Are moral police actually sanctioned in Holy Books?
July 24, 2008 7:27 PM   Subscribe

Religious filter: There's a sex scandal in Malayasia regarding an ex-politician climbing his way from the allegations that put him in jail in 1998, which is him having sexual relations with his aide. With all the hoo-ha over what people did in the bedroom, I have to ask for clarification.

Is there ANY PART of the Holy Books (Quran, Bible, Torah) that encourages people to actually set up a police/body to actually police people’s sexual behaviour?

I do know in the Old Testament people actually stoned adulterers and the like, but does actual phrase/verse in the Holy Books (not all these Letters and Hadith books) exist to deal with an official body as opposed to promoting nosy neighbours. But is there anything that says, "Go and create a body/something similar" and spy on your neighbours?
posted by Naoko Kensaku to Religion & Philosophy (14 answers total)
I get the sense that when religious books speak generally about a specific situation ("thou shalt not"), these generalities are converted into laws of observant societies under the practical premise that God doesn't actually (AFAIK) go around vaporizing people who have buttsex. This may be a weird concept, but given that scripture is written by men I wouldn't consider it a misreading.

It should also be pointed out that the charges against Anwar Ibrahim are probably just an excuse to lock him up.
posted by selfnoise at 7:35 PM on July 24, 2008

I'm ambivalent on the charges because IMO it doesn't matter what he does in the bedroom, but how he deals with such charges.

That asides, thanks for the view. I agree with the generalities, but some people really have way too much time on their hands to go around being peeping Toms AND being sanctioned by the Government to do so.
posted by Naoko Kensaku at 7:45 PM on July 24, 2008

Not sure about sexual behavior specifically, but the morals police for the "promotion of virtue and prevention of vice" in some Islamic societies take their name from similar phrases in the Qur'an. For example, Sura 3:104 reads Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong (Yusuf Ali translation).
posted by Fin Azvandi at 8:50 PM on July 24, 2008

Establishing a law for proper behavior but leaving out any form of enforcement or punishment doesn't make sense. Even if the old Testament doesn't explicitly include a charter for law enforcement, I think that the people of that time would have assumed it anyway.
posted by Class Goat at 9:44 PM on July 24, 2008

Fin, that was what I was looking for, thanks! Do you have more examples?

Class: I understand. Thanks!

Anyone have the equivalent for the Bible and the Torah? Other religions would be good too!
posted by Naoko Kensaku at 10:04 PM on July 24, 2008


As Fin states, he's not sure about your question, but the so-called morals police takes their name from verses in the Quran. Thats no different than people taking parts from the bible and applying it to their own agendas. I doubt John 3:16 is about Steve Austin giving somebody the stone cold stunner, but there it is.

As for the Quran, Sura 24:27 (Pickthall translation) reads "Oh ye who believe! Enter not houses other than your own without first announcing your presence and invoking peace upon the folk thereof. That is better for you, that ye may be heedful".

There will ALWAYS be people who justify their actions and claim it in the name of "God's work".

Don't buy it. There's no reason for ANYBODY to do "God's work".

If you don't believe in God, God's work is irrelevent. If people believe in God, they should understand that God doesn't need puny humans to do his work.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:30 PM on July 24, 2008

Well, sometimes God does go around vaporizing people (well, kinda). And, it seems to me that if one lived in a society that took the Sodom and Gomorrah story as literal truth, then it might make sense to adopt (and enforce) clear moral standards to prevent one's own city from descending into the "wickedness" (sexual or otherwise) that caused the end of S&G. So even if the Bible isn't explicitly saying to do so, it certainly could be construed to provide a compelling reason to do so.
posted by SuperNova at 1:02 AM on July 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't directly an answer to the question but I have to respond to some of the folks who are bringing up the issue of whether God can enforced His own damn laws or not. Leviticus Chapter 20 definitely includes a command to enforce laws regarding sexual behavior (among others) and also points out some of the laws that God will enforce even if the people don't.
posted by phoenixy at 7:01 AM on July 25, 2008

Is there ANY PART of the Holy Books (Quran, Bible, Torah) that encourages people to actually set up a police/body to actually police people’s sexual behaviour?

Well, there was the Sanhedrin. The wiki article explains its origins.

That was closer to an official body of law than a vigilante moral enforcement squad, however.
posted by lullaby at 7:10 AM on July 25, 2008

This doesn't answer your question, but Anwar Ibrahim was charged under the Malaysian Penal Code, under which sodomy is illegal. The Penal Code, of course, is a secular law enacted by an elected legislature, and applies to every person in Malaysia regardless of religion.

(That said, Malaysia does have a system of syariah law enforced by the Islamic court and religious police stopping people from kissing in public...)
posted by hellopanda at 7:11 AM on July 25, 2008

I can't think of anything in the Old Testament that would advocate some kind of moral police. Most of the sexual sins listed involve a crime against someone who would bring his complaint to the priests when the violation was discovered. In that era, adultery was a crime against the husband of the wife who was having an affair, and rape of an unmarried woman would be an offense against her father, who was charged with her protection. (Yeah, I know, but we're talking about 1200 BC here.) So there wasn't really a need for a moral police, as the men involved would initiate the legal processes to punish the offenders.

When you get to the New Testament, the famous (and textually problematic) story in John 7:53-8:11 is obviously written in opposition to some kind of sex police.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:51 AM on July 25, 2008

Keep in mind, the Old Testament was written to a theocratic nation. Meaning that The political and religious systems were one and the same. So, yes, the moral and religious Jewish law was the law of the land, and moral laws were not unnecessarily in a different category than other laws governing the economy, for example.

Over time, this devolved into a system of self appointed morality police like you described where people are much more concerned with others' moral faults than their own. This is the context for much of Jesus' vicious arguing with the Pharisees (the 'morality police' of his day) in the New Testament.
posted by jpdoane at 3:38 PM on July 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks all for the answers!

Hellopanda, I know, hence the question. It's interesting to note that the section under which he was arrested could be said to be directly lifted from Islam, which deems anal sex to be an absolutely forbidden practice. Oral sex in the name of foreplay is allowed though.

Hal, thanks for the reminder of that Surah. It's been quoted by a few people in the country already, but the religious authorities carrying out the raid always seem to forget and ignore that particular Surah.

Supernova: I see. Thanks!

Lullaby: Ah, I never saw the Sanhedrin in that light.

Pater: Thanks for teaching me something new!

JP: Now that's interesting and insightful!
posted by Naoko Kensaku at 6:42 PM on July 28, 2008

moral laws were not unnecessarily in a different category

Wow - triple negative. What I meant of course is that all the (original) laws of the nation of Israel were in the same category, in the sense that they were given by the same lawmaker (God, through Moses) and that they were enforced by the same body (the system of Judges and later, Kings). These laws ran the gambit from regulating sexual behavior to tax law to building code.

Thus the idea of a morality police doesn't make much sense in the original context of the nation of Israel. Unlike us, they wouldn't have necessarily distinguished sexual misdeeds from other more mundane illegal activities
posted by jpdoane at 7:10 PM on July 28, 2008

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