How About Religious Mild Dislike?

As I promised or threatened yesterday, more on the ‘attempt by various well meaning people to legislate religious hatred as a ground for prosecution on the same basis as racial hatred,’ as Meghnad Desai put it in The Independent. Desai also thinks it’s a bad idea. Good, that. Let’s hope many people think so and say so.

A secular tolerant democracy needs to get away from privileging religion as a mark of citizenship rather than giving it a special status. The Anglican Church needs to be disestablished and its privileges such as the Blasphemy Law removed. Human rights should adhere to one’s humanity regardless of special characteristics. In a truly equal society we will all be citizens protected under the law, regardless of our race, colour, gender. To progress to that state we need to reduce, not increase, divisions. We need to put equality in the public sphere as a top priority rather than enshrine separatenesses into our law.

Yes, and there’s more to it than that. Religion should not be protected the same way race and gender are, because religion is not a given, it’s not inherited. There seems to be a strange Lamarckian thinking going on here, that insists on thinking of religion and race as the same kind of thing. And that kind of thinking leads to a discouraging kind of identity-entrenchment if not identity-imprisonment – as if one is never allowed to escape from or simply leave or change the situation one is born to. But people aren’t born Muslims or Christians, they are raised as Muslims or Christians. The tensions between separateness and equality that Desai refers to, tensions between identity and universality, only get tenser if contingent, chosen, cognitive categories – religion, politics, systems of thought – are treated as part of our DNA.

Johann Hari makes a similar argument here. And a blogger I haven’t read before says what I’m always saying:

But religion must be protected, because it’s special, it’s spiritual, it’s precioussss. Why do we draw a ring around religion to prevent it being questioned? Because it wouldn’t last five minutes in a straight fight with logic and reason.

Precioussss indeed. And part of the problem with that of course is that the more people are told that their religion is precioussss and must not be criticised sharply, the more they believe it, and we get a nice self-reinforcing grievance-hugging circle going. Let’s not do that.

And Anthony’s post at Black Triangle informs us that Rowan Atkinson criticised this bright idea the first time it came up, after September 11.

Some of the criticism at the time came from comedians. The debate was started by Rowan Atkinson when he wrote a letter to The Times, saying he had spent “a substantial part of my career parodying religious figures from my own Christian background”. The Blackadder star was also responsible for a sketch in which footage of Muslim worshippers bowing in a mosque was accompanied with a voice-over stating “The search goes on for Ayatollah Khomeini’s contact lens.”

Now, how do we know whether Blunkett and the judges would think that was ‘sensible’ or not? Hmm? We don’t. So let’s not risk it, okay? Let’s let A Devil’s Chaplain and Why I Am not a Christian and Why I Am not a Muslim and, indeed, The Satanic Verses sit on the bookshelves in safety. Okay?

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