Despite being a non-believer, I feel quite strongly that not all people of faith are as evil or misguided as some on the left (and others) would perhaps have it. As with most people who have grown up in our modern multicultural society, I have friends and acquaintances of all faiths and none.
However, I have also had some rather unpleasant experiences with people of faith, especially with individuals who practice those particularly intolerant forms of Christianity. I have actually been told to my face by a ‘born again’ Christian that, because of my sexuality, I am an “abject sinner” who will end up “burning in hell” unless I am “saved” by accepting Jesus into my life.
Um, no. Not going to happen.
And, just the other day, I was sat in my local cafe drinking tea and listening to a woman sitting behind me as she loudly bragged about what a good Christian she was. She then started listing all the people she knew who had terminal illnesses and explained in graphic detail how said illnesses were entirely the fault of the people suffering from them because…. guess what? They hadn’t accepted Jesus into their lives.
These are just a couple of examples of the low-level bigotry that simmers under the surface of society generally, but also further proof that even on a day to day level religion and religious people don’t hold the moral high ground.
I can’t repeat this too often: being a good person has absolutely nothing to do with religious beliefs.
Most of the religious people I know are cool enough to respect my beliefs and don’t try to force theirs on to me where they know they are not wanted. Like me, many of them see religion as a personal relationship between an individual and whatever god(s) or goddess(es) that person chooses to believe in. That’s fine; I may not hold those beliefs myself, but I don’t have a problem with other people believing that if that’s what they choose to do.
What I do have issues with is the organisation of religion, because it is then that misplaced individual bigotry and intolerance become systematically justified and institutionalised. And when any organised religion becomes large enough and powerful enough to claim political influence, such intolerance is woven even further into the fabric of society and given a cloak of (albeit dubious) official respectability.
In this age of multi-faith and secular societies, no religion should have anything to do with politics although it is clear that, even in countries with a constitutional separation of church and state, religion still plays an enormous and often massively damaging role in the development of society. This is especially true when it comes to issues such as LGBT and women’s rights.
Which neatly brings us to Pope Benedict XVI and his upcoming visit to the UK. British Catholics have every right to see and hear from their spiritual leader, and, despite my vehement disagreement with his truly vile and bigoted viewpoints, I have no problem whatsoever with him coming here.
What I do object to is the fact that the cost of his visit (estimated to be some £20 million) is to be met by British taxpayers. Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society quite rightly points out that:
“Britain is a country only just emerging from a frighteningly deep recession. It faces years of public service cuts that will hurt the most vulnerable people in society. But still it feels it’s OK to let the Vatican dip into its exchequer in order to bring into this country a man whose bigotry is deeply repellent to so many people”
And it’s a matter of numbers too. According to the Office For National Statistics, in 2009, the population of the UK had risen to 61.4 million. Statistics from the last Census in 2001 show that there are many millions of Britons who identify as members of a variety of different religions. And according to the Catholic church itself, there are a mere five million Roman Catholics in England and Wales, making them a minority faith – can you justify shelling out at least £20 million for the visit of a man who doesn’t even lead the majority faith of this country?
Because I can’t. I’d rather not see this bigoted religious bully in Britain at all, but he has the right to visit (interesting, isn’t it – I acknowledge his rights, but he won’t acknowledge my human rights as a bisexual woman…). I just don’t see why his trip has to be paid for by the British taxpayers, especially when the majority of them are non-Catholic or non-Christian or non-religious full stop.
If you object to taxpayers money being used to fund the Pope’s visit, then sign the National Secular Society’s petition here.