Worship of violence

No, it’s not just another ‘choice’.

It may be an unusual case, but it’s hardly the first time that extreme religious belief has resulted in cruelty to children. Now that the “misery memoir” has become a cliché of contemporary publishing, it’s worth remembering that many of the most significant accounts of childhood misery have been associated with religious repression…[I]n Memoir, one of hundreds of books chronicling brutal Irish Catholic childhoods, John McGahern writes of a life in which sudden physical blows were followed by sudden instructions to bow down in front of a crucifix (a fetishisation of extreme violence if ever there was one) and pray. “Authority’s writ ran from God the Father down and could not be questioned,” he says. “Violence reigned… in the homes as well.”

It’s a violent God. The crucifix itself (as Christina Patterson notes) is a symbol of violence. It’s one of the weirdest and most repulsive things about Christianity, that it uses an execution device as a pervasive symbol. Don’t tell me about atonement; the cross has no more to do with atonement than does the gallows or the guillotine or the electric chair or the lethal injection. People don’t walk around with little gallows around their necks – but crosses, oh, that’s a different matter. It isn’t though – it’s an ancient form of execution by torture. It was common as mud – it wasn’t special to Jesus, it was just what the Romans did with anyone poor and obscure and non-Roman who misbehaved, and that was a lot of people. It wasn’t glamorous, it was as squalid as possible. One might as well walk around with a photo of someone being waterboarded as a decoration.

We live in a country in which the proliferation of schools established only to impose particular sets of religious prejudices on young children unable to know, or seek, better is encouraged. Like everything else, it’s about “choice”…No, it isn’t. In this country – whose state religion, incidentally, rarely did anyone any harm, except a bit of boredom on a Sunday morning – we should do better. If parents have the right to believe what they like, their children have the right to an education that teaches them that certain things are wrong, and that, as Edmund Gosse says in Father and Son, it is “a human being’s privilege to fashion his inner life for himself”.

And to say no when the man with the knives comes around.

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