Friday, January 17, 2014

Tilting against the biggest books of all time: the Bible and Quran

I'm taking a huge chance here.

 Last week, the news media were full of the story about York University in Toronto accommodating a male student’s request not to be put in a study group with women, on religious grounds.

The identity and specific religion of the student are protected under Canada’s privacy laws. Whatever religion it is, this case points to a long-standing problem.

I fully support freedom of religion, and will defend everyone’s right to believe and practice whatever they like, as long as it is not hurting anyone else nor infringing on any else’s rights. But it’s time we all stopped using religion or philosophy to excuse inexcusable behaviour and to justify unjustifiable ideas.

That’s right. I’m telling the world that I do not believe that you can use the Bible, the Quran, Mao’s little red book, the Communist Manifesto or any other book to defend your ideas. I just don’t accept the argument “because God says so.”

You can’t prove that, and the fact that you have a book that’s called “God’s words” does not constitute proof. I can write a book called “God’s Words, too.”

The devil is in the details

In September, 2013, sociology professor J. Paul Grayson assigned a mandatory group assignment that required students to work together in person. One student, who was taking the course online, asked Dr. Grayson to exempt him because his religious beliefs forbade him from meeting in public with a group of women.

Dr. Grayson refused the request, and after discussion, the student agreed to participate in the assignment and completed it. However, the university administration ordered Dr. Grayson to accommodate the request.

To his credit, Dr. Grayson refused the administration’s order to accommodate this religious request. “What if I said my religion frowns upon my interacting with blacks?” he wrote. This accommodate would set a precedent, he said, and make him an “accessory to sexism.”

The public reaction was telling and uplifting. I could not find a single person or opinion in the media that supported the religious accommodation. And rightfully so.

(The Dean of Arts at York University defended his action partly because the student asked to be able to complete the assignment in another way, and another online student who was situated outside the country was allowed another way to do the work.)

The media reaction

Every political leader in the country decried the university’s accommodation order. Every opinion speaker and writer I heard or read likewise sided with the professor. Every online comment also supported the professor, and pointed out that this type of religious accommodation damages women’s sexual equality rights, hard-won over the last century.

This is an example where the right of freedom to practice your religion conflicts with gender equality rights. Many Canadian schools provide prayer rooms, segregated by gender, as part of their “religious accommodation.” Canadian institutions — funded by Canadian taxpayers — accommodate religious practices that defy the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms — part of the law that supposedly governs those institutions.

Religious versus human rights
I repeat, I support your right to believe and practice any religion you like. But I do not support anyone’s attempt to infringe on anyone else’s human rights. And equality of women and men is one of the most important.

I thought it was telling that CBC radio’s program, The Current, introduced this story with a clip of televangelist Pat Robertson saying that according to the Bible, men and women are not equal.

According to this logic, religion justifies unequal treatment and unequal rights between the sexes. It says so in the Bible.

I’m not trying to criticize any particular religion here, nor am I trying to open a general debate about crime and punishment. All I want to do is to point out the hypocrisy of the argument that goes: “I must do this/I cannot do that because the Bible/Quran/whatever other text I hold out as justification for every ridiculous idea that comes out of my mouth, says so.”
Crazy idea icon by mehagopijiji.
Licenced under Creative Commons.

Otherwise rational people are afraid to criticize religious beliefs and practices because they fear being branded as intolerant, racist, or xenophobic. Well, I’m none of those things, but I will say this: I don’t accept the “It’s God’s will” argument, because the people who use it don’t accept it, either.

Nobody actually follows the entire Bible, even though they say they do. Not even Pat Robertson. How many people sacrifice cattle to God? Does Pat Robertson? Yet Leviticus, the Biblical book that instructs believers in how to live every minute of their lives, tells readers to sacrifice bulls just about every day.

Have you ever seen a televangelist making that kind of sacrifice, or indeed, any kind of sacrifice of his own property?

Do religious leaders in Canada promote the death penalty for adultery? How many religious people think that’s okay? Should Canada accommodate religious sects that want to put adulterers to death?

From Leviticus, Chapter 20. Source:
The Bible also tells believers to put homosexuals to death. I’m pretty sure that Canadian law does not accommodate this practice.

The Quran tells a husband to beat his wife — mildly, yes, but definitely to use force — if she defies his authority. Would Canadian law accommodate this? Would US law? I hope not.

No one follows any scriptures absolutely. No one in Canada can put adulterers or homosexuals to death. If they do, the law will punish them.

The point is that even the most religious choose among obligations to follow, adhering to some and ignoring others. It’s a human decision.

Not a divine one.

Basing all your life actions on an ancient book is an unsupportable idea. Every religious person chooses the scriptures he or she will follow, because no one follows all of them. No one can.

I won’t argue whether the Bible and Quran were divinely inspired, because I cannot change anyone’s belief on that point in a blog. But how about if I add this: God told me to write this post.

Prove to me that He (or She, or Whatever) did not.


  1. Morality, truth and honour are fine goals but religion is something we should have left inside the caves after we finally ventured out. I fear for our world and this race unless we finally do.
    I'm not denying anyone the right to worship their own particular deity but this is the twenty first century. Are we ever going to grow up?

  2. In my opinion, it has nothing to do with religion. No religion teaches you to be cruel to another. All religions teach you tolerance--within you and for others. It's part of our bigoted society that we do grave and then tag religion along with that crime. Kill someone on the charge of blasphemy and then say--that's what my religion has taught me. NO religion teaches you to kill anyone. As it is said in Quran--"Killing one human is equal to killing the entire human race", which brings us to the fact that no one is supposed to even pin point other for anything. This perception and POV has nothing to do with any religion. Its purely based on your society, caste and culture. I've been raised in an Eastern culture and there are many rituals in my culture that are not even part of my religion. They just got carried from generation to generation and we always heard--that's what our ancestors used to do. And at the end, we blame religion, we blame teachings of God.