I could give a full response to Joan Smith's article in the Independent:"Strong religious belief is no excuse for intimidation". I could point out all the things she fails to mention in order to make her case more convincing. I could point out the fallacies inherent in her argument which, properly dealt with, would undermine any inclusion of a discussion of religion in her article, and reveal her thoughtless prejudices.
I could, but there is no point. Read through the comments on that and every other article that tries to engage in serious secular/religious dialogue and you will find entrenched positions being thunderously repeated. Stupid people saying stupid things. No sense.
The scary thing is that these opinions on the behaviour outlined in the article are reducible, not to any deeply humanist or religious view, but to political inclination.
There is an uneasy truce between religion and politics in this country. We have a state religion, The Church of England, that theoretically holds most sway in the halls of power. However, the C of E is a generally progressive church, with comparatively enlightened attitudes towards evolution, homosexuality and tolerating other world views. There is little or no tension between the C of E and, say, the scientific community.
In this respect, we brits are lucky. We are also lucky that the influence of the church on politics is seemingly minimal
However, other religions (Catholicism, Islam, Dawkins Atheism) are far more strident in their views, far less interested in tolerance, far more likely to inspire bellicose rhetoric and far more likely to take a side fervently supporting one political interest over another.
With the advent of the internet, attitudes are globalised - meaning that someone who self-identifies as Catholic and wants to be a really good Catholic will find a wealth of fundamentalist Catholics to copy the attitudes of. Thus the Louisiana fundamentalist affects the thinking and language of the try-hard fundamentalist from Stoke-on-Trent.
The separation of the religious and the political has been a reality in this country for the last few decades. However, Catholics across the globe are encouraged to take a side in elections to support 'issues' - abortion and homosexuality being the obvious examples. The GOP in America has co-opted these issues as hostages in the electoral college. Across the globe political parties champion religious issues as a way of drawing support from the pulpit.
Our boy in Stoke-on-Trent is privy to their attitudes on issues and takes them as his own.
Believers are voters too. They are told on Sunday that abortion is wrong and on Monday that one party will outlaw it and the other will protect it. Thus on Tuesday they vote as if against abortion and one political party, with an agenda that is about far more than abortion rights, is given power over far more than just abortion rights.
This is a simplified explanation, by necessity, and I acknowledge that voters are more sophisticated than this. However, let's say that 30% of religious voters will never vote for a party that supports abortion rights, and that the other 70% is undecided and evenly divided - that leads to a 65%-35% split - a demographic landslide in an election where the educated populace are unconvinced by either party.
Social issues such as these are, in fact, apolitical. Abortions happen anyway, regardless of legality. Homosexuality is a fact and will continue regardless of legality. Voting for and against 'issues' as if your vote will somehow change these realities is an empty gesture leading to unintended consequences - viz. the Iraq war, a stratospheric budget deficit, corrupt officials siphoning billions into interests (Cheney and KBR). All because "issues voters" are willing to pay the ransom for these ideological hostages.
As a consequence of this, that 30% learn the language of their political captors, taking their positions on a wide variety of issues. It's a form of Stockholm syndrome.
So in Stoke, our boy has not only learned that gays are cursed by God, but that socialised medicine is wrong, that Obama is a Kenyan who hates whitey and that welfare is a crutch for those who should be crawling.
The poisonous influence of religion on politics, religion in power, is becoming a real danger, as these attitudes are globalised.
I'd like to predict that in the next election there will be attempts, probably from the right, to reel-in these issues-voters waiting to be born - they are now just a set of nonsense attitudes without the outlet of the GOP. The Tories will make a play for their support by speaking the language of the mega-church. They might even win.
And so we will have religion firmly back in politics and all the hatred and intolerance that has led to time and time again. Religious beliefs are fine - I like them, think they might actually be beneficial for many individuals. Religions, on the other hand, are organisations with vested interests - the most obvious being self-enrichment. Politics are more boring without religious rhetoric, but I like it that way.