The Alpha Course is a religious sect with good PR. They come into military barracks to hawk their ethereal wares and have even established a foothold in military prison.
In nick, they would come in to strum god-music and reel in the vulnerable, lost and often damaged young veterans jailed there. They lured them with cakes, fizzy pop and a rotating selection of their prettified but still wacky young women followers.
While I have no time for religion of any kind, I will always leap on god-people when they turn predatory and interventionist. That said I have lots of time for people in the general sense and, jarringly, I’ve discovered many people are religious.
Given that I place more value in people then their beliefs, I am forced to put my dislike of god-tickling and myth aside to engage with all and sundry. To do otherwise would be both rude and self-defeating. I don’t think this formulation is difficult to arrive at and I don’t think it’s controversial and I don’t think it is remotely fluffy. Personally, I find talking to religious people enriching in the earthliest possible way. I find we often cross arcs on every topic of political value.
In my view people are not the sum total of their idiosyncrasies, you see. It’s a point of huge interest for me that even if you believe in apparently preposterous things like flying horses, original sin and re-animations of the dead, I can still get on with you. I, for example, have an irrational fear of revolving doors – they are my Kryptonite. I also maintain a deep-seated, often dis-proven belief in the value of left-wing politics, proving we all have our quirks and long-shot hopes. What really matters is whether you are or are not a tool.
Though I can and do talk keenly about religion with folks of every denomination I can find, it is almost always in the form of a grown-up conversation rather than the sneering and jeering so popular with the pseudo-atheists of the Hitchens Movement.
These guys are very often tools with regards to all religions, but particularly Islam. Part of this is that it’s easy to bash religion; it’s a soft target, pretty defenceless. But mainly, their hostile refrain seems to be a way of bolstering empire.
There is a popular conflation of religion with the War on Terror. Terry Eagleton has pointed to the Hitchens-Dawkins conjunction, which he memorably termed ‘Ditchkins’, and argued compellingly that they are (or were) the “intellectual wing of the War on Terror”. I agree with this analysis.
If it can be boiled down, and it’s always precarious to reduce these huge and complicated issues down to their mechanical parts, we might pose a question.
Do you seriously think the War on Terror is about religion?
If you answer ‘yes’ you had better have a better set of arguments that the ‘anti-theist’ brigade, or else you’ll start to sound as zealously dogmatic as they themselves do.
But here’s another question. In the face of poverty, climate change, capitalist crisis, war and sundry other awfulness, does something as peripheral as religion deserve or need to get top billing and vast coverage as if it was about to knock the world of it’s axis?
I think not.