Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Intemperate Vandal

Mark Twain once famously admonished religion for the way it stood in the way of moral progress, preventing it up until the point where it realised the game was up, at which point it joined the parade at the back of the queue. He was right of course. Has there ever been a bigger stumbling block, a larger obstacle to clear thinking and reasoned discourse? I think not. Nowhere is this better emphasised than the church's pitiful, enfeebled efforts to prevent homosexuals from enjoying the same rights as anyone else. But rather than dwell on this I want to press home another point, namely to dismiss the idea that we need religion for any moral problem. Let me illustrate using the image of two missionary's working overseas, perhaps with children with HIV or some other degenerative condition. They sacrifice themselves because they believe they are doing Gods will, pouring heart and soul, blood and sweat into enriching the lives of others. If, one day, they learned that God was imaginary,would this give them license to stop doing what they do? Would the absence of God negate the need to care for these children, or render their commitment any less wonderful? What should we think of them if they suddenly packed bags and flew home, feeling everything they did was for naught? Well might I suggest that we could be legitimately scathing. Ask yourself, what was their true motivation? To please God? To live lives pleasing to The Lord? Do the needs of these children diminish one iota whether or not God exists? No. Of course, no. I argue that whilst the idea of God compels many to great sacrifice, it shouldn't be necessary. If you're going to be benevolent do it because it's the right thing to do, because it reduces the surplus of human suffering. Be good for the sake of goodness. No other reason is required. God is now surplus and superfluous, an outsized comfort blanket dragged around by many people unable to face reality as it is. If you truly need religion to sculpt your moral architecture then that says something about you. Whilst you might consider yourself humble for thinking you can't make it alone, it seems to me that you possibly lack some courage. Yes, this world can be terrifying, and we are more fragile and vulnerable than many of us care to admit. We blunder through ethical and moral dilemmas and often only learn with the added tool of hindsight. That's the price of being human, the cost of the ticket. It's non refundable and there are no terms and conditions. Finally, back to religion. We're reaching the point where it really does have the power to damage and corrode as never before. Whilst Christianity is in its death rattle, it still twitches from time to time and makes a noisy nuisance. And Islam remains an intemperate vandal just waiting for its big moment in the spotlight. Both must be resisted by people of reason. Calmly, firmly, continuously. We need a climate of good natured mockery, where confessions of faith are seen as a personal hobby rather than as something with deeper, more profound significance. I have no objection to a persons private religious belief, and I support an individuals right to practice this. But my line in the sand is crossed when it transgresses on the important moral issues of the day. When it does, we get bogged down in muddy thinking and positions based on mere vapour. We cannot afford this and need to make this clear. Join me as we seek to limit the influence of religion; play your part in taming this eternal teenager, this gangly and erratic relic. We need not be unkind, nor rude or needlessly mocking. We just need to ensure it knows its place.

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