I don’t have a great deal of patience with orthodox religion but I support the right of those who do to practise their devotion in so far as it does not oppress or suppress others. Neither am I an atheist – though I must admit to sounding like one if you miss the nuance. To me, religion seems to have little to do with God and everything to do with politics.
Every time there’s a debate about anything professing to relate to ‘God’ or ‘Faith’ it’s always couched in the context of orthodox religion or atheism versus orthodoxy. (The thing that both frustrates and makes me smile is that, besides neither having much to do with sacredness or divinity, both also hold positions of non-evidence-based certainty.) To me, framing the existence or non-existence of ‘Gods’ in such narrow terms, as described and prescribed by patriarchy and/or orthodoxy, is stale and unimaginative – and distinctly unhelpful.
Nevertheless, that is the rubric within which most of the world keeps itself confined – be it through education, governance or ‘holy’ wars.
Each religion is mostly interchangeable with another: they alter their costumes a bit and change dates and the names of people and stuff but the basic tenets; the widest meaning in the message is generally the same.
And all religions have been, are and continue to be vehicles of both peaceful and violent thought and deed. At their best, they try offer beautiful interpretations of Life’s mysteries through archetypes, parables and metaphors as lessons and frameworks by which to live and, at their worst, they offer fear, contradiction and ambiguity and sow confusion. Each religion has its moderate majorities, its peaceful literalists and its violent fundamentalists.
But all religious tomes are like poetry and music – subjectively and conveniently open to literal, artistic, cultural and political interpretation – one’s sensitivity may be stirred from truth and beauty to offence and ridicule. Yes, the Qur’an has verses which can be interpreted as permitting or even promoting violent retribution and punishment. So does the Old Testament. No Abrahamic Faith is immune – they all have colourful histories – and, looking further east, neither are the Hindus, nor the Buddhists.
Most ‘religious’ people are moderate people who have no drive to convert or ‘correct’ the behaviour of others. Many followers of the orthodox faiths pick and choose their adherences with varying degrees of guilt or comfort, be it using contraception, eating pig, imbibing intoxicants, marrying out of one’s faith, neglecting Confession – yada, yada. One only has to witness the majority approval for secular governance within the ‘first’ world and the majority who aspire to it in other regions of the globe to appreciate this: equal, educated, free and well-informed people; people who can rely on consistent and fair laws and a sufficient measure of security, don’t want or need to be told how to live by either the representatives of elected authority or by those who claim to represent a Higher One.
Major swathes of the world’s populations are being sold short while religious doctrine replaces basic/general education and information is exchanged for censorship. If religious dogma is your main or only source of common knowledge and experience, then it is little wonder that superstition, prejudice and taboos prevail and fester. And to force it on children is in the least, a grey kind of magic. Religion within mainstream education should be facilitated through philosophy, not through doctrine. Faith schools? No, thank you. Save it for the Temple.
Law, governance and culture have been traditionally shaped and dictated by Patriarchy and it is as loathe to give up its self-righteous control freakery as, say, Neoliberal governments and corporations. It is curious how those who claim to be so devout often seem more concerned with trying to control the lives and souls of others than their own. That there is no such thing as vicarious atonement seems to have escaped their fascist fonts of wisdom.
Of course, any ‘moral’ militant can find things to hate in the modern, secularising world; things over which to take personal offence as an excuse to let out their outrage and paranoia: the aspiration for equality; for living according to one’s individual desires and needs; for being free to draw personal boundaries, exercise preferences. And, indeed, so they do. But History is replete with religious and political violence and atrocious foreign policies, isn’t it…? Terrorism perpetrated by citizen groups, ‘democratic’ governments and state sovereigns alike. What conceit, though, to assume to speak for God! To actually claim power and take offence on behalf of one’s god! As though any god, worth its salt, needs defending! But then, Humans have always had an amazing, indefatigable ability to reduce a god to the level of their own petty imaginations, haven’t they…
Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims: all brilliantly misrepresenting their faiths; all desirous of imposing their ideology on others; all so certain. It is politics, mediaeval style. No wonder the atheists are bemused and pissed off.
The problem here isn’t ‘God’, though. The problem is cultish and political bigotry, narcissism and fear. It is the arrogant and ultimately fruitless notion that you are the manager of another’s soul and free will. It is the pitiful demonstration of people who look upon the world with narrowed eyes, lacking appreciation for the greater beauty, diversity and mystery of the human animal; who cannot recognise or stomach the paradoxes of life: that simple things are often made complex by their explanation and that things which seem complex are often very simple.
What the bigots fail to realise is that while they are perfectly entitled to their rigidly narrow and conjured opinions – so is everyone – those opinions don’t give them the right to legislate for everyone or terrorise and kill, based on them. This is why a secular society is the best way to protect and govern with equal and fair effect: the best way for the majority, the minority and all the individuals therein to know and feel that they belong and will be treated equally under the Law. Good Secularist or Pluralist governance shouldn’t mean that you have to bury your faith. It should recognise that not everyone has a faith and that no one faith is superior to another.