Saturday, March 7, 2009

Stop picking on (only) Islamic extremism

Let me burden you with a small personal preface: Having been raised Catholic and educated for 18 years in Catholic schools, I remember the lessons from the Bible that were repeated year after year in my education. Despite no longer calling myself religious, I still hold high Christian values. And when I say Christian values, I mean the original lessons and parables we get from the man himself in the Gospel (although those as well were likely changed and amended in the nearly 2,000 years before they got to me in the 1980s.)

I now live in an environment even more steeped in religiosity than anything I have experienced before. Conservative Islam permeates every aspect of society here, perhaps most noticeably in women's clothing. In recent posts I have discussed the rather confusing issue of the abaya'. I have pondered and questioned—why do people follow what they can't defend? Perhaps many of the women cannot explain why they wear the abaya', or tell me where it comes from, but is that so unusual? Is that so reprehensible compared to what goes on under the guise of Catholic morality? If you look around you, Catholicism is getting harder and harder to defend itself.

Just this week, the Catholic Church excommunicated a 9 year old Brazilian girl and her family. The girl had been raped by her step-father, and was pregnant with twins. Her family made the decision to have an abortion. The Vatican responded by banning this family and the doctor who performed the abortion from the Catholic community forever. Is that a Christian response? What would Jesus do? Cliché—no doubt. But perhaps a little dose of 8th grade religious simplicity would do the Vatican a bit of good.

I remember the passage: “How will you say to your brother, Brother, let me take the grain of dust out of your eye, when you yourself do not see the bit of wood in your eye? You hypocrite! First take the wood out of your eye and then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your brother's eye.” –Luke 6:42
In addition, let’s remember the well-known passage of Jesus telling the crowd which is about to stone the adulterous woman that the one among them who has done no wrong should throw the first stone. Everyone leaves, of course.

In short: we are not to be judgmental. We cannot decide for others, for we are so blinded by our own inadequacies and are so deeply imperfect.

This astory would strike anyone; however, it affected me not only because it is a heart-wrenching and dismaying story, but also because it sheds new light onto all the international hullabaloo over Islamic extremism.

So often, we hear the rhetoric that Islam practices extreme moral policing and robs people of their freedom. We hear about Saudi Arabia punishing and imprisoning a woman for being raped. It makes international news, framing Saudi Arabia’s religious policy as antithetical to human rights and justice. Compare that to the story of this victimized child in Brazil. A Brazilian Archbishop claimed that: "Abortion is much more serious than killing an adult. An adult may or may not be an innocent, but an unborn child is most definitely innocent. Taking that life cannot be ignored." (See article.) Wasn’t this little girl completely innocent as well? The Catholic Church as well brandishes the sword (and not for the first time) of extreme religious policing with fervor. How can an institution that treats its own with such a blatant lack of compassion and understanding possibly claim to be all about inter-religious dialogue?

The Church needs to take the plank out of its own eye and do some serious spring cleaning in the Vatican. Certainly if it plans on taking a leading role in any sort of religious dialogue, particularly with Islam, which is so often internationally demonized, it needs to brush up on the Bible, and start writing public apologies to all the people and families which have been victimized by both its unacceptable actions of the past years and its all too facile stamp of moral condemnation.


Sarah said...

The logical flaw I see concerns comparing the girl to the conceived child. She is innocent, yes, but should we exchange evil for evil? I'm sure you also remember from your elementary school religion class that Jesus told us to "turn the other cheek." Killing a third party, the unborn child, is unfit retribution for rape that conceived her.

Also, it seems to me that the Catholic Church definitely is attacked throughout the world and often. It is constantly criticized in the US and everywhere else--you may notice that you chose it as the target of your criticism here.

beefriends said...

I agree that to follow one travesty with another is a terrible thing to do. However, I don't think the abortion can correctly be called retribution for the prior rape.
I see a link between the abuse of the women and girls in this story (the news report stated that the perpetrator may have also sexually abused the 9-year-old's teenaged disabled sister - and the mother may well have been somehow abused by the criminal as well, certainly at least in a secondary manner given what he did to her daughters), and the attitude of the Catholic hierarch who made the decision to excommunicate the mother of the girls. Women, especially women living in cultures such as is found among the poor of Latin America (add: Africa, Asia, etc), suffer from life-long systemic oppresion and even violence, that they can do nothing about. They are often utterly disempowered.
Here's my link: we cannot avoid the historical fact that the Roman Church has been managed as an exclusively male-led, top-down power structure for a very long time. Women have been kept out of the power base, even to the degree of not being able to become the wives of priests and bishops.
Given the above as a model for how to maintain authority/order within a Catholic society, is it in any wonder that women in traditional Catholic cultures wind up being oppressed?
That poor mother of the two girls, the pregnant 9-year-old and the disabled teenager, was only trying to save her younger daughter's life. Her decision must have been agonizing. I suspect she was broken-hearted over having to make the decision to kill her twin grandchildren. Yet, instead of offering her support and comfort, her local diocesan official excommunicated her!
As Clare says, this was a grievous lack of compassion and understanding. In the name of maintaining order, of upholding the rules, power was used to punish the innocent - the innocent 9-year-old, and her innocent, suffering, mother.