Sunday, May 11, 2014

Here's why I respect all religions

I saw this video on Facebook a few days back. Seemed to be quite popular.
I really liked the video. It touched certain emotional chords and made me think “Yes. They are right. Hasn’t science become just another religion? Isn’t tolerance and respect the only way forward?”

Gist of the post: Religious beliefs aren't sacrosanct. There are harmless beliefs and there are harmful ones. There are verifiable beliefs and there are non-verifiable beliefs. Saying that one should respect all religious beliefs, I say, is bullshit. Sure, quite a lot of religious beliefs are good-natured, lead to positive thoughts and happiness. Let's respect them. Use your own judgement. Call a spade a spade.

This video can serve as a good example of how to manipulate people by spewing up bullshit. Let us deconstruct the video.

Music matters
The music that plays in the background — isn’t it soothing? “Calm down… relax…” it seems to be saying. Same goes for the narration style and the voice. I don’t know about you, but the voice made me think of a wise man giving some really useful advice. He’s so patient, he’s so calm, he’s so broad-minded, he’s got such a big heart, after all, he’s preaching something that makes us more humane, brings us closer together.

So, don’t be fooled if you find yourselves favourably disposed toward the video. It’s the music and the charming voice that’s at work.

False dichotomies might make a good video, not a good argument
The video shows a douchebag professor making fun of, even harassing, one of his students because of her religious beliefs. What he did is bad. Very bad. Then the video proceeds claiming the only alternative is to ‘respect’ her religious beliefs. In fact, later I will show how both the douchebag professor and the broad-minded respecter actually fall in the same category and there exists a better alternative.

The video shows some disturbing images of carnage from wars and heaps of dead bodies. “Religious intolerance has always led to war and destruction”, the video claims. The many religions that exist, if they don’t respect other religions, there will be wars. Sounds legit so far. The video presents another false dichotomy here — that the solution is everyone respecting every religion. Wait a second! Isn’t a world without any religion at all another alternative?

Package deals
Religion preaches love, kindness, compassion, patience, and peace. We must all agree that these are good things, right? Yes. Then religion must be good? Nope. These things are good, that means, well… these things are good! Are we really so stupid and dumb that we need something called religion to tell us “be kind to others. Don’t make wars.”? If a religion doesn’t let you pick and choose only the good things, but compels you to also buy into a lot of dogma and a sprinkling of undesirable things, obviously, it isn’t good. It is just like those electronic products which force shitty software onto us if we want to enjoy their top-of-the-class hardware.

Respect is good, isn’t it?
The video endorses “the right to believe in whatever one chooses”. Let’s take it out of religious context…

Your friend says to you, “hey! I’ve got a very cool thing to show you! There’s a really easy way of making diamonds. If you freeze water precisely at -1.84 °C, it turns into diamond.” You are excited and also very dismissive. Your friend adds, “I have a firm belief that it does turn into diamond.” He shows you an ice-cube. It is melting even as he is holding it. He says “see this diamond here, I made it that way yesterday.” Looking at your puzzled face, he adds “Believe me, this is definitely a diamond. I have unwavering faith that this is a diamond. You should have the faith too. I am now going to be super rich selling all these diamonds.”

The video’s message would translate to “Your friend has every right in the world to believe in ice-diamonds. (They’re so cool after all!)” The video goes one step further and tells you to ‘respect’ your friend’s belief in ice-diamonds.

You shouldn’t just go out and announce to the world “hahaha! look what a stupid friend I have!” (or shine a laser beam on him and make fun of him! :P) In that case, you aren’t his friend, you are just a douchebag. You don’t really care for your friend.

You shouldn’t endorse his beliefs either “Yeah, ice-diamonds. Rad shit bro!” You shouldn’t ‘respect’ him believing in ice-diamonds! If you do, tell you what, you don’t really care for your friend!

