In those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue.
— Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man (1784)
In a western secular democracy like the UK, everyone has the right to pursue their religion without hindrance, and that is the way it should be. The same freedom applies to atheists, who are not forced into following a state religion that will apply torture and even death to any non-believer or anyone of a different faith.
In this country we are quite lucky, if you think about it. In times gone by, when the Catholics were in charge, Protestants were burned at the stake. When the boot was on the other foot, Protestants were burning Catholics at the stake. But both sides would quite happily kill anyone thought to be guilty of witchcraft. Or heresy. Or anything else that did not agree with the prevailing dogma.
One of the greatest perceived enemies of religion has always been science. It’s pretty significant, I think, that you will not find any historical accounts of astronomers banding together and marching out to burn the religious to death, but the aroma of roasting scientists was not exactly uncommon in the medieval era. Contradicting religious dogma was a dangerous business. (It still is, in some parts of the world.)
Then the Enlightenment happened. Science gained a foothold and superstition started to be replaced by objective study of the world – and the universe – around us. I hardly need to start listing the benefits that science has brought to the world – everything from electricity to medical expertise that routinely saves millions of lives worldwide. It’s amazing.
And yet, even in this day and age, there are those who still try to force their antiquated superstitions on us. That’s the price of free speech, of course, but free speech is a two way street that is open to everyone, and we cannot let superstition take us back to the dark ages.
I found an article in the Shields Gazette that promotes exorcism (yet again, ad nauseam) as though it is a real method for driving out the demons (or Jinn) that the author – Mike Hallowell (who announced his conversion to Islam in June 2011) – believes can possess some individuals. I’m not going to do a full critique of the article (you can read it, and shake your head in exasperation, by clicking on the link), but I will make a few points.
There is no objective evidence that demons (or whatever name you want to give them) are real, nor is there any confirmable evidence that those who have the symptoms of a mental illness are possessed by such alleged entities.
In the article, there are some points in particular that are worth mentioning:
If you haven’t seen a Jinn-possessed person up close and personal, you have no right to pontificate on the matter.
Wrong. If someone has the right to promote superstition, then others have the right to challenge it.
“In the West, some health professionals want everything their own way.”
That would be the scientific way. Obviously we can’t have that, can we?
Most significant, perhaps, is this gem:
Both sides need to learn from this and be prepared to understand each other a little better.
Which sounds fair and conciliatory, except it is followed immediately by this (bold added for emphasis):
Muslims are not going to change their belief, substantiated by the Qur’an, that the Jinn exist and occasionally possess people.
In other words, “It doesn’t matter how much science and objectivity you bring to bear, our beliefs will not be altered. The Qur’an says it, I believe it, that’s the end of the matter.”
In view of such closed-mindedness, the fight for rationality obviously has a long way to go yet.