Walking on eggshells - the liberal dilemma
How far should we go to avoid the risk of upsetting the sensitivities of religious people?
Why is it always assumed that non-religious people don't have any sensitivities?
How far should we go in demanding that religious people should not offend our sensitivities?
Why is it that non-religious people are always expected to compromise for religious people?
Why is it that people are afraid to criticise and laugh at religious ideas - even when they think those ideas are nonsense?
Why is that well-meaning, liberal people feel uncomfortable when someone else criticises and laughs at religious ideas?
Who really has a problem? Who needs to get their head straight? Who needs to sort out their priorities in life? The person who laughs at silly ideas or the person who takes undue offence when those ideas are laughed at?
Everyone is welcome to criticise our ideas, laugh at them, mock them or even annoy us by saying silly things (we are used to people saying silly things.) We may argue back and we may be offended but we don't demand the right not to be offended nor do we threaten to sack you, ostracise you, put you in jail or kill you.
Tip-toeing round religion
We find it hard to understand why normally intelligent, well meaning, middle class people (some of whom even read The Guardian!) go all of a dither when it comes to criticising or laughing at the ideas of religions.
A lot of religious ideas are superstitious nonsense left over from the bronze age when people understood very little of the world - so why not laugh at them just as we would laugh at any nonsense or silly ideas?
Imagine not laughing at the idea that the Earth was at the centre of the solar system! What a hoot! Oops - only a few hundred years ago Christianity was killing people for laughing at that idea - maybe not so funny after all.
Rather than confront the unacceptable face of religion head-on, these well-meaning people think it is "good manners" and "polite" to tip-toe round the edges - rather like attempts at "interfaith dialogue" that usually end up as tea and biscuits with nothing of substance being discussed - "in case someone takes offence." Would they have tip-toed round the edges of Nazism or Fascism simply because they might offend someone?
This is sad - and rather an insult to their intelligence.
This is a refusal to accept social responsibility by holding everyone to account for what they believe and for what is done in the name of those beliefs.
No society can function without moral values and social rules - yet the assumption is that religious people must have acceptable moral values simply because they are religious.
This is ridiculous - every day we see bad and immoral things done in the name of religion. It is also a profound insult to those of us who have strong moral values without need of gods and religions.
We are all human and there are good religious people and bad religious people, just as there are good non-believers and bad non-believers - we make no claim to being perfect. However, like every primary school class, we know how to create a set of moral values that underpin social rules (laws) and we accept both personal and social responsibility for what we say and do.
"Islamophobia", "religiophobia", "free speech"
The word "phobia" has been twisted to mean "hatred" instead of "fear". We use it to mean "fear".
"Islamophobia": fear of many bad things done in the name of Islam.
"Religiophobia": fear of many bad things done in the name of religions.
We favour the second, not the first, because many bad things are done in the name of all religions - and that concerns us.
Twelve people were murdered at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris because they dared to draw an image of the prophet Muhammad - even though the rules of Islam apply to Muslims - not to non-Muslims. Four Jewish people were murdered in a supermarket - just because they were Jews.
Of 1.57 billion Muslims in the world only a small minority are Jihadists - willing to kill in the name of their god, their religion and their prophet.
There are of course extremists in all religions - after all, religion is a necessary precursor to religious extremism and all religions contain the seeds of fanaticism - one has only to read holy books to see this.
Religion is the elephant in the room and it is time we took a long, cool look at what it is within religion that, for hundreds of years, has caused some people to commit horrific acts of violence in its name.
The multi-million pound Prevent, "prevention of extremism", initiative, would rather pretend that "bad people are not true believers" than look at the violent interpretations that can be placed on all religions.
They would rather argue about which religious scholar is "right" and which is "wrong" than examine the underlying problems of all religions. They want "good" religious people to go into schools and "bad" religious people kept out. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis), is said to have a PhD so he can be considered a "scholar" with his own interpretation of holy books.
