It’s no secret that I am not a lover of organised religion. In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve opened a post with that sentence. Religion has a lot to answer for, though to be fair, for many followers of many faiths, they live their lives without giving me any grief. It’s when religion is the excuse – or the cause – of interference into my life, or into the lives of people who simply want nothing to do with it – that we have a problem. Many people of faith respect that they have their beliefs and other people have their own. However, this doesn’t always happen – and equally, there are some aggressive atheists out there, who are as quick to resort to mockery as the next person. We seem to live in a world of polarising opinions and the idea that respect should be automatically granted to an ideal or belief, just because… well… just because. To me, respect needs to be earned, be it respecting an institution, a belief system, a political system, or a person.
On Twitter I follow people who are Muslims and I follow people who are ex-Muslims. The people I follow don’t necessarily come into direct contact with each other, but their ideals certainly clash. I am no fan of Islam, but equally, Islamophobia encourages polarisation and generates an excuse for far-right elements (and particularly conservative Christian denominations) to cause all kinds of problems. Some Muslims I converse with take issue with what they consider the mockery of their beliefs, particularly from ex-Muslims. I don’t think anything should be free from criticism, but going out of one’s way to mock someone’s beliefs is a line I don’t cross. Of course, one person’s criticism is another’s mockery, but whether possible, I try to be mindful of other people’s beliefs – provided they aren’t trying to trample upon other people’s rights. This recently drew me into an interesting conversation on Twitter concerning a Muslim woman who was arrested for homophobic-related comments and shouts at a Pride event. I cannot tolerate Islamophobia (and in fact, one of the few people barred from comments here was blocked for that reason). I consider Islam, like any organised religion, to have its issues, but there are a billion Muslims out there, and it’s hardly fair to label them. The actions of a few hardly provide proof for the behaviour of the many.
Equally, that’s a lesson some of the Muslims (and Christians for that matter) that I’ve conversed with need to learn themselves. Some sweeping, misleading stereotypes regarding the LGBT community, women, atheism and science provide a lot of material for others to use and misuse. The damage they do to their own causes with dishonest and disingenuous narratives creates an impression regarding their faith and its followers. People will spin pretty much anything these days, for any agenda they want. Whilst Muslims, Christians, and followers of every other faith don’t want their beliefs mocked, equally, they need to understand that they if they want their ideals to be respected and tolerated, this cuts both ways. As an example, there are many reasons the ex-Muslim community exists. It’s not all about ‘dressing the way they want’. For many, they are escaping abusive environments. Their direct experience of a religion they have practised for years has led them to their conclusions. To be dismissive of that is to never understand the reasons why. Religions can be a force for good but they can a force for stubbornly holding on to ideas that can hurt people.
In the end, it’s a big complicated mess and not one I am equipped to unravel in one blog post. The aim of all this? To encourage people to talk to each other. To get people to try and understand a different perspective. Whether that will happen or not, I cannot say. I hope it does.