Via Pharyngula, I came across this story about the appalling behavior of highly religious people.
It turns out that Orthodox Jews in Israel are upset at a local council in Jerusalem’s decision to open a municipal car park on Saturdays and have been protesting in the streets for weeks. Why? Because this would encourage people to drive on the Sabbath, and this is one of the gazillion things that you are forbidden to do if you are an observant Jew.
(I have written before about ‘Certified Sabbath Mode’ ovens and kosher telephones that provide loopholes to such laws for those who like to consider themselves Orthodox but don’t want to be inconvenienced by these weird rules. Presumably no rabbi has as yet come forward with a blueprint for how to make a kosher car but I bet they are working on it.)
Anyway, Australian reporter Anne Barker was sent to cover the car park protests when things suddenly turned ugly. As she writes:
I suddenly found myself in the thick of the protest – in the midst of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews in their long coats and sable-fur hats.
They might be supremely religious, but their behaviour – to me – was far from charitable or benevolent.
As the protest became noisier and the crowd began yelling, I took my recorder and microphone out of my bag to record the sound.
Suddenly the crowd turned on me, screaming in my face. Dozens of angry men began spitting on me.
Spit like rain
I found myself herded against a brick wall as they kept on spitting – on my face, my hair, my clothes, my arms.
It was like rain, coming at me from all directions – hitting my recorder, my bag, my shoes, even my glasses.
Big gobs of spit landed on me like heavy raindrops. I could even smell it as it fell on my face.
Somewhere behind me – I didn’t see him – a man on a stairway either kicked me in the head or knocked something heavy against me.
I wasn’t even sure why the mob was angry with me. Was it because I was a journalist? Or a woman? Because I wasn’t Jewish in an Orthodox area? Was I not dressed conservatively enough?
In fact, I was later told, it was because using a tape-recorder is itself a desecration of the Shabbat even though I’m not Jewish and don’t observe the Sabbath.
This disgusting story illustrates the problem with religious people. Ordinary criminals and thugs probably know that their behavior is wrong but simply do not care enough to change. But religious people can act just like criminals or thugs or even murderers and actually feel virtuous about doing so, because they think that god commanded them to act in this way. In their minds it makes perfect sense to even kill people who do not abide by their rules (if they could get away with it) because their holy books say doing so is their duty and they would be pleasing god by punishing the unobservant. As Clarence Darrow once told a group of convicts, “It is not the bad people I fear so much as the good people. When a person is sure that he is good, he is nearly hopeless; he gets cruel – he believes in punishment.”
Most people are blissfully unaware of the awful things the Bible advocates and which lie behind the kind of appalling behavior described above. Take for example, Deuteronomy 22:13-21 about how a father should deal with a daughter who is charged with not being a virgin when she gets married. The passage ends as follows:
If, however, the charge is true and no proof of the girl’s virginity can be found, she shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death. She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you.
Statements like “You must purge the evil from among you” is the justification these religious fanatics use for their vigilante actions like what was done to the reporter.
If such people want to tie themselves up in knots with ridiculous rules because they are credulous enough to obey the instructions in some book written by some unknown person long ago, they are welcome to do so. But they are never satisfied with that. They want everyone else to also follow their rules.
In this regard, there is no difference between fundamentalist Jews or Christians or Muslims, except as to which absurd rules they think are important or which book they consider holy. And it is no use ‘moderate’ religionists saying that these people are aberrations, and that ‘true’ religion is benevolent and benign. The religious fundamentalists take their rules for behavior from the same books as the so-called moderates do. There is no way to put a benevolent spin on the vicious and murderous misogyny of the Deuteronomy passage. The only way to combat such pernicious ideas is to denounce the whole idea that ‘holy’ books have any kind of binding authority or even moral weight.
Will the authorities take strong action against these religious thugs or will they treat them lightly because of the absurd ‘respect for religion’ attitude that says that allegedly ‘religious’ people acting on their convictions are exempt from normal rules of behavior? Of course, such indulgence is usually only granted to those people who belong to the same religion as the authorities.
If unchecked, religious people will oppress us all because they think that is what god wants. It is only the modern secular state that can protect the rest of us from these religious fanatics.
POST SCRIPT: Mr. Deity on stoning non-virgins
God and Jesus explain why the stoning commandment is a good thing.