[thechat] Religion - a way of life (was: what the...)

Madhu Menon webguru at vsnl.net
Sun Mar 30 11:03:58 CST 2003

First, I changed the subject line because I didn't find it particularly 

Now, on to the rest...

At 04:49 PM 30-03-03, Erik Mattheis wrote:
>I'm not  specifically targeting you as wrong, but rather that the Western 
>mindset most of us have grown up with makes it hard to understand 
>viewpoints which are different than "ours".

I live in a country where religion is an integral part of "culture". Take 
out the religion and most of our customs, rituals, festivals and beliefs 
would be gone. So I'm not a "Westerner who doesn't understand the ways of 
the East", etc. Heck, I used to be pretty religious as a kid. This was a 
societal influence rather than a personal thing, I guess. I did the prayer 
thing, talked to God, etc. As I grew older and started thinking more, I 
found it harder to understand ("Why aren't my prayers working?"). I 
gradually became an agnostic, and then later, an atheist. I've yet to be 
smote by lightning. :)

Why all this rambling? I just want to qualify myself as a person who 
understands all kinds of viewpoints. However, understanding somebody's 
views and agreeing with them are two different things. I strongly agree 
that all people are entitled to their viewpoints. I strongly disagree that 
this automatically means we should also *respect* those views. For 
instance, Osama Bin Laden is entitled to his views, but I don't have to 
respect his "let's kill innocent Americans" view.

>Islam is not only a religion ... as Zeeshan has said and implied this here 
>many times before, Islam is a way of life that encompasses everything: 
>religion, government, law, ... everything! "Islam" in it's closest English 
>translation means "Peace". ...  we should use Zeeshan as a bridge, not a dam.

See, that's my grouse. I can appreciate that at their core, most religions 
seem to preach the same message of love, non-violence, peace, morals, etc. 
And if that were indeed the case, we might be much better off today.

I have two problems with this "way of life" approach:

1) When you try and make rules for *everything*, you cut out any 
possibility of individual choice in their lives. We're all unique people, 
and drafting rules for millions of people to follow down to the last detail 
is too restrictive. Why on earth should a religion be concerned with taxes 
for instance? Surely your belief in God isn't affected in the least by how 
much tax you pay.

2) Most holy books (not just the Quran) were written many centuries ago. It 
reflects societal norms at that time. The Quran was written in the 7th 
century. 14 centuries have passed since then. With changing times, norms, 
culture, and beliefs change. What was in place several centuries ago may no 
longer be appropriate today. As a progressive people, we must keep the good 
and abandon those beliefs which no longer fit into our way of life today. 
As an example, a literal reading of the Bible will reveal (among other 
things) advocacy for *slavery* (1 Peter 2:18 - 
http://www.carm.org/kjv/1Pet/1Pet_2.htm ) [1], but to most of us today, 
slavery is abhorrent. Do we still cling to slavery just because the holy 
book says so? Not really.

Or take governments. A few centuries ago, monarchy was the norm. Today, 
democracy has taken over in most countries.

Things change. So must religious diktats.

If the books just preached love, harmony, and peace, we'd probably do just 
fine. As reasonable human beings, we should accept what makes sense, and 
discard that which doesn't any more.

>Think about it: the problems we struggle with in our Western world: law, 
>abortion, taxes, education ... on and on ... they are all encompassed and 
>defined by the Koran.

Are you saying that only the West is plagued with these problems? Surely not.

>Wouldn't it be beautiful if all of Mankind lived by the same set of rules?

No, I disagree. Basic set of rules and guidelines like "murder is wrong" 
I'm OK with, but...

>Muslims believe that one thing: faith in god is the rule by which all 
>Mankind should follow.

...this I'm definitely not OK with. I don't want it forced on me either. 
You believe what you want; let me believe what I want.

Morality is not only subjective, but often changes over time. Any time 
religion tries to get too rigid with morality, the potential for conflict 
exists. For instance, sex before marriage may have been taboo a long while 
ago, but at least you folks in the West don't seem to mind it too much. 
What if the [holy book] said that you should get crucified if you have sex 
before marriage?

My country is plagued with what is called the "culture police". These 
people do nothing but yap about things that are "against Indian culture". 
They protest against Valentine's day ("invasion of Western culture"), 
kissing on screen ("it will corrupt young minds"), fashion shows ("appeals 
to prurient interests"), and all kinds of things. Hell, the Information & 
Broadcasting Minister thinks anti-AIDS awareness ads and programmes are 
"too condom-centric". They want to tell us how we should run our lives. I 
find this repulsive, because how I live my life is my business. If I want 
to engage in S&M, that's my business, as long as I don't hurt anyone else. 
If I want to have an open relationship with my wife, that's my business too.

>but I think it would start with something like: "There is no 'God', but 
>there is an organizing force which humans can now not understand, but 
>influences and maybe even defines their behavior ...."

Your right to do that, and mine to disagree, which I do. :p

>Dunno ... I guess maybe some people here would benefit from reading a 
>Presbyterian minister's sermon that I found while looking for something 
>else, (made me cry (I've been crying a lot lately)) ...

I disagree with large parts of it. I'm OK with the underlying theme - "why 
can't we all just get along?", but the implementation... well, no.

Stuff like:

>There would be a belief in one God: simple, undivided and utterly holy. 
>This God would be great, magnificent, and worthy of praise.

Very Bible-centric. Consider that there are faiths which worship many gods 
(Hinduism), no god (Buddhism), animal gods (Animism is popular in 
Indonesia, for instance), elements of nature (not sure about this, but 
Native Americans?), and of course agnostics and atheists.

>If there's to be any hope for reconciliation in this fragmented world, I 
>think it may be along the lines that Muhammad originally proposed: a 
>return to the simple essence of belief in God that is the common 
>denominator of all religions. That is the only common ground on which we 
>have a hope of meeting one another.

How about "we are all human beings and we should treat each other as such" 
instead? You don't need religion for ethics and morality. If God approved 
of murdering innocents, would you then do it? No, your own internal sense 
of right and wrong tells you not to. (Incidentally, there are enough 
instances in the Bible where God does precisely that. Killing all 
first-born in Egypt, for example. But I digress... this doesn't need to be 
a "what the book says" argument.)

[lots of preaching omitted]

>The Jews, the Christians, the Muslims – all of us claim a common heritage, 
>that we are children of Abraham.

Okey dokey, the Hindus, Buddhists, and other religions don't figure 
anywhere in this. Guess there's no salvation for 'em. Not that it matters 
to me, but still...

(Does the Quran really say that Muslims are all descendants of Abraham? I 
honestly don't know.)

Honestly, Erik, this didn't make me cry, but it did make me ask, "are we 
there yet? are we there yet?"  :p

Here's my point of view, and I say it as a guy without any religious 
affiliation: I try and lead an honest, fair, and ethical life. I try to be 
nice to people as far as possible and say my "pleases" and "thank yous". I 
follow all laws of my country. I don't jump traffic lights. One of my 
former bosses once called me "the conscience of the company". I think trust 
and respect both have to be earned (as opposed to given by default.)

And I do this all without having to bring God into it. All I wish is that 
other people believe in the same things. If you [a generalised "you"] need 
a God to justify it, so be it. Just don't kill others because you think 
your God wants it.

(Omigosh, I just sounded like a Ms World contestant. Oh, the horror!)



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Madhu Menon
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