“Ignorance is a lot like alcohol; the more you have it, the less you are able to see its effects on you” – J. M. Bylsma
Not only Muslims, but all believers in God, irrespective of their religious belief, say that God is beyond human imagination. But that is not about his shape? It is about God in totality and as an entity? It is about his powers, prowess, reach and not his form? So, is it really true?
If 70% of us (as a society) believe in a God that watches over our lives, listens to our prayers, and occasionally intercedes on our behalf, then our conduct must reflect that godly change within us. But does it change us?
It seems that the question behind the question is “Why isn’t God answering my prayers even though I may live for Him?” This is a question that many believers wrestle with. It only seems fair that if we are living for God, then He will be inclined to give us what we ask for.
So, if prayers had really worked, then why would we need anything else?
When we are unwell, we go to the doctor and not to the Church/Mosque/Temple to be healed. When we want to fix our car or home, we go to appropriate professionals. When we seek justice, we turn to the courts, and hire lawyers to fight our cases. When we seek security, we call upon the police…
So why is it that we turn to fellow-humans and appointed civil officials when we need something? Why do we not take our petitions directly to that Big Daddy in the Sky and bypass the bureaucrats completely? We almost NEVER choose the path of exclusive prayers. Why?
Why should we need the law-enforcement establishment, legal establishment, military establishment, or governmental establishment, if we were under the vigilant eyes of God Himself?
In other words, if God has laid down some rules and can visit retribution upon those that flout it, then, why do we need to legislate or litigate at all?
- Could it be that although we talk about God’s prowess, deep down we are unconvinced by it?
- Or, could it be that although we get all satisfaction and consolation (and possibly strength) from this notion that we are under the protective care of the Almighty Deity, yet we cannot count on it, or God’s protection and care is insufficient?
- Could it be that it just feels nice to only “believe” and years of conditioning have ingrained in us the need for, and a value of, a security-blanket?
- Could it be that we are exhibiting the religious equivalent of the Stockholm syndrome, where captives (the flock) tend to view their captors (their faith) in a sympathetic light?
For, they do not believe in God!
With Godly sermons from behind bullet-proof glass podiums, the Pope never tires of telling us about the benign, the beneficent and the benevolent God, whose Almighty power is infinite and whose wisdom is beyond reproach. But, he does not seem to notice the irony of using a bullet-proof glass protection while extolling God’s greatness and power to mankind! If the Pope really believes that God is super-wise, ultra-benevolent and ever-powerful and if God really intercedes on behalf of the worthy and the deserving, then why does the Pope need the services of a bullet-proof screen and the Swiss Guards?
Well, could a wise and all-knowing God not alert His vicegerent on earth – the blessed Pope – if any dangers were lurking nearby? Or, could an all-powerful God not halt a bullet in its path? Better still, could a loving God with a sense of justice not inflict a fatal heart-attack on a would-be assassin? And, is the Pope or the Vatican counting on such a God or His alleged power?
The simple truth is that the Vatican is acutely aware of fact that the alleged “awesome” might of God is no match for the simple physics of a firearm, and that is why an enormous security infrastructure is in place to see what the Holy See cannot see?
Proof of the pudding!
Some may recall that on May 13, 1981, an assassination attempt was made on Pope John Paul II by Turkish Muslim Mehmet Ali Agca.
Was the Pope rushed to a Church? How about a Cathedral? A Chapel?
No – as a matter of fact, he was rushed to a hospital where surgeons worked tirelessly to save his life.
What would the faithful have said if the Vatican authorities had decided to take him to a church, cathedral or chapel instead of a hospital? Would this not be the ultimate test of God and the power of prayer, faith and belief? But when push came to shove, the Vatican, despite its enormous reserve of “faith-capital”, decided to rely on the skill of scientifically-trained surgeons.
What does this say about the Vatican’s professed “belief”?
After several days of recuperation, the Pope made his first public statement, where he gave credit for his hair-breadth escape to Our Lady of Fatima, saying that he believed that she guided the bullet away from his vital organs.
Prof. Richard Dawkins has astutely retorted in the The God Delusion that if Our Lady of Fatima was in the business of guiding bullets, why not guide it away from the Pope’s person altogether?
I would like to advance the same premise and ask: If the Holy See would approve of his wounded self being left to the kind benevolence of Our Lady of Fatima instead of summoning the surgeons?
