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.

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About Taner Edis

Professor of physics at Truman State University


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