former with arguments tailored towards the latter just doesn’t work.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01742603212829734147 Muslims Against Sharia

    The STOP HONORCIDE! campaign was launched on Mother’s Day 2008. The goal of the campaign is to prosecute honorcides to the fullest extent of the law. We want honorcide to be classified as a hate crime and we advocate for every existing hate crime legislation to be amended to include honorcide.