Saturday, January 23, 2010

Religion, Tolerance, Intelligence

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, 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.


The Wallflower said...

Interesting thoughts. Well put. You cover a lot of ground here.
To start, I must say I agree with that very astute young lady you mention at the start. :P

To be tolerant of a religion, is to acknowledge and respect the fact that while you may not agree with most (if any) of its principles, to many who follow it is a source of strength, a system of belief, a lifestyle even. And though you don't see eye to eye with them, you are big enough to accept them and their choices.
Look at it another way, say your friend (of the same gender as you, for the sake of this argument) is of a sexual orientation other than yours. Would you judge him? Would you disown him? Or would you just accept him for his choice, his life being his own? That is the essence of tolerance. You may not agree with the other person's point of view, but you respect it. As long, of course, as it causes no harm to others.

I don't condone anything destructive done in the name of religion, but you have to realize that what is labelled religion today, is a far cry from what it started out to be. "Organized Religion" is but a (flimsy) cover for individuals attempting to impose their will on others. Religion started out as just another name for faith and a means to instill in man virtues of love and compassion.
Having said that, I do agree we've distorted this concept so much to suit our own interests, it's hard to not to think religion is dividing us. In truth, if you look closely, you see that's it's man and his pride, ego, that's really what is causing this devolution of sorts.
What we need, I believe, is to stop using religion as an excuse to indulge in things immoral (a term we have trouble identifying a common definition for) and to stop attacking these activities on the pretext of religion.

As for God though, all religions started out preaching him to be, in a way, one's own conscious. What we've done with that thought though, sadly doesn't need any elaborating.

True. While we've come a long in understanding the universe, what we've yet to comprehend is far greater than what we've follow so far. Interesting suggestion about using new knowledge to attempt a better explanation of religion. But it is true, that most of the religious customs were just ways to reach the masses with messages ranging from things as simple as hygiene to as controversial as social conduct.

Totally agree on that, religious belief, just another parameter for judging people. One of the top ones (race being another) that we have a very hard time in being unprejudiced of.

Liked the analogy about Atheism. Just like you can't categorically prove the existence of something, you can't deny it with certainty either. That's why I prefer Agnosticism.
Though, personally I like to think I'm a believer. :) If only to know someone's got my back. And the enormous relief in the belief that I'm not carrying the burden of being able to control everything.

letronje said...

@The Wallflower:

Blogger wont accept my loooong comment , here it is =>

Infinity said...

I have to say I agree a lot with Wallflower(keep a constant id will yea?!). Anyways I do have a lot to add to both of your ideas. Hopefully will do that in a coming blog post.

Anonymous said...

From this article looks like you are not funny at all. Have sense of humour. Be happy. All these scientist guys are demi-gods to you. Richard Dwakins is very knowledgebale person but he is not as knowledgeable as it looks.
Actually looking at your arguments(past articles...) you are hitting dead mouse. How can you argue against creationists and all those who say god has said something, 10 commandments, mythology, demigods etc. It doesn't require much intelligence to refute those kind of claims supporting god. It is much like killing almost dead mouse, doesn't need much courage.

Why am I saying you all this. Serving our curiousoity isn't ultimate aim of life but being happy is.
If you think religion is evil and it has caused some harm to you personally, I will say you fight against religion. If you are good then you will win. But understand that parts of religion affected by evil are amplified. Even science is not a great thing if you see. Thousands of people die in war beacuse of science and nuclear holocaust etc.
Science is new doctrine even it wil get affected. Part of that is already started with science claiming there is no need of god.

As a general observation: Christinity as a idea seems to get affected by atheism easily. But Hinduism(as idea) seems to be pretty much immune to atheism because it has stood test of time.

Christanity is efficient but buggy I guess. 10 commandments and things are easy to understand and apply but are susceptible to arguments by people like you(After installation of evolution 10.0 and richard dawkins 2.0, christanity 50.7 having problems running. Looking for fix. Atheism 0.55 found but system still not at optimum level. After installation of Bhagwad Gita 10000.5 and Skepticism 2.0 un-installed. all programs running fine and ready for new releases of evolution and science).

Hinsuism remians unchallenged in the minds of people far more intelligent that you.. me :) Just kidding...

Well take care. Nobody is perfect and nobody knows ultimate truth. I m not in opposite camp but you might be hitting on wrong targets and wasting your energy.

Anonymous said...

letronje said...