Saturday, 21 May 2011

Responding To Religious Weirdness

Browsing blogs this week, I came across two interestingly contrasting posts: both responding to religious people doing weird things, but in very different ways.

As I suspect many of you are aware, today is the day of The Rapture, according to US radio preacher Harold Camping and his Family Radio network. Predictions of this sort happen all the time, of course,  but this one has been publicised more aggressively than most (helped perhaps by the fact that 'non-commercial' Family Radio is said to be worth some 120 million dollars, which they presumably don't see much point in hanging onto). Now US atheists are said to be planning post-Rapture parties later today to celebrate still being here.

Earlier this month, following the killing of Osama Bin Laden, many news media published a photo showing President Obama and others in the White House. One minor newspaper, Der Zeitung, the house paper of a Brooklyn-based Hasidic sect, caused a furore by publishing the photo with the women present airbrushed out. This was in line with the paper's editorial policy of not printing pictures of women, "because of laws of modesty". To my mind, laws of truthfulness suggest that, in that case, you print pictures which genuinely have only men in, you don't doctor images to hide the the presence of women. Feminists, of course, had a field day.

Two well publicised examples of weird things being done by religious people ... note, by the way, that I am carefully not saying they are (necessarily) weird people - just people doing weird things. Inevitably, blogs worldwide (not to mention Facebook and Twitter) took up the subjects, in their many and varied ways. Two blogs I follow (you can see both in my sidebar) made me think, by taking radically different approaches to this weirdness.

One blog, by the English Bishop of Buckingham, went for righteous indignation: how dare these Hasidic editors oppress women in this way. The title of the post, Airbrushing Out Women, indicates his take on the subject. My reading of his post is that he is taking a small group doing something weird (and wrong), then loading a whole pile of other sins onto them, like a Levitical scape-goat, which he can then blast away at, to a chorus of approval from his like-minded choir. Standard fare for the religious right (to generalise unfairly), but a little disappointing in a highly intelligent writer who I see as generally on the liberal wing of 'moderate'.

Another blog, by US author Rachel Held Evans, took a rather more thoughtful (and humble) approach to the Rapture story. Yes, Rampling and his followers are doing something weird, yet another demonstration of the daftness of religion. But, for Held Evans, that's a reason to look at ourselves. Not to bask in how wonderful and right-on we are, at least in comparison, but to ask ourselves what strange things we do; how our behaviour is sometimes similarly weird. Also, if we are less weird than some other people, might that reflect on a lack of commitment to our professed faith? 

It's easy to mock and attack others for the strange things they do, but are we really always so rational in our behaviour? It's part of human nature to have odd beliefs that we don't question, and to do weird things sometimes - religious, agnostic, atheist, whatever. Mocking and attacking people, for example. Is that really such a wonderful way to behave?

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