The Tweet illustrated demonstrates this quite nicely. It really got on my wick.
Firstly, there is the idea of voluntarily segregated buses. Now, in the interests of fairness I shall point out that I’ve no experience of any “communities of ultra-Orthodox Jews”. If it is indeed the case that these communities are entirely comprised of people who actually quite like separate buses then I should be fascinated to hear more. I suspect that’s not quite the case though. Peer pressure is quite a strong coercive force in society.
The article claims that the Israeli ruling “permits buses servicing communities of ultra-Orthodox Jews to separate men from women, though only if all the passengers agree [because] in ultra-Orthodox practice men are not allowed to touch any women except their own wives.” It also reports that “In the same ultra-Orthodox area two bus routes recently requested that women sit at the back. Women report being verbally abused or assaulted if they refused to move.” I suspect that “ultra-Orthodox” Judaism does not actually approve of touching women (which I would guess would be necessary in order to assault them) who refuse to move seats. As I understand it, the Torah says very little about mass transportation.
The use of violence makes it plain to me that this is another sad example of people abusing their professed religion simply to get their way. Maybe, if men find it so extremely hard to use a bus without touching a woman they could get off and walk. Here in Preston I never seem to be forced to touch women on buses.
Secondly, there is this idea of ‘proof’. “Proof that religion has no room for equality.” Proof is a powerful word. It trumps all other evidence. The (to put it mildly) quirky act of some “ultra-Orthodox” Jews (and, as far as I can tell, 90% of Jews are not ultra-Orthodox) proves no more about religion than the indivisibility of the number two proves that all even numbers are prime.
I suppose it would be easy here to quote Galatians 3:28 (so why not?)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And I could argue here that I’ve found some room for equality in religion. Yet one sentence from the Bible doesn’t prove that religions are strongholds of egalitarianism. It is easy to cite examples of how human beings take the names of their religions and of their God(s) in vain. It is easy to cite examples of conflicts “caused by religion”. In all cases I would probably disagree. The troubles in Northern Ireland, for example, were not caused by religion but by years of injustice perpetrated by people whose professed religion specifically condemns such injustice.
Religious organisations have allowed some dreadful things to happen. I suspect they will continue to. They are fallible. They are gatherings of people. And people fail. A lot. (Although, strangely, the sort of atheist who likes to condemn all religion never gets angry.)
I can see no way that anyone can square any form of persecution or subjugation with these words of Jesus:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
It may sound illiberal. It may sound intolerant. But I heartily believe that every act that fails these two tests (from Luke 10:27) is unchristian:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’