– By Abdur Rahim
The natural gift has made us capable of asking questions and attempt to provide answers to their unending questions. Many say that as humans, we are the superior species of all species on earth, and thus, we are free to think, gather new knowledge, innovate, and create new things by virtue of our brain’s ability and power. But religions block our freethinking and suggest not thinking beyond holy books but believing them blindly. Is this right? Is this fair? Is this good for human development? Is this human value and dignity? Is this humanity? I think not. Someone said, “Belief is a potent drug that destroys the thinking abilities of the believers.” The fact is, once believers become simply believers of their religion, they justify everything, including lies. Generally, people with strong faith yet who are usually decent and ethical, willingly lie to support their faith without any evidence or knowledge of the truth. The end, truth or not, known or unknown, justifies the means. People get their brain from birth, and it is their birthright to think freely and to question anything that comes from the brain, including the text of holy books. But religions teach us not to think but to believe. If you do not teach your children to think, religions will teach them not to think but to believe. Remember, it is easy to believe than to think. I experienced this in my entire life, meeting with people of different religious affiliations closely and intimately. Nonetheless, religious faith is very strong in human minds; it does not die out from the brain, and it will not until human beings can overcome the fear of being insecure in the harsh and ruthless nature, the fear of death, and the fear of unknown and uncertainty.
There are two attributes that are importantly being adopted toward the unknown. One is to accept the pronouncement and hearsay of people who demand that they know, based on books, scriptures, mysteries, or other sources of information and inspiration. The other one is the practical experience gathered by going out and looking for by oneself. There are many questions that people think and ask themselves that religion cannot answer. We may ask questions like what is the meaning and purpose of life, if indeed any at all? Is the world designed by someone called God, if so at all? What is the purpose, if so at all? Are we, as human beings, made up of dust crawling helplessly on this small planet, as astronomers see it? Or are we made up of various chemicals mixing together in some intelligent way, as chemists say? Why these current set of laws, not the others? What could that be? It goes on and on. These are all puzzling questions indeed. To study this difficult subject and gather knowledge, we have to learn what others at different times have thought about these matters. As we come to understand from the wisdom of others, we can live better. The importance for us, as human beings, is to search the truth, and in doing so, one has to pursue knowledge. This has the context of ethical principle (which is strongly associated with humanity) that stems from Socrates and many other contemporary philosophers. But how can one take the ethical principle that the pursuit of truth is a good thing?
Bertrand Russell argued this way: neither are we endowed with the ability to engage in the scientific enquiry nor is it possible to suspend judgment; we must act as well as think. Tolerance is the key, as a precondition, in a society in which inquiry to pursue truth is to flourish. Freedom of speech and thoughts and opinions is the significant promoter of a free civilized society, where everyone can pursue knowledge and search the truth. Everyone will not have the same opinion on everything and in belief systems in particular within a society, but it must ensure that no avenue is closed for skepticism. For us, the unexamined life is, indeed, not worth living. This is an intrinsic part of humanity.
God did not create man in his image. In fact, it was the opposite, which is the simple reason why so many gods and religions and so many killings of brothers and sisters both between and among faiths. Religious atrocities have occurred not because humans are evil but because of the fact that religions have made them irrational.
I think it is not wrong to say that famous evolutionists or physicists or biologists are more enlightening, even when they are wrong in their works, than any person of faith who is vainly trying to explain how he (being a mere creature of the creator) can possibly know the creator’s intents (Hitchens 2007). He recalled the works of astronomy and biology and said that in examining the symmetry of the double helix (when your own genome sequence is fully analyzed), you will be impressed to know the core of your being and reassured that you have so much in common with other tribes of the human species. Moreover, it would be more fascinating to learn how much you are a part of the animal kingdom as well. So you can be humble now to your maker, which is not to be a “who” but a process of mutation. Addressing all religious friends, Christopher Hitchens said, “Those who offer false consolation are false friends.”
Religious faith is very strong and incredible among believers to begin with but not the end. It is not the end because humans are dynamic in nature. People change with the change of time; even their belief changes. Most of us were born in any of the religious family traditions. So in our childhood, we belong to a religion for sure. As we grow older and understand the world, we change, depending upon our life experience and the knowledge gathered from around us. At some point, some may think that religion is irrelevant to their lives. So people change and become freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, humanists, or whatsoever—any alternatives of religion. They are the outside of religious box thinkers. They think religions block freethinking; in fact, they do. Because religions teach us not to criticize, not to question, and not to believe any of the holy books other than the particular one that is yours. For example, Muslims will believe only Quran, Christians will believe only Bible, Jewish will believe only Torah, Hindus will believe only Bhagavad Gita, etc.
I am one of the freethinkers. I was born in a Muslim family, and I was taught that Islam is a religion of equality, a religion of peace, a religion that encourages seeking knowledge and searching for truth, a religion that is based on the reality of life, and a religion that rejects violence. Teachings went on and on, but at certain points, my practical life experiences (looking through the lens of my life) were added to my realization of what the religions (not only Islam but all religions) were all about.
