"Trust me," she said, "there's a story that will make you really upset. You'll wish you never knew about it."
I told my daughter that I'd be sure not to read Friday's New York Times, but later in the day, probably because the paper was sitting in the same spot on the kitchen table where we toss it every morning when it arrives, I forgot and proceeded, by habit, to peruse the headlines.
And I immediately knew exactly which story, there on the front page, my daughter was warning me not to read:
"Enslaving Young Girls, The Islamic State Builds A Vast System Of Rape;
Militants Use Practices as Recruiting Tool While Claiming Quran's Support"
The article tells of how the Islamic State In Iraq and Syria has proclaimed the enslavement and rape of girls of as young as 11 from the Yazidi minority in Iraq to be a religious practice, a tenet of their theology and pleasing to God. Because the Yazidis are considered unbelievers by ISIS, each sexual assault against one of their girls is considered not only justified but an act of worship, "spiritually beneficial, even virtuous." This is what Islamic fighters, convinced of their own goodness as they prostate themselves in prayer before the act, have told their victims before assaulting them.
My daughter was right. That's a horrific story. And it provokes all the more outrage because this terrible crime against these girls and women is being done in God's name.
Which is also what makes the situation so hopeless. Because no matter how abhorrent and contrary to human decency - not to mention how illogical - a behavior or mindset might be, people will cling to almost anything that they believe fulfills the will of God.
Thus people will stand up for, fight for, have been known to martyr themselves for their religion, even when the rules of their religion run contrary to their own well-being or the well-being of their children, not to mention the well-being of others. So there's no talking, arguing, fighting, negotiating, or persecuting someone out of their deeply-held religious beliefs. And yet sometimes people's minds and hearts do change on their own.
Aside from the personal sustenance - and sometimes, sadly, personal profit - people draw from their relationship with God, religion has given people the strength, courage, and conviction to do much good in the world. But it has also given people what author Oliver Sacks has called a harsh "capacity for bigotry and cruelty".
I believe that everyone, no matter how devout and no matter deeply-held their life-long convictions, needs to question their religion from time to time, even, especially if one's religion discourages questioning its rules and dogma.
Does your religion teach that your religion is the only way to know God? Question it.
Does your religion teach that all beliefs outside your religion are wrong or false? Question it.
Does your religion teach that God prefers your religion over every other religion? Question it.
Does your religion discriminate against particular groups of people based on their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation? Question it.
Does your religion teach that some people are less deserving of human rights than you? Question it.
Does your religion teach that you are better than those outside your religion? Question it.
Does your religion have rules so hard and inhumane and unreasonable that nobody could possibly keep them? Question it.
Does your religion have strict rules about things that God couldn't possibly care about? Question it.
Does your religion teach that some people are above the laws of human decency because of their religion or their status within their religion? Question it.
Does your religion teach that God places ritual above behavior? Question it.
Does your religion teach dogma that you yourself find mean, unjust, unkind or just plain senseless? Question it.
Does your religion paint God as harsher on, more demanding of, and more judgemental of others than you yourself are? Question it.
Does your religion teach beliefs that go against your own mind and heart? Question it.
As for me, I come from a deeply religious background and I've had 18 years of religious education, from elementary school through college. I've read the Bible almost from cover to cover. I attend religious services weekly and have listened to and taken notes on years' worth of scriptural exegeses on God's relationship with us. I've questioned and questioned and questioned my religion until I've distilled my beliefs into my own religion, for all I know shared by no one else but me, that has only two rules of dogma, and even these Two Commandments I have a hard enough time keeping:
1. Be kind to everyone.
2. Be the best person you can be.
That's my religion and, I believe, God's will. Though I question still.
1. "Enslaving Young Girls, The Islamic State Builds A Vast System Of Rape," Rukmini Callimachi, The New York Times, August 14, 2015.
2. "The Sabbath", Oliver Sacks, The New York Times, August 16, 2015.