Thursday, 12 February 2015

Our belief system

Typically, most of us follow religious beliefs based on what’s dictated to us by storytellers. At times it’s from our parents/grandparents, where most of our cognitive (or otherwise) learning starts. They themselves have gotten their hearsay (second-hand) beliefs from their parents/grandparents. This goes on… we continue the cycle, we pass this dogma to our kids. It’s of course with a genuine urge that our loved ones try to ingest in to us some good morals and religious values. Seldom do we realise that all the emotional investment is rather induced religious indoctrination - something that we force on the feeble mind of a very young child. In reality, anything like religion should not be introduced to a child until he/she reaches a reasonable age, when our rational thinking is developed and we are able to decipher and critically evaluate the intrinsic meanings, if any, behind those stories.

We label a child Hindu/Muslim/Christian and so on, directly based on the faith the parents hold; forcing our beliefs on kids we induce them to think abjectly rather than promoting to think objectively. Shouldn't the kids rather reach a reasonable age and allow them to evaluate what is right, than leaving them bewildered at a tender age. Imagine, labelling our kids based on the political parties the parents follow - a Congress kid, a Republican kid and so on; that would sound really silly, wouldn’t it?
Children trust their parents, after all, and seek their approval and look up to them for guidance. Most of the time what parents impart in to their children turns out to be true - but not always. Once a ridiculously false belief takes hold (for some reason or other), it is quite easy to imagine how it could get transmitted down generations after generation; it’s belief without evidence - faith. May be this is why they believe in what seems quite silly to a rational mind. Then there is also the fear of abandoning a belief out of concern that it may hurt one's parents' feelings, and also there is often fear of ostracism from the family and even the larger community to which one belongs. This is a very good example of a very bad reason for holding a religious belief: because your parents hold it. We fail to understand that ethics and morality are quite independent of faith, and cannot be derived from it. Moral minds need not be developed from ignorant religious teachings.

Given the obstinate nature of religious faith and the wilful ignorance it cultivates in the mind of the believer, it’s carried on for ages from one generation to the next, without most of us questioning the motives, reality and the truth. Religion was rooted in days when science was not developed. We believed the religious myths in absence of scientific mind-set. People pacified rain-gods to get enough rains. Chickenpox used to be treated by worshiping some goddess (and it’s still being, by people with backward mentality). While wooing the gods never helped for eons, Varicella vaccine managed to eradicate the diseases in few years. As science progresses, religion recedes. We as kids, read (or watch on TV/movies these days) the fairy-tales, the magic and so on… our young brain believes these stories, we perceive all that as if it’s all real. As we grow, we realise and understand that there is/was nothing called a unicorn, or a mermaid, a fairy, Aladdin Genie, or a magic wand; we grow-up and grow-out of those faltering childish beliefs. But hold on, you will find even adults who still believe all this is real. People actually believing Santa clause is real. :) Some of us don’t grow out of these urban legends - growing old is mandatory - growing up is optional. :)

We have been traditionally passed on wrong information, via stories and old traditions, sometimes in authoritative manner and at times someone imposing their perplexed revelation, quite vehemently. Tradition, authority and revelation are very poor reasons for accepting something to be true. We must teach our kids to think more objectively, and think with reasons. Kids should be encouraged to ask questions, rather than being made complacent by believing generic and static proclamations. Not only kids, but each one of us should question the evidence of something being told. Most of us choose the easier route - follow-the-herd, taking authority or some epiphany as the final word rather than being sceptic and critically examining the truth. Guess what, some religious books indicate and people believe the world is about 8 thousand years old, and that it was created in six days by magic. In reality (as science illustrates, with evidence) the world is 4.5 billion yrs. old, and the universe is actually about 14 billion yrs. old. Is there any match or slightest truth in the fallacy presented by religious books? Imagine the scale of error - it’s like claiming Mount Everest is 1 centimetre tall.
“We are the product of 4.5 billion years of fortuitous, slow biological evolution. There is no reason to think that the evolutionary process has stopped. Man is a transitional animal. He is not the climax of creation.” - Dr. Carl Sagan

“You must believe in feelings deep inside”, a common expression we hear, “otherwise you’d never be confident of things like ‘My wife loves me’”. How good is that argument? There can be plenty of evidence that somebody loves you. When you are with somebody who loves you, you experience a lots of little titbits of evidence, and they all add up. It isn’t purely inside feeling, like the feeling that priests call revelation. There are outside things to back the inside feeling: looks in the eyes, tender notes in the voice, little favours and kindnesses; this is all real evidence. Sometimes people have a strong inside feeling that somebody loves them when it is not based upon any evidence, they are likely to be completely wrong, possibly ill in their mind. Inside feelings must be backed by evidence; otherwise we can’t trust them.
Inside feelings are valuable in science too, but only for giving you ideas that you later test by looking for evidence. A scientist can have a ‘hunch’ about an idea that just ‘feels’ right. In itself, this is not a good reason for believing something. But it can be a good reason for spending some time doing a particular experiment, or looking in a particular way for evidence. Scientists use inside feelings all the time to get ideas. But they are not worth anything until they are supported by evidence.

