Showing posts with label Faith what is it. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Faith what is it. Show all posts

Friday, May 10, 2019

Changing Religion & Your Future In The Hereafter: It Has Several Pitfalls

Changing religion may have legal implications in the country you live. But, those may be considered temporary, also because life itself is temporary. Your future in the hereafter, is eternal. Religions have different answers to life after death. It's wise to consider that, also related to those you might want to share it with. And, study the religion you take in interest in. As I said before, it isn't impossible to keep your rights to goodness in the hereafter, when leaving Islam. But, there's no guarantee -- nor is there a guarantee you will be reunited with those you love. Supplication for your deceased loved ones, however, will increase their (and your) chances to paradise and a reunion with those you loved.

Second aspect you may need to ask yourself, before changing religion, is this:

Was my religious conviction, so far, untruthful?

If it's untruthful, it says a lot about my whole environment: Family, upbringing, education, and religious or other scriptures and literature I may have read. Latter aspect, study of scriptures, should be done or rehearsed, before making a change as drastic as religion. Denying an aspect of your past, ie your religious outlook so far, may be denying certain parts of yourself and those immediately around you. It's not something to think lightly of.

And, there is a third aspect. In drastic, unusual situations, in times of persecution and war violence only, it is allowed to killed those who left our faith, says Qur'an. Hadiths confirm killing of apostates. It's possible to give these texts a sincerely positive twist:

It is always, always possible to return to faith, because your membership is forever, even if you have been elsewhere.

Just like the lost son, mentioned in the Old Testament. It is always allowed to forgive and re-embrace. Unless you committed atrocities and didn't intend to stop them.

Applicable Qur'anic verses:
2:62, 3:85, 5:69, 2:256, 4:451, 9:113, 13:23, 32:17, 43:70&71, 50:61, 52:21; 60:1-10.

Hadiths of Sahih Bukhari:
Book 2, Belief; Book 88, Apostates.

Sources & Further Reading:
Islam Question & Answer

Thursday, March 24, 2016

We Think We're a Big Deal, But, To Allah SWT, We Are Only Small ~ So, Do Well & Do Not Destroy

Can you see how perfect she looks from afar: Our joint home?

I tried a sketch of Earth seen from space, and this is what Earth could look like.

Look, how perfect she is. The colors of seas, deserts, woods, and the air around her. The Moon may be visible, too.

I want you to think about it. For good reasons, it all was mentioned in the Koran al Kerim:

'There are some who declare: 'We believe in Allah and the Last Day', yet they are no true believers. They seek to deceive Allah and those who believe in Him: But they deceive none save themselves, though they may not perceive it. There is a sickness in their hearts which Allah has increased: They shall be sternly punished for their hypocrisy. When it is said to them: 'Do not commit evil in the land', they reply: 'We do nothing but good'. But it is they who are the evil-doers, though they may not perceive it.' (2:8-12)

'Believers, Jews, Christians, and Sabaeans -- whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day and does what is right -- shall be rewarded by their Lord; they have nothing to fear or to regret.' (2:62 & 5:69)

'O ye assembly of Jinns and men! If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of the heavens and the earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass!' (55:33)

'Allah does not forbid you to be kind and equitable to those who have neither made war on your religion nor driven you from your homes. Allah loves the equitable. ...' (60:7)

'He created seven heavens, one above the other. His work is faultless. Turn up your eyes: Can you detect a single flaw?' (67:3)

These words are written for you too -- you, who reads them now. No matter if you're a public official, a politician, or an average citizen like me. No matter if you call yourself a Muslim or anything else. Make no mistake about it. It's not allowed to randomly blow up other people, nor to excuse those who do so. And, whenever you try and do such, you can't change the universe anyway. From another planet, you are hardly visible; you're not even a crumb in space. So don't wast your energy on causing death and destruction.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Why-Questions For Ourselves

The oldest question in the world. It has general and personal aspects.

Honestly, I think we can't answer the general aspects. We don't know beyond doubt where we came from. Religions have all their own answers, sometimes in full contrast to one and other. I have gradually learned to rely on myself. "Why am I here", "Where am I going", are questions usually approached in a moral fashion by religions. It may be a help cord for humanity to hold on to, but is it an answer to the question? The role of humanity in the scheme of things on Earth, is seen as a task, by religions. And its future is determined by the way humanity carries out this task. The problem then lies, again, in the differing, sometimes contrasting answer furnished by religions. Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism basically say, though in differing ways: The human soul is forever; its future in the afterlife is determined by how the living man or woman behaves during life. And there's an invisible, omnipotent creating God who creates, decides for and judges us, and everything else. But the stories of these religions are different, and so is their worship. Buddhism says: there is no invisible world behind this, this is all there is and has been, there is no creation, and the human soul isn't immortal. Personally, I think that all religions cast their light on an aspect of the truth that was revealed to their spokesmen, usually referred to as prophets. Why the stories differ, is an answer God only knows;) Or only some answers can be proved to be true or false. Islam still is my own religion, but I can't confirm that the prophet Muhammad, pbuh, really met archangel Gibryl, and that Gibryl truly came with God's word. We can't prove it, no matter how valuable and truthful its content may be. That is faith: Acknowledging something to be truthful or valuable, without having falsifiable evidence. The consequence is, that none of us have the right to forcefully impose our non-falsifiable convictions on other people. That also goes for atheists.

I think, that Buddhism has a point here, it's view can be retrieved with Ibn Rushd, for those who like to know if there's a parallel with Islamic views somewhere. I agree with them and think there was no first creation. Mass cannot have emerged from the non-existent. That's technically and absolutely impossible. Non-existence isn't empty space, because space is existence. Therefore, mass must always have been there, which doesn't mean there has never been empty space. Empty space is always mass-related. Like Ibn Rushd, I think, that God is working within the universe, as the force within it. God may be time, the law or force of nature, an abstract concept. God cannot be compared with anything at all, says the Qur'an. There's no god, there's just the law or force of nature, but that's not god, atheists say. When the Bible says, that "the earth was without form, and void", it may say there was a first creation of our present planet and the other celestial bodies, but Genesis leaves open whether it must have been a remould of something else, another mass. The story in Genesis may sound contradictory to scientific knowledge and even to itself. An aspect not irrelevant to the age-old question, is that other religions have their own stories, that may also be impaired and proven-untrue.

And then, how about thinking of where we're headed to. The afterlife. Is there nothing, or is there a retribution, where justice is restored? It's always been approached from a moral point of view, even by atheists. We should live righteous lives in order to attain a good afterlife. Or, vice versa, we don't need to... etc. The only thing not eagerly considered, is the possible preparation to a bad afterlife. A life in Hell. If Hell is forever, shouldn't we learn now how to live in pain, or at least in unpleasant conditions forever? Shouldn't we learn to accept evil as part of a whole that may have good in it, simply because the whole 'needs' this aspect. We're not taught to deal with an eternal painful retribution. (How we should, is another issue.)

