SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Religions are like penises: it’s acceptable to have them but not to think with them

THIS week, I learned on social media that a religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one, and fine to be proud of having one, but it’s not fine to get it out in public, especially near children. Nor is it fine to write laws with it, nor to think with it.

I also read what the late journalist Christopher Hitchens said about religion: “The gods that we’ve made are exactly the kind of gods you’d expect to be made by a species that’s about half a chromosome away from being chimpanzee.”

I don’t usually stray into religious territory, because it’s tedious, and because everyone should believe whatever they bloody well want, so long as they don’t go on about it. Believe in an afterlife with magical winged creatures? Great! Good for you. Believe there is nothing beyond this life but the eternal void? Bravo! Now shut up about it. Have no idea whatsoever? Relax. It’s a sign of open-mindedness.

Because of maniacs pretending to be followers, recent events have shoved one religion into the very eyeball of our consciousness, as blinding as a sharpened pencil. The idea that a human figurehead of any religion, centuries dead, can only be visually represented on pain of death is preposterous. Killing in the name of any deity, or its representative, is preposterous.

If followers of any religion are so insecure that they cannot bear to see their human figurehead or their deity mocked, satirised, or joked about, this would suggest, at best, extreme insecurity. To use religion as a reason for murdering people, because these people did some drawings they didn’t like, is psychosis.

You’ll notice I am not naming this religion. What for? Another religion believes that it is acceptable for its state to blanket-bomb civilians — including schools — in disputed territories. And, closer to home, yet another religion — until horribly recently — considered it normal to incarcerate women indefinitely, using them as slave labour, for the crime of sexual activity.

You can see Hitchens’ point. You can also see why religion and penises are so alike. What is reassuring, in the face of a psychotic misrepresentation of a particularly misunderstood religion, is the massive flare-up of positive humanity. Unity. Strength. Ordinary members of the religion in question stepping forward to disown the psychosis and being supported by the wider community. A visible representation of the ratio of citizen to psychotic maniac in France — a million to one. Four maniacs, four million marchers.

It is discriminatory and inaccurate to link any religion with the actions of individual criminals who identify with that religion, or to expect that ordinary members of that religion should publicly disown such actions. We don’t expect rank-and-file members of the religion whose extremists murder abortion clinicians to apologise for such actions. We realise that they are criminal maniacs. All are outnumbered by the rest of us, secular and religious, who wish to get on with life and do no harm.


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