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Thou shalt not bear false witness

Religion has fascinated me for a long time, ever since I stopped my religious studies lessons at school. You'll see the combination of my healthy skepticism and broad knowledge of religion in the bibulator and nth commandment pages on this website. These pages are designed to blow a raspberry at organised religion, without trying to be anything more than cheeky!

I hate labels, but if I had to label my religious beliefs, I would say that I'm agnostic. As a child, I used to think ill of agnosticism. I used to think that it was the weak-minded fools who sat in the agnostics corner, with no idea of what they really thought; I believed that a strong minded person would be a religious fanatic or a staunch atheist. These days, I'm happy to call myself agnostic. I believe that only a fool would be so arrogant as to declare the absolute existence/non-existence of a divine power. There are, however, degrees of foolishness!

I'm not against organised religion per se. Indeed, some of the most interesting people I've met, with some of the best insights into life's meaning, have been religious leaders. I've spoken to a number of clergyman, and you have to admire the strength of character and spirituality that motivates these people. Overall, the religious leaders I've met have been happy, well-balanced people that are capable of living life to the full and inspiring others to do the same. This is a good thing and I would never dare to criticise it. However, just because it works for them doesn't mean it works for everyone.

My real gripe is with those who think that they are religious and committed, but use this as a shield to protect their stupidity, malevolence or arrogance. The papers are full of commentary about the Islamic fundamentalists who are taking this sort of abuse of religious belief to extremes, but the fundamentalists are only the extreme examples. Religion is being used as an excuse all around us. Classic examples of how include the priests who have had untoward congress with their congregation (or have abused or turned a blind eye to abuse of children), the clergymen who use the pulpit as a place to preach bigotry, and the religious community leaders who turn out to have more sins than the community they're pretending to lead.

Another problem I have is when religious leaders do not attempt to understand the wide world as it is, and criticise it as they think it is. How can you lead people down your chosen path if you don't know where they're coming from? A notable example of this is a particular clergyman, who often appears on Radio 2 documentaries, talking about modesty, love and not having sex before marriage; this chap has never had a relationship outside of his arranged marriage, and yet attempts to describe issues of love authoritatively (and often very very cynically). Sometimes well meaning people can do more harm than good.

It is not just the leaders whose failings I deplore. I hate it when someone is incredibly excitable about their beliefs and their sense of righteousness; they're invariably setting themselves up for a fall. I had a long conversation with someone once, regarding their belief that they were guided day to day by Jesus himself, which constantly ensured that they would do the right thing by everyone. I will not criticise this belief itself; dialogue with god is a wonderful thing to have faith in. However, I wonder whether this particular believer ever felt compelled to try to pay me back the money I lent them... 

I think that religion fails where imperfect people are involved and such people are in the majority in this world. This is why I'm not into organised religion; it fosters a false sense of security in the definition of what is right and wrong. So I say this. Take a long hard look at yourself. Remember that you are defined by your actions, not your beliefs. Ask yourself what you can do to make yourself a better person, via whatever systems of morals you understand. Take nothing for granted and keep checking up on your progress. Try not to be a hypocrite.

Then start on your own journey to betterment.

01 November 2001
Ashley Frieze