And No Religion Too

Intrinsic loneliness and meaninglessness is the inescapable fate of the human species. Deeply messed up by the evolutionary mistakes embedded in her psyche, the thinking homo sapien must go out for herself and create its own meaning in life. Indeed, our lives are meaningless without the values that we can say we live for. We need something greater than ourselves to justify our existence, to live for, and to feel passionate about.

As a rationalist, naturalism, curiosity and sceptical enquiry are the values that give meaning to my life. For me, these qualities do not just happen to be true; they are the air I breathe, the food I eat, and, of course, the subject of my thoughts. Rationalists see in reason a cause worth fighting for. They see in the abandonment of superstition towards a universal enlightenment the equivalent of a messiah who comes and liberates humankind from fear, guilt and helplessness. They look on in excitement as the power of the human intellect sweeps across the world, brushing away the last vestiges of ignorance and stupidity, and look forward to a time when mankind can reconnect with itself and the rest of nature in a meaningful and self-conscious way.

It is therefore unsurprising that we sometimes tend to judge people who hold differently to us in sort of a condescending way. We feel so passionate about our values that we look down on those who have yet to ‘see the light’ as morally inferior, and even stupid. This tendency is not incomprehensible: after all, everything that we stand for, be it our sense of morality, advancement, technology, freedom of thought and expression, and what not – all are a direct result of the war between reason and ignorance, light and darkness, rationalism and superstition. Are we to look on passively as others try to push us back to a dark-age mentality? Are we expected to be fine with opinions that contradict the truth in every way conceivable?

But I think that this approach is wrong.

Today, in keeping with the Jewish tradition of not using electrical gadgets on the festive days, I had some extra time to wander about in my area and get to know aspects of it unbeknown to me hitherto. In circumstances that I do not wish to elaborate on, I bumped into this lovely, middle-aged evangelical pastor who naturally started to engage me in a discussion about Messianism and the looming end of time. I did not feel the need, nor did I have the appetite, to interject with my take on the matter, instead, I respectfully nodded in agreement whilst enriching my RS knowledge. As I was about to leave, he pushed into my hand a whole bunch of booklets filled with God’s words, His son’s reinforcements and the prophets’ admonitions, just in case I am interested.

I am walking home, and my eyes are looking out for a street dustbin. My shelves are already stacked with The Quran, The Bible, The Book of Mormon and the books trying to explain them, there was hardly any place left for an additional batch of apocalyptic writings. But then, a profound thought came to my mind. With my act of discarding these booklets in a scornful manner, I am not only showing disrespect for the contents of these leaflets, but I am completely disregarding the emotional attachment that this pastor has towards this stuff. Yes, I think that the literature at hand is utter nonsense; yes, they go against my strongly held values; but are they not important to my brother, my fellow human being? How am I ever going to be able to relate to him, or people who share his beliefs, if their strongly held opinions are not even garbage in my eyes?

At that point I made a decision. However important my values are to me, they must not be more important than my ability to relate to, and connect with, all humans regardless of their beliefs. I came home, carefully placed the booklets in a plastic bag and disposed them off respectfully. Thus, I have given importance in my mind to what is important to another person.

Respect to others’ opinions does not mean accepting them. Relating to others does not have to mean a compromise in our values. And humility towards those who disagree with us does not necessarily point to uncertainty from our side. We must see ourselves as sharing the same fate as all human beings in our struggle for meaning and love, and should try and look deeper than an individual’s beliefs. We can see in every human being the metaphorical “god’s image”, and connect with their capacity for compassion and love. We have so much more in common than what divides us, and we must not let ideologies be more important than people.

Let the dialogue continue with respect, love and mutual understanding.

(The title of this entry is referring to John Lennon’s song “Imagine”, which envisions a world where ideology, politics and religion are not factors in affecting human relationship and love. The words “and no religion too” were commonly mistaken to be an anti religious view of Lennon’s, whilst what it really meant is that differing religious views should not impact our brother- and sisterhood.)