What yardstick is to be used to separate "right" from "wrong"? We would like to suggest something independent of religions - Humanism - putting people before god, holy books and prophets.
The best way to prevent the radicalisation of young people is to provide them with the tools to look critically at what they are told, to instill within them a "crap detector" as Postman and Weingartner proposed way back in the 1960s. We have failed to do this. We have stood back from criticising the unsavoury aspects of all religions for fear of causing offence - even worse, successive governments have actively promoted the expansion of religiously segregated schools where children from religious backgrounds are told that "atheists are the vilest of animals" and worse.
Enough is enough - for god's sake, we must stop this nonsense.
We can bury our heads in the sand but ....
The following figures have emerged from studies and surveys in recent years:
- 62% of British Muslims say free speech should not be protected if it offends religious groups,
- 61% of British Muslims want homosexuality made illegal.
- 57% of British Muslims agree that a Muslim woman cannot marry without consent of her guardian.
- 56% of British Muslims agree that a Muslim woman must not marry a non-Muslim.
- 52% of British Muslims agree that a man may have up to four wives, a woman only one husband.
- 37% of British Muslims prefer sharia law.
- 36% of British Muslims state that "Muslim conversion is forbidden and punishable by death."
- 34% of British Muslims believe the Holocaust ever happened.
- 33% of British Muslims believe that Western society is decadent and immoral and that Muslims should seek to end it.
- 29% of British Muslims describe themselves as "staunch defenders of Islam."
- 28% of British Muslims want Britain to become an Islamic state.
- 25% of British Muslims have never heard of the Holocaust.
- 25% of British Muslims say 7/7 bombings were justified
- 9% of British Muslims describe themselves as "hardcore Islamists."
Please contact us for the sources of these data.
Is it "islamophobic" to ask what proportion of Muslims believe what - as this application illustrates?
What are the real causes of violent and non-violent extremism?
The primary causes of extremism lie within the foreign policies of the British government during the 19th and 20th centuries. Britain now follows the coat tails of the USA which took over these policies in the second half of the 20th century - hence Tony Blair's puppy-dog following of George Bush in the run up to the Iraq war.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (an absolutist, monarchic, autocratic, theocratic, kleptocracy - as Saudi Arabia is today - not exactly a pillar of liberalism and individual freedom) Britain and France redrew the map of the Middle East.
In 1915 Sir Henry McMahon, British High Commisioner in Egypt, wrote to Sharif Husayn, Emir of Mecca:
"Great Britain is prepared to recognise and uphold the independence of the Arabs in all the regions lying within the frontiers proposed by the Sharif of Mecca."
At the same time Britain actively supported the idea of an independent country for Jews following the letter from the foreign secretary Lord Balfour to Baron Rothschild in November 1917.
Lord Balfour wrote to Lord Curzon who became foreign secretary in 1919:
"... in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country ...The Four Great Powers are committed to Zionism (which is) of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land"
He also wrote to Curzon:
"... in the case of Palestine we deliberately and rightly decline to accept the principle of self-determination."
The level of hypocrisy and overt racism amongst the "Lords" who ruled Britain was staggering. The views of an entire people who had lived in Palestine for hundreds if not thousands of years were to be totally discounted because of a deal done in the clubs of London. Of course, to balance things out, a significant part of the British aristocracy was anti-communist and anti-semitic - witness their support for Hitler in the 1930s and Lord Rothermere's famous Daily Mail headline "Hurrah for the Blackshirts".
A secret agreement between Britain and France (the Sykes-Picot pact) provided a map of how the two countries would carve up the Middle East between them at the end of World War 1. The lines on the map took absolutely no notice of the people or groups living there - "straight lines are easier to administer" was the rule of the day. Look at today's border between Jordan and Iraq - known as "Churchill's hiccup" or "Churchill's sneeze" after it was drawn in 1921 when Churchill was Secretary of State for the Colonies.
