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Religion has a lot to answer for

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If you want to know the harm of religion, leaf through today’s New York Times. The lead story on the front page, “For Somali Women, Pain of Being a Spoil of War” details atrocities in the name of religion, starting with a teenaged girl being buried in the sand, and stoned to death for refusing to marry a Shabab commander.

The article details the horrific rise in rape in war-torn and starving Somalia, including the experience of a 17 year old gang-raped by five militants claiming to be on a “jihad, or holy war.” Any resistance is “considered a crime against Islam, punishable by death,” reports Jeffrey Gettleman. Imagine the pain, the future for these many rape victims in Somalia, where women must be shrouded in public to proclaim their purity and where 98 percent of women undergo brutal genital mutilation.

The Old Testament shared in common by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike of course sanctions the use of women as “the spoils of war:” “Have they not divided the prey; to every man a damsel or two,” says Judges 5:30, one of many instances sanctifying “holy war”-time rape of girls and women. (For more on this, see my chapter on ubiquitous bible-sanctioned rape in Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So.)

Next on our worldwide tour of religion in the news, turn to Page 4, for the article, “Israeli Girl, 8, Finds Herself at Center of Tension Over Religious Extremism.” Isabel Kershner reports on the plight of a modestly-dressed “blond, bespectacled seoond-grade girl,” Naama Margolese, 8, daughter of Orthodox Jews, who has been spat upon, insulted and called a “whore” by gangs of ultra-Orthodox men as she walks to school. Naama runs the gauntlet daily and has become an Israeli cause celebre. A riot even broke out, and reporters and police attempting to cover the story or protect this little girl have had rocks and eggs hurled at them, been called “Nazis,” and, if female, been insulted with Yiddish epithets. Naama’s situation is part of an escalating Ultra-Orthodox culture war against women and secular civil rights in Israel.

The Christian religious right in the United States does not hold the sway that Judaism does in Israel, or Islam does in Somalia, although it would like to. Turn to Page 11 of today’s Times, which reports “Battling Anew Over the Place of Religion in Public Schools,” which mentions FFRF, and, in an unattributed quote, my offering to the reporter that we are not sure whether public school violations are increasing, or whether more are simply coming to light. FFRF played a key role (read our news release: FFRF contests flagrant violations at South Carolina school) in complaining about the principal’s collusion in the evangelical school assembly that is the article’s main focus.

Page 14 bears a story headlined: “Appealing to Evangelicals, Hopefuls Pack Religion into Ads.” Jeremy W. Peters points out the subliminal messages of yore are gone. The ads pandering religion and courting the religious right are now overt. Gov. Rick Perry has produced four commercials with Christian themes, most infamously the ad in which he complains “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in schools.” All the GOP candidate wannabees are wearing religion on their sleeves — even Ron Paul.

As Thomas Paine noted in “The rights of Man,” “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all law-religions, or religions established by law.”

It’s time for everyone who dissents from religion to make known your dissent, and to redouble efforts to ensure a “Bright” and secular New Year.

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