Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Is Belief in God the way to peace?

(I was recently at a debate at Queens university to see and take part in a debate concerning the above question-this is my own response to it.)

What God needs be believed in, for peace? Is it Thor? Is it Zeus? Apollo maybe? How should this God, if he exists, be worshipped? Prostrations several times a day towards a fixed location on the earths sphere? Imbibing wafer biscuits, in a bizarre, symbolic act of cannibalism?-how about burnt offerings of livestock- or better yet, of humans? Of course the Homeric Gods are dead, just as the Gods of the Norse and Mayan have also perished, reposing in the graveyard of myth and ignorance, of our bloody and desperate past. The Gods we concern ourselves with today are of the sky-God desert religions-the Abrahamic faiths-the “religions of the book”. Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Needless to say, they don’t believe in the same God, or worship their God in the same way. Pushed to their logical conclusion they are all in direct competition with one another, not only for their own survival, but for the souls of every man, woman and child on the planet. Look to their eschatology’s for how human history will be written, invariably you will find, holy war, holy terror, and hell on earth. Messiahs coming back to judge the living and the dead. Christians floating off into sky, Jesus serving in the ranks of the Mahdi, waging Jihad against the infidels; and the earth going up in an apocalyptic fireball, of religious frenzy. This is what belief means for earth, this is where human civilisation is supposedly heading. As Jesus himself said “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not send peace but a sword.” What does this mean--well as scripture say “The earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” 2 Peter 3:10

Do I need to say more? Do I need to go on? Well, lets start with the barbarism and tribalism that has engulfed my own country of birth. Northern Ireland, a pokey little country, of just over a million souls, on the edge of western Europe, who have for centuries been at each others throats-- and at each others--knees. The conflict is of course largely political but it arose out of oppression and inequality, justified and perpetuated by religious myths and differences. It was not that long go that politicians of this country uttered statements-- “A Protestant parliament, for Protestant people for a Protestant country”. Who would not see what would happen when each side denounces each other as idolatrous heretics and antichrists? Do I need to recount the litany of misdeeds that religion has accumulated in this country? Do I need to mention the drills going into peoples knees? Or the method of butchery we call knee-capping? Petrol bombs used to drive families out of their homes? The enforced ghettoizing, impoverishing and balkanizing of separate communities. Much of it self created and self policed as witness- women beaten and molested by paramilitary groups for holding relationships with the other side? Unwritten taboos over marring out, the separation of children into faith schools, a ready made identity foisted onto them and encouraged to hate the other side. Did belief in God cause peace and prosperity here? Or did it cause murder and misery?

Did belief in God cause peace and prosperity during the middle ages? Did it stop England from descending into civil war? Was it a peaceful, joyous time when women were hunted and prosecuted and burnt for witchcraft? How much inner harmony and equanimity resided in a poor unfortunate-- suffering the gruesome pleasures of the rack? Or having to be branded with a B on the forehead--accused of being a blasphemer? Or men having their arms dislocated in a process called Squassation? I wonder, really- how pious and noble did Christians feel during the two thousand years of Jew baiting that concluded in the crematoria of Auschwitz’s?
Who else today is guilty of that ugly and rancid ideology of anti-Semitism? That talks of a global, Zionist conspiracy? That Jews are pigs, rats and apes? I think we all know. Its been at it again, in India, in Mumbai, in the East. Who did they single out for special treatment, Jews of course. Second on the list were Americans and British nationals. Hotels were targeted, as were caf├ęs. The western media seem to be relieved that it was not Al Qaeda, does it really make a difference… Who is going to stand up now and really, honestly, say that Islam is a religion of peace.

Islam especially,needs to be singled out for blame and opprobrium here. For though Christians mostly “behave” themselves compared with the lunacy and terror and mad work that gets carried under the aegis of Islam. A few topical examples serve reminder of a fact that is buttressed by more and more evidence day after day. That Islam not Islamism, or Jihadism-that Islam, as practiced today by billions of Muslim, is anti-west, anti-freedom, and anti-woman. The point needs reiterating for it is Muslims themselves who are suffering the worst and who are losing out the most by living under a 7th century system of morals. A recent news report coming out of Somalia that tells of a thirteen year old girl, raped, buried alive and bricked to death for adultery. I ask you to pause over the fact the girl was thirteen years of age--she was accused of adultery??

