“Comfort”

Self-delusion, ignorance, and credulity. How religion eradicates human curiosity with wishful thoughts.

She: I believe in Allah because I have strongly felt Him so many times. I know He is there. I have felt His presence, His love, and His blessings. He has answered my prayers whenever I have prayed to Him.

I: Legit, very legit! So, why not believe in Osiris as well? The Egyptians also “felt” his existence as firmly as you feel of Allah’s. The Norsemen also felt the same for Thor. Every civilization in the history has “felt” the presence of its god(s). If “feeling” its existence is all that is required for a deity to actually exist, why did you even have to come up with Allah? You could just do fine with Thor – at least he has a hammer. Why do you think the Arabs believed in multiple gods prior to the advent of Islam? It must be that their gods helped them win wars and answered their prayers. The point I am trying to make here is that the argument that you put forth to prove Allah is exactly similar to and as much “convincing” as the argument that any believer from today or the past would offer to prove their own god(s). Isn’t that crazy?

She: (After minutes of pause) well, you know, there are people in this world who know all that but still believe in God. And I am one of them.

The short conversation above is a passage extracted from a long chat with a friend of mine, according to whom, Islam is NOT perfect but it does not mean that she should stop believing in it, since nothing is perfect. I told her that the Quran claims the exact opposite i.e. Islam is the perfect religion, so she can’t possibly be a Muslim if she rejects what the Quran claims. To which she replied, “See, I do not need your approval to be a Muslim. I believe what I believe and I am a Muslim!” The conversation started off as a comparison between the hoax of creationism and the theory of evolution, and as we could always expect, led to a discussion about God. The conclusion? Well, she just refuses to do science because science is not “perfect”. It is not only her standpoint. Those who do not even know the meaning of the word “science”, let alone the actual process, say that they do not “believe” in science because it keeps changing its views and does not remain stuck to its words, always vacillating. In short, science is not “perfect”.

What does “perfect” even mean in this context? Is it the ability to answer any and all questions asked while also possessing answers to those that are still unasked? Like telling people what happens after death, or what questions will be asked in the Q/A session with God on Judgment Day based on which the all loving, all merciful God will decide whom to throw face first into the scorching flames of hellfire and whom to offer the fruits and virgins of heaven? To any sane individual having a rational mind, such a set of ideas is nothing even near “perfection” but is complete absurdity in every sense of the word. But for some, it is “comforting”.

Death – The Ultimate Haunting

Death is a mystery – and an uncomfortable one for most of us. Feeling discomfort toward the reality that one day we will not be able to hear, see, feel, or say anything, we will not be moving a single muscle of our body, we will not be celebrating birthdays anymore, neither will we be able to spend time with those who are precious to us, nor will we be enjoying the majestic beauty of nature – the reality that one day, we will simply stop existing as humans is troubling and not surprisingly. The question is: why does death trouble most of us? It is just like what we all experience at night when we go to our beds, close our eyes, and when we open them again, the Sun is up! Death is just like sleep – you don’t feel anything and you go nowhere; the only difference: you are not going to wake up again. But even if it is troubling, would it be fair to this unique and only life that we have to alleviate our fear by believing in a lie that we will “survive death” to live an afterlife? Isn’t it disrespectful to this real life that we have right now to neglect it for a professed afterlife for which there is not even a fraction of a grain of evidence?

“Without religious illusions to rely on, death has none of the appeal associated with eternal reward, nor any of the terror inspired by the possibility of eternal punishment.” [1]

- Paul Thagard

Those who firmly believe in the lies of afterlife claim that they believe in them simply because they are comforting and help them relax… Really? Spending your entire life praying to thin air or some idols that you made with your own hands so you could enjoy heaven in the afterlife, or even worse, weeping your heart out time and time again so you could save yourself from hellfire, is that how you define “comfort”? The ultimate irony, by the way, is that people cry their hearts out of the fear of hell, of the idea that they will have to burn for eternity if God gets angry with them, while still claiming the very same God to be all forgiving, all merciful. The fact that some people find it comforting to keep themselves tangled with lies is simply awful.

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Apologists argue that this life without the concept of an afterlife is meaningless. But just how “meaningful” would an afterlife be without an after-afterlife? Would we die again and again infinitely? They say that they do not know because they have not reached the afterlife yet… What is worse, you ask? They actually mean it when they say this.

