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Khaya Sibeko

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What Informs Our Moral Fibre II Religion vs Securalism

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In the previous article I looked what informs our moral fibre and how we could possibly arrive at such a point. The answer to such a monumental question is not easily arrived at. Because as societies continue to develop and change it therefore means that there has to be a certain amount of change that has to occur whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but some change will have to happen. And our norms and values are not spared in realm of change and development of societies.

Most countries around the world are not as culturally diverse as South Africa is, and that means that when laws are made they usually resonate and are parallel with the religious morals of the population of that particular society. Countries such as Sudan, Iran, Morocco, Somalia, Mali and the likes were the main religion is Islam, their moral stances are largely influenced by the Islamic faith. Such norms may have the intention of doing ‘good’ for the citizens of the said societies but at times the manner in which they are carried it out becomes to inconsiderate at times. For instance, the stoning of women for bearing children of wedlock. You might find that such a practice is enriched in the Koran but when you compare the times in which the text was written and the times we live in, then one sees that the world has changed somewhat and such practices have fallen out of favour with a lot of people. At the same time the advocates of such practices might say that the world has degenerated to such new lows because we have become too preoccupied with keeping up with the ‘times’ that we even lose that which seeks to preserve moral ‘wellness’ in our societies. Another incident that recently captured my attention was the story of a Sudanese journalist was jailed and was due to received given 40 lashes for wearing pants in public, and such an act is apparently contrary to Sudanese law. She was defiant throughout case to such an extent that she said that if found guilty she would request that she be given forty thousand lashes instead of the forty lashes which was said to be meted against her. In Afghanistan only last week was a law passed that gives women the right to travel anywhere without the consent of their husbands. Even in South Africa there have been incidents where women are harassed and sometime killed all because they chose to wear trousers and such incidents have been reported in the majority in the Kwa Zulu Natal province.

The aforementioned examples obviously do not resonate and indeed do not sit well with people of a secularist persuasion. The advocates of secularism believe that each person should be given avenues to fully explore the means that make it possible for them to achieve happiness that is defined by the individual and. In an ideal world that would be attainable with any worrying. But we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world that is largely conservative and is majorly hostile to anything that does not accept as the gospel truth anything and everything that contained in the various religious and spiritual texts. Another point that is usually raised by secularists is that in a secular society everyone is afforded the opportunity to realize whatever it is that they think is meaningful to them as long as it does not contravene the set laws of the country.

In a country with the kind of historical baggage like the one South Africa has, it is understandable why people would view as ‘immoral’ the manner in which the government legislates unpopular issues such as the right to termination of pregnancy and same sex marriages. During the years of Aparthied rule, the government of the day took it upon itself to impose its religious stances on the greater public without extensively given cognisance to other people’s religious persuasion. So in 1994, when a democracy centric government assumed office it had a task of balancing the scales. One of the first things that were done was the stoppage of religious studies being taught at schools. There had been complaints from the Indian and some black parents that their children were ‘forced’ to study and observe laws of religions that they didn’t identify with at home. The better thing that was done was that the religious teachings will be left to the family and in that way no person’s views will take precedence of another’s. Section 15 of the Bill of Rights of our Constitution states that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.” That means the exploration and practice of any religion is left at the individual’s disposal.

Religious morality has set norms which do not bend to accommodate ‘modernity’ and perhaps that is what has kept them going for all these centuries, depending on how old your religion is, of course. And the views of people who believe in such religions should not be disregarded when laws are formulated and legislated this is because the said people, like everyone, also contribute to the development of the country. But that does not mean that structured and popular beliefs must override the individuals’ rights of determination of the kind of lives they would like to lead. Secularism isn’t a synonym for immorality and degeneration. Secularism looks at, or at least ought to look at whether the introduction of certain norms to society will necessarily harm others and if it finds that none will be harmed then it proceeds in the introduction of the said norm.  Another thing that secularism does not advocate for is the acceptance of everything that may be demanded by popular inclinations. For instance, the issue of whether prostitution should be legalized in South Africa has been asked for a long time and it is only now that thorough debates will be given attention to such a contentious issue. Another one is the legalization of dagga. Although the many have called for the legalization of both dagga and prostitution, it has not happened. It will not happen more so for prostitution even as calls to do so for the forth coming world cup next year. What will happen after the world cup, will the laws be repealed in the event that it they legalized?

The replenishing of our moral fibre is a task that requires more than just state intervention. In fact, the greater initiative must emanate from the immediate family structure before the ‘outside’ community might be required to intervene. The parents should explain to their children that with every right there is a limitation and a responsibility. Children do not become these social degenerates that they are said to be in isolation of the surroundings they find themselves in. They are part of a greater whole and if there is a ‘contaminated’ part of that whole it should not be surprising when the younger people refuse to act according to the dictates of morals whose upholders aren’t doing. A balance between the religious and secular sides has to be continuously be improved because a societies consist of both religious and secular people and the tolerance towards one another is more of an imperative than the supremacy of one over the other.

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