But of course, such a question is never asked. In fact, it would be terribly unseemly and cruel to ask such a thing? So, we just ignore the baselessness of the late Pontiff’s stated beliefs and occupy our time gushing at his saintly devotions.
So, what does all this mean?
This is ‘exactly’ indicative to the norms of our discourse! Our stated beliefs are NEVER examined for their veracity. Instead, they are treated with fawning indulgence and fiction. Game, Set and Match to God!
Moreover, our cultural conditioning inhibits robust self-inquiry. This is also what happens when ordinary folks reply to polls. We are raised in the cultural context of parental faith and beliefs. A big part of the belief-system is that, faith itself should not be examined. In fact, faith is often brandished as a “certificate of character”. We are asked to demonstrate faith by doing things for God for attaining God’s favor. We are NEVER asked (or encouraged) to validate faith itself by checking if God will return the courtesy?
We are so culturally conditioned to “belong” to one faith or another that we NEVER call into question if we truly HAVE faith in the things that we profess to. Since, it is unseemly to inquire or validate whether we truly have faith, it becomes the default position. Is it surprising then that almost 70% of us claim to believe in a personal God?
True believers and soft believers!
In my opinion, true believers are only those, whose conduct is consistent with their stated beliefs in some meaningful way (just showing up at church/mosque/temple on holy days, singing in a group and handing out money does not count). Moreover, it should be clearly evident that their conduct would have been markedly different, if they did not actually believe in the things that they say they believe in.
Faith-based initiatives, for instance, if a person believes in prayers and miracles, and does not turn to a doctor if he/she were to be afflicted with disease and only resorts to prayers – then that would be “true-beliefs”. To sensible people, it would also be stupid, but that’s a different story! For Islam, despite having a reasonable life if I were to resort to Jihad as a religious and benevolent duty at a great cost and misery to yourself and your family (and of course, the infidels), then that would be “true belief”. To civilized people, it would also be genocidal, but that’s a different story!
If you were to engage in suicide-bombing the infidels based on the belief that martyrdom is mandated by Allah, and for which a reward of eternal carnal pleasures awaits you in Jannat (72 Heavenly Virgins), then that would be “true-belief”!
It would be sexually-induced suicidal mania, but that’s a different story too!
And the final point!
Acting like true believers
If you see the patterns in the examples above, “true-believers” are the same ones we ordinarily call “stupid”, “genocidal”, “maniac”. In short, we call them “extremists”! If it is true that extremists are fringe-minorities, then why are we inflating their ranks by lumping the imbecile non-true-believers with them?
Of course, these non-true-believers aren’t always innocent country bumpkins either. Indeed, many of them are cynical manipulators that prey upon and profit from the emotional needs of ordinary folks. We can call them fraudulent scoundrels, and deal with them separately. But, we certainly don’t need to call them “true-believers” either!
My point is that the numbers of “true-believers” are extremely over-exaggerated. The composition is more like:
- There are some true-believers (stupid, suicidal, genocidal and demented peoples).
- There are some fraudulent rascals (Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ted Haggart, Satya Sai Baba… Ahmed Deedat, Zakir Nayek, et al.).
- And then, there are a LARGE number of people that are simply part of a group they were born into, and have not fully reasoned their way out of the contradictions of “belief system” as yet. Maybe many never will, but that is a different diagnosis than being a “true-believer”.
Since societal norms place a high value on being “a believer”, and provide no encouragement to examine whether they “truly believe”, a person typically does not hit an inflection point where he/she can break out of the normative state of “being a believer”. Thus, an average Joe/ or Jane, born into an average family, goes through life being counted as a “believer” without really being one?
The framework of our discourse sanctifies such a shaky construct by drawing conclusions based upon it. If, for the sake of arguments, a poll were to examine the veracity of claims, and then pencil them into the category of true-believers and others based on the broad outlines above, we might find that atheists actually exceed the number of “true-believers” (how many people are willing to forgo medical interventions in favor of prayers; if they have an about-to-rupture appendix?)
Intellectual progress is a battle of ideas between those that court reason and those that court scriptures and tradition. Any critique of religious ideas seems to take the complexion of scorning a vast populace! Sadly, the framework of our discourse has enabled these religious righteous to not only claim a larger base, but it has also enabled them to be used as human-shields (because you cannot criticize a religious tenet without being told that you are hurting the sentiments of the multitude).
And, this is I know, as the late great Mahatma Gandhi said, “God has No Religion”!
Read Part 1
To be continued…