Whilst Leicester City grab the headlines for continuing to top the league table, their two biggest rivals for the title are going head to head this weekend, in a clash that runs much deeper than a pair of title contenders battling it out.

Tottenham vs Arsenal. The North London Derby. A match that always gets hearts racing and passions soaring (not to mention the news feed on my Facebook turning decidedly heated). Arsenal have not finished below Spurs since the mid 90s (1995, if memory serves me right), but Tottenham are looking a much better side than they have in years, so much so in fact that they have earned the right to be taken seriously as title challengers. Arsenal have drawn one and lost three in all competitions – Spurs may have lost to West Ham in midweek, but prior to that had won their last six league games.

As a Liverpool fan I am for the most part neutral in this one, but with my dad, mum, brother, father-in-law and brother-in-law all supporting Tottenham (and my wife is somewhat fond of them too, as are numerous friends), I would not begrudge them a win at the weekend and even the title. I would prefer Leicester to win it (on the grounds that, unless it’s Liverpool I favour the underdog), but Spurs would be a good alternative.

Can they best Arsenal at the weekend? On the basis of pure form, I’d say yes, but the nature of derbies is such that teams play differently under the unique pressure of such a game, and this one is all the bigger, seeing as the loser’s title hopes could take a serious knock. It’s Arsenal who are under the greater expectation, and coming off the back of two poor performances, they sorely need a win to get their charge back on track. Tottenham are playing with confidence and might well fancy their chances, but history is not on their side.

My prediction? 2-1 to Spurs.

A busy couple of nights in the Premier League has yielded yet another shift in momentum for various teams all chasing various goals. On Tuesday, Leicester City were held to a draw at home against West Brom, having actually gone behind to begin with, before going 2-1 up at one stage. Their failure to win opened the door for Tottenham to go level on points and ahead on goal difference at the summit – but Spurs fluffed their lines and lost 1-0 to West Ham at Upton Park – a result that keeps the Hammers firmly in the mix for Champions League football (yes, you read that right).

Arsenal meanwhile suffered their second successive Premier League defeat, crashing 2-1 at home to Swansea. Swansea came from behind to beat an Arsenal side that started brightly but were unable to finish their relegation-threatened opponents off. The Gunners are back to being five points behind Leicester, and questions have been asked about their mental strength as the season edges closer to its finale.

Manchester United moved level on points with rivals Manchester City after a 1-o home win over Watford – but United’s ongoing problems were nearly exposed several times, with only ‘keeper De Gea preventing Watford from actually taking what, from the sound of it, would have been a comfortable win.

City meanwhile, went to Anfield on the back of beating Liverpool in the League Cup final at Wembley on Sunday. One has to wonder if they would have traded their cup win for a league win last night – Liverpool eased to victory, running out 3-0 winners to keep their own Champions League hopes alive. It was as sharp and incisive a performance as Liverpool have managed all season, achieved ironically without two key players – Sturridge and Coutinho.

In the midst of the chaotic battles going on at the top, the relegation battle is beginning to narrow down to a small handful of sides. Bournemouth’s 2-0 win over Southampton eased their relegation worries – they are now eight points clear of the drop zone, whilst Swansea’s win over Arsenal moved them six points clear. Norwich were roundly beaten at home by a resurgent Chelsea side (who have been marching steadily up the table and may yet fancy their chances of landing European football), whilst Sunderland ideally needed more than a point against Crystal Palace, but that point did move them above Norwich on goal difference.

Aston Villa look doomed. A resounding 3-1 home defeat against Everton means they are eight points off safety with ten games to go – not a fantastic place to be. They have been struggling for some time and if I were in charge there, I’d have one eye on next season, with a view to preparing for life in the Championship.

Newcastle’s defeat at Stoke leaves them level with Sunderland and Norwich – but behind both on goal difference. Stoke’s win puts them only five points off European football themselves, and with the frankly absurd results going on this season, anything is possible as we approach the final run-in.

At this stage, I wouldn’t dare predict anything!

Before I answer the question, some context. I am having a discussion (which you can follow directly here) on homosexuality, persecution, righteousness and sin. I don’t normally ‘stick my oar in’ in situations like this, but upon reading the post, I felt compelled to offer up a reply.

