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Thursday, April 08, 2010

THE MORAL CENSUS

If you’re an American and don’t live in cave, you have recently received a census form that asks you to categorize yourself according to race and ethnicity. Once this information is tallied by the federal government, funds will be allocated for various projects that need the population information from the census. Thus those who have filled out their forms accurately and sent them in by the April 1st deadline have contributed to the public good, albeit in a passive manner. For a very small percentage of the population, however, letting somebody else decide what to do with your tax dollars based on what color your skin is or where your parents came from disregards the shared humanity of all taxpayers and that brings me to the subject of this posting.

Today the Associated Press reported that a 13-year old Yemeni girl has died of injuries to her genitals resulting from her arranged marriage to a man almost twice her age. The “husband” was detained by the authorities, but what difference will that make? Another victim of pederasty has been horribly killed and the outrage in the West over these innocents doesn’t change the fate of these girls in the Middle East.

A few years ago I read an article in The New York Times about child abuse in an Irish orphanage run by the Catholic Church, which included an unforgettable description of children so starved that they could be seen on the side of the road, their mouths dripping green from the grass they had been eating to quell their hunger pangs. Accounts of the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-nineteenth century are full of these descriptions, but how could they happen 100 years later?

When I spent a few months at the Dallas ISKCON temple in the mid-seventies, I remember a visit by our guru, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. The gurukula of that era is infamous for the sheer brutality of its child abuse, but what I saw that day was proof that the inhumanity organized religions practice with the excuse that they value the soul over the body is nothing more than a cover for criminal abuse of the powerless. In this case, I vividly remember seeing rows of poorly clothed young children sitting cross-legged on the floor, getting their breakfast porridge served to them on a continuous sheet of waxed paper on the floor, which they proceeded to hungrily eat with their fingers. That this practice was unhygienic in the extreme is obvious, but the worst of it was that our guru walked past this scene and smiled approvingly. These children should have been eating at a table sitting in chairs and served with proper plates and utensils like civilized human beings. My heart breaks at the memory, but I also feel shame at not intervening then and there. Adults who stand by and look with indifference at such abuses to common decency have as much claim to spiritual advancement as a bunch of staring robots.

Not too long afterwards I visited India and spent a few minutes with my guru, after which I noticed that his cook was bringing him a small bowl with what appeared to be frosting. I asked her what it was and she told me that it was a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and butter, in other words, cake frosting. Seeing the astonishment written all over my face, she said that Srila Prabhupada liked it. Problem is, feeding this stuff to an elderly man with diabetes is tantamount to feeding him poison. So what if he liked it? Telling him that it was bad for his health and refusing to give it to him would have been the right thing to do.

Rational people don’t offer harm to others for any reason except self-defense. Today I wonder at the sheer stupidity of religious fanatics who disregard the factor that distinguishes people from the lower animals, namely, our capacity for rational thought. Instead, you hear so much about “surrender,” which is nothing more than erotic terminology applied to a so-called “transcendental” relationship that in reality operates as if the parties are master and slave. Our moral faculties are nothing if they don’t move us to actively pursue virtuous activities and use our best reasoning capabilities to persuade others to respect the dignity of their fellow human beings. If that fails, force is almost always necessary. The man who brutally raped and killed his “wife”—in reality a girl that should have been home playing with her siblings and her little friends—should be executed for his crimes; similarly, the Catholic order that deprived those poor orphans of the barest human necessities should have to pay damages in the millions of dollars to their victim and their families. As for the gurukula abuse, instead of the paltry amounts doled to these victims in the Chapter 11 settlement of a few years ago, the value of the world-wide temples should be included in a recalculation of the award amounts, which should be enough for each victim to buy a house at the very least. Tolerating the continued existence of these miserable cowards is a continuing punishment for all of us.

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