The Point
Last updated: 05 March 2020. sky thinking for an open and diverse left

Visit our Facebook page

Follow us on Twitter


Recent Articles

In Praise of Beethoven

Arthur C Clarke - A Very Modern Odyssey

Tackling Private Landlords

Investigating the Value Form

The Eternal Dark Heart of Empire

If You Build Them, They Will Come

Gay Marriage and Religious Fundamentalism


Sean Robertson looks at the role of religion in modern day morality.

This summer, the Scottish Government announced that it would be passing a bill through Parliament legalising same sex marriage. For most forward thinking people in a modern society like Scotland this would have been viewed as a sensible and uncontroversial move. For the vast majority of Scots sexual behaviour between consensual adults should be none of their, or the state’s, business, and gay relationships, including marriage, should be afforded the same legal protections as their heterosexual counterparts.

It beggars belief then, when self- styled moral guardians of the modern world, like the Catholic Church in Scotland and the literalist Presbyterians in the ‘Scotland for Marriage’ campaign attempt to derail progress because of their own outdated religious beliefs and force the majority to accept these beliefs as their own:  Nobody is to be allowed to enter into a gay marriage because a minority of particularly fundamentalist religionists don’t like it.

American Christian lobbyists have also fought tooth and nail to prevent ‘ Evolution through Natural Selection’ being taught as an evidence based part of the science syllabus in US schools, and in some states, schools must give equal attention to the creationist view that the world was created in a matter of days, less than ten thousand years ago, by God.

These debates between the modern day and the past have brought into focus the role of religion today.  Does society require institutions such as the Catholic or Protestant churches, Islamic or Jewish faiths, as moral compasses? Should society give an equal voice to all religious belief when formulating laws, providing public services or setting educational curricula, for example?

Many social commentators have theorised that that while there may not be a physical god, the concept of a god could play a vital role in morality, allowing people to focus their lives on good works in the name of their god, and setting out basic rules, such as the ten commandments of the middle eastern faiths, which allow society to function and provide stability. Christian faith was almost certainly the origin of many of the written laws in the UK, but whether or not it was the foundation of the legal system in the past, the argument that belief in an omnipotent god is necessary for a morally sound legal code to thrive, in my view, simply doesn’t hold water, and when articulated by religious fundamentalists of any creed fills me with dread.  Do they they mean to imply that a large proportion of the population are not running around stealing from people, killing people and coveting their neighbour’s asses purely because god said not to?

Many of the recent social debates into which religious institutions have waded, will seem, to more modern and liberal holders of the faith, to have less to do with morality than with religious tradition. The gay marriage debacle is a good example of this. Whilst anti- homosexual sentiment is certainly present in the Old Testament, Torah and Koran, in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah among other places, why it should be considered immoral is not elaborated upon enough to satisfy rational consideration: God says it is bad therefore it is.  Many other rules, including restrictions to one’s diet, dress or behaviour are largely ignored by Christians of all denominations who prefer to stick to the New Testament teachings of Jesus for moral guidance. However, tradition leads many fundamentalist believers to view homosexuality as a sin and homosexual marriage as an abomination.

The New Testament has very little to say on the subject of homosexuality, but the ‘Jesus as narrow minded homophobe’ interpretation seems to be growing in popularity with reborn evangelicals and traditional Christians alike. The anti –homophobic message in the New Testament is so flimsy that it basically hinges on the translation (or mistranslation) of the Greek word ‘ Arsenokoites’ from Romans 1:26-27 on the sins of the gentiles. The aforementioned definition could mean ‘male gigolo for rich women’, ‘male temple prostitute’ or ‘special gay friend’- and which it is is not made clear. Hardly sound foundations for millennia of Christian homophobic bigotry.

The New Testament and the other texts of the Abrahamic faiths indubitably have some valid moral teachings, such as helping the poor, treating others as you yourself would like to be treated, promoting peace and treating all people equally. Also included are general common sense laws to prevent harm to others: don’t steal, don’t kill and so forth. It would be uncontroversial to say that these ‘moral codes’ have had a positive influence on our society.