All things considered, I think it's better to keep things personal. It leads to always-relevant and tangible answers to the age-old questions. Why am I here? Where do I go? I stick to things I know. I came from two parents and a long line of ancestors. I live here, because I was born nearby. I have children, they have my genes. Why do we live somewhere? Because of family, a partner, or friends cherished enough to be counted as family. Because I like the town I live in. Because of a job. But I think that most people tend to find their livelihood near family and friends. The chance is realistic, that I'll stay here too, because it's not easy to leave and then live away from family. Why do people leave the vicinity of family and friends? To be with a partner. It may be uniting with an existing partner, or traveling to a country or town where a partner is likely to be found. It may also be necessity. If it's impossible to find a source of income or affordable housing in the vicinity of family and friends. Yet, I think that most people hesitate to leave their country or city for work only, no matter how tempting the prospects may be. There should be someone or something else too, to make it worthwhile to live alone in an apartment far away from home. That's how it works for me. In all honesty -- a partner, or family and trusted friends somewhere else will make me move away more easily than only a great writing gig. The chances are realistic, though. And it's best to recognize that I'm not sure what will happen after death, and try to do my 'best' as is recognized as such in my community, including not causing harm to others.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Conflict Zone: The Laws of Nature as Part of Religious Belief

From now I'll approach the issue from a religious point of view. There is a certain tension between the choice for the best solution to which even God finds Himself bound, and God's Omnipotence. Is it thinkable, that even the best solution is only a choice for the Creator? We have growing knowledge of what the earth must have looked like several millions of years ago, we acknowledge change in species of plants and animals, and change in layers of stone and relief. Continents have shifted and weather conditions have changed. Remote stars have exploded millions of light years ago, and perhaps only two weeks ago space agencies have witnessed their supernovas. Therefore, on the longer term we see the universe change, usually gradually; sometimes dramatically immediate. On the short term, however, we see a stable, well-structured natural and human environment. Each individual has its characteristics, and variations within the species do exist. However, within the species very little difference and change occurs. Species feed from each other and need certain conditions in weather, soil, water presence and temperature. Whoever observes nature, notices a delicate balance between the many different living creatures; the elements they need for survival -- water, air, fire, earth and each other; and in the bigger environment -- the celestial bodies, light and darkness. As far as we know, these elementary basics behind nature have not changed. Celestial bodies move in the universe, and certain forces we now know to be magnetic and electrical fields, keep them apart and bind others to their orbit. These forces prevent those on their surface from being thrown off. Some of the celestial bodies cast light and others don't, but they enjoy the benefits of this light.

Natural phenomena and the apparent rules they listen to, may be a stimulant to religious beliefs among people and sometimes most emphatically not. However, the rules and systematic order in empirical nature perhaps belong to the main issues of conflict between believers and non-believers of religion, but also between religious believers. To some believers, laws of nature are a profane effort to belittle God's Omnipotence. To others, these laws are part of God's delicate and immense creative genius. Atheists have a big problem with this first group; the idea of an omnipotent creator not bound to the laws of nature, is to them a sign of ignorant popular belief meant to frustrate or smother any empirical research. Research and development may be skipped as unnecessary, in this approach. The idea that God alone creates when, how, whatever He wishes, indeed answers the how to-questions with an easy skipping of the how-to's. 

How contradictory is trying to answer questions about a creator within the framework of natural possibilities and the law of nature? When we think about God being omnipotent within the absolutely possible, it is not so contradictory. It is obvious that going back in time is not possible, division by zero neither so, and that God exists within the existing. God cannot be in the non-existent. It is also obvious that the balance of nature is a consequence of practical possibility. Animals need to protect themselves from natural enemies and possess therefore certain colors, qualities or capabilities. The bigger question behind this is: Why does the animal have an enemy, why is there a universe at all? This is a question that religious scriptures like to answer. For this reason, as said above, it is very appealing to combine the easier answer to the how to-question of how God's might works in the universe -- God creates whatever, when, and why He wishes -- with a traditional prophetic scripture explaining why we all were created. It is a very easy way out and never wrong to use these answers. It's why religious scholars traditionally used them both in popular works for ordinary followers and in elaborate studies among their peers. But the answer is a shallow one and not satisfactory to more inquisitive minds, as the concept of unlimited divine omnipotence clashes with absolute impossibilities, such as those mentioned above. Besides and last but not least, traditional scriptures differ not only between main religions, but also between schools of thought within religions. How do we come to terms with that, if at all.

Especially in modern days, with empirical scientific knowledge having grown so extensive, it is necessary to now and then consider natural boundaries to divine omnipotence. However, ancient and medieval philosophers as Aristoteles and Ibn Rushd considered the laws of nature -- not yet with this name -- as an essential part of the universe. They believed in intermediary forces by which God works in His creation according the rules of the truly possible. I think, therefore, that if it's impossible that God works and resides in the non-existing, God must reside in the existing, and that He can't create the existent from the non-existent and vice versa. If God is eternal, so must be the universe: An ever changing, yet well-structured, fully obedient creation by the eternal God, without first beginning. Like God Himself, matter and moving forces were always there.

Empirical or Logical Truth

We don't know what God looks like and don't even know for sure if God exists, and how He works in the universe. For this reason people say: Every person his or her own truth. Empirical evidence to back up religious ideas is missing here. However, deduction makes clear that there should be one answer to the question what the divine power looks like, and how it works. Maybe one day people will get the possibility to observe God and gain empirical evidence.

Gathering empirical evidence is not possible for abstract concepts like numbers and time. They are universal standards that are unable to create or live for themselves; they are no "creatures." But through deduction and arithmetic it is possible to distinguish even from odd, early and late, or to find the answer to two minus one. It is not possible to imagine another answer to these logical questions, so absolute logical truth exists.

There is a discussion, however, about alternatives to empirical truths. Is it possible to imagine miracles -- in other words, alternatives to the scientific fact that water boils when its temperature reaches 100 degrees Celsius, or that every object can only fall down and never up or sideways? Scientific thinkers usually do not allow exceptions to scientific facts and will say that such an exception violates the absolute truth of the laws of nature. Some religious thinkers say that God will make exceptions whenever He wills. And other religious thinkers don't even recognize the laws of nature, as those cannot dictate the Omnipotence of God. God is creator of these laws and can easily get rid of them. Is logical, absolute truth to be applied to the laws of nature? Gods Will cannot make three plus four nine, allow time to go back and drop objects upwards. I think divine allmight means that God can create anything within the limits of the absolutely possible.

Absolute Truth is More Than an Abstract Exercize

"Everybody their own truth" is seen as an ultimate truth, but how about "absolute truth -- is it logically possible"? Reading "Incoherence of the Incoherence," written by the Islamic philosopher Averroes, Ibn Rushd, brought absolute truth, as a conceivable concept, nearer to me. It is true, that minus multiplied by minus, results in a positive. This is not merely a mathematical agreement to make arithmetic easier -- the linguistic approach may display its true meaning. Saying "our neighbor never didn't have a dog" means that our neighbor always had a dog. This is a simple example. Truth says something about possibility. Is a certain phenomenon possible? It is not possible to divide a number by zero. Vice versa, multiply a real number by zero and then expect another real number other than zero as an answer. Possible? What do you think. Another example. Two plus three is five. Not four, not ten. Numbers are absolute eternal standards; they aren't produced items with a limited life span.

A more difficult next step would be considering existence versus non-existence. Do we ever consider what it really means: Non-existence. Is it possible to create non-existence. It is possible to create a void, an empty whole, but this is not the same as not existing. Non-existence is the absolute nothing and such is not possible in combination with existence, because matter, space, and form stand in the way as concrete, truly existing phenomena. It is possible to change a fire into air, but not into entirely nothingness. Creation and non-existence do not match, creation and change of form and matter, however, do very well. Creation of empty nothingness means disappearance of matter and form, and this implies, that these latter two have to move somewhere else. This somewhere else means an existing place or a new shape.

Averroes' main opponent, the theologian Al Ghazali, believes that God's will is enough to create non-existence and new existence alike, and also that His will was enough to create the universe from nothing. His line of thinking has been followed by the majority of the Islamic world, however, also in the Christian world it has contemporary followers. Modern thinkers consider the possible occurrence of a "big bang" to be the initial creation, by a Force that may be called God. Other modern thinkers contemplate a possible intelligent design by a Maker that consciously and deliberately develops new species and landscapes, or even new galaxies. Al Ghazali saw no limit to Divine power; Ibn Rushd, however, believed in absolute possibility versus absolute impossibility. Divine Omnipotence to Ibn Rushd does not mean creating the impossible, but abstaining from the impossible and being able to create everything that is possible.