How can this level of imperial arrogance not have influenced the way that people felt on the ground?. The seeds were sown for the justifiable resentment that still exists today - and which remains a significant cause of today's extremism.
The creation of Israel, the unqualified support for Israel from Britain and the USA, the massive amounts of "aid" poured into Israel by the USA ($8.5 million per day in 2014 - mainly weapons and technology - after all, it is large corporations that rule America and they want their profits), the policies of the Israeli government, the attacks on Palestinians in Gaza, the growth of settlements in the West Bank, the support of dictatorships throughout the Middle East. the overthrowing of leaders in favour of those who crush all rebellion and provide cheap oil, the overlooking of human rights abuses by middle Eastern dictators - particularly the dictators of Saudi Arabia, "the war on terror", the illegal war in Iraq, the murder of people with drones and air strikes and many more policies and actions have created a deep feeling of resentment throughout the world - particularly amongst Muslims who identify with fellow Muslims (The "Ummah") on the receiving end of these policies.
Important note: understanding why people feel aggrieved does not mean you support or condone the way they address their grievances.
"Ah, all this happened over 65 years ago, surely it is time to move on?"
People have long memories - as Margaret Thatcher found out when she tried to introduce a poll tax in England in 1985. The memory of The Great Rebellion of 1381 over a similar tax quickly returned to haunt her (see below.) The British class system and our history of land ownership, which still dominate our society, came about after the theft of this country by William The Bastard from Normandy in 1066. Many of us would like our country back.
Conflict in the Middle East has never gone away and injustices will never be forgotten. "Nakba Day", "The Day of the Catastrophe", takes place each year on May 15 throughout the Arab world to commemorate the displacement of Palestinian people after the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948. Different people see these events through different spectacles but the grievance on the Arab side is a key cause of today's extremism - made worse by the policies and actions of Western and Israeli governments since 1948.
Some of these grievances could be resolved, not with the establishment of a two state system ("the reality on the ground" - illegal Israeli settlements on the West Bank - has made this physically impossible) but with the creation of one country, one state, offering freedom and justice for all within a single secular country - called both Israel/Palestine and Palestine/Israel.
The problem comes when religion, and words in holy books, are used to further inflame justifiable anger over British and American foreign policies and actions. Rather than "people" with justifiable grievances it becomes a religious group with grievances. "Religion" becomes "victim". It is worth remembering that about 5% of Palestinians are Christians - including Hanan Ashrawi.
Millions of non-Muslims throughout the world are fully aware of the grievances caused by the foreign policies of their governments and they work within democracy to try to change those policies. Those in the Muslim community who adopt "the war against the West" alienate themselves from a wide body of support outside Islam by turning it into a conflict of religion.
The problems of the Middle East are political and they need to be resolved politically. If religion identifies itself 100% with politics, as is often the case with Islam, we have a problem that may never be solved. Only secular governments can a) try to resolve these problems and b) guarantee freedom of belief to everyone. Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and 1,000 lashes, for daring to say this in Wahabi-dominated Saudi Arabia.
In February 2015 the British Government ordered flags to be lowered to half mast following the death of the dictator of Saudi Arabia - thereby pouring more petrol on the fire.
Most British Muslims do not support the dictatorships in the theocratic kleptocracy of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, but, out of frustration and powerlessness to change things, many turn to an old idea, "a benevolent caliphate", for a solution. Anyone looking at earlier caliphates will soon realise that they were not so benevolent after all, they simply substituted one form of dictatorship (driven by religion) for another.
If we are to prevent radicalisation and extremism we must be honest with young people - not "economical with the truth."
These are the ideas that Prevent should be exploring in schools - instead it ignores the impact of the appalling policies of British, American and other governments. History, and their consciences, will judge Tony Blair, George Bush all those who supported "the war on terror" and the war in Iraq - and that judgement will not be favourable.
