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Don’t bother me with your religion!

Nelson MandelaTo paraphrase a quote from Nelson Mandela… Babies aren’t born hating, as adults we actually teach our children to do that. Go and add a liberal dose of religion to the mix and we have some massive, often dangerous social issues blighting our world.

I’m certainly no theologian, neither am I a follower of any particular religion, which in my opinion is a good thing. It is probably also the major reason why I can actually see some good in most religions. As the Dalai Lama rightly points out… “If you have a particular faith or religion that is good – but you can survive without it.”

He also said; “All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness… the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.” The sad question is realistically; how often does that actually happen? Yes some religious followers are visibly more devote than others however; how many truly believe what it is they are following? How many do what they do out of tradition or even peer pressure? How many actually think deeply about what they espouse?

Having some passion, about many aspects of your life, is a good thing. It’s not good when that passion is extreme or impacts upon others and becomes bigotry or worse, sectarian violence. I can accept and respect anyone’s personal beliefs, I’m even happy for them to tell me about them, especially if they can do it in an educated and friendly fashion. I’m constantly annoyed with our media though, why do they constantly turn out rafts of perverse drivel about religious division in our society? Have they got some hidden agenda to create division? And if so, to what end?

Other people’s beliefs, culture and history have always been an important part of why I love to travel. I find the culture of others interesting. I like to try to understand what makes people tick. It’s one of the ways in which I can learn, it’s how I educate myself about our world and the Peoples who live in it. What I abhor is those who inadequately and unintelligently expect me to believe in what they believe…woe betide those who come knocking at my front door pedalling their particular brand of legend and myth!

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi told us that “mankind is naught but a single nation” and that “God has no religion” so; why is there so much conflict in our world, often dressed up in a colourful cloak of religious belief? Just because you were ‘saved’ by your particular ‘god’ it doesn’t follow that I need to be ‘saved’ too! Perhaps I am strong enough to be sufficiently satisfied with my lot? It never ceases to amaze me how so many religions seem to try to coral their followers with fear; to threaten them with hell and damnation if they don’t follow, market, worship and pray in a manner prescribed in some ancient dusty book?

The church is always trying to get other people to reform; it might not be a bad idea to reform itself a little, by way of example – Mark Twain

I think Georgia Harkness eloquently summed up much of what is wrong about religions. Harkness was an American Christian theologian and Methodist, she observed; “The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.” It seems to me that many religious beliefs, and sadly the sectarian violence that can (and does) develop, stems from little more than individual power (and/or wealth) struggles born of human tribalism. Thought process which in turn bread and reinforce hatred? Levels of hate and extremism which come from a lack of respect for others, a lack of understanding and fear that serves to develop contempt and paranoia.

Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it – Martin Luther King Jr

Perhaps the prominence of neoliberalism and overt political correctness in today’s society has had an impact here? The pejorative and pervasive nature of PC policies and process has served to stifle and/or control our thoughts, never mind our words. But, as Martin Luther King Jr pointed out; “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” If we can’t talk about what and why we believe what we do, where is our hope for future understanding?

It is interesting that so many of the world’s great leaders, now revered by many as humanitarian visionaries, were people who came to prominence through religious and/or politically derived social struggles of humanity. The sad thing is, in many respects, we have failed to learn from those struggles. Albert Einstein provided a useful and sensible viewpoint here; “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow” – without that ‘hope’ (for humanity) we have nothing. Learning provides us with the personal tools to develop a capability to do things differently. The problem is too often; we tend not to adjust our actions or direction of thought based upon what we have learned.

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

To change things we have to observe, think and talk about them but unfortunately, many of us have a tendency to do none of that. We are happy to accept the status quo, to blindly follow the beliefs of our peers, often with gay abandon. That is the way it has always been and always will be, for ever and ever etc. But, without change we are destined to remain in our dark ages.

We must become the change we want to see. – Mahatma Gandhi

Another one of Gandhi’s much trotted out quotes was; what do I think of Western civilisation? I think it would be a very good idea” but what has actually changed since he said that? A great deal is the simple answer however; not all of that change has been for the better. We seem to be in a period of social and religious regression. Despite the fact our society is (supposedly) far more inclusive and secular than was once the case in our recent history.

We now have a society built by the wealthy, designed and controlled to meet the needs and desires of the rich and powerful and mostly, on the foundations of the poor and disadvantaged. We can celebrate individualism but often, only when it relates to the wealth, ‘celebrity’ status and outward appearance of the ‘beautiful’ people. Is that really the kind of ‘civilisation’ and social progression we want to see? I would hope that the majority would agree with me here with an emphatic ‘no’ answer however; we’re returning to a point where we lack tolerance; social, racial or religious. Despite ‘tolerance’ being the ethos we say we possess, live by and once stringently worked to enforce and develop.

In my lifetime we have seen the (apparent) progression of civil rights in the USA, the (apparent) end of apartheid in South Africa, the (apparent) end of the Yugoslav wars and, a little nearer to home, the (apparent) end of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. I say ‘apparent’ in all of the above because; there are still too many elements of the original intolerance issues still bubbling under the surface of our new world. One of the biggest threats to our society (and world peace) is that lack of tolerance. We started to build on those foundations of tolerance and understanding but (in many respects), perhaps we’ve lost sight of (or forget) what we were trying to build?

We need to urgently revisit or reinvent our human skills of tolerant communication and non-judgemental understanding, especially around the issues of our personal beliefs and religion!

I’m prepared to listen to anyone about their background and culture, preferably from the individual and not the newspapers or TV however; I’d prefer to sit on a river bank, to watch and be grateful for our world and all the wondrous things that it contains. To ponder on ‘the meaning of life’ and contemplate why people do and say the things they do. I can be at peace with myself, marvelling in the simple and bounteous beauty of our natural world however; if anyone wants to donate a copy of their sacred scriptures, I’m sure it will provide a useful source of fuel for my campfire!

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