Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ignorance is not a Virtue

A couple days ago, The Independent reported that an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect based in New York has banned women from attending universities. The justification for the ban is that university education is somehow dangerous for women, which really appears to be just as dumb as it sounds.

The strict Satmar sect issued the decree, seen by The Independent, warning that university education for women is “dangerous”. Written in Yiddish, the decree warns: “It has lately become the new trend that girls and married women are pursuing degrees in special education. Some attend classes and others online. And so we’d like to let their parents know that it is against the Torah.

“We will be very strict about this. No girls attending our school are allowed to study and get a degree. It is dangerous. Girls who will not abide will be forced to leave our school. Also, we will not give any jobs or teaching position in the school to girls who’ve been to college or have a degree.

"We have to keep our school safe and we can’t allow any secular influences in our holy environment. It is against the base upon which our Mosed was built.” The decree was issued from the sect’s base in New York and will apply to followers of the faith group around the world.

There's a line in Liber Librae, a text that first showed up in the original Golden Dawn order and was later adapted by Aleister Crowley and published in The Equinox. It goes like this:

The sin which is unpardonable is knowingly and willfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices.

Or, to put it another way, if ignorance is good for your community, there's something very, very wrong with your community. I understand that some religious communities have strict practices, but how good can those practices possibly be if they can't withstand strict scrutiny or critical thinking? A religious system that falls apart the moment you start to question it is a pretty sad religious system.

For example, as a magical practitioner I have quite a few secular friends who don't even believe in the paranormal. But it doesn't bother me one bit that they disagree with me on things like the existence of spirits or the effectiveness of ritual work. I've tested those out for myself, and remain convinced that my point of view is right. And anyway, how boring would the world be if we all agreed on everything?

I imagine that the "danger" posed by educating women is that said women might tire of being treated as second-class citizens within their religious community, and get this idea into their heads that they deserve equal rights. I suppose that could be considered a threat, but only to a bunch of conservative men trying to hang on to their status. For the women, it sounds like a pretty good deal.

The idea that a religious group would deny anyone, man or woman, the ability to pursue an education is pretty ridiculous. It seems to me that the right to learn comes pretty close to being a universal human right that fundamentalists of all stripes need to accept.

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