Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Religion is Personal…No, REALLY.

An addendum to my last post, in case I wasn’t clear:

This issue, for me, is not about Morocco or Muslim countries, as some of my readers apparently seem to think.  When I say religion is personal, I mean religion is personal, and if your beliefs don’t affect me, then you can do whatever you like.  If that means Mormon polygamy or Christian wearing of a cilice, fine.  I don’t take issue with the personal, consenting decisions of grown adults who choose to participate in religious practice.  It’s when such practices – be they polygamy, hijab, churchgoing, Bible-reading, fasting, or what have you – are forced upon an adult, rather than consented to that I draw the line.  My belief extends to when secularism is forced upon people as well, of course – a consenting person should be able to wear hijab if she likes, to school, or a “burqini” in the public pool.  She should, of course, also be allowed to wear a bikini if she so likes.

So to those who’ve been calling me a hypocrite, do you get it now?

12 Comments

  1. How do you determine what is consent, what is consensual, and what is “forced” when ideology (secular, liberal, religious) is what defines agency and subjectivity?

    • Actually I don’t mean to say that ideology defines agency and subjectivity. Rather ideology produces agency and subjectivity. The adult I who can refuse a religious practice is the one that came out of a liberal tradition of respect for individual choices.

    • Man, my threaded comments need fixin’.

      So, you’re right in saying that the adult who can refuse a religious practice is one that came out of a liberal tradition, sort of. I would extend that to be “has been exposed to liberal traditions at some point,” even. And yet, there are exceptions too – Every culture has its refuseniks.

      This was, originally, a comment on Morocco and its non-fasting protesters who are facing legal repercussions. But, with your thoughts in mind, Morocco would count as a fairly liberal society with a conservative majority, I guess (feel free to dissent on that one, it’s a pretty simplistic view). That said, we have people who are not consenting to forced fasting, and yet, are being prosecuted. That is wrong.

      Your question requires deeper thought.

  2. Well said. While I was not privy to whatever backlash this is in response too – it is a very clear statement on it’s own. I only wish that more folks felt the same way – this would be a much more peaceful planet.

  3. @Benjamin – Very good point, it is a fine line – raising children in your tradition and teaching them your own beliefs can often be seen as (and can truly be) indoctrination. Many people live in fear of their god to the point at which choice is lost to them. I read Jillian’s emphasis on adults as a way to focus on the adult’s state of mind and state (or other) coercion; somewhat avoiding the much trickier area of how that state of mind came to be and whether it allows true freedom. The question raised here is not how a family rears it’s young but how a society treats it’s members.

  4. I got it a long time ago:-)

  5. Jillian,
    I wouldn’t have thought you were a hypocrite from reading your earlier post and it is surprising that some might accuse you of that. In truth I would go as far as saying I would normally have agreed with you in the pushing for personal freedoms as you describe them, but there is in fact a reason for this curious situation that you describe people who are nominally Muslim as being in. It is a remnant of their Islamic background and this background has a particular stance on the public/private spheres of human conduct. I am happy to talk with you further and give you examples and explanations if you want, rather than clutter your comments section. What they have are inherited hiccups and a remnant of their grandparents Islamic background and these still manifest themselves, albeit in a strange way.

    In short, your “sins” are between you and Allah and it is nobody’s business to interfere. When you promote what is considered a sin by Muslims openly in a community that is predominantly composed of Muslim individuals, then you risk punishment for promoting it. To eat openly in a society which is predominantly Muslim, and as a Muslim, is to openly defy what is a fundamental obligation on every able bodied Muslim. To walk around in a bikini is a similar offence, yet if you do this in your own garden then it is nobody’s business. You are free in this scenario to do what you wish, as long as you do not promote immorality as Allah has dictated, and try to normalise it. If you do, it is not a state which directs this, but an individual duty on each Muslim who witnesses you to warn, chastise and if necessary punish you.

    You are annoyed because you see the hypocrisy, and I agree it can be frustrating, but we should not chastise people, Muslims or otherwise, on their moral shortcomings, what we do have is an obligation to commend the good and forbid what is bad, even if we ourselves are weak in the face of our own battles with the nafs. So you see it is not a battle against freedom of expression, but a battle to maintain a distinction between the public and the private in a predominantly Muslim society, albeit done clumsily by a long colonised country and by young people who have not had the chance to learn about their religion or to live with it comfortably in the post-colonial and now post-modern world created in the West’s image.

    • I see – and I certainly understand your points, but that doesn’t change the fact that the law itself is hypocritical.

      Regardless, the folks who called me a hypocrite did so because they assumed, wrongly, that I advocate only for such ideas in Muslim countries, and not across the board.

  6. Hi Jillian,

    I agree with your statement and could even go further to say that religion SHOULD be personal (to stave off these cases where faith invokes heavy proselytizing or religious policing). And while I also do not agree that secularism be forced upon an individual, I believe that secularism is more collective and comprehensive than religion.

    I also find it curious that religious freedom, as in the freedom to probe and inquire about religion freely in public, is much more easier to pursue in a secular society.

    • I agree with you – and I support secularism, except in the example of say, France, where secularism begins to impinge on personal freedoms (e.g. freedom to wear hijab or kippeh in school).

  7. As a European living in Morocco, well, I couldn’t have put it better myself. This is the land of hypocrisy and contradiction. I love living here in Morocco but at the same time I strongly dislike some of the ways. No matter my opinion, I am living here in someone else’s country, a country with some very different ways, including the application of law regarding religion. The truth is that even in the few years I know the country, very noticeably more and more people discreetly avoid Ramadan. There are also some public but semi-hidden spots too here I see for myself Moroccans eating, drinking and/or smoking. This year I noticed the celebrations at the end of Ramadan were far more muted than last year – my cynical view is that if people are not fasting behind closed doors, they’re probably less enthusiastic to publicly celebrate something they haven’t achieved, although of course many do celebrate – that is the super-hypocritical clan. Although not representative of the population, over the last year or two the number of drunks celebrating with bottles has visibly increased too, or maybe it’s more of them drinking so much sooner. Insofar as I can I remain respectful, but it is often mind-numbing. Above all, I just wanted to say I agree – religion is personal – one’s beliefs are between oneself and one’s god. Do and believe as you wish but don’t force it onto me or others – and that goes for the state too.

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