The second issue is time. Creationist believers think that God in His Omnipotence creates within time. Time can be abolished and re-created by His will, and time was created when the universe was created. However, is it possible to create the universe from the non-existing? Who would do that? An existing force: God. This means that absolute nothingness is impossible. If God is eternal and limitless, it is inconceivable that God should have originated from something or somewhere. Not even God can exist in the non-existing, so creation in the non-existing is equally contradictory. It's a jolly idea, nothing further. In order to understand, it is better to consider the universe. Is the universe just our heavens and earths with their galaxies? What if there is another universe bordering "our" universe, or that ours was preceded by an older one and will be followed by another universe. And a heavenly trash can for everything that has been destroyed by our Lord. This does not solve the main issue, namely that all this belongs to the same divine creation. Therefore, it is impossible to conceive non-existence as a creation, as the difficulty of matter will stand in its way. There will always be God left and the other parts of His creation. Considering all this, it is possible to conceive a destruction of the universe when it is preceded and followed by creation of something else. On a limited level, it is possible to imagine non-existence. Time in all this is an objective standard and integrated eternal part of existence. Time measures the lives, temporary existences and movements of individual items in creation, and it is no creation by itself, according to Ibn Rushd.

Al Ghazali, however, says that time was created when the universe was first created. At first sight it seems possible to invent a time zone for each planet, each galaxy, but that does not solve the issue of creation itself, existence as a whole. If there were more time systems possible in existence, it would be possible to imagine a shift of universes in their order of appearance. An existing universe could trade places with a future universe. The hereafter could trade places with the present life. This is not possible, and it shows why it is not possible to imagine more than one universe or creation. Time and non-existence as a creation by God seems a nice exercise of thought rather than real truth, to Ibn Rushd. There is only one universe, and it answers to certain natural truths that we nowadays call laws of nature. Time dictates the order of events independently and equally for no matter which item or event in the universe. Like numbers, time is an absolute eternal standard and not bound to any individual item with a limited life span. Is this Divine will?

Orthodox or Liberal Faith

The difference between orthodoxy and liberalism in religion concerns the appreciation of freedom and choosing between your relation with your God, on the one hand, or with other people and everyday life on the other hand. Liberal religion however, does not necessarily correspond with more freedom. Freedom is also an issue for orthodoxy. Orthodox religion emphasizes good knowledge of religious traditions and also obedience to them. Those believers who sincerely want a relationship with their God, will do what He asks them to do, in the ways as prescribed in the religious revelations. It would be arrogant not to do so, and arrogance comes from lack of love. The next question is whether the orthodox believer takes the freedom to display his or her love for God to the rest of the world. If only his own wishes matter, it would just be an issue of honesty and self-discipline to fulfill the required rituals and wear or use the prescribed items. Honesty and self-discipline as signs of humility and sincere love for God. An orthodox believer will see hiding religious worship as an act of hypocrisy and self-deceit, but also as an act of disobedience to the foremost important authority we have: God. After all, none of us have seen God, and we cannot proof the non-validity of traditions and rules, we are small in the universe and don't know much. God, however, is omnipotent and knows best what is good for us. In the orthodox view following traditions and rules is therefore in our best interest. However, the possibility to display orthodox religion is limited by other people and their beliefs. In a pluralistic society, this is an issue still non-settled. Which religious practices can be allowed and where? So orthodox believers find themselves restricted in certain freedoms, and they have to find emergency clauses in their religious systems that allow them to skip these acts of worship, at certain times and places.

Different is the situation where orthodox religion is mainstream and part of the political and legal system. In this situation it is natural and easy for the faithful to practice worship -- sometimes it is even compulsory by law. Orthodox believers, however, do not necessarily disapprove of this compulsory character. They see their political leaders also as leaders in religion. They should enforce practice of religious rules on society, in order for it not to disintegrate and protect society and individual people from misbehavior. God, after all, commands the faithful to make sure His will is carried out as prescribed, and let justice thus prevail. The society should be a reflection of God's plan. Religion has to offer the issue of how to deal with minority thinkers. To what extend can they express themselves, occupy high positions, acquire land, and even choose another religion. The attitude to minorities is an important bottle neck for the success of the orthodox religious state, because it is the community's first display towards the bigger world.

Liberal faith prefers to emphasize the individual and his or her personal, self-developed faith. Traditions and rules still play a role as a historic reference worth to study, and as a collective asset necessary to bind the members of the community closer. They are considered teachings that form the identity of both the individual and the community. But liberal faith does not prescribe strict obedience to rules and tradition. Liberal faith tends to emphasize our not knowing the value of religious sayings: We don't know how much of them really is of divine provenance, and we do know that many communities don't follow our traditions and rules. In order not to offend those with other ideas, religious worship should not be enforced on people and not be practiced outside the own community. Secularism is therefore more often found among liberal minded  societies -- however, not exclusively, nowadays.

At first sight liberal faith seems more tolerant and open than orthodoxy, but this may be deceptive. Whether people are open and tolerant, is a result of not fearing other ideas and people. Fear may smother broad mindedness in the core. Another factor necessary to keep an open mind, is willingness to gain knowledge. Study of any book or profession, or travel to other places may develop the mind, and this attitude can be found among liberal as well as orthodox people. The opposite of fear is acceptance of others without fearing loss of own identity. Allowing public expression of other people's ideas and ceremonials, is a sign of open mindedness. It is best to admit that not every liberal or secular society possesses this tolerance.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Faith, Philosophy, and Abstract Concepts

Religion and philosophy have in common that they cover non-empirical thinking on life and the universe in general. Therefore philosophy is a non-scientific branch of thinking. At best, if practiced at an academic level, it may be seen as an art or a humanity. Academic philosophy tries to answer the why- and how-questions of life in a how to-manner and tries to do so through reasoning without judgment. Thought-experiments and reasoning are it's main tools. Ideas cannot entirely be proven through empirical evidence. Through other philosophers' literature and the media on political and other developments, however, solid information may strengthen a philosophy. These developments can very well be objectively observed facts and lead to a valid conclusion through deductive or inductive reasoning.

Philosophy is, like religion, basically a non-protected discipline. Like believing, thinking is free. No one needs permission to think -- it is part of our innate nature, like breathing, walking and observing. Through the ages, however, people have tried to pose restrictions on the outcomes of thinking and observing. Every amateur may think and therefore talk, but will his or her words be seen as philosophy? In order to avoid the situation of re-inventing the wheel, academic standards have been set for philosophical thinking. If philosophers want to achieve academic status, mastering the literature of their predecessors is usually seen as minimum requirement. We may call a theory a philosophy when it is possible to falsify it through deductive or inductive reasoning and then lead to a proved axiom, a true statement. Trying to avoid re-inventing the wheel is not the only annoyance that scholars want to avoid; they also want to avoid 'errors' in thinking. This is a no-end area, because what is a mistake in thinking? How can we prove error? In deductive, logical, cause-consequence dominated thinking it is possible to expose errors, but the error may be restricted to the method and not to the truthfulness of the mistaken thinker's idea. It is possible to decide, that artist X does not belong to the Dada movement, but is it possible at all to deny X the artist status at all? Dadaism used a certain starting philosophy on which it based it's creative methods, therefore we can say that X may be called a Dadaist when we see him follow the Dada-philosophy and -methods.. To defy X's artist status, we have to set creative standards, and that is open for debate. When is a person's creativity 'big' enough to be called an artist? This question loses its rhetorical status, as does philosophy, as soon as other interested people set certain minimum standards and in many cases economics are involved in the answers. Would you and other people spend money on the artifact, and are there any similar artifacts already? So economics have a say in standards for a 'good' academic and artistic product, in so far that they decide the product's value, but they do not answer if the product is truly good.

A piece of visual art, or a stage performance, is a tangible item. Philosophy, however, also engages in abstract concepts like freedom and in the concept of granting permission to others to spread their ideas and products at all. In that case it is a far more complicated issue to set boundaries to expressions. One may say that a publication is not good enough to 'allow' it a place in art and literature, but is it possible to forbid publication at all? This last question has philosophical aspects with possibly political implications. The various peoples on this planet set their own boundaries to philosophical freedom.

