Wednesday, 3 August 2016
The BBC website is a constant and reliable source of inspiration for my blog posts, especially when I don’t want to just subject you to more examples of my writing. Today a story on armed police in London was opened up for comment. Naturally the usual stream of comments blaming all terrorism, wars, strife, tummy aches and inclement weather on Religion started up, along with calls to reclassify it as a mental disease, or ban it.
Here is a direct quote from the comments on the story linked to above:
“I would personally ban all religion, the world would be a more peaceful and saner place.”
It is this most commonly seen comment that I want to think about. Now, obviously no sane or reasonable person would actually suggest this as a serious proposition, and I generally assume that it’s just empty hyperbole when it crops up online, but it does get said very often. I have occasionally responded and asked before how such a thing would work, but no answers have been forthcoming, and so I have decided to indulge in a little futurology, and try to imagine the process that would accomplish the goal of ‘banning religion’.
So then, in the year twenty-something-something, a horrific terrorist attack results in the deaths of hundreds, maybe even thousands of people. The attackers are part of a religiously-motivated ideological group, which claims responsibility, and provides evidence to support its claim. Furthermore, reliable witnesses report that the attackers were chanting religious passages and slogans as they carried out their attack.
There is a massive (albeit ill-conceived) backlash against all religion and religions, and in the face of overwhelming public pressure, the government votes to ban religion. There are marches and protests, serious discussions by earnest-looking people on various television and radio programmes, and much debate regarding rights and responsibilities and security and safety, but ultimately the government get its way. All churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are closed, religious organisations are dissolved and their assets seized, clergy and other employees are made redundant, schools, hospitals, hospices and orphanages are closed, and the practice and propagation of religion or religious activities is banned in both public and private. There is no public money to reopen the hospitals, hospices and orphanages, and only some of the schools, and so these remain empty, their services left undone.
The first Sunday comes round, and those people who still stubbornly turn up for church are arrested. At first they are fined and then released. Repeated offenses result in higher fines, then longer and longer prison terms. Church records have been seized, and so the police are sent round to the homes of ‘suspect persons’ to seize Bibles, Korans and other proscribed materials and symbols.
A national database of those with criminal proclivities is assembled, and frequent raids have to be carried out to ensure that these people are not carrying out forbidden practices within their homes. Children at risk of religious brainwashing and the mental abuse of indoctrination are removed from their families and placed with approved persons. People on the database are carefully monitored, and any acts of charity scrutinised in case they might have been religiously motivated.
Gatherings of people on the database are strictly forbidden, in case they are religious assembles. Religion is completely removed from all school curricula. Owning religious texts is a crime, while ownership with the intent to sell or share is even more harshly punished. If someone pauses in public with their head bowed, suspicious eyes watch them, trying to see if they might be praying. Mandatory re-education classes are required for all former religionists to de-indoctrinate them, and they are quizzed thoroughly to ensure that they understand.
Religion has been thoroughly banned. To ensure that it remains banned, constant surveillance of a large proportion of the population is required. Vast numbers of people who refused to publically recant or refrain from acts of worship are imprisoned. Mass arrests spark protests which inevitably turn violent, leading to even more arrests. To accommodate all these people, prison camps have to be built, staffed and maintained, and additional taxes have to be levied to pay for them, and for the additional police officers required to enforce the new laws.
Even those not on the databases must be monitored in case they start offending. Borders must be patrolled, and lorries and boats searched to ensure that cargoes of illicit Bibles, Korans and other forbidden materials are not smuggled into the country. Former clergy must be especially carefully watched to ensure that they don’t commit any acts of religion, and all of their contact with others monitored. Foreign clergy are banned from entering the country at all, and foreign nationals are interrogated at airports and harbours to ensure that they are not here to propagate religion. They are also made to understand that they will be prosecuted if they commit any acts of religion, or a religious or spiritual nature whilst on British soil. As a result visits to the UK from other countries rapidly dwindle, except from a small number of hardline anti-theists who move to the country. The UN and other international groups condemn the UK’s shocking human rights abuses, and trade becomes restricted, causing a significant shrink in the economy.
Religious hardliners and extremists are made even more so by the new laws, and inevitably turn violent, committing further acts of terror and fuelling a vicious cycle of reprisal and ever tighter laws that lead to more surveillance and stricter policing, leading to more attacks.
The UK is left poor, disgraced and oppressed, with the government watching the people and the people watching each other, thousands in ‘work camps’ paid for by exorbitant taxation. I won’t even speculate on how soon it will be before someone suggests forced conversion of inmates through physical and/or psychological torture, or goes further and asks whether such incurable cases would not be better off euthanised to reduce the drain on an already stretched public purse.
Is this an extreme and overly-pessimistic view of the future? Possibly, but it’s the only one I can envisage if certain ignorant anti-theists were to actually get their way. I cannot imagine the many UK citizens who follow one religion or another happily shrugging off their long-held beliefs to build a secular humanist utopia, and even if we did, it would be a world of cold scientific logic and government-issued relativistic morality, without any objective basis.
Nor though can I imagine the above scenario ever actually taking place. Enough people recognise that freedom of belief and conscience is a vital component of modern society, even if occasionally it seems like some people's rights routinely trump others'. There would never be enough public support in the first place, and if it were set in motion, there would be enough public outcry to stop it ever being completed. Probably. It is amazing, though, what populations can be persuaded is necessary in the name of security or prosperity. The very fact that we now have heavily armed, armoured policemen routinely patrolling the streets of London shows that very well indeed.
Religion might have been, and still is in many places, a source of oppression, but it would be a horrible mistake to assume that forcibly removing it would make things better. As I’ve shown, I think it would actually make things far, far worse.