Many may ask “Why have you got a problem with other people’s religions? It doesn’t affect you, so why don’t you just leave them alone?”
Well the fact is it does affect me. In fact it affects everyone.
While religious fervour is not as bad in Australia as it is in many countries around the world, the trappings of religions are present in our everyday lives. Some of these are more insidious than others, and some simply represent a disconnect between the real world, and that of an imagined better world.
Religions themselves say not to question belief, to suspend belief as it were, and not to ask questions. Both the Qur’an and the Bible say imply that disbelief and questioning of these two book is a sin within itself, and yet the only evidence that these are in fact holy books and “The Word of God” is written in their own pages. The Bible and the Qur’an are just as likely to be the word of god as is any other book written by men. In that way, The Book of Mormon written by Joseph Smith, and Dianetics written by L Ron Hubbard are just as likely (or unlikely), but we all find it a lot easier to discount these text simply because these cults have not been around long enough to gather as many Chinese whispers as the earlier holy books.
While belief is strong in many, when you point out to a Christian that Muslims pray to Allah 5 times a day, and that their belief is just as strong, if not stronger than their Christian beliefs, they will shake their heads and say “Well, the Muslims have chosen the wrong god,” and dismiss Islam as “wrong”. The same can be said in reverse when speaking to a person of Islamic faith, except that The Qur’an states many times that the unbeliever should be put to death. And while there are fundamental differences between Islam and Christianity, most of the hostility comes down to the semantic differences between the people, and the interpretations that their religions make of their holy books. And these books are fallible, and even their origins are even in question. Watch this video with Bart D. Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Isaac Asimov is actually attributed to have once said “Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.” The same could be said for any religious text if read properly.
One of the worst side-effects of religious differences is a kind of xenophobia, or a fear of these “heathens”. In what many call Christian societies, like Melbourne for instance, some are very fearful of anyone who outwardly displays the trappings of their religions, specifically Islam. The blame for this can be partially blamed on the apprehension people feel about the outwardly apparent differences in culture as displayed in their clothing and socialising, in hookah bars etc. But the deeper blame, lies in the media and political manipulation and magnification of the differences between these “others” and the “decent western folk”. In Australia the political spotlight is particularly glaring and harsh right now, we have an election looming and both parties are using xenophobia as a key election point, using words like “illegal immigrants” instead of “refugees” or “asylum seekers”. It’s very easy to exacerbate and already sore point by using infectious language. And of course there are the cases of Belgium and France, banning the burqa and the votes against the minarets in Switzerland.In the USA the word Muslim conjures fear, and some people still maintain the President Obama is a Muslim, which they use as a slur against his name.
The xenophobia against Muslims is rife, and the religion itself is not the main reason for this. It’s because of the association of the very visibly large actions that have been done in the name of Islam, from the almost constant news of suicide bombings in the middle-east and Pakistan, to September 11 attacks in New York. These acts of violence have had an effect on the perception of Muslims in Australia and around the world. And it’s simply not true that all Muslims have suicide bombing tendencies, no more than it’s true that all Christians will protest carrying signs saying “God Hates Fags”. Of course, only the extremists are going to do these things, but those who do so do it in the name of their god. Of course it’s going to tarnish our visions of the whole group, even though people consistently say that you can’t judge a group by its worst members. We still will, and we still do, when members of a group commit these atrocities. Of course on the flip-side, some Muslims see the war in Afghanistan as a holy war, with Christian infidels trying to take away their religion and land and freedoms. They carry the same xenophobia of someone like me, and wrap it up in the blanket called religion.
And of course, this fear is only amplified when we throw into the mix the idea that religions are the basis for our political systems. For one, politics rhetoric in the USA is heavily weighted with religious words and phrases, and it gives rise to people tending to make decisions based on their own understanding of what it means to be Christian. The money is religious (“In God We Trust”), and the pledge that children in the USA make every morning to their nation is religious. This is ingrained in children at a young age. And aside from causing harm to the thinking processes of these kids (where they are told to trust in the unprovable and unknowable), it makes the USA very insular and inward looking. When the USA looks half-way across the world to Iran, their first thoughts tend to be “Muslim country”, followed by all the things it means to be in a non-Christian society. And the same can be said for Iran’s politicising of Islam, looking across the world at the USA thinking “dirty infidels”. These are of course gross generalisations to merely illustrate my point, but the politicising of the main religions of these countries feeds a very destructive notion of “Us vs Them”. Do we blame the political tensions between the USA and the Middle east on religion, or do we blame religious tension on politics? Either way, it’s a bad mix, and a very strong argument for the division of church and state.
Isn’t it ironic that, at their historic roots, Christianity, Islam and Judaism all come from the same set of stories? Many people are not aware of this.
But not everything is so dramatic.
Currently there is a fight in some groups to teach Bible studies in all schools. In Australia, Tony Abbott, who is running for Prime Minister in the upcoming elections in August said this in December last year:
“I think everyone should have some familiarity with the great texts that are at the core of our civilisation,” Mr Abbott told the Herald Sun.
“That includes, most importantly, the Bible. I think it would be impossible to have a good general education without at least some serious familiarity with the Bible and with the teachings of Christianity. That doesn’t mean that people have to be believers.”
This is the guy who, in a few weeks time, could become the most powerful man in the whole country, claiming that one can’t have a good general education without the teachings of the Bible. This quite alarming. His claim brings forth the old argument that the Bible is the reason for our progress and our success as a civilisation. I would argue quite the opposite, that our civilisation is successful in spite of the Bible (and the Qur’an and Torah for that matter), and that many of the great breakthroughs in science, technology and society have gone against the teachings and mandates of religious organisations. Many who made these breakthroughs were called heretics, some were even killed for their heresy.
It also makes the suggestion that humans can’t have morality without God. Again, I would argue against this vehemently. Some of the world’s best thinkers and social commentators have been godless, and I think that is for this reason; being able to make assessments of the world and the social climate is much easier without the veil of religion, which instead of giving people a definite sense of morality, actually adds bias and the idea that other cultures are wrong.
This brings up the argument “Can someone be good without God?’ I know that many have argued for and against this topic, but I’d like to bring it down to this; one can be good through empathy for one-another, through sympathy and understanding of the planet and its people, and through unbiased and fair treatment of others and the world. God doesn’t even factor into that equation, as these are all active choices of the human psyche. We have free will and we have the ability to treat others fairly, and we should use that. I am without god, does that make me a bad person? No, it doesn’t.
So if people can be good without God/gods, then it would seem to me then we should be striving as a society to be free from the bindings of religious thought and bias. Imagine what we could achieve if holy wars were to end. Imagine what we could achieve if we could look upon another human being and not see someone of another religion or club or caste, but to see them as another individual, who shares and the same fears and needs, the same biology, the same heredity. I’m not talking about socialism here, I’m talking about equality.
I am well aware that people are scared of change. We all wrap ourselves up in our little world, and seek comfort from the familiar. Rightly so, if we are comfortable, why risk discomfort for the sake of change? Well I put it to you that we are in for change, whether we like it or not, and our ability to adapt to the changes the world throws at us is going to decide what happens to us as a species. I really think that the only way that we can reach a good outcome for as many people as possible is for us to throw away as many of the veils of preconceived bias as possible, to remove what we have to power to remove, and to embrace the future as though we actually want it.