Last night - during one of my brain's periodic refusals to submit to Morpheus - I watched some fascinating videos by a youtuber called AronRa, whose channel can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/user/AronRa.
I enjoyed most of AronRa's videos and will watch more, but one of them, entitled Not a happy holiday, was difficult to watch. Unlike most of his videos this one didn't deal with religion, but was I suppose primarily a thank-you addressed to a lot of people who had offered help to his daughter during the long illness and eventual death of his three-year-old granddaughter. I've never had any kids, and therefore I won't insult those who have had children and lost them by pretending for a moment that I can understand what they're feeling. I do not have the experience that would allow me to imagine the grief a parent or grandparent must feel at the death of a child. But my ability to empathise with another person's pain does not depend on my having experienced precisely what they're going through, and I found AronRa's account of his granddaughter's long battle very, very hard to watch - it is horrible to watch someone struggle with so much grief and be utterly unable to help.
Not surprisingly, I was feeling rather blue by the end of the video... so scrolling down to look at the comments was a very foolish thing to do.
You know what, though? I was so saddened by this video that I truly believed that everyone who viewed it - no matter how vehemently they might disagree with AronRa's views on religion - would have been similarly affected and would have nothing but condolences to offer. I wouldn't wish what happened to him and his family on my worst enemy; I cannot imagine hating anyone enough to not feel sorry that such a thing has happened to them.
But every time I think I can no longer be surprised by religious people, they find a way to prove me wrong again. Most of the comments I saw - although, to be fair, I shortly felt so sickened I didn't look down very far - were messages of sympathy and condolence. But a few of them (and one would have been too many) were just unimaginably hateful and callous; the comments of a user called michaelw018 - "i'm ecstatic aronra's three year old grand daughter died of cancer" - stick out with particularly glaring prominence in my memory.
You know what, religious people? What you believe is not fact. It is not even a reasonable hypothesis. Pushing it on the rest of us and calling it "morality" and "freedom of expression" - particularly when you act so very badly and actively try to shut the rest of us up when we criticise you - is out of order. The refusal of some of us to grant you the special treatment you demand until such time as you deserve it is not unreasonable, it is not disrespectful, and it is not personal. We don't hate your god/s because we don't believe they exist, and very few of us hate you. Many of us feel contempt for dishonest religious "leaders" who con huge amounts of money out of you by claiming to know what they cannot possibly know, and we sometimes feel baffled and even frustrated by your choice to continue paying them to lie to you. We don't like it when you tell us a story, call it fact, and try to use it either to restrict scientific advances, misinform our children, judge people for stuff that's none of your business or restrict our freedoms, and we get especially irritated when you do all this and then tell us we're the hateful narrow-minded amoral lying oppressors of freedom.
If I struggle to imagine the grief AronRa and his family are going through at present, I fail totally to comprehend the level of hatred a person would have to feel to celebrate that grief. I can think of nothing - nothing - that would make me glad at the suffering and death of a small child. When your religious belief has become so sacrosanct to you that you will celebrate the loss of a child's life because it brings pain to someone who has in general terms criticised that belief... congratulations, you are less than human, utterly repugnant, and a fantastic example of why religion needs to be fought on all fronts.