Holding certain beliefs makes some people feel better about something or other. For example, it might make some anxious to think that they will be permanently separated from their parents or other loved ones by death and so if the religion offers a belief in an eternal afterlife, as many religions do, where you will be reunited with friends and family, it may make you feel calmer. Or belonging to a religious faith might provide some people with a feeling of solidarity and community and a pleasurable method of occasional social interaction with others. But just because something makes you feel good is not a good reason to believe it is true. It would make me feel very good to believe that I am the best-looking person or one of the richest in the world, but that doesn't make it true and it would be quite foolish of me to have such a belief without strong evidence that it actually is true. Besides, these beliefs and the propaganda around them invade into public places, it ceases to remain personal, for most people it's more show-off than anything else. Spiritual, religious or otherwise, keeping it a private matter, restrains the evil otherwise it creates when it goes public.

Recently, there has been a spur in trying to defend religious teachings with scientific explanations, rooted from inherent psychological defence mechanism. However, something that in the very core of it is totally unscientific, cannot be justified with science; it’s an attempt to square the circle, an oxymoron - Scientific proof for a religious perspective!! :)
I bet you heard of “God’s Pharmacy” - examples of many of the foods that we eat resembles the vital organs in our body, and provide nutrients that actually help the organ in question function. Things like, carrots’ core looks like iris of human eye; a tomato has four chambers, it is red and it resembles human heart that has four chambers too; Kidney beans look like human kidneys; A walnut looks like a human brain and so on.
While some of the coincidental specifics, may sound brilliant and indeed portrays perfectly matched paradigm, albeit proclaimed source from divinity!! It’s more of a comfortably accepted ignorant norm. If we carefully ponder further and study, we will realise that:-
Tomatoes - even the most common variety of tomato has between three and five chambers, not just four, other breeds have between two and ten. Carotene gives tomatoes and carrots their health benefits and their colour. If god’s trying to draw us to healthy foods by making them red or reddish, why are most poisonous berries red?
What’s suspicious about these claims, beyond the inaccuracies above, the recurring non-references to scientific research: “science shows…”, “research shows…” and so on. No links/evidence to any actual research. Though much of what’s said is likely to be correct, we’re expected to believe it from the word-of-mouth alone!! And unfortunately most of us do, quite silly, isn’t it?

Science is based on evidence, experiments, careful evaluation and repetition of the results and establishing the reality; unlike religious beliefs - which are based on age-old texts, stories, with no evidence whatsoever. Science keeps upgrading, correcting and updating itself with new observations, discoveries and knowledge, unlike religion which is primitive and stuck to its core without any tangible evidence. In religion ‘The Book’ is the evidence, in science the books explain what the evidence is. ‘How’ to think – and not ‘what’ to think!
There are many questions that are unanswered and science cannot answer those in its current advancement, may be in future it will. Who knew all the technological advancement in the field of medical science a few hundred years ago that we know with the help of science today. With religion, one can simply make it up; you can attach it to the creation of god. It's easier to proclaim answers to life's great mysteries if you're allowed to just make it up. We know less and less about more and more, though accepting proclaimed answers of creationism won’t help.

Some of us are also in a confused state, somewhat in a state of dilemma - we call ourselves spiritual, rather than religious.
You cannot completely separate spirituality from religion, as it basically originates from our religious beliefs. Traditionally, spirituality has been defined as a process of personal transformation in accordance with religious ideals. Though there cannot be a fixed definition of it, it tends to differ from person to person and based on their perceptions and practices.

