I’ve recently come across a magazine called ‘GO’, published by a fundamentalist Christian organisation called Interserve (which sounds like a company that might supply catering on airlines or maintain your car but turns out to be a hard-core evangelical outfit based in Milton Keynes). I always find the self-satisfied, unquestioning, bible-bashing propaganda of such publications quite unsettling but I generally conclude that whilst they’re preaching to the converted (literally), they’re doing no harm.

However, this little gem is different. It’s breathtaking in its Christian arrogance, condescending and extremely offensive.

The main thrust of the issue that I have (January to March 2015) is that Islam is going though a crisis and that millions of Muslims all over the world have now seen the light and are converting to Christianity. It back this up with dubious statistics from its own sources (using a measurement called ‘Movements to Christ’ based on baptisms and the establishment of new churches). By this measure, it claims between 2 and 7 million new ‘Christ-followers’ (their term; like God-botherers* I expect) worldwide in the last 20 years.

All well and good if ‘GO’ was simply claiming that these people fancy Jesus more than Mohammed. It is saying this of course but in doing so, it also claims that they are leaving the Muslim faith because they are disillusioned with it. It then goes on to insult and deprecate Islam in a way I’ve rarely seen before.

As an example, a quotation from Theodore Dalrymple (whoever he is) at the beginning of an article entitled ‘[Islam] Resurging or Reforming’ says “Islam in the modern world is weak and brittle, not strong; hence its frequent shrillness. Fundamentalist Islam will be dangerous for some time to come and its withdrawing roar may well be long and bloody – but withdraw it will”

And at the end of the same article, the writer, Steve Bell says: “As this reformation continues, its effects will be felt by Muslims worldwide who are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the problem with Islam is Islam itself”.

I’m no apologist for Islam or for any religion; I think organised religion – all religion – and the delusion of faith, lie at the root of many of the world’s most intransigent problems… but I’m still shocked at the bald arrogance of this publication (and the organisation that produces it) in so blatantly setting its own faith above someone else’s and clearly deriving so much satisfaction from the awful atrocities committed by so-called Muslim fundamentalists which, it claims, are driving Muslims to convert to Christianity.

And the ultimate irony for me – and a demonstration of the self-centred and misguided ignorance of ‘Interserve and ‘GO’ – is that their very own Jesus would be shocked and disgusted by such intolerance and hypocrisy.

*God-botherers are those awful people – like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – who knock on your door and try to sell you their faith.

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I can understand why many Muslims around the world are annoyed by the blatant and totally unnecessary publication of 5 million copies of Charlie Hebdo with a cartoon of Mohammed on the cover. This was supposed to be some sort of statement about free speech but it’s much more about knowingly causing offence to a large proportion of the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. As an atheist iconoclast, I don’t give a monkey’s about anyone’s God but I still don’t think actually setting out to offend people is a very good idea.

Having said that, the violent protests that have broken out around the world as a response don’t seem to support the notion of Islam being a religion of peace or tolerance.

Someone will now say, I suppose, that every country and every religion has it’s hotheads and that the people attacking Christian churches and French interests are not representative of most Muslims. Maybe not but, like the murderers in Paris, they claim to be doing it in the defence of their religion and sooner or not, the wider Muslim world will have consider the implications of this for their faith.

Of course not. The mass murder carried out in Paris yesterday was no more about Islam than the crusades or the Inquisition were about Christianity. Religion was simply an excuse for brutal, misguided, psychologically disturbed men to indulge in gratuitous bloodshed.

However, it does raise the issue of ‘crimes’ such as blasphemy and the blind, illogical, outdated and doctrinaire constraints of some religions about how they, their core beliefs and their religious deities, icons and paraphernalia can be represented. Islam is perhaps the worst of these in its absolute prohibition of any representation of the prophet Mohammed but there was a crime of blasphemy on the UK statute books until 2008 and the last prosecution under this law was in 1977. Many countries around the world retain blasphemy laws, some with extreme penalties, up to and including death, for transgressors.

Why is this? Plain and simple fear. If we remember that all religious scriptures (the Bible, Quran, etc) were written by men in order to exert control over others (albeit with a claim that they were divinely guided or received the words from God), then it’s easy to see why a subsequent development would have to be some sort of strict sanction to prevent ridicule or criticism of the religion that those scriptures formed the basis of, otherwise the control of those in charge could be too easily threatened or reduced.  Making it a crime punishable by death to question or criticise the teachings of God (or the prophet, the Messiah or whatever) or even to question the authority of clerics, is a very effective way to ensure that power remains with the few and that awkward questions remain unasked. Maintaining a mystique around deities (not being able to draw or paint them, for instance) is another key plank of this fascist dictatorship of faith.