Abstract topics are philosophy's main field of interest. What is time and what is its function in history, movement and space; what is morality, and what function does and may it have in society, and what are the boundaries to freedom and choice. What is art, what is beauty, what is knowledge, what is existence, and when do things exist. Faith in a god or a creative force is part of philosophical thinking. A more imperative dimension appears, as soon as people include philosophical teachings in their legal and political systems, in their daily life, and this is not confined to religious systems only. The ideal of democratic thinking and decision making, and the ideals of freedom, equality and solidarity for each member in society, are not necessarily religious ideals. What's more, in western culture most people say that these ideals can only be achieved in a non-religious system. Democracy is in modern westerners' thinking not possible in a system where a god reigns supremely over society, because God's power is seen as an invented yet unlimited force with no boundaries and no free space for human beings. Philosophy, in other words, plays a role in setting boundaries to freedom. It tries to set standards for acceptable ideas, and behavior based on reasoning. Philosophy also tries to look beyond the visible truth of observation and tries to give this or these invisible truth(s) a place in society. Again, setting boundaries is important: What place and what authority do we give these truths, and how does society deal with transgression of their territories? This is a question with big political implications, because it deals with real people and their fostered ideologies they even fight for.

Learning -- gaining knowledge from other thinkers -- is greatly appreciated in philosophy as an academic discipline and it appears to be absent in religious faith. To some, faith is -- logically speaking -- the most simple discipline there is and yet the hardest to live by. However, among religious people even the first part of this sentence is not true: True faith requires knowledge of a revealed truth descended from the deity and therefore also knowledge of the prophets' lives and sayings, as they were the mediums between God and the people. For this reason most religious communities value the opinions of academic scholars who gained important detailed knowledge of religious traditions. They are the people who set the standards and make compulsory religious decisions -- sometimes for individuals and sometimes for the entire community. However, how far their power may reach, remains a source for heated debate between communities and also within them. As long as the religious community has faith in the validity of traditions, they tend to lend more weight on them and on those who gained academic knowledge of them. In the Christian community, the thought has has gained prevalence, that tradition may not be truthful and reliable. In the Islamic community, however, the faithful consider their tradition reliable enough to trust them as authoritative. Maybe it is about time to take this Islamic claim seriously. The Islamic umma needs not be discarded as silly to believe in its own tradition. Valid proof to reject Islamic tradition should be found and if not, then outsiders should make an effort to at least respect its status as reliable. It is not without good reason, that the Islamic umma still follows its tradition. The first step towards tolerance of other people's ideologies is honest and respectful treatment of their contents, even if one does not believe or follow them.

When Religious Scriptures and Phenomena of Nature Meet


The metaphysical world of divine revelation in the scriptures, and nature as a divine creation, are two fields that touch each other. It is a known fact, that descriptions of several natural phenomena, and of historic events in religious scriptures, were proved true by scientists and archeologists. This match between both worlds is also a big inspiration for those in search of religious experience. However, those who will never accept religion to be true, make it their life's work to prove there is no link between divine revelation and science, as well as that scholars in the ancient days had enough scientific knowledge to write a truthful religious scripture on their own.

Abstract phenomena like time, good and evil, or the afterlife are are topics that typically belong to the religious outlook on life. Their abstraction makes them an important field of interest for philosophy too, as philosophy has a certain common ground with religious thinking. Philosophy usually confines itself to the how to–questions behind abstract phenomena, like time or morality. Religion also tries to answer their why–questions. Natural phenomena very well lend themselves to pondering about how a creative, operating force could make them tick, but also to researching them in a more scientific manner. The meeting between scientific knowledge (also among ancient or nature–oriented, animistic peoples) and religious systems, is often fascinating and spectacular. Natural phenomena are used to fortify religion with empirical evidence. Many peoples have reached great creative and scientific achievements on this path. Some societies mastered astronomy remarkably well, in an early stage of human history, such as the Persians, ancient Egypt and Greece. The Persian astronomers kept detailed and accurate records of the night skies, that historians even today refer to. Belgian author Robert Bauval thinks, that ancient Egyptians knew enough astronomy to use their knowledge of the Orion belt's course and constellation for the design of their king's graves in Gizah. In 1995 he published his book "The Orion Mystery" about this topic, and about the role the Orion belt may have played in ancient Egypt's religion. It seems very likely, that there is no truthful combination possible between ancient Egypt's poytheism and islam's strict and abstract concept of only one God. Yet it is true, that the position of the Gizah pyramids is an exactly proportioned copy of the Orion belt, and it is also true, that their constructors valued astronomy, in their religious concept. Bauval had noticed, that one of Orion's stars, and the star Sirius, both precisely lit the narrow corridor in the Cheops pyramid leading to respectively the King's and the Queen's Chamber. The function of these chambers has never been discovered, since there were no graves and mummies present. Therefore, many people have thought, that the bodies were stolen from the chambers. However, it is also known that ancient Egypt used to bury it's dead in the earth, which isn't present in these chambers either. Under the watchful eye of main custodian dr Zawi Hanwass a range of archeologists and television stations speculated over the possible purpose of the pyramids. The doors between the air shafts leading to the King's and Queen's Chambers from the outdoors, were discovered by robot engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink. Dr Robert Bauval, however, thinks as a result of investigation into these air shafts, that the pyramids were no mausoleums and that they had a broader religious worship function. The Orion stars and Syrius may have represented the supreme god and supreme goddess, Osiris and Isis; the country's king and queen; and the future of their dynasty. And dr Bauval thinks, that no king could politically afford such extravagance in his personal grave monument.

However, religions offer different tales about the origins, structure and movement of the many creatures in the universe. This is an awkward aspect of religious thinking, that may leave the faithful dumb and numb in face of the atheist claim that religious thinking is untrue. There is no proper scientific answer to this issue: Why do the stories of creation in various religions differ. The popular answer is, that the various ancient peoples, who lacked much of the sophisticated knowledge that we have now, invented their own answers to life's problems, and to the philosophical questions of why we are here, and where we go. No matter the awkwardness of issue: There is usually no hard evidence of such fabrication. What's more, the majority of the stories cannot be falsified in an empirical, scientific way. It may very well be true, that religion has its own truth, parallel to that of science. We may believe in it, or reject it, but we cannot discard it as a set of lies. And those who came up with them, are no longer with us. Yet, we have enough reason to enjoy the benefits and wonders of the resulting valuable cultural heritage, and to make practical use of 'holy' items in everyday life. A holy plant used by a traditional Brazilian shaman may thank its holiness to proven medical qualities, which in modern times have been rediscovered by reputed multinational drug manufacturers.

There is, however, also a field between natural science and abstraction that may have religious aspects, which may cover psychology and the humanities. We see their results and they are, as said earlier, suited for a scientific or a medical approach; nevertheless, they are invisible abstract concepts. It is a statistically proved fact, that young, healthy people think differently about how to spend their money, than senior citizens in a nursing home. There is, according to most religious scriptures, a soul, but no one has ever seen it. The same can be said for emotion and preference. The book of Islam, the Qur'an, says the soul resides in the heart; however, a scientist will say that the heart is no more and no less than an muscular pump for our blood. Difference between individuals and communities leads to different scientific theories, but only in natural sciences their validity can be fully proved. In the humanities this is not always possible, because they deal with these abstract, invisible concepts. Customer satisfaction can be measured, but it may only partly be predicted and interpreted. Why people behave and think the way they do at a certain moment, is not easy to predict either. Or to interpret, sometimes. This is why different theories on economics or on psychology do not necessarily lead to the best solution, yet they may continue to co-exist. Communism has been rejected as not useful, however, its offshoot socialism still exists in a diluted form in economic and political systems. So does Milton Friedman's liberal market system. Yet, economic thinkers have used religion in their ideas, sometimes in a rejective fashion and sometimes quite the opposite. Something similar can be said about different approaches to psychology: Behaviorism is not the same as introspection, yet both are still applied.

