I believe in the Norse Gods.
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For too long our children have suffered under the bigoted education system that teaches them lightning storms are a result of charged electrical particles in the atmosphere, when the faithful know it is our lord Thor beating his mighty anvil with his Divine hammer. And our truths, we believe, are particularly important in sex education. Our school will teach no nonsense about homosexuality being natural and contraception being important because we know that the jotuun Ymir’s son, from whom Odin descended, bred a man and a woman from his armpits. So we will be insisting that armpit reproductive health will trump all other considerations. We will teach young boys and girls to cover their armpits modestly, and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies from the oxters. Happily, Ed Balls has made provision for this in law, so our children can grow up with these all-important values in place.
I’ll stop now. You’ve got the point. People actually believed this stuff. Just as people still believe in similar stuff, such as virgin births, Satan, djinns, saints who cure hiccups, gods who like swings chained up on Sundays, gods who don’t like us to mix meat with cheese, angels who won’t enter a house if it contains a dog. They believe a man received the word of God on some golden plates and then handed them back, and that a man received the word of God on a stone tablet and then smashed it. Another man, much more conveniently, had the word of God dictated directly to him in his tent. They believe if you transfuse your blood you lose your soul, that we are all aliens called Thetans, that God thinks women are not equal to men and that gay people should be killed. They think that God considers a collection of dividing cells in a woman’s womb always more important than the woman herself, and that if you go to where prepubescent girls claim to have seen The Virgin Mary appear and light some candles then your terminal cancer might be cured or your brain-damaged child made to talk.
Yes, they believe it all and more. There’s no point in saying you couldn’t make it up, because clearly we did make it up, and even 250 years after the Enlightenment we’re just going to have to live with the fact that a large proportion of our species will be forever concocting pile after pile of tosh like this and living their lives by it. It shouldn’t matter much. There are sufficient people of reason moving mankind’s genuine understanding of the universe forward, albeit by inches at a time, to relax about the kaleidoscopic variety of superstitions held by people too frightened to grow up. And everyone has the inalienable right to believe what they wish, unless, of course, someone’s preposterous views impinge on the freedoms of those who don’t share them.
We’ve been pretty good at this in Europe over the last century. Slowly, all the nonsense has been slipping out of our public and political life and back into the personal and domestic sphere where it belongs. Consensual public morality, the arena in which legislation is forged, has largely been modelled on Enlightenment values of empathy and respect for human rights rather than on the bizarre rules of some psychotic, supernatural patriarch. So why are politicians across the board currently united in trying to bring magic, demons and angels back into the real world of legislation and social change? If it’s simply about winning votes then it’s not going very well.
Jim Murphy’s brilliantly comedic attempt to woo a block Catholic vote went so spectacularly wrong last week that it was beyond satire. In a revealing lecture to the Labour think-tank Progress, the Scottish Secretary managed the rare feat of offending absolutely everyone. He declared that religion had always been central to the Labour Party. Goodness. There was a shock. More importantly, the Government has noticed that faith voters made up a “hugely significant figure” in Britain and that subsequently Labour have decided to “reflect and respect their values and aspirations in our policies”. Oh goody, think the secularists. Let’s look forward to the values and aspirations of those who believe in following Dark Ages rules to get into heaven being put above those who want to improve society for all because it makes people’s lives more bearable.
But the religious were just as annoyed, a huge broadside coming from Cardinal Keith O’Brien who attacked Labour for having undermined family values with their policies of the last decade, referring to the evils of civil partnership, embryo research and abortion. Of course, countering the Cardinal on sexual morality is like shooting fish in a barrel, given that no-one could seriously take lessons on family values from an institution that presided over and attempted to cover up the biggest child sexual abuse scandal in history. Yet Murphy clearly wants Papal approval more than respect from non-believing Scots who make up the majority of voters. Why?
Up until Murphy’s foot-shooting exercise it was Alex Salmond who was shaping up the SNP to be the party of God, and getting it just as wrong. Lauding an Opus Dei candidate horrified as many ordinary Catholic voters as non-Christians. Then Salmond mistook the wooing of the Scots Asian vote to be all about Islam, when there are thousands of secular Asians, including many women, horrified by the beardy misogynists among those whom Salmond drools over, wrongly believing they speak for everyone who’s brown. The First Minister seems to think we’re all panting for minarets on every street corner, but hasn’t noticed that there are more climbing walls than worshippers in churches. Scots clearly want less religion of all kinds, not more of a newly introduced one.
Meanwhile, the astonishing decision by Ed Balls to allow faith schools to tailor sex education towards teaching their “values”, such as making gay children feel they are abominations and declaring that the only contraception for the unmarried is abstinence, is just another nightmarish example of this insane trend to appease the superstitious, despite the damage it will do to the innocent. It is the ultimate journey into identity politics, imagining the faithful as one-dimensional beings who do as they’re told and that the ballot box is an extension of the pulpit.
But the beam of hope amid this idiocy is that it doesn’t work. Catholic voters have rarely voted as sheep instructed by a priest. If it were otherwise then legislation in this country would look very different. In fact, they vote like any other citizen on matters of the economy, education and health, and while their beliefs may guide aspects of their personal life it would seem it is not the only factor in their choices. Similarly, Muslim voters still largely vote Labour despite the Iraq war, because the majority of UK Muslims currently remain working class and vote on pragmatic issues of unemployment and housing rather than obeying fatwas.
So it would seem that all this genuflecting to the pedlars of mythology is a waste of politicians’ time. Still, it’s been useful. Mr Murphy’s strong implication in his speech was that people who don’t believe in a god know less about “family values” than those who do. It’s good to know where you stand in your Government’s affections. I’ll certainly be keeping that in mind come the election. I imagine many of you faithless heretics who sneer at Odin’s power will think likewise.