Saturday, August 26, 2006

The End of Faith and Beginning of Freedom

In the past couple months, I have started to become an avid reader, once again. I think this is due to the fact that I take the subway to and from work so I have about 40 minutes each way to burn. I pop on my earphones and start reading away. About 3 weeks ago, I finished a very pivotal and important book called The End of Faith by Sam Harris. To put it bluntly, it is a very controversial book if you rabidly cling to your faith, especially if you cling to Christianity, Islam and even Judaism. Although I do think that even other faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Zoraustrianism and others also should pay heed.

Harris makes strong and rather rational arguments towards explaining how Christianity, Islam and Judaism are rather irrational and furthermore bring about more negative than positive. To be honest, maybe a few years back I would have disagreed because I strongly felt that all religions have some kernel of truth. Now, I accept that they might have a drop of wisdom here or there but its mostly a vast ocean of hatred and oppression. Maybe it seems I am singling out the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faiths but its only because they make rather large and broad claims to the exclusive truth.

First, in the Old Testament, Yahweh is a very jealous and vengeful God, as He himself proclaims in Exodus 20:3-5 ("You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments" also see Deuteronomy 4:23-25. Secondly, in the Old Testament again, He requires his people to kill and destroy anyone who tries to convert them to other gods, see Deuteronomy 13:6-18. Similarly, He promises salvation and protection to only those who worship Him and Him alone. He requires His people to do what He says not because its the right thing to do but because He says it. Killing isn't wrong because its fundamentally wrong but because He says its wrong. The Lord, here doesn't want people to think or use the abilities that He apparently has given them but wants blind obedience. God as seen in the Old Testament was a very draconian God, much like the Laws of Hammarabi, God did not tolerate violators of His Law.

The God of the Christians, who was/is or at one point the God of the Jews, is still a very jealous God but a much more loving God, but with the caveat that now you must accept His only begotten Son, Christos Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. John 14: 6. It wasn't until recently with Pope John Pauls declaration that salvation can be possible for non-christians, that Christianity recognized that moral acts done without necessity of belief in God or the Christian God was ok.

You may ask at this point, why does it matter that God is a jealous and vengeful God. As I have blogged before, I think the notion of God must be a universal one, one that transcends the anthropomorphic nature that we assign to Him, such as human emotions. If God is truly God as understood by many of us as being Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent and so on then He cannot possess the petty and negative emotions that we possess. Anger, wrath, jealously, impatience, hatred, insecurity, fear and so on are all emotions we would almost universally dub as negative and as something not conducive to growth and attainment of good character. Why is it then that God is allowed to possess these qualities?

In one breath we are told that God is perfect and yet many of the acts that are imputed to have been committed by God, if done by any human would be seen as evil. For example, in Exodus God unleashes a series of plagues, ten to be exact, to force the Pharoah to release the Israelites and also to display his awesome power over the Gods of Egypt thereby proving his exalted and supreme status. The last and worst of the plagues was the Plague of the Firstborn, where God descended upon Egypt and directing the Angel of Death to kill all the first born sons of Egypt including the Pharoah's but sparing all the children of the Israelites (who had obeyed God's decree and marked their doors with lamb's blood after sacrificing to God, this event is celebrated as Passover). For argument's sake, say that instead of God doing this some human freedom fighter decided that to gain rights for his people all he needed to do was kill all the girl babies of the ruling power. If he were to follow through with this action, would that not be a heinous act worth all of our condemnation and retribution?

I believe the answer has to be an astounding yes. Why shouldn't a deity who proscribes such laws and morality upon us also be held to such standards? If God is the perfect being, shouldn't God be the example we should be emulating? Furthermore, for a truly universal God the Egyptians and their first borns should be just as important as the Israelites, in fact both are His children.

Islam divides the world into Dar al Islam or the House of Islam/Peace and Dar al Harb or the House of War. Dar al Islam refers to the places where there is Muslim rule and submission to Allah. Dar al Harb is all non-muslim and secular rule. First off, this division is not found in the Koran or Hadiths but is a subsequent division but nonetheless it does have germs which reach into those texts. For example, The Quran/Koran makes a few strong divisions between Believes and Non-Believers; further separates Non-Believers into the People of the Book and Infidels. People of the Book are Jews and Christians, who are believed to have misinterpreted the truths of Allah and taken a mistaken path. They are allowed to live and practice their faith but must pay a jizya or religious tax. It must be pointed out that according to Islam, Allah does not approve of any other lifestyle which is not in conformity with Islam. [3:85] And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter he shall be one of the losers.

I'll end part one of this long post with this and will pick up with my thoughts in the next post, hopefully soon time permitting. Please drop me any comments or ideas.