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Talking religion

I don’t often give my opinion on religion. It’s a bit like poking a lion with a stick – it’s almost certain that he’s going to turn around and bite you, and no one is going to give you any sympathy because you asked for it. Plus the whole pride is watching and will probably enjoy eating whatever is left of you. And on that gory note, today I’ve decided to poke the lion with a stick. On my head be it.

Recently I retweeted the Al Jazeera article ‘I’m Muslim: Ask me a question’, which discusses how some young Muslims in America are trying to start a conversation with non-Muslims on their university campus. They want people who may not have that much experience of the religion, other than watching planes being flown into buildings on the TV, to understand that not all Muslims are the same. In fact, most are perfectly normal people trying to live good lives. Great idea and brave, too.

The response I had from one follower was interesting. He said he was Christian and either we unfollowed each other or got along. He also said that what one person believes compared to another is a choice. He clearly hadn’t read the article and he had misunderstood what my point was, but he wasn’t saying anything I disagreed with. I believe everyone has a right to their own religious beliefs, too.

I responded by saying I wasn’t a Muslim and then immediately felt guilty. I personally do not follow any religion, but I have Muslims and Christians as part of my family. Denying I was Muslim was not technically incorrect, but it felt like I was doing them a diservice by saying it. Almost as if I was saying that there was something wrong with it. I guess that’s the problem with conversations on Twitter – there really isn’t enough room to explain.

I was reminded of George Clooney’s response to a lifetime of gay rumours. He has been quoted as saying:

“I think it’s funny, but the last thing you will ever see me do is jump up and down, saying ‘These are lies!’ That would be unfair and unkind to my good friends in the gay community. I’m not going to let anyone make it seem like being gay is a bad thing.”

So really what I should have done is said nothing. A lesson for life right there from a Hollywood great.

What is disturbing is how the media skew peoples’ perceptions of religion. It makes even people educated in the religion more likely to deny knowledge or association. Muslims are so often painted as the villains. I recently saw a picture of a newspaper story that declared ‘Muslim brutally kills wife’ or similar. As the person who posted the picture on Twitter said, I doubt the same would be published with Christian in the headline.

The truth is that there are good and bad people in every religion and in every walk of life. It was refreshing to see the news coverage of Libyans standing up to the country’s militia after the US Ambassador was killed in riots surrounding the US-made anti-islamic film in September. The message was very clear – these extremists do not act for all of us.

Last night, I finally watched The God Delusion with Richard Dawkins. It makes for interesting viewing. Richard’s key message is that religion is harmful in the way it can make humans less curious, teaches untruths about the universe and also breeds hate, based essentially on stories that no one has scientific proof to back up. He looks at Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The most disturbing parts of the films for me were the religious individuals who suggested that if you were not part of a faith then you had no morals. And herein lies my problem with religion. I live my life as I choose, being tolerant and treating everyone as I would wish to be treated myself. It makes no difference to me whether you are Muslim, Christian, Buddhist or anything else. You are an individual, the same as I am. Why should you judge me on my choices when I am so tolerant of yours?

If, at the end of my life, there is a God, I would hope that, if he is as good and kind as everyone says, he would look at my life and say, ‘Actually, you’ve done okay’. If he considers me to be a sinner, then what difference does this make to you anyway? I’ll be the one burning in hell fire, not you.

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