But, in the modern world, particularly in the information age, some societies and religions have moved on, realising that any faith worthy of its name has to be capable of being challenged and questioned (and of being ridiculed) and should also be capable of defending itself and surviving, without the control of clerics being challenged. But some have not. Islam is one of these (Christianity, of course, has developed some much more subtle ways to control its adherents, but more of that another day)..

There’s a very fine line between insulting someone’s beliefs in order to cause hurt and offence and questioning those beliefs from an intellectual perspective or even ridiculing some of the more outlandish aspects of them. And whilst people may take offence at the former, they should accept the latter. And neither situation can ever be a justification for criminal charges or punitive punishment.

And so-called blasphemy, of whatever type or degree, will never be a justification for murder.

And so, another tragedy and another headlong rush to the nearest church where the man in the vestments and the funny collar will help everyone feel better.

But what’s in people’s minds as they pray? Are they thanking God (surely not), blaming him (just as surely not) or asking him to have mercy on the souls of those so tragically killed in this accident? The latter seems the most likely but does God really need this supplication from a church full of people to accept the dead into his heaven? Would he not do so without their prayers? Presumably not, otherwise why would it be necessary? Which seems a strange state of affairs to me.

At times like this, people gain comfort from community, from others sharing and feeling their grief, from a sympathetic word, a tear, a touch, a smile. I understand this and I value it. What I don’t understand is why God needs to be involved. I don’t understand why these people can’t come together in some secular place to share their love and their common humanity, to support and comfort each other without needing to fall to their knees and mutter platitudes to an invisible force who has either caused the tragedy over which they pray, watched and allowed it to happen or been powerless to stop it.

Is that the God you put your faith in?

Posted: December 23, 2014 in Religion
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So here’s another puzzle for me; very much related to my previous post about God’s involvement – or not – in earthly matters.

When does no-one ever blame God for anything?

How many times have we seen disasters, both mass and individual, where something awful has happened and people are flocking to churches, mosques and temples or imploring us all to pray for the victims? From victims of earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, droughts and wars to families of people brutally murdered or kidnapped, falling back on religion seems to be the natural and accepted course of action for so many.

Yet again, the elephant in the room for me is the insurmountable logical and rational somersault that has to be performed in order to normalise this reaction. We’re all going to pray to God for mercy and relief from the disaster and grief or whatever and so, by definition, accept that he is able to do something about it, yet no-one is going to blame him for it happening in the first place.

Why? Because he’s infallible presumably and the earthquake that’s wiped out a town or the mass murderer who’s just killed your kids is just another small part of his divine plan and beyond our understanding. But, if it is, then what’s the point of those prayers? If God knows what he’s doing then he’s not going to be swayed by a few prayers is he? And, if he doesn’t know what he’s doing and it was all just an accident, then he can’t be omniscient or omnipotent can he? So he’s not the God you think he is.

But there’s a third explanation, which is surely much more disturbing for those of faith. God did make those things happen (or at least, he didn’t stop them from happening) and does what he likes, when he likes for reasons best know to himself and so is very unlikely to give a fuck for you and your prayers.

I’m not going to criticise the Pope for making such a political comment as the one below. It’s good that someone with his influence is prepared to say these sorts of things.

However, I think it’s also pertinent to point out that many of the world’s richest people (particularly in the USA and the oil-rich Gulf states) subscribe to religions that claim to value poverty, humility and generosity (as we’re told Jesus did) and yet don’t seem to be influenced by the sorts of  teachings that, if they were to truly follow them, would see them either not generate such huge wealth or, if they did, give it away.

Also, most politicians who support and sustain capitalism and its inequalities, are also adherents to one of the Abrahamic faiths but this doesn’t seem to stop them doing what they do and I don’t imagine the Pope’s views are going to change that any time soon.

And I suppose it might also be worth mentioning that the wealth of the Vatican (much of it from big investments in banking, insurance, chemicals, steel, construction and property) is estimated to be between $10 billion and $15 billion.

But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good quote, eh?

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