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    Elton: Religion Should Be Banned

    Forget dissing Madonna and the media. Elton John is now turning his enmity on organized religion.

    In an interview with The Observer's special gay edition of Music Monthly Magazine that hit U.K. newsstands on Saturday, the Rocket Man sounded off on a variety of hot-button topics, ranging from British Prime Minister Tony Blair's views on the Iraq War to gay rights. 

    But John reserved his most critical comments for organized religion, which he said should be outlawed for fomenting discrimination against gays. 

    "I think religion has always tried to turn hatred toward gay people," the 59-year-old "Sad Songs" singer told the newspaper.  "Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays.  But there are so many people I know who are gay and love their religion."

    John continued: "From my point of view, I would ban religion completely.  Organized religion doesn't seem to work.  It turns people into really hateful lemmings, and it's not really compassionate." 

    The music icon took religious leaders to task for failing to step up and use their influence to help bring an end to a variety of dangerous conflicts in the world, such as the war in Iraq.

    "Why aren't they having a conclave?  Why aren't they coming together?  I said this after 9-11, and people thought I was nuts.  Instead of more violence, why isn't there a meeting of religious leaders?" John asked. 

    The outspoken rocker also reprimanded his fellow artists for failing to imagine their own role in trying to make the world a better place. 

    "It's like the peace movement in the '60s.  Musicians got through to people by getting out there and doing peace concerts, but we don't seem to do them anymore," John added.  "If John Lennon were alive today, he'd be leading it with a vengeance."

    (We'll just assume he forgot about last year's historic Live 8 concerts.)

    Regarding Blair, John said the fact that a majority of British citizens disagreed with the prime minister's support for the Bush administration on the Iraq War had "come back to bite him in the ass."   

    The crooner, who swapped vows in a civil union last December with his longtime beau, Canadian filmmaker David Furnish, also pledged to continue stumping for gay rights. 

    "I just can't sit back; it's not in my nature anymore," he noted.  "I'm nearly 60 years old, after all.  I can't sit back and blindly ignore it, and I won't."

    John has a long history of speaking his mind...and a related history of foot-in-mouth disease. 

    In 2001, he memorably stood up for rapper Eminem, after the latter was criticized for the violent themes in his rhymes, joining him in a surprise duet at the Grammy Awards. (Eminem, who embraced John following the performance, later said he was unaware that the singer was gay.)

    John made headlines for a less tolerant display in September 2004, when he lashed out at paparazzi who greeted him after he landed at Taiwan's Taipei airports, calling them "vile pigs."  Around the same time, he also took aim at fellow singer George Michael, saying he was acting "miserable" and wasting his talent, prompting a sharp rebuke from Michael in an open letter.

    Also in September 2004, he slammed Madonna, saying it was wrong of her to lip-sync her songs in concert when she was charging fans sky-high ticket prices.  He later apologized to the Queen of Pop for the remarks in a sit-down with Entertainment Weekly, saying he made them after a "drunken lunch." 

    Last May, John disparaged a group of pesky shutterbugs who were annoying him at the Cannes Film Festival, calling them a "nightmare" and saying they "should all be shot." 

    In any case, Sir Elton's outspokenness doesn't seem to be affecting his popularity.  John was in New York City on Thursday to accept the Legend of Live honor at the 2006 Billboard Touring Awards. 

    Later this month, the legendary performer heads Down Under for a series of concert dates in Australia, before resuming his off-and-on stint filling in for Celine Dion at Las Vegas' Caesar's Palace in January and February.

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