When I was at school in the 1960’s, things were a lot different.
I think there was one black kid in the entire school and you were looked on as something vaguely exotic if you happened to be Roman Catholic. It is probably my generation that is voting UKIP (for their sins) and while I couldn’t ever join that particular bandwagon (a one-issue party, and even that one issue I can’t sympathise with) there are a few things that I’d like to air about religion.
The one thing, it seems to me, that unites Judaism and Mohammedism is their unreserved commitment to separateness. Even if you wanted to join their club, they have set themselves up as formidably difficult to add yourself to. And I don’t think you could say the rules were there for any other reason but exclusivity.
Clearly, there are those who believe that the stuff about pork and shellfish is there as a matter of public hygiene, even if only a matter of public hygiene that was live as an issue hundreds of years since in the Middle East. Well, cling to that view if you will, but when bright (and not particularly crusading) individuals like Stephen Pinker (‘How the Mind Works’) hold a contrary opinion, then it might just be time to revisit your position.
There can’t really be too much informed debate about this; the rules of these religions are pretty much a kind of spiritual mercantilism, there to separate Muslim and Jew from the rest of us. (Probably other religions too take the same kind of approach, but I’m less aware of them).
This, it seems to me, is a dangerous position. For the potential Little Englander out there, it could be seen as adding fuel to the flames. For the potential racist, it’s QED; not us, but them.
I don’t want to criticise anyone’s beliefs – go and worship the great fluffy bunny if that’s your thing – but when you set your religion up to be exclusive to you and you don’t allow people out or in, then that is dangerous. Worse if you start to persecute those who have ‘gone over the wire’ into the arms of some other spiritual faith. Worse too, if you don’t allow other religions on your geographic patch.
Personally, (I was at University in the 70’s in Belfast), I’ve had enough of one religion saying that it holds a monopoly on wisdom. I’ve seen enough of the results those ideas bring. And if one thing could happen to save mankind from itself, it might just be that shutting off the religious impulse (a vain gesture to achieve fairness in a demonstrably unfair world – just my view) would be it.