Robert Bauval's web address is

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Other Sources of Belief Outside Religious Scriptures


Until now, written sources of religious belief were mentioned, but there are other sources of a less traditional nature. Scriptures have some scientific basis, as some of them have been proved true, either in content, or by archeological findings. This is one of the reasons, why religious scriptures haven't completely lost their authority over the leading groups of society. The other reason is that their information can openly be shared by everybody. It is still considered acceptable to involve the clergy in social events like weddings. In many countries people may, even in court or in parliament, pledge their allegiance on an important religious book, or on God's name.

Other phenomena, however, usually cannot be shared by more than one person or group and appear only once. Yet, unusual events that apparently contradict the laws of nature, have a great impact on people. Some of them, for instance baby Jesus talking to the people from his crib, were written down in religious scriptures (in this case the Bible). They have been used as an example to people of how God may defy the laws of nature to show His power, or His mere existence. Other phenomena, like God's name written on fish, corn circles, crying Madonnas, and Hindu Ganesh-statues drinking milk, find a way towards the media and cause quite a stir among believers -- and skeptics. The first obvious question is: Is this truth or setup? The second question may be: What is their message, and who sent it? Is it God's way to manifest Himself to man; is it something else? These are fascinating phenomena, yet we shouldn't call them divine revelations, as their origin is unknown. Believers may call those phenomena, when written down in their scripture, a phenomenon of divine origin meant to be a sign to mankind. Therefore, a divine revelation -- where provability is another issue.

These mysterious events and phenomena have a non-religious aspect too. Some people possess qualities like clairvoyance. Sometimes, detectives of police use their services. This is, however, a danger area, as many people have commercially exploited their 'gift' when there was none. Especially the medical sector seems prone to people who use obscure tactics instead of scientifically acknowledged methods. For this reason, several religions, Islam for instance, have forbidden the use of magicians, and so does the law in many countries in the majority of necessarily–protected fields of interest. However, religion and society don't deny the existence of 'supernatural' phenomena either. There is a big difference between a magician or a quack on the one hand, and supernatural phenomena on the other. But since we usually can't prove the difference when we need it -- we only view in retrospect -- prudence is the best way to deal with the subject.

The most important source of belief other than scriptures and supernatural events, however, is life itself -- our planet with all its inhabitants, the earth, water, sky, and the other celestial bodies. Believers see nature and its delicate system as enough proof of God's existence. Only a careful, highly skilled planner–creator could produce a system as immense as nature and the universe. The miracle of birth, and the fact that each human being is made within the same complicated structure that we still don't fully comprehend, is proof of God's existence and power, they say. This is an abominable concept in non-believers' eyes. Nature is a power in itself, of which we will finally gain full academic knowledge. Then we shall see, that all those gods and scriptures were inventions of politicians. The idea that one of the many scriptures might be more truthful than others, is not very tempting to non-believers. To many people -- among whom also some who do belief in God -- religious scriptures are nothing but man–made legal and political works. Religious scriptures are a necessary prerequisite to proper belief to some -- and a mere jammer to others. And indeed the wonders of nature are enough inspiration to some to believe in a divine creator.

Difference in Belief as Source of Conflict and Open Question

Once we spend some thought on belief, we inevitably meet the issue of plurality in religion. Is the origin of a new religion or a religious school of thought the work of a thinker, or is it a new divine revelation? This is the most essential, as well as the most unanswerable question. However, the consequences of new religious ideas are considerable, and it is up to all of us to lead them into desirable directions. It is tempting to accuse a religious innovator of self-invented holiness, for what proof can he offer. And what proof can we offer, for that matter! Tolerance towards difference in religion and religious innovation has differed through history, as religion as a factor of truth and order in society has differed. In times that religion had a limited role, tolerance of dissidence increased -- apparently. Sometimes the ruling class was tolerant and had to put up with a minority that claimed to hold the final truth. For instance, in the Roman era the conquered peoples were allowed to leave an image of their god or gods in the Pantheon, together with the other gods, among whom the Roman gods. The freshly emerged Christians refused this, because their main concept was that of one unique god, next to whom no room is allowed for other gods. This apparently threatening attitude ended Roman tolerance towards Christians. Even today we witness persecution and oppression of minorities, sometimes even the majority of a people, by the dominant religious group.

Why does it exist: Intolerance towards dissident thinkers and believers?

Change of religion is always accompanied by guilt feeling, both in the person who changes religion, and in the people around him or her. There is fear for divine sanctions when a person leaves the truth, and there's painful self-criticism of those around him. And what is truth, when we have no absolute knowledge of it. Leaving the faith is therefore a painful process, also for the bystanders, who fear for the dissident's well-being and future. A change into the opposite direction -- from liberal or atheist thinking into orthodox religion -- is considered no less a threat to the modern, freethinking bystanders, than an individual leaving orthodox religion to a devoutly religious society. Apart from that, no one appreciates rejection of cherished truths. Guilt feeling, fear for unknown sanctions, and hurt pride are as much cause of religious intolerance as hunger for power is. These fears are also the reason for religious communities living in separation from each other. Most of all, the individual's transfer to the other community is sometimes felt as an extra threat, and therefore it is surrounded by heavy prohibitions and barriers. As soon as people perceive that their opinions have not been proved to be necessarily and obviously superior over other people's, tolerance towards others is likely to increase -- unless those others persist in defensiveness. The pure fear of the other's possible intolerance and conquest-greed leads to intolerance and defensiveness. Another way towards more tolerance is fatigue of intolerance, and the violence it leads to, or the lapse of time. Tolerance comes from within ourselves, however, we depend on others to practice it. Often people scream before having been hit, when we all should remember that we make tolerance and freedom ourselves, by our willingness to listen and negotiate with others. It takes trust not to immediately assume an aggressive propagandist agenda in others, when they open their mouth about their religious and other beliefs. This is a difficult yet compulsory task, if peaceful and pleasant cohabitation is what we want.

It should be noted, that there is a big difference between liberal and tolerant belief. Orthodox beliefs can be tolerant, when the believer enforces them on him- or herself only. Enforcing a view is not the same as propagating and stimulating others to follow it. As soon as liberal views are forced upon societies by law, and it's inhabitants disagree, one may wonder if they loose their liberating force. The most tolerant philosophies have been forced upon people through canon barrels and concentration camps. There is no natural connection between orthodoxy and (in)tolerance.

We also should note that ties of family and friendship are not confined to nationality, language or faith. People marry and make friends across the borders. This urges to lessons in trust and tolerance.

Divine Sanctioning Versus Atheism


The other topic atheism wants to abolish, is divine sanctioning. Believers cannot imagine, that nothing comes after death. Every religion promises some form of life after death, either in a new world, or within the universe we know. Sanctioning behavior and intentions, good as well as bad, during life by the divine power or divine judge, is seen as an essential settlement. The aim of life and its meaning is improvement of position in the hereafter within a divine plan. Atheists, as rejectors of a divine plan and divine judgement, see this as an invention of power–greedy politicians to legitimize their position. Man's striving for power and rankings is in their view a biological selection-mechanism from which the strongest specimens triumph and survive in the end. Exercising power for power itself is another important motive for exercising religious dominance over others, according to many. Godly sanctions are as much a human invention as God himself, even when the intentions were decent. In the non-religious view, religion in the best sense of the word is a regulating, civilizing institution meant to avoid chaos in a society that gives little room to empirical, technological knowledge gathering.

The main item that non-religious people campaign against, is legal sanctioning of behavior, as part of a life based on religious scriptures and religious ideas. How can a human–invented authority impose limitations and penalties on living people? The usefulness of the sanctions is not the issue here.

For believers, however, divine sanctioning has a more complex, differentiated meaning, as determined by their creed. Sanctioning in the hereafter means in religions the final settlement of injustice or of negligence people may get away with in the present life, and 'now' the good ones aren't always properly rewarded for their good actions. Some religions consider divinely–inspired punishment carried out by people as a purification before the hereafter comes.

