On January 13 2012, my late father, may he rest in peace and light, died of cancer. We know that one in three of us will get cancer some time in our life – it’s a scary prospect but one we must acknowledge. My dad, unfortunately, first got cancer when he was about 41 or 42, which is pretty young. Age, however, is irrelevant: kids get cancer these days. Continue reading
Philosopher Roger Scruton argues in his new book The Face of God: The Gifford Lectuers, that “when we hunt only for the cause and never for the reason of things, God disappears from the world” (1). And it’s true: if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will live in a Godless world and, as a result, everything becomes a proof that God doesn’t exist. A believer in God, however, lives in a world where God is omnipresent, and therefore everything becomes a proof for God. This is one of the fundamental reasons why believers and atheists are so diametrically opposed in their worldview.
Believers will often point to the seemingly “miraculous” nature of the universe and its uniformity. The New Scientist has described the universe as “unfathomably uniform”, however, atheists will point to certain aberrations in the universe like the inherent cosmic chaos and killer asteroids, which make it seem as if there is not an all-wise Creator behind this all. This is why scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, an agnostic, once reportedly said: “When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.”
The famous Muslim poet and sufi, Jalaluddin Rumi, once told a parable of an ant creeping along a carpet and complains to God, asking him “what is this, these bumps, and strange colours, and patterns, this must have been created just as a meaningless obstacle course, what a futile thing to have made.” However, as Cambridge academic Timothy Winter says: “But of course the carpet maker, looking at it from above, can see the patterns and the purpose of it, and can see that the whole thing is perfect and is good. And God is often like that. We often can’t make sense of the misfortunes because we are two dimensional, we are at ground level, we can’t see what it all means.”
There is a saying in the Islamic tradition that is believed to be God’s words, it says that “I am what my servant thinks of me”. This statement can be understood on many levels but what we can infer from this, is that if one doesn’t believe in God, he or she will use the “aberrations” in our universe as further “proof” for the non-existence of God.
The discourse between theists and atheists has been skewed for too long. We vociferously debate with each other not to understand each other, or to come to a mutual understanding, but to attempt to prove each other wrong. Consequently, when we argue, our minds become preoccupied with trying to think of a counter response to what has just been propounded during the debate, instead of rationalising what the other has said.
While theists and atheists can both be as closed-minded as each other, both constantly looking for proofs to further their belief or disbelief, we must understand the plurality of life. There isn’t just one way of understanding things, there are many. There is a reason why we are all different; it is because life can, and should, be approached in many different ways. One of the fundamental misunderstandings of many atheists is that they forget religion has as its purpose to serve the whole of humanity. If this is the case, religion has to serve all the uneducated and stupid people in the world, which is, unfortunately, a large percentage of humanity. This is why, on the surface, religion may seem simple for simple people, when, in fact, it can be understood on many levels; the job of the intellectual should be to discern the profundity of divine revelation and explore the deeper, esoteric meanings.
When we are pushed to our extremes something strange often emanates from within us. Sometimes, when our life is in danger, we call on God. Interestingly, Oxford academic, Justin Barrett, says that research over the past ten years suggests that children are born with an innate disposition to believe in God. However, when we force ourselves to certain extremes, we often go mad, literally. Philosophers of the past have entered into a state of depression or madness because they try to push their mind to an extent that is not possible. Likewise, mathematicians have gone insane trying to understand the concept of infinity. We push ourselves to these extremes for no other reason but to find meaning. Meaning, however, can only be found within the depths of our innermost being, according to Rumi. He once said: “ The universe is within you. Ask all from yourself.”
What we are often guilty of doing is trying to fill the void in our lives – a void that occurs due to our inability or unwillingness to find meaning – with something physical. But how can we fill something immaterial with something material? We must recognise that the materialistic idea of consciousness is probably not the correct way to understand who we are. Things don’t always happen purely on the psychological level, they happen on the spiritual level, too. We all know that with every second that passes by, we edge closer and closer to our departure from this world, essentially, we are dying with time.
While we all agree that we must die, we differ on the concept of death. Some of us believe death is just the beginning of eternity, either in the divine Presence or in divine alienation; others believe that death is the end and there is nothing else. Leo Tolstoy once said: “Life is a dream, death is wakening.” While this may or may not be true, we only have limited time to search for any sort of transcendent, ultimate meaning. Journalist Matthew Parris poignantly said in an article in The Spectator that: “If I seriously suspected a faith might be true, I would devote my life to finding out.”
Our existential search for meaning needs satisfying and our perennial search for God will never end. Time is running out, hurry.
