Archive for the ‘ Religion: Cradle of Irrationality ’ Category

Gods that are made of Glass

I’m not a Hindu, nor do I have any real admiration for the philosophies of Vedanta. There is one story, however, that I’m quite fond of.

Swami Vivekananda during his journey through Kashmir, described as the “Earthly paradise”, came across a number of temples burnt to the ground by invaders. Countless images of the gods and goddesses, and other sacred relics, forever lost. It was at the temple of the Divine Mother Kali, that he fell down on his knees, overwhelmed by anguish. Anguish over his inability to prevent such desecration, and confusion over how the Goddess had allowed this sacrilege.

The Divine Mother Herself appeared before him and whispered, “Why does it it worry you, Vivekananda, if the invaders break my images? Do you protect me or do I protect you?”

In recent years, this story has gained immense popularity due to its relevancy to the raging debate on how to deal with blasphemers. I do not expect practising Muslims to be easily swayed by Hindu philosophies, but I do hope they’d  meditate on the message it bears. Continue reading

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Moderate-Fanatic Relationship

Moderately Guilty

Imagine that you have a 100 people in your neighborhood. A scoundrel among them begins to spread dangerous rumors about you being an immoral person. As a result of such an ignominious propaganda:

– 50 neighbors continue to treat you the same as always, ignoring the rumors.
– 40 neighbors stop talking to you, or even if they remain in touch, do so cautiously
– 8 neighbors actively protest against your presence in the neighborhood
– 2 neighbors take extreme actions and try to harm you or your property

When the neighbors find out about the acts of the two extremists, almost all of them come forth to condemn the violence. The extremists are punished and the matter is put to rest.

But the problem is far from over! They fail to realize that the extremists were not the cause of the disaster, but merely the effects of a deeper cause: the rumor-starter, who out of personal enmity with you or your family, had begun to spread such dangerous lies.

Alas, that scoundrel will never be caught or even blamed. He’ll continue to spread that propaganda about you and your family, and in doing so, will carry on rousing extremists among the neighbors to act against you. At some point, the neighbors would have to man up and take responsibility for being a petri-dish in which that propagandist thrives.

Moderates complain that they’re being unduly harassed by the tsunami of vitriol being spewed by the Atheists and other non-religious people. They believe that they mustn’t be blamed for the crimes of others, because they don’t believe in such violence themselves. What moderates need to understand is that they’re not being blamed for violence – they’re being criticized for upholding and revering a system that is allowing such extremists to spawn.

The bible, for example, calls Atheists “fools” and “corrupt” (Psalm 14:1). Quran too preaches that non-believers are so vile that they deserve to be roasted in hell for all eternity. In a fair world, these religions would be facing class-action lawsuits for “harming the reputation of non-members and promoting bigotry against them”. But this is a religious world. And any ideology with the magic word of “sacred” stamped across it can wiggle its way out from under the microscope of rational thinking.

The moderates have assumed the bizarre stance of sanctioning the barbaric religious laws themselves, but criticizing those who follow these laws. Most of the moderate Muslims agree that lashing people to death is an unconscionable act, but none would dare question surah Al-Nur itself which very explicitly commands Muslims to lash adulterers to death.

To combat this ethical dilemma without invoking the wrath of their “compassionate” God, Muslims have sealed these verses shut within a labyrinth of unfathomable religious and historical complexities. For example, those engaging in premarital sex can only be punished if conditions 1..2..3..4..5..6…can be fulfilled. These conditions are such that they almost never get fulfilled and Muslims are relieved of the need to carry out such morally-unacceptable acts.

How moderates approximate their belief in lashings and crucifixions with their belief that God is a merciful being, is beyond my comprehension. This is, perhaps, because they fail to recognize the fact that before their holy books and their prophets and their priests and their scholars, God gave them a conscience. Conscience is this magical thing that helps us make the right decisions.

Condemning brutal religious laws doesn’t make you an Atheist by default. It is perfectly possible to believe in God without being religious. God, for many, is the fulfillment of a spiritual quest and the answer to our very existence (if you don’t find the answers of physicists compelling enough). Religion is a franchise that sells God to the masses by packaging Him in a series of doctrines meant to serve the corporation’s own interests.

So stop defending what you know is daft. Call a spade, a spade. You don’t need a bitchy Atheist to tell you that lashing, stoning, crucifixion and plain institutionalized bigotry is wrong. You don’t need religious knowledge to tell you that these things are wrong. All you need is a conscience and the courage to listen to what it has to tell you.

The Islamophobia Card!

“One min i’m sitting here explaining why stoning is gud and the next min they all strt abusing me?! Bloody Islamophobes!”

These are the actual words of a perplexed Muslim. I met him at an online forum in the midst of a heated discussion on sharia law. He openly endorsed punishments like lapidation, flagellation, chopping off appendages and even crucifixion, providing ample evidence from the Quran and Sunnah to support his stance. When people condemned these verses, calling them “violent” and “bloody”, he conveniently played the Islamophobia card and fled the forum. Indeed, we were the bad guys.

