…I’m intolerant of the intolerance that religious zealots and fundamentalists create and display. I’m intolerant of our collective tolerance of their intolerance. And I’m intolerant of the intolerance of my intolerance. All told that probably means I’m pretty intolerant; and come to think of it I can be incredibly annoying. But recent events in Egypt and Paris have really got my goat, well that’s not entirely true, yes, they did get my goat, but what really got me going was comments by fundamentalist “Christians”…yes, we have them in the UK, and whilst they don’t carry arms (yet), they take great pleasure in jumping on the back of every tragedy, man made or natural, to spread their fear filled view that we are reaping what we have sown and are heading for Armageddon at an ever increasing rate of knots. They also remind us that theirs is a “nicer religion” than the others that are stocked on the shelves of the supermarket of faith. “They” would never commit terrorist atrocities, they will of course retain their right to continue to view us all through the lens of smugness in the sure and certain knowledge that we will burn for eternity in hell, but aside from that they really are nice.
Religion and respect for religious preferences are something we are told we should tolerate, even venerate as an indicator of the freedoms that exist within developed societies. Why? Why should educated people who have the benefit of scientific evidence to call upon, respect the fanciful notions of ancient and often brutish systems of thought control for the masses who’s raison d’etre has been superseded by the emergence of CCTV. Imagine if we tolerated every outdated notion from history…this would mean respecting the views of people who believe the earth is flat and like to duck women they suspect of Witchcraft in the nearest river; you get the point. What is it about someones belief in something unproven, unprovable and unevidenced that we should respect and revere? And why should we respect and revere those who propose these views. It strikes me that our ongoing deference of and tolerance for religious faith, faith that can be defined as an irrational set of beliefs defying all logic and known evidence, in any shape or form is misguided. Religious belief and adherence to its doctrine is a busted flush. To continue to encourage “moderate beliefs” is a bit like saying we should tolerate poisonous snakes in our houses, as long as we can only see the animals tail and will never see its fangs…moderation and extremism are simply different points on the same creature; the whole creature needs laying to rest, not just its head.
It is one of the greatest mysteries of our age that we allow, and publicly fund, the teaching of any religious education to children of any age within our educational establishments. When I was a governor of a local school I used to question why the school should be involved in the teaching or promotion of any form of religious education. You see, when you put these two words together, “religion” and “education”, they are clearly not comfortable bedfellows, they are sworn mortal enemies. For religion to “thrive”, much like a disease thrives in a warm moist and dark accommodating climate, it requires the absence of educated enlightened thought. Education, real education is, as Arnold Schwarzenegger might say, the cure to the disease that is religious bigotry. My thoughts as a school governor on the role (or not) of religion in education were generally viewed as an unwelcome attack on one of our oldest traditions…you know the one, its where we teach kids myths from an old book. Sure, the book comes in different flavors, Protestant and Catholic to name but two…but we catch them when they are young and we feed them a fairy tale; and unlike the fairy tale of Santa and his elves, we don’t event grant them the respect of telling them it was all just a fiction when they reach the age of ten. Mind you, I can’t see any child bursting into tears when they are finally told that all those stories about sin and penance were just a jolly little jape to keep them on their toes until they could think for themselves.
In the absence of education religious belief is not always a choice for those who are swept up in it. It is just a bum deal and a tragedy for humankind. To place the wonder and beauty of the human mind on hold, to put aside natural inclinations to love, to feel and be inquisitive in exchange for slavish adherence to something called faith is the worst deal ever made. And the bigotry of religion lives all around us, it doesn’t just manifest itself in the atrocities of terrorism that we have seen in Egypt and Paris in the last few weeks. It permeates peoples view and shapes their paradigms of the world around them and the value and worth of the other people living in it.
I value democracy, and whilst I acknowledge that ours is still a work in progress, I have nothing but respect for those who gave their lives in defence of it and of what it might be. I observed a minutes silence at 11am on Wednesday, but as I’ve said in a previous post, the observing of silence for one minute a year is not a fitting tribute to the fallen. We pay tribute to them when we act with integrity and when we live and speak using the freedom of speech that democratic societies allow. If humankind has a fight left to win it is the fight against ignorance. Ignorance would seem to be the last real enemy of us all and we should remain intolerant of its presence. We should question why we continue to tolerate, facilitate and encourage its existence in any form, in our midst…