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The Right to be Offended

There have been no reports in the papers lately of gangs of agnostics, atheists or socialists armed to the teeth, roaming the streets and stringing up priests, parsons and mullahs from the lamp posts. Nor have secularist snipers been hiding in the vestries and slaughtering old ladies as they toddle into church to sing their hymns on Sundays.

So what were the howls of protest about “militant”, “offensive”, “aggressive”, “dangerous”and “deeply intolerant”secularists all about that found their way into the press during February and March and sent an outraged Baroness Warsi scuttling off to discuss the matter with the pope?

Well, it seems that secularists have indeed been on the rampage. There have been several instances where these dangerous individuals had been quite openly voicing their opinions. And as we know, other people’s opinions can be deeply offensive to religious believers.

In January, for example, a cartoon of Jesus and Mohammed enjoying a pint together appeared on a University student’s Facebook page to advertise a pub social. After a request was made for the advert to be removed it was pointed out that most Moslem students appeared not to be bothered by it. But the treasurer of the Muslim Students Association thundered: It is not for atheists to decide what will or will not offend believers of different religions. Well everyone has the right to be offended but care needs to be taken. Offence like that must play hell with the blood pressure.

Then there was the nonsense at Bideford where council business included prayer sessions. Religious freedom is an absolute right, and so is freedom from religion,protested atheistcouncillorClive Bone. Hardly a “deeply intolerant”stance, but it offended the pious and pompous Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. For too long, the public sector has been used tomarginaliseand attack faith in public life,hewhinged. The Bishop of Exeter agreed: Every time there is a survey of religious beliefs in this country, around 70 per cent of the population profess a faithhe claimed.

Not so, said a poll commissioned by the Richard Dawkins Foundation. This showed overwhelmingly that of those who ticked the ‘Christian’box in the last census did so simply because they considered that they were decent people, or because their parents said they were Christian. Very few of them believed in the precepts of Christianity.

So, judging from recent events, what can “militant”, “deeply intolerant”and “offensive”non-believers learn from religion about tolerance? Well, not much.

In November 2004 after the Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh produced his film, Submission, portraying violence against women in Islamic societies an offended Islamic extremist brutally slaughtered him.

Dr George Tiller was the medical director of a women’s clinic in Kansas which carried out abortions. Although he was highly regarded as someone committed to women in need of help, others disagreed. He was shot through the eye in May 2009 by a devout religious pro-life group assassin.

And in January 2011, in Pakistan, Salman Taseer made the mistake ofcriticisingPakistan’s blasphemy laws. He was shot 27 times with a sub-machine gun.

As has been mentioned in this column before, the reason many people believe their religion is true, is that the more they study it, the more theyrealisethat God hates the same people that they do.