Regular readers of this blog will know that I don't have much time for organised religion, nor can I get my head round the idea that there's a god. I used to, but I don't any more. My view of religion is that it's a means of exercising social control. End of. I think we're more than capable of controlling ourselves without the outside interference of a vengeful deity.
However, I do appreciate and respect that others, from all faiths, have a different view. I know people who receive great peace and comfort from their religion and that's fine by me. The world is big enough for us all to live together in tolerance and harmony.
A few hundred years ago, anyone with my heretical beliefs would have been taken and burnt at the stake or drowned - my sister-in-law used to say that she felt that my fear of water in this life was because I was no stranger to the ducking stool in a previous life. She felt that my task for this life was to be more conventional. Hmmm. I've been a fairly spectacular failure there, then.
I really appreciate my liberty to express views that may at times be on the fringe of what is considered socially acceptable. How can I then deprive others of that similar right of expression of themselves?
Right now my blood is curdling as I watch The Big Questions on BBC1. Any programme that has Peter Hitchens on it is going to make me angry on principle. There is a woman, Um Hamza, who is wearing a full veil, and arguing her case quite well. She did stumble a bit when confronted with the inequality of the cultural traditions on this one - a question which it was quite legitimate to ask. However, I was shocked as this woman was shouted at in an intimidating and aggressive manner by members of the audience. How on earth is her choice harming them? And, worse, there was a Labour PPC on there basically saying that this woman was a traitor to womanhood and her subjugation flew in the face of feminism and undermined all the hard earned rights we've won in terms of employment law, maternity leave and contraception. Why is it always women that get it? From "witches" who in the end of the day were just women whose beliefs strayed from the "norm", to women who wear Islamic dress, we are considered fair game in a way that men aren't. Why is it ok that Jack Straw and Nicolas Sarkozy should be able to tell women how to dress? Why can't they just make up their own minds?
I find it hard to reconcile a world where women who choose to wear a veil are subjugated and women who come under pressure to be thin, cellulite free, perfectly groomed and available for sex at all times aren't. Just look at any magazine marketed to women and you'll see what I mean. Yes, progress has been made, but the world, all of it, is still very much run for men by men.
And then you have this story about doctors wanting an assurance that health workers will be free from action if they offer to pray for patients. I think it's pretty ridiculous that people have been suspended for what was most likely a thoughtful gesture on their part. Yes, if I was vulnerable and in pain the last thing I'd want is someone throwing religion down my neck or suggesting that I might go to hell because of my life choices. That would be inappropriate. However, if someone offered to pray for me, from whatever religion, I'd probably say thanks.
Part of the problem is that we are such fearties - and I have to publicly thank Doctorvee for reminding me that the word feartie existed in a post that is nothing to do with this - about discussing politics, religion and sex. Why? I think debate is much healthier than suppression, yet the mention of god in a conversation can chill the spine - actually, at times mine included. Why are we not secure enough in our own skins to say "Actually, I disagree with you because....." and have a reasoned debate without it all getting heated and out of control?
All of us have something to learn from different points of view and we shouldn't feel threatened by opposing arguments. One of my favourite blogs in the whole world is written by not just a religious person, but a representative of organised religion itself! Kelvin is one of the most tolerant people I know and what he says is always worth reading, whether you agree with it or not.