One thing that has a big tendency to both annoy and to actually damage the World is the “It’s their culture” proclamation. There are real problems with it. Basically, this proclamation is often heard when trying to defend bigoted, racist, sexist or misogynist behaviour. Effectively we’re saying that people are entitled to their own culture, and the often horrific behaviour is simply the part of the culture, so we should all simply live with it.
By Nitin Madhav (USAID), exact source, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Most often it is used when somebody tries to criticise actions of Islam extremists and/or treatment of women in Islam, but it’s not limited to this use. It’s also used to justify circumcision, or teaching that God created the Earth is six days in schools. However, it’s lately mostly used about Islam, so this post will continue in this tone.
First of all, when you use this argument, you’re applying the different standard to the people you’re saying this about. A standard which is less strict about women’s rights, for example, than we in the West are accustomed to. This in of itself is bad, as basically people who say things like “this is normal in their culture” are guilty of racism of low expectations. It comes down to “these brown people, we just expect this from them, we cannot hold them to the same standard as us”. Well, isn’t this a repulsive thing to think and say?
Too often I have heard that without religion there can be no morality, that you cannot be a good person without being religious. So, let me address that point briefly.
Yes, religion does provide a set of moral values. But what is this “absolute morality”, you say? Well, as I understand it, absolute morality means that there are rules which are always in effect regardless of the circumstances. For example, killing a human being is always wrong, no matter the circumstances. Stealing is always wrong, no matter the circumstances. etc. You might say, something like “society needs rules”. Of course, society needs rules, and indeed, society does have rules, but any attempt to have absolute morality, valid for all situations ever, is inevitably an attempt to dictate rules onto others while claiming that your values are absolute, perfect and above all others.
When you add the doctrine that those that you value and other similar rules have been written in a Holy Book, as a Word of God Himself and as such they are perfect and cannot be changed ever, into the mix, I’m sure that you can see how such combination can be very, very dangerous for humanity.
While we might all potentially agree that killing a human being is always wrong, such is not the case with stealing, as many of us might consider stealing acceptable to feed a child who’s about to die of starvation, for example. And if you go even further into the things that some Holy Book has said, then you come to the highly controversial parts about how homosexual people should be put to death. Of course, this is where modern day priests come in and say that this is meant to be interpreted this way, or that way and not directly, etc., etc..
So, the absolute rules which may never be changed are interpreted to you. But when something needs “interpretation” it couldn’t have been too perfect, to begin with, could it?