Innocence Lost: The Path From Purity To Pragmatism genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Uncivil Unions


Many Americans like to look at Europe as an example of the moral decay we can expect if we continue to alter our values and ignore our long standing Christian principles. Implicit in this belief, amongst many on the religious right, is the presumption that one's morality is directly correlated with one's sexuality...and that goes beyond any consideration of one's orientation. It also includes a belief that sexual activity is only acceptable under the umbrella of a marriage. That means that sex before marriage is unacceptable and it also infers that both parties are expected to be virgins.

Along with these sexual mores and our disdain for Europe is a growing belief that Islam is an unacceptable religion...or at the very least a religion that will not lead to salvation and therefore it cannot lead to one's admittance into heaven. Fortunately, life often provides the contrasts and comparisons necessary to illuminate the absurdity and/or hypocrisy of our beliefs...and our predisposition to judge others while ignoring the need for self-examination.

An article in The New York Times provides the backdrop for some measure of reflection...and an illumination of the slippery slope that moral certainty often becomes. The prevalence of Islamic immigrants in Europe has served to pit a strict religious ideology against a far more secular society...and that has led to some rather convoluted interpretations of propriety.

It seems that a number of the Islamic women (note that we don't focus on the Islamic men) who have partaken in the sexual freedoms afforded by European culture now find themselves in the unenviable position of being unacceptable marriage partners. Islamic teaching require that a bride be a virgin, and should that not be the case, she can be rejected and the marriage can be nullified. In extreme cases, family members (on both sides) feel justified in committing an honor killing.

To combat the stigmatization that results from losing their virginity...and to restore their moral standing...a number of Islamic women are now seeking out the services of the medical profession to "reconstruct" their lost virginity and allow them to comply with the prescribed marital expectation.

From The New York Times:

Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.

"If you're a Muslim woman growing up in more open societies in Europe, you can easily end up having sex before marriage," said Dr. Hicham Mouallem, who is based in London and performs the operation. "So if you're looking to marry a Muslim and don't want to have problems, you'll try to recapture your virginity."

The issue has been particularly charged in France, where a renewed and fierce debate has occurred about a prejudice that was supposed to have been buried with the country's sexual revolution 40 years ago: the importance of a woman's virginity.

The furor followed the revelation two weeks ago that a court in Lille, in northern France, had annulled the 2006 marriage of two French Muslims because the groom found his bride was not the virgin she had claimed to be.

The domestic drama has gripped France. The groom, an unidentified engineer in his 30s, left the nuptial bed and announced to the still partying wedding guests that his bride had lied. She was delivered that night to her parents' doorstep.

The next day, he approached a lawyer about annulling the marriage. The bride, then a nursing student in her 20s, confessed and agreed to an annulment.

The court ruling did not mention religion. Rather, it cited breach of contract, concluding that the engineer had married her after "she was presented to him as single and chaste." In secular, republican France, the case touches on several delicate subjects: the intrusion of religion into daily life; the grounds for dissolution of a marriage; and the equality of the sexes.

Some feminists, lawyers and doctors warned that the court's acceptance of the centrality of virginity in marriage would encourage more Frenchwomen from Arab and African Muslim backgrounds to have their hymens restored. But there is much debate about whether the procedure is an act of liberation or repression.

Those who perform the procedure say they are empowering patients by giving them a viable future and preventing them from being abused -- or even killed -- by their fathers or brothers.

Now I realize that many on the religious right will simply condemn the loss of virginity as well as its restoration...and I believe I understand how they would come to that conclusion. Regardless, I don't believe any of us can ignore the lessons we can learn from looking at this clash of religious ideology with secular society.

The willingness to characterize Islam as an extremist belief system seems to disregard the many similarities it shares with evangelical Christianity. If one were to strip away the arguments over the source of each groups beliefs (Jesus v. Muhammad; the Bible v. the Koran) and looked exclusively at the values both groups espouse as well as their desires to impose them upon their fellow citizens, one begins to see that evangelical Christianity and Islamism aren't all that different.

The irony is revealed in the animosities that exist. Evangelicals view secularism and Islam as a threat to their beliefs...while Islamists view secularism and the tenets of Judeo-Christianity as the enemy. On the other hand, the secularists look at Islam and Christianity and struggle to ascertain the relevant distinctions while hoping that all can exist under the umbrella of a governance that remains separate from religion and religious beliefs.

Reason and rationality tell us that secularism is relatively accommodating...happy to allow citizens to embrace the belief systems they choose while insisting that they refrain from imploring the government to impose one belief at the detriment of another. Hence secularism embraces freedom while allowing those who are religiously inclined to live the ideological inclinations they elect.

Unfortunately, with the growing influx of immigrants, secular societies are constantly barraged by the demands of the ideologues who now reside within them...couched in the certainty of their faith absent any real respect for the faith of others or those who have no faith at all...all premised upon the writings of mortals who allegedly intuited the one true deity's directives.

That brings us back to an understanding of morality. Yes, evangelicals like to assail the French and the Islamists like to attack the infidels...but aside from dogma...just what is the basis of their morality? Can it be reduced to the existence of a woman's hymen? Can it be surgically restored? And where's the imperative to know about the places a man's penis may have traveled prior to marriage? Is morality nothing more than a misogynistic construct such that the purity of a woman is the only relevant consideration? We know that numerous women die in the interest of morality, but I want to know how many men are put to death for disregarding the same moral imperatives?

In many ways, hasn't morality become a contrivance or a club used to make that serves to elevate the standing of some members of society and denigrating that of others (gender and other considerations)...all the while endeavoring to impose the beliefs of one group upon all others? How is it that religiously derived morality is the least accepting of other iterations of morality despite its inability to rationally justify its assumed superiority?

In the larger picture, why is it that the one group that affords tolerance...the secularists...are the object of scorn and ridicule from people of all faiths? In truth, it is the secularists who are willing to admit the reality of this existence...that people will always adopt conflicting beliefs...and government's role should be accommodating. In the end, the secularist assumes that the only achievable role government can play is to allow for difference while rejecting and preventing the imposition of any singular or narrow belief system.

We Americans have a tendency to forget that our history is in its infancy when juxtaposed with that of Europe. No doubt the secular forms of governance that exist in Europe result from a recognition that the ideological differences (especially those derived from absolute religious doctrine) will never be resolved to the satisfaction of the purists. The evidence supporting this is found in the centuries of conflict, crusades, and death in the name of a deity that dominated the history of Europe.

Rather than ridicule Europe for achieving some measure of peaceful and cohesive stasis, perhaps evangelicals and Islamists could find the wherewithal to realize that the best they can hope for is the right to believe as they choose absent the constant fear that those very beliefs may facilitate their extermination. It has the added benefit of recognizing the inherent flaws of the human condition. That seems like a rather evolved morality to me. If the cost is nothing more than the loss of purity, sign me up.

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The attainment of morality is an elusive construct. Attempting to define the morality of a society is even more complex. Often, the combatants seeking to instill morality believe, with certainty, that the end justifies the means. In truth, cohesion oft... [Read More]

Tracked on June 11, 2008 3:19 PM

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