I want to also add a caveat to this – I do not consider this person to be representative of all Christians and all people of faith. I don’t believe in tarring everyone with the same brush and won’t do so here. I have personally known several Christians who easily fall into the category of ‘most kind and gentle people I’ve ever met’.

In the course of our ‘chat’, I suggested that religion is responsible for a great many conflicts. The author of the site argues that religion is not responsible for conflict, but rather, that sin is.

My counterpoint to this would be that sin is a religious concept, and therefore religion, vicariously through sin, is responsible for a great many wars and conflicts over time.

To quote from the Encyclopaedia Britannica website:

Sin,  moral evil as considered from a religious standpoint. Sin is regarded in Judaism and Christianity as the deliberate and purposeful violation of the will of God. See alsodeadly sin.

Furthermore, the site also says:

In the Old Testament, sin is directly linked to the monotheistic beliefs of the Hebrews. Sinful acts are viewed as a defiance of God’s commandments, and sin itself is regarded as an attitude of defiance or hatred of God. The New Testament accepts the Judaic concept of sin but regards humanity’s state of collective and individual sinfulness as a condition that Jesus came into the world to heal. Redemption through Christ could enable men to overcome sin and thus to become whole. Both Christianity and Judaism see sin as a deliberate violation of the will of God and as being attributable to human pride, self-centredness, and disobedience. While insisting more strongly than most religions upon the gravity of sin, both in its essence and in its consequences, both Christianity and Judaism have emphatically rejected the Manichaean doctrine that either the created world as a whole or the material part of it is inherently evil. Christianity holds rather that evil is the result of the misuse of their free will by created beings and that the body, with its passions and impulses, is to be neither ignored nor despised but sanctified; in the Bible, the “flesh” that is spoken of disparagingly is not the human body but human nature in rebellion against God.

So sin, it would seem, is very much a religious concept to both Christian and Jewish faiths. The very first words from a BBC article on the subject state:

Original sin is an Augustine Christian doctrine that says that everyone is born sinful. This means that they are born with a built-in urge to do bad things and to disobey God. It is an important doctrine within the Roman Catholic Church. The concept of Original Sin was explained in depth by St Augustine and formalised as part of Roman Catholic doctrine by the Councils of Trent in the 16th Century.

Original sin is not just this inherited spiritual disease or defect in human nature; it’s also the ‘condemnation’ that goes with that fault.

Emphasis mine. It would appear that sin is an important religious concept after all.

In the wider context, does this mean that religious beliefs have contributed to wars and conflicts around the world?

The short answer is of course yes. To deny religious motivations behind the Crusades for example, is to be deliberately blind to what they were about (Christians and Muslims fought each other for the control of the Holy Land). The Troubles that blighted Northern Ireland were motivated, at least in part, by disputes between Protestants and Catholics, which in turn are the echoes of older conflicts (the British Civil War was also partly motivated by this).

For me, religion works best as a personal relationship, that doesn’t try to force its views upon others. A case in point would be attempts to justify discriminatory practices against homosexuals in the US, citing ‘religious freedom’. My opponent in the discussion in question has attempted to equate the poor employment laws that allow employers to dismiss someone purely because of their sexual orientation, with the suing of bakeries for refusal of services to homosexual couples, as though the two situations are one and the same. Clearly, they are not.

What’s more worrying is that my opponent does not consider the treatment of homosexuals in the Bible to be wrong – I quote directly:

Your point depends upon how you define the word persecuted as Christians have been truly persecuted while a lot of the treatment, in the OT, of the homosexual was by divine command.

There is even the equation of homosexuals with criminals:

Convicts have a saying: if you cannot do the time do not do the crime. If you cannot pay the price for being a homosexual then stop practicing homosexuality. Homosexuality is sin, wrong, abnormal, not right, whether you agree with that designation or not, and you will be treated accordingly.

I am probably fighting a losing battle here. There is a fundamentalist mindset at work that no amount of argument will shift. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to at least try. All too often, I scroll past sites such as these, only usually prepared to argue a point if someone else is already doing so.

I certainly feel I have made my point eloquently.