Sunday, April 03, 2005

Post No. 8: On Religion

I must clarify firstly that despite what the title of this post may suggest, what I would be discussing in this post would not be religion per se. Instead, I would be discussing about my religious opinion and why I came to such an opinion. Well, considering this, perhaps a more appropriate title for this post would be: “Why I Am A Humanistic Agnostic Free Thinker” but that would be too much of a mouthful, wouldn’t it? Hence, I decided to settle for the simpler but yet still relevant title of: “On Religion” for this latest post of mine.

Also, I must make clear that I’m not trying to convert anyone to my religious opinion (I’m no evangelist and I’m quite a strong believer in the concept of freedom of belief). Likewise, I hope none of you all, after reading this post of mine, would attempt to convert me to your chosen religious belief (though my religious opinion may not be set in stone yet, it would be quite difficult to persuade me otherwise). Hence, while I would gladly welcome any constructive criticism and sincere comments of any sort, I would be less receptive to sermons being preached to me or comments suggesting that I’m “lost” just because I don’t choose to follow the teachings of any specific religious belief wholesale (“Not all those who wander are lost” – J.R.R. Tolkien).

In addition, I should forewarn you all that what you all would be reading below might offend or, at the very least, contradict any deeply-held religious beliefs you all may have. No offence is definitely intended on my part but I would apologise beforehand for any offence taken. Yet, I would like to remind you all that your mind is like a parachute, it only works when it is open.

Enough with my preamble and on with my espousal of my religious opinion i.e. “Why I Am A Humanistic Agnostic Free Thinker”…

Why I call myself a humanist? I suppose it would have to be because I think that although Religion contributes to the fulfillment of the spiritual needs of a human being, it is not the only viable option available for our choosing. Indeed, Religion is the opium of the people. Don’t be mistaken… I don’t mean that Religion is similar to a narcotic which, while bringing about a semblance of hope (albeit false), ultimately results in more harm than good. What I do mean is that I view Religion as something which helps to alleviate the sufferings of humankind through spiritual fulfillment. To sidetrack a little, my interpretation of the quote: “Religion is the opium of the people” happens to be the accurate interpretation as originally intended by the author of the quote (who would be Karl Marx, in case you all aren’t aware). Many people, for a very long time, have mistakenly perceived the abovementioned quote to be anti-Religion in nature as they neglected to consider the context which Karl Marx originally discussed it in or that opium was used more as a pain-alleviator in the society of his time (this viewpoint is cogently put forward by Mr. Janadas Devan, one of my favourite “Straits Times” writers, in his article of 6/2/2005).

To return back to track, I must make clear that while I recognise the importance of Religion in fulfilling the spiritual needs of humankind, I am of the opinion that it isn’t and needn’t be the only choice we have to satisfy our spiritual needs. One need not always turn to Religion to fulfill one’s spiritual needs, although it would seems that many choose to turn to it, as there exists other non-religious/secular ways of satisfying these spiritual needs. To use an analogy, although charcoal pills could effectively ease diarrhoea in a person, it doesn’t mean that everyone must turn to charcoal pills as a remedy for their diarrhoea. Po Chai pills can also do the job. Hopefully, this analogy helped to shed some light on what I’m attempting to point out. I should also clarify that I didn’t choose to reject Religion or choose humanism as I think that it is better than Religion in satisfying people’s spiritual needs. To return to the analogy I employed above, the reason why I chose to consume Po Chai pills, instead of charcoal pills, to ease my diarrhoea isn’t that I think that Po Chai pills are better, it is just simply because that since both can do the job, I don’t see why I must definitely choose charcoal pills. It is just a matter of personal preference after all. That’s why I label myself as humanistic.

Next, let me attempt to explain why I’m agnostic. Besides the dictionary definition of “agnostic” being the stand that there can be no definitive evidence to either support or disprove God’s existence, my “agnosticism” has an added dimension. That added dimension would be that while I find questions such as: “Does God exist?”, “Why did God create?”, “Religion or Science: which is right?” and “Is there really a Heaven and Hell?” intellectually stimulating, I nonetheless find them to be not as critical or relevant to human existence. What I mean by this is that these questions, even if (and that’s a very big “if”) we do eventually find answers to them, do not help in solving any of the plaguing real-world problems we are all facing today. These problems would include environmental degradation, terrorism, armed conflicts, poverty, inequality and deadly diseases. It is my opinion that to attempt to find definitive answers to such theological questions while there are real-world problems for us to search solutions for would be greatly similar to the scenario illustrated in one of Buddha’s parable where a man is shot by a poisoned arrow. This man stubbornly refuses to be treated until he knows the answers to irrelevant questions such as what sort of family background did the attacker come from and what type of bow did he use. The man would most likely perish before he gets the answers. To further illustrate my point, I refer you all to the story where a disciple of Confucius asks him: “Master, how should we worship the gods and spirits?” and Confucius answered: “Why bother about questions such as this when we all haven’t figured out how to live as humans?” (or at least that’s how I think the story would be like when translated into English… :p) Hence, it is my opinion that it is much more critical and relevant for us to find solutions for real-world problems which affects us all rather than devoting valuable effort to attempt to find answers for theological questions which may or may not have definitive answers in the first place. That’s why I’m agnostic.

Finally, I would move on to why I’m a free thinker. I would have to suppose that I value my freedom & independence of thought too much to constraint myself to only accepting the teachings of a particular religion as Truth. You all may fault me for being fickle-minded or cherry-picking but I would prefer to term my approach to the different teachings of various religions as eclectic. This would mean that, instead of accepting the teachings of a particular religion wholesale, I choose only to accept certain teachings of different religions which I can identify with, find useful and be able to configure into my own system of thought. Yes, it could be argued that one should accept a religion in its totality but it would be quite coercive for people to accept what they can’t accept, wouldn’t it? People should be entitled to choose what they believe or not, shouldn’t they? Besides, I should point out that teachers of different faiths are also constantly updating & re-interpreting the message and teachings of their chosen religion to suit the times and to appeal to their “congregations” (here, the word “congregation” is used loosely, have no intended reference to Christianity and is used for lack of a better word in my limited vocabulary). In fact, I would think that most people , when absorbing the teachings of their chosen religion, would, subconsciously perhaps, more or less adapt these teachings to suit their lifestyles and systems of thought. So, my eclectic approach doesn’t seem very dissimilar to what many are already doing (within the context of a single chosen religion), does it? Of course, you all can say that I’m just trying to justify myself but whether to accept my justification is ultimately up to you all. In addition, perhaps my mind is too rational but I just can’t seem to make the “leap of faith” to believe in un-real sounding parts of the narratives and teachings of certain religions e.g. manifestations of miracles or that all contradictory parts would be resolved in time on some sort of “Judgment Day” as part of a “Divine Plan” which we mortals wouldn’t be able to comprehend. That’s why I prefer to be a free thinker.

To end off, I hope what I written above provided some food for thought for you all. Oh yeah, apologise for the sheer length of this post, I didn’t intend for it to be so lengthy originally but, inspiration struck me, I couldn’t stop writing till I came to the end of this sentence.

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