Joan Smith: God? She's got a queer outlook...

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The Independent Online

If there is a God, and I'm still not convinced, all I can say is that She has a queer sense of humour. Last week, as Labour MPs voted for a preposterous piece of legislation to protect believers from "religious hatred", events conspired to confirm what I have always maintained - that most of the time it's everyone else who needs protection from the devout.

If there is a God, and I'm still not convinced, all I can say is that She has a queer sense of humour. Last week, as Labour MPs voted for a preposterous piece of legislation to protect believers from "religious hatred", events conspired to confirm what I have always maintained - that most of the time it's everyone else who needs protection from the devout.

First, the ultra-Orthodox-Jewish Mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, banned the city's annual gay pride march "out of concern that the parade would be provocative and hurt the feelings of the broader public living in and visiting the city". Lesbian and gay Israelis, it seems, must at all costs avoid giving offence not just to fellow citizens but tourists, whose holidays might be ruined by a few homosexual revellers. The march ban followed a united front from Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, who drop their differences when it comes to denouncing homosexuality.

It follows a similar ban earlier this month in Poland, where the Mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski, has refused to allow a gay parade for the second year running. According to the mayor, allowing a gay pride march would promote a "homosexual lifestyle", and naturally we can't have that sort of thing in Catholic Poland.

This homophobic nonsense brings me to my second instance of the Lord (or Lady) moving in mysterious ways, which is a row in this country between the Co-operative Bank and an evangelical pressure group called Christian Voice. You may recall the latter as the prime mover behind an unsuccessful attempt to frighten the BBC into removing Jerry Springer: the Opera from its schedules a few months ago.

Now the organisation is up in arms after the Co-op bank gave its account the boot because of rampant anti-homosexual views. "It has come to the bank's attention that Christian Voice is engaged in discriminatory pronouncements based on the grounds of sexual orientation", a spokesman for the bank said, reasonably enough. I assume someone had drawn its attention to Christian Voice's website, where its fruitcake fundamentalist views are expounded at length. Its stance on homosexuality can be gauged by the fact that it offers a link to Exodus International, an American organisation which offers "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ". The organisation, which issues its denunciations of "Britain in sin" from a PO box in Surbiton - I promise I'm not making this up - helpfully lists the reasons why the nation finds itself in this parlous state, which include the way we have "legalised pornography and homosexual acts and taught evil to our children in school".

Well, I know we didn't have the national curriculum in my day, but I didn't think lessons had changed that much. To be fair, it isn't just gays that are bringing the country to its knees, according to Christian Voice, but a combination of divorce, abortion, Sunday trading, the national lottery and the European Union; apparently Parliament has legislated against "every single one of the Ten Commandments, overturning the very laws of God which Her Majesty promised to maintain in her realm".

I quote this drivel just to make it all the more delicious when I tell you that Christian Voice claims that the Co-op Bank has discriminated against it "on the grounds of conscience and religion", as though evangelical Christians believe they have a God-given right to be nasty to anybody whose way of life offends them. So, apparently, do religious leaders in Jerusalem and Warsaw, who are happy to deny gay people the right to parade through their own cities once a year.

It's hardly an advert for any religion, but it is a timely reminder about the illiberal tendencies of all the monotheistic faiths. The Government still hasn't addressed this point as its wretchedly ill-advised legislation heads towards the statute books, which may be why we have just been vouchsafed a glimpse of that divine sense of humour. Offering special protection to people who don't believe in equal rights for others is a sick joke.

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