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Religion may offer hope but interpretations risk lives

Peter Goodman


 “Aid Agencies: Afghans Will Die Because of Ban,” proclaimed a recent Sun-News headline.

The Taliban, days after banning women from higher education, has banned women from working at nongovernmental entities because they aren’t consistently wearing the hijab correctly. The U.N. says women are essential to its humanitarian efforts. Agencies say the ban will cause hundreds, even thousands, to die.

Women are required to wear the hijab in public because some interpretations of Sharia (Islamic law) say they must. Afghan girls can’t go to school without being dressed in black, head to toe, because that’s how the Taliban interprets the words of Allah. Other Muslims merely advise modest clothing.

People will die because of some believers’ interpretation of their god’s word.

Does that seem absurd? Does it seem absurd that, because some people interpret the Bible in a certain way, women will suffer and die? The vicious attacks on women’s health care will not merely deprive women of access to abortions. If we force health centers to close because they provide abortions, they’re also closed to folks needing medical attention for diabetes, infections, high blood pressure, and cancer screenings.

A recent Friday morning discussion over coffee touched on why folks seek some answer, often in religion, to questions about what life is all about, why we’re here, and how it all started; and why we human animals get so attached to our thinking on those important questions.

I invite someone (I won’t say “pro-life,” because I’m as pro-life as one can be, in the sense of wanting life, including human life, to develop freely to its best/happiest potential) to explain in objective terms why the Taliban is wrong to sacrifice Afghans’ health and risk lives for its interpretation of Islam, but we should risk citizens’ health and lives here because of someone’s interpretation of Christianity.

We are talking mere interpretations, human and fallible. Many sincere and pious Muslims see Islam differently. Sincere and pious Christians differ on how best to follow Jesus. Many largely Christian countries have legislated free choice. Our country has a fundamental principle that government shall not dictate its citizens’ activities based on anyone’s religious beliefs. (But if you put enough self-righteous clowns on a supreme court, you get clownish decisions too consequential to amuse anyone.)

A photo of an Afghan boy recovering in a hospital accompanied the Sun-News article. Two women attending him have their heads covered, and wear otherwise modest clothing; but we can see their faces. Maybe the women need to see the kid clearly.

Some in our Friday morning group despise religion, or used to despise it. I felt that way in youth, when all I could see was the hypocrisy of “pious” Christians who accepted (or advocated) discriminating against Blacks and killing Vietnamese.

But I’ve come to see that religions provide hope and support to many. Why should I deprive anyone of that support, or criticize faith? If your expression of your faith isn’t hurting someone else (an Afghan boy dying in hospital for your faith, a gay friend suffering because of your faith, a rural woman deprived of urgently-needed health care), have at it. God (She, He, or It ) Bless You!

Interestingly, that’s what our founders suggested. Each of us gets to decide his/her beliefs and how to handle body and conscience – within minimal limits necessary for the common good.

And I choose to wish you all “Happy New Year!”