Saturday, October 18, 2008
ARE WE READY TO DISCUSS RELIGION?
There are many definitions of religion. However, it is generally agreed that religion represents a belief in a supernatural being that controls the human destiny, has a belief system which includes a set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices pertaining to the supernatural power, .places of worship, religious rituals, priests, “sacred scriptures” and such.
The word “religion” is derived from the Latin word "religio" which carries the meaning of “a way of seeing, thinking, and acting inspired by questions about what things mean: ie Where did we come from?, What is our destiny?, What is true?, What is false?, What is my duty or obligation?, What is the meaning of suffering? Thus the Latin meaning is “inquiry prone” while the current understanding of it is definitive.
Religion may modify and influence the conduct and life of a person even in matters such as food, clothing and interaction between people.
In matters of food for example, some religious beliefs restrict the consumption of beef, some the consumption of pork and some other prohibit meat altogether. Some religions prohibit the consumption of meat that died of its own accord, blood and such.
In matters of clothing for example, you have religions that encourage certain kinds of modes of dressing among the adherents. Almost all religions have their own standard mode of dressing for their priests – bare cheated, robes, hats, caps or turbans, white, green, brown or yellow color, hoods, woman with hair coverings (like nuns for example), bald headed, unshaven head and chin, and such. Such clothing and manner of maintaining the hair are taught as essentials elements of the respective religions.
In matters of interaction with people, it may affect the nature, degree and depth of relationships. For example, some religions prohibit marriages between its adherents and others. Segregation in schools may occur during certain periods to enable the adherents to attend special sessions. Segregation between sexes in public may occur.
From the foregoing discussion, one who faithfully adheres and accepts the features (1) to (6) of their respective religion in the above diagram may be considered being a religious person.
Though the details certainly differ, in comparative religion discussions and analysis, it is important to understand that in terms of the general characteristic features, they share a commonality as shown in the diagram. With this as a premise, it is then possible to discuss point by point in each religion for comparative study purposes.
For example, under point (1), one may ask: what kind of supernatural being does religion A teach and how is it similar or different from that taught by religion B. By doing this, we avoid being caught in semantics by using the confusing one word – “God” which is unhelpful because it has acquired differing meanings over the years. I know I am guilty of this myself in the title of his blog but I had intended it to be user-friendly and am aware that simplicity always does not reflect the exact truth. For the serious thinker, of course, he wants to embark on a more specific, accurate inquiry with due regard to the reasoning process.
In the discussion of “God”, for instance, we have heard and read various concepts – “Yahweh”, “gods”, “Allah”, “Father, Son, Holy Ghost”, “Brahma, Vishnu”, “Odin”, “Buddha” and so on. Even in such a classification, there are debates and disputes as to whether a particular character is “god” or “God” or neither. Without going into details here, the point to note is that each concept has a unique understanding. Each understanding affects the world view of the adherent uniquely.
I have also heard the concept of the “secular God”. This concept accepts the existence of a Creator without having to accept any of the religious doctrines. According to this concept, the existence of God is natural and self-evident. His signs are said to be self-evident in nature to the knowledgeable. Those who reason are able to differentiate the evil and goodness in nature and, strive to emulate the goodness and reject the evil.
Another example: The discussion may take place at point (3). Each religion has its own source – founder, prophet, thinkers, or even “God” Himself. They have different holy books and scriptures. The sources may be compared for similarities or differences. They may be studied comparatively and judged against the “yardstick of reason”, if that is possible.
The holy books, themselves may be examined as objectively as possible to determine whether it satisfies its claim to have originated from a supernatural force or a “divine being”. Granted, there may be certain aspects of the belief system that does not permit the use of reason but there must be other aspect where reason may be applied in the inquiry.
In any inquiry or comparative religious discussions, one of the most important pre-requisite is the willingness and ability to discuss objectively with the view of ascertaining the “truth” as far as is possible. There are other pre-requisites, of course, including factors such as clarity of mind and reasoning process, lack of prejudice and biasness, no hidden or ulterior motives, and the strength to be able to agree to disagree without animosity.
In conclusion, I would like to share two verses from the Quran:
“Mankind was but one nation, but differed (later). Had it not been for a word
that went forth before from your Lord, their differences would have been settled
between them”. [Quran 10:19]
“Say: "O God! Creator of the heavens and the earth! Knower of all that is hidden and open! it is You that will judge between your servants in those matters about which they have differed." [Quran 39:46]