Religion is a harmless bundle of old ladies superstitions, like the tangled knitting of an old baggy jumper no-one will ever wear.
Religion is the hardened dogmas of narrow-minded dangerous hypocrites, like sharp stones flung in self-defence at a too-fast changing world.
Which is it? You decide.
EastEnders is doing religion at the moment. The harmless old ladies religion of Dot Cotton has been replaced by something far more dramatic. This time they are portraying the worst sides of 2 religions at once. A double whammy. A Christianity and Islam hypocrisy-sandwich, with a hefty slice of bigotry and a dressing of moral outrage. Watch this episode from Monday 26th April 2010 to get a flavour…
In one corner of the dock is Islam. A Muslim called Syed Masood is married to Amira, but is gay and having an affair with a man (ironically) called Christian. Syed’s otherwise liberal and nominal Muslim family are less than impressed. When it was revealed at a family ‘do’, words like “shame”, “disgrace” were thrown around.
In the other corner of the dock is Christianity. Part-time church pastor Lucas, who killed his ex-wife in the allotment shed, is threatening his daughter Chelsea with judgement from “the scourge” if she has her planned abortion, if she chooses not to listen to him, god’s messenger. Proper hell-fire and brimstone. Thou shalt not kill, from the mouth of the murdering pastor.
Part of me is glad it’s not just Christianity being portrayed like this. Part of me feels religion-solidarity with Islam because we’re both in the dock. Part of me thinks it’s ok because this is how a lot of people experience religion: angst-ridden, judgemental hypocrites. Part of me sees it as just ordinary people trying to live their lives and not finding it straightforward, balancing their history and their culture and their family and their convictions and it all going belly-up.
I know it’s just EastEnders. I should ignore it. But Lucas’s attitude to abortion is very real. The Masood’s attitude to homosexuality is very real. It happens all over the place. In Islam, in Christianity, in places where there is no religion at all. People are forced into sham marriages because of attitudes to homosexuality. This is a very real issue, and it is brave of EastEnders to portray it.
I don’t mind a bit of anti-religion gip from the tellybox. I know it makes a good story. I just wish that sometimes a softer side of “religion” was given. Not the weak side, not the Dot Cotton superstition or the Aled Jones cheesy smile side, but the strength-of-grace side.
Sometimes there are people of religion who stand by girls facing the abortion decision, look them in the eyes and feel compassion and love and not hell-fire judgement. Sometimes there are people of religion who stand by people who are gay and don’t shout abuse and feel shame and disgrace, who feel compassion and see the love and do not give hell-fire judgement. This is not wishy-washy liberal thinking, it is hard, thought-through, and very real.
I wish it could be known that sometimes there are people who follow Jesus who wrestle with these big things and come down less on the side of law and dogmas and stereotyping and more on the side of love and grace and peace and that sometimes people who follow Jesus do not follow a book of shouted rules but a person and that person is alive and the faith is dynamic and brings social life not social death because that person is life.
That is what I wish.
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