When I was about 13 years old our high-school English teacher asked us to write about something that we thought needed changing. As inspiration he gave us an example: Should First Division football clubs be allowed to replace the grass pitches with plastic/synthetic ones? The objective of the exercise was to express an opinion while understanding both sides of the argument.
He was a little surprised therefore to read my essay entitled “Should the world ban religion?” The choice of subject matter was worrying, apparently, and I was asked to stay behind after class to explain myself.
He was surprised to learn that, unlike many of my classmates, I did not spend my free time following a football team – but rather The News. I had been struck by the events in Northern Ireland, as seemingly a day didn’t go by without another tit-for-tat killing in the province, and had come to the conclusion that the root cause of the problem was religion. The simplistic view of a teenager, yet, on reflection, not entirely inaccurate.
I of course had very little understanding of the situation but figures like The Rev. Ian Paisley scared me. As an evangelical fundamentalist preacher he appeared to represent a nation at war over religion (although the troubles actually had very little to do with religion and Paisley was actually the pacifist who ultimately made peace possible! Doh!)
Anyway, I suppose this was the first time I really understood that people were prepared to kill or die for different interpretations of Christianity – and I simply thought that was stupid. Religion, as far as I was concerned, served but a moral purpose – it existed, nay was invented, so that people would learn to behave themselves and be nice to one-another. People who used it as an excuse to murder – simply didn’t understand it.
My essay was, I admit, total drivel and my conclusion overly simplistic: Religion causes war – so it should be banned. He gave me a C+.
Banning religion has been dabbled with throughout the course of history of course, but with little success. Religion it seems is the net result of collective belief – and the only way you can delineate what people believe is through education. I think it is safe to say that the people who have attacked/maimed/killed/slaughtered other people around the world in recent times had only one thing in common – a lack of education and understanding.
The only solution to religion therefore is good, free education for all. Education that never stops.
So the question that bugs me most after the Paris attacks is this: if a child of 13 can recognise this – then why can’t we?
Books not bombs. Pens not rifles. Schools not tanks.