Most atheists (myself included), would agree with these rules as, if adhered to, they promote fairness and ensure that one’s actions do not cause harm to others. Conflict between believers and non-believers arise when rules that the faithful follow are based solely on their traditional religious scripture and teachings of their church and not on the principles of fairness or obvious moral reasoning.  For example, consensual homosexual sex and gay marriage is in no way immoral by any obvious standard because no one is harmed by the gay relationship. This would lead most, including the more liberal amongst the faithful, to the conclusion that there is no moral argument against such relationships or marriages and that homosexual people should be afforded the same legal rights as heterosexuals. The leaders of the faiths, most recently Cardinal O’Brien of the Catholic Church in Scotland, realise that in a modern, diverse, educated and basically irreligious country the argument that something is wrong because an invisible, all knowing deity in the sky said so, just won’t wash, so they try other tactics, to enforce “god’s” (i.e. their) will.

Arguments that have been used by religious homophobes against gay marriage and homosexuality in general include the assertion that homosexuality is not natural. In actual fact, this may be inaccurate as scientists claim to have isolated several genes associated with a person’s sexuality. But more importantly the argument for humans to behave entirely naturally is a nonsensical one: if we lived entirely naturally we wouldn’t do much in the modern world, and ironically certainly wouldn’t go to church, or write articles on laptops or carry out research on the internet or farm crops, or decode the human genome etc, etc.

In order to imply that their opinion on matters such as gay marriage is in the mainstream, the churches use political tactics such as hijacking opinion polls, taking results of consultations in isolation and using their obviously highly professional media arm to ensure their opinion is always sought when moral issues are discussed. They then play on the apparently inherent fears of the populace that gay marriage, or unmarried couples, or contraception or whatever the issue may be is a threat to the family, to the nation’s moral wellbeing and to the very foundations of our way of life without having to provide any more evidence than faith to back up their claims.  Don’t believe the results of the Scottish government’s consultation which implied that the Scottish public were against gay marriage:  the respondents more than likely had a vested interest to protect their own bigoted view, while there are many more reputable surveys and gauges of public opinion that show overwhelming support for equal rights for homosexual couples.

from the Daily Record

And another thing……. Several times recently, both in the media and in discussions in my own home the issue of faith in conflict with science has cropped up.  In one Sunday morning discussion show the question was raised of how much influence different faith groups should have when education authorities are preparing the national school curricula so science could more ‘democratic’ and inclusive. 

What exactly would this mean? Would, as in America, teachers be obliged to give equal credence to the Christian, Muslim or other views of the story of creation?  Would natural selection be just one of many possible theories for the origin of species?

Since the renaissance and the enlightenment, we have been using the scientific method to discover and learn about the environment and origin of the world, life and universe.  Over the last decade however, we have been going through an apparent ‘Unenlightment’ in which we are to forego the evidence for scientific theories such as evolution lest we offend religious fundamentalists with the truth. Science doesn’t care about democracy and equality of views: some things are simply proven while others are false.

To take a good example of this, while we can’t conclusively ‘prove’ that the big bang was the origin of the universe (though the evidence fits the theory like a glove), what we can prove through carbon dating and radio telescopy of light spectra from space, is that the universe is several billions of years old. For many fundamentalists these facts are tantamount to blasphemy; appeasing the fundamentalists and justifying their standpoint would have us one step closer to returning to the dark ages.

I am of the opinion that religious education in schools should be limited to promoting tolerance and understanding between cultures; faith schools should be discouraged because they promote one belief system over another, and the science curriculum should be left to scientific experts to decide, with the emphasis on questioning the status quo solely through evidence based research rather than the assumptions of faith.

Liberal believers have no fear of science because they realise it is pointless hiding from the truth. Many have come to terms with the fact that if god does exist, then the bible or other religious texts are not to be taken entirely literally. A good way to sum up their standpoint is that while science provides the how? of the world, religion provides the why?.

While this may be a workable compromise for the faithful, atheists are unfettered by any need to explain dichotomies either in their morality or their beliefs, and are able simply to search for truth or measure justice without having to fear the wrath, or seek the approval, of an imagined deity. The only questions they need to ask themselves are where is the evidence for this? And who do my actions affect?

Very interesting (and funny) documentary on BBCiplayer at

External links:

Bella Caledonia

Bright Green

George Monbiot

Green Left


The Jimmy Reid Foundation

Laurie Penny

New Left Project

Newsnet Scotland

Richard Dawkins

Scottish Left Review

Socialist Unity

UK Uncut

Viridis Lumen

Wings Over Scotland

Word Power Books