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29 July 2008

A World without Religion?

Having seen on the TV news this morning that about 5 million people in the UK have a reading age of 12 I felt bound to reflect how lucky I am to be able to read at all. The ability to read is not only essential in order to get through the business of every-day life, but it is the gateway to knowledge, thought, discussion, escape, pleasure, tears, laughter.

So, why the title of this post - "A World without Religion?"

Well, it's just that many interesting books have passed through my hands in recent years, and the latest one is called "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins (Professor for the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University).

Now Richard Dawkins is an Atheist, and proud of it, and his avowed intention in this book is to steer us all in the same direction. A short blog post is not the place to rehearse the arguments for and against the existence of God. I have neither the expertise, nor the willingness of you, the reader, to put up with whatever ramblings I could churn out on whether God should be faith-based or evidence-based.

Whether or not Dawkins has the power to turn a believer into a non-believer, he does invite us to consider some interesting points, which is where we come to the title of this post. Imagine a world without religion: the Manhattan skyline would still be dominated by the twin towers of the World Trade Centre; women would not be having their skin lashed for exposing too much of it; 20th century Northern Ireland would never have been the blood bath that it was; the Spanish Inquisition would never have occurred; innocent children would not be blown up by suicide bombers; American presidents could be elected on their merit, compassion, and leadership qualities irrespective of the need to profess a belief in God; there would be no well-heeled, bouffant hair-styled tele-evangalists ordering you to send them large quantities of money because God wants you to.

We are invited to consider the fact that, for the most part, your religion is dictated by accident of birth, so that a child of Christian parents knows that he is following the true path and that Islam is a false religion. Similarly the child of Muslim parents knows that he is following the true path and that Christianity is a false religion.

Also, there is no such thing as a "Christian Child" or a "Muslim Child" because they are too young to have made a decision in these matters. The decision has been made for those children.

We interpret and use the Bible to suit our own ends, cherry-picking the bits that fit nicely into our beliefs, ignoring the clear indication in the Old Testament that God appears to be a most unpleasant character, a jealous, petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sado-masochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

The death penalty is prescribed for adultery, gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and for cheeking your parents.

Thomas Jefferson described the God of Moses as "cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust."

But, by the time we get to the New Testament, God has become a gentle, all-forgiving and loving being, exemplified by Jesus.

Organised religion is awash with hate and hypocrisy. During the course of my professional life in environmental management, I had occasion to make regular inspections of the waste water treatment works serving a well-known boys' Roman Catholic public school run by monks and priests. There were, of course, some females on the premises - teachers, domestic staff, etc. We all know, of course, that Catholic priests and monks are celibate. So why, during my inspections, was I always astounded by the huge quantities of used condoms arriving at the treatment plant?

Yes, indeed it is sometimes tempting to look favourably upon a world without religion, and yes, I am so glad that I am fortunate enough not to be one of those 5 million people in the UK with reading difficulties, so that I can read the Bible and the Koran and Richard Dawkins and come to my own conclusions without someone else having the bare-faced audacity to dictate my beliefs.

16 July 2008

Englishman for President!

It's going to be a tough call against Barak Obama, and then of course there's the small problem of the American Constitution, but what the hell - I'll give it a go!

08 July 2008

Men in Dresses accept Women in Dresses

The Church of England Synod, meeting in York yesterday, accepted the principle of women bishops. Naturally the proposal created much controversy, causing many leading old farts in dresses to call for a breakaway Church loyal to the practice of male domination.

To my mind, once the Church had accepted the ordination of women as priests a few years ago, then the next logical step would be female bishops. I think the Church has made the right decision, and if some Neanderthals in holy orders want to break away, then the Church of England will be much improved without them.

One of the (many) great evils in this world is the existence of societies in which the concept of male domination and the assignment of women to subsidiary roles is regarded as the norm. It is a blight on many religious groups, including both Islam and Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church is a prime example.

It is therefore wholly laudable that the Church of England (which is, after all, the United Kingdom's established Church) has at last aligned itself with the equality laws passed by the UK Parliament.

05 July 2008

Reducing the Plastic Bag Mountain

Shopping in Scarborough this morning I was encouraged to note how at last we appear to have succeeded in bringing about a culture change in regard to the use of plastic bags. Until recently (and I also plead guilty to this) we were amassing plastic bags as if they were going out of fashion .. and how appropriate, because they have indeed gone out of fashion.

The routine at supermarket checkouts always used to be the same: your goods fly past the scanner, down the chute and you stuff them straight into a dozen or so plastic bags provided free of charge for your convenience. Then you get home, empty all the bags and add to them the rising pile of old bags that you stuffed away somewhere. You will never take them out with you again next time you go shopping. When one day you realise that you have no possible use for 150 crumpled plastic bags you sling them out with the garbage and they add to the refuse landfill site of non-biodegradable materials, that are rapidly turning holes in the ground into refuse mountains.

Now we are being encouraged to fork out 5 pence for long-lasting re-usable shopping bags, and I noted this morning how many people in the queue for the checkout were now carrying their own permanent or semi-permanent means of carrying their shopping. Hey! just like Grandma and Grandpa used to do!

If you think about it, the old habit of using these millions of bags at supermarkets was completely unnecessary. After all, most of us visit a supermarket using a car. When we get there we pick up a trolley, we fill it with goods, we run the goods past the checkout then we refill the trolley to take our shopping back to the car. Why do we need bags? Empty the trolley into the back of the car .. have a couple of handy boxes in there to make things easier .. job done!