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Opinion: Religion and Power

hamasrally2For children, the stories of religion can be fascinating things, depending on the credulity of the child in question. Jesus’ sermon on the mount, the good Samaritan, Mohammed’s famed seventy two virgins in heaven – they’re all great, compelling stuff, as all great literature should be. I don’t want to come over all Richard Dawkins in his dismissive ‘why don’t you believe in the magic teapot or flying spaghetti monster’ new atheist schtick, but well, he has a point.

The point is that organised religion is for the kids. Comforting stories of a benevolent all seeing being who punishes you for doing things you want to do are very useful, and everyone needs an authority figure at some point, right? Possibly, and in my ‘I neither know nor care’ position, I am a non-strict-materialist, i.e. I imagine there are different dimensions, possibly existence after death, all sorts. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, Richard.

But the sticking point is the systematic indoctrination of it. Sunday school, television evangelists, Turkish Imam Fethullah Gulen bursting into tears every time he delivers a sermon – they are all telling you there is something that you don’t know, can reach, but if in the process of trying to reach it you fail, then you are bad. This indoctrination happens everywhere of course, from freedom of thought in China, to freedom of expression in Turkey, to the bullying insistence of the rights of harsh capitalism in the US.
Cathedrals, mosques, some hymns, the call to prayer, giant Buddha statues; they’re all great, culturally enriching things. They’re also havens of tolerance, and escape from a certain Nietzschean race for the top we seem to have saddled ourselves with (thanks Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher, before the anti-patriarchy hailstorm rains down). But that is what they should remain – beautifully quaint symbols of a superstitious past, before reason, humanism and genuine equal rights kicked in.

10743800_10203333832682836_446748060_nIn 1923, after kicking out western powers following the war of independence, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk became president of the republic of Turkey from the ashes of the Ottoman empire. In a time of dictators, he had his new country look west, Latinized the alphabet, enforced western-style clothing and more. Secularism was the mainstay: there would be no more influence of religion on people’s lives who didn’t want it. Ataturk understood its potential, and took legal steps to restrict it. For the record Ataturk was a muslim, in the same cultural, moderate way that nearly 2 billion are now (the ones who think about it no more than others think about whether Mary was really a virgin or not).

90 years later, a very different character has been establishing himself as the ‘father of Turkey’, 2.0 style. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has implemented capitalistic strategies to create a boom and bust country, whilst all the time repeating his Islamist(ic) credentials. Meanwhile, it’s impossible to get elected as president in the USA unless you proclaim your Christian devotion. To the UK’s credit, Tony Blair was roundly mocked for his Christianity – especially after everyone saw where that would lead us. We are governed over by tall children.

Religion makes people feel better, in much the same way a young child likes to have the light left on before he or she falls asleep. Personally I wasn’t christened – the christening might have been a natural result of the country I happened to be born in. There are precious few Turkish boys born who aren’t circumcised, by the same logic. My mother was a product of the liberal sixties, and held the opinion that my brother and I could make up our own minds when we were ready. Thus, of course, denial and objectivity is a lot easier than for someone having virtue and redemption hammered into their growing brains daily. This isn’t Lord of the Flies: if I am to be governed at all, I want it to be by rational adults.

Sean Bw Parker

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