Normally religion is pretty near the top of my list of topics to steer clear of in normal conversation and, therefore, in my blogs. Those who know me will be in little doubt that my religious leanings tend toward atheism, so as the subject of religion versus atheism has been quite a hot topic in recent years I have decided to dip a toe into the fray and see how it feels.
One of the main criticisms aimed at atheists is that we are all a bunch of smug, arrogant, condescending bastards that think our lack of faith somehow makes us smarter than the religiously inclined. Or, to put it more bluntly, we are criticised for being “angry atheists” and “dicks”. I can see where that criticism comes from and Alom Shaha has written and excellent blog on the subject in the Guardian.
I don’t like to think of myself as an “angry atheist” and I certainly don’t like to think of myself as a dick, but I can see how my anti-religious views could be construed as such. And my views are more militantly anti-religious than they are atheist and I think this is an important distinction.
Personally I don’t mind at all what you believe in – go ahead, believe in whichever god suits you best. There are lots to choose from depending upon the culture and social background in which you were brought up. I also don’t mind if you believe that the world is secretly run by giant lizards or that there are fairies at the bottom of your garden. I’m not saying that all of these beliefs have equal merit and I am not trying to belittle anyone’s genuine faith, just saying that whatever you choose to believe is up to you.
Beyond that, however, is where I have the problem. Religious people are not happy just to believe, they have to try to foist their beliefs on everyone else. Pretty much all religions believe that they are right and everyone else is wrong and it is up to them to convert you to their brand of god. Throughout history this has led to acrimony, war and atrocities in the name of religion.
Many religions actually believe pretty much the same things, but of course that doesn’t stop them fighting over minor discrepancies. And they can’t all be right; at best only one team can be right and most likely none of them are. Perhaps they all have some truth in them, perhaps not. And because it is all a matter of faith any reasonable discussion on the subject is totally ruled out.
My main problem with organised religion, even above all of the blind faith and dogma, is that they all appear to be completely corrupt and hypocritical. Does a loving god really expect all of the killing in His name? Does He want all of the petty squabbling? Does He think the church should be opulent and wealthy whilst its adherents starve in poverty? Does He really think that people should suffer painful deaths or that babies should be brought unwanted into the world rather than use condoms? Does He want us to treat women as second class citizens and discriminate against other people’s life choices? And if so, does that sound like a god we should be worshipping?
And so, inevitably, we come to the pope’s visit to England. The pope is a revered head of a major religion which many hundreds of thousands of people across the world subscribe to. If he wants to come to this country at the request of his followers then of course he should be free to do so and he should be afforded every courtesy.
However, as a non-catholic who hates religion I do not feel that my taxes should contribute toward the huge cost of his visit, reported today to be £10-12m. If his followers want him to come to the UK, let them have a whip round to pay for it. Failing that, the Roman Catholic church is the richest organisation in the world, so let it dig into its own coffers to fund the trip. I feel that I have a right to be annoyed about that.
But the real spur to venting my spleen on the subject of religion was the comment by the pope’s aid likening Britain to a third world country because it is a ‘secular pluralistic’ country. This seemed a bit ironic since most of the worlds poorest (and most violent) countries are staunchly Catholic due to a history of violent brainwashing by the church.
This aid has now withdrawn from the trip, allegedly on health grounds. The report I saw suggested he suffers from gout – an illness clearly associated with abstinence and pious living.