Friday, June 13, 2008

Atheism

The (sadly now defunct) Ceylon Rationalist Society used to criticise the influence of religion in public life and expose what they called 'spiritual frauds' and other superstitions. They stood for the cause of reason in what they took to be an increasingly irrational society. They delighted in exposing hypocrisy and the volumes published by the Society are always interesting to read.

Things have got much worse since then and the need for the society is felt ever more keenly.

Anyway, it is all but impossible in society today to explain that one is an atheist. People are shocked, surprised and they look at one in a strange way. This is then followed by numerous questions on why, why, why don't you believe. When asked the question I either dodge or lie. Saves unnecessary questions. I imagine it would be like introducing someone as a lover or some other variant of the term.

My journey on the road to the damned was a long one. As a small boy I was told stories of Jesus and my love for the character was exceeded only by my love for my mother. I remember being deeply impressed by the selflessness, courage and goodness of the man. These were recurring themes in my young life: two other early hero's were Nelson and radio operator of the Titanic, Jack Phillips who went down with the ship, sending messages for help even as it sank.

In later years we were told that not everything in the bible was true. There were these illustrated books that we had at catechism classes that had black patches of varying sizes over the hearts of young sinners: small patches for small sins; larger ones for bigger sins. It had us rather worried so perhaps someone put us out of our misery but we were never quite sure for quite a while.

In later years, reading more on science and in my mid-teens writers like Asimov convinced me that there was no real god but I still went to church, mostly I think to please Granny. She was very devout and would go to church everyday, sometimes twice a day (my other grandmother was just as bad) and she would be very pained if we missed mass. my father never went and as children we found it boring and kept saying that we would stop going to church as soon as we grew up which made her very angry. If we missed mass we would be reminded at various times of the day that mass was on at 11am at the Jesuit Chapel, 12 at the Hospital Chapel and so forth until evening. She would then remind us on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday whenever she saw us but generally give up after that and contend herself with giving the culprit a black look or two if she caught sight of him.

Which is mostly why I remained a regular church-goer from my early-mid teens. It was easier than having to take the hassle, and in later years I realised it was probably one of the few things that kept her happy. Granny really was god and I stopped going after her death in 1993.

It was after I discovered the joys of singing (in 1998) that I began to go to church again, although a firm atheist by now my church going became very regular I rarely missed mass at all - because I loved to sing.

Naturally I make no mention of my beliefs to my companions and the few of them who are aware have generally come to assume that I have recanted, either way I don't bring up the subject.

My views on religion have however changed. God may not exist but his church certainly does which got me pondering as to how something so patently absurd could still exist in the light of all evidence against it.

I came to realise that religion can be experienced on many levels: spiritual, social/cultural and psychological. Look at the major events in life: birth, marriage, death: and religion appears for all except the most committed unbelievers. Religion has its uses: it can serve as a code of ethics and for social conduct (this is in my opinion its weakest link, for along with the positive lessons there are negatives as well but we can always concentrate on the positives and ignore the negatives); it adds a lot of colour, the ceremonies, symbols and the like and most importantly it can provide solace in grief.

Festivals like Christmas are purely cultural traditions that can be enjoyed by all. It is not even Christian, dating back to the Roman Saturnalia which in turn was based on ancient festivals of the winter solstice. It is instructive to remember that Brazil's famous Rio Carnival is actually religious in origin - its connected with the Lenten observances although I don't know precisely how. Now religion like that is something we can all enjoy.

The psychological aspects of religion are its most important . In times of stress or great grief, the rituals provide a ready made channel for overflowing emotions and the simple rubric of the prayers can offer a lot of comfort.

Religion therefore has a place in society (and its uses) although god (in his many manifestations) does not exist.

There must however be the distinction between religion as a purely personal belief , which has its place and religion in public life, in which it has no place.

No two people will approach religion in exactly the same way and while each must be allowed to do as he wishes (provided he does not cause a nuisance to others ) it is entirely unfair to impose the views of some on the entire population.

A state cannot believe and rulers should not assume that their personal beliefs can be taken to be those of the state as a whole.

12 comments:

Jack Sparrow said...

Since you an apostate, please join us at the Pastafarian Church

Azrael said...

There must however be the distinction between religion as a purely personal belief , which has its place and religion in public life, in which it has no place.

The problem is that not many people are willing to accept this line of thinking :(

If they did there'd be a lot less problems.

Jack Point said...

JS - Will do, how do I join?

I've sometimes toyed with saying I'm from the Church of Satan but never quite had the nerve to try.

Azrael: very true.

Jack Sparrow said...

JP - all you need do is eat Sphaghetti, and commune with the almighty. As with any self respecting religion, we Pastafarians also have several sects. There are those of us who believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster is actually a Trinity--according to this view, the Pasta, the Meatballs and the Holy Sauce are three distinct beings. Some of us believe that the true creator is not Sphaghetti, but Macaroni. This is heresy! Do not believe it! There is only one god (well, perhaps three beings acting as one god). And that is the Flying Spaghetti Monster. We are all, in some way or other, touched by his noodly appendage!

Agni said...

Brilliant! Not only did I like the ideas, but the way it is written.

By the way, I don't think there is a Singhala word for "Atheism"?

Jack Point said...

JS - Will do, with the fervour only available to the recently converted...

By the way pasta is unfortunately not one of my favourite foods. Anything that is tricky to eat I avoid - top on the list are crabs, lobsters, unshelled prawns ans rambutans. I'm quite lazy that way and being rather clumsy anyway its safer by my fellow diners.

However that said, pasta it shall be...

Agni - thanks for the kudos

paul maurice martin said...

I think that equating religion and spirituality with belief systems is a mistake, although both theists and atheists generally do it.

It makes for endless irreconciliable debates that quickly become tiresome, and obscures important matters that we hold in common as humans regardless of our beliefs or unbeliefs.

Jack Point said...

Paul, thanks for visiting and your comment.

I do agree that it is better not to get involved in the dogma of a particular religion and instead focus on what is universally true or good, although admittedly the definitions of these are the subject of much debate.

I did however assume that all religions must necessarily be based on a belief systems?

John the Skeptic said...

Jack, welcome to the Pastafarian Church! You will be pleased to learn that in *our* Heaven, there is a stripper factory and a beer volcano.

Jack Point said...

Thanks John, will visit the Pastafarian Church again soon:)

human said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
human said...

Watch out jack point!
you've been writing a series of posts that could really annoy the JHU guys! :)

JS - I would like to join this church too! provided the Holy Source could be green pesto and I can replace meatballs with onions and mushrooms. Don't know if this amounts to creating a new sect!