A few Notes on Religion

It has been the tendency of modern society, however socially-liberal we think we are, to leave religion out of the circle of debate.

I remember one lecture I attended in the autumn, given by Professor Richard Dawkins, where it was pointed out that whilst one’s job, favourite song, or political views or may be apt for discussion, people often seem to regard their religious beliefs as a uniquely private matter.

And this presents a series of problems…

Refusing to discuss religion comes from a deep-rooted respect for religious ideologies, leaving government, populace and civil society to let religious institutions ‘do their thing’. But to ignore an institution’s beliefs is to ignore its prejudices, meaning that we not only tolerate their outdated, repressive views and their often harmfully-ridiculous interpretation of the world, but we allow it to flourish. We view religion as respectable, and ignore its darker sides.

Often, such darker sides can be ignored when you look at, say, the Anglican Church, yet this is only because in this context, religion was been watered down to the extent that it is almost devoid of any prejudice. Contemporary examples where this isn’t the case include the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthadox Church, alongside large-scale religions such as Islam or Judaism.

I recently saw it reported on multiple news sources that, in a documentary, the BBC once deliberately mistranslated ‘Jews’ as ‘Israelis’, hiding Islamic anti-semitism, the context being a Muslim Palestinian speaker talking of ‘killing the Jews’. This is only one example, and may only be intended to drum up sympathy for Palestine, but demonstrates the attitude of society to gloss over the negatives religion carries.

Now it may be sensible to assume that, whilst perhaps morally wrong, this attitude is not a damaging one, but this isn’t true. Religiously-rooted prejudices and reactionary opinions on issues such as feminism, homosexuality or even atheism, are still present because, whilst we don’t share them, we allow them to be. In other words, we have not taken action against their root cause.

Ultimately, it seems that western society is too far embedded in reactionary culture and customs to make a difference. Hundreds of people are leaving to fight for a bloodthirsty caliphate with religion as their justification, and we don’t seem to understand the cause of the problem. Perhaps this justification only appeals to a tiny minority, but enough damage is done by the fact that it’s remotely appealing in the first place. What’s more, Daesh or similar organisations are certainly not the only examples; if you look at all the religiously-motivated killings, wars, and dictatorships throughout history, you’ll see the full extent of the problem. It seems we’re just too keen to look to look the other way.

8 thoughts on “A few Notes on Religion

  1. I find it strange that people in the west do not understand Muslim extremism, but what can we expect in the relationship between the former colonizers (in developed nations) and the colonized (in developing nations).

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  2. Good post. Though I fear being ‘less tolerant’ is likely to harden rather than soften attitudes – especially amongst the religious majority who respect the beliefs, or non-beliefs, of others. I would, however support a political party which pledged to get rid of all state-funded religious schools – from the C of E Primary to the Islamic Secondary – children might grow into more tolerant adults if they had been allowed to mingle in a religion free zone.

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  3. There are many reasons why people belong to religions. Upbringing supported by denominational schooling being one. Why one person leaves the religion they were brought up in( where they are free to do so without their lives being endangered ) and another stays with it even when disagreeing with or not obeying all of its dogmatic edicts, stays a mystery. All of us went to catholic schools and certainly believed in our lucky status as members of the one and only true church…praying every night for the “heathens in China and Africa ” that they might see the light and so share our certainty of a better life hereafter and a reunion with all the people we loved. Yet not one of us six stayed with the church, while friends of equal or better intelligence and education did. Yet we love the beautiful buildings, the rituals, the choirs and keep, with Larkin, a love for the serious house on serious earth if only to light a candle……Harmless I hope.
    That we allowed cults and faiths to separate their children from other children was a great step backwards towards the dark ages. Who will be brave enough to undo the damage?

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  4. Very interesting Max and the issue you raise (i.e. the way in which religious belief often seems to trump other principles) can be seen right here in the UK. I have in mind the litigation surrounding the Northern Irish bakery that refused to bake a cake with a gay theme or message. In Human Rights cases before the Court there is often this very difficult balancing between the right to religious belief and principles of equality (including that no group should be singled out for adverse treatment, even if the justification for such is religion).

    There are may interesting UK legal cases in this area (see also the Christian BA employee who wanted to wear a cross at work, which clashed with her employer’s insistence that religious symbols not be displayed by any staff, presumably for fear of upsetting customers).

    What I thought you might be interested in is the French approach to the problem, at least so far as state institutions are concerned. Their principle of “la laicite” means that children and teachers in school cannot display any religious symbols or clothing, something that has become especially controversial so far as headscarves are concerned. State schools are simply seen as places where religion should, so to speak, be left at the classroom door. It’s one way of keeping religion out of education but from a wider social perspective has caused quite deeply felt resentment in France and I, for my part, prefer a more pluralist approach, whereby public bodies and state institutions open their arms to all manifestations of religious belief but with the sort of balancing cross check mentioned above.

    I acknowledge however that there is then always the problem of which rights (religion or the right not to be discriminated against by those with religious belief) should take priority!

    Great news on the book launch!

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  5. What do we say to Pascal?
    “Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.”

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  6. The problem with organised religion is the awful organisations. There is nothing wrong with personal spirituality.

    Please Call Me by My True Names – Thich Nhat Hanh

    Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
    even today I am still arriving.

    Look deeply: every second I am arriving
    to be a bud on a Spring branch,
    to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
    learning to sing in my new nest,
    to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
    to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

    I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
    to fear and to hope.

    The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
    of all that is alive.

    I am the mayfly metamorphosing
    on the surface of the river.
    And I am the bird
    that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

    I am the frog swimming happily
    in the clear water of a pond.
    And I am the grass-snake
    that silently feeds itself on the frog.

    I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
    my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
    And I am the arms merchant,
    selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

    I am the twelve-year-old girl,
    refugee on a small boat,
    who throws herself into the ocean
    after being raped by a sea pirate.
    And I am the pirate,
    my heart not yet capable
    of seeing and loving.

    I am a member of the politburo,
    with plenty of power in my hands.
    And I am the man who has to pay
    his “debt of blood” to my people
    dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

    My joy is like Spring, so warm
    it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
    My pain is like a river of tears,
    so vast it fills the four oceans.

    Please call me by my true names,
    so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
    so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

    Please call me by my true names,
    so I can wake up,
    and so the door of my heart
    can be left open,
    the door of compassion.

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  7. The symbol at the top of the page says it all. A page talking about dictatorships with the sickle and hammer at the top of its page. Now that’s irony. Supporting marxism, and talking about freedom is ironic. Marxism. Is central control of everything. Pure secularism to the state.
    This has to be satire. And can’t be 100% serious. Anyone who has done a little bit of study into history and is educated would see the glaring problem with this. Btw Marx said that socialism was only a step toward the communist dream. We saw that great communist dream in the USSR. Study the life of the little people in the Eastern Bloc, or of the countless other people who had to live under the tyranny that Marxism created. It’s a lie that it wasn’t marxism that created it. It’s ok. They fell and crashed and burned because it didn’t match up to what is actual freedom. Free enterprise. Look whose still standing. The experiment already happened. It turned out a failure. Let’s progress. To what works and learn from history. Let’s not claim progress while regressing to what was proven to fail. Learn the lesson.

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