Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Islamist paradise: selling children

The Times is reporting that 20 young boys were bought from an Islamist leader, Gud Khan, in Pakistan, who runs a "pure Islamic environment" at a centre initially funded by al-Qaeda, by Osama bin Laden directly. The sale was made to a Christian missionary who was freeing them and returning them to their parents, from whom they had been kidnapped. Khan apparently knows that the children will be used for sexual and illegal activities, and doesn't care, because they are Christian. The proceeds are used to support his Islamic paradise, free from the corruption and degradation of the West. Oh irony!

The obvious inference to draw here is correct but insufficient. Islamism is not based on some morally pure foundation. It is political, pure and simple. Sure, this is true, but a much better inference is that religion makes for a very bad foundation for morality. Not only Islamists, but Christians, Jews, Hindus and every other religious movement, privileges believers over unbelievers morally. It's OK to kill abortionists or gays, to disenfranchise Jews or Arabs, and so on, because They Aren't The Same As Us.

And Christians in the US and here (Australia, in case you forgot) will often criticise those who think that all human beings deserve the same rights and privileges in society as "humanists". In fact, humanism has become the all-purpose bogey among religious circles. Of course it is - it undercuts the basic moral intuition of all religions: that rights are given based on conformity to their, and only their, standards of behaviour.

I am proud to be a humanist. I think that Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Scientologists and even those evil atheists (spelled athiest by fundamentalists) have exactly the same rights as any other person. That means they can run for office, vote as they wish, take any course of action even if it contravenes the "deeply held moral standards" of some religious majority so long as it is not illegal, and live wherever they like. This is a measure of civilisation. The covert prejudices and bigotry of religion need to be opposed openly by a civilised state.

To my religious friends, who are not at all like this, most of the time, I can only say that your morality is civilised in spite of, not because of, your religious traditions. It was but an eye blink since your own traditions, if they are enlightened now, were treating those who differed as subhuman. Christians, Muslims, Jews, it doesn't matter. The underlying social function of religion is to exclude, not include. Thus it ever has been.

Humanism is not a religion. It is a general principle - that human life is equally valid no matter the social status, ethnicity, religious belief, or sexual orientation of the individual. Somebody should found a country on these principles...