Tag Archives: religion

Disappointment

I’ve been thinking about humanity a lot, recently, and in many ways, I hate us as a species.

I hate the way we never learn, with the myth of ‘home by Christmas’ repeated naively throughout history, and marriage inequality deemed as okay by so many when history has shown us with painful clarity where prejudice can lead. I hate that the Holocaust has already revealed to us the worst-case consequences of fearing and hating, or even simply resenting, a group of people without thought or reason, has illustrated where bitterness-fuelled manipulability can lead, and yet still today gays, Muslims, trans people, immigrants, experience such pain at the hands of other people’s prejudice, other people’s thoughtless bias and loathing.

I hate humanity like I hate films and books that have fantastic premises, fantastic ideas behind them, fantastic potential, but that manage to let themselves down. Films and books that should have been something amazing, but somehow manage not to be. We are compassionate, intelligent creatures; yet we mock those who apply their compassion and intelligence in ways that our preconceived and unfounded prejudices are challenged by. We can empathise with and understand one another, and yet we succeed in closing off that empathy to so many of our fellow humans. I hate how we use religions to make our own ideas and prejudices sacred, to elevate them beyond criticism or interrogation. I hate how we rush to find someone, anyone, to blame, for anything and everything, or to follow the line of someone else’s pointed finger. And yet we could be so much better, so much more critical, more rational, more compassionate; we could cause each other so much less harm. We could place fairness before politeness, real widespread happiness and wellbeing before getting along day-to-day, justice before the fear of feather-ruffling. We could accept harmless diversity, and work to eliminate our prejudices. We could allow ourselves to care about all of our fellow humans.

We shouldn’t see the Holocaust as something alien, the fault solely of Evil People with whom we have no parity. We shouldn’t see X-Men as purely a superhero film, dismissing the sight of a young boy trying to cut off his own wings when discovering, horrified, that he will never, harmless and even beautiful as his mutation may be, meet the expectations of his father or his society. We shouldn’t instantly dub someone making different life choices to ourselves as immoral or wrong. We shouldn’t feel that cruelty is alright when directed towards some.

We should, and we can, think about everything, in order to try to reduce the pain, and increase the joy, we bring to people, in as real and significant a way as we can manage. We should be willing to examine the very essentials of what we think we know, and to discard of these what is harmful and baseless. We should want to really help each other, not just to allay our guilt.

I feel like I hate us, sometimes, because we could be so much better, but I’m not sure that we ever will.

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Just Your Opinion?

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A friend of mine recently expressed the view that we should all be respectful of everyone else’s opinions, regardless of to what extent we may disagree. Her subsequent dismissal and rejection of my disagreement to this seemed to me proof enough that indiscriminate acceptance of views is not as practical a policy as she may have thought.

As children, we are told to show complete respect and consideration to everybody’s opinions, and I think this is only right. For one thing, I believe that teaching acceptance and open-mindedness to children is definitely a positive thing, when there is so much prejudice and narrowness in the world; and for another, I really cannot see many of the views expressed to each other by young children being damaging enough to warrant any change of this approach. But I think that it is safe to say that once we have developed into people capable of understanding the difference between petty dislike of those who disagree with us and a justified disregard for bigotry, we no longer need to pretend to live by this rule of universal apology.

For this idea of views being damaging, I think, is the real crux of the matter. As we progress from childhood, we encounter more and more opinions which can truly affect the lives of other people. Whether opinions are harmful must surely be a huge factor in deciding whether or not they deserve respect. I see no reason why I should acknowledge views which cause people harm. It seems bizarre to me for anybody to feel entitled to the world’s automatic respect, whatever their outlook on life. Thousands of young gay people commit suicide every year, and this cannot be blamed solely on the direct hateful actions of bullies, but also on the steady, imposing disapproval and intolerance which even our relatively liberal-minded society radiates from various quarters. When your views contribute towards the otherisation and demonisation of a group of innocent people to the extent where they feel cornered into taking their own lives, to expect those views to be seen as sacrosanct on the basis that they are ‘just your opinion’ is absurd, arrogant and thoughtless. There is no ‘just’ about opinions, and nothing trivial about anything you might think and express which may cause unnecessary harm to other people. Your beliefs do not exist in a vacuum, and I am amazed that anybody could be so irresponsible as to think that a view being solely their personal belief on a matter could absolve them of responsibility for it. How many girls have been made to feel worthless by being frowned upon, sneered at and bullied simply for harmlessly exploring their sexual desires as a boy might? How many people have been made to feel inferior because of such superficial and harmless things as the colour of their skin, or their parents’ nationality, or their gender?