The newly religious Tony Blair (remember, Alistair Campbell, his spin doctor, told him not to "do god" when in power) believes he will have to face his god - no wonder he looks like he loses sleep every night.
As far as British Muslims are concerned, British and American foriegn policy is the elephant in the room. If Prevent was honest about the history of the Middle East, and we provided young people with the "crap detector" to stop the religious and political wool being pulled over their eyes, we would go a long way to preventing extremism.
Perhaps "Prevent" should also look at our history?
"Our" history is the history of Britain - England in particular - whether our families were here before the Romans or they arrived since then. By being here, or by choosing to be here, we are all influenced by our history.
On the whole, those whose families were here before the 1950s have rejected religion - we can see that reflected in the tiny percentage of people who take part in any form of religious activity. Yes, they may tick the CofE box, yes they may go along to the Christmas carol service, yes they may enjoying listening to Handel's Messiah or Faure's Requiem, but these are more social and musical rather than "religious" events - and some great religious music makes anyone's hair stand on end - including we atheists!
Those whose families came here after the 1950s tend to be more religious - whether they be Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims from the Indian sub-continent or Christians from the Caribbean. The Roman Catholic church in Britain has seen a recent surge in attendance - mainly because of Christians from Eastern Europe - themselves religious as part of a backlash against the Soviet era.
Being newcomers to the country, and not always welcomed with open arms, part of this religiosity is down to social identity and a feeling of community. This is also reflected in the fairly tight areas (mainly run-down inner city) where incomers lived - for obvious economic reasons. The persistence of these self-segregated areas is one of the reasons why many incomers do not fully understand the views of the wider community, particularly the views of non-religious people such as ourselves.
So, why has the longer established population rejected religion - or at least pushed it to the fringes of every day life?
State and religion have always gone hand-in-hand in this country - and the state has never been afraid to use religion as a weapon for social control - "Rich man in his castle, poor man at his gate, god made them high and lowly, each to his estate" as the Victorians sang in a verse from "All things bright and beautiful".
Our history is full of rebellion against church and state, much of it air-brushed out of school history books, and certain key events have had a massive impact on our view of religion. For example:
The Great Rebellion of 1381
The Great Rebellion, or The Great Revolt, is often incorrectly labelled "The Peasant's Revolt" and was the largest and most wide-spread rebellion in British history. Far from being "peasants", those who rebelled came from all social classes who objected to economic exploitation by landowners and by the king by way of taxation - the dreaded Poll Tax. Margaret Thatcher would discover to her cost that the Poll Tax of 1381 had not been forgotten when she attempted to introduce a new one in 1985. She, like so many politicians, was ignorant of history - hence constant repetition of the mistakes of the past.
Many priests, angry at the power of established religion, took a leading part in The Great Rebellion - John Ball's "When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman" was a rallying cry across the East of England.
The rebels were well led, well organised and well armed - every man in England had to be able to use a bow, sword and shield to fight the frequent battles and wars of Lords and kings. The image of a bunch of scruffy peasants marching along the A2 (Watling Street) from Canterbury to London armed only with pitchforks is a fantasy generated by those who wished to reduce the significance of the rebellion.
The Great Rebellion led to the execution of the main symbols of religious and economic power in England: Simon Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Robert Hales, Lord High Treasurer.
The rebellion came to an end in London and was then ruthlessly put down. However, those who rebelled fully understood the close link between church and state and that understanding lingered on as England slowly changed - the powers-that-be had had a narrow escape and they now understood that they were tolerated, rather than loved.
The break with Rome
Henry VIII broke from Rome because he needed a male heir and Rome stood in the way of his divorce. If a king can opt an entire country out of the main Christian church for his own selfish reasons then individuals can begin to think for themselves - and maybe opt out of religion altogether.
At the same time, against the wishes of the king and the church, the Bible was translated into English. For the first time, ordinary people could read the book without having it read to them and interpreted by priests. People looked at the words of Jesus, looked at the world around them, and found that the two did not match. Ordinary people now felt they could understand Christianity, and communicate directly with their god, without the intervention of the church. Another nail on the coffin of established religion.
