Religion – The Fifth Emergency Service

When I joined the AA (that’s the Automobile Association, for the avoidance of confusion – 12 steps don’t get you far when you’ve broken down 20 miles from home), I thought I was paying for breakdown cover. They also offered me a few small discounts on products I didn’t want, but that was no problem if I chose not to take them up on the offer. What I hadn’t been prepared for was the way they’d lobby the government, in my name, for all sorts of things I didn’t support.

They seemed to think that my request for roadside assistance meant that I shared their views on transport policy, and was content for them to use my subscription money to fund their campaigns against speed cameras, for reductions in the price of petrol, and generally with the aim of allowing people to carry on driving like heavy-footed petrolheads without consequences.

That’s not an obviously ridiculous position for them to take – many, if not most of their members probably supported those aims, and they seem to be a reasonably good fit with their main business. But they didn’t ask me for my views, and there was no mention of this campaigning role when I joined up. The fact that I wanted breakdown cover was being used to support an entirely different agenda.

And that’s a bit like the church, as a hackneyed sermon might say.

Is there any way you can tow my car home without slapping a “God Hates Fags” sticker on it?

Maybe there are people who join the church because they want to deny gay people rights, or stand for conservative social values, or preserve a stuffy, antiquated vision of society, but there are also plenty of churchmembers who want no such thing. And none of this has any connection to the primary aim of the church, except in the minds of a few people, but the church still claims to speak for its members.

How many people joined up for spiritual breakdown cover and found themselves being used to support a whole manifesto of policies that they don’t agree with, or that they vigorously oppose? Does the church know or even care what the people it claims to speak for actually think?

Perhaps there’s some microscopic small print on every baptism certificate, saying:

From time to time, the church may sign you up as a supporter of carefully selected causes. Please place a cross in the box if you wish to opt out of these campaigns.

Not that it would make any difference if you did place your cross as specified – whenever this option is given, I’m convinced it’s just because they like to know which are the troublemakers who actually bother to check what they’re signing up for.

Apparently, a vague belief that there’s probably some sort of higher power out there, or that Jesus was a pretty good bloke, or that it’s generally a good idea to be nice to each other instantly defines your views on sexuality, fertility, TV broadcasting regulations and any number of other things that the church wants to stick its nose into. Who knew?

There are plenty of reasonable, decent people in the church. Unfortunately, the hierarchy which represents them in public is very reluctant to adjust its views and continues to hold tight to a conservative position, as I’ve mentioned previously. But I can’t imagine anyone could seriously insist that belief has to come with all these strings attached.

Still, when even a lack of belief comes with additional small print now, why not?

Photo by aussiegall, used under Attribution License

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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

7 responses to “Religion – The Fifth Emergency Service”

  1. 2012 and all that says :

    The politicisation of religion is dishonest tactics. Kind of reminds me when people like Pat Robertson make the claim that 80% (or whatever percent) of Americans are Christian and therefore they deserve a bigger voice.

    What they ignore is what percentage of them support the likes of Pat Robertson. How many want to force schools to teach creationism? How many want to ban contraceptives? How many of those are Catholic and are theologically opposed to a lot of issues that are core to his agenda?

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      Yes. Mind you, I object to political campaigning being mixed up with religion regardless of the beliefs of the rank and file. The Catholic Church in Scotland is aggressively campaigning against gay marriage again today. As a charity, they don’t pay tax because theoretically they’re a good thing for society. We’re effectively subsidising their hateful discrimination.

  2. Sabio Lantz says :

    Boy Scouts did the same to my son. I was an Eagle Scout and a patriot — but I was a good little Christian boy too, so I didn’t hear the rhetoric. My son is an atheist and skeptical of government (being raised with me), so the rhetoric of Boy Scouts pissed him off so he dropped out — too much God and Country.

    Oddly enough, 1 month before dropping out, he was chosen the best scout in his troop of 42 boys who “best exemplified the scouting spirit.” A Christian friend (albeit a heretical CHristian) came up to me after the ceremony and said, “Boy, they’d be shocked to know they just gave that award to an Atheist!”

    He said it lovingly — he is slowly unbecoming a Christian and getting nicer.

  3. theaa1905eaa1905 says :

    The AA is very keen that the views it puts forward in public are shared by its members. Since March 2008 we have run the AA Populus Poll of members which any member may join and normally we expect about 20,000 members to give us their views on motoring matters every month. To a great extent it is the results of this poll that guides us in what we do and do not call for. 70% of AA members tell us they actually support the use of speed cameras and hence we do not campaign against their use. We promote the AA/Populus panel to AA members every month inviting them to join and provide their views.
    Regards The AA

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      (Previous comment rescued from spam filter to allow for correction and right of reply)

      Some of this has evidently changed recently, and that’s a positive step. But however you determine the views of your members, there will be people (possibly many of them) who disagree, but who nevertheless find their money, which they thought was paying for a breakdown recovery service, being used to campaign for a cause they strongly disagree with. That’s my concern, but thank you for the fact check on current AA practice.

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