Belief is no simple word. It’s possibly the only English word with the most severely understated meaning – you get a dry technical treatment and it completely misses the point on just how potent beliefs are.
Consider the following:
If you believe you are going to die in 7 days, would your behaviour change?
If you believe your religion was the most accurate path to spirituality, would your perspectives and policies change?
The only intellectually honest answer here is a unanimous yes.
Every belief we hold, from the simplest to the most complex, is like a master lever, and once pushed, dictates how we understand and interact with the world.
Left by itself, a belief can claim no man, change no person or hurt no one.
It’s only when a belief is consumed by the human mind – methodically applied – does it change from something shapeless and senseless into a seemingly alien life-form that masquerades the actions of its host – and this formless flesh can either be parasitic, benign or beneficial.
And such beliefs, especially those of the popular monotheistic religions (Hinduism too, though it is polytheistic), are especially problematic.
Unless you compartmentalise how you think, science and religion are completely incompatible. Not only are they in the same competing business of proving the reality of the world, their methods differ with greater polarity than the North and South Poles.
Consider Carl Sagan’s quote: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Then, throw in Hitchen’s “What can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence” and you realise that religion inside out, and from top to bottom, is a series of illogical and contradictory claims.
I am somewhat amused when I am told that “God” is a loving father. If heathens are tortured in a very special place called Hell, and you are commanded to believe only in him – with the dire (and often repeated) threats of damnation if you don’t pray – anyone with the common sense of a marble can see that it’s a psychologically twisted relationship. Follow me and be blessed. Look the other way and burn. It’s pathological.
Tell someone to read Cinderella and everyone knows its a fable. It’s a fun story but contains no truth. It’s forgotten the next moment.
Read the story of Muhammad flying on a seemingly winged donkey-like creature or that of Moses magically parting the red sea and the religious folks will try their best to insert all sorts of “evidence” to impress you with the veracity of the stories.
It’s the truth, they say, as they scramble to find verses from their holy texts. There are at least thousands of religions with thousands of different holy texts. Let me find you my own holy text, shall I?
I once asked a religious Geography teacher how he went about teaching the age of the Earth. Since he was of the Islamic faith, he believed the Earth was young (4000-6000 years old) which was hugely contradictory with our scientific understanding (4.543 billion years).
He said he presented both views and taught that they were both acceptable.
Take a moment and reflect on just how especially damning this statement is.
The evidence supporting Science is indisputable (radiometric age dating), yet he elevates his religious assertions (with no evidence) with the same certainty as Science?
Would you be bothered if I presented the views of Scientology, Mormonism, Shamanism, Mithraism & the Aztecs alongside Science as equally valid truths?
This is just one of many examples of how especially troubling religion can be.
Here’s another: Recently, an attempt to ban child marriages in Pakistan was shamed as anti-Islamic and blasphemous. This is not an isolated case – many other parallel incidents (homosexuality, drugs etc) have all been made stupidly worse because of religious beliefs.
Religious beliefs (and anything superstitious) bleed into the human mind, causing an intellectual aneurysm in young, impressionistic minds that haven’t developed the ability to think independently.
The ISIS attack on Indonesia is again, a resounding reminder of the potency of human beliefs and the inherent contradictions of religions.
But more importantly, for most of us who know this well, it serves as a poignant reminder of the human brain’s tendency to believe first and ask questions later (if at all).
So, have you thought about (HYTA) the potency of your beliefs?
The above writing isn’t meant to be an academic treatise of any sort, and certainly doesn’t do much justice in developing more cohesive arguments. My intent was to keep it simple. If you need an introductory approach, do read Guy P. Harrison. Else, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris would be excellent authors to check out.