If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

The Warsity Match



And I am in contention for the Worst Pun In A Blogpost Title This Decade. But no matter.

I like Baroness Warsi. I've seen her often on television (I don't watch much, but it's usually politics and news when I do) and generally she talks sense and doesn't suffer fools. She's someone who appears to have got where she is on merit, rather than as a member of a quota. This week she is on an official visit to the Vatican, where she will address the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy - the first time in history that this body has been addressed by someone from outside the Vatican. And she's female. And she's of Asian origin. And she's a Muslim. I'd wager that the old duffers in the Academy won't know what's hit them.
"I say, Cardinal, that sunburnt chap's a funny shape ..."
And what message is she bringing to the Mother Church after penetrating so deep into its mysogynistic and anti-enlightenment heart? Let the poor of the world control their own fertility so that they can climb out of poverty? Sell a few of those priceless works of art to fund a clean water project somewhere?

No. She's going to tell them we need more religion.

"In order to encourage social harmony, people need to feel stronger in their religious identities, more confident in their beliefs," she is due to say.

"In practice this means individuals not diluting their faiths and nations not denying their religious heritages.

"If you take this thought to its conclusion then the idea you're left with is this: Europe needs to become more confident in its Christianity."

I'm probably best described as an agnostic, and certainly not a Christian. But I believe in freedom. That includes freedom of thought, and consequently of religion. None of us is so brilliant and wise that he knows all the answers, and while we all have the freedom to believe what we choose, there is hope for us as a species. There may be a Heaven; there may not. It may be full of beautiful virgins; it may be full of dull characters with harps looking holy and spending all their time praising stuff. The point is we don't know, and we will never know (as opposed to believe, not the same thing at all) until the final door closes and we are in Paradise of whatever flavour, or simply back out in the street with our pockets emptied and a bad taste in our mouths. Or nowhere, and not even aware that we are nowhere, because there is no-one there to be aware of anything.

Now we all have beliefs about all sorts of things. We couldn't live without belief. I believe the sun will come up tomorrow, although I can't prove it. I believe that a certain combination of metallurgy, chemistry and physics will, on the application of a spark, get me to work tomorrow. If we didn't believe things, we'd never get anything done. A belief is not the truth, although it is a kind of 'working' truth - assumed to be true until proved otherwise. If I sit astride the XT tomorrow and thumb the starter, I believe it will take me to my place of employment. If it doesn't, but instead transforms itself into a rainbow-coloured hippo and starts singing The Marseillaise, then I will have a re-think. (And take the car, but that's beside the point.)

But beliefs aren't facts, and behaving as if they are is the root of all the trouble. We justify treating women, or black people, or gay people, as lesser beings because we don't believe, we know that God approves. The priest told us, and he got it from an old book, which was written by people who just knew, who were told by their God that it was true, in an endless recursive cycle back to where we started. The Islamic terrorist who blows up a building with a thousand souls inside does so, not because he believes that Allah wishes it, but because he knows that Allah wishes it. That doing otherwise would be contrary to everything he has ever been taught. He has no option. When you treat beliefs as facts, there is no room for any other interpretation.

The day we grow up and start to say "I believe what I believe, and I respect your right to do the same, and as long as we don't do any harm to each other in the process, we'll all get along fine, and the world will do what the world will do at the end of it all" is the day that the human race will start to move away from terrorism, war, torturing heretics, oppressing minorities, and hating folks just because they believe that a supernatural event which no-one actually saw occurred in a slightly different way.

So, Baroness Warsi, we don't need more religion in Europe. We don't need less either. We just need to shut up about it and stop assuming we know better than our neighbour what the truth is. And then live our lives as well as we can.

Religion has its place, and it's an honorable and vital place, in the human mind. It has no place in the making of laws which affect other people, or framing constitutions that govern whole countries, or of justifying wars that end with death and distress for people who may never have heard of your version of God.

12 comments:

  1. We justify treating women, or black people, or gay people, as lesser beings because we don't believe, we know that God approves.

    Ah - there's the most frequent misinterpretation of Christianity - one that is often used as a stick by non-Christians, admittedly aided and abetted by the frighteningly large number of Christians who don't really understand well enough the faith to which they subscribe. It is summed up by the maxim drummed into me when young to "Love the sinner, hate the sin".

    In short, we are all sinners. We all have ways in which we fail to live up to the standards we should reach. We all face temptations, and we all sometimes fail to resist. However, we are all different, and hence the temptations we face are all different. For me, it is probably arrogance, greed and gluttony that call out to me with a siren voice. Others may find those particular temptations easy to resist. Likewise, I have no difficulty whatsoever resisting the temptation to have gay sex with other men, or to sleep with women other than the one that I am married to - but others find those temptations to be very real.

    However, the fact that we all sin does not rule us out from salvation. We can all be forgiven, if we repent, because we are all loved.