The beginnings of the vilification and ostracism of the Jews by the Nazis was made possible, and even easy, by the existing widespread prejudice and resentment towards them throughout Europe: an undercurrent of apathetic and relatively mild anti-Semitism, the dangerous potential of which was soon to be revealed. Ordinary Poles threw scissors from the upstairs windows of their homes on the Nazis’ request so that Orthodox Jews could be publically ridiculed and deprecated by having their beards forcibly shorn in the square. I wonder how many people in Western democracies today would be only too eager to go along with something similar to strip the dignity from Muslims or gays. I think I would rather not know.

Of course, there are other opinions that I really wish people didn’t hold, but, ultimately judging them not immediately and directly harmful, my respect for people who do hold them can remain untarnished. I think that a good example of this for me is religion. Whilst religion itself certainly has the potential to cause great harm, it is evident to me that many people who believe in a higher power and identify with a certain theological belief system are not causing any harm in doing so. There are many reasons for my longing for people not to follow religions. The blind acceptance of some taught wisdoms and the idea of faith can lead to a susceptibility to blindly accepting further assertions, and can result in being easily prejudiced or manipulated. This discouragement of criticism and independent thought is, to me, very troublesome. People have been led to do terrible things through religion. However, whilst I think that most religious institutions and doctrines are a profoundly negative force in the world, it would be unreasonable to claim that everyone who is religious is causing harm by being so. It may generally involve a seemingly odd sort of cherry-picking from supposedly sacred texts, but many people do manage to believe in God and identify with a religion without harming others. And for this reason, I do not believe that being religious is in and of itself an opinion not deserving of respect.

Of course, if somebody’s belief in God, or any other factor, leads to them holding other opinions which do cause people harm, then my respect for and good opinion of them may well be lost completely – and I am certainly concerned by the role that religions often seem to play in forming or exacerbating peoples’ hatred and prejudices. And, of course, people often tend to feel that their opinions deserve respect and recognition purely because they are backed by religious teachings.

I strongly feel that the only degree of respect that everybody should be able to expect irrespective of what their views are and how much they may affect others is that their basic human rights not be violated, and they be able to continue to feel safe in their day-to-day lives. Everyone, however bigoted, should be free from being hurt or threatened; free from themselves or their loved ones being endangered; free from their voices being silenced – even in the case of the poisonous chants of the loathsome Westboro Baptist Church. But I strongly feel that there is no reason for people to be free from the anger and frustration of the people affected by their views; nor should they be free from the disgust of people whose compassion and empathy mean that they resent the harm caused to these people. Everybody deserves to be able to express their views safely, but their entitlement does not and should not extend beyond that. People whose opinions cause or perpetuate the harm of other human beings must be prepared for scorn and contempt – and, yes, for a loss of respect.

[photo taken from www.colorsrainbow.com]

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Your Opinions Aren’t Facts

In this country, we are free to openly believe whatever we see fit: that there is a God, or there isn’t; that aliens are out there, or they aren’t. We have freedom to believe in tarot, or witchcraft, or that we are all living in the Matrix. We can believe anything we choose to, regardless of it not being supported, or even being disproved, by evidence. And quite right, too. We also have license to hold whatever opinions we wish to, on everything from euthanasia to Prince Charles, from Syria to the X-Factor. And again, so we should. Furthermore, we have the right to teach our beliefs and opinions to our children in our own homes however we see fit. And yet again, I believe that this is as it should be.

However, I strongly believe that with this right must come a great deal of responsibility. You have the right to teach your child that the coalition government has put monsters under their bed, or that immigrants are responsible for all ill, or that everyone with different religious views to you is inherently evil. You could teach them your beliefs and opinions as rock-hard solid facts. Of course, as they go out into the world, and are educated by school and the media and experience, they will probably start to question these fallacies, but nevertheless you might succeed in planting ideas in your child’s head so deep-rooted that they are almost inextricable from the bedrock of their personal identity.

