Over the last week, you could be forgiven for thinking the world has gone into meltdown. The scenes of violence and the murders committed because of a badly made movie on YouTube have been horrific to see. All of this raises the question, should religion have any place in our modern society other than on a purely personal and individual level?
The truth is that religion is at the root of the majority, if not all, of the conflicts going on in the world today. Religious leaders are actively ramping up grievances beyond the point of peaceful protest and into the realm of the mob. All of us can understand that the aforementioned movie is offensive to the followers of Islam and support their right to protest. Unfortunately the line has been crossed from justified protest to civil unrest.
Many other religions have been criticised and mocked in the past, many are still being satirised. Movies have been made, articles written, cartoons drawn which were offensive to Christians, Jews and every other mainstream religion and the followers of these religions used their right to protest. Letters were written, theatres were picketed, protest rallies organised. All of these actions acceptable and within the realm of reasoned response. What is not reasonable is attacks on Embassies, murder, burning, rampaging and wanton violence.
Some commentators are calling for American style secularism; the problem with this is that America is not a secularist country. They have, in theory, separation of church and state but in practice, it has been said, that no one who didn’t vocalise his adherence to one or other religion would ever be President. The US also has on its money “in God we trust”, ironic given that his son famously threw all the money lenders from the Temple.
All of the major religious books are littered with passages which are totally at odds with today’s society, they may have been acceptable at their inception but the world has moved on, we have become educated. We know about evolution, the big bang, that disease is not a punishment from on high but the result of Bacteria, genetic malformation or cellular deterioration. We cannot unlearn what we know and much as they would like to, the religious leaders cannot prevent us asking questions, disagreeing with their answers and reaching our own conclusions.
This is why the battle has moved, to some extent, from us in the West to poorer, undeveloped countries around the world, where lack of education and superstition still abounds. This makes the unfortunate people in these countries prime targets for zealots from every religion.
To achieve a truly secular UK, there would have to be an end to faith schools, the Church of England would no longer have any presence in government unless their ministers were elected members of parliament. The tax breaks for religious organisations would have to cease, as would tax breaks for their charities, unless assurance was given that these charities would do no proselytising whilst carrying out charity work. In effect, religions would have no more power over decision making, than say, the W.I. Religion would retire to where it should be, to the privacy of homes and chosen places of worship.
The only way apparent for us to really achieve harmony in our society is to level the playing field, remove religion from the public sphere because while the Christian religion still holds any sway politically we cannot prevent other religions from demanding political recognition, yes there would be dissent from some quarters but the rewards would be worth it. After all, the majority of people in the UK don’t follow any recognised religion. Few of those, who would tick a box on a survey stating they were part of a certain faith, in reality, attend religious services. Many of us are tired of the constant capitulation to the ‘offended’ and the refusal to vigorously condemn acts of civil disobedience. We also fear an erosion of freedom of speech. Calls are being made for Islamophobia to be made a crime (it is already recognised as a form of intolerance by the council of Europe). How would this law be applied? The risk is that it would be used in an attempt to silence criticism.
Our right to free speech and freedom of expression cannot be taken away, it can only be given away. We must be vigilant, watch what is happening and resist any attempt to curtail our hard fought for right to speak our minds.
By Vicky Lindon