    So He quite emphatically does not approve of me treating sinners as lesser people. How could I, when I am one myself? However, I can see the person as a real, equal person worthy of my love and still hate the sin in them just as I hate the sin in myself.

    That means that if the State decides to encourage a sin, any sin, I may object. But that objection does not mean I think the sinner is a lesser person.

    (Inevitably, though, the louder voice is the one that calls for gays to be burnt at the stake...)

    The day we grow up and start to say "I believe what I believe, and I respect your right to do the same, and as long as we don't do any harm to each other in the process, we'll all get along fine, and the world will do what the world will do at the end of it all" is the day that the human race will start to move away from terrorism, war, torturing heretics, oppressing minorities, and hating folks just because they believe that a supernatural event which no-one actually saw occurred in a slightly different way.

    Amen to that. I know quite a few Christians who would like to be left alone in that manner by the British State.

    transforms itself into a rainbow-coloured hippo and starts singing The Marseillaise, then I will have a re-think

    That would be rather inconvenient, but very cool if you could work out how to do it to order.

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  2. It certainly seems to have galvanised all the right people on Twitter this morning ;)

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  3. She wasn't appointed on merit - she's a failed Tory candidate.
    She is a woman and a moslem - that ticks two of the Macaroon's Common Purpose boxes.
    That she shares the same title as Maggie is a disgrace to the system.

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    1. I can only agree, token Muslim women,nothing more.

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  4. patently - firstly, thank you for such a full and considered response. I didn't make the comment about treating people as lesser beings with reference to Christianity in particular. I know your analysis of the 'proper' approach in Christianity is correct, and I have no problem with it. My comment was a general one against zealots of all religions. You can't deny that the 'lesser beings' thing is a feature of most religions, and in that I must include Christianity at some levels, but not exclusively by any means. And yes, the tolerance of other people's beliefs must extend to Christianity as much as any other religion - a fortiori because Christianity itself is probably the most tolerant of the major creeds.

    Julia - I don't follow Twitter, but perhaps I should!

    Anonymous - I know she's a failed candidate, but that doesn't make her a parachutee. She's competent and serious, and a good debater. She presents her Party well in the media. If it annoys you that Warsi is a Baroness, how angry are you about Cathy Ashton? I think your argument would be better served by elevating Maggie to a suitable peerage rather than comparing her with less significant candidates. Of course the system is a disgrace. Always was, always will be.

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  5. I suspected that Richard, but I've seen & heard the view often enough from misguided Christians :-(

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  6. I am left with the rather trite observation that, like Communism, it isn't that true Christianity has been tried and found wanting, it is that it hasn't been tried yet.

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  7. Religion, like Communism, would be fine, were it not for human nature.

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  8. If your XT plays the Marseillaise again please may I have some of what you are smoking?

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  9. "We couldn't live without belief. I believe the sun will come up tomorrow, although I can't prove it."

    Have to take issue here...the sun rising tomorrow is fact - well at least for the next few thousand of thousands of years until it burns itself out. Or some other novus actus interveniens.

    That isn't belief, that is knowledge based on observed and tested science.

    Belief in something intangible, or faith, or the seemingly human need to assuage the fear of death and belong to a tribe, that...that is religion.

    Perhaps it's because I have little time for religion that I disagree with both you and Warsi and take the standpoint that I would love to see the day religion was pigeon holed into some quaint history book.

    Religion forces by its very nature, the removal of free thinking and acceptance - anything in contradiction is heresy. The uncertain fate of evolution teaching is no longer an American phenomenon but rears its arrogant head in the morally abhorrent faith schools in this country now.

    Any student of Darwins' theory (the scientific meaning) of evolution will quite happily explain why and how it has been proven beyond all reasonable doubt - and yet the religious groups see it as a threat and so pedal their own propaganda view of creationism to stifle a science that shows the working of the councils of nicea for the farce that they were.

    The human race will always be tribal, always be subject to the instincts of its past and in our lifetime at least, be shackled by the limitations of religion.

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  10. The sun rising tomorrow isn't fact - if it hasn't happened yet, how can it be? It's a highly-likely supposition, based on the observation of events over thousands of years, but it can't be a 'fact'. That the sun will rise tomorrow is a theory, and as such it is falsifiable. You can't 'prove' it will rise tomorrow; only state with near-certainty that it will. I believe it will, and I base my life around that belief, but it is still a belief, not certain knowledge.

    In that sense it is similar to religious belief. It differs in its basis in evidence - many millions of data points observed by all humanity over millennia, compared with a book written by a Bronze-Age tribe who claimed to 'know' the mind of God.

    We're not so far apart. I. too, would like to see religion become a historical curiosity as science explains more and more and the 'God of the Gaps' retreats still further, but I doubt that will ever happen. There will always be mystery, and mankind will always seek to explain it in ways that make sense to him.

    I think you are too harsh on religion as a whole. They are not all dogmatic and inflexible. One or two might be, and the world needs to be very afraid of what might become of that if it ever gets serious military power behind it. But not all.

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