Lately, I’ve been wondering whether some religions — some forms of Christianity in particular — retard people’s moral growth.
Of course, it would be ironic if it turned out Christianity retarded people’s moral growth since many Christians seem to believe they have a monopoly on morals. But nonsense like that aside, I’ve been wondering if some religions don’t for the most part do exactly the opposite of what they boast of doing. That is, instead of promoting our moral growth, they actually discourage it.
I have a little story that might illustrate the point. Some long time ago when I was attending university, I had a three or four male friends from the Middle East. Nothing in their own countries had prepared them for the sight of “half-naked” American women. My friends would ask me how I and other American males managed to contain ourselves with so many of our American women walking around “half-naked”.
I was sympathetic to their problem. It seemed to me the ordeal they were describing was something I myself had gone through. But not, like them, at 19 and 20. Instead, I had gone through much the same thing at puberty — that time in the life of males when everything female turns electric.
Yet, there was a difference between myself and my friends. I had gone through puberty in a culture that told me girls have a right to go around “half-naked”, and that, if there was a problem with it, it was my problem. My culture forced me to psychologically adapt to the sight of female thighs and cleavage. And, before I was 19, I was reasonably well adapted.
My friends, though, had lived until the ripe old ages of 19 and 20 in a culture that said the female was to fault for the male’s arousal. They “knew” they felt flustered because a beautiful girl was showing her legs — not because they couldn’t psychologically handle seeing a beautiful girl’s legs. As a consequence, my friends tended to think American women were callous and uncaring, even heartless, towards American men.
It seemed to me back then the Middle Eastern culture of my friends was less demanding than my own American culture. While I had to learn to deal with the sight of female thighs and cleavage at puberty, they were never required to deal with the sight. They could — at least in theory — go their entire lives dumping the burden of their feelings on their womenfolk, rather than handling their feelings themselves. I thought their culture gave them an out, an escape from personal responsibility and moral growth.
Today, I wonder whether some religions — especially some forms of Christianity — don’t do much the same thing. Aren’t there ways in which Evangelical Christianity in particular gives its adherents an out, an escape from personal responsibility and moral growth?
For one thing, it seems Evangelical Christianity has a tendency to dump the responsibility for male sexual feelings on females in much the same manner my Middle Eastern friends had been taught to dump the responsibility for their sexual feelings on females.
A couple years ago, I wrote about a Christian youth site that conducted an informal survey, the premise of which was, “Should women and girls dress modestly to help their brothers in Christ avoid lusting for them?” So far as I can see, the very notion that women and girls should dress modestly to help men and boys avoid lusting for them is a recipe for retarding the moral growth of men and boys.
Not all religions, however, pander to the lusts of men and boys as sometimes does the Evangelical religion:
This recalls to me the story of two Zen monks who were travelling when they came to a swollen stream. Standing in the road beside the stream, wondering how she might cross, was a beautiful young woman. Without hesitation, the older monk picked up the woman and carried her across the stream. She thanked him and went on her separate way. The two monks then travelled on together for several hours, until the younger monk, deeply troubled, could no longer remain silent. “Brother, aren’t we forbidden to have any physical contact with women?”, he asked. Replied the older monk, “I put her down several hours ago, but you are still carrying her.”
Learning to deal with your sexual feelings so they neither burden you nor those around you is one of the most moral things you can do. Surely any religion that makes a claim to lead in moral issues must do more than assign the burden of your sexual feelings to someone else.
There seem to be other ways in which some religions might retard the moral growth of their adherents. But at this point, I’ve written nearly a thousand words on the subject and most of you are probably asleep. So, I will save a few ideas for a later post.