In today’s theguardian*, Stuart Jeffries talks of understanding our neighbours and, in particular, their religions. Although I’m an out-and-out aetheist, I understand his point about not just “tolerating” our neighbours’ differences, but “understanding” them instead.
I was fortunate enough to attend a secular school as a child, which did not enforce its religion on me, the way some Catholic and Methodist-backed schools in S’pore insisted the entire school had daily prayers. Not that that’s a bad thing, per se. Just not for me, thanksverymuch.
But even that lack of school or state sponsored religious teaching did not mean that I was cocooned from the world of believers. The beauty of the secularity of my school was that we had girls from almost every major religion in S’pore enrolled. And religious education (RE) was a class you had to choose to take (not that I did, lazy git). Even then, RE classes covered all the major religions, for everyone.
Anyway. My point? Getting there. From an early age, I was friends with Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians (Jews being quite scarce in S’pore). I never thought of myself as tolerating their different beliefs. I didn’t really understand the concept of “tolerance”; it just seemed to me that this state of affairs was quite proper and natural. And that’s the way I still think it should be.
From discussions at recess time, to being invited to my friends’ homes and churches/temples/mosques, I learned enough about each religion to understand that in the majority, teachings of their religious leaders were all about how to lead one’s life in the “proper” way, and had absolutely nothing to do with denouncing those different to them. No, that came from the lay people. The bigots who, to make themselves feel special, divided the world into “them” and “us”.
And while we’re talking about religious divisions, consider the Old Firm. Why can’t supporters of Rangers and Celtic just be completely honest with themselves and admit their rivalry has nothing to do with religion anymore, and more about the fact that they are the only two clubs that play good enough football in Scotland to feel absolute enmity for the other?
*I’m liking the way thefiver calls its own employers: “berliner theguardian”…