Sorcery and Second Comings

Well, last weekend it was supposed to be the end of the world, according to an 89-year-old Californian preacher by the name of Harold Camping (see here). All true believers would be saved and taken up to Heaven in a process known as ‘the Rapture’, and of course all non-believers would die a horrible death and be damned in hell for all eternity. Nice, ay, and a good example of senile dementia.

Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia a chap called Ali Sabat has been sentenced to death after being convicted of sorcery (see here). Sabat, from Lebanon, was the host of a tv programme in which he predicted the future (that’s the sorcery bit). He was arrested by the Saudi religious police while on a pilgrimage to Mecca. After appeals from governments and human rights organisations, Sabat has now had two stays of execution. At the time of writing it is still not known if the Saudis will actually behead Ali Sabat, for sorcery.

See if you can guess what the photo below is…

It’s a satellite image of the Ganges river. The red dots in the photo are millions of Hindu pilgrims. The pilgrimage is called Kumbh Mela and a full one takes place every 12 years. Hindus travel from all over the world to bathe in the sacred Ganges river, believing that it frees them from past sin. It is estimated that 60 million people attended the last Kumbh Mela, in 2001, making it one of the largest gatherings in recorded history.

What makes people follow organised religion..? What makes some people so fervent in their belief that they will kill their fellow human beings over it? On the surface, religious belief is totally irrational (it’s the ‘belief’ bit that makes it so hard to debate religion with its adherents), yet an awful lot of people are religious; or are they? It’s very hard to get accurate statistics about who believes in what, or not, because in many countries you are not given any choice in the matter – Saudi citizens, for example, have to be Muslim under threat of death; although to be fair to the Saudis it’s been two decades since they last executed someone for non-belief. Even now, in the 21st century, non-believers in many places are stigmatised and suffer discrimination: they keep their mouth shut about their non-belief. The latest ‘reliable’ stats that I can find are shown below and are taken from this web site.

According to these stats, the number of people who do not follow an organised religion comes in third, behind Christianity and Islam (I’m agnostic, by the way). The number of followers of the top five ‘belief systems’ (as of 2001) are as follows:

Christianity: 2.1 billion
Islam: 1.5 billion
Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
Hinduism: 900 million
Chinese traditional religion: 394 million

So there are perhaps a lot more non-religious people than you might think, and when you factor in all those people who live in societies where they are forced to follow a certain religion, but who privately think it’s a load of hogwash, I would guess that non-religious people could well be the majority. Who knows; but more to the point, who cares?

Everyone is entitled to their beliefs. However, they are not entitled to shove it down other people’s throats, or expect other people to accomodate those beliefs, which has always been the history of organised religion, with all the ensuing mayhem and misery. One of the worst things about organised religion is that it allows those in power to exploit and manipulate the sincere belief of people for their own gain (religion is very often the political excuse for violence/robbery, and of course sexual abuse is rampant in many religions). When you try to put forward this proposition (born out of all of history) religious adherents use the same arguement as the gun lobby in America; ie, it’s not guns that kill, it’s the person who pulls the trigger. The glib answer to that is: take away the gun/religion and there isn’t a problem.

I’m not anti-religion: if you want to be guided by fairy stories and believe in superstition that’s fine. My point is that it should have no prominent place in a 21st century world; but alas it still does. People who have such a strange view of reality (ie, who have religious belief) should in no way hold positions of power.

Harold Campervan is now predicting the end of the world for this coming October. It won’t be God who destroys the world, it will be a bunch of religious nutters who are no part of humanity.

October. Make a note in your diary.

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