A special, complex place is reserved for divine sanctioning in the present life. The religions give their own answers to events like natural disaster, illness, death at young or at quite old age, but also to difference in wealth, intellect, race, or species. What is either underdevelopment, or its opposite, high development, to man – a punishment, a reward or a test? We can ask ourselves these same questions for dumbness, red hair, or for achievements that are highly valued – or, contrarily, that are considered highly destructive. Can we say that wealth and intellect are divine rewards – a proof that He has better intentions for the person blessed with them than for the disabled, sick slum inhabitant? Or is it the other way round? To what extend can we see living conditions, events, and people's natural abilities as God's work? A believer answers according the scriptures he or she adheres to, but also according his or her own philosophy. The vicissitudes of destiny cause the differences between people, which is sometimes seen in a negative way, and sometimes as a task to assume responsibility for each other as a community. Where non-believers reject any divine role in events, believers have – according their creed – specific answers to this question: Is God good, does God want good for mankind? The answer is not uniform. However, we see in every religion a connection between God's judgement and man's reaction to good or bad luck, as well as specific recommendations or tasks on how a believer should react to good or bad luck. Good and bad luck are part of the examination task for man.

In cases where high emphasis is put on divine sanctioning, religion poses high demands on the faithful. We may call a faith 'strict', when it strives for justice. It introduces aims and rules for behavior and for intentions, all with appropriate sanctions. The fewer second chances are possible, the more important becomes obedience to the rules. Islam acknowledges only one chance: This life. It will be judged, and we hear whether we go to paradise or to hell. Hinduism acknowledges reincarnation: The next life offers a new chance for improvement. The most liberal forms of religion, which we can find among several Protestant churches, do not acknowledge any negative sanctioning in the hereafter. Such easygoing faith doesn't strive for bringing law and order, nor does it pose demands on society and politics, and it doesn't need a forceful reigning god. The influence of religion on society should be limited, and faith is a binding emotional value rather than a source of guidance. There is an interesting aspect to liberal faith: Why, and on who's authority, have negative sanctions been abolished? One may wonder whether the adherents want to drive out the darkness for another reason: Fear. The big punishing snowman doesn't exist when we close the curtains. Does it work? Or is it arbitrary one-sidedness, for one. It is impossible to dogmatize about it, since we can't see what's in store for us.

Some religions see a connection between social and economic position, on the one hand, and divine sanctioning, on the other hand. Hinduism has a clear and simple view: Those who did well in the previous life, now enjoy a high position in society, and those who didn't, may now have returned as animals or as low–ranking people. Some Protestant schools of thought believe that good or bad behavior has no influence on our fate in the hereafter; they think that our behavior and fate in the hereafter are determined before birth. Islam abstains from a moral judgement on social-economic position and on good or bad luck. It emphasizes the way the faithful handle these events and these living conditions. A believer is always grateful and loving; punishment can also imply purification leading to a better afterlife.

Disbelief: Another form of belief or a creative expression of independence?

In the modern era, we have seen people at a large scale loose belief in a god and holy scriptures. Especially in Europe and other countries of the west. However, scriptures like the Bible and Qur'an mention disbelief in God, and there are historic accounts about atheists during the Caliphate of 'Ali, son in law of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Every Biblical prophet had to cope with non-believers, this fact being the reason behind their mission: Trying to familiarize their people with God. So non-belief in God is not new, though nowadays it is (or seems) more widespread.

The reasons for disbelief are not only disbelief in a deity altogether, and disbelief in scriptures that proved to be incompatible with scientific knowledge. There is also a strong disbelief in the role of the clergy and a sense of disappointment in God as a source of goodness. The second reason – the influence of science – is in the west a relatively modern phenomenon. However, the first cracks in the Church's infallibility appeared during Renaissance – perhaps the most famous crack was Galilee's theory of the earth being round in stead of flat. The other three reasons for disbelief are more universal and exist in probably any culture and historical period. Not every person is interested in a truth that cannot be proved, but why is this the case? Why does one person accept God and does the other reject Him? And why do some people accept God in spite of natural disaster (like early death or tsunamis), or human corruption in His most prominent servants? Why do these very same phenomena scare others away from God? It seems impossible to solve, and the issue makes clear that belief is a matter of personal perception. Believers see their own existence and perception as sufficient proof for the truth of their beliefs – a thing that non-believers cannot accept. Rejection of the metaphysical world, however, cannot be proved to be solid judgement either. There is no proof that a metaphysical world doesn't exist. There is nothing wrong with rejecting holy scriptures that proved to be untruthful, nor with rejecting a corrupt religious organization in society, but that is of quite a different order than metaphysics. The scientific approach has many merits, but it is a limited one. It does not answer the questions, nor does it display the places that are beyond our shared observation.

So disbelief in a deity basically is another form of belief, no matter how sophisticated it may be worded. The question that follows, is: what is wrong with disbelief being another form of belief? Belief in a deity is a subjective, perceptive approach to life, but so is atheism. Belief stops and knowledge begins as soon as a phenomenon has been empirically observed and displayed to others. This is not (some say not yet) the case with the metaphysical world of God. Belief has become the bad apple in not only the west – it is blamed for oppression of the free will and for hindering scientific, economic and political development everywhere. There is some truth to that, as we have seen religious clergy in oppressive roles, but do the people really find more freedom in non-religious systems? The first thing we should acknowledge, is that we know many secular systems, but very few non-religious, atheistic systems. Communism is an atheistic political system, but apart from communism, there aren't many. Most other countries allow a role for religious political parties in their political landscape and even in their legislation. Almost every country acknowledges national religious holidays, to name something. We could go a step further: creating a formal atheistic state is incompatible with our nowadays most appreciated form of government, namely the secular state. It implies that atheism is the state doctrine and favors atheism over belief in God. What can we say in defense of the atheistic state as a liberal and equitable system? We can defend such a choice once atheism has been proved to be the truth beyond any doubt.

Contrary to what many think, disbelief in God is not a new phenomenon. The Biblical and Qur'anic scriptures give us many definitions and descriptions of disbelief in God. The Qur'an also accentuates that nonbelievers see their rejection of God as some form of modernity. What is modern about disbelief in a god? Religious scriptures are old, perhaps they are the oldest we possess. It appears that the first religious revelation came with the first man and that the first man raised us to be religious. The unprovability of God's existence, of which the Bible even makes a formal statement since Babel Tower, makes it likely that also in early days people came to doubt His existence. However, belief in God seems to have preceded rejection, hence the modern aspect of disbelief. This brings us to a second question: What is more difficult, to believe or to disbelieve in a god? Is disbelief reinventing the wheel, or is it an expression of creativity, sophistication and independence?

If we want to answer whether disbelief in God is just another form of belief or a creative and modernizing force, we should think about the aim of divine revelation.

Divine revelation in the first place intends to introduce the deity to man. Who is He (or they, or She), what is His plan for His creation, what is man's place in it, what future has He in store for both individual people and mankind.

Secondly, every revelation gives more or less detailed rules for how people should live together, and how they may or should communicate with the deity. If God is approached the right way, following established protocol, a relationship between God and man will develop. Rules for cohabitation of people with each other and with other creatures are important components of the ritual worship of God. Religious rules are to be applied for the whole life span, and therefore they demand discipline. We may classify discipline among the difficult aspects of belief. One of atheists' main criticism against religion is its dislike of obedience to God and religious verdicts. It is seen as something not belonging to the naturally curious human mind to believe in an invisible abstraction and therefore part of an oppressive tradition. The idea of obeisance to an abstract, non-empirical concept, God, is unacceptable to atheists, especially since there are more than one of these abstract concepts, religions. Only concrete, absolute truths should be enforced on society. Hence the modern preference for a secular system, a preference now also existing among many believers. The idea of not formally enforcing abstract concepts is not a prerogative for atheists, however.

