Writing this as a self-proclaimed atheist, though not a proselytising one, it seems to me that such is human existence that as many people as possible believing in something is a good thing.
Believing in anything, I mean.
In a God or indeed gods, in a common set of humanitarian principles, in the sports team you were either born to or chose, in treating others as you would wish them to treat you … even in ‘Truth, Justice and the American way’ if that creed floats your particular boat.
Call me old-fashioned [now there’s a phase that built empires, launched a thousand ships and started one hundred wars] or even a wishy-washy liberal 21st Century Boy, but it seems a fundamental principle and ‘good thing’ that human beings should be infused with an instinct towards seeking to find affinities with one another. Share the same basic values. Find common ground in regarding not only some things as noble and good … but some others (crime, hatred, racism, arrogance, untrustworthiness, lack of integrity and lying – to specify but a few) as ignoble, anti-social and worthy of discouragement. Recognise that ‘jaw-jaw’ is better than ‘war-war’. That even if all men are not created equal, at least they have an equal right to live in a degree of comfort, safety and dignity.
You know – that kind of thing.
Earlier this week I met up with an old pal who – if he is anything – is a life-enhancer extraordinaire. A great big talented charismatic bear of a man possessed of fine character, integrity and openness. A humorous prankster with a limitless inner store of goodwill towards not only everyone he comes across, but also the world at large generally.
When I write that he’s a Christian ‘but in a good way’ it probably does him and his religion a disservice. What I mean by it is that – if personal humility, and a willingness to think of and help others if he can (especially those in any sort of need), is the measure of a man, then he is a man and a half. And if you were to say that to him, well first after denying it, if he could ever be persuaded to accept the tribute, he’d undoubtedly put it down to his religious belief in ‘the Man upstairs’.
All well and good so far.
However, this week he shocked me considerably with his intolerance towards Islam and everything it stands for.
I always thought that one of the primary tenets of all religions – and I was brought up in the Christian tradition – was an acceptance of and tolerance towards those who were different from yourself.
Not so, it seems. My pal’s verbal attack on Islam took flight immediately the subject of the recent terrorist beach attack in Tunisia somehow came up in conversation.
Apparently it was an evil creed that justified wanton violence and preached unthinkably barbaric things, including world domination for Sharia Law. The politicians’ cult of multi-culturalism was a mistake, wrong and misguided, i.e. ultimately counter-productive and detrimental to the well-being of the country. Indeed any country. The ‘establishment’ Muslims who espoused respect for the British way of life, traditions and laws were in fact well-meaning apologist stooges for what amounted to an uncivilised, negative and morally indefensible force for bad … and/or alternatively were in denial of the truth.
To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by this onslaught.
Partly because, a decade or two ago now, my wife and I once attended a series of seminars highly-recommended by my above pal, in which those on the verge of faith, those doubting theirs … and indeed even agnostics like me who fancied an intellectual argument … met together every Tuesday evening for a two-hour discussion led by a local priest.
As part of the project said cleric supervised an informal study of Christian beliefs and a study of comparative religions including Islam. If I recall correctly, the latter had Mohammad claiming no special status for himself (he being just a conduit via which God’s message was being transmitted) and recognising Jesus as a great prophet, two facts that I thought both welcome and positive in the scheme of the world and in the cause of mutual respect.
That was until, towards the end of the course, we suddenly reached the subject of the fundamental principles of Christian belief. Suddenly our priestly leader announced that, as per the Scriptures, only Jesus could lead people to God. Anyone who heard the (Christian) word of God and did not follow it was condemned to everlasting hell-fire and damnation.
Obviously those who had not yet heard it deserved to do so, because thence they might be ‘saved’, which is why the Christian missionary movement was established. Nevertheless, if such savages and natives as had Christianity explained to them then failed to sign up, they’d be going straight to Hell.
It was at this point that I put my hand up and said I was terribly sorry, but I just couldn’t buy into this line and was therefore now disembarking from the metaphorical bus whose destination was plainly the booth in which passengers ‘signed up’ for Christianity.
For me, I told him, which religion (if any) one followed was largely a product of background and where you were brought up. Thus First World westernised Europeans had an obvious propensity to be Christian, those born on the Sub-Continent to be Muslim or Hindu and those who came from wherever Buddhism holds sway to be Buddhists. Wasn’t a better way to look at things to regard all religions as simple different ways of the same thing – finding a path to God – and surely the ‘getting to God’ was the whole point of the exercise … and not the route you took?
It occurred to me this week – parking my other antipathies towards religion generally and concentrating upon just Christianity and Islam for the moment – that they’re both as ‘bad’ as each other. They both preach that only their version of religion can take anyone to God and that anyone who ‘hears their message’ and then fails to sign up to it will be condemned to eternal pain and suffering.
Not a great deal of ‘peace, love and understanding’ in that, is there?