How is the religion which is appropriate for one determined? Certainly not by being exposed to the doctrine of each and making an informed choice. Like all other ideas and aspects of one’s life, why cannot there be robust debate and contestation of ideas?
Has one ever considered approaching all the main religions to obtain an insight into their doctrine and way of life before making such a momentous decision regarding what faith one should adopt? In the movie The Life of Pi – and I admit that it was only a movie – in which the main character, Pi Patel, obtained first-hand experience of a number of religions before making his final choice, is precisely what I have in mind.
Much like the poem Pilgrim’s Progress by Milton which is an allegory of a spiritual journey, one can argue that, after Pi Patel had been entranced by Islam, Hinduism and Catholicism in succession, his faith was being tested when he is trapped aboard a drifting boat with a ferocious Tiger as a sole companion. Even though I personally am sceptical of the notion that this movie was intentionally produced as a religious allegory, it certainly has had a profound effect on me and has forced me to raise the question that I raised in the first paragraph.
More importantly what attitude would the various religions adopt if this procedure were to be tolerated? At the outset it is important to note that in many countries, being only Muslim as far as I am aware, capital punishment is imposed for apostasy. This is the wilful abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle. Examples are periodically heard, mainly from Pakistan, but this practice is also prevalent in contiguous Islamic countries as well as Somalia & the Sudan.
These thoughts were again brought to the forefront by two different events. The first was the opening of a so-called Open Mosque in Cape Town where people of all religious denominations can come and pray. The inevitable adverse vitriolic reaction immediately emanated from Muslim quarters as can be imagined.
Instead of embracing this concept of free will in the selection of one’s religion, what stance do religions adopt? In most instances they arrogate the right to prevent existing members from “defecting” to other religions either by the use of legal or moral sanctions. Within these communities, moral castigation involves the isolation of family and friends.
The second event was an article in last week’s Star newspaper [15th September 2014] by Eusebius McKaiser entitled “No Need to treat God with Kid Gloves?” There was also a follow-up article entitled “Why God’s not a Moral Imperative” in the Star on 22nd September 2014
In the latter article, Eusebius poses the question whether an action is immoral because God commands us that it is immoral or because we intrinsically believe that it is wrong. In this line of thought, murder would be immoral irrespective of whether God exists or not or whether God states that it is immoral or not.
In truth, one can articulate rightness or wrongness of actions without reference to a supernatural deity.
Whenever there is a spike in criminal activity of whatever kind, calls for people to attend church more often are stridently made. Presumably this activity is to allow people to distinguish right from wrong. Quite clearly this is an inane suggestion. If church attendance reflected the morality of people then clearly by a large margin America should have a much lower murder rate than the Nordic countries where +- 97% of the population rate themselves as non-religious as opposed to America where only 25% rate themselves as secular. Yet which country has the greater crime problem? Without a doubt, it is America. Ironically this statistic even holds true between the States in America with the most secular states having the lowest crime statistics.
Of course KcKaiser’s comment is not unique as it was been previously made in much greater detail in Richard Dawkin’s book entitled The God Delusion. Nevertheless this point – morality not equating to religion – bears repeating as it is periodically made on Talk Shows such as 702 Talk Radio without being criticised due to being totally fallacious.
As regards the Open Mosque, The Cape Times reported on Monday [16th September 2014] that
[it] is due to open in Wynberg on Friday, despite fierce criticism from parts of the local Muslim community.
Its founder, Cape Town-born academic Dr Taj Hargey, is a professor at the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford in the UK.
He told the newspaper that it is time for a “religious revolution” in the province, and the new mosque will be gender-equal, interracial and non-aligned – meaning Sunni and Shia Muslims can attend the same service.
The Islam preached in the mosque will be enlightened, erudite and egalitarian, he said. Women will be allowed to lead prayers, and gay people and non-Muslims will reportedly be welcome.
Of course the Open Mosque has subsequently opened its doors to howls of protest by the Muslim community as it is considered contrary to Islam to allow males and females to pray together. Antagonists bristle with indignation labelling Muslims attending the services as heretics and non-believers. Dr Taj Hargey has been accused of blasphemy and engendering controversy.
It is merely another manifestation of religious intolerance so prevalent in all the main stream religions.
After a few months of religious intolerance, maybe the non-violent Buddhist religion is the way to go.
No-one can accuse the Dali Lama of fomenting hatred, violence and intolerance. For me, he epitomises the caring gentle soul that religions should portray.
Additional reading and listening:
Books: The most of this genre is The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
Also watch Stephen Fry on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-d4otHE-YI