Today I happened to find myself in a taxi driven by a happy-go-lucky Muslim man. He was enjoying the warm sunshine, and pontificating to me at great length about how as a Muslim, he believes we should all live in peace and happiness. When I pointed out that religion was a great divisive force in the world, he totally agreed. But also rejoined with the fact that (again) as a Muslim, he does not buy into dividing people, as the holy Koran tells us, etc. “We are all human; we all have one brain, one heart, two arms, two legs”, and so on (at least most of us share an equal number of various body parts. But I digress).

I was trying not to get myself drawn into an argument against someone with whom I really didn’t have a beef with. I had to consider beside the fact he’s driving me home, and now knows where I live, I’ll hopefully never see or talk to him again. He was a friendly sort of fellow, so why not live and let live? It’s not my job to have to deal with everyone’s belief systems. Anyway, I didn’t feel up to causing a fuss.

But later, I realized that I missed out on a good opportunity to point out that we don’t need god to be able to treat each other with peace and understanding. We should be able to throw away our bibles and korans and all the rest. Religion is a great divisive force; after all, my driver identified himself (repeatedly) as a ‘Muslim’. His appearance also suggested a link to his faith; I’m sure many of his cultural habits were also in line with Islamic thinking. Why do we need all that excess baggage┬á to treat each other with respect? I got a strong sense that he was unable to see himself as separate from his religious identity; what is he if he’s not a Muslim? And more importantly, can he contemplate living in peace and harmony with his fellow human beings without using the crutch of religion? Probably not. And therein lies the problem. We all separate ourselves in various ways: white/black, rich/poor, Democrat/Republican, Labour/Conservative, North/South and so on. Whether it’s clans, tribes, football teams, nations or religions, the fences go up. Some are inconsequential, some are trivial and some are serious. Serious enough for a few to die for, or to kill for.

And yes, I’m aware that I’m probably just as guilty of erecting my own fence, between believer and unbeliever. But I don’t feel it’s particularly fair to start preaching your faith to what’s essentially a captive audience. I’d like to think I could have met him halfway and had a nice chat about the weather or something; but when he started going on about “As a Muslim…”, then it becomes the elephant in the room which makes it that much harder to ignore when trying to reach across the divide. Maybe it’s just conceited and big-headed of me to think I could relate to him on an equal basis. And probably just the same to say that now we’ll never know.

In the process of rejecting religion as an outmoded system that should be abandoned to history, I don’t discriminate against any single set of beliefs. Without some real proof that a god exists (a holy book that more or less says, “Because I say so!” is not proof, sorry), then it’s just another impediment to any kind of equality between people. Conflicts about nothing are a waste of time and energy, not to say lives and property. My biggest regret about my journey today was that I was probably a bit too respectful when perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I find that when I have these sorts of encounters, I do learn a little more each time, and consequently enter into the next set of circumstances a bit better prepared. I wonder what my new friend would have said if we had been on a slightly longer journey, and I was a bit more emboldened to ask if his Muslim point of view regarding peace and understanding also extended to women.

I’ve seen many examples of Christians who also espouse this warm and fuzzy idea of “lets all just get along”, and find that they are the kind of people who don’t study their bibles very well. No doubt the same thing happens with Muslims; many parts of religion, especially the Abrahamic ones, are actually very much of a siege mentality. People with strong or rabid faith (including Ministers, Imams, etc.) don’t share this “peace & love” ideology at all. They are strongly opposed to mixing with people of differing faiths, demand that the young are indoctrinated and immersed into the holy ways as soon as possible, and for as long as possible, and generally aren’t too concerned about the fate of unbelievers. Any differing opinions (including scientific points of view that contradict holy writ) are to be suppressed, if not completely stamped out. I find my taxi driver’s remarks hard to reconcile with what I know about religious belief in general. Is he ignorant of the darker aspects of his own professed faith, or putting on a friendly face for the obvious infidel sitting next to him? Stupid or lying? Only he could say for sure.

Either way, it’s hardly a ringing endorsement. Next time I’ll take the bus.