1) Into the void, Richard Holloway, page 43, New Statesman, 2 April 2012
I’d first like to tell you a bit about my past. I grew up in a middle class family: I went to a private school, received a good education and lived with my parents. My upbringing was a bit confusing though. My dad is an atheist but my mother is a Christian, albeit not a very practising one. On the one hand, my father told me there is no God and on the other, my mother told me Jesus is God. I felt a bit confused growing up but ,when I was 17, I made a decision for myself: I decided there isn’t a God, He is made up. In the same way there isn’t — as far as we know — unicorns, werewolves or pixies, what reason is their to believe in a God?
Let’s face it: the universe is far too complex and mysterious for us to say there is a ‘God’. A few hundred years ago, way before the recent developments in modern-day science, a belief in God would have seemed plausible. However, due to the rapid advancements in society, we no longer have any reasons to believe in a Supernatural Being. If I have any belief, it is in science; one day we will eliminate God from the equation. It’s foolish and, in fact damaging to our society to believe in such a mysterious Being when, really, we should be concentrating on the here and now.
Furthermore, I don’t need a moral code or a religious scripture to dictate to me how to behave, I can rely on my own moral compass, thank you.
Karl Marx once said that his idea of misery is “submission“. And it’s true, why should I worship and obey this ‘God’ when, not only is there no evidence for ‘His’ existence, but I have no knowledge of this mystical entity. Why does ‘He’ want us to worship Him anyway, is He that greedy for praise? I once heard someone say: ‘When we worship Him, it doesn’t benefit Him, it benefits us’. Well, that makes no sense, how exactly does it benefit us? All it does is keep us in a state of heedlessness and delusion. It benefits us in that it helps to dismiss our deep-rooted, psychological need for a father-figure and provide us comfort from the inevitable: death.
If ‘God’ really does exist, why can’t He just come down and show himself to us, is He not able to? And the very reason we say ‘He’, shows the inherent sexism indelibly marked in our Judeo-Christian heritage and, in particular, religious scriptures.
Why would God put restrictions on us and tell us what to do if He gave us free will? Why would I believe in a God who tells me that I can’t go out and drink alcohol or eat pork but then implores me to kill non-believers and accept his other barbaric codes of living?
I am not perfect, but who is? I am sometimes accused of being arrogant and having a bit too much pride, but I would like to think I’m a good person. I don’t go round killing or hurting anyone – religious extremists and suicide bombers, however, can’t exactly say the same, can they? But then they are the ones who go to ‘Heaven’? I remember reading the Bible years ago and thinking: what a pile of tripe; the Old Testament in particular is so vociferously condemning of anyone who opposes the Law, and the New Testament is riddled with contradictions. And, if Christians can’t even explain the concept of the Trinity to me, why should I believe it? Admittedly, I agree with the great man himself, Richard Dawkins, when he says Jesus was a great moral preacher. While Jesus may have been a nice person, what reason is there to believe any of his metaphysical theories? I’ve read the Quran too, well half of it, I felt uncomfortable reading it and it was too incoherent to bother with. Muslims sometimes say to me: ‘Look at all these scientific miracles in the Quran, look how amazing linguistically it is’, or worse, ‘look how amazing the Prophet Muhammad’s life was: his kindness, humility and sincerity’ – yeah, he was pretty amazing, at being a war Lord, I’ll give him that.
I don’t need a ‘God’ to make me happy: I have women and money; I live in a big house and I’ve got a great car – I’m happy with all the things I’ve got in life; although I feel a bit disquieted when I’m alone sometimes. I don’t think I’ll ever believe in ‘God’, in fact, I’m willing to place a pretty large bet that I’ll never believe in ‘Him’.
If you have taken what I said at face value, you have not understood this – read it again, think and look at the italicised words.
I just heard a believer in God say: “Let’s be honest, we’re human being right, we’re selfish creatures. I give charity because I want to go to heaven.’ But if he is doing it because he wants to ascend to the delights of the celestial world, but an atheist gives charity out of the goodness of their heart, doesn’t that make the atheist morally superior?
As I elucidated in my post ‘Do we need Religion in the 21st century‘, one of the main purposes of religion is not only to wake people up out of their somnolent slumber, but it trains a person’s ego and helps them redress their innate personality defects. One such innate personality flaw is the predisposition of selfishness. For religious believers, selfishness is sometimes accentuated because of the promise of heaven. But religion is not a one-dimensional, simplistic ideology created to appease people’s fears and desires. It’s a transformative training programme designed to elevate a human being so that they can reach their highest being. True, God does tell people to do good to attain heaven, but God knows our psychology.
If we weren’t given an incentive, human beings, generally, wouldn’t do good. Of course, this is a generalisation, but it applies to many, many people world-wide. Many atheists do good out of the goodness of their heart, and although they may not know it, they may be greatly in-tune with their spiritual side. Others, however, aren’t in tune with their spiritual side and therefore need an incentive to do good. The point is this: by constantly doing good, one eventually learns to do it without much thought, and eventually, they will do good – not because of a reward – but because goodness will emanate from them naturally. This is the highest state of awareness a religious believer can achieve: when goodness emanates from them naturally.
