I am spending Easter in a remote village perched on the top of an Andalucían mountain in southern Spain. Holy Week – or Semana Santa – is particularly important in Catholic Spain and this little village is no exception. Throughout Spain almost everywhere from the tiniest village to the biggest city celebrate the week with religious processions through the streets. In cities like Seville these are spectacular and the litters that the brotherhood (the nasareno’s in their spooky pointed caps) carry are enormous and ornate. In this community, Semana Santa kicks off with a Borriquita procession on Palm Sunday as an expression of piety and the whole village turns out to silently shuffle down the winding streets carrying their precious cargo.
Sometimes I wish I were religious, as faith seems to offer solace in times of hardship or pain. But I cannot believe in an Almighty who turns a blind eye to the world’s suffering, let alone the atrocities that take place in the so-called name of God, whosoever that god may be.
That said, the Ten Commandments seem a reasonable set of guidelines by which to live your life. Personally I tend to believe in the goodness – or otherwise – of mankind, which I am told (if you are into labels) makes me a Humanist.
I cannot condone any religion that does not have civil rights at its core, treats women as possessions, condemns homosexuality or abuses children. I also struggle with religion’s hypocrisy; the so-called god-fearing person whose outward religious display is purely for show and are privately mean-spirited and judgemental. The woman who does not lift a finger to help her son’s wife struggling to cope with a clutch of small children, yet feels pious because every Sunday she gives a neighbour a lift to church.
Or the man who neglects his disabled father but posts “Happy Birthday Jesus” on Facebook at Christmas.
The practice of charity is defined as “the voluntary giving of help to those in need” and most organised religions value charitable acts very highly; but surely true charity begins at home?