Mick Farren in ‘Darklost’ wrote: “The only consistent purpose of human religion (is) as a cover for the most bestial excesses of mass homicide, torment, and atrocity.”
Chilling religious images do haunt us.
Kristy Bamu from Newham, a metal bar thrust in his mouth, his teeth shattered, his ear torn, drowning in freezing water on Christmas Day because his family feared he was a witch.
Scotland Yard has dealt with 27 witch abuse cases in the past year.
Nimko Ali, at 7, joining the 170,000 women in the UK who have had their genitals mutilated and the 3 million men whose foreskins were severed as babies.
Lady Butler Sloss telling Phil Johnson, not to raise sexual abuse allegations against a bishop, because the ‘press would love it’, while 800 baby skeletons lie at the nun’s home for single mums in County Galway, and harrowing accounts of torture, cruelty and sexual abuse by priests appear in Commission and Inquiry reports.
God TV, with its 951 million viewers, broadcasting on Sky and Virgin, preying on the vulnerable, promising miracles of healing and prosperity, in return for conversion and cash.
Juliette D’Souza , who claimed to have spiritual powers to work miracles, being jailed for ten years in June, for obtaining over a million pounds, by her deceitful ploys.
Holy Trinity, Brompton promoting the Alpha Course, through quaint parish churches across the land, that over 2.5 million have attended in the UK alone, that teaches miracles of healing, the uttering of unintelligible sounds and a divisive social message.
Sunday Schools and Church Schools teaching children that Abraham was good for being willing to plunge a knife into his son as a gift to God and that God is good, even though he slaughtered innocent Egyptian children at Passover, drowned countless thousands in Noah’s flood and groomed and sexually abused the young girl Mary.
Jehovah Witness parents refusing to allow their baby, life saving surgery and transfusion, so that Judge Keehan had to rule that Birmingham Children’s Hospital could proceed against their wishes.
Celeste Jones detailing the abuse in the cult Children of God where prayers of thanks were said after sex with child members.
These, just a sample from the many.
If then we dig behind such shocking images, we uncover a religious culture that ensnares so many others, not in a manner to hit headlines yet with the power to ravage countless lives.
A person’s need to belong proves fertile ground for them to be manipulated and coerced into a subservient and dependent lifestyle. Their moral, social and financial choices are usurped. Their ability to dissent is eroded. Their loyalty is maintained through fear and the threat of expulsion and persecution.
Revd Steve Chalke is one high profile example of what happens when your religious group believe you have put a foot wrong. He has devoted much of his life to evangelical Christianity and founded Oasis, a charity working on 5 continents and in 11 countries. It has been expelled now from the Evangelical Alliance, because he supports equal marriage.
The Problem is a Lack of Regulation
Religion is allowed to infect ordinary minds, colonising them and infusing them with fears, phobias and paranoia. Rational thinking is replaced by superstition and magic. Fact based education is undermined by emotive belief, leaving the individual susceptible to the whims and wiles of religious leaders and society at risk of extremism.
In the UK, other than the criminal law, and for the Church of England, Ecclesiastical Law that is largely self-serving, there is no jurisprudence that covers religious activity.
The lack of independent scrutiny and accountability has proved fertile ground for a wide array of abuses to be perpetrated. Developed denominations have advanced structures of vetting and supervision, but none effective enough to prevent the serial abuse of thousands.
The reason lies in the nature of religious believing and the relationship this engenders between religious leaders and their devotees, that are intrinsically abusive.
Once others regard humans, as the conveyors or mediators of Divine truth and instruction, they can gain a totalitarian position of authority and influence over their followers and this provokes transgressive dynamics.
The systemic corruptibility produced, has been potent enough to pervert or facilitate even the most educated, privileged and finest minds within the Anglican and Catholic Church, including bishops and cardinals.
Further alarm is found in the smaller religious jurisdictions, where uneducated, untrained and unsuitable individuals, even those with criminal convictions, can raise themselves overnight to be priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and metropolitans and present themselves in society, with impressive web sites, offering ministry to an unsuspecting public.
If you point this out, people are incredulous that this is permissible and that no law is being broken.
Where, they ask, is the licencing body, the public watchdog, that oversees religious ministerial activity, that validates a cleric’s credentials and that can reassure the public, that they are dealing with a bona fide individual?
There is no such facility.
Where religion is concerned, it seems in the UK, people can claim any title, any position, create any church, any religious group, offer any ministry, and propagate any form of belief, as long as it does not infringe the criminal law.
This allows charismatic, opinionated, domineering, disturbed and controlling characters to gain access to the vulnerable, to children and to families and to inveigle their lives without any third party assessment of the consequences.