Execution of a king
In 1649 we chopped off the head of our king - Charles 1st - head of state and head of the Church of England.
This was a rebellion by the manorial class led by Oliver Cromwell, angry at the economic impositions of the king.
During the Civil War that preceded the execution of Charles, the soldiers in the New Model Army became educated by Agitators who introduced radical new ideas. If they were fighting against the dominance of the king, why not go a step further and fight against all the symbols of oppression - particular the aristocracy, the land owning class and the established church?
During and after the civil war many groups were formed, arguing for the equality of all men and democratic rights. The Diggers and Levellers seized and ploughed land while others spoke openly against the church - again, seen as a weapon of social control.
Cromwell and the other landowners had no intention of letting such ideas spread and the dissident groups were ruthlessly put down. None-the-less, another seed had been sown.
The industrial revolution led to a massive movement from the priest-dominated countryside to large cities where the church had to move fast to keep up. Into the gap stepped the non-conformist movement - Wesleyans, Methodists, Baptists and others - who broke from the established church and taught a much simpler version of religion - with the accent being on good works rather than on power.
The Church of England was itself influenced by the ideas of non-conformism (though it demanded payment of compensation before it would give up its slaves) and it opened schools in the countryside and in the cities.
Industrial work led to the growth of the Trade Union Movement and the Labour party - with many in the movement analysing the historical role of religion in the hierarchy of power. Secular ideas, the separation of church from state, became increasingly popular and it was a short step from non-conformism, which had rejected the established church, to finally rejecting the god idea altogether.
A long road
This has been a long process, parallelled to some extent in other European countries. France went one step further during the revolution by treating the representatives of the church in the same way as those of the state. It removed a few heads and declared itself a secular state - as it still is today - unlike England.
The Code Napoleon (designed to protect the citizen, not property as is the case with English law) removed the privileges associated with monarchy, birth and religion. No wonder the British ruling class trembled in their shoes, no wonder Napoleon is still frequently portrayed as the essence of evil - with more emphasis placed on the battle of Waterloo than on the legal system he introduced and which still forms the basis of most European law.
Those whose families have come here in the last few decades should look at our history to understand why we are not quite as happy with religions as they are and why we look with deep suspicion at any form of religious extremism or fanaticism.
The "people" of England put themselves and their fellow human beings before gods, prophets, holy books and holy men and they feel very uncomfortable with those who think otherwise.
Does anyone have the right not to be offended?
We are not talking about the verbal abuse of a living person - we are talking the right to criticise, laugh at, satirise and generally make fun of, ideas which we find funny, silly or dangerous nonsense.
Some people are incapable of placing an idea on the table and discussing it - they take everything said as a personal insult, they are offended on behalf of an idea or on behalf of someone long dead.
If we do have the right not to be offended then here is a personal list.
I am offended by:
- People who put their god above their fellow human beings.
- People who commit violence, or call for violence, in the name of their god, prophet or religion. Too much testosterone, not enough sex.
- People who deny children the right to make a free and informed choice about belief by exposing them to single, narrow religious world view - at home, in the community and in religiously segregated schools.
- People who discriminate on the grounds of gender and sexuality because of what it says in their holy books. "A woman is equal but subservient and a man shall have the right to chastise his wife" as the Christian Southern Baptist Church has it.
- People who try to force their religious values and laws on to me.
- People who deny others the right to change their beliefs.
- Intra-religious violence and sectarian squabbling.
- Inter-religious violence.
- People who are incapable of developing a personal moral code and instead have to rely on rules set down in holy books written by iron age societies in Judea and Arabia.
- People who claim that I cannot be a moral, good and responsible person because I don't believe in their god or religion.
- Politicians who fail to make their religious bias clear when passing laws for the rest of us.
