Attacking religious beliefs

This is a post which has come out of a discussion between Alex F and Old Peculier below.

Religion is ideology, and many people, including many religious people, tend to identify themselves, at least in part, in relation to their belief systems.

Now, you might think that aspects of a particular religious belief system are offensive or absurd, and should be criticised.

But belief systems – particularly centrally defining religious or cultural ones – also inevitably offer much that is good, especially but not exclusively to the person who subscribes to them. It may be charity, altruism, justice, due process, humour, pity, or a combination of other things.

When you lambast or dismiss a belief system, its reasonably likely that what you say will be perceived as an attack on a central part of a religious person’s identity. Although that fact oughtn’t to prevent you from speaking out, you ought to do so appropriately, I think.

There are clearly forms of extreme religious belief which should be opposed in so many facets that we accept that, in effect, we oppose it in totality. That’s my view on some extreme political-religious ideologies which collapse the boundary between church and state.

Its right to make specific directed criticisms of this sort of belief system.

But that’s not the nature of any religious ideology in practice in any normal situation. There are, as Usama Bin Laden would tell you, no Islamic states: the marriage rate of 9 year old girls in practice is roughly equal to the incidence of the practice amongst hindus, women are being enfranchised at a decent rate in muslim countries, and Indonesia is a democracy. The Pope may persuade a dozen Spanish mayors to scotch a gay marriage law but then their cousins, the Anglicans are ordaining gays. Some nutters might be murdering innocents in India over a film which offends by showing some women chasing a Sikh man, Benny-Hill style: which is odd for a relatively progressive belief system which accords equality between men and women, preaches mutual tolerance between religions, and theoretically – although not in practice – deplores the caste system. Jews haven’t got round to reforming their law of divorce, even though they’ve had a few thousand years, but then Rabbi Lionel Blue makes for an entertainingly bewildering experience on Thought for the Day.

Sure, where a teaching, practice, or thesis is wrong, its right to point it out and reject it, clearly and specifically.

But I think that to take a position of absolute condemnation in relation to any mainstream religious ideology is rarely anything other than disproportionate and phobic.