To have, somewhat, a comprehensive knowledge of religions, I started studying them, though not extensively but necessarily enough to have a handful of overall knowledge so that I can console myself and have control and lead of my life without religion. This does not mean that I am hateful of religions; rather, I do not thing that religion is compulsory to become reasonably a good person. I must say this, I am critical about the fact that, in return, my religious friends will leave me alone by not imposing their faiths on me in their own way. You know what I mean? Being a freethinker, I do advocate that humanism is the better path for human beings to lead a good life without religion, and I am a strong proponent of humanistic ideology.
Let me raise a question, what is the guilt to anyone to become a nonbeliever of any religion and identify him as a humanist at a certain time of his/her life? What is your answer? I presume the answer will be a dichotomy; some will say, “No problem,” and others will say, “Yes, there are problems.” The “yes group” creates the problem, as they always see the nonbelievers in a very negative way, even if he/she is being humiliated socially or at the personal level of a relationship. He or she is not warmly welcomed in the family or society, a kind of discrimination. But vice versa does not appear to be seen.
A humanist does not look at believers in a negative way, but believers do to the humanists. This negative attitude appears to be pronounced among the believers of the major monolithic religions. Why is that? To me, it seems racist. On the contrary, humanists are generous people who possess high ethical values and morals than their believer counterpart. The obvious reason is that the humanists promote love, friendship, and mutual respect and that they treat every human being equal. So who are superior human beings? Find your own answer.
The fact is, if you are a humanist, you are not alone—about 1.5 billion people in the world today do not associate with any religion, which is almost one-fifth of the world’s population. So I invite you to join me and be a humanist, because you won’t be alone. Let us assume that among nonreligious people, half of them say they believe some sort of “spirit.” There are still more than half a billion people globally who are either atheists or agnostics or rationalists or secularists, or naturalists or cynics or freethinkers or deists or pantheists, such as spiritual, apathetic, nonreligious, or any irreligious description you can put on what is known as humanist. They are among the large group of people who are the third-largest life stances in the world after Christianity and Islam, according to Pew Research. Let me give statistics of religious affiliation of Canadians. According to 2011 population census, highest proportion of Canadians is affiliated with Christianity, followed by the people who reported that they do not affiliate with any religion—meaning, they are the freethinkers, outside of the religious box people.
I am a Canadian citizen and I am pretty sure that 99 percent of Canadians don’t know it. As you read these words, my friends and relatives of faith may reject not only these words but me as well. More to it, some members of radicalized faith groups may have their own way of punishing me.
I would like to ask a simple question to the believers: What is your “prime” identity in the natural world? The most probable answers, I presume, would be “I am a Muslim,” “I am a Christian,” “I am a teacher,” “I am Jewish,” “I am a Buddhist,” I am an Imam,” “I am a Sikh,” “I am a woman,” “I am a professor,” “I am a man,” “I am a rabbi,” “I am a Hindu,” “I am a human being,” “I am an American,” “I am a Canadian,” “I am a philosopher,” “I am British,” “I am an Indian,” “I am a scientist,” “I am Chinese,” “I am Japanese,” “I am an Arab,” “I am a priest,” “I am Russian,” “I am a doctor,” and so on. What is your answer? If you have rightly identified the prime one (who you are), then identify the second and the third. Every human being is different according to their depth of knowledge, of experience, of teachings and also by culture and by religion and, of course, on their views of life. The answers will likely demonstrate the thinking process of the believers. Einstein said, “Two things are infinite—the universe and human stupidity. I am not sure about the universe.” While believers will justify their position by their belief, humanists will justify their position by reason.
This paper is the brief extract from my recently published book – “Thinking Outside the Box”. By box here, I mean religion, not only in which people are affiliated but also which endorses a “must have blind faith” idea, beyond which they are not permitted to think freely and to search for real truth. The book is about freethinking—no-nonsense, unemotional, nonirrational views of the natural world, the meaning of life, morality, and self-consciousness. The point is that the religious believers are very much aware of the arguments against their religions. But they make clever excuses to justify their faith convictions to be true. Generally, common believers do not bother to think analytically about their faith; they just follow texts and credible people’s sayings. So it is so much easier for the commoners to conceive the faith for granted. How can they get out of religious prison? How can they know the world outside religion? They can’t. I wrote for the swing people, those who are standing on the hanging balance between religion and non-religion and also who are devoid of courage to cross over the platform from religion to humanism, from believing to thinking. I am talking for those who not only have developed doubts but also have already mentally denied the religion.
I admit the fact that my understandings on most of the themes are subject to criticism by many who are the experts on specific subjects or by others who have commonsense knowledge. I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher nor a all-knowing person, but only a freethinker who chooses to take on this complex and controversial topic and to write. It is, of course, a very brave and daring attempt indeed. I would appeal to readers to take all these into consideration and get the message that I have intended to share with you all.