Religion is getting a bad name for itself at the moment. People are increasingly dissociating themselves from certain groups so as not to be tied into a specific set of beliefs. So does this mean that sectors of religion are finished or is there a place for them in a modern, tolerant world?
In secondary school my two best friends were Muslim, not that this was the stand alone aspect that made up their personalities, they just saw this as part of their identity. We were normal teenagers being stupid, passing notes in lessons and the compulsory element for any adolescent girls, giggling a lot of the time. As our friendship grew I became interested in their beliefs and religion, which was intriguingly different to my C of E upbringing. Through having close friends that got involved a lot more with religious ritual and belief I developed a greater understanding of people. It helped me mature towards adulthood in a way I otherwise would not have. I learnt more about life in my formative years from having friends that followed a different set of religious beliefs than I did throughout my time at university. Being young at the time, I did not even realise that their religion was shaping me as a person. Normal, regular people that follow certain religions are the people that are going to build an accepting world through understanding. Not preachers, religious texts and definitely not the warped version you hear about through extremists.
Reading news articles about the atrocious things that have happened in Paris or Australia I get angry when I see, too often, the word Muslim comes before the word terrorist. I think about my school friends and their families who were by far the most kind, warm people I knew in my teenage years and cannot believe that anyone would think that because of the religion they follow anyone would connect their way of life with murderers.
Recently LBC radio host James O'Brien took on a caller to the station who felt that in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Muslim people should apologise. O'Brien put forward a strong argument, questioning the caller as to why anyone that follows Islam should offer public remorse for the acts, when they have not been committed in the name of their belief in the religion. In fact he goes on to make the point that it would be like everyone called Richard apologising for the actions of the shoe bomber Richard Reid. A satirical opinion, yes, but there does seem among some people an inclination towards grouping together every person that associates themselves with a certain religion.
Tolerance or diversity is not something that can be learnt through school textbooks, social media posts or the media, it should be something that people are actively seeking knowledge about if they want a just society. A lot of people imply that the goal of an unbiased society cannot be achieved through religion, but there is definitely a place for it if people make the effort to understand others principles with any prior discriminations or preconceptions. Religion in general is a tarnished banner for describing those that believe in something. No two people will have exactly the same set of beliefs, but learning them cannot only be interesting, it can shape you as a person. There are many things we can learn from religions, different ways of living, tolerance and what you, yourself believe in to name just a few. Instead of working towards increasingly atheist goals, there is a place for all beliefs in society if we take the time to work together in understanding them.