Perhaps as far as I can remember, powerful religious figures of no small rank have always been the most dangerous and sly. Whether they are high priests, grand clerics, ayatollahs, bishops or reverends, their agendas are unmistakably similar: they seek to impose their religious (and moral) views on others. And just in case such an assertion may prove too blunt and unfairly disparaging, I would like to point out that almost all who ascend theistic ranks do so on the premise of absolute obeisance to their Gods. In short, the title is awarded to those who have so completely lost their ability to reason and the appellation becomes further reassurance of one’s blind faith – you will never see Pope Francis admit to any margin of error that his religion could be utter rubbish nor will the Islamic council members ever entertain the possibility that their faith is a gross violation of human rights.
Yet for all the contradictions and societal harm brought about by different faiths, these powerful religious heads often carry themselves with a beatific smile, seemingly kind eyes and an outrageous notion of being able to cure you of any worldly ills. Whether the solution comes in jade beads, the mindless repetition of a sutra, or a routine march to the confession booth, you can be sure that a godly prescription of sorts awaits. Failing that, believers are strongly encouraged, if not reprimanded, to live appropriately ‘moral’ lifestyles in line with their Gods. And now, the latest reminder comes from Saudi Arabia’s top religious authority who made clear his objection to the proposed legalisation of cinemas and concerts (they have been banned since 1980s because of the so called Islamic ‘values’)
This is not the first in a short list of absurdities. Pokemon Go was also called out for being unislamic for the same perfectly sane reason that emojis were considered as going against proper Islamic behaviour. There’s plenty more but suffice to say, this religious head, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, whose name is far more complicated than the lousy line of reasoning he gave for prohibiting the legalisation of cinemas, explained that such public performances allowed for the inappropriate mixing of genders as well as the possibility for ‘atheistic or rotten’ influences. How is it that such a powerful man is allowed to get away with such sweeping remarks without even putting forward statistics, research or any meaningful number crunching?
More disturbingly, why do religious people accept such blatant claims, and perhaps what I consider the absolute worst offense, why do almost all religious people let a book, a religious authority or an ancient tablet do the thinking for them?
Why can’t you do Yoga? Because it mimics Hindu worship.
Why do you not use contraceptives in family planning? Because the Bible.
Why can’t you eat pork? The Koran says so.
Why do you perform genital mutilation on your baby? The council.
Why can’t you offer services to homosexuals? Because religion.
And then, since religions have to be respected, the following becomes true:
We can’t offer a Yoga programme because some of them are Christians.
You can’t talk about contraceptives because you risk offending the Catholics.
The event you are planning for must have halal food.
Don’t talk about what they are doing to their baby. It’s their choice.
This job doesn’t employ atheists or homosexuals. It’s not discrimination. (It is)
And so, while religious freedom and plurality have to be respected, the same concession is never made in favour of people who tick the ‘I am not associated with a religion’ checkbox. More scathingly, why do we allow powerful religious figures to express disagreement with evolution, climate change and critical thinking?
Wouldn’t it then be within our moral duty to point out the absurdities of a faith? If you see a couple agreeing to genital mutilation on their baby boy, it isn’t a matter of ‘respecting the faith’. It becomes a gross human rights violation, and everyone is obligated to shame such a horrible practice. Silence is a perpetuation to a blatant crime. Whether it’s yoga, sexual discrimination or various forms of dietary abstinence, these are not even remotely acceptable. They’ve become the norm because everyone has become psychologically adapted to downplaying these as ‘supporting racial harmony’. But racial harmony only harmonises very specifically recognised faiths, and does nothing to protect those who would rather not be associated with a faith.
Whether it’s America, Saudia Arabic or a small country like Singapore, why do we allow religion to get a free pass again and again? If people could see just a bit clearer, the Pope would be nothing more than a raving madman, pastors would be unintelligent but gifted speakers, and the clerics that govern the top Islamic council would just be a round table of sex obsessed old men clutching a tattered book to their chests.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) whether we have a duty to speak out against religion?