Religion still has far too much prominence in the world today. It is the underpinning narrative of most major news stories and world events. It permeates politics, war, institutions and societal structures. It is the 21st century, and one would have thought that logic, science, and a sense of self non reliant on the existence of some intangible being would rule by now; that atheism would rule.
On a night out recently, I came across a lovely bunch of people in red jackets handing out water and flip flops to revellers in need. In my slightly sozzled state, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to strike up a conversation pondering the above point. Why is it in the 21st century people still cling on to fairy tales about a divine entity? I assumed my journalist persona, and remained remarkably calm and articulated considering the vodka to blood ratio in my body.
I approached with a warm smile, and a genuine inquisitiveness as to why these nice people would stand out in the cold and rain for God, instead of something that actually could change the world, like politics, or charity. But that wasn't my first question. Firstly I addressed the elephant in the room for all Christians these days... Trump. I was faced with eye rolls, but then, as all good teachers do, they did not reply with an answer, but instead threw some questions back my way to allow me to come to their conclusion.
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They asked me what I thought Christianity was about. It took me a minute, but I said that my understanding of true Christianity was peace, love, and acceptance. But this is not what we see in the world today, it has been corrupted and twisted into something recognisable; Trump, the Bible belt, and extremism in the name of religion spanning all faiths. There is an inability of so many to separate religion and the state, and thusly laws being sustained or created on outdated religious doctrine on abortion, homosexuality, and climate change.
So they then asked me, that are those Christians truly Christians? No, I guess not. But why then, are they the loudest, why are 'true Christians' like themselves not spending their time ousting such monsters from their club? To this they said, religion has become far too subjective; but isn't that what happens when people read something? We all glean our own take on it, guided by our own experiences and understanding. This is why religion is inexplicably flawed. Some allow the teachings to evolve with the times, with science (like the Pope speaking out on climate change, abortion, and LGBT issues), whilst others stagnate - refusing to evolve.
Next I asked why they felt their time was best spent trying to convert people to religion as a way of changing the world instead of using the mechanisms of society created for that purpose; mainly politics. I genuinely cannot understand how anyone who claims to be part of any religion can vote for any party but those on the left of the spectrum. Only those parties fight for equality, liberty, and helping your fellow humans. All the others put profit before people and planet.
I have spent much time on the streets, just like they have, trying to get people to understand my way of thinking and the bigger picture; just like they were. Difference being that hopefully the people I spoke to acted differently (at the polls), not just thought differently. They told me that all action starts with a change in thought patterns. Which I guess is true, but it is a much less direct route, especially when their version of thought change has so many potentially harmful variables. They could not get me to fathom how their time is better spent preaching than campaigning. If every religious person spent that time and energy fighting for true democracy, campaigning on issues they care about, and helping people realise the importance of politics in everyone's daily lives - the world would be a much better place.
With that stream of thought exhausted I moved on to my biggest personal problem with religion; why according to them can't I marry a woman? Being recently engaged to a woman, me and my partner have faced a number of people who 'disagree' - some religious, some just old, and some just jealous. But love trumps hate. Pure and simple. If you find your soul mate in this mad mixed up world, why does it matter what gender they are?
It is the archaic 'wife, husband, and 2.4 children' element of religion that infuriates me the most. It is completely contradictory to the love and acceptance thing. The red coated street pastors told me that true Christians would not judge, but would not agree. They said that it is my choice to not follow the word of God, and I will be judged for that in the end, but my choice is not something they can condone. Great, I don't need their permission or acceptance. Unlike them I have my own belief system which comes from my own life experiences, education, and morality. I am an atheist, and a bit of a rebel - never will I let someone else guide my life choices, certainly not a fictional character in the sky.
At this point I realised I had probably been gone for far longer than the ten minutes I had promised my mother, and thought I had better thank the people for their time and care of the community and retreat to the pub to further ponder the conversations had. It is during that philosophical moment I came to the conclusion that atheism is more important than ever. It is still a bit of a dirty word, when in fact all it means is 'I think for myself', which we could use a lot more of these days with all the indoctrination and propaganda pushed out by the ruling right wing class - playing off our fears. It is then I realised I did have something in common with those street pastors; hope. I hope that religion can be consigned to the history books once and for all in my lifetime, and that politics and rational thought can enact positive change and become the lifeblood of humanity.