26 December 2009

Less religion, more peace and goodwill

By Lee Marsden

Anyone unfortunate enough to have watched Fern Britten's sycophantic portrayal of Tony Blair's religion and his self-aggrandizing Faith Foundation on television recently would have been left feeling amazed at the former PM's brass neck. Rather than facing trial at The Hague for war crimes he continues to strut the world stage as a 'peace envoy' in the Middle East and has embarked on a new mission to increase the importance of religion among world leaders. While some may feel, even at Christmas time, that the world might benefit from rather less religion and more peace and goodwill, late convert to Catholicism Tony Blair believes that religion is the answer to all the world's problems.

Certainly the world's major religions, depending on which sections of their sacred texts are emphasised, have the capacity to encourage their followers to live by the golden rule of doing to others as they would have others do to them. Religion makes big claims about life both in the here and now and in any afterlife. With such big claims also come big responsibilities – for its followers and leaders to live lives worthy of the calling. Sadly, while many religious actors are engaged in social action that has the potential to transform lives many others seem to work tirelessly to bring their religion into disrepute.

In the past few weeks US conservative evangelicals have inspired a campaign in Uganda to persecute homosexuals with proposed legislation to imprison gay people and anyone aiding and abetting them, such as landlords who might rent them a room. Sexually active gay people carrying the HIV virus could face the death penalty. The offensive notion that homosexuality is an aberration which can be ‘cured’ is not just confined to Africa but is mainstream among US and British conservative evangelicals.

In Ireland, the Murphy Report into child sex abuse cases in the Dublin diocese has revealed decades of abuse by Catholic priests, which have been systematically covered up by the church. In acknowledging the seriousness of this scandal, in terms of damaged lives and the reputation to the church, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin has called for the resignation of four bishops as sign of collective responsibility for the abuse of trust and authority perpetrated in the name of the church. Only one of the bishops has so far resigned with other church leaders refusing to take any responsibility for their role in covering up these crimes.

Pope Benedict has recently signed a decree extolling the virtues of Pope Pius XII, a next step to possible sainthood, for the church leader who did so little to prevent millions of Jews being exterminated in the holocaust. Oblivious to the sense of outrage expressed by Jewish organisations the Pope is waiting for the opportunity to assert that a miracle has occurred which he can attribute to the intercession of Pius XII.

Finally, the recent sentencing of Mehmet Goren to 22 years in jail for the murder of his 15 year old daughter Tulay has highlighted the issue of so-called 'honour' killings among predominantly South Asian and Middle Eastern ethnic groups in Britain. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers a minimum of twelve such killings occurs each year. Forced marriages are also a huge issue as hundreds of mainly young women are spirited off to South Asia each year to be married off against their wishes. Religious leaders dismiss these as cultural, rather than religious, practices and yet little effort is made to wipe them out. According to Diana Nammi of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation in London "they may pay lip service to change but they have networks and contacts and they are not trying to change anything".

Maybe, rather than more religion, what is needed are more people who only do unto others as they would have done unto them.

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