- Politicians who would not recognise a principle if it stood up and punched them in the face.
- A political and legal system which favours landowners and the rich over the rest of us.
- People who demand respect without being willing to earn it.
- Religions which try to control the sexual lives of their followers.
- People who claim that their interpretation of their holy book is correct and all other interpretations are wrong.
- Groups of people who separate themselves off from the rest of society (self-segregation) along religious and ethnic lines.
- People who claim that "cultural traditions" are more important than human rights. For example: genital mutilation and forced marriages.
- Countries which do secret deals to enable religions to control many aspects of society (Vatican Concordats for example.)
- People who claim the world is a few thousand years old and that "evolution is just a theory." They need to take a walk below the cliffs at Lyme Regis!
- Countries which have followed religious edicts and failed to make a significant contribution to the world's scientific knowledge for the last 400 years. How many religious Nobel prize winners for science have there been?
- People who use past wrongs to justify current oppression - such as the government of Israel.
- Hypocritical religious leaders who preach one things and do another. Evangelical Christian preachers who visit prostitutes and take drugs. Members of the Saudi royal family who visit London to drink, use prostitutes and gamble. The Christian church which tries to cover up the abuse of children by its priests.
- Arrogant and ignorant young people, just out of school or college, who claim to have discovered the "right" way for the world to be run according to their religious beliefs - even though they have been exposed to a single narrow view and have failed to examine the alternatives.
- People who take religion far too seriously. Grow up, get a life, relax, laugh a bit, recognise that love is more fun than hate, enjoy the world and the people around you, form a loving personal and sexual relationship - and do some good as you pass through the one life we share together.
I am in favour of passing a law which prevents people doing anything that would offend me - the world would then be a happier place.
What about our sensitivities?
We are concerned about real harm done to real people - not "taking offence" about what someone says, writes or draws. We put people first. You are free to laugh at, criticise, mock, or insult our ideas as much as you like - we won't take the slightest offence.
In November 2012 Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old Hindu dentist, died of septicaemia in an Irish hospital after being refused an abortion because, as she was told, "Ireland is a Catholic country."
Is it fair that Christianity in Ireland should impose a monopoly world view on all Irish citizens, no matter what their beliefs? Should non-Christians die because of Christian beliefs?
According to WHO figures, each year over 70,000 women die and over 2 million are seriously injured, in back street abortions in countries where Christianity has dictated that abortion should be illegal
Each year hundreds of thousands of people contract STDs and HIV/AIDS in countries where Christianity has dictated that contraception should be illegal.
Religious people destroy schools because they do not want girls to be educated.
On October 9th, 2012, 14 year old Malala Yousufzai was shot by the Taleban because she campaigned for the rights of girls to go to school.
Religious people blow up themselves and others in the name of their god, their prophet and their religion.
There is more intra-religious sectarian violence than inter-religious violence. Even those sharing a religion cannot agree on the meaning of their holy books and the moral values they should live by.
Women in theocratic countries have their freedoms severely constrained.
Religious people demand the death penalty when they take offence at what someone says, draws or writes.
Religious people establish taxpayer-funded segregated religious schools because they don't want young people to see all sides of the debate about religion and they donít want them to develop open and enquiring minds - they want to impose their own monopoly world view.
Religious people fight amongst themselves for the right to impose their monopoly world view on all citizens of a country.
"Liberal" religions cannot agree on the role of women and gays - they prefer to bury their heads in the sand than remove all forms of discrimination.
So-called secular countries still grant special privileges to religions - privileges not enjoyed by the non-religious.
In the USA, creeping Christianity has taken over in a country which was established to guarantee freedom of belief by separating church and state.
Under religious law, Sharia law, a Muslim wanting to change religion is subject to the death penalty.
"Moderate" religious people take offence at criticism of their religion and immediately "walk off with the ball" and refuse to enter dialogue.
