Faith. It is a quintessential human trait. A feeling that runs through all of us a tone time or another in our brief lives. When we look at a beautiful sunset, or out at the stars in the night sky and we sit and wonder; what bought us all here? What caused all of this, and us? What is the meaning of this life, and what happens when we die?
The questions we ask are those that no one can answer, no one has ever come back from the dead to tell us where we go, and no one can step outside of the limits of time and view the absolute grand scheme of this experiment we know as the three dimensional universe. So for an experience that is so shared amongst us, for a feeling that touches almost all of us at one time or another in our lives, why does it cause such a problem on this planet?
It is one of the great plagues of the human species, the war over who is right. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Atheists, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Mormons, Zoroastrianism, Baha’i, Agnosticism, Paganism, Candomble, Jainism, Rastafari, Unitarianism, Taoism, Shinto or Santeria. Break them down further and you have Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Sunni’s Shi’ites, Otrthodox, Reformists, Literalists or Spiritualists. And there is, among the most heavily followed of these faiths, a great deal of problems that spring from their devotees.
Primarily, we see the major global strife between Christians/Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, and all of them and Atheists. Why? What causes this? And how can it be solved?
Firstly, let’s clear one thing up; the holy books of every single religion were written by men. Not by Gods. These men may have been claiming to take direct or indirect inspiration from God(s) – in the case of Islam Muhammad receiving word for word dictation – but there is not a single shred of proof for this, only the word of these authors. Whether you believe them to be true or not is up to you.
So, now we’ve cleared up that the divinity of any religious text is only alleged and purely speculative (and there is no argument on that), let’s try to understand why religion is one of the great sociological problems of our time.
The main reason that the religious are such pests (and in using the term religious I refer to atheists as well), is that they are convinced that they and they alone are right. There is a deep seated refusal amongst the human species to say “I don’t know.” This comes in the shape of many atheists as well, who, while they admit that they do not know how this current flow of time and existence came to be, many of them categorically rule out that anything supernatural had anything to do with it, comforted as they are in the belief (a key word) that science can – and will – eventually explain everything. That is belief; that is faith. We may reach a point in heading back towards the beginning of time where everything just suddenly happens; all scientific knowledge breaks down and no explanation can be found, creation (for example) just occurs, almost as if at random and by magic. Then, I think it would be pretty safe to say, that something beyond the simple limitations of science was and maybe still is at work.
But if this were the way of our world, with everyone stubbornly acknowledging their particular sect’s superiority over all others, there would not be so many regional and global crises that occur because of religion. If there is one word throughout history that can go hand in hand with the institution of religion, it is war. Not the wars that are fought for business (that’s a different article yet to come), but the wars that are fought on faith and for faith. The war that says I am right and you are wrong. This kind of war has several possible outcomes; ‘You are a heretic, you must die.’ ‘You are a heretic, you must convert.’ ‘You are a heretic you must leave this land.’ All three spring from that belief that one group is right and the other is wrong, and God itself says so.
Because it is only when the religious congregate and organise that they become really dangerous. Many militant atheists would love to bring about the absolute death of all religion, believing the world to be a better place without it. Many Christians would love to rid the world of the atheists and the Muslims, the only two major groups that are a threat to their unrivalled power. In this blind conviction that you and you alone are right, and that the nature of existence itself proves this, humans have and continue to commit terrible, terrible acts of harm towards one another.
The most current, and gravest, example of the problem of religious conviction comes in the shape of the Israel/Palestine conflict. One nation claims that the land is holy to them. The other claims that it is holy to them. One group claims they were promised this land by God and that The Torah confirms this. The other groups claims that their religion has always been based upon this holy land and that their Prophet ascended bodily from a section of this land. Neither will relinquish their claim, neither will back down. The internal politics within these religions then break out. Israeli terrorists attack and murder Palestinian people, grabbing their land in the process. Palestinian terrorists fire rockets into towns full of people. A fringe faction of Israelis attempt to escalate the conflict in the hope that it will bring about the coming of The Messiah. A fringe faction of Palestinians escalate the conflict hoping that it will bring about the coming of The Hidden Imam. Christian America lends backing to Israel, as they believe too in the God of Jesus Christ. The Islamic states lend backing to Palestine, as they believe that God is named Allah and that Muhammad is his Prophet. And the rest of us peace loving people who have and want nothing to do with it, us Christians, Buddhists, Sikhs, Atheists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Jains have to suffer because of these two groups of people that refuse to share.
What are we all to do? The Atheist would naively say “Kill the ignorant.” The Christian would say “Kill the heretics.” The Muslim would say “Kill the infidels.” The Sikh would say “Kill the unbelievers.” The Hindu would say “Kill the blasphemers.” All are convinced they are right. None of them have any proof.
And proof is what keeps these foolish ideals alive. Proof, or lack of it, is what makes a Catholic know that anyone who doesn’t follow the Bible is going to Hell. Proof, or lack of it, is what makes an Atheist know that nothing will happen at all. Proof, or lack of it, is what makes a Buddhist know that they will be reincarnated, or maybe even reach Nirvana. It’s a foolproof system that means you can never be proved wrong, and that your enemies will always be made to eat their own words. That is where this ludicrous Christian notion of ‘saving’ people comes from. “I’m only doing it because I don’t want you to go to hell.” To which you should always reply, “Disregarding the Bible, where is there any proof that hell exist or that I’m going there?” The other oft-used argument is the “Well what if you’re wrong?” To which you should always reply “Well what if we’re both wrong and we both get reincarnated as slugs?” Wouldn’t it be a disappointment to a Christian that when they reached Heaven they learned that there is no hell, and that Hitler has a bar there? Wouldn’t it be a disappointment to a Hindu to learn that the reincarnation he was expecting doesn’t happen, and that all his existence is over and was for nought?
These are the questions that would solve the problem of religion. These are the questions that would solve the problem of religious war, persecution and hatred. To point out to the Israelis and Palestinians that they are fighting over land for which their only claim is that a) an invisible man promised it to them during an Exodus that is proven never to have happened, or b) was the alleged sight of where a man bodily ascended into Heaven in a book that was so open to interpretation in its original form that it makes “What is art?” seem like a yes or no question. When an Atheist shouts down a religious person, ask them, “How did the universe come into being?” And when they’ve explained the big bang, ask them “And before that?” It’s speculative. It’s all speculative. Whatever helps get you through this complicated, irrational, difficult and crazy shred of reality we call life is fine, but when you start imposing it on others, when you start claiming that you alone are right, when you start calling other believers stupid and when you start warring over it because a voice in your head told you that the other people are wrong, you should really step back, objectively and say ‘What incontrovertible proof do I have that they don’t?’ Ignore the belief, ask yourself for proof.
If theocracies, churches built on bigotry and coffee houses full of intellectual superiority did that, we just might get a little closer to that God that lies at the end of every great question we’ve ever asked ourselves.