There is a
famous Eastern saying that says ‘As soon as you begin to believe in something,
then you can no longer see anything else.’ In other words, the truth you believe in and cling to
renders you unavailable to hear anything new. The implication here is that holding onto beliefs limits our
experience of life. There is no
suggestion here that beliefs or ideas are a problem; what does give rise to
problems is the stubborn attitude of having to have things be a particular way
or ‘that you’re right and everybody else is wrong’ or holding relentlessly onto
certain beliefs or aggressively insisting that others should see only your
way. What is being said here is
very relevant to the current heated debate between one, Professor Richard Dawkins,
renowned scientist and proclaimed atheist and two, those who profess to be
theists. Professor Dawkins’ new
book, The God Delusion, has been the
catalyst to the rising tide of stormy and strong opposition to his ideas. Professor Dawkins claims that religions
have wreaked havoc on people’s lives and that it is time to replace belief in
God with belief in scientists and atheism as defined by Professor Dawkins
himself. It has to be stated that
there are scientists who are theists, most notably the current cosmologist
Professor Sir Martin Rees.
Professor Rees has stated that ‘the pre-eminent mystery is why anything
exists at all. What is it that
breathes life into the equations and actualised them in a real cosmos?’
There is the reality that when people become entrenched in their beliefs they can become dangerously intolerant and violent. Recent examples are the extreme reactions to Mel Gibson’s film, The Last Temptation by fundamentalist Christians and by fundamentalist Muslims to Salmon Rushdie’s novel, Satanic Verses, in which he suggests that Muhammad was not what Muslims believe he was. Actually, these situations are everywhere. Protestants kill Catholics and Catholics kill Protestants, Hindus kill Buddhists and Buddhists kill Hindus, Jews kill Christians and Christians kill Jews and Christians kill Muslims and Muslims kill Christians. There is violence all over the world because people are insulted and threatened that someone else doesn’t agree with their belief system – either religious or political. Professor Dawkins has some utopian idea that if religions were to be done away with, we would have no more wars! However, this is naieve, one, because many, if not all so-called religious wars, were politically motivated and two, that there is absolutely no evidence from history that atheism will being peace among people. Genocide and terrible wars arose from the atheistic philosophies of zazism and communism. What surprises me is that Professor Dawkins makes no distinction between religion and spirituality and between individual and collective responsibility.
What always causes me to wonder about people’s reactions to those who have opposing beliefs is, if you are so convinced of your own beliefs, why do you consider another person’s viewpoint as a threat? After all, communication is never about getting through to another, but about getting through to self. It appears to me that those who react, and those who attempt to proselytise, are not convinced of their beliefs, and their time would be better served by further exploration. Professor Dawkins appears to be repeating the proselytising behaviour of the very religions that he rejects, rather than declaring his beliefs and allowing people to make up their own minds.
There is also a certain arrogance in Professor Dawkins’ claim that ‘most religious believers fail to understand that they are free to reject the religion taught by their parents.’ The implication here is that individuals do not have the intellectual depth and breadth of Professor Dawkins to question their beliefs! However, apart from people’s own spiritual experiences, there are many unconscious psycho-social reasons why individuals hold onto a particular religious belief and being critical of their intellectual capacity is not going to help them to explore further what has been handed onto them.
All of us, whether theist, atheist or agnostic, would do well to perceive a particular belief as neither right nor wrong. Truth belongs to the secure individual; judgement belongs to those who are insecure. When we judge our own beliefs as right and those who have different beliefs as wrong, inevitably conflict will ensue. Dogmatism, prejudice, intolerance, fanaticism, violence, destruction and murder can be the faces of such conflict.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a clinical psychologist and author of The Power of ‘Negative’ Thinking.