This is the ultimate purpose of religion: it is suppose to wake a human being up and get them to stop performing religious rituals in a perfunctory manner, but in a way that exudes spirituality.
Let’s face it. The world is in a mess and nothing seems to be working. The reason religion is becoming more and more unpopular and is being replaced by materialistic systems like atheism, secularism and capitalism, is because of religious followers. The ‘followers’ of the world’s major religions can broadly be categorised into two: those who forward a distorted version of their religion, and those who aren’t doing anything to counter the distorted version put forward. Both are just as bad. Religion has failed to tame its followers, atheism has provided a shield of arrogance to atheists, secularism has stripped the world of a moral foundation and capitalism has promoted greed.
Let me start with the failure of the religious. How can a Christian, Muslim or Hindu or any other religious follower, claim their religion is the correct one without understanding or studying the others? And when I say study, I don’t mean listening to your pastor, Imam or Guru, I mean study the religion yourself.
Muslims need to understand the time in which they are living, and realise that their religion is compatible with any time and age. Just because it was revealed over 1400 years ago in the desert of Arabia, this does not mean that the religion can’t move with the times. The teachings remain the same, but our understanding of the teachings have to conform with the era in which we live. Muslims need to become more diplomatic, while using rationalism and science to propound their message. Muslims are so concerned about what other people are doing they often neglect their own character and ego. In the pursuit of denouncing other Muslims - calling them names like ’kafir’ (non-believers) - they often end up renouncing their own faith by labelling people with names they have no right to. My advice to Muslims would be to rectify your own faults before worrying about others.
Christianity, like Islam, is a proselytising religion that calls for the word of God to be spread. But when radical Christians claim Jesus is humanities only saviour, and without believeing Jesus died on the cross for our sins we will end up in Hell, people become profusely put off the faith. I have a Christian friend who once said ‘I can do what I want because the Bible says I’m going to Heaven anyway.’ It is this sort of hubris which is grossly off putting to those of other faiths. Christianity is a great religion which provides hope and exudes love. My advice would be to understand the true teachings of Jesus and understand the Bible in its true context.
The terms Judaism and Zionism have become synonymous, when, in fact, they are the antithesis of each other. The obvious difference between the two is that one is a great religion, which, at its core, has a set of moral principles, and the other, is an ideology bent on ethnic cleansing and the stealing of land. My advice would be for Jews to vehemently disassociate themselves from Zionism (if they are against it) so that the two terms are no longer conjoined.
The less proselytising religions like Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism don’t have the same problems. The only issue is that we hardly hear what these religions are actually about. People need to familiarise themselves with the beautiful teachings of many of the Hindu scriptures like the Bhagvad Gita and with Hinduism’s essential teachings of spirituality and harmony. Most Sikhs are genuine, harmless and devout people who just like to do bhangra and drink alcohol all the time (just joking). Sikhism, in fact, actually combines many of the best traits from the Islamic and Hindu faith and therefore is profoundly prudent. When one hears the word Buddhism, it naturally commands respect. True Buddhists live a life of sacrifice and peace with themselves and others, but interestingly, remain quiet on the issue of whether there is a God or an afterlife. Furthermore, their scriptures are a deep ocean of knowledge which, after a lifetime of study, will still elude the most erudite of scholars.
When I say religion has a problem, I don’t mean it in a literal sense. I mean the followers of the faith have problems; often quite profound and deeply psychological. The problem arises when the ‘followers’ use their religion as a tool to further their own selfish agendas. People often fight in the name of their religion when they don’t even understand the essence of their religion, and even worse, don’t understand the religion of those whom they are fighting. It’s oxymoronically stupid.
All religious believers need a more holistic and pluralistic understanding of their religion. We need to understand the essence of our own religions before trying to preach every intricate detail of our religion to others. Often, rationalists, skeptics, agnostic and atheist thinkers claim to be open minded but then assert their open mindedness gives them a natural superiority. The non- religious need to understand that religion is not based on ignorance but on the intellect and it is only the followers who use the former and not the latter.
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Having been brought up in a moderate religious tradition, I have been able to question, ponder and reflect over the purpose of religion. Many see religion as a sort of control mechanism, restricting the followers to blind belief, enhancing prejudice and, essentially, an outdated concept for people who are scared of death; so they choose to invent ideas about: a God, heaven and hell and all other sorts of methaphysical concepts. I, however, believe that religion is essential for society, as well as for the human psyche-and I will tell you why. Continue reading