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There's always an easy way
If you want to consign religions to history
I recently caught the final episode of a reality TV series where three members of the public pitched to become an ‘alternative’ UK Prime Minister. I accept that I only saw the final episode, so I never saw what the three candidates had to do to get into the final, but what they had to do to win it left me deeply saddened about the state of our country.
Each was asked to come up with the central plank of their policy, and put it to a vote by an invited studio audience. The candidate whose policy had the greatest resonance – and who therefore won the contest – was the one who said we should make corporations pay their ‘fair share’ of tax. The other two candidates offered to ‘end institutional racism’ and to ‘end homelessness’.
Why did this leave me saddened? Because it gave the misleading impression that such deeply complex issues can be reduced to such simplistic statements. As if just wishing that things could be better would make them so, when the truth is that success in solving such problems would require equally complex solutions that could potentially in turn, create other – possibly worse – situations further down the line. And that’s if you could even define what success might look like. It also saddened me that we are creating the perception that members of the public could do a better job than experienced politicians, who – whatever you might think of them – may at least have an understanding of the complexities of an issue (with, of course, some notable exceptions, eh, Liz?).
Yes, I know this programme was just entertainment. But what sort of entertainment is it that makes it seem that all our problems could be solved at a stroke if only a gung-ho member of the public could ‘have a go’ at leading the country? (Although with the way we’re churning through Prime Ministers at the moment, maybe we’ll all get to have a go before the next election). The truth is, of course, that there are no easy solutions, and at best, every policy is a form of compromise.
I know, it would be great if this were not so. If a Prime Minister or President could simply wave a magic wand and ‘kazaam!’ everything is made better. The war in Ukraine? Kazaam! The war is over! Global hyper-inflation? Kazaam! It’s back down to below 2%! Global warming? Kazaam! Brrrr, it’s cooling down! But that simply isn’t going to happen, and giving us the impression that it might is to treat us as infants.
Of course, this brings me on to one of my favourite topics – religion… (oh, no Jonathan – you’re not back on that are you? Yep. Sure am.)
I think that this reduction to simplicity that we see in the media has strong parallels with religion. Like religion, it treats us all as children (or sheep) who are hoping (or praying) for our leader (or god) to wave his magic wand and make everything better. And like religion, it suggests that there are easy answers to difficult questions. In politics this can be such as ‘if only the other lot were in power, they’d sort everything out,’ while in the case of religion, it could be, ‘I don’t understand the science, so therefore my god did it.’
The fact that religion treats us all as infants is self-evident to me. Why? Because it discourages questioning and independent thought; it asks us to believe in magic; it demands we accept its principles ‘because I said so.’ And most of all, because it begins its indoctrination at birth, making sure children have been exposed to all its teachings when their minds are most receptive. They are given a lot of contradictions (in Christianity at least); that they are ‘born sinners’ yet they can be ‘saved’; that they are subject to ‘god’s plan’ yet they have free will; that god loves them yet will burn them for all eternity if they don’t love him back – and all this is thrown at them before they are old enough to question the nonsense they are being fed. So they end up as adults believing in stuff that they would never have accepted if they hadn’t been force-fed it as impressionable children.
So here’s what I would do if I were made the ‘alternative’ Prime Minister; I would make it illegal to indoctrinate any child into a religion until they were at least 18 years old. That would mean no baptisms. No Sunday school. No bar-mitzvahs. And definitely, DEFINITELY no non-consensual mutilations of their bodies by circumcision. I would protect their young minds and bodies from religious nonsense until they were able to make a rational assessment of what they were being taught. Then, once they were 18, their parents could sit them down and explain their religion. While I can’t begin to assume that every 18 year-old will dismiss it for the guff it so patently is, I do think the majority will – and over time, religions will naturally wither away into the historical curiosities I think they should be.
Yes, it’s a simplistic policy proposal. And no, I haven’t worked out the details. I haven’t understood the complexities – because in this world of simplistic solutions, it’s the easy idea that counts, not the difficult implementation.
I thank you. I shall prepare my winner’s speech in a minute.
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