Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Question of Fundamentals

In the news the other day, well more specifically ‘The Freethinker’ website, was a small story about a man being given a two year suspended sentence for a religiously motivated “crime”. ‘The Freethinker’ and ‘Atheist Ireland’ jumped on this and labelled it as “Britain’s Blasphemy Laws”.

What had happened is Harry Taylor, who describes themselves as a “militant atheist”, placed religious cartoons in the prayer room of Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport. These were seen by the vicar who administers that particular room and offended them. The cartoons themselves were from ‘Private Eye’ and one depicted Jesus on the Crucifix next to the adhesive No More Nails. Quite funny, I suppose.

The National Secular Society claimed that these laws were dangerous and allowed for “every extremist” to “persecute and prosecute” those that disagree with them and there interpretations of some old books.

‘The Freethinker’ is an atheist journal; the ‘National Secular Society’ is obviously anti-religious as is ‘Atheist Ireland’. They all come to this story from a rather obvious vested interest. And one can argue that Harry Taylor’s right to Free Speech are being hindered as is his Right to Religious Belief (or lack of) but what of the people who use this room for Prayer? What of their right to Religious Belief and there right not to be offended or targeted? I have spent many hours – many, many hours – in John Lennon Airport and never noticed there was a prayer room, nor have I ever been forced to go inside and have a little pray.

Harry Taylor justified his actions by saying that John Lennon was an atheist so that he would not approve of a prayer room inside a building baring his name, and image, to which the motto is “above us only sky”. How can a building be invested with the beliefs and ideals of a dead man? The room serves a functional purpose in a multi-faith society. The freedom to enter it if that is your inclination or to avoid it is something Lennon may have agreed with.

What Harry Taylor has done is force his own convictions and beliefs on to people. That is something that I dislike about some religious types. He has decided that everyone should follow his lead and think like he does. The comments on ‘The Freethinker’ website all go along with the “that’ll show the fundies” type of attitude. This is, I find, ironic.

My own atheism does not stem from an ardent hatred of the Church, or Islam or any religion. It comes from my own reasoning and is something I thought, and read about. My own atheism does not mean that I want to convert the world or that I see people with faith as moronic.

The irony is that the “militant atheist” is attacking Religion with all the fervour of someone who is a fundamentalist believer. Both try and bend the world to their own perceptions. Both believe their vision of the universe and of life is correct. To me some Atheists have replaced ‘The Bible’ with ‘On the Origin of The Species’ and replaced Christ with Richard Dawkins.

I dislike people forcing their opinions on me be they believers or not.

Some atheist commentators have used what is happening to the Catholic Church here in Ireland, and elsewhere, as an excuse for cheap publicity – Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens saying that they would arrest the Pope, as he is not the head of an internationally recognised State he therefore does not have diplomatic immunity. Or as an excuse for saying “I told you so” to all who will listen. Priest’s abusing children and it is abhorrent but then again Parents have abused kids. Both destroyed the trust that was placed in them. Thousands of years ago it was acceptable, Juliet in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was twelve. Abuse in any form, by anyone is wrong.

A lot of noise was made about the proposed Blasphemy Laws about to be enacted in Ireland. Where if one was sufficiently blasphemous then one would be hit with a €5,000 fine. It is more a symbolic law than one that would ever be prosecuted. But the idea of the law is to stop people criticising the established State Church in open. This is another form of ideas and beliefs being forced upon you. Granted we live in a predominately Catholic country but xenophobia and religious intolerance should not be made law.

Harry Taylor’s “Militant Atheism” could be the first step on a road strewn with pain and recrimination. Will we allow lack of belief to become as fractured and violent as belief?

It does seem that they are too few voices talking rationally and too many people talking utter nonsense. Atheists pride themselves on rational thinking, of saying “I have reviewed the information available and I choose not to agree”. Something that Harry Taylor doesn’t appear to have done.