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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Religious intolerance

The Guardian’s John Crace has written an article about the Saudi-funded Islamic school, The King Fahad Academy. Now, enough has already been written about this school and its allegedly racist teaching practises without my sticking my oar in, but one sentence from Crace’s piece struck me as a little peculiar.

He makes reference to an apparently offensive textbook that the school stocked, in which religions other than Islam are described as being ‘worthless’. The school got into terrible trouble over this (the head ended up stumbling her way through a grilling on Newsnight), and the book has since been removed from the school. The headteacher tried to point out that the passage in question – “a footnote” – was not something that the school’s pupils were taught, and that moreover, it was open to less offensive interpretation.

Crace, however, had this to say:

‘Yet footnote or not, read or unread, any religious work that is open to misinterpretation and can be used to incite intolerance has no place in a school.’

Really? Are you quite sure? You don’t want children, in a religiously-adherent school, to be taught from ‘any religious work that is open to misinterpretation’?

Well now, by my reckoning, that would be all of them, wouldn’t it?

They should not have access to texts ‘that can be used to incite intolerance?’ Well that’s got the Bible, the Torah and Koran covered, hasn’t it?
That’s a hell of a lot of schools that are in trouble there, I’d say. I mean, it would be ridiculous for Crace to suggest that Islam is the only religion that actually preaches intolerance of non-believers. I’m sure that’s not what he’s doing. No.

What about the problematic fact that most religious texts endorse intolerance of people who – even if they believe wholeheartedly that the world was built in a week, and that virgins can become pregnant – are rejected from the faith for being women, or gay, or in some other fashion acceptably ‘intolerable’? Don’t they count as being religious works that ‘can be used to incite intolerance’?
Are there degrees of intolerance that are acceptable?
Would Crace have us remove Bibles from Church of England schools?
That’d be absolutely fine by me (it’s a bloody dull book), but in the interests of fairness, I think John really needs to explain further.

I have always found the very notion of ‘religious tolerance’ to be absurd. What IS religion if not a way of differentiating yourself from others? Of proving your worth against their lack of it? A way of ensuring your path to heaven/Nirvana/wherever at the expense of others (who, according to most major monotheistic faiths, are going to drown, burn in hell, or generally just have a rather unpleasant time of it when the judgement day comes).
On that basis, if you think you are part of a chosen group, from whom non-believers are necessarily excluded, how is it possible for you and your kind to ever be described as ‘tolerant’?

Intolerance, as Crace would have it, is the very touchstone of religious adherence. It is at the very heart of all faiths, and to pretend otherwise is ridiculous.
The notion of ‘them and us’, the ‘righteous and the damned’, is what religions are built on, and provides precisely the social control for which religious faith was created. Religion is not so much the opium of the people, more the straightjacket – be a believer, and live a life of virtue according to the controls and dictates laid down by another (especially you women), or….erm…..burn in hell.
Not much of a choice, granted, but I reckon I can take the heat.

While I’m on the subject, it’s similar to this nonsense that people spew about Christian charity and Christian forgiveness….well now, I’ve read the Bible, and it doesn’t say a hell of a lot about charity and forgiveness in there, that I can recall. It does state quite clearly, however, that the Christian God is a vengeful God. Look at what he did to the once-belegged snake, and to Eve. Painful childbirth – it’s all your own fault, ladies.
Christian forgiveness, my arse. It was only an apple, for fuck’s sake…

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