My temporal intelligence is not up to mark and since this happened a few weeks ago, I don't remember all the details exactly, but here goes. It started with my tweet on how I hate attending religious events and was wondering how to avoid being invited to them without sounding insensitive or offensive or weird. I got a reply from a supposedly "over thinking" (as per her blog profile) girl purporting that being non-religious implies "tolerating" all religions.
I am not sure what it means to "tolerate" a religion ? Recognize it ? Respect it ? Not be distasteful in public about it ? .....
OK, lets try to look at it from the perspective of a deeply religious person. Wouldn't it be difficult for a person, who *literally* believes every word in their scriptures, to respect other religions? Most religions dictate their god to be the "real" god and the others to be false ones. Each one has their hell. All Christians are going to the Islamic Hell and All Muslims are going to the Christian Hell :) Whenever a devout Muslim looks at a Christian or a Hindu, he/she thinks he/she knows they are wrong, they are all Kafirs or Infidels to him/her. Same is the case for Christian nut cases, they want to "save" everybody from the Christian hell by helping them accept Jesus as their savior(conversions?). And given their belief systems, it is absolutely OK for them to think so because that's what their scriptures say and they believe every word of it. But most religious people aren't like that, they pick n choose. Is there a Christian who can claim to obey all the 10 commandments to the word ? Don't we all lie sometime or the other? So, can you be devoutly religious and still be tolerant/respectful of other religions?
Now, for a non-religious person / non-believer, most supernatural religions appear the same. They are organizations showcasing blind faith, superstition that usually expect unquestioned respect for authority. But the underlying question is, Do we need to respect every possible idea/belief that people come up with ? Don't we laugh at people(at least a little on the inside?) who think eclipses are evil or black cats crossing your path can fuck with your future or who believe in tantriks or who claim to see ghosts? Do we respect the idea of religious terrorism? or that women shouldn't be educated and shouldn't enjoy equal opportunities? or the idea of child marriage ? We know some of these ideas are silly, some are just not worth our time, some are bad and some are good. We know terrorism is a bad idea because its destructive and violent and has no rational justification. Do we want to live in a society where individuals are allowed to murder? rape ? Of course not! and that's how we come up with some of the basic laws(trivial way to explain, i know). We come up with our morals with a similar process. Some of it is innate. Some of it is part of the Zeitgeist, i.e, it keeps on changing as time passes. It was *ok* to have slaves in earlier times, not now! Of course, not all decisions are that easy, but my point is that we have been doing it ourselves, because, we can!, as a society. So, what's so special about organized religion?, its just another idea(a redundant and dangerous one, ready to be misused). Why give it this untouchable position if all other ideas can be contested, scrutinized, criticized and be laughed on when needed. Can you, as a believer in the supernatural, reason logically about your belief? If you can't, you ought to be subjected to the same criticism that all ideas are subjected to.
Most organized religions based on the supernatural have a notion of a supernatural creator God. But the funny part is that, God is something that doesn't even have precise and a commonly agreed upon definition. Every religion, every sub sect and every person has a different view(Don't think so? read the "God & I" column in TOI or just ask people around you). Even without a precise definition, its an idea that has no real reasoning, let alone proof. The assertion of the existence of such an entity opens up a chest of many more questions that are unanswered. The problem is that we still don't fully understand our own existence and the universe in which we exist. Our early ancestors were incapable of explaining it conclusively(even we can't do it). They needed something or someone to shoulder the responsibility of explanation because the human mind is at peace when it's convinced that it understands things around it(even if really doesn't). They applied analogies like "Every complex thing we make has a designer(us), so the nature and us are probably designed too?". They invented all sorts of supernatural beings to explain stuff. What they didn't know was that they were just transferring the responsibility, they haven't really explained anything. So, the religions we now have, are just refined versions of the guesses and stories that our ancestors could come up with. That's the best they could do. But we have a much better idea now - Big Bang ? String Theory ? Chaos Theory ? A-bio-genesis ? Evolution by natural Selection? Multi-verse ? It's our job to discard old mistakes and embrace new ones and be ready to invalidate these new ones if need be.These old ideas might have spread as a side effect of certain behavioral changes that had survival advantages. For e.g childhood obedience. but that's a different topic altogether.
I also got replies from a colleague of mine who noted that religion is not what is dividing us and that religion has no correlation with intelligence. As an example, he mentioned Euclid, who was a great mathematician despite being very religious. I haven't looked that up yet, but the general idea is that "Even Intelligent people can be devoutly religious, so Religion has nothing to do with intelligence". I am not really sure about that primarily because Intelligence is an umbrella term for a lot of things and we don't have a conclusive way to measure it yet. There are all sorts of un-categorized intellectual capabilities that we still have no idea how to measure. So, Euclid might have been a great, uber "intelligent" mathematician, but he failed in applying his reasoning abilities on his own belief system. So, I might not understand euclidean mathematics even if I devote every minute of my life, but I (and millions of other people in the world) are better than him at the ability of applying rational arguments to one's own internal beliefs. And I am not saying that religious people are dumb people with no intellect, they just fail to apply it on their internal data structures, that's all.
Another point of discussion was whether it was ok to judge people based on their beliefs. We judge people all the time in all sorts of random, crazy ways that sometimes even we aren't aware of. skin color, facial beauty, physical/sexual attractiveness, body language, communication skills, social status, perceived intelligence, taste(music, food, ...), social behavior, ...so on, the list is endless. And, our behavior is often biased, based on the results of this elaborate judging system, no matter how hard we try not to, it's just built into us(for evolutionary reasons). So, beliefs and ideas and convictions are just another way to judge people. What I mean by judging is sorta like what happens when a post is submitted on reddit. You upmod for all the good stuff and you downmod for all the not-so-good stuff. So, for e.g , in Euclid's case, for all the mathematics and intelligence => Upmods, for not applying it on his own beliefs => downmods.
Another interesting point was whether atheism is itself a belief system. I don't think so. What is Atheism? Its just a rejection of a belief system that talks abt a mysterious creator dude in the sky. Its not an ideology, a philosophy or a world view. Identifying yourself as an atheist is like being being an aghostist or an afairyist or achildmarriageist. Its a word that, ideally, shouldn't exist at all, like all those other made up words.Also, Isn't it kinda arrogant for a person to assert with 100% surety that you know the answers to Life, Universe and Everything, when you hardly have anything to bolster that claim ? When I deny the existence of the supernatural, I deny it with a probability. Since the people who claim to know of the existence of the supernatural for sure, don't have any evidence/proof/reasoning to back their claim, I consider the probability of the same to be very close to zero. It's foolish to assert complete knowledge of anything.