why are people who have no religion so often anti-religious? I don't mean spiritual people, who choose not to belong to organised religion; nor lazy people who can't be bothered, nor genuine agnostics who believe that things beyond them may exist but who cannot be convinced because they do not believe the issue capable of proof. The last category are in my experience honourable and decent men and women. No, I don't mean any of them; I mean the ones who start up at the drop of a hat in any formerly or presently protestant country and go on about how 'organised religion' is at the heart of everything, usually adding something about 'social control'? What on earth do they mean? Would they shut schools or remove road markings? Which societies aren't organised?

What they mean of course are that the devotees of limited relativism and an historically arrogant version of untrammelled reason are preferable to those who stand in the stream of the sorts of religion which can lift people out of themselves and their time. They also tend to assume that religion and science are incompatible (which they are not); that truth is all relative (which it isn't, really); and that humans are all rational and can be convinced of secularist models of power, sex and status that polite people know stand in opposition to caricature-catholicism. Show this lot a genuine woman in all her infinite fickle variety, strength, passion, prejudice and reason, and question abortion or transgenderism, or some petty cruelty that corporate women inflict on others, of course, and they tend to run a mile whilst searching for some safe 'misogynist' atrocity to be feminist about. Put their media in Rome for a pope's funeral and they will be comically confused; and don't even look for them in Mecca or some janjaweed killing ground or they'll have a fit and call you a racist and blame everything on religion anyway.

I think that there are three categories of such people. I do like a good chat with a scientist who, in the grip of some enlightenment commitment to hold fast only to that which can be proved or demonstrated, holds forth about some silly creationists; and the young who seem to have replaced religion with the attempt to hang moral weight on sexual identity whilst depriving the practice of any acknowledged meaning are at least just misguided. But the sort who really can annoy are those who simply close their minds, shut their ears, and start shouting, baiting or patronising their way through thousands of years of human history and the thoughts of men and women much better and cleverer (not always the same thing) in hundreds of different cultures. The believers who stood against tyrants? Didn't know what they were doing. The thousand tiny kind acts that religious people perform to keep society together? Social workers and etiolated alienated liberalism could do better. The moral sphere that emerges from the interaction of people grounded in some evolved and tested system of moral relationship beyond situational ethics? A vehicle of repression, obviously.
Well, people are fallen and bad sometimes and our only hope is the combination of love and reason. Religion, and I don't mean the mad fascist perversion that rests within every human heart and that can emerge in any human institution, holds out the hope that we can understand a little of that immutable and platonic love that challenges us all to forgive, and drive and change, the love that Martin Luther King and John Paul and a million people we will never hear about spoke of; and at its best it generates the intellectual and social confidence to embrace a reason and logic that speaks beyond our own desires. It teaches us humility and the absurdity of our condition; and best of all, reified rubbish on stilts invented by lawyers about how everything can be turned into a dialogue of rights and a negotiation of discrete ideas can be dismissed.

Bizarrely, there is not that much difference between Spinoza and Pope Benedict. The one, feeling persecuted and alone by people calling themselves religious, thought that the only thing that could convince me that you--and I--were worthy of respect and equality was the innate capacity both of us had to relate to an objective truth, which he grounded in rational truth. Benedict XVI has, by contrast, argued exactly the same thing, but insisted, as his brilliant mind demands, that we can only do so in a spirit of humility and love in the palm of a probably unknowable God. Both would have recognised crazies, and indulgence, and self serving silliness dressed up as seriousness (and Benedict of course is happily still with us, busily preparing a new letter). Compare the both of them to the tortured wranglings of the secular world, the attempts to dress up anti-discrimination, the market, limitless self expression mediated by the economic cost of causing offence to other consumers, and rather enjoyable sex into the sort of ideas that can explain lives and regulate society.

I can't get on too high a horse about this sort of thing of course. Too many 'religious' people of all traditions just use the love of god as a cover for fear, or assume that the Lord of the World spends his time writing rules for their bodies, relationships or physical existence. I have met some truly silly people who call themselves believers, and know of some bad ones, and frankly I have gotten drunk and well fed with good people who are unbelievers too. Some of the latter have even perpetrated incredible acts of kindness without thinking that anyone noticed, or caring if they did. But people who don't think, or acknowledge the emotional benefits of religion, its appeal to logic, its subtlety, and the beauty of things like a catholic service with people from all over the world in it, or an orthodox song, or a wistful Jewish smile beneath eyes that reach back millenia, or the life affirming qualities that stem from an understanding that true love is as near as we come to God in this world, wind me up. What, I wonder though, is being wound up worth? If you are reading this, don't think too badly of me...

I am sometimes an obnoxious sinner. I also love life, and women, and wine, and friends, and love and reason. And I have had enough of self satisfied 'atheists' whose shaky philosophies and scientism do not even begin to limn the beauties of human existence or the past telling me that I must believe in nothing in order to understand the full meaning of the moral wilderness wherein they earn their cash whilst wrecking society and unleashing fear and anger and the indulgence of stupidity dressed up as belief, with no barriers on poorer or less clever people. And no, before you think it, I am not a conservative!


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