– By James Martin Cardinal Keith O’Brien was one of the biggest propagators of homophobia in the UK. His recent exposure as a hypocrite suggests it’s time to ask why we let religion decide our moral framework. However, this piece is not about the man, …

Walton Pantland

– By James Martin

Cardinal Keith O’Brien was one of the biggest propagators of homophobia in the UK. His recent exposure as a hypocrite suggests it’s time to ask why we let religion decide our moral framework.

However, this piece is not about the man, but about the institutions.

Before I begin, let me start by saying that I am an atheist. I know a lot of people do good in the name of religion, and I respect that.

Its 2013 and politicians are still talking about the Devil. For someone with a background in Astrophysics and History, the idea of mythical beings being debated on a political platform is truly terrifying. To see that books from thousands of years ago being used as a moral compass is equally disturbing. From US Republicans that are (pardon the pun) hell bent on instilling a version of religion that seeks to divide, to the latest scandal crippling the Catholic Church – should religion play a part in political life?

In my life, religion plays next to no part. I work with an array of people from different backgrounds, with different beliefs and different outlooks in life. We have agreements and disagreements and it’s in this that my views are molded; I can see things from a different perspective and they shape my opinion accordingly (or reinforce it).

I have to admit to you though, I struggle with organised religion. I struggle with it because on paper at least, subscribers to religious dogma should in effect follow doctrine like members of the Borg collective. I know from day to day life that this is simply not the case; cries of ‘You will be Apostle-ated’ are not exactly common are they? So when I hear the Pope, an Imam or Vicar pontificating their interpretation of a religious book or declaration, I get confused – are all Catholics or Muslims meant to oppose Gay or Women’s rights? Is sex before marriage a sin (incidentally, if it is such a sin, I haven’t seen Durex make a loss lately!)? It seems to me that leaders of organised religion insist on dogma, yet the reality is that people pick and choose what to believe and this is my problem: if people pick and choose what to believe, how can papal doctrine mean anything to anyone for example?

From a historical point of view I can understand why humanity developed religious ideas. In times where the sudden death of a loved one, a strange light in the sky or a flood wiping your village away could not be explained, a convenient system of control was created. In essence control by fear. Fear of something that you cannot see nor explain and something that required the following of a set of rules. When city states were developing and society hadn’t yet developed our modern standards of trial by peers or any effective civil police service, religious scripture stating that ‘Thou shall not kill or steal’ made perfect sense. Should somebody murder someone else, then dependent on the religion, a punishment would have been exacted; eternity in hell or execution would follow.

For thousands of years, fear of a god and a life of constant introspection followed and only since the renaissance has reason and scientific understanding began to unpick some of the arguments of doctrine. Western society has moved on from the enslavement of others, the burnings of witches and the stoning of gays, embracing a more logical and scientific approach to life. It pains me to say however that thousands of people each year are still being condemned to death because of a teaching or book written millennia ago. There is an adage that says as soon as you print something it becomes out of date, if only this was taken more seriously then hanging people for being in love would finally be consigned to history.

In my view, organised religion is nothing other than hypocrisy. To see a man in a pink cape and hat castigate gay marriage as immoral or the male head of a church sit by and prevent females from becoming bishops, should pretty much give you an understanding of where it is that I’m coming from. Hypocrisy is one thing, an obsession with sex is another. No sex before marriage (despite Mary being unwed), no same sex… sex, no sex with members of another faith, no sex with priests… I could continue. Then there is sexual mutilation (circumcision for example), sexual abstinence and sickeningly of all… no sexual protection. I have said that Western society does not generally follow an organised belief, but instead individual belief, other parts of the world still follow doctrine to the tee. How can the leader of a Church turn a blind eye to European followers using condoms and yet as HIV devastates peoples lives in Africa, reconfirm his view that condoms are immoral? Hypocrisy. Catholic priests are meant to live a life of celibacy and yet the most heinous sexual crimes against women, children and other men have been committed by members of that very Catholic Church. Criminal.

I would like to have thought that in 2013, Bishops would not be sat in the House of Lords effecting UK law, that the President of the United States would not have to be of religious conviction just to be elected (despite the US officially being secular) or that an Ayatollah in Iran would not execute an eight year old girl for being raped by her father. Sadly though, these are facts. For those Christians reading this, I wonder if Jesus (a Socialist it seems) were to appear in 2013 and saw the Vatican Bank, the Queen or the Republican party, whether his message of ‘sell your possessions and give to the poor’ would be somewhat ignored. What about his messages of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and giving water to the thirsty – sounds socialist to me!

And of course, some Christians, from Francis of Assisi through to Robert Owen, the Catholic Worker movement and the Liberation Theologists, have challenged the religious hierarchy and insisted on a radical interpretation of Jesus’ words.

It’s time that these huge unelected bodies cease to have an impact on peoples day-to-day lives, people should have their own beliefs, beliefs that they have developed themselves, and not force their beliefs upon others. No child is born religious. Genital mutilation and arranged marriage should not be happening in the new millennium. Neither should the conspiracy of silence be accepted when it comes to sexual crime or in fact crime of any sort, only to be ‘leaked’ years after the event. Resignation from a religious position does not make it all better for the victims of these crimes, nor does it so much as scratch the surface by way of apology. Far too often do we see position holders abusing that very position, clearly not following the doctrines set out by their institutions.

I need to close by saying that my argument is against those religious leaders that preach hypocrisy by not following their own teachings. I have seen some fantastic work done by local religious groups, soup kitchens and food banks just an example of some of the work done. They do make the difference; they do feed the poor and clothe the naked. They don’t abuse their beliefs, they don’t discriminate, they want gay marriage, they want equality, they don’t want executions nor fanaticism. Like me, have your own beliefs and stay true to them. Always look on the bright side of life.

“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.” – George Carlin




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Walton Pantland

South African trade unionist living in Glasgow. Loves whisky, wine, running and the great outdoors. Walton did an MA in Industrial Relations at Ruskin, Oxford, and is interested in how trade unions use new technology to organise.

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