I have friends who have a very strong faith, I have friends who are atheist – they’re all my friends.
In my work I deal with all students, whether they profess a faith or not. I don’t have a problem, and neither do they.
So, here’s my gripe. I see more and more articles from some atheists that don’t push a pro-atheist agenda, as they push an anti-religion one. Now, I’m not starting a debate on the merits or demerits of belief Vs atheism. I believe, others don’t. And I respect that deeply.
For example, on the Matt Cooper show (excellent, by the way) there was a guest on talking about his work in Humanist ceremonies. In the course of his discourse, he referred to religious ‘claptrap’. Why not talk about Humanist ceremonies in positive terms rather than denigrate religious ceremonies? He also referred to religious ceremonies marking points of life (Baptism, Marriage, Funerals) as having ‘hijacked’ these important points in peoples’ lives. Again, why the need to denigrate? Why is it that some atheists seem to have such a missionary zeal about how they spread their word?
My faith is important to me. It has helped me though some tough points in my life, and I’ll give an example of the most significant:
In 1995, my mother died from a brain tumor. I only saw mam cry once in that time: the day she came home from hospital (she was only in for a week or so) she said “God John, it’s a very hard cross to bear”. Shortly after, she rested and got on with what was left of her life as best as she could.
I believe that mam’s faith was a huge help to her in facing her illness. I believe a further grace was given to our family in July, I think, of that year. My dad, my mam and my sister Monica went on a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Obviously, there was no miracle cure of the cancer that killed her, but there was a cure of another sort.
Prior to their visit to Lourdes, the atmosphere in our house was all about fighting the disease, fighting the inevitable. This could only lead to a sense of defeat. Following the pilgrimage, the atmosphere in the house changed, and not in a subtle way.
Now the atmosphere became one of acceptance – a place where we worked to make sure that mam was comfortable, that her dignity was respected. It became a house of welcome for many, many people who came to offer their support.
So much for one example.
Owen Jones wrote in the Independent about how Richard Dawkins doesn’t speak for all atheists, it’s worth a read (Not in our name: Dawkins dresses up bigotry as non-belief – he cannot be left to represent atheists).
But I digress. I started writing about how some atheists push a particular anti-religion agenda. Here’s the thing – why not respect each other’s positions on faith?
Pope Francis (of whom I’m a fan) recently spoke to an atheist. I can’t recall the exchange exactly, but when the man said “But I’m an atheist” the Pope replied, “Just do good, and let us meet in the middle”
So, lets all try to do good, and meet in the middle.
Live and let live
“why not respect each other’s positions on faith? ”
The trouble is that respect goes both ways. Respect does not ignore the wishes of non-Catholic parents in state funded schools. Respect does not let women die to protect the ethos of a building. Respect does not campaign against marriage equality for committed relationships it disagrees with.
I suggest that most organisations campaigning against religious influence in Ireland are pro-secular rather than pro-atheist. Sure, there are non-religious people (myself included) that are annoyed at unequal and discriminatory treatment of the minority by the majority and sometimes we say mean things about the organisation driving it. However, if religious faith in Ireland (or throughout the world) was all some variety of a personal, private faith, it is likely few would saying much about it at all. The reality is different. Catholicism pushes its agenda all the time. We have calls to prayer on the (publicly funded) radio and TV, interference in education, health, sex, sexual education, contraception, marriage and anywhere else the hierarchy can flex its political muscles.
In the vast majority of state funded primary schools, the curriculum has been manipulated to force a ‘Catholic ethos’ to permeate the entire school day. Even if a non-religious or other-religious parent wished, it would be impossible to exclude their child from religious teaching as aspects of faith formation are sprinkled through the entire day. A cynical person might suggest that this was a deliberate tactic to preach to children regardless of the wishes of the parents.
Significant time during the school year is devoted to communions, confessions and confirmations. This is particularly an issue in small schools where teachers have many classes in the same room. Children cannot avoid being proselytised to. The choice of other schools is often either unavailable or utterly impractical.
While it is ethically questionable, state funded primary schools are legally permitted to discriminate against people if they behave against the ‘ethos’ of the school. Again, given that 90% of schools are Catholic run, it means that either non-Catholic teachers must compromise their own beliefs or be denied employment in the overwhelming majority of state funded schools.
Most of the teacher training colleges are run with strong religious influences. [A report from the Teaching Council recommended the college authorities address] “some inconsistency in the balance of time allocated to various programme components . . . For example, attention should be given to the fact that subjects such as science, social, personal and health education (SPHE), geography and history are currently allotted 12 hours each, as compared with the 48 hours each allotted to other subjects such as visual arts, religious education and múineadh na Gaeilge.”. Also, teachers who do not take the RE modules are very likely to find it very difficult to get a job in a state primary schools given that ~95% are religious.
Moving on from education to health, last week a spokesman for the Mater hospital suggested that the hospital itself (ignoring the individual doctors) should not be compelled to provide abortions in accordance with the recent law. Remember, the law explicitly lays down that there is a “real and substantial risk of loss of the woman’s life” that can only “be averted by carrying out the medical procedure” in the opinion of several professionals acting in good faith. So basically, for religious reasons, they want the entire hospital to be exempted from a procedure which was very explicitly and narrowly crafted to apply to a life-saving situation only.
In the area of marriage, the primary opposition to full civil marriage for LGBT couples comes from the Catholic church. Despite the “love the sinner, hate the sin” rhetoric, the church campaigns against a non-religious civil contract without the exclusions of a ‘civil union’.
Finally, one key idea that most religions (including Catholicism) promote is the idea of ‘faith’. It promotes the idea that “belief without evidence” is a virtue. Many atheists (or more properly, atheists who are also sceptics) feel that this kind of thinking leads people to be uncritical or unsceptical in other areas of their lives. Believing without evidence leads to psychics, homoeopathy, vaccine denial, climate change denial. It leads to Christina Gallagher’s “House of Prayer” persuading poor old people to fund a millionaire’s lifestyle in exchange for miracle-cure trinkets. Humans are adept at fooling ourselves (despite our best intentions) and faith without evidence is not a virtue.