Religion poisons everything.
Christopher Hitchens, perhaps the most ardent and audacious polemicist of our time, had that much to say of organised religion.
15 December 2014 marks the third anniversary of Hitchens’ death. It also now marks a date that will become indelibly entrenched in the psyche of our nation.
The grim spectre of terrorism arrived on our doorstep in the form of yet another cretin of jihad, rabidly intent on having his own hateful interpretation of fundamentalist Islam heard. The end result of his moronic, haphazard and patently amateur attempt at hostage taking was, inter alia, the tragic loss of two innocent individuals.
The irony of such an event transpiring on this date is not lost on me and I find myself pausing to ruminate on what Hitchens would have made of this particular event, among similar others, which have ensued across the globe since his death.
We now know, with the benefit of hindsight, that the perpetrator most likely acted alone. He bore every hallmark of a psychopath. A rapist, misogynist, murderer and fear monger, he was well known to police.
If you know a good Muslim, a good Catholic, Buddhist, Shinto, Jew or anyone of any faith, they are not good because of their faith. They are good because they are inherently so.
A self-styled cleric and “spiritual healer”, he preached his own vitriolic, extremist and vituperative brand of Islam that garnered little support from the Australian Muslim community.
It is manifestly clear that his views and, perhaps more importantly, his actions are not representative of the Australian, or indeed, the global Muslim community. Admirably, the Australian Muslim community has conceivably been the most vocal and vehement of all in its revulsion and condemnation of the heinous acts that unfolded in Martin Place.
As the ordeal unfolded in full view of cameras, I inevitably found myself thinking back to Hitchens.
He once described organised religion as “the main source of hatred in the world”; inherently “violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry.”
I could not help but contemplate these words as I watched, with the utmost feeling of helplessness, as the fates of a handful of hostages hung precariously in the hands of a hateful, violent, intolerant, ignorant and irrational madman.
Across the unfolding media landscape, I saw companies, government bodies, ministers of government, holy men and women, emergency services personnel and individuals offer their condolences, thoughts and prayers.
I do not for a moment doubt the sincerity of these thoughts and prayers but I cannot help but wonder whether it was prayers that got us into this mess in the first place.
Eventually, as with many others, I found myself asking: why?
In answering that, the senselessness of it all is overwhelming.
Two people are dead, many more are injured, families have been rent asunder and innocent children have lost their mother. A city and a nation remain in shock.
For what purpose?
Because of one individual’s warped interpretation of one of the world’s largest and most prolific monotheistic religious traditions?
Could it truly be that, in the year 2014, the blood of innocent individuals peacefully going about their business on a Monday morning in a major capital city would be shed in the name of Islam?
Could the desert superstitions of Antiquity truly have influenced an individual, and filled him so greatly with venom and spite to commit such heinous acts in the name of his god?
Whilst many have been quick to point out that the perpetrator’s interpretation of the Islamic faith alongside his coldblooded actions do not represent mainstream Islam and do not represent Muslims as individuals, it is entirely disingenuous to pretend that this foul crime is separate to the perpetrator’s faith.
The issue I take with the proposition that his faith was his own warped interpretation and no-one else’s, is how tired this excuse is becoming.
Very few Muslims around the world shared the beliefs of the perpetrators of the conflagration of the World Trade Centres on 9/11. That did not stop them, steadfastly and devoutly, from flying commercial jetliners into buildings bustling with innocents.
Buddhism abhors violence in all forms but that has not stopped Buddhist zealots in Myanmar from indiscriminate killing and persecution of the minority Muslim population.
The Lord’s Resistance Army soldiers wear rosary beads and recite passages from the Bible before battle and paedophile priests in the Catholic Church have clandestinely perpetrated one of the greatest episodes of child abuse in known history.
You will excuse me, therefore, when I shudder at hearing “but I know lots of good [insert religious affiliation here] and they do not believe that” or “they would never do that”.
If you know a good Muslim, a good Catholic, Buddhist, Shinto, Jew or anyone of any faith, they are not good because of their faith. They are good because they are inherently so. They are good because their inherent sense of good, justice and fairness is incompatible with the incoherent man-made doctrines and exhortations of religion masquerading as divine commandment.
The sun is setting on 2014 and 2015 is dawning. As a species, we are faced with myriad challenges.
We do not have time to be warring, maiming and killing in the name of gods and faiths, vestiges of the infancy of our species. The challenges of the future cannot be resolved by the man-made wish thinking of Antiquity. Reason, science, critical thinking and humanity must prevail.
With angst, I note that as I write this, at least 140 youths lie dead in Peshawar, victims of a Taliban raid on a local school.
Ostensibly, this attack is a reprisal for counter-insurgency operations being undertaken in the restive tribal provinces of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan. The fact that a school has been targeted is no mere coincidence. The Taliban has a nauseating predilection for targeting educational institutions and individuals who espouse the virtue of education like the courageous Malala Yousafzai.
My view has always been that whatever people choose to believe is a matter for themselves. I respect everyone’s right to their beliefs, even though I may not respect their belief itself. So long as a particular belief does not impinge upon public policy, secular laws and practices, and does not infringe the rights of individuals who do not share that faith, I have no issue.
My issue is that too often we are finding ourselves at the mercy of those who do not think this way: cretins, fearmongers, extremists and fundamentalists who demand that we bow to the dictates of their faiths.
We live in a democratic, peaceful, tolerant, multicultural and pluralist nation. We are the exception, not the rule. This is something to be cherished and something that we should strive to protect and maintain.
The only way to meaningfully achieve this is to cast off the chains of religion and forge ahead as a secular nation which, whilst respecting different cultures and traditions, governs and administers itself on the principles of science, reason and critical thinking.