You’re religious, I’m not: live and let live

2014-06-06 00:00

I RECEIVED a video via my cellphone from a friend the other day, which puzzled me and, honestly, offended me a little. The video was of an evangelist-type woman talking on stage to an auditorium full of people. As soon as I realised that the subject matter of the video was religion, I turned it off. The reason I was offended was because I’ve known this friend for a long time and I have always, from the very beginning of our relationship, been very honest with her about my lack of religious belief and the fact that it’s not likely to change. Knowing this, she still sent me the video.

We were away with friends a few months ago and one evening as we went for an evening walk along the beach, my friend told me that she thought I was “wrong” for allowing my children to decide for themselves whether they want to believe in God or not. A teacher at my child’s school threw away a whole month’s edition of a newspaper that is aimed at entertaining and educating school children because it contained an article on Halloween which, she said, went against Christianity. She also threatened the children with detention if they retrieved an issue of the newspaper from the rubbish bin. People have no qualms about cluttering up Facebook with religious phrases, sayings and pictures or starting religious arguments that serve only to criticise those who don’t agree.

Perfectly good people who are doing no harm to anyone else, who are living productive lives, and who are caring and kind are condemned and vilified because their lifestyles do not conform to some religious doctrine. I have found on many occasions that many of those who are persecuted and criticised are very often morally and ethically superior to those who are doing the persecuting, despite their protestations of religious purity. Globally, people are murdered under horrific circumstances, wars are waged and whole populations are annihilated because they believe something different from those who hold the upper hand. The most recent horrifying example is of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim: a Sudanese woman who has refused to give up her Christian faith in favour of Islam has been jailed and sentenced to death for apostasy. I find myself very grateful that I was born in a country with a secular democracy where I have the freedom to choose what I believe and where I’m not murdered for that choice.

I didn’t confront my friend about the video because she’s quite entitled to her beliefs, but why does she not show me the same courtesy? I didn’t disagree with my friend who berated me for raising little heathens, because it’s none of my business how she raises her own children. Why does she not feel the same way? That teacher who refused to let her pupils read about something contrary to her beliefs is not developing young minds with a well-rounded, full-bodied education that I expect her to provide; instead, she’s trying to create little robots that accept all they are told without question — often the kind of people who persecute those who had the temerity to make up their own minds. While Facebook friends and acquaintances are entitled to express their faith on that or any other forum, I would most certainly not be afforded the same consideration if I were to post something like: “Atheism has set me free”.

I am an intelligent, educated person who has been exposed to religion from an early age. I have made an informed and considered decision that suits me. There are many choice things I could say to people who are religious, whatever religion they follow, but I bite my tongue. I don’t criticise or look down upon or condemn those who don’t feel the same way I do. I don’t send endless letters to the newspaper or write fervent columns, criticising those who don’t share my views, while trying desperately to impose my religious beliefs on them. I don’t do these things because you have a right to believe what you want. I would appreciate being granted that right in return.

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