Pakistan’s Moral Police Must Restrain Itself
In a country suffering from a severe case of a moral superiority complex, judgment stands as an unwelcome stranger at every corner in the glaring eyes of a self-styled saint. Here fatwas are doled out at the drop of a hat, and the word ‘kafir’ rests at the tip of every eager tongue like a trigger waiting for a target. For a country mired in corruption, domestic abuse, and mass lynchings, it is uncanny that Pakistan is full of such ethically astute saints who are adamant at purveying their particular morality as the absolute authority on ethics.
However, though most people believe in moral absolutes, they actually live with moral subjectivity, which is why no one truly has the exact same ethical views as another person even if they belong to the same faith, denomination, ethnicity, or even family. This is because despite a general uniformity in religious doctrine, humans tailor the nuances of their belief systems according to their circumstances, their gender, their prejudices, their desires, and so on. Cherry picking morals, choosing which principles to follow or ignore, is the rule not the exception, and it makes moral hypocrisy inevitable for religious absolutists.
Cherry picking allows believing men and women to indulge in their desires – which are obvious vices disallowed by their religion – while still adhering to other tenets of their belief system; some Muslims get tattoos, some denounce the allowance of four marriages to men, and some even go on pilgrimages funded by looted money. There are now feminist Muslims who want women to be Imams of mosques, and Muslim homosexuals who count themselves amongst the most ardent of the faithful. Priests, clerics, pundits are steadfast devotees despite their sexual and fiscal exploitations, and large religious mobs have lynched people before standing in ritual prayer, heads bowed in humility, in front of their maker.
In the 21st Century with the ever-increasing encroachment of technology and social media on our lives, cherry picking is becoming even more apparent as the faithful desperately try to reconcile their beliefs with their material desires which make for some strange pseudo-spiritual contradictions.
Actors, singers, and social media entertainers are seen walking the tight rope of modernity and doctrine – indulging in intimate and erotic insinuations in one video while waxing spirituality in religious garb in another. Similarly, every Ramzan, the holy month sees an orgy of greed as people degrade themselves in game shows for material gains.
All humans are slaves to their desires and when their beliefs get in the way of attaining them, they almost always find a way to circumvent them with convenient self-deception to satiate their guilt.
The fact is that morality is a human concept, it is not found in other animals that are simply bound by nature. Our superior cognitive capacity has given us the ability to question and manipulate the world around us, and cooperate with large groups of people to create some form of order and structure leading to the creation of social norms and values.
Ethics, therefore, are not only arbitrary, but also fragile as they are constantly being shaped by the vicissitudes of time and human evolution – both social and psychological. As our understanding of the world evolves, so does the moral compass of our societies and the laws that govern them. Sometimes the ethical paradigm shift is because of social undesirability such as the concept of slavery, other times it is out of necessity for instance an Islamic Republic’s dependence on interest-based banking, but mostly it’s because of modernity through scientific discoveries and innovations that challenge a religion’s moral order necessitating jurisprudence of religious scholars in order to evolve according to the zeitgeist.
Therefore, when one forces their individual morality on another, they are in essence claiming that their personal, idiosyncratic, cherry picked rules are decrees that everyone else should live and be judged by. A healthier stance instead would be to reflect inwards rather than outwards, be responsible for one’s own moral behavior, and try to live a life as an upright individual according to the virtues espoused by one’s faith or reason. It is through actions that we establish models for honorable conduct; moral policing is hypocritical as it enforces rules that even the enforcers fail to follow on a regular basis, as the old adage goes; those who live in glasses house should not throw stones.