Countering Radicalisation

If triangles had a god he would have three sidesCountering Radicalisation is a noble aim but until supernatural belief of any kind is eliminated from schools children will be subject to religious propaganda. Even seemingly innocuous events like the celebration of the nativity or Easter encourage children to believe in myths and half-truths and the assumption that there is some celestial ringmaster to whom they owe obedience. Only in a rational, secular learning environment will it be possible to challenge extreme Islamist beliefs. The fantasies inherent in all religious belief must be confronted by schools even at risk of offending parents and the scientific explanation of phenomena taught so that they understand the origins of life on Earth and how human societies have come to be. Religion should be explained as cultural/religious conditioning (some might say brain-washing) that has methods of self-perpetuation that ensnare each generation: rites of passage ceremonies, modes of dress, genital mutilation, dietary exclusions, sacred texts etc.

Acts of worship to a non-existent deity (of whichever kind) are a dangerous delusion. Few sights are more pathetic than a hall full of children praying or a teacher telling her class to pray for particular person or cause. The psychology of belief is well understood and yet our education system not only allows it but positively encourages this deception, either because they too are under it’s spell or because they think religion is good for us and will impose moral constraints on our behaviour. Moral authority must not be associated with religious belief, what more evidence is required: the extreme savagery of IS, the despicable conduct of Catholic priests and its cover up by the Vatican, the inter-communal violence in the sub-continent or the centuries of religious persecution that has bedeviled the continent of Europe for a millennia?

Islamism is the result of the inability of large numbers of Muslims living in the West to accept that their beliefs are subservient to the mores and laws of the state in which they reside. Of course their right to hold religious belief (however irrational) must be tolerated in a pluralist, secular society, but they cannot expect it to be respected any more than my promotion of atheism should be. Countering Radicalisation cannot simply be about offering a different narrative to those at risk, it is their very belief system that is the problem.

Atheists have morals, why is that a surprise?

30 Days to prove it

People cling to religious belief for many reasons and one of them is that it provides them a moral framework to live by. Without it, so they would say, there is nothing to stop them reverting to savagery. Putting to one side the savagery that religions have (and still do) inflict on each other, it reveals a profound misunderstanding of the origins of moral behaviour that is simply part of our human evolutionary development. Nine years ago the film maker Morgan Spurlock produced a brilliant episode in his 30 Days series in which an atheist mom went to stay with a devout Christian family for 30 days.

Impervious to reason

At the end of the 30 days the atheist mom was joined by her husband and children, the Christian family were amazed to see that they shared many of the same values as the atheist family, the main difference being that for the atheist holy books and supernatural happenings were not necessary. The Christians were forced to rethink their opinion of atheists but not to the extent that it weakened their own faith and this is the conundrum, religious belief cannot be contested by rational argument, it resides behind a firewall that is impervious to reason, that is why it is called faith.

Check out this film it is well worth watching

The Cambridge Secular Society Blog

Although the Cambridge Secular Society was founded to champion secular issues this blog has a wider remit than simply confronting religious privilege and bias. It will encourage all who challenge the status quo, will not accept received wisdom, are skeptical of authority and are very likely to be atheists. It is important that the secular mindset be brought to bear on all issues that affect human well-being: politics, economics, education, health, equality etc in order to frame the debate using rational, evidence based argument as opposed to ideologically driven or partisan opinion. You only have to listen to the US Republican Presidential candidates debate to see how necessary this is.

A dangerous world

The world in 2015 is a very dangerous place, not simply the turmoil in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan and the rise of Islamism and the alarming evidence of accelerating climate change but global political insecurity with Russia and Israel violating UN resolutions and trampling upon internationally agreed boundaries. The global economic system is still at the mercy of mammoth and largely unreformed financial institutions that caused the crash of 2007/8, the EU is struggling with a massive immigration crisis and even in the wealthy developed world, anxiety or at the very least deep dissatisfaction is eroding belief in a democratic system in which all stakeholders can benefit.

Reason not Religion

So what is to be done? Religious fundamentalism as been allowed to flourish in developed nations by the misguided policy of multiculturalism that regards the values and culture of every minority group as equally valid rather than measuring each by the value it brings to individuals and to society as a whole must be challenged. We must re-assert our democratic, secular values and expose all those who oppose or undermine them. Politics cannot continue as usual and it is too important to be left to politicians, they have proved incapable of pursuing long term goals and see every issue though the outdated prism of Left and Right. This is examined in The Future: for Better or Worse?

We are floundering in a fast changing world of immense complexity, the old certainties like a job for life or communities of like-minded people have vanished to be replaced with anxiety and insecurity. There is as yet no road-map, ethical, political or economic that will get us out of this mess. It will take imagination and courage but let’s at the very least give it a go.