On the evidence of what I have seen and heard I don’t like Abu Hamza much, I state that very pointedly because I know full well that any of the information I have about Hamza is subject to the agenda of the media source whence it came. However let me also put my comment into context, I believe Abu Hamza is a religious zealot and all such people make me decidedly uneasy. Hamza has very similar beliefs to a man like Nick Griffen of the BNP. They are men who believe that something they are makes them special and above others and that this same thing whether it be as arbitrary as the skin they’re in or the doctrine they believe in gives them the right to assume authority of those of a different ilk. It is for the same reason that I don’t like the Pope, I consider him to also be a dangerous reactionary bigot but amongst the leaders of religious institutions he is of course more the rule than the exception, it is not as if the Israeli administration are synonymous with sectarian liberalism.

I am also not generally a fan of the artwork of Gilbert and George, I do not find it usually aesthetic, being a little more conventional in my tastes but of course that is just me, beauty being in the eyes of the beholder and all that. However on this occasion I am pleased at their involvement, it highlights the hypocrisy within society when it comes to the question of religion. For those not down with the modern art scene you can find some details of their installation here. Whether for simple self-publicity or through some desire to make a meaningful statement the installation’s title: ‘Sonofagod Pictures’, and underneath, the subtitle, ‘Was Jesus Heterosexual?’ is guaranteed to inflame and outrage. There is no doubt that if Gilbert and George’s installation was deemed offensive to Islam or Judaism it would not be permitted. The public face of the outcry would be more vitriolic but I suspect the underlying rage from the Christian right is not to be underestimated, and one must be careful fo the according backlash.

It interests me that religion is subject to this curious forcefield with regard to any critique. If you speak ill of religion you are a blasphemer and even in the modern world you can be up for incitement to religious hatred. Whilst the cries of “Burn the Witch” have not been heard for some time the effect if you step outside the conventional religious box is becoming much the same and I cannot see how in any way this can be a good move. It is all very well to be on one’s guard against political fascism but of little consequence if religious fascism is let in through the back door. Why is it that religion can be afforded such protection in a society that thinks of itself as free to express and think. If religion is strong and the tenets on which it is held equally so then it should be able to withstand the strongest criticism and escape unscathed. After all, I do not have the same rights afforded to the beliefs I hold dear, if someone critcises Marx or Socialism I cannot seek a court injunction or claim that they have incited political hatred and rightly so. The onus is on me to defend my argument and I just happen to enjoy doing so. People may assert at this point some form of superiority of their religious ideals over my political ones but both require faith and belief and an adherence to a way of life that one believes will be better for everyone.

Whilst political ideology has become diluted and more transient the same has not been true of the religious, the Catholic church has become more hardened in its stance and the newest Pontiff is even more conservative than the last one. The Anglican church is being pressed more and more from it’s right-wing evangelical wing in the US and Africa and whatever the personal beliefs of the present Archbishop of Canterbury he is hamstrung to enact many of them. The rather embarrassing situation over the appointment of a homosexual bishop in New Hampshire and in this country the forcing of Canon Jeffrey John to withdraw from his application for the Bishopric of Reading because he was a homosexual both illustrate this point . Again the various religions stance on homosexuality is not commensurate with the situation in the rest of society, after all discrimination on grounds of sexuality is illegal in this country and yet in religious circles many are still allowed to say freely that homosexuality is a sin against God. There are very few religions where it would be prudent to declare oneself as openly gay.

One of the things that turned me off organised religion was very much the problem of the oxymoronic policies within it. Now you may say that there is a diversity in our species and it is only natural that this should be reflected within the clergy and religion, you’re quite right, I’m glad you brought that up for it hits the nail on the head, why is it that some diversity is good and other diversity isn’t and who decides and why do they decide? Why is it that you are born a murderer but you learn to be homosexual. After all religions believe in the concept of evil and some latency of that, why is it that if homosexuality is considered evil is this not something that people are born with and can do nothing about? No this is a paradox of religious ideology. Personally I think to have a concept of evil means that there is a glass ceiling approach in religious hierarchy just as their is in the social one. Some people are deemed better, more worthy than others. Whatever happened to “the meek shall inherit the Earth” and the “first shall be last and the last shall be first” and “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”? Sorry did I miss something, I mean I’m basing this on the Christian teachings I was subjected to at school but perhaps I missed a subsequent upgrade to Christianity 2.0 part of the Religion 2000 suite of applications, only licensed to run in Western Europe and subject to US Federal control!

Don’t get me wrong, there are good clerics, some are well-known and pivotal to the struggle and plight of communities and countries like the assasinated Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador and Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of East Timor, whilst most will never be known outside the community and region in which they serve, some of these men and women have entered the church because they feel a calling and wish to do good. To be a principalled cleric though is not without its dangers. To carry out the epitomy of a Christian message may in fact serve to have you assasinated by one of the most fundamentalist Christian nations on the planet the US like Oscar Romero because perhaps that brand of Christianity you are peddling isn’t the right flavour. After all upon reading of the teachings of Jesus who could possibly believe that he had any leanings towards socialism?!

Furthermore it must be remembered that whilst many seek to do ‘good work’ within the church many others with such urges go on to become doctors, nurses, vets, social workers, teachers and other altruistic professions, it is not therefore something exclusive to those who work in the church.

I am not against people having their own spirituality, nor their need for a comfort blanket to explain some of the mysteries of life, perhaps their is good cause for some of that opium now and again, after all I would dearly cling to such myself had I that option. The problem is the religious institutions because they represent but an interpretation of a group of texts which are by their very nature full of ambiguity. This prevents any evolution of the texts, the language etc. and results in a fixed dogma that cannot cope with the rigours of the modern world. Its response to change is not to bend like the reed in the wind but to stand firm against it like the tree and as such it will become uprooted but not without taking up a huge clump of the land with it.

Song Of The Day ~ Editors – Open Your Arms