But refusing to present your views honestly for what they really are – opinions and beliefs – is doing your child a serious injustice. Right and wrong are undeniably not black and white, and to pretend otherwise to your child will do them no favours. Children have to work hard enough to make sense of the world as it is, without being lied to – and that is exactly what presenting an opinion as a fact is: lying.

We must bring our children up to think about issues critically and to hear both sides of an argument; to decide for themselves what they believe based on an unbiased assessment of proven facts and the beliefs of others, and to form opinions from educated standpoints. To function as a member of the electorate and as a human being, this is absolutely vital. We must not lead them to be easily manipulated, blindly accepting the views of others as concrete and following, sheep-like, anyone who seems to know what they’re talking about; or to be intransigent and stubborn, desperate to cling to unfounded and perhaps even damaging beliefs despite all evidence and sense.

It is absolutely fine to talk to your children about your beliefs and opinions, and explain why it is that you hold them, and why they are important to you. What is not fine is to abuse their trust and respect for you by falsely claiming that these beliefs and opinions are facts.

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Religious Fundamentalism: A PR Nightmare

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A lot can be said about religious fundamentalists: firstly – and I apologise to my politically correct friends for stereotyping – they’re misogynistic, homophobic, irrational, intolerant, indoctrinated, dangerous, occasionally murderous, and generally just nasty bastards. Secondly, the nice, normal religious types, who are only low-key homophobes and hopefully very rarely murderous, justifiably resent them for making their love-filled religion seem, shockingly, outdated and repressive. Thirdly, as promoters they are quite remarkably appalling.

As PR campaigns go, the destruction of a pair of major and significant buildings, resulting in numerous fatalities, in a country already with a superfluity of xenophobic and strongly Christian sentiments and a shitload of nukes, is certainly an interesting one. It’s been devastating for American Muslims and for American civil liberties in general, and resulted in America embarking on a sort of high-tech sequel to the crusades, heroically journeying to Muslim countries and causing the deaths of innocent civilians whilst searching for possibly mythical Weapons of Mass Destruction. The Muslim extremists certainly got themselves noticed, but, as with the French Orangina ad featuring a gay humanoid cat who uses the drink as aftershave, although it is memorable and unexpected, it doesn’t particularly make me want to try the product. It makes door-to-door Jehovah’s Witnesses seem like marketing geniuses.

It’s also quite difficult to claim that your religion isn’t outdated or intransigent when you fiercely and single-mindedly deny evolution; that it’s not bigoted when you bear slogans so gloriously proclaiming ‘God hates fags!’ (by which, I feel safe in assuming, cigarettes are not meant, although maybe cancer rates could be reduced by threat of hellfire; perhaps it’s something the Department of Health should try.) Would your loving God agree that a women should be forced to bear the child of her rapist, or is He also confident in the female body’s magical rape-detection system that was explained to us by the dazzling Tod Akin? Either way, informing strangers online that, by turning away from the traditional and noble values of homophobia and the denial of strong scientific evidence, they are earning themselves a first-class ticket to Hell, is an interesting recruitment strategy.

Heaven sounds increasingly like a place full of the most fastidious, boring and irrational people imaginable; a borderline police-state, with no-one allowed to question the one who’s running the show, and with plenty of snobbery and superiority from its inhabitants about being there at all. I must say, my rejection of Christian dogma is seriously tested by the lure of the possibility of spending all of eternity with a bunch of self-satisfied sexist homophobes. Or perhaps heaven is actually a place where God awards suicide bombers with flocks of women as though they were livestock (were you the sheep-awarding sort and the recipient Welsh). In which case (I’m sketchy on the details): would I, as a woman, were I less of a sinner and more kamikaze, be presented to one such suicide bomber as a sexual gift? Gosh, sounds enticing, toss me a hijab.

