Saturday, 18 August 2012

emotional blackmail of a religious kind

it's officially the end of ramadan, and tomorrow is our celebration of eid-ul fitr.  i'd like to wish everyone eid mubarak, and hope those of you celebrating will have a wonderful time celebrating in your community.

but this is not actually a post about eid.  it's a post i've been thinking about for some time, but finding a little difficult to write.  i'm definitely a person of faith, so don't come to the issue from the same perspective as, say, maia.  but it is still a thing that bothers me.

it's about emotional blackmail.  there are plenty of ways to emotionally blackmail another person into doing what you want.  one of the most common ways i've encountered is the "if you really loved me, you would do [this particular thing i want you to do for me]". it's a pretty nasty one, as it generally relies on a particularly strong emotional bond between the parties to work successfully.

emotional blackmail in a religious context is more tied to "if you really want to go to heaven /achieve divine status/ get religious cookie points, you would do [this particular thing i want you to do for me]".  or it's flipside, which is "if you don't do [this particular thing i want you to do for me], you're a bad person and you know you will be divinely punished for it".  sometimes it's done much more subtly, with hints of "don't you want to be a good person?"

it's so particularly awful because it relies on a person's own definition of what is exemplary and worthy behaviour, and exploits it for personal benefit.  it relies on playing on people's fears, which are tied to deeply held beliefs and concerns about being a good person and doing what's right.  and it's particularly used by those who are already in a position of power - whose pronouncements of what is good or bad, wrong or right, punishable or rewardable carry some authority in their community.  these pronouncements are picked by others who tend to wield more power within their families or other sub-groups, and used to control the behaviour of the less powerful. funnily enough, the people who are destined for reward, at least according to those who are already in a position of power, are those who uphold the systems that keep them in power.

the thing is that there isn't any faith or belief system i know about (and i admit i'm hardly a fount of knowledge on the subject) which says that humans get to say who is rewarded or punished - whether via an afterlife, a rebirth, karma or whatever.  that decision is either made by a divine power or powers, or by fate - in other words something beyond human capability.

to put it simply, in my own mind i think "God is the judge, not me".  i can explain what i think is right or wrong and my reasons for such a view, but i will never be the one who makes the decision about any particular person being punished or rewarded.  and i know that someone who might be doing things i don't approve of, well, that person could very well be better than me in ways i don't know about.  because i can never see the totality of another person's life, nor their thought processes nor the various pressures they face.  so it isn't for me to point fingers and say "you will surely be punished if you don't do [this particular thing i want]".

the thing that bothers me most about this is that this kind of religious type of emotional blackmail is particularly and especially used against women, to keep them in their place and to reinforce patriarchal structures.  but it's also used against children, and the vulnerable in ways that can be particularly exploitative.  it's used to quash dreams, to restrict behaviour, to control another person's actions.  and it is so completely wrong and damaging - damaging both to the person who dishes out and the person who is the target of this kind of behaviour.

and it's particularly bad, because the person who does this is often being put in the position of virtually having to give up their whole belief system in order to avoid the blackmail.  a belief system that in all other contexts provides them comfort and support, and underpins the very structure of their lives.  and very often the vulnerable person doesn't have the words, the arguments, the knowledge and reasoning powers to counter the blackmail.  which is why education is a public good, and so incredibly important for emancipation and empowerment, but that is a side issue to the main point.

the main point is this: don't do it.  don't try to force people into serving you or doing things for you or giving up their dreams by using emotional blackmail with a religious twist.  just don't.

commenting note:  please don't take this post as an opportunity for atheists to attack all people of faith or faith itself.  this is a post about particular ways that certain people choose to use beliefs & related emotions to achieve their own ends.  please also don't use it to attack particular faith groups - i think the issues i've described are reasonably universal so don't pertain to any particular community.  i'm sorry to be so restrictive but i will be away from the blog most of the day tomorrow so would appreciate your co-operation


suze2000 said...

Is it wrong for me (an atheist) to wish you well in your eid celebrations? Regardless, I do. Eid sounds to me like a wonderful time of getting together with your community.

stargazer said...

no it's not wrong, it's lovely. thank you so much.

Julie said...

Thank you, this is a very thoughtful post, I am thinking ;-)

stargazer said...

thanx julie, glad to know i made you think :)