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It's High Time We Revoked Religion's Free Pass

13/02/2016 22:02 GMT | Updated 11/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Question: When do you know the world has truly gone crazy? Answer: When a bakery owner refuses to provide a cake for a gay couple on account of his belief in a virgin birth and the resurrection of a deity in human form.

Nothing demonstrated the need for an urgent reconsideration of the way we approach religion like the Charlie Hebdo murders in January 2015. Initially, there was almost universal condemnation of what many considered an attack on the very principle of freedom of expression. Slowly but surely, however, a less black-and-white viewpoint began to emerge, namely that causing offence to religions adherents just because you can doesn't necessarily mean that you should.

From Church of England bishops in the House of Lords to the inexplicable retention and expansion of faith schools, particularly through the introduction of free schools, religion doggedly permeates daily life in Britain. The concept of a creationist science curriculum sends a shiver down the spine of any right-minded person. Yet, the deregulation of our education system, combined with an ongoing pre-occupation with 'parental choice' means that an obscene number of students are exposed to unbalanced, sometimes fundamentalist, instruction at odds with the evolution of an increasingly secular population. Opponents of faith-based state education are dismissed as bigots for stating the obvious: that every child should be entitled to a full, comprehensive education which equips them with the knowledge and skills to form their own beliefs and opinions.

Education aside, religion undoubtedly has a devastating effect on the everyday lives of untold millions across the globe. The rise of Islamic State in the Middle East and beyond has onlookers recoiling in horror. Curiously, however, apologists line up to dismiss the organisation as unrepresentative of Islam, ignoring the troublesome fact that Wahhabism is founded upon a literal interpretation of scripture as practiced by the first generations of Muslims. The current presidential nomination marathon underway in America has once again laid bare the absurd influence of personal religious belief on policy. Opposition to marriage equality and abortion is almost exclusively underpinned by fundamentalist Christian doctrine. Different religion, different invisible idol, same disproportionate influence on the lives of others.

The lamentable, yet contextually inevitable, aversion to proper scrutiny of religious institutions bears at least partial responsibility for the grotesque clerical child abuse endemic in certain religious communities. Furthermore, our unwillingness to directly place the blame for faith-based oppression of women and minority groups on its direct source is patently ludicrous. Perversely, it tilts the balance of justice in favour of the oppressor in a manner even George Orwell would have failed to conceive.

At this very moment, across the world, the faithful, most of whom believe in whichever deity they were exposed to during childhood, are reaffirming their belief in bread becoming the flesh of a prophet who died over 2000 years ago. Elsewhere, others blindly subscribe to a tale of prophets travelling by winged horse. Were such notions to be conceived in this age of increased enlightenment, they would be rightly and roundly repudiated. The fact that they are the product of a bygone era is irrelevant and in no way renders them immune to either criticism or outright derision.

By their own admission, religions are incapable of evolution. Hilariously, when faith leaders reject calls to evolve in tandem with the world around them, citing the infallibility of whichever 'holy book' they deem the most divine, they conveniently neglect to acknowledge the selective nature of their own interpretations. Ultimately, the Christian who believes in the Immaculate Conception should, in theory, bypass rare steak, mixed fibres and tattoos. There is a palpable irony inherent in fanatically wielding selected Biblical passages as justification for archaic beliefs while rejecting inconvenient extracts as 'outdated'.

Let's face it, religion operates from an unfathomable position of social and political privilege. We rightly mock climate change sceptics as deniers of the scientifically proven. Why, then, is it beyond the pale to lampoon believers in not just the doubtful but the outright apocryphal?

Just as we are free to ridicule belief in the paranormal, homeopathy and the Loch Ness monster, there should be no preferential treatment for organised monotheistic religion, the scientific evidence for which is equally as non-extant. Believe in whatever brings you comfort in life but keep it to yourself. The main religions have largely proven themselves incapable of self-regulation: too quick to exert undue influence on the lives of others, to hold sway in various areas of public life, to discriminate, to seek exemption from reasonable critique and, yes, occasional disparagement.

It's time to revoke religion's free pass.