It’s not just about the extremists anymore. Fanaticism is the foundational teaching of all religions, some of which are worse than others. Even the bible condones such draconian measures, but most Christians no longer take their holy book literally. Most Muslims, regrettably, have not evolved to that level.

Quran claims that unbelievers are vile beings who deserve to be roasted in hell for all eternity. This is among the basic lessons all Muslim children are taught. If a person, in the light of such teachings, begins to despise non-believers, like myself, should it come as a surprise?

For instance, a rival of yours goes around your neighborhood slandering your good name, and teaching everybody that you’re an immoral person. As a result of this brazen propaganda, if your neighbors begin to distance themselves from you or start discriminating against you, would you blame your neighbors or the propagandist?

All of my best friends are Muslims, but I know for a fact that they don’t treat me with such love and respect because of their religion…they love me in spite of it. They are among the dying breed of moderates who have learned to compartmentalize their religious convictions and their social circle. They choose to judge me for who I truly am, in lieu of what the Quran says I am. In return, I respect them despite my clear repugnance for the religion they follow.

I don’t deny the suffering of innocent moderate Muslims who indeed have become victims of Islamophobia. It is imperative that the focus of our criticism remains the ideology of Islam, not Muslims. Is that possible? Yes, just as hating Justin Beiber doesn’t necessitate that you hate all Justin Beiber fans too (my younger sister is quite fond of that annoying kid, but I don’t love her any less because of it).

As for Islam, you cannot have your stonings and your lashings and your crucifixions and kill people for blasphemy and kill people for apostasy and keep chopping off body parts and expect to be called peaceful at the same time. It’s nonsense.

A few years back when I was in med school, my blog (in which I had been criticizing religion, though not as harshly as you’d expect) started receiving some unwanted traffic. My colleagues discovered it, and all hell broke loose. Even before they had actually confirmed that the blog had been written by me, they bombarded me with hate messages. There were texts flying around the campus warning people that I had become an Atheist and should be excommunicated. Some even went as far as to threaten me to stay out of the campus or prepare to die.

These people were neither Taliban nor Al-Qaeeda agents. They were very normal Muslims who I had once called my friends. These were people whom I’d never wronged – or even greeted without the warmest of smiles. Yet something sinister had transformed these very normal men and women into my lynch mob.

So don’t tell me that my fear of Islam is “irrational” or “exaggerated”. I’m not paranoid and I don’t get paid to smear Islam’s name. I know the threats I face, and I know that they’re perfectly real.

Religion: All in the Mind

Further info on these cognitive mechanisms and their propensity to “misfire”: Why Do We Believe in God?

What Happens After We Die?

In a recent online discussion with a theist, I had to endure a twenty-minute lecture on the afterlife and what it’s going to be like. He rambled on about what heaven is like in remarkable detail, from the fruits that grow over there to the rivers of milk. Then he proceeded to explain to me about hell, with all its fiery pits and multi-headed snakes.

I inquired him if he were a zombie. He said he wasn’t, so as politely as my aching head would allow me to, I asked him to come back later and tell me all about it after he’s returned from the dead. I’m sick of theists talking about afterlife with such confidence as if they just came from the grave.

Whatever happened to those beautiful words, “I don’t know”? Doubt is humble. It teaches us to be open minded about new information as it unfolds before our eyes. It’s a folly to be certain about things that we have no reason to be certain about.

A theist speaks of God with such self-assurance, it seems as if he just had coffee with God, and had a chat with Him about Inception not getting as many Oscar nominations as it deserved. Such pigheadedness alone should disqualify one from being thought of as a rational being. Likewise, any Atheist who’s absolutely certain about God’s non-existence is irrational.

When a person asks me what I think happens after we die, I do not offer him/her an enema of discombobulating, philosophical statements which sound wiser than they actually are, but I just say these three brilliant little words: “I don’t know”.

As far as we can tell, dying is like never being born. Mark Twain once said, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Humans are so used to the idea of existing, that they find it hard to imagine nothingness. The closest idea we have of death is a calm, dreamless sleep. Other than that, many find it difficult to comprehend what it’s like to be non-existent.

For instance, most people believe that a blind man sees nothing but a curtain of darkness before him, just like we see darkness when we close our eyes. Dead wrong. A blind man sees absolutely nothing…not even the black color that we see with our eyes closed. To help you understand this better, let me ask you what you see behind your head. Do you see a black space? No! You see nothing there because there’s no eye at the back of your head to help detect any light coming from that direction.

It is impossible for a living person to tell precisely what it’s like to be dead. But the best estimate that we can make is that being dead means being nothing.

So go ahead and try it! Say, “I don’t know!”. If you like say something like, “I don’t know for sure, but I have a good hunch that God exists.” or maybe, “I don’t know for sure, but it’s highly unlikely that God exists” (the latter happens to be my stance).

Voltaire once said, “He must be very ignorant for he answers every question he’s asked.” You’re a genius, Volty!

Why It’s Hard to Defend God