Why is so much of religion negative, humourless, funless and full of "don't do this" and "don't do that"? We've had enough of "thou shalt not enjoy life" thank you. We want to enjoy the one life we share together in as happy and as responsible a way as possible.
- How far should we go in censoring ourselves just in case we upset the sensitivities of the religions that do the things listed above?
- Who needs to get their house in order - us or religion?
- Unfortunately they have had centuries to get their houses in order and they have totally failed. In many cases they have become worse - they are now adopting the paranoid "victim" mentality claiming that "militant secularists" are out to get them.
- Now they threaten us with censorship, violence and murder if we mock and laugh at their ideas on web sites, in novels and in art
- Religious people are fortunate that they live in a society influenced by secular values that guaranty and protect their right to believe what they wish. Before moaning and taking offence perhaps they should try living in the theocracy of another religion and see how far their views are tolerated.
- Our tolerance is finite - especially with the intolerant.
- We are old enough not to be idealists, but we are very conscious of the harm that continues to be done in the world in the name of religion - so we have reprinted John Lennon's lyrics at the end of this page.
- Has someone got their priorities wrong? Has the world gone mad?
Do we tar everyone with the same brush?
Is anyone suggesting that all religious people are like those described above? Of course not.
Is anyone suggesting that people should not be free to follow a religion if they want to? Of course not.
The Liberal Tradition we have fought long and hard for in this country guarantees freedom of belief, freedom of speech, freedom of expression and freedom of action - as long as:
- you don't cause harm to anyone else.
- you don't call for harm to anyone else,
- you don't restrict the freedom of others.
- you accept personal responsibility for your actions.
Some people wear their religion lightly, others use it to justify violence.
The problem we non-believers have is that the "moderates" and the "extremists" worship the same god, have the same prophets and read the same holy books. Their religions are riven with sectarian strife over a million arguments on the head of a pin. We have no right, and no interest, in joining in these arguments - after all, with over 1,000 gods and 200 religions/sects in the world today, our brains can only handle so much.
We need a yardstick by which to judge which interpretations are socially acceptable and, to us, that yardstick comes down to what is in the best interest of humanity - our yardstick is Humanism. If anyone puts their gods, their holy books or their prophets ahead of their fellow human beings than we judge them to be unacceptable. They have no moral values and no place in a civilised society.
On 23rd November, 2012 a state dinner was held at Windsor Castle for the Emir of Kuwait. The Queen who hosted the dinner is head of the Church Of England and the Emir, his family and their entourage are Muslim.
We are aware of an increasing number of events where people from many faiths, and none, will be present and where there is a general fear of offending someone. No offence has been expressed but the organisers feel it their duty to assume offence on behalf of others and therefore "play on the safe side."
It is good to see that those who organised the state dinner did not suffer from such ludicrous religious correctness.
The enlargement of the lower left of the photograph shows that in front of each Muslim guest are two glasses, one containing what looks like orange juice and the other presumably for water.
In front of each non-Muslim guest are nine glasses - probably for wine and water. Yes, nine glasses may seem a little excessive but presumably we, as tax payers, are paying for some decent wines for the occasion.
No-one seems to have taken offence at alcohol being present and no-one has felt the need to hide away all signs of alcohol in case someone takes offence. Those who wish to drink alcohol are free to do so and those who don't are free not to do so.
There may be some double standards here because visitors to London from the royal families of the Middle East are notorious for indulging in all sorts of behaviour (drinking, gambling, using prostitutes) that would be unacceptable in their own countries under their own religion - hypocrisy is alive and well amongst the rulers of theocratic oil-rich states. The recently published book: "The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade" by Andrew Feinstein contains numerous accounts of this as well as of the bribery and corruption within many Middle Eastern theocratic kleptocracies, particularly the one responsible for the holy places of Islam.
(Centre spread photograph published in the The Guardian newspaper, 24th November, 2012)
"Imagine" by John Lennon
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world
You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one