What is it that makes a professed afterlife so meaningful to some people that it is worth destroying their present (and only) life for them? Fear of scorching flames of hellfire in which one would burn to the extent that they become fuel to it, suffering with boiling water, and other gruesome punishments? Or the greed for waterfalls, fruits, and virgins of heaven? Maybe both! When I put this question in front of believers of different faiths (those whom I know are sane enough that they wouldn’t chop my head off for asking such questions), the answer that I get is itself a question: then what to believe? When I ask them why they even have to believe anything at all, the synopsis of all the answers I get in return is that there are a lot of mysteries, a lot of areas and aspects unknown to us, so we have to believe something. That’s equivalent to saying, “I don’t know what is there at the edge of the universe. Therefore, there is a troop of pink Kangaroos playing ring a-ring o’ roses along it.”

The Comforts of Ignorance

“…science succeeds because it requires you to admit when you are ignorant, and to have confidence only in what you know. Metaphysics or theology, even at their best, cannot contend with that. Even at best they can only stand in with what is “most plausible” until science can finally step up and answer the question. That is yet another reason why metaphysics can never precede or supersede the findings of science.” [2]

- Richard Carrier

It seems that fear and greed are not the only elements that build up a religion; ignorance is also a vital ingredient. Not only ignorance, but the joy and comfort of it as well. Learning about the world around us, exploring something as small as an atom and as massive as stars, studying different species including ourselves, asking questions – in a nutshell, doing science; it requires keen observation, research, dedication, and lots and lots of pondering and experimentation. Of course, it is no easy task. One could either do this much hard work, or just sit at home and make stories to answer puzzling questions, amalgamate all stories together and make them all blend in nicely, claim those stories to be divine revelations from an unseen Creator, and there we have a religion. It is very easy, less time consuming, requires very little effort, and people get attracted to it quite rapidly. Tell people that there is a Creator who made Adam and Eve, threw them out of Eden for disobeying His command of not eating a certain fruit, then finally populated the whole earth through them, and there you have it! A complete explanation of how humans got here. Who even travels through the oceans for almost 5 straight years to study life forms on numerous islands and gather samples of them for further study? Charles Darwin!?

It is very easy to claim that fever comes from hellfire but it requires research to know the actual cause of it to come up with an effective cure. It is very easy to profess that polio is a curse from God for those who walk on the wrong path, coming up with a vaccine for it requires science. It takes no effort to fool yourself and the people around you into believing that the earth is so flat that it has two “ends” (Deuteronomy 13:07) but it takes acute observation and revolutionary engineering to realize that it is an oblate spheroid that orbits the sun just like other planets in the solar system, not the other way round. And once we have found that out, we wonder why planets have orbits and how did the solar system come into being. “God did it” is definitely not an answer for science, but for those who have in their books that the earth is flat, “God did it” is the only possible answer for every question about observable entities and phenomena.

Science demands us to acknowledge the fact that we do not have all the answers and there is always a need to learn, so we learn. In science, we think profoundly, limitlessly, we travel from place to place and even from one planet to another; while religion bounds one’s mind within the boundaries of merit and sin, asserts limitations, and conveys that being ignorant is a virtue. It teaches its followers to stick with fairy tales and absurd notions about which there is no evidence, and to feel satisfied and even proud of not knowing the answers to certain questions while being reluctant towards finding those answers. It fools people into believing that a scripture composed centuries ago has all the answers; unchangeable, unquestionable answers.

The Harm

“Of course, the liar often imagines that he does no harm as long as his lies go undetected.” [3]

- Sam Harris

So, what makes religion so harmful? Well, religion itself. A child’s mind is an ocean of questions and wonders from which he/she often finds pearls of knowledge. But what if a child is brainwashed even before coming up with any questions at all? What if a child is strictly told not to discuss certain topics and not to question certain ideas? Why is it considered to be child abuse to leave a child for a whole night in a dark room, tied to a wooden chair, while it is completely normal to tell a child that he/she would burn in hell for eternity if a cry-baby lurking in the skies gets angry at him/her? To me, it is a crime against nature and child abuse at its worst because it eradicates the child’s tendency to question and explore the world without any fears, and also teaches him/her to be happy and even grateful about it; grateful to God for making him/her to be born in a family that protected them from the sin of thinking contrary to the scripture. That is where problems begin – when people are made to live and love lies to the extent that they consider killing and dying for those lies a virtue. Indeed, religion is one of those serious issues which we are neglecting today. It is an unnecessary element of the society which either causes harm, or serious harm.

References:

  1. Thagard, P. (2010). The Brain and The Meaning of Life. Princeton University Press.
  2. Carrier, R. (2005). Sense and Goodness Without God. AuthorHouse.
  3. Harris, S. (2011). Lying. Four Elephants Press.

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