Consider the story not so long ago that trickled out of Iraq. Where a young Muslim woman was slaughtered and left in a ditch-killed by her own family. Her crime? having a crush on a British solider. Her mother-who appalled at the actions of her male relatives left and sought refuge in the authorities--she too was hunted down and killed. Or what of Parwiz Kambaksh who in “free” Afghanistan was sentenced to death for allegedly insulting Islam. His crime?- to download information regarding the human rights abuses of women under Islam. His sentence as of this minute has been reduced to only life imprisonment. I could continue- about the nature of Jihad, the death threats over Salman Rushdie, the beheading of journalists, the forced marriages, the institutionalised rape and paedophilia of young girls from Yemen. Does all this make for stable and prosperous and peaceful societies? Does it make for happy men? Does it make confident, fulfilled women?

The term peace need not and does not, just relate to the social, political arena. It can mean inner peace and tranquillity. The cultivation of compassionate states, altruism, love and charity. It is scarcely believable that given the mess that religion made of much of our discourse and progress on such things as human rights and individual autonomy that it could ever result in states of inner peace. Yet it obviously can. This says nothing though to either the truth claims of the religion nor does it speak to the consequences wrought by their attainment or the effects of their preservation.

It is simply a myth that Christianity even in its Sunday best is the Summum bonum of our religious or ethical systems. The morality on offer in books like Leviticus or Deuteronomy or Second Samuel not to mention large swathes of the New Testament is, frankly, embarrassing as a guide to attaining peace and wellbeing. --only if you take it for what it claims to be, that it is a book of divine inspiration of which no mortal in the bronze age or the computer age today could have written. Christianity especially becomes less impressive when set against Buddhism for example. Five hundred years before Christ walked the earth and quite a bit before either Plato or Aristotle set down their thoughts, Buddha and numerous Buddhists laid down an ethical system that is largely more compassionate and conducive to happiness than is Christianity. Indeed its four virtues of Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Altruistic Joy, and Equanimity outstrip Christian teachings on sin, faith and belief. Indeed the ultimate aim of a Buddhist is to work to achieve enlightenment or peace. A person could spend their life trying to reach this goal-if its at all possible. A person can become a Christian and await to enjoy the pleasures of the afterlife in less than five minutes. This is cheap, this is not a way of gaining wisdom or insight. Like the ancient Greeks however, Buddhists saw that peace or human happiness was the end goal in itself, that it was realizable in this world and no God need be worshipped for it to be obtained.

There is some research from social psychologists which suggest that Christian fundamentalists in America are the happiest in the country. I don’t have a problem believing this as true. This is to be contrasted though with northern European countries-largely atheistic and by similar investigative methodologies report same levels of happiness with far less societal dysfunction such as homicide, prison populations and STD’s. Phil Zuckerman’s Society Without God explores this point in more depth in his recent book. You may be tempted to say, well good for them and good for us. However do they need to create fractious tribal hostilities, demonize homosexuals, lie to their children, or try to get bullshit taught in schools. Where is Norway’s secular equivalent to Sarah Palin? The UK is mostly irreligious but here in Northern Ireland we do have are very own Palin- MP Iris Robinson, the wife of the first Minster of this country no less, who believes she is carrying out God’s will when she announces that Homosexuals are worse that Paedophiles and vile abominators. This is not the sort of people we want running a country--but this is the sort of person we have--and will do unless we learn to leave behind our myths and superstitions.

In the coming decades we are going to understand the constituents of Eudemonia, (Human Flourishing)we will understand what kind of political arrangements, economic systems and ethical attitudes and behaviours which do and which don’t contribute to human well-being. Religion is man made. No doubt there is much social utility in it, this can be used and understood in a totally secular way though. Religion operates like a placebo, it is a positive illusion. It is an archaic and a divisive force today in our truly global community. The historical degradations and the current malaise wrought by belief in God is simply inexcusable, as is the taboo of criticizing it. It is time we all grew up, it is time we all had a serious discussion and exploration about is best and what is good in this world. The sooner we realise this the better, happier and more peaceful we will all be.

Best and be well

Michael Faulkner