So, I’ve been doing more reading on Islam of late, and, since this is really my first non-trivial exposure to a religion other than Christianity, it’s probably inevitable that I would be starting to notice some interesting things about religion in general (though some of the things are probably specific to Abrahamic religions–which makes me look forward to researching non-Abrahamic religions–but really, it is always going to be difficult to say much about religion in general without excluding some type(s) of religion).
One thing that really sticks out is all the prophets. I’ve got to wonder, if god(s) wanted to speak to humans, why would they limit themselves to speaking through specially chosen humans? God(s) are generally thought to be very powerful or even all-powerful, so surely they could choose more reliable modes of communication. So, why use flawed, biased, forgetful (and possibly malicious) individual humans to communicate with humankind? This is not a method of communication that makes sense if god(s) want humans to be able to tell messages from god(s) apart from messages from con artists and crazy people. Even assuming there is at least one true prophet out there, how could they be distinguished from all of the con artists and insane/deluded people who claim to speak to god(s)? Well, I suppose god(s) could add something extra to the communication, like giving their prophet miraculous powers or accurate predictions of the future, but these things can still be faked by con artists in ways that people will readily believe. There are claims of miracles and fulfilled prophecies in many different religions, some of which directly conflict. They can’t all be right. So how can I tell apart the false prophets from the true ones? If anyone actually has a convincing argument for why one particular prophet must be true, I would sincerely love to hear it, but I am not at all convinced that any sensible god(s) would choose such a method of communication when it is so frequently faked by humans.
Another thing that sticks out is religious people framing people who don’t believe in their god(s) as denying god(s)’ existence. In the translation of Abul A’la Maududi’s “Towards Understanding Islam” that I have, he says in the section on the nature of disbelief that a disbeliever “…does not exercise his faculties of reason, intellect and intuition to recognise his Lord and Creator and misuses his freedom of choice by choosing to deny Him.” My Christian roommate seems to have a similar view of unbelievers, consistently phrasing my lack of belief as a denial of god’s existence, no matter how many times I have tried to explain that atheism is simply a lack of belief in god(s). There is a significant difference between a lack of belief and denial. Denial implies wrongness, and it hints that, deep down, the person who is denying a thing knows it is true (especially when used in the phrase “in denial”). It can be a condescending word, implying that the person talking about another person’s denial knows more about what is right and more about what that person really thinks than that person does. I wouldn’t go on about the usage of the word denial in Maududi’s book, however, since it is a translation, except he says explicitly what my roommate only implied through word choice, and he goes one step further by specifically calling it a choice. I take issue with this. Beliefs may be influenced by choice, but they are not directly chosen. I cannot simply decide to stop believing in gravity, for instance, and I cannot simply decide to start believing in fairies. If, however, I see some odd, scary shape in the darkness, I may be able to exercise some degree of control (though not complete control) over whether I end up believing it is a monster or a pile of clothes.
The preceding paragraph, though, is really just a good example of another thing I’ve noticed. Religion can shape a person’s entire world view (when I was a Christian, I saw pretty much everything through the lens of Christianity). It’s not surprising that this would lead to people seeing things in subtly, or not so subtly, different ways (lack of belief vs. denial, for instance, or natural human sexual behavior vs. sexual perversions). When people start with different premises, of course they are going to see things in different ways. This is why I think it is important for a person to recognize what they are basing their world view on (religion, science, materialism, idealism, whatever) and to critically analyze that thing in case it is a bad/contradictory/useless premise.