On the other hand, not only atheists consider religious belief a less committal approach to life. It seems easier to believe in something of which absolute knowledge is absent than having to prove it. Therefore we can afford some freedom in our actions. Knowledge demands precision, whereas faith doesn't. We don't absolutely know if God exists, so how much do we need to worry about God's judgement or God's sanction to disbelief. Plus we do not absolutely know to what extend God 'needs' our commitment and obedience. Is God Himself enough, or does He really need our love and prayers? Is our life, our future in God's power? Will God grant fulfillment of our wishes for the hereafter, as we can't reach Him directly? The by nature easygoing commitment of religious belief gives great joy and space to the believer, which is the easy aspect of belief. Belief invites creative people to express and visualize their beliefs, and this visualization makes it possible to share beliefs with others. This challenge has inspired people through the ages to great works of art. However, also the creative process not only needs discipline; the believing artist inevitably stumbles upon the impossibility to observe the deity, the soul, mental processes, and the metaphysical world. Yet faith is a source of creativity and this creativity is perhaps the most attractive aspect of faith.

Non-absolute commitment to the faith, however, also explains the phenomenon of the corrupt and oppressive clergyman who does not live by his own religious rules – even he does not really seem to fear. Persistent faithfulness seems to be difficult, even for the clergy, even though the clergyman, as much as anybody else, has his own personal integrity and discipline. Or lack of it, all depending on the individual, when surrendering to invisible values. This commitment to the principles of an abstract concept, and the discipline and integrity it demands, is the difficult aspect of faith. Therefore it is not as self-evident as it seems: Religious belief as the lazy alternative to independent thinking.

Obedience to God, scripture and religious clergy seems a non-creative, easy way out of the exercise of forming oneself a life philosophy by free thinking and research. This is why atheists see believers as uncreative, credulous people. Those who believe can rely on the comfortable guidance of an expert organization. The believer has, in the view of the non-believer, an easy. Every question about every aspect of life is promptly answered by scriptures and their highly schooled authoritative commentators. Creativity, independent thinking, acquiring knowledge; and perhaps most of all; self determination are off-limits to believers – unnecessary also, in the atheist view. Indeed this makes non-belief in a god a difficult choice: What should come in place of a religiously inspired society and life philosophy? Can we really, by our own force, invent a system of values and rules, let alone make it consistent? A believer will answer to this question: Everything we think and act, our entire being, is under divine guidance, even when the deity grants us freedom. Therefore man cannot act independently, or at best within restricted fields, where the deity allows it. The non-believer says: Man emerged from natural processes where no god was ever involved. Man must on his own force build a just society and not hide himself behind self-invented, non-empirical philosophies, which are no more than organizational simplification instruments – harmful to detergent philosophies and most of all, to the truth. In the non-religious view, truth is no more than empirical observation and the conclusions thereof; everything else is mere opinion, "every person's own truth", or the unknown yet to be discovered. Non-believers are especially proud of how scientific achievement could improve comfort for man, and all this apparently against the sayings of the religious scriptures. Indeed technological and medical knowledge could enervate parts of the religious scriptures. And also traditionally low ranking people could emancipate from religious taboos that proved to be incompatible with reality. Therefore, much seems to plea in favor of the non-religious outlook. However, still no answer comes to the question why many topics in religious scriptures are dealt with adequately, as shown by archeological findings. Nor to the main question that science cannot answer: What does the secret room behind the blind door look like. So it is not necessarily true, that religious belief offers more ease and security than atheism. Too much emphasis is also laid on the social aspect of religion and too often people forget the most important personal choice that believers must make every time again. The choice for a religion is a choice for an abstract metaphysical world, not for a group culture, even though that may be a natural choice, especially when we choose for our family's tradition.

Written revelation as main source of religious belief

The relation of the human mind with the supernatural, metaphysical area is an unknown field to us. We have not been able to observe God and therefore God's existence itself is a topic of debate. We don't know destiny, the future, and no one has come back from the hereafter to tell us about it. We do not know the face of evil and if a divine judgement truly awaits us and what criteria it uses. We hear and read about these issues through the various religious organizations. The metaphysical world is like an unknown and unreachable room behind a blind door. Metaphysical belief is visualizing and conceptualizing this secret room. Through the ages, people have formed and institutionalized different ideas about God, and many of these ideas are still prevalent and worshipped today. Some are culture bound, others are shared by more ethnic groups and nations. And in some countries institutionalized belief in God is a part of formal legislation while others emphatically exclude religion from the law system. The main questions are: where do these concepts of God come from and have they any validity? Is it possible to answer these questions at all? Secondly, is any of these concepts the correct one?

Validity is the necessary basis for authority, without clear proof one cannot say that a theory is true and enforceable. When considering religion, we meet a huge issue, namely its legitimate enforceability: Every religion claims to be truly revealed by a supernatural force to mankind through a messenger or prophet and claims witnesses to the process of revelation. Either the messenger, or the witnesses, or their descendants write this revelation down and publish it. This last aspect, witness, makes it unwise to discard or ignore the notion of revelation, even if the quality of written revelations should contain faults and imperfections. It's obvious there has been something that we may call an exchange of information. An important dimension for validation of any religious scripture is time. When religious principles appeared and were written down, they had live witnesses who could enforce them. Collective memory, however, becomes history and three generations later and it looses authority, unless the preservation of texts and other memorabilia is well taken care of. This care has not always and everywhere been good or sincere, which gives religion in general a bad cloud, even when not all written scripture is ill-preserved. Another aspect of revelation is its uniqueness. There is no structure, no repetition, no pattern in revelation. Revelation is therefore no part of the laws of nature nor science. The issue of a revealed concept of God naturally leads to the next question: what is religion?

Religion is the institutionalized worship of a supernatural power, usually called a God.

Institutionalized means a set of shared values and formalized rules that have a certain authority over a group of people who feel committed to this institution. This commitment also gives them a sense of connection to each other.

Faith can very well be an individual state of mind; religion, however, is a group phenomenon. The aim of religion is not only presenting individual people to God and vice versa, but also providing solid morals for leading the life that the supernatural power has intended for his creatures. Religion is always about promoting something positive for mankind which should be brought into practice, even though it doesn't always work out according the good intentions.

Religion as an institution is like any other institution linked to authority and sanctioning. The religion prescribes not only rules, but also systematic structures and leadership roles to teach and enforce these rules, set an example to the faithful, and punish transgressions. Many religions have complicated and appealing ceremonials concerning the worship of the deity, and concerning the roles the faithful are supposed to play. However, those who don't belong to the religious community, don't understand it, may disapprove, or at best find it an attractive scene to look at. Misunderstanding of other religious communities, combined with trying to impose one's own view on belief and morality, is the main cause of intolerance and violence between communities. Not only that, it also leads to intolerance and violence within the own community. Some members transgress the rules, or worse, quit the faith. In some religious communities this last phenomenon is unforgivable. Yet it is an inevitable part of faith: people may start or give up their belief in the deity, as the deity is invisible.

The origin of religion is a revelation of some kind, yet the origin behind this revelation is obscure. It cannot be exposed or validated, and that gives plenty of room to disbelief in a deity. Some people witnessed this mysterious revelation and can be convinced that its origin is supernatural and divine; others tend to say that it is a fraud, or that the messenger is in a state of mental illness. It is a fascinating question why people are so tenacious to their beliefs. Or their disbeliefs!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Belief is a personal and a philosophical issue

There are many answers to the question what it is: Belief. One valid definition of what belief is, is this one:

Belief is finding truth in something without direct evidence, accepting something for fact when its truth cannot be or has not been proved.

From belief we can go a step further into faith. Faith is more than believing something to be true, it is entrusting and committing oneself to it.

