Today I read some good news. In England and Wales, according to recent studies by an outfit called British Social Attitudes, more people profess to have no religion than admit to being religious. The change in this figure has been dramatic: those professing no religion are up to 48.5 per cent, compared with 25 per cent in the 2011 census.
Anyone who has read this blog over time will realize how warmly I welcome this news. The article carrying this momentous stuff is in today’s Guardian and can be found at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/23/no-religion-outnumber-christians-england-wales-study.
You can read it for yourselves, so it remains only for me to explain why I dislike religions, all religions. In fact, the detailed figures given in the article confirm one of my overwhelming prejudices, which is that religionists are the masters at killing each other, and people who disagree with their particular beliefs, when it reveals that of all regions of the British Isles, it is only Northern Ireland in which people professing no religions are a tiny minority of just eight per cent. And which area within the British Isles is most known for violence, hatred, murder and mayhem? You got it in one.
If we look at the contemporary world it is hard to imagine how anyone can profess to be religious, since it is religious people who are conducting all the wars. It is known that the United States is awash in religious fanatics, and it so happens that this great Christian nation almost never ceases bombing other peoples, invading their nations, and killing their citizens. (Their leader, a convinced Christian, was at one point reputed to draw up every Tuesday a list of people to be executed without trial by his drones. Way to go, Barack!).
But even if we leave that aside --- I know many will say all that killing is not done for Christian reasons --- the other wars going on at present seem all to be either stimulated by religious differences, or to be about religions themselves. The country that could claim, I suppose, to be the most religious on earth, Saudi Arabia, is also known as a veritable hellhole of kidnappings, floggings, executions, invasions, exported terrorism, and a programme of imposing their extreme religion on the rest of the world.
I remember being shown around a major Moroccan city by a man who, meeting me on an airplane, kindly invited me home to share couscous with him and his family. As he drove me around the city he kept pointing out some of the many places that had been bought by Saudi princes, letting go a diatribe of denunciation of them as people who arrived thinking they could buy anything and anyone, who exhibited appalling behaviour in their dealings with the locals, and, even short of that, of vulgarly ostentatious flaunting of their ill-gotten wealth to such a degree that he wished fervently it would be possible to rid his country of them.
Of course, various religious sects are at each other’s throats throughout the Middle East, but also in countries like Buddhist Burma, horrible stories emerge of discrimination to the death against other religionists (the Rohinga Muslims, for example); in Bangladesh you can be hunted to death for expressing views about life that are commonplace in more civilized societies; in Turkey, mercifully freed by Ataturk from the rule of the imams, religionists have forced themselves back into power and are busy imprisoning people whose opinions they don’t like, and so on and on. In Egypt, once the long-dormant Moslem Brotherhood was elected to power, they ruled with such savagery against anyone who didn’t believe what they believed, that they had to be removed by a military coup that is even worse.
Just this week the BBC showed a programme in which one of their minions travelled the length and breadth of what he and they call “the sacred Ganges.” And he found a river so polluted as to be almost beyond description. A river whose waters the adherents use for drinking, washing, crapping in, and disposing of their dead in. Another remarkable advertisement for the power of religion, I suppose.
In which part of the world is it most dangerous to be gay, lesbian or transsexual? In Africa, where the Christianity imposed by the former colonial rulers has taken root in a particularly virulent and intolerant form.
I cannot leave this without referring to the role of religion in priest-ridden Latin America. Though there have been clerics who have made courageous stands against the ruling oligarchies there (Bishop Romero is a notable case who was brutally shot down on the steps of his cathedral in El Salvador), the tale of the obsessed American fundamentalist Protestant sects that have penetrated the jungles is one of the horror stories of our modern world. Fanatically, these sects have ruined the lives of people living in these jungles, and imposed a brutal regime of absurd beliefs on them reducing them to despair, drunkenness, poverty and dissolution on the edges of towns and cities in that continent. Read Norman Lewis’s various accounts of these people; read Peter Matthiessen’s monumental tragi-comedic At Play in the Fields of the Lord.
Even within our own society we have nothing to boast about, except that apparently adherence to the ridiculous shibboleths of Christianity are in decline. Virgin birth? Are you serious? Ascension to heaven? Give me a break. Miracles and weeping statues? Phu-leeze!