I do not mean to offend anyone personally. I would be guilty, and quite rightly so, if someone claimed I offended an idea they had, but that doesn’t bother me. Questioning what we know or claim to know has always been the foundation of intellectual progress, and if you question any of my ideas, it shall lead to a civil discussion, where I would be more than open to modifying my theories based on the evidence that is presented. Where I would be bothered would be if I offended personal freedom and equal rights, but ideas must always be questioned by those with the ability to think.
The Virtue of Doubt:
We are alive today because of a cosmic coincidence. The privilege of being in this universe for a few decades is immense enough, and during that time, it is an enormous gift to be able to understand something about the cosmos which we are all a part of and which is part of us. To ask why we are here, for what purpose we were born, how we came to be and if we are alone: that is such a fantastic thing to be able to do that I sometimes become disappointed with the idea of faith which seems to me not to encourage that kind of questioning. Instead it tells us: this is how it is, this is how it always will be, there is no need to question, and that’s the end of it!
I think that deprives people. I think that is such a denigrating, unbecoming view of the universe and I think it’s tragic that children are brought up with that way of thinking when they could have been brought up in a more open-minded way.
I do think religious faith, unsupported by evidence, can be a powerful psychological weapon. It doesn’t have to be, of course, but it can very easily be. It is a weapon because the unscrupulous of our kind can and have used it to create a hold on others and use them as weapons, as human bombs and soldiers. The only reason they could be deployed as human bombs is that they have been brought up from childhood onwards to believe, unreservedly and without question, whatever the particular religion is, that the will of God is being fulfilled when they detonate themselves and blow up a busload of people or blow up a skyscraper in New York. I don’t think a rational person could do so otherwise.
At the very least we must stop the indoctrination of the idea that there is something virtuous in blind belief. There is virtue in morality, and many might disagree with me on this, but morality does not derive itself from religion. Very truly it precedes it. I’m very concerned how children coming into the world, naive and knowing close to nothing about it, are taken over by the religion of wherever they happen to be born.
When a child is clearly too young to question what they think about creationism and transubstantiation, it’s very unlikely that they will. But even if they do, they are told not to, and that doing so will earn them God’s wrath, or that there is a puppeteer of sorts sitting on a cloud somewhere who watches us, and can convict us of thought crime (the very definition of totalitarianism), and has made this special place, just for us, where he will burn and torture us for all eternity simply for the crime of being born, unless we throw ourselves at his mercy and cower before him — but he loves us. There’s something sick, I think, in being commanded to love someone you’re simultaneously supposed to fear.
My arguments involve the example of children because I believe that religion and faith were developed and invented at a time when the critical thinking skills of our ancestors were far more infantile. But I understand why we created it, and I genuinely sympathize, really. You see, man felt so powerless, so petrified by death, so troubled by life’s challenges. And of course, because he was raised by caring parents, had a carefree childhood. These were the wonderful days where he had no responsibility, no concern. Somebody was taking care of him. This same psychological childhood was projected into religion: God became the father, and in some cases, the mother. Religion, if you think about it, is the simple psychological projection of a child unwilling to accept responsibility. It has no basis in reality. And while one can very well choose to ignore reality, we can never ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.
But if you feel disappointed by reality, if you want to be experience majesty and transcendence, let me tell you that while I do not believe we are divinely created or divinely supervised, I am not untouched by the idea of awe and beauty. Take a moment to look at the images taken by the Hubble telescope. You can do it on your smartphone in an instant.
Imagine the extraordinary beauty of swirling new galaxies in color, intensity and splendor, like nothing the human eye has ever seen. Turn away from that if you wish, and gaze at a talking snake, in an illiterate desert part of the Middle East thousands of years ago, and tell me that that’s where revelation and fulfillment comes from. I don’t believe you’d be able to do it.
Watch an episode of Cosmos on the absolute radiance and constancy of the universe. As Einstein once said of physics, “The miracle is that there are no miracles.” There are no interruptions in its order. It does not suspend itself simply to please some remote superstitious tribal sect. It’s far beyond the whims of a small primate species on a tiny planet in a galaxy amongst innumerable others.
I invite you to read Stephen Hawking’s work on black holes, and their event horizons. The event horizon is the point at which the black hole is pulling everything into itself. It’s so strong it can pull light from a star back into itself (Go ahead, Google ‘Black hole pulling in a star’). That’s really awe inspiring, a lot more inspiring than, say, a burning bush. That shouldn’t impress any thinking person. Instead, picture a black hole, pulling light into itself and just reorganizing nature so immeasurably that if you could get to the lip of the event horizon and fall in, you could in theory see the past and the future stretching itself in front of you. You would see time itself. That is humbling; that is majesty and brilliance and beauty.
So, it is in the natural world, the world of science and skepticism and inquiry that you find awe. We would never have discovered any of this if everyone had accepted the religious stories to begin with, where you are told that you already know enough! God made us! There’s no need for inquiry! You have all the information you can ever need!
I am certain that I am not certain, but that it might be possible to find out, that the means to achieve wonder and symmetry and splendor is through innovation and skepticism. Beyond our peaks I can only see greater, more wonderful peaks. And I invite you, just for a moment, to open your minds to the possibility that doubt is better than anything that bears the label of faith. Because that which calls itself faith calls itself unquestionable, and for the unquestionable, I do not think that there is a place in an institute of scholarly education.
Aniruddh “Rudy” Fatehpuria, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at AFatehpuria19@wooster.edu.