People obviously hold wrong, even ridiculous beliefs, we can learn much more about why they do so, by reading about the origins of religious beliefs and what weakness are there in human psychology and emotional makeup that allow such wrong notions to be held true by so many otherwise intelligent people. You can educate yourself to value reason, facts and evidence, over the fallacies perpetually flaunted by those who do not value the truth above their own egocentric delusions. Delusions inspired by an unquenchable thirst for security, no matter how frighteningly false the foundation is. You might be surprised to know how many of the religious ideas which seem crazy to you, take advantage of well-known problems in human cognition to perpetuate themselves from one generation to the next. Some of these ideas are so weird, that if an individual claims to believe in something absurd, we straightaway term him/her insane; but when these beliefs are part of a larger group, and believed by a majority, it’s all easily accepted and followed blindly as religious beliefs. Humans everywhere seem to share the same mental flaws, just as they do physical ones, like having a useless appendix, and psychologists have made a lot of progress studying these phenomena. It’s our perplexed and ignorant mind-set ploughing us into believing Miracles! - at times at pitiful levels. A lone survivor from a natural calamity is assumed to have been saved by the grace/miracles of the god, straightaway terming it as mercy of the god – forgetting the agony of the grieving relatives of the deceased who lost their life in the same event. What constrained the divine intervention to save others? Nothing, it’s simply our stupidity and gullibility that make us believe such absurdities.

Our religious beliefs tend to abuse our emotional sides, at times by threatening, by luring or by preaching what’s not true. We tend to attach many natural (or man-made) events to the acts of god. Even in situation where there is utter absurdity, people think it’s the god’s divine plan. The god must be planning something better. It’s a sick and ignorant mentality that has been developed and passed on to us for generations, and it does not go away easily. It’s mental inertia, that requires a great amount of emotional overcoming and external force - force of knowledge, to question everything and a genuine urge to find reasons, to create rational thinking, and looking for evidence.
What kind of divine plans a god can have for a child whose parents die in an accident? New-borns with congenital diseases, or life threatening medical conditions developed in growing years. What kind of plan can a god have for all that? For the young girl in Delhi who was raped brutally and died? There are numerous such instances that will impel you to realise that, if any of this was a planning by a human being, we would term that person very wicked, cunning and term all that very immoral and unethical. How can someone, called god, be so wicked and immoral? In reality, it’s not god, because there isn't any. If there was one, with the kind of imaginative superpower that people believe the gods hold, none of this will ever happen, what we witness happening in the world - the simple reason why all that still happens is because there is no such entity. Sometimes I wish, I wish there was such entity in reality. No one has ever proved its existence so far, and no one will ever do. There is no point wasting our time in praying, even when we are emotional at the backdrop of our experiences, such as the loss of our loved ones. Two hands working can do more than a thousand clasped in prayer. Prayers have proved nothing, no evidence, zilch.

It’s funny how effectiveness, value and importance varies between – a. praying in a particular shrine/church/temple, or b. following a particular deity; not only that a particular deity has more importance (and powers) than others, but also various incarnations (versions) of the same deity has different levels of importance/divinity based on where it’s located. For example, Ashtavinayakas have different value, Ganesh temple from a particular city/place has different divine importance than the one at your home, or in your car, or those worshipped during the festivals. And then there are millions of gods, spiritual leaders and (supposedly) holy saints. That's true for even those who claim to be monolithic. Besides, why pray? not satisfied with the divine/mysterious plans? The gods (if) are capable of resolving problems by listening to your prayers, though cannot totally avert the situation itself? Oh, perhaps they create the problems first and then wait to act based on your prayers, to prove their own worth and powers!!

Many believe that the world was created by god and that we are creation of the god. Does that mean people of all faiths are created by one god, if that is true, why these faiths differ to a great extent with each other. Not only two faiths differ, but their sub-sects differ too - Protestants Vs Catholics, and Shias Vs Sunnis and so on. They portray a great amount of absurdity, at times trying to be meek, besides claiming superiority over other religions. These faithful sects time-and-again have resorted to destroying each other, and they continue to do so, lest in the name of their gods - quite ironic to their own beliefs that everything is creation of one supreme entity. It’s simply because these faiths and the beliefs are irrational and hollow. A slightest discomfort or diagreement hurts religious sentiments - hollow drums are most noisy, ain't they !! These are imaginary and inept creation of human brains. Human being is not creation of god; rather god is a creation of human imagination.

The great ancient philosopher Epicurus (341 -270 BC) said:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
  Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
  Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
  Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

It’s empathetic how so many people spend their life thinking about the afterlife, about the day-of-Judgement, the apocalypse, or the armageddon and what happens when we die. It’s an individual choice, it’s our life, we have just one to live, we must take full control of it, and be responsible for what we do. We live once; there is no afterlife and no reason to prepare for or to think of the afterlife. We only live by our deeds and in the memories of people. Someone said, we have two lives, and the second begins when we realise we have only one!!

I would like to suggest some books, you may want to check these:
- Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon - by Daniel C. Dennett
- God Delusion – by Richard Dawkins
- The magic of reality – by Richard Dawkins (this is a book for kids, but equally apt for elders too)
- How the Mind Works – by Steven Pinker

… may the good sense bless all of us !! :)