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Friday, August 29, 2008

There is no god but God...

I mentioned in my last post about the need for people to drop a self-defeating cynicism about what humanity as a whole is able to accomplish.

However, I also felt the urge today to post a couple of quotes on the stupidity of we human beings, because one can really, really marvel at our stupidity, stubbornness, and slowness to accept reason as a race.

God must love the common man, He made so many of them.

Abraham Lincoln

God must love the common man, because He made him so common.


While I know some may be surprised an outwardly religious person is making such arguments (and not as a political weapon), those who have some real experience with religious belief and practice beyond trite or partisan dialogues (whether pro or anti religion), know that true religious belief actually makes one more cynical about human beings (at least in many ways).

I can't find the clipping now, but there was a study recently in the news about how religious people who attended worship services were less likely to believe in the occult than even non-believers.

Here's a quote from the Baha'i Writings on this topic of belief and cynicism:

If one is not allowed to associate with another, how can one guide him out of the dark and empty night of denial, of "there-is-no-God," into the bright morning of belief, and the affirmation, "but God."

'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization

Implicit in this is a sympathy with the step of "there-is-no-God" (especially given other Baha'i Writings urging a study of rational proofs above a merely sentimental basis of faith).

The above refers to the beginning of the first pillar of Islam, or Shahada, the Muslim declaration of belief, "There is no god but God..." Accepting this statement in its totality mandates skepticism--a mandate which is well justified and will well serve those who follow it.

While areligious skeptics might be tempted to vaunt their coming to such a conclusion of skepticism of human beings, unaided of any direct knowledge of religion as being superior to such a "forced" mandate, religious belief inherently suggests that far from dropping our intellect, we utilize religion as a tool to enhance and foster it. One might claim for example, that a person who uses an alarm clock is using the fear of the alarm as a kind of crutch; they might maintain that a true person would have no need of such artificial contraptions and look down on their willingly submitting to the fear induced by the alarm (or the approach of the alarm if one wakes up a little before it), even while they ignore the fact that they themselves are motivated by fear on other occasions, use other such "artificial" contraptions themselves, etc.

Hopefully we can agree that using an alarm clock is not inevitably superstitious unless its use indeed is so (e.g., if I were to believe that the alarm could take over my body if I didn't turn it off within a few seconds). Nor is it inevitably (an unnecessary dependence on) a crutch; as indeed it might provide the only way to ensure one makes an important meeting, for example.

No doubt within pre-scientific societies, there are those who come to the conclusion that superstitious claims or practices could be debunked. But dissemination of the knowledge and methods of science is surely superior (as we understand them today), both for helping people who would otherwise be oblivious to them, as well as enhancing the understanding of those who already recognize its merits. Likewise do I believe that religion helps facilitates natural motivations to divorce oneself from excessive faith in others--especially in the Baha'i Faith which eliminates the role of any professional clergy. (I was recently reading about the "Magical negro" phenomenon and thought there should be an equivalent name for the "Magical clergyman" as people like to outsource spiritual sacrifice and vicariously draw from a perception of quaint holiness from such individuals (yet only briefly, naturally).)

Religion not only inspires one in the principle of it (and the motivation), but, being from God, provides guidance that is well ahead of the time (even it can only be imperfectly understood). Whether it is the race amity gatherings and interracial weddings encouraged in the early 1900's when the Baha'i Faith first came to the U.S., the abstention from partisan politics whose fruitlessness and corruption and violence-engendering tendencies daily become more apparent, to avoidance of the pop psychology promotion of self-esteem as a means but rather as a result of purposeful service, to the promotion of the United Nations before Woodrow Wilson even proposed his 14 Points / League of Nations, to the global non-partisan system of administration governing the Baha'i community, there are so, so many other ways in which Baha'is were--because of belief (and to the extent of which), not any inherent insight--ahead of the times and not sucked into wasteful, divisive, and fruitless ventures--even those Baha'is with otherwise low intelligence or education.

Granted, the statement above of 'Abdu'l-Baha was itself addressing religious fanatics who refuse to associate or show kindness to those from other religions, in a book that was written to present arguments to persuade fundamentalist Muslims to learn from the advantages of modernity (such as indicating Qur'anic statements in support of democracy, etc.), so naturally I could not be maintaining that religion cannot be poorly applied, but surely an objective observer can admit that such attachments are hardly based on a deep study of the religion (on the contrary) and are often tied up in nationalist/tribalistic bigotry rather than genuine belief in a higher humbling-for-everyone-including-oneself authority.

In refuting arguments by those who have "taken as their criterion the behavior of a few religious hypocrites and measured all religious persons by that yardstick", 'Abdu'l-Baha points out that religion is like a lamp which can be used for good or ill:

A lighted lamp in the hands of an ignorant child or of the blind will not dispel the surrounding darkness nor light up the house--it will set both the bearer and the house on fire. Can we, in such an instance, blame the lamp? No, by the Lord God! To the seeing, a lamp is a guide and will show him his path; but it is a disaster to the blind.

'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization


  • Do you believe the human race can actually become more intelligent, however?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at Friday, 03 April, 2015  

  • I think with education, both secular and religious, it can be.

    As far as secular education, one type of education I feel is particularly crucial in these days to unlock humanity's intellectual capacity, is the spreading of the notion of "world citizenship" through public schools throughout the world. If children are taught from an early age that, besides being national citizens, we are also citizens of the world, and have obligations as well as rights with regard to our belonging in this world as a whole, much of our self-defeating tribalism will be mitigated.

    As far as evidence that we are capable of this of even getting to the point of teaching this, one can look to how we have successfully formed tribes, city-states, and nations, all higher and higher degrees of unity. Such higher unions came at great cost, such as the U.S. Civil War, but through the efforts of educators of the U.S. republic to forge a national identity rather than a purely state-based one, we have become more intelligent in the sense that Americans, in the case of the now overwhelmingly vast majority, will say it is important to recognize we are all Americans and not just Illinoisans, Tennesseans, etc. Similar thoughts occur to people of other nations. I consider that an evolution into greater collective intelligence, even if national unity is wholly inadequate in today's global society.

    (Of course there is still conflict at different levels within our nation too, from the family on up, but we have at least achieved the firm notion of national unity.)

    Though an admittedly challenging one, it is just one more step to international unity.

    We have even already started to see signs of this. For example, despite it taking two world wars, humanity has finally established a however imperfect United Nations, and from the war crimes tribunals that occurred just after those wars, it was asserted to the world that sovereignty has its limits.

    As implied in the essay, I also believe religious education--of the healthy, sustainable kind--can cause people to examine their own faults and to think more deeply about problems in the world--and less in stark partisan terms. I believe the Baha'i Faith in particular has those teachings for today which urge us to widen our consciousness for the step now required, international unity.

    By Blogger Brett, at Friday, 03 April, 2015  

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