By Adi Arora
Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and views expressed in this article are not necessarily reflective of The Beehive or The Beehive’s associated writers.
Sometimes, two objects aren’t meant to be together. Like chocolate and salt. Pineapple and pizza. Donald Trump and the Presidency. And I believe the same is true of government and religion. Of course, one could argue that there are parallels. And they’d be right. They both try to dictate (some more successfully than others) the lives of the people under them and they’ve both been, until recently, rather self-centered. Things have changed. Times have moved on, and I think it is time for leaders to realise that these two things fundamentally should not go together. Allow me to elaborate.
The first question we should be asking is what is the role of a government? Is it to tell people what to do? A government may have evolved into a lean mean “Allow me to pummel your beliefs into submission” machine, but the simple fact is, government is fundamentally an idea meant to keep the people of a country safe. And I’m extremely happy to see citizens taking their governments back. A government is no longer an elite society run by the few for the many. It is no longer a faceless, stone wall, but rather recognised as a means by which the country can be made a better place. Religion is a completely different matter. As opposed to an opportunity for congregation and celebration, religion has morphed into an unquestionable, unopposable block by which one must abide. When one is dissatisfied with religion, they can’t become a “religion MP”. They can’t try to make it more tolerant, more open and safer for all. No. Religion will stay as it has for however many years because “tradition”. And this irks me. Why does religion have the right to be oppressive because “that’s the way it has been”? The first concept of Buddhism, Anicca, states that nothing is permanent and that everything is constantly changing, and I don’t see why this can’t be the case for religion. No mainstream religion has ever changed or adapted to fit the times without substantial controversy. And this puzzles me. Why should it be a nationwide debate as to whether same-sex marriage is legalised or not? Why should there be a debate as to whether abortion or euthanasia is right or wrong? The choice lies with the person undertaking those actions, and I firmly believe that the option should always be there for any person in any situation. Too often, religious support has been the barrier to progressive qualities and laws. Those that call themselves “Conservatives” in America are really just die-hard Christians who don’t want to stray from the word of God which teaches (in their interpretation) that same-sex marriage is wrong and that abortion is unholy. These are the people making laws, changing government, shaping our future and the same people that condemn religious extremism are making a career based on appealing to the devoutly religious people in the country.
Religion is more open to interpretation than the Tory explanation of their Brexit plan and that poses problems for many societies. Now, I’m not speaking for all religions and all communities, but from what I have seen and experienced as a once religious person, religions involve intolerance. And this allows for just more intolerance. I’ve seen both my grandmothers be racist and homophobic and, while I’m not condoning it, that is what they’ve been taught because of the strict religious community they were brought up in. When holy books are read as unbreakable rules, that’s when problems arise. The Bible cannot be read as equivalent to the Constitution because they have totally different purposes. The Constitution is a collection of rules, whereas the Bible is a collection of fables (true or not, they are stories with a moral) and I think we need to keep this in mind. When Republican lawmakers quote the Bible, the line between moral and rule gets blurred and this is fundamentally wrong, because they are completely different things, so in a recent tweet when Donald Trump said “We don’t worship government. We worship God”, I was appalled, because you can’t call a holy book to help you make laws. You can’t call upon the Bible to change the country’s stance on abortion or same-sex marriage. It is immoral. It is wrong. But this is being done. It is being done daily and it needs to stop.
The oppression of religion continues to astound me. Every single world religion has undertaken some form of oppression towards those that are not like them at some point or other and I challenge you to prove me wrong. We see the damage that religious governments have caused in countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel, which are both either plagued by war (like Israel) or have an exceptionally strict law system, like Saudi Arabia, which permits basic violations of human rights, such as FGM and doesn’t allow women to drive and treats even the most minor of crimes with unnecessary and damaging punishments. When we can clearly see the effects of a religious government on a country, why should we continue to allow this to happen?
At such a divided time, we should be attempting to unify the world, bridge gaps between communities and strengthen the relationships between nations of the country so that we can all stand in solidarity against people who try to undermine us and let them know that they will never break us. And I think maintaining the presence of a powerful oppressive, intolerant and largely out-of-date force in politics would undermine progressiveness and everything it stands for.