Next weekend is Easter and like most readers of the Canterbury Journal I’ll be enjoying the long weekend, indulging in a little chocolate and hoping the weather improves.
I’ll also be bitching about the fact that shops are shut on Easter Sunday and the pubs are on short old-style Sunday hours. And like the majority of the population, I won’t be going anywhere near a church.
We’re all grateful for the extended break, of course. But while I’m quite content for people who are religious to do their thing, I find it difficult to understand why their views have to be imposed on me.
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It’s important to make clear I’m not actively anti-religion.
I find religious architecture fascinating, and frequently search it out both here and abroad to marvel at some of the most incredible structures created by mankind, even while I don’t share the basis on which they were created. That applies to mosques, Indian temples and Catholic churches just as much as our own amazing Cathedral.
I’m perfectly happy for Christians and other religions, too, to observe their rites, which scarcely impact on me most of the time.
I respect the commitment of many religious people to doing good works in the community, and I often work happily on projects alongside people whose primary motivation for doing the work is religious.
What we can achieve is more important than the personal reasons for getting involved.
In Canterbury in particular – much more so than where I lived before – religious groups play a major role in the community, and do tremendous good.
No one in those meetings expects me to pray, or requires me to deny my own beliefs.
Indeed, it astonished me to find that the Canterbury inter-faith Action group included atheists: that is genuine tolerance and open-mindedness in operation.
It is, nonetheless, striking how embedded religion is in Canterbury’s civic world.
The council observes Christian prayers before every full council meeting – that is shocking in a body which is meant to represent everyone in the district regardless of faith.
It isn’t enough for them that prayers are said in private for those who are so minded. In the council chamber those attending are expected – indeed formally requested – to stand while prayers are said.
When I’ve gone to these meetings I refuse to stand, since it would be hypocritical to participate (or seem to) in something in which I have no belief at all.
This is an affront to some people, who presumably would prefer a dumb show of obedience to a quiet and undemonstrative sit-down, which isn’t even a protest, just a non-engagement with the prayers.
In this sense, Canterbury City Council, like our country, needs to change.
It is simply not acceptable in our multicultural world for any religious group to force “respectful” behaviour on to people who don’t share its beliefs.
I don’t, and won’t, insult those beliefs and if I find myself in a church for a funeral or wedding I will stand respectfully.
But in our council chamber? Not a chance.