The Consequences are pervasive and dire
Radicalisation is a term applied frequently within the Islamic community. However, its deleterious effects are ubiquitous. In accommodating religious observance within the educational system and in public life, our society exposes the public to a constant drip feed of radicalisation.
It is true that empirical and fact based learning has built up an immunity against religion in most, however a significant number are affected, especially the impressionable young.
At the most extreme, their behaviour possesses them to surrender their own life or take another’s as a religious ideal. When a knee jerk reaction is to associate such tendencies with Muslim jihadists and suicide bombers alone, we betray clear signs of an intellectual and political bias that prevents logical analysis.
We have to reappraise Christian culture and lay bare its tenets.
We must place a spotlight on the central teaching that the Christian God was willing to send his son to die
The complicity Christians display with such a heinous concept is alarming, teaching that it is an expression of love and grace.
This is so far out of step with enlightened society, that would regard a parent, planning to send a child to his death, as criminal abuse.
It is a central dogma, that has resulted in many martyrs; passive ones who have laid down their own lives as a religious ideal, the murderous beheading, slaughtering ones of the Christian Crusades, and the present more sanitised version, of our armed forces, backed by Christian prayers, engaging in some military actions, that have had dubious legal or moral validity.
Christians cannot escape their share of culpability for spreading the ideals of martyrdom and religious violence. It is true that pretty gold trinket crosses, and lining up to receive Mass, seem far removed from blood, but that is because we have become desensitised to these visceral themes at work subliminally.
In addition, their undercurrents prove malignant and obstructive in society generally.
They are found for instance in religious resistance to the socially progressive legislation of successive governments that have championed the rights of women, blacks, the LGBT community, children, the disabled and the poor.
In religious resistance to research and the advances in medicine, contraception, IVF, the screening for birth defects, abortion, genetic engineering and euthanasia.
In religious resistance to building a pluralist, tolerant society in which each has an equal place.
In religious resistance to altering the anachronistic nomenclature and focus of national festivals such as Christmas and Easter and the normalisation of Sunday trading.
As well as these impediments to progress, there is another blight.
Instead of seeing a public consolidate its rational and deductive powers, we gather embarrassing evidence of the malleability of individuals and communities by so called mystical and magical phenomena.
Intelligent show personalities like Derren Brown play with their audience, making them both incredulous and at the same time ludicrous. Tele evangelists and Wembley Arena preachers have their crowds swooning in spiritual ecstasy and believing they have raised the dead. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury can have a broadsheet journalist describing his utterances as ‘life changing’. Meanwhile, Hollywood producers prepare another Paranormal Activity to have viewers quaking at the supernatural.
All these consequences are egregious and pose a considerable risk.
First, no public religion.
I submit that it is necessary to remove all religious observance from public life.
The Church of England needs to be disestablished and the United Kingdom declared a secular State.
There should be no public religious broadcasting. Worship services and ‘Thoughts for the Day’ should be scrapped. Prayers and religious readings should not form part of national events, commemorations or remembrance and should play no part in politics.
School religious assemblies should cease and faith schools should receive no public funding and be gradually phased out.
No grants should be made to religious buildings such as cathedrals, unless they are administered independently and are available for public use.
Public festivals should be renamed and refocused to be inclusive. Christmas could be Noeltide, celebrating the miracle of birth. Easter could be Springtide celebrating the cycle of life.
Second, an independent regulatory body.
All religious organisations, however large or small, and all individual practitioners should have to be registered and pay a proportional contribution towards the regulatory body.
You cannot rely on the fine sounding promises of religious organisations that are scrambling to adopt the right language and window dress their structures. The same predatory people, beliefs and practices remain in place.
Nor can you rely on ‘The Usual Suspects’, the great and the good, most of whom know each other, who transfer from one regulatory body to another, and invariably cover each other’s back.
Nor can you rely upon structures, committees and laws alone, for they so often produce the opposite of their intention, straining after gnats and swallowing camels.
Instead, there needs to be a transparent process, where all should have to adhere to a code of practice and meet required standards.
Safeguarding principles and procedures should have to be followed, with children never permitted to be alone with an adult or adults, and all one to one contacts with adults arranged with a third party in close proximity, fully documented and supervised by an accredited independent professional.
Groups should be inspected periodically and the findings published.
Any religious community or individual counted as failing should be prevented from working with the public until the necessary standards were met.
Without innovative and effective steps to regulate and oversee religious activity in the UK, individuals and society will remain at risk.
I finish with a quote from Revd Charles Caleb Colton’s work, ‘Lacon’,
“Where true religion has prevented one crime, false religions have afforded a pretext for a thousand.”