Before anything, I’d just like to point out the difference between disliking an idea and disliking people. I think hating someone for what they ARE is despicable and wrong. It is illogical as well as mean-spirited to dislike someone for something over which they have no control. I am opposed to racial hatred, to discrimination against women and to bigotry directed towards gays. All people are entitled to full human rights and no-one is entitled to special treatment. This applies AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL COUNTRIES.
Ideas are different to people. They have no human rights. There are good ideas and bad ideas and what you think is a good idea may well be my idea of a bad one. The battle of ideas is the very essence of democracy and is essential to the development of society. The scientific method is an ongoing process and any new idea is immediately to intense pressure to prove it false.
What I believe doesn’t exist are sacred ideas, ideas that are somehow above debate, disapproval or even condemnation. In short, I am writing about ideas I dislike – I am not writing about people I dislike. The genius of some aggressive, authoritarian religionists has been to merge the two so that an attack on ideas is equivalent to racial hatred. Unfortunately, a lot of well-meaning, non-religious people also want to declare some ideas above criticism. Like Salman Rushdie I don’t believe some ideas are beyond the pale of criticism but hopefully I wont have to live in a bedsit guarded by the Special Branch for ten years for expressing an opinion.
So, why do I dislike religion? Let me first answer that by saying that my late grandmother was the finest, kindest and most generous person I have ever known. She was deeply religious and went to services every Sunday and was always involved in Church activities, even the cleaning rota. She spent more than thirty years doing charity work, actually helping people and giving up her time for zero payment. This came from her Christian beliefs. Towards the end of her life, the local branch of her charity she had worked with for more than three decades suddenly closed and she was treated with contempt by the local organiser of this allegedly Christian charity. Not for her an OBE, as given to the absurd Victoria Beckham (probably the most disliked person in the United Kingdom) for her “charity links.” My point is that if all religion was like my grandmother’s religion then I wouldn’t feel the need to write this post. The unfortunate truth is that most religion is not like the one practiced by my grandmother.
Let’s take an example. Two of the three branches of the Abrahamic religion (plus the more conservative sects of the third) forbid the consumption of pork. Fine. If you say to me, “my religion says believers can’t eat pork, so I’m not going to eat pork” then I would have to respect that and defend your right to do so. Indeed, I would have to oppose those politicians in France who say schools should only serve pork and not provide an alternative. However, if you say to me “my religion says believers can’t eat pork, so you can’t eat pork” then I’m afraid we have a major problem. Too many aggressive, authoritarian religionists are saying they have the right to restrict the behaviour of those who do not follow their religion. And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with religion.
To be continued.