Religion is getting a bad rap these days and it is not that hard to see why. Self-styled protectors or controllers of the faith – i.e. religious extremists – continue to push their narrow views on truth and praxis on everyone else, whether they are co-religionists or not. These arbiters of religion cannot see past their own noses and believe that the smallest change or deviation from what they see as absolute threatens everything they stand for. Hence, they aggressively defend their creed and at times this defence turns violent. Then again, at times this defence is just puerile and stupid. Three recent cases show how religious fervour descends to ridiculousness
- The highest religious authority in Indonesia, the Ulema Council, has issued a fatwa (NB a non-binding religious opinion) barring Muslims from wearing Christmas-themed clothing, especially those who work in shopping malls, department stores and restaurants. Apparently seeing a Santa hat on a Muslim head sent these joyless souls into fits of paroxysm.
- Not to be outdone, emotionally stunted rabbis in Israel have ordered hotels to not erect Christmas trees or host new year’s parties. It seems that the presence of a tree is a pagan act of idolatry that violates the kosher status of the building – go figure.
- And my vote for Grinch of the year goes to an idiot posing as a Christian who went to Texas malls to scream at kids waiting for Santa to helpfully let them know that Santa was not real and that “Jesus is the reason for the season”. I hope he gets coal in his stocking but I highly doubt he puts up stockings.
What is it about Christmas that brings out the morons?
There have always been those who opt for a literal meaning of sacred texts – we call these people “fundamentalists”. All faiths have them and their sanctimoniousness is grating to say the least. There have also always been those who use the cloak of religion both to gain and to leverage power over others. Simply stated, if I can reliably claim to understand the mind of God and interpret it for others, I can do a lot to control societies.
Look, I am not anti-religion (even if I am not a particularly practicing person of any one faith). Religion can inspire humans to selfless action and altruism. People who are deeply faithful have done great deeds and can anyone go through a major art gallery and not marvel at the sublime works created out of religious tradition?
I suppose the problem has always been the disconnect between religion as a concept and how it is put into practice. We are by definition fallible and it is those frailties that interfere when we try to translate faith into reality. No one has THE answer to everything, much as they may try to convince you that they do. And we have seen what happens when charismatic figures wield absolute power over followers who see them as prophets/gods. The Waco massacre and Jamestown are but two examples.
At the risk of angering a lot of religious people, it is my opinion that there is not a great distance between intense religious fundamentalism and terrorism. Both phenomena rely on absolute ideology and a conviction that this ideology must be imposed on everyone. Fundamentalists do not usually resort to violence in this regard, unlike terrorists, but the differences are not that significant. While few fundamentalists are terrorists, an awful lot of religious terrorists are indeed religious fundamentalists.
I am not of the John Lennon school of “no religion too”. But we really have to look at where religion is currently taking us. Rather than a species-wide search for deeper meaning and truth, it seems as the world’s faiths see religion as a zero-sum game. I win, you lose. And I sure as hell am not going to show your beliefs any respect or even acknowledge their existence (Islamic State is an unfortunate model of this form of extreme intolerance).
If we are going to reduce religiously-motivated violence, two things are necessary. Firstly, the vast majority who are not fundamentalists have to challenge the tiny minority who are and remind them that they do not speak on behalf of everyone else. Secondly, all religions have to see what they share in common and seek to understand each other. We don’t have to agree on every aspect of faith, but we need to accept difference. Failing that, we will spiral into more violence and death.
On that note, wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful 2017.