This is a post about religious people, religion, atheism, and agnosticism.
It is not meant to offend anyone even though it most likely will.
There was an episode on TV recently that was discussing “Atheism” that I happened to catch by chance, despite the fact that I almost never watch TV. You can see the episode on this link but if you are more or less familiar with the very basic arguments for and against Atheism, it is not worth watching much as it doesn’t go into any depth beyond the first arguments level. The guest invited to argue on behalf of atheism was in fact agnostic but no one seemed to know or care about the difference. More importantly, his constant replies of “I don’t know” were in fact misinterpreted by most of the other guests (and I’m sure also by most of the watching public) as signs of weakness and lack of deep thinking, rather than the meaning which he was trying to convey. He was in the non-enviable position of “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” but his choice to resort to short “I don’t know” answers led mostly to the two religious men present (one Christian and one Moslem) to end up almost talking down to him and trying to “save his soul” while he respectfully listened…Even his respectful listening was misinterpreted as strength from their side and weakness from his, rather than as evidence of an educated, thoughtful, polite man who was trying to play by the rules of a polite debate…I was reminded of this quote:
“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
Anyway, as I said, not really worth watching, but still commendable for approaching a topic that in general people are not comfortable tackling publicly in the Middle East.
Watching the episode while reading the live tweets that were using its hashtag made it clear to me that most people do not understand concepts that some might consider as a given, clear, or common sense. Here are some takeaways from watching this debate and reading the tweets:
- The arguments of most religious people are based on “truths” that come from their own religion. They use “facts” and givens that they believe in as the basis of an argument in which they are trying to convince the non-believer. It is as if I tell my nephew, “This light bulb in your room is the source of all light in your entire apartment.” He believes me (and that is his right), and I become his holy man. But then his sister does not. She tells him, “My room is lit by my own bulb, not by yours. The living room is also lit by its own lights, not by the one in your room. Most importantly, the entire apartment and what is beyond it is lit by the sun, but we cannot see the sun because we are inside the apartment.” Her brother then replies, “But you are wrong, and you are wrong because this is what Uncle said and I believe him. Don’t you see how wrong you are?” I’m not sure this is the best example to demonstrate, but the point is most religious people believe (the vast majority not by choice but by chance) what their religion and holy books say and then seem to embrace it as universal truth even when they are arguing with someone from outside that whole belief system. “How can you not see this? God Almighty has said it in the Holy Qura’an (or Bible), are you saying God is wrong?” euuuhhh…but I do not believe in your version of God that you chose to believe in, and therefore you cannot have a valid neutral debate using arguments derived from your own belief system. This bit of seemingly straightforward common sense seems completely lost on most who argue in the name of their religion.
- One cannot deny the strong rational arguments that atheists have against the existence of God. But as mentioned above, once cannot really hear these arguments if one is firmly entrenched in his or her chosen religious constructs. The most amusing are those who say “Don’t talk to me about these things, I don’t want them to shake my beliefs!” This deserves a whole separate post.
- Clearly there is a widespread lack of understanding of the difference between Atheism and Agnosticism. (I will not insult the intelligence of anyone reading this post by trying to explain the difference here, but I have included links to Wikipedia definitions). Everyone who does not believe in the standard Abrahamic God is lumped into the same box, whether a believer of any other non-monotheistic religion, an atheist, or an agnostic (to mention only 3 big categories). Again, this derives from this fake self-righteousness that any religion seems to bestow on most of its followers.
- Another point that seems to be missed by most people is the difference between being religious and being spiritual- which is ironic as most of those who claim to be religious rarely move beyond the rituals of their religion to any deeper spiritual meaning, or even to the basics of ethical behaviors that being religious is supposed to promote. It is a sad truth that the primary driver for many to practice religion is fear or insecurity rather than a desire to elevate the spirit and become a better human being. Moreover, they fail to understand that one can be completely non-religious, and yet feel a very deep sense of spirituality and a connection to something much bigger than the self, without needing to cloak that “bigger thing” or creative force or whatever you want to call it in a religious form or anchor it in some mythical story.
- Finally, most religious people fail to understand that the power of belief comes from the act of believing itself rather than from the thing that is believed in. You can give the deity you believe in any mental form or physical representation that makes you comfortable; it can be God, a cross, an icon, a prophet, a holy person, or a multi-handed green goddess…the power comes from the actual energy of the belief, not in what or who the belief is directed towards. It is the power of your belief that makes you able to potentially alter energy and even reality (and say that your prayers have been answered) and it is irrelevant what is the form or name of that to which you direct this strong energy. Most religious people fail to see this nuance, but once they realize this tricky truth, they might find it much easier to rise above the shapes, forms and rituals of religion, and embrace a more agnostic approach to religion and spirituality that is much more comforting, much less conflicted, and much more elevating.
Thank you for reading this far; I realize this post might offend some people and that some might think of it as too harsh on people who practice religion. Of course I completely recognize that some religious people are also spiritual and very accepting of other practices, but they remain a minority. In addition, I cannot but maintain that those who achieve true spirituality cannot continue to entrench themselves too deeply in any one religion. They by default will start rising above myths and rituals and recognize that at the core, all paths lead to the same place, provided one actually walks on a path while deeply accepting that the path next to it is equally valid, and that they can lightly hop on and off any path at any time without any consequence. The important thing is to keep moving.