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Ignorance is bliss, unfortunately

November 21, 2016

When I was seven, I surprised my mother by announcing I wanted to start going to Sunday school. Well, two of my best friends went and I wanted to go, too. Once my mother had been assured that she would not have to spend her Sunday mornings in church as well, she said fine. I suspect she assumed I’d get over it and by the time I was ten I had.

Although I’m not aware of any of my Cockney relatives setting foot inside a church for anything other than christenings, weddings and funerals, many of the ones who’d fled bomb-flattened east London after the war to live in East Anglian villages did tend to get involved in their local churches. It was, after all, a central part of village life. Also, village churches were usually quite lovely. Unlike the dreary red brick Victorian church I briefly attended.

When one of my cousins got involved in the fundraising drive for his beautiful village church, I assumed he was doing this for the sake of the building itself, not what went on inside. I was planning to visit the weekend a special service was being held to give thanks for the completion of the much needed repairs. He asked if I wanted to go and I said sure. I love a beautiful old building as much as the next person and this village church was a truly beautiful old building.

Something unexpected happened during the service. I noticed the fervor with which my cousin was singing the hymns, the solemnity with which he responded to the prayers. Seriously? This was an intelligent, hard drinking, chain smoking man who swore with the best of them and who had not always been faithful to his wife. How could this man be religious? I found the hypocrisy quite breathtaking.

Part of me wanted to challenge him as soon as we got to the pub after the service. Another part of me figured I must be missing something, if this man – of all men – believed in the father, the son and the holy ghost. I decided I was going to have to do some research before tackling the subject with him.

I did not go back to the bible. If my early years as a church goer had taught me nothing else about the bible, it was that the book was filled with some lovely – and some frightening – stories that were as easy for me to put aside as my Grimm’s fairy tales.

No, I started reading books about the history of Christianity. I quickly realised this was not going to get me anywhere. I needed to go back further to the history of Judaism. That’s when I met Yeshua – or Joshua as the Jewish name was translated in the King James version of the old testament. By that time, the Greeks had already translated Yeshua into their new testament version of the name: Jesus.

That was pretty much the end of my research. I simply could not get past the idea of hundreds of millions of people believing blindly in a man whose name they couldn’t even get right.

A couple of years ago, prompted by a bizarre letter in my local paper about “intelligent design” (creationism by any other name), I wrote a column detailing what I did believe.

In a nutshell, I do believe in prophets – extraordinary men and women who come along at key points in human evolution and inspire people with a different vision of how things could be. I believe Joshua of Nazareth actually lived and breathed thousands of years ago. I believe Mohammed existed. (I also believe that if both men hadn’t decomposed a long time ago they would be rolling in their graves over the bastardisation of their teachings that has taken place since their deaths.) I believe Gandhi was a prophet and Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

I know that many people find great comfort in their religions. And I’ve always thought they should be free to practice their religions, as long as it’s in a Hippocratic “first do no harm” sort of way.

That said, I am mostly with Bill Maher, America’s best known atheist, who has gone on record many times saying religion is the root of all evil.

I do not share – in fact I abhor – his irrational fear of all things Muslim. When he complains about the oppression of women and homophobia he sees as inherent in the Islamic faith, I can’t help wondering if he’s ever been to an orthodox Jewish neighbourhood. I also wonder if he’s forgotten that same-sex sexual acts were still illegal in fourteen US states before a 2003 Supreme Court decision ruled that intimate consensual sexual conduct is part of the liberty protected by under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Don’t get me wrong. I hate seeing women in burqas. But a mere 100 years ago, any Christian woman who showed more of her leg than her ankles was considered a Jezebel.)

Why am I writing about this today? Because yesterday a friend posted a “must read” link on Facebook. Generally when this friend says something must be read, I read it. And so I did.

If you’re looking for a truly depressing read, On Rural America: Understanding Isn’t The Problem is it.

rural-america

It is a long, fascinating and horrifying article written by someone who grew up in “rural, Christian, white America”, which details the role played by fundamentalist religion in promoting bigotry and hatred. It’s also the best explanation I’ve come across for the fact that in January next year Donald Trump will become the President of the United States.

Here is just one example provided by the author of the mindset of white, rural Christians: “they are willing to vote against their own interest if they can be convinced it will make sure minorities are harmed more.”

I encourage everyone to read the full article.

And then ask yourself: Could anything sound less like the teachings of Joshua of Nazareth?

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