Belief and faith are important factors in human life. For instance, commercial transactions cannot take place unless people trust each other, which is not always based on facts and past experience but also on intuitive gut feeling. People trust their own self image when they choose a carreer, and their feelings when choosing a partner for life. There is another path that gives belief, and especially faith, a more complex meaning, and that is the religious dimension. For everybody it is possible to understand faith in other people, in the self, even in nature. It is relatively easy to trust the visible, empirical world that we know. However, not everybody is willing to find truth in an unseen godly power who created everything we know: A hereafter, an evil force, a (or the) future, or a divine judgement.

Belief indeed is one side of the coin and knowledge is the other. We can see these concepts as opposites but also as twin sisters. What is knowledge?

Knowledge is the possession of facts that people have, based on open observation that can be shared by others, or on logical deduction.

Belief stops as soon as we have knowledge.

We may call observations evidence to a phenomenon. And evidence is information that we can share with other people in an unambiguous way. They observe exactly the same phenomenon as we do. A picture taken of a football match gives information to other people about its proceedings. A secretary takes notes during a meeting, and those present agree afterwards with their contents, in order to record the talks. When the street is wet, we can conclude that either rain has fallen, or the cleansing-service passed by. Some observations are household, such as the fact that water boils at a temperature of a hundred degree Celsius. Others are more sophisticated, like the neutron structure of gold, and such knowledge is agreed to be called science. After all, not everybody is trained to interpret sophisticated observations. However, the easy part of knowledge is that everybody can endorse its truth, once more people have observed the occurrence of the facts, and once people can re-observe the facts anytime. Knowledge is the answer to the how to-questions that people, curious as they are, have posed themselves through the ages. The fact that our knowledge is still incomplete, gives us the impetus to search further. To a certain extend, it is possible to answer the how to-questions. Our technical skills have grown over the generations, and we are able to reach further and deeper. Now we can observe the very small or very far phenomena. We can accept that there are certain limits to our ability to answer the how to-questions and blame our inabilities to our lack of knowledge. We hope that a new scientist may find new answers. We don't know the limit of our abilities, nor if our knowledge gathering may be confined by unknown barriers that have nothing to do with our capabilities. A good example is the Biblical Babel Tower built by the people in order to see God. God set boundaries to the gathering of human knowledge: the people were not allowed to see Him, so He destroyed the tower and from then the people spoke different languages. Apart from the unknown limit to our scientific knowledge, we have the issue of why-questions. As soon as we reach the question of how the universe was created or originated, we meet a problem that has led to various ideological currents, with sometimes long histories and conflicts among each other. Basically it is the history of controversy between science and religion and between competing religions.

Science has tried to answer the how to-questions more or less successfully. More importantly, religions try to answer the why-questions of life.

Why did Mary Blake die so young?
Why did this happen to her?
Why is life such unfair shit?
Why do things never go right?
Why are we on earth?
Why is nature of such unsurpassed beauty and variation?
Why have I become a compassionate conservative Republican?
Why came the dinosaurs first and then the primates?

All these questions are limited by our capabilities and, according to believers, our permissions. Biblical history tells how God sets boundaries to human knowledge. God destroyed Babel Tower, because He did not want man to reach Him. Man also has no complete sight on the world and universe around him. The Islamic Scripture, the Qur'an, too, has verses on how man may and must gather knowledge, however, to the extend that Allah allows him:

"O ye assembly of Jinn and men! If it be ye can pass beyond the zones of heavens and the earth, pass ye! Not without authority shall ye be able to pass!" Q:55:33

"And He has created (other) things of which ye have no knowledge." Q:16:8

"Say: 'Are those equal, those who know and those who do not know?' It is those who are endued with understanding that receive admonition." Q:39:9

Saying that the evolution determines why the dinosaurs precede the primates, is no answer to the why-question. Why-questions give a reason and arise from an approach of subjectivity. They come from human perception and have no scientific foundation. Science cannot answer why-questions, because they touch the areas of choice and preference. Someone or something determined that it was better, or maybe nicer, for the dinosaurs to precede the primates. Science does not determine  qualities such as beauty, good taste, morality, better, higher, or worse. Even the occurrence of coincidence does not cut it, because always someone will come and ask: Why did dinosaurs happen to arrive before primates, why did chance choose the dinosaur to precede the primate?

Belief is related to the human mind: The set of thought, emotion, consciousness, ambition, and spirit, qualities that scientists have been unable to determine as yet. What are the spirit and our feelings, what is our personality, our consciousness, where do they reside, what are their form and look? One thing that we can say, is that thoughts, emotions, ambition, awareness, and belief are components and instruments of a relationship. A relationship with ourselves, other people, animals and plants, and with metaphysics or abstract concepts. We may define our soul and consciousness as our invisible self and our personality as its link with the outside world. Thinking, emotions, ambitions, and beliefs link us to the self or the other on an invisible level. Many artists make it their job to give thought, emotion, belief, spirit, and personality a concrete expression in image, text, or sound. But also the artist stumbles on the invisibility and elusiveness of these topics. They are the aspects of life that perhaps matter the most, yet they cannot be reproduced and are therefore no part of scientific knowledge. Their behavioral consequences, however, are often very visible and tangible and follow a repeatedly shared pattern, which we may call a structure. This is the reason why relations with the self and other people are open to the scientific approach, to a certain extend. This also goes for our relations with other living creatures, our environment, and with materials. When people have a problem with themselves, psychologists and psychiatrists jump into the field to assist them. When people have problems with others, not only psychologists but also the legal system has to assist, sometimes against the person's will. We know relatively much about how the human mind works and can make valid statements about many phenomena.

However should we not forget, that many things involving the human mind are unknown to us. This also has implications for religious issues: Our connection with metaphysics. Can a divine power communicate with people, how does this work, can we talk with an invisible unknown power? Is it therefore wise to discard any divine revelation to prophets as fraud? We have no scientific answer to that.

The Door

What is a door? It is an opening in a wall that can give or close access to a new area, in the broadest sense of the word. A door can also be the border between the proved, empirical world, and metaphysics. We don’t know what the future brings, what evil looks like, what God looks like, if there is a God. Knowing in the sense of perceived. Many people believe there is something behind the door: A god, a hereafter, future and past, and many more invincible figurines and phenomena like spirits, angels or satans. Believing is accepting something as true without evidence, and this truth cannot (yet) be proved. That has as a pendant that it cannot be rejected as a lie either, as this untruth isn’t proved or is unprovable, too. Many people say to be in contact with creatures in this invincible world and throughout history many writings appeared claiming to be produced by a creating god. In those writing this godf-igure introduces him- or herself, but also grants man guidelines for a proper life, and a glance on the future. A messenger or a prophet would have directly received this scripture from the deity. These scriptures differ from each other and several organised communities have formed around them, worshipping the deity with rituals stipulated in these scriptures or stipulated by leaders. Conclusively, it seems there are more metaphysical truths. Many say therefore: Everybody has his, her, their own truth. Is this what it is? Is truth only a pleasant philosophical exercise, or does one creator exist after all, and is creation established certainty?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why This Blog?

Islam is a world of truth and depth. For good reasons, Islam is vibrant and very much alive, also today, in our age of technology. Modern ideas and knowledge, don't clash with ancient Islamic texts. Yet, Islam is under constant scrutiny, nowadays. In itself, this is no problem. I'll do my best to react to some of the frequent questions and criticism, as open minded as I can. Is it true, that Qur'an is just a copy of ancient Greek, Biblical, Persian, or other scriptures? Is there an 'easy' permission to kill those who leave Islam, or don't want to enter Islam? Where does it mainly differ from, or agrees with other scriptures? In my own opinion, religious scriptures are a labor of love and a study topic for life. They are modern. There's always new information and guidance in religious scriptures.

I've used, among others, Qur'anic translation into Dutch 'De Koran' by prof dr J.H. Kramers, Uitgevery De Arbeiderspers, Amsterdam, 1992/1997, ISBN 9789041705983; 'Quran Explorer',; and Maurice Bucaille's book 'The Bible, The Qur'an, and Science'