Consider this moral quandary posed in a recent Skeptic magazine article about a father who strangled his daughter because “she had been a rape victim of an unscrupulous man and became pregnant.”
William E. Magnusson poses this counterintuitive result in the article (“Is Science Amoral?”):
“The father believed that his action was extremely moral, and he had the support of his family. In other societies it would be the murderer and the rapist who would be considered immoral.”
Indeed, damning the predator, not the victim, would be the normal moral imperative in Western countries with strong Christian and, thus, misogynist traditions.
The murdering father above, although his location is not specified, I strongly suspect is from an Islamic region of the Mideast, North Africa or South Asia, where statistics show the vast majority of such so-called “honor killings” occur. However, such atrocities also are documented elsewhere “from people belonging to all the world’s major religions,” according to the website Stophonorkillings.com.
Infractions of local sexual mores and female reproduction restrictions are key triggers for these tragic assaults, 93 percent against young women whose average age is 23. The website says studies indicate about 5,000 honor killings occur around the world annually — some 1,000 each in India and Pakistan — but that statistics “are often severe underestimates.”
“Honor killings or shame killings are exacted in a bid to regain family honor after a member of the family has committed an act which brings shame to the family, such as homosexuality, adultery, violating religious principles or renouncing a faith. The four main types of honor violence are FGM [female genital mutilation], forced marriage, domestic violence, and killings. Killing is the most extreme punishment.”
Even just being raped is punishable due the perceived stain on the victim’s family honor.
Although in Western, Christianity-dominated countries, like the United States, we don’t cotton to families murdering their young women for their perceived sexual transgressions, we still tend to blame them for such transgressions (e.g., “Why were you wearing that!” in rape cases).
Even in Christianity itself, misogyny has a long, ignoble and continuing history.
“With diatribes about entertainers who invite rape and moms who are destroying America by supporting their families…with ignorant arguments about fetuses that masturbate, and females who might as well if they use contraception, and fetal personhood that trumps the personhood of females … it’s tempting to think that Christian conservatives have reached some new pinnacle of hating women and sexuality. But the sad reality is that even the media’s most unabashed misogynists like Michele Bachmann, Michael Burgess, Lou Dobbs and Juan Williams are actually tame compared to their ideological ancestors, including some of the biggest names in Christian history. In past centuries, men who were hailed as church fathers, patriarchs, doctors, and even saints boldly expressed their view that females are inferior and loathsome, and they explained at length why God shared their perspective.”
Read the bile-dripping words of Tertullian (160-225 AD), who is known as “the father of Christianity”:
“In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell.”
He could even distil the purity of his female loathing into a single sentence: “Woman is a temple built over a sewer.”
And we modern Americans wonder why we’re so conflicted about sex, when these ancient, irrational mores were embedded in our nation’s DNA during its colonial founding and into the Western mind long before that?
So when we are told of people in other countries slaying their young women for sexual corruption even when it’s forced upon them by men, Americans instinctively recoil at the injustice of it. Because it’s source is all too familiar.
But think of the genesis of today’s honor killings, which are a reflection of extreme fear of female sexuality and reproduction, complicated by the unacknowledged lust of punishers. They spring from the same black well of historical ignorance perpetuated by the Bible, which not only defines Christian societies even today but also deeply influences Islamic ones and others for whom Christian scripture is part of their own sacred traditions.
“People of the Book,” Muslims call followers of other faiths, as themselves, in which Christian scripture provides an important historical foundation. Muslims venerate Jesus as a prophet, for instance; they just don’t believe he is divine. They view their prophet, Muhammad, as the last and most important in monotheism.
So honor killings, to speak of them sacrilegiously, are a kind of “blast from the past,” when faith was the be all, end all of existence, and transgressions seen as major (i.e., anything having to do with sex not biblically endorsed) — among Muslims and Christians — were commonly viewed as capital crimes.
As you can see with thousands of continued honor killings each year and cruel shaming of sexual behavior in modern Western societies, particularly the U.S., our moral humanity is still very much a work in progress.
The sad thing is, the answers for a moral life already exist with the secular Golden Rule (“do unto others what you would have them do unto you”), which although it arose with religion is really a natural human moral law that encompasses virtually everything, sexual or otherwise.
No God needed. Which is a good thing, seeing the enduring horrors that faith has inflicted on human behavior.