21 March 2011 (Monday) - "A" Week

The "A" might stand for "atheist" or  "Apathetic Agnostic". Either would fit the bill. 'A' Week is not about being disrespectful to religion or people who have religious views, it's about quietly showing that there are more people than may be realised who are 'Good without God' and who don't need religion to influence their lives. Personally I feel it’s a wonderful idea, with the reservation that (in my opinion) it doesn’t go far enough and it shouldn’t be afraid to rattle one or two cages.
Over the last few years quite a few of my blog entries have had something of an anti-religion theme about them. And seeing how it’s now “A” week, this is probably the best time of all for me to have a really good rant about religion and get it all out of my system….

Let me start off by explaining why I seem to have a personal visceral dislike to organised religion.
Once upon a time I was a very religious person - I was actually a Steward in the Methodist Church until I saw the darkness (!). But did I believe in all the church taught? I can remember at the time telling a friend that I “wanted to believe”. The fact of the matter is that I was in the Boys Brigade as a child and as a young man. For over ten years I was in an environment where organised religion was a very big part of my daily life. Constantly being exposed to the religious teachings meant that I rather accepted them as one accepts most things in life to which one is constantly exposed.
When I left home I sought out another Methodist church, because I was a Methodist, and that’s what we did. And I was a member of St Andrews Methodist Church in Folkestone for nearly two years. During this time I wasn’t anywhere near as wrapped up with religion as I had been; in Hastings there was something church-related at least four days every week. In Folkestone there was just the Sunday service, and occasionally something mid week. In retrospect my faith was failing, but we kept going to St Andrews because the congregation there were welcoming and friendly to people who were strangers in a strange town.

We moved to Ashford in 1986, where there aren’t (traditional) Methodist churches. Instead we went to the local Baptist church. After all, we knew people there from our old Boys Brigade contacts. After four months at the South Ashford Baptist Church I realised that only two people at that church had actually spoken to us. And it was about that time when I actually had a religious revelation.
I finally realised that for many years I’d been going to church for social reasons: because all my friends went to church, and my entire social life was church-based. Now I was at a church which wasn’t so friendly I realised that I didn’t really believe anything that the Church was preaching. I actually thought it was a well-meaning but utterly inconsistent and contradictory load of hot air. But I was scared by the fact that I thought that way. It was quite a while before I admitted to myself that instead of believing what my church said, I was desperately hoping that it was all true, because the alternative was rather frightening. Terrifying in fact.

Having had my “Road to Damascus” moment I packed up going to church, and I rather left the whole concept of religion alone for many years I eventually stumbled upon a bunch of people (on-line) who rather shared the views of religion that I had formed after years of reflection. I am now an ordained minister in the Church of the Apathetic Agnostic. “We don’t know and we don’t care”. And I’ve grown stronger in that (lack of) faith ever since – it is my belief that there may be a God who created the world, or there may not be: I don’t know. But I do believe that *if* there is such a God, then it is pretty obvious that said God is rather apathetic to his creations. And consequently is not worthy of the praise that conventional religions would heap on that deity (given half a chance.) And it’s no secret that I am now at the point where I find myself appearing to be very vocally anti-religion.
But on reflection I *really* I don’t think I am anti-religion. I’m anti “people who consider themselves to be religious but don’t actually know what they are talking about”.
If people want to believe in something then that’s fine with me…  Let me qualify that. If people want to believe in something then they need to actually read up on their belief, research it and understand it. What boils my piss (to coin a phrase) is people who announce that they are a member of any religion (including my own), but do not actually have any idea whatsoever about what that religion teaches. For example as a scout leader I was once harangued for religious intolerance. I wouldn’t let a young Muslim lad have bacon for breakfast. His father was furious with me, only to apologise a week later once he’d actually found out that he wasn’t supposed to eat bacon.

Or take Catholic people. Before I run down the entire concept of Catholicism, to be fair I feel I should point out that I have met a lot of Catholics who have studied the tenets of their faith in detail, and do understand what they are talking about. However, I have also met many other people whose church attendance is minimal to zero, but they proudly and vocally announce they are Catholic. Amongst their number are people who are variously disapprove of abortion, Harry Potter, eating fish, television in general, the British Monarchy, co-educational schools… the list of things they’d like banned is endless.
And these people are against these things because they “are Catholic”. In some cases their personal beliefs are in line with official Catholic doctrine, in others they are not. Rarely are their opinions reasonably thought out. But so often I have seen people aggressively defend their standpoint by shouting “because I’m Catholic” (as if that proves anything.)

Or take the British population – according to Wikipedia, over seventy per cent of the British population claim to be Christian. According to the BBC only about fourteen per cent of the British population actually go to church with any regularity (more than once a month). Now it says in the Bible that Christians need to go to Church regularly (look it up!). So we have some fifty six per cent of the UK population (that’s over twenty five million people!) who are purporting to be a member of a religion but not following what it teaches.

And what *really* boils my piss is the role that religion plays in public life. When my children were younger I can remember much of the social life of the primary school being run by the local vicar. And everyone was happy with that state of affairs. I can remember my children coming home brainwashed by the church youth groups they’d been to.
Or take BBC Radio Four. Whenever there is a moral debate (and they often have those), one of the speakers is usually a Christian minister. Why? - For no other reason than that morality is seen to be the property of the Christian church. How did we as a nation manage to confuse morality with religion?

So… (having taken a deep breath and calmed down somewhat) to summarise this rant:
I feel justified in speaking knowledgeably about a range of subjects (human physiology, snake keeping, mathematics, malaria, astronomy, warp drive theory, home brewing… to name but a few) because I’ve spent years studying these subjects. Conversely I don’t know the first thing about a far wider range of subjects (fine art, geology, high finance, banking, law, poetry, cookery, football, electronics…..) because I haven’t studied them at all, and so wouldn’t want to offer an opinion on them.
So there you go – if I seem to be anti-religion in my rantings, actually I’m not. It’s just that I actually know a thing or two about the subject matter. I’m anti- the people who vociferously offer opinions on a subject, but don’t actually have the first clue what they are talking about.

And on that note I’d like to wish all my loyal readers all the best over the forthcoming “A” week… And remember that you can be 'Good without God' and you don't need religion to make you a better person. A garden can be pretty without having fairies at the bottom of it. And certainly tonight’s night sky which I admired at an impromptu star party wasn’t “God’s Heaven”.

I suspect that those who do need invisible friends from which to gain an outdated morality might feel obliged to disagree though. I wonder if they could conduct a coherent discussion on the matter …

1 comment:

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197
    Have you seen this report?

    They use a mathematical model to show that religion will probably die out in 9 countries.