Sunday, September 9, 2007

Room for Religion

A staunch specter is swaying the world: atheism. It may not be the “opium of the masses,” but is an oppressor of the classes – because few know what the argument is all about. Dogmas are being replaced by divisive doctrines. Spearheaded by someone who is supposed to fathom the “public understanding of science,” Richard Dawkins, atheism is being made all the more an attractive seductress. Religion does not rake in only fundamentalism, but a slice of spiritualism is also out somewhere – neglected yet not absent. Dawkins’ argument is that because religion is the mastermind behind world’s gruesome atrocities (his ire is targeted at 9/11), we better do away with it. But what religion is he talking about?

Getting scriptural sanction for insane actions is a ritual of cheap religion. This stems from a literal reading of scriptures, rather than a symbolic reading of it. I read it like poetry that describes the wonders in the world, and more so of a great wonder – a magnificent one at that – called god. A god who reminds me of how good I can become.

Atheists cannot simply define themselves by what they do not believe. As Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) warned his anti-Communist colleagues in the 1950s: “An anti-something movement displays a purely negative attitude. It has no chance whatever to succeed. Its passionate diatribes virtually advertise the program they attack. People must fight for something that they want to achieve, not simply reject an evil, however bad it may be.”

Carl Sagan (1934-1996) cautioned in The Burden of Skepticism, a 1987 lecture, “You can get into a habit of thought in which you enjoy making fun of all those other people who don’t see things as clearly as you do. We have to guard carefully against it.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), in his epic “I Have a Dream” speech: “In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrong ful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” If atheists do not want theists to prejudge them in a negative light, then they must not do unto theists the same.

The brilliant paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) tried to unscramble the conflict between science and religion through his famous NOMA (Non Overlapping MAgesteria) principle. For him, science observes and explains; whereas religion seeks to understand the ultimate meaning that eludes human consciousnesses. These two are majestic realms that have their own way of coming to grips with the world, so better leave them to their business.

A higher moral principle that encompasses both science and religion is the freedom to think, believe and act as we choose – so long as our thoughts, beliefs and actions do not infringe on the equal freedom of others.

Above the truths of science and the power of reason, the principle of freedom stands tall.

Finally, as the great psychologist William James (1842-1910) put it: “Religion shouldn’t be like a dull habit, but an acute fever”. A fever that forks out rabid differences; a fever whose antidote is Love; a fever levered by Bliss.

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