To be a moderate

There are only so many areas in life where it is possible to be moderate. In fact, the term “moderate” has the feeling of an insult implying a less than desirable condition. Even Dante seemed more annoyed with the Agnostics than with homosexual clerics and corrupt politicians. However, in socio-political circles it is possible to be moderate and get away with it.

If you don’t subscribe to any political party it gets even easier. You can believe in free trade, feel that there are significant benefits to globalisation, and that this can be achieved without compromising fundamental worker rights. The two are not mutually exclusive.

You can feel that there has to be a system to retain and encourage entrepreneurs within a country, possibly in the form of tax relief, but not at the expense of everyone else picking up the slack in tax revenue. A healthy, educated population is a benefit for everyone in a sovereign state after all.

And so on and so forth. Sitting on the fence, seeing merits or points in parts of both left and (slightly) right politics, it can be done.

However, moderation does not translate to religion. From Tony Blair’s troop of super heroic religious police forces, helping to ease suffering and intolerance (handy, given they usually had a hand or started the suffering and intolerance in the first place), to Saudi Princes, religions seem to be clambering to prove they are a force for tolerance and moderation.

It is perfectly possible to be politically in the centre and still maintain your own principles; however, it is not be possible to be moderate in religion, as this defeats the central tenet of the faith itself.

How can, say, Tony Blair convert to Catholicism, yet support and have a major hand in introducing legal rights for homosexuals in the UK, taking on the Catholic Church in the process? Is his god wrong on this issue? I mean, it’s a big thing to get wrong, given all the oppression and suffering it has caused. It’s not like getting the meat on a Friday wrong, no one suffered because they had a bacon sandwich on a Friday (apart from those who ended up in Purgatory before repeal of that requirement).

How can you be moderate in the face of such clear instruction from a god to oppose so many things?

Part of the problem with the Church of England is just how it tried to move to a moderate chocolate-digestive-and-cup-of-tea type of faith; in the end, this completely undervalued the whole basis for the religion in the first place. Why bother with God when a little bit of everything is ok?

Even the most middle-of-the-road of all faiths, Buddhism, has some problems, especially over killing and harm to humans. Is it never right to harm someone else or kill them? If it is unethical to raise a fist under any circumstance or to kill even in self-defence, then how does this work for most of Europe during Hitler’s reign? How does this help meet the other aim of alleviating suffering? If you feel that there are certain circumstances where killing a sentient being is justifiable, then how can you be a Buddhist?

The implication is that all religion needs fundamentalism; it cannot exist as a moderate entity. Religion is about control and oppression, setting and obeying of moral codes, justifying these through the Word of God. It is not supposed to be a box of chocolates where you pick out all the caramel and toffee ones and leave the disgusting coffee liquor ones for someone else.

To say religious texts are just a mild allegorical set of tales rather than a set of strict literal codes is to say the whole of the Bible or Qur’an is nothing more than an extended fortune cookie or horoscope. Pick out the stuff that sounds good like the finding a new love and forget the bad stuff about financial problems.

I can see the need or want for a more moderate approach to religion, but the references for a religion is a book and teachings that are anything but moderate. If they contain bits that a moderate finds reprehensible and unethical, then why still consider it your faith?

Would you consider yourself a Stephen Spielberg fan if you only liked ET and thought all his other films bad? Probably not. Would you hail the virtues of the White Album if you only liked Helter Skelter and thought the rest of it pretentious art drivel? Again, probably not. Yet you can be “religious” when you feel the vast majority of the word of a god is wrong apart from a few nice bits.

This, though, is not about the irony or contradiction contained in many religious beliefs. This isn’t pointing out that in Islam, Sharia Law is the only law to follow and if, as a Muslim, you live in a country that doesn’t operate according to Sharia Law, your faith specifically instructs you to leave that country.

It is ironic then when fundamentalist Muslims resort to the infidel laws in operation within these infidel countries to claim breaches of the infidels’ views on human rights when a journalist writes some home truths or a school does not like headscarves. Obviously, the issue of the headscarf is much greater than the demand from Allah that you pack up and leave the country.

No, this is about the way statements in faiths that demand you love your neighbour but hate your enemy; that you love those that Allah loves and hate those that Allah hates; that you sit and allow intolerable suffering on the basis that to kill under any circumstance is wrong; that you must suppress a woman’s worth and role in society.; that God also deals in real estate and told the truth when he said you could have that piece of land, but lying to the other lot when he told them the same thing and that homosexuality is an abomination. How, under such clear statements, can any religion become moderate without completely separating from the original source?

Not one religious text allows for cherry picking of certain parts and the ignoring of others, the only variation is how extremely you interpret certain bits. To be a Christian means you have to accept and believe in the resurrection; any doubt about this does not mean you are a moderate, it means you cannot be a Christian.

To be proud that your offspring have achieved something, even a victory in the egg and spoon race, is to commit the sin of pride. If you believe this is a bit harsh and perhaps does not justify eternal damnation, then you are saying that God is wrong. Just as he is wrong on slavery, homosexuality, war, rape, talking donkeys, infanticide, flooding the planet in a pique of throwing toys out the pram, and so on.

As long as people keep going back to their version of the “good book” there will never be a place for moderates in religion, they will always remain a sect, simply because it is physically impossible to subscribe to a religion and then preach moderation. To be a moderate means you have to discard so much of the bad and ugly that all you are left with is a small pamphlet of good stuff.

Sound principles though these may be, they don’t really require the existence of a god to bring them about (except when practitioners of sadomasochism read that bit about doing unto others as you wish to be done to you, we might need a god then).

We cannot tolerate the intolerable and there is no middle ground on Stone Age or Dark Age religious texts. It may be a wonderful PR exercise for those who would want the world to believe theirs is a faith of peace, but the very material they consider true cannot in any way be interpreted as moderate.

Posted July 27 2008

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