Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fiddling while Rome burns

The thing that really amazes me about those religious groups that are opposed to marriage equality is that they really have nothing more important to worry about than who puts what where and whether it is legitimised by the state or not.

Wake up, people! There are asylum seekers to help, starving children around the world, countries that execute LGBT people and emos (oh wait, religious conservatives probably agree with that), climate change, environmental destruction on a vast scale, persecuted tribal peoples... the list is very long - so why spend so much energy on preventing two people who love each other from getting married?

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pagan support for equal marriage

Pagans support equal marriage, and have done for decades.

Unfortunately, in England and Wales, Pagan opposite-sex weddings have no legal standing, and the government has no plans to change that. So - among Pagans, marriage is already equal - a Pagan priestess or priest will happily do your handfasting (wedding) for you, but it won't have any legal standing whether you are marrying someone of the opposite sex or the same sex. A Pagan priest or priestess will also happily do a wedding for transgender people, poly people etc. The Pagan Federation's homepage states that it "regards membership of any organisations that refuse to support freedom of religion and equality of race, gender, and sexual orientation, as incompatible with our aims, objectives and values."

In Scotland, the situation is different. Pagan opposite-sex weddings are legal, and Pagans have joined in the lobbying for same-sex marriage and religious civil partnerships. The Pagan Federation Scotland has signed the Equal Marriage Pledge (see under faith groups), along with the Quakers, MCC, Scottish Unitarian Association,  Humanists, Iona Community, 3 Liberal Jewish groups, and Changing Attitude Scotland (Episcopalians).

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Religious considerations

Interestingly, there's a poll on the Telegraph website to find out if people support same-sex marriage.

The options are as follows:

No - It would be too offensive for many religious people 8.41% (2,927 votes)
No - And I think that even civil partnerships go too far 10.81% (3,762 votes)
Yes - Gay people should have the same rights as everyone else 43.61% (15,182 votes)
Yes - Religious considerations have no place in a modern society 37.18% (12,945 votes)

I selected "Yes - Gay people should have the same rights as everyone else".

I am a secularist because I think that it is the best way to guarantee religious freedom (the freedom to profess whatever religion you choose, or not to profess any religion). But is it true that "religious considerations have no place in a modern society"?

So people who don't think that religious considerations have any place in a modern society obviously think that people of religion should not criticise abuses of power by the rich and powerful, then? (Well, obviously not if the churchmen concerned are themselves rich and powerful, because then they would just be hypocrites.) Many people seem to have conveniently forgotten that many reforms and freedoms were won because of campaigns by people from liberal religious traditions.
Anyway, for whatever reason, I am pleased that over 80% of respondents support same-sex marriage.

Indigenous and autochthonic religions

There is often considerable overlap between indigenous and autochthonic religions, but the two terms are used differently in the study of religions.

An indigenous religion is one where its symbolism and mythology largely relates to the culture of the people with whom it originated.

An autochthonic religion is one which 'sprang from the earth' - in other words it is based on a relationship with the land from which it came; it is not revealed from on high.

An example of an indigenous religion which is not autochthonic could be Judaism, because it is very much connected to being Jewish, but you can be Jewish anywhere, you don't have to be in Israel (though apparently it helps) and it is based on revelation from on high.

An example of an autochthonic religion which is not indigenous could be pantheism, because it is not revealed, but emerges from a relationship to the earth, but is not specific to a particular people. It's also not very organised, but there is a community of pantheists online, so it just about qualifies as a religion rather than just a belief.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Civility and civilisation

Recently there has been a mini-debate among atheists about whether their critique of religion should remain "civil" (i.e. polite).

Clearly they have never read the words of the Book of Proverbs about the most effective way of upsetting someone being to be nice to them. (“If your enemy is hungry give him bread to eat, And if he is thirsty give him water to drink, for so you will heap coals of fire on his head.” (Prov. 25:21,22))

Personally I find that I can offer trenchant criticism of the bits of Christianity that I dislike (penal substitution theology, homophobia, and the idea that other religions are wrong) without offending my Christian friends or making remarks that imply they are all stupid or malignant. Occasionally I get it wrong, and have upset moderate Christians by not being specific enough in my criticism, but for the most part, many Christians agree with my criticisms, or at least find them interesting.

Bigoted and extreme Christians like the odious and repellent Stephen Green do find my criticisms offensive - but he, and his nasty bigoted organisation, have put themselves beyond the pale of civilised discourse anyway. I really felt pleased that my views were deeply offensive to Stephen Green.

I do think that criticism is more effective, and more likely to be listened to, when it is backed up with reason and evidence, describes the situation accurately, and does not include ad hominem attacks. A lot of recent atheist attacks on religion have failed on one or more of these criteria. And conversely, a lot of recent Christian attacks on secularism and equality have dismally failed on one or more of these criteria.

Also, civilisation is founded on being civil. We don't settle arguments by barbaric means such as trial by ordeal, burning at the stake, and torture any more. Instead, the best means of demolishing your opponent's arguments are the well-placed witticism, the cogent argument, and sometimes, just ignoring them as irrelevant. If you really want to upset someone, just ignore them. As Oscar Wilde said, "The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about."

This is not a Christian country

Britain is not a Christian country.

The religion of Christianity was imposed by early medieval rulers who wanted to join the urbane club of the European ruling classes, all of whom had jumped on the Christian bandwagon.

In subsequent centuries, majority attendance at church was enforced by fines, and in some cases, imprisonment. The number of people who are interested in spirituality and religion is a minority. Among those who are interested, different models of how it works prevail; and fewer and fewer of them accept the Christian model.

Many of the values which are claimed to be Christian (compassion, forgiveness, love) are universal; and some values which are claimed to be Christian are either secular or come from another religious tradition (tolerance, inclusiveness).

Britain was originally a "pagan" country – that is to say, it had a number of indigenous autocthonic traditions. Now it is religiously and spiritually diverse.

As the recent survey by the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science has shown, the majority of people who identify as Christian don't actually understand what they are identifying with. Now, I would like to see Christianity becoming more inclusive of different viewpoints, especially the view that other faiths are equally valid; but sadly, since the advent of fundamentalism, what it means to be a Christian has narrowed considerably.

In view of all of the above, I think that disestablishing the Church of England and reducing the role of Christianity in public life is desirable. However, I think there's nothing wrong with having contributions on spiritual and ethical matters by people from many different traditions (including humanism, naturalism and atheism) as part of public life, as long as lots of different traditions get access to the microphone, and not just Christianity.

Spirituality and religion are part of what it means to be human – but they are not exclusive to one religious tradition.