Friday, October 27, 2006

Religious punchups

I’ve been experiencing a mixture of amusement and sadness following the recent arguments in the Botswana Guardian between Muslim and Christian writers.

Last week two Christian writers responded, in quite vicious terms, to Iqbal Ebrahim’s article suggesting that there is overlap between Christianity and Islam. A number of things struck me about their letters. Much of their argument was of the “My religion is better than yours, so there!” type, no more mature than an argument you might hear between two 7-year olds in a schoolyard.

However what struck me most was the absolute absence of logical thought. Arguments like “My religion is the sole truth because, well, my holy book says it is” aren’t even slightly intelligent debate in my view.

Quoting from scripture as an argument doesn’t really work terribly well when it’s the scripture you’re quoting that you are trying to prove is true. “My book is true and is the only true book, because it says it is” doesn’t work for me. Anyway can’t the same argument can be made for the Koran? And the holy texts of Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, the Moonies, even the lunatic ramblings of the Scientologists. They say they are the truth, so, well, they are the truth. Sorry, you’ll have to try a little harder than that.

Also I don’t think that the suggestion that Christianity is better than Islam because it came first works either. That’s about as logical as saying that my car is better than yours because it’s older than yours.

Actually maybe my car is analogous to religion. It consumes huge amounts of energy, it isn’t perfectly reliable and it pollutes the environment. I sometimes wonder if it’s worth the bother of keeping it. I love it though, however irrational that affection might be.

I would be very impressed if ever I actually saw a simple, logical and above all, rational argument from someone selling their religion. “It’s about faith, not rational argument” doesn’t work. Blind faith is, after all, blind. It can’t see.

On one of my occasional tolerant days I can be charitable towards religious organisations like the Salvation Army, like old-fashioned priests working for nothing in a village tending to the sick, the poor and the distressed and like those honest, hard-working and friendly people I know and respect. The trouble is they are undermined by the sharp-suited, limo-driven, mansion-inhabiting crooks you see on the religious TV channels.

More often than not I see religion rearing it’s ugly head behind almost all the conflicts our world sees. I don’t care whether it’s terrorism, Presidents saying they are advised by God to invade other countries or mullahs declaring fatwas that authorize the killing of authors because they wrote very long, dull books. What I see from religion is rarely peace. Instead I see hatred, contempt for followers of other faiths and a complete absence of rationality.

Back to the Guardian articles. The person I actually feel sorry for is Iqbal Ebrahim. In his article a couple of weeks ago he stood up, showed us that he is a member of that vast majority of Muslims who are perfectly decent people and extended the hand of friendship and understanding. And he got slapped in the face. Tell me, does the Koran teach that we should turn the other cheek?

I know some of the things I’ve said will irritate some people and I’ll probably be called an atheist, a heathen and perhaps even an infidel. Don’t worry though. I think those would all be compliments.