You’ve got to feel bad for the moderates really, considering how much they’re putting into their attempts to convert our lost, free-thinking generation to their faith. The churches that from the outside look like doctor’s practices or health clubs and the music that sounds like boy-band crap with the occasional ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Jesus’ thrown in all seem rather futile when we are exposed through the internet to the louder voices of nutters raving about the evils of Harry Potter and how gays should just never experience romantic love, because for fuck’s sake how demanding can these faggots get? Creationism, cancer being the result of original sin and therefore fair enough, Muslim girls on YouTube using a paper plate to demonstrate how dating will ruin any chance you may have of a future harmonious marriage, mothers of five saying that they can’t see why gays can’t be celibate, people actually believing that abstinence-only education could lower rates of teen pregnancy; they inspire the same patronising snort as homeopathy or end-of-the-world predictions. It starts people doubting, people questioning: if that’s ridiculous, then, really, when we think about it, isn’t the idea that the one omnipotent being who allegedly created the universe did it for us, and cares about every one of us individually, equally unlikely? And just a tad arrogant?

As I said, there is a lot that can be said about religious fundamentalists; in my view almost all of it negative. But what extremism does do is drag the more politically correct bigots out of the closet, and expose the darker tones of religions that outwardly preach peace and love. Women have ‘a different role to play’ in society; we ‘hate the sin, not the sinner’ where homosexuality is concerned; we must ‘pray for’ those with different theological beliefs. The pretty words and niceties may be more palatable, but it certainly is satisfying to see polished facades shattered by people allegedly on the same ‘side.’

Modernising hymns and religious buildings whilst people screech hate and bigotry in the name of the same faith is like repainting the front door whilst the back of your house is in flames. Christianity and Islam need to do some truly magnificent PR if they are to live out the century, at least in this country.

I can’t be the only one rather hoping that they don’t.

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[images from www.godhatesfags.com]

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Listen To Your Children

It is something that we are all guilty of: dismissing the opinions and views of those younger than us. Whether we are eighteen or eighty, we are forever scornful of those with fewer years of experience, forever patronising and condescending, even (or perhaps especially) towards our younger selves. The young are seen as ignorant, foolishly optimistic, not fully comprehending or appreciating the merit of the traditional values of our elders.

In some ways, this view may be fair: we have not had so much time to learn, to live, to have our hearts broken and discover how they might be healed. We are not so wise to romantic love or tax applications or anti-wrinkle cream; we haven’t experienced first hand the constant threat of Soviet bombs, or Spam, or the rise of television.

But this doesn’t mean that our opinions are invalid, that our voices are but noise, chattering oversimplifications and baseless fantasies. Our opinions are not axiomatically unattainable idealisms, simply because we dispute some outdated norms. The reason for the widespread irreligion of English teenagers is not a callous rebellion against our elders and wisers, or something that we will grow out of with experience; it is based on a critical look at the facts available, and an ability to see with clarity that some conclusions would simply be illogical to draw.

When I preach gay rights, I do so not from a standpoint of political correctness or hippyish sentimentality, but because it honestly disgusts me that supposedly civilised adult members of society feel that they are entitled to deny others of rights that they themselves take for granted. I don’t think that creationism, and holocaust or global-warming denial, are ridiculous because I have been taught to think so. I have judged them to be ridiculous, as well as damaging, myself through an assessment of facts and evidence, and that anyone might deny facts and evidence to further their political standpoint, or be brainwashed to do so by religious or cultural pressure, is appalling to me.

The voting age in this country is eighteen, and I believe this to be fair. Not everyone my age has sufficient interest in or knowledge of the issues and process involved in politics to make informed decisions in our democracy, and whilst this is also true of many adults, I am happy to wait until I am eighteen. But this does not mean that we should dismiss the opinions of the young purely because of their youth, or revere those of the old because of their age. And the fact that something worked well enough before just not justify its continuation. Just because a certain manner of doing things has not led to universal destruction does not mean that it cannot be improved, and indeed our society must continually be improved, through a critical assessment of what is fact, what is opinion, and the reasons for and validity of said opinions.

The younger generation has been raised in a far more tolerant and freethinking society than that of older generations. We are encouraged to consider every opinion we hold, to decide why we hold it and whether it is valid. We are taught to, at least in theory, respect other peoples’ religious views, sexuality, opinions on current affairs; to question any stigma we place on a subject or group of people, decide for ourselves if it is justified. We may be less experienced, and we may be supporting things that the older generation would instinctively label immoral or impractical, but many of us are truly thinking about things, considering issues and imagining other people complexly, and our views should not be discredited.

We must judge the merit of a view not on whom it is held by, but by the sensibility and worth of the opinion itself. Age may lead to experience, but not necessarily to wisdom.

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