Speaking the Faith

Swami Vivekananda on 21 September 1893 in Chicago Parliament of world's religions

Today, conversational etiquette relies on one golden rule: ‘Don’t talk religion or politics’. The latter starts a heated discussion better off avoided and the former is far too personal. So every Saturday morning from 11am to 12pm, I talk religion. Some ask that you avoid religious talk around the religious because you’re bound to upset them, so I discuss religion with a Catholic, a Muslim, a Protestant, a Christian and another atheist.

We are all younger than 25, of ages that belie the idea we’re capable of having a serious conversation. Not only do we have this conversation, but it never reaches hysterical. We all disagree, but we do not bite or bark.

What does religion have to do with the young? I’m 23, in ten to fifteen years I will probably be a young family man with a career, and what I do in these two roles will reverberate within the political climate. Religion will affect my views on medicine, science, education, the justice system, raising my child, loving my partner, social interactions and outlook, and politics. This will become my identity, and now in the early years of my twenties I am putting together the final pieces of who I am.

Religion and identity are neurologically synonymous; neuroscience shows the part of the brain where we keep an overall image of ourselves to be the same part we ponder religion. We should be able to know ourselves, believe in ourselves, and discuss, debate, question and defend our beliefs. This sure footing is not to push an agenda but to ensure the conversation is democratically balanced.

The conversation on our radio show, Unscriptured, takes religion as the starting point from which we approach contentious subjects. We’ve asked ‘What is faith?’, we’ve talked sex, sexuality, gay marriage, gender roles, secularism and the afterlife. As the weeks progress we’ll be looking at how religion has changed for young people, the environment, and science. These are not light subjects but we aren’t perturbed; having the mettle to approach these big issues challenges the stereotype of us as uninterested, disenchanted, and degenerate youth.

Speaking of breaking stereotypes, we should talk about my own that have been broken. Despite it being a little over twelve months since my absolute culling of God, gods and ghosts from my life, I have built up some slightly narrow imagery of the religious. Mainly because every day that I pick up my paper I see another intrusion of the religious far right and fundamentalists on society. Yet none of my fellow panellists preach fire and brimstone. If prodded, I’m sure they’ll declare I’m lined up for a holiday in Hell, but then again, I know they’re aware I consider their beliefs ridiculous.

None of them spew racist bile, make shrill calls for violent retribution or cry homophobic vitriol; they are totally in the spirit of religious moderation and harmony. This is especially important considering the rise of Islam in the world agenda, where so many hateful backyard sheiks bemoan the Great Satan, but you won’t find them here.

There are a lot of moderate religious types out there; they just need to get a voice. Sensationalist media and religious opponents (I’ve been one myself ) are quick to give hate mongers the pulpit because of the attention and reaction it garners. As those religious antagonists die and disappear, it’s us, the young, who will inherit their mess.

Unscriptured is a program that would not have been easy to make twenty to fifty years ago and borderline impossible a hundred years ago. In the wake of the family-friendly hit, The Innocence of Muslims, the Pakistani and Indonesian presidents called for anti-blasphemy laws in the UN. Do I need warn you what this idiocy imposes on free speech? It is a coupling with new-age political correctness; the issue of religion is too loaded to talk about to some, and would be pushed behind an Iron Curtain of sensitivity. The right to offend, be offended, to discuss loaded issues, to debate and argue them are all pivotal in democratic progression. This is what I feel I’m doing every time we go on air.

This is not about naïve Kumbaya ideals, but we can make a difference by talking about our differences. We can make the world a better place if we can nut this out. Have faith.

Finbar O’Mallon is a writer, aspiring journo and regular contributor to SYN. You can follow him @eloquent_dog.

Unscriptured can be heard on SYN 11am–12pm every Saturday. Listen to podcasts of the show here: http://syn.org.au/unscriptured

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