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 But to ignore an institution’s beliefs is to ignore its prejudices, meaning that we not only tolerate their outdated, repressive views and their often harmfully-ridiculous interpretation of the world, but we allow it to flourish.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.