BLOG – Should Islam be banned?
One has to consider why any civilized society should tolerate an organization that has historically and indeed more currently promotes a belief system that treats women as second class, decries homosexuality, denounces certain food stuffs, has cruel ritual killing practices, punishes non believers and has a history of practicing and rationalizing slavery.
But enough of Christianity and Jewry. On my reading and analysis, Islam shares the same problem issues as do Hinduism, Buddhism – indeed all the world’s major religions. This lead inevitably to the question, if religions are so negative why not legally obliterate them, ban them and allow love and goodness to prevail. Was it not Diderot who said “Men will never be free till the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”.
So would a world free of religion straightforwardly be a better place. In the Soviet Union there was no permitted worship. That nice Mr Stalin found other reasons for, in modern parlance, neutralizing anyone who disagreed with him – well more than forty million of the most annoying anyway. That such an outcome was not simply an artefact of Russian culture can be seen in the exploits of Chairman Mao.
Each of the religions will point to their messages of love, hope, peace and tolerance. True these things are in their holy books but these books have come to be treated as collections of menus – adherents choosing from among the contradictions what they will follow and when. Furthermore they determine who has the interpretative rights or should I say rites.
In the western world there is a sort of half-way house. Here dwelleth those who say they are spiritual but not religious – sometimes known as SBNR’S. They probably don’t know if God is dead but are fairly sure Nietzsche is. No doubt they have coloured beads, trinkets and incantations to prove their point – and mine. There is something inherently self-congratulatory in people who say they are spiritual. They somehow see themselves not just as looking at things differently but more deeply – with greater sensitivity, more soul. Here the soul is generally seen as the immaterial part of the sense of being. Aristotle argued against the soul having a separate existence to the physical body. Acquinas attributed ‘soul’ to all living organisms but felt that only the human soul was immortal. He omitted to give credible reasons. Hinduism and Jainism assert that all biological entities have soul. Presumably if we all have souls then those describing themselves as ‘spiritual’ must be to lay claim to having one that is somehow better.
Dawkins wrote about ‘The God Delusion’ but the real delusion is about spirituality more generally. In spirituality one looks inwards to find answers to the outward. In that way it has much in common with masturbation – an orgasmic moment leading to the need for the cleansing shower of reason. People so readily over-estimate their own depth of feeling and over imbue their own reactions with meaning. Spirituality conflates a sense of the universal ‘not I’ with the sensual delights of surrender. Bewilderment is not some nirvanic state – it should be a call to thought. Those to struggle with this are condemned to worship their own confusion.
It is probably the case that human kind has, from earliest times, been in awe of the forces of nature that beset it. The first objects of worship are thought to have been stones, plants and trees. Confronted by the enormity of the consequences of living in a random universe it is easy to see how the need to propitiate these forces arose. In this way it is likely that worship probably preceded spirituality. When things go well then one gives thanks for that. The birth of apotropaic or warding off magic cannot then have been far away. Each child in every age, dependant, fearful and vulnerable recapitulates this, making each new generation susceptible to superstitions afresh. Their outcome depends on their implicit negotiation with their external world.
Luck is success or failure apparently brought about by chance. It would however be both difficult and frightening to accept that we are powerless, the victim of something that is purposeless, unpredictable and uncontrollable. Thus we evolved a god of chance – Fortuna in the case of the Romans. Luck becomes reified as something supernatural and deterministic. Buddha sought to bypass aspects of the problem by the idea of moral causality in the form of Karma. Though Arabic has a word for luck there is no such concept in Islam. However games of chance are forbidden.
Superstitions are both ancient and psychologically explicable. They can reduce anxiety, give a sense of influencing outcomes and create a spurious feeling that one has some degree of control over what happens. This effect is heightened by the evolution of such deterministic notions as ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’. Of course many different words and expressions have been used e.g. ‘magical thinking’ and the ‘supernatural’. Almost seventy years ago the American behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner demonstrated how pigeons can be induced to show superstitions behaviour. More poetically Nietzsche described, “Of Other-Worldlings: A weariness that, with a single leap – a death leap – desireth to reach the Ultimate, a poor ignorant weariness that willeth not any more to will: this created all gods and other worlds”. Thus Spak common sense.
It is important to acknowledge that there is a persuasive power to anecdote which has to capacity to countervail against even careful, well conducted research. It carries with it all the enduring power of the gamblers fallacy in which, in effect, because a six has not been thrown for some time it is ‘due’. The odds on any throw of the dice do not change – even if you have your lucky socks on. It is interesting to note that the origin of the word anecdote is from the Greek root meaning ‘not published’. An example here might be knowing someone who smoked cigarettes all their lives and lived till 100 – therefore smoking is safe. Perhaps closer to the ‘spiritual’ domain is the phenomenon of out of body experiences. The neurological evidence tends to suggest that if the area of the brain which connects vision and the facility of knowing the position of our body is stimulated then out of body experiences are generated. Likewise with the near death experience of seeing a brilliant light the more mundane explanation may be found in the eyes susceptibility to low blood flow that occurs e.g. in cardiac arrest. The diminishing blood flow affects vision first at the periphery.
As it is almost Christmas perhaps it is churlish to quibble over such details. The only real grounds for raising issues should be those on which scholars are not agreed such as the historicity of Jesus, whether there was a census leading up to his birth, the place of birth, the virgin birth, the killing of the innocents by Herod, the powerful image of no room at the inn, the three wise men, the date of Christmas. However in the spirit of religions everywhere I will not let the facts get in the way of a lovely belief. Happy Saturnalia.