Now, if you love your friend, if you care about him, you know whatcha gotta do. Make a sincere effort in explaining to him the bullshit that ice-diamonds are. Register a strong disagreement with his belief in ice-diamonds. Tell him clearly what you think about the whole thing and give him clear reasons why you think the ice-diamond theory is wrong. In the end “hey, see, when I say here’s what’s wrong about ice-diamond theory, please realize that I am not saying you are wrong-kind-of a person. I have issues with this particular belief of yours, not you as a person. My fight’s with ice-diamonds, not with you. Now, if you see my point and realize that I’m still your best friend despite ice-diamonds, let’s go and watch some football! ☺”

Don’t forget to slip in an utterly baseless statement!
Yes, the video doesn’t forget to do that! In the flow, innocuously, the narrator calls science ‘dogma’, ‘yet another religion’.

Let me tell you mister, how it isn’t religion.
“Dead Jesus came back to life”

God’s sent back our saviour! Let’s drown in reverence. Let’s all praise the lord and sing for him. In His infinite wisdom and mercy lies my salvation. That’s religion.

Wow! Coming back from dead? Such a nice concept. It’s so appealing. First off, I’m not sure it actually happened. My probability estimations put such an occurrence very near to ‘not possible’. But yes, let’s see… Let me try to pinpoint the place and time it happened. Let me do some research about the environment of that place. At that time, at that place, could there have been some really rare compounds? some exotic herbs that went extinct? Let me plough through historical tomes and carvings of that time to see there’s a trace of resurrection methods that might have been lost in the mist of time? Let me put efforts into untangling the mystery so that if I succeed, wouldn’t it be awesome? Immortal! All of humanity! That’s science.

Blindly revering a king who burnt an entire nation which was teeming with prosperity and riches to bring back a wife whom he later put in fire, while she was pregnant, that’s religion, blind thinking.

Prabhu Sri Ram Chandra… hmm… an interesting character indeed! He was teeming with virtues. There’s so much to learn from him. I should try to learn and inculcate as many good qualities of him as possible. That would make me a better human being. But yes, he made mistakes too. Didn’t he also get caught into a false dichotomy? Show that you really trust your wife and be branded as a bad administrator OR condemn her to hardships so that you can be a truly good king. Well well well, how about taking on the task of educating your subjects? You are a man of charisma, a skillful diplomat and administrator, you have built a reputation for yourself as a really good person, why not put it to test? Why not make an attempt to tell your subjects that some of their notions are in fact wrong? Why not reason with them? Maybe, they will actually respect you more if you stood steadfast by the side of your wife and vouched for her integrity.
That’s thinking without being blind. Thinking from all directions and daring to call a spade a spade.

“Your wives are as a tilth unto you; so approach your tilth when or how ye will” [Qur'an (2:223)] That’s religion? Ugh! Tell that to a woman and see if she respects it!

During a certain interval of month, don’t touch women. Leave them alone. Even if they want to work and go on with their life, don’t let them. That’s religion.

Hmm… in old times, maybe, it did make sense. Is it relevant even now? Let’s make products so that it alleviates inconveniences involved. Let’s research to find out if anything could be done about extreme moods. Agreed, some women might really face physical and emotional hardships and need rest. Most importantly, let’s not discriminate or push back those who don’t. Let them work if they can. Let them mix and mingle if they want. That’s science.

Respecting certain bullshit beliefs can bring real harm to society
The video argues something like “Abdul believes that ice-diamond formation happens at -1.84 °C while Lakshmi believes that the right temperature is
-9.11 °C. Now now, don’t you children fight! Abdul, you have all the right to believe in your ice-diamond theory, but so does Lakshmi, you see. Now be a good boy and respect Lakshmi’s belief, okay! Lakshmi, aren’t you a sweet child? You too will respect Abdul’s belief, no?”

Maybe, yes, we as a society aren’t really worse off if various ice-diamond believers pat each-others backs with respect. Will we always be? Tomorrow Abdul grows up, thinks “isn’t diamond the hardest substance? Let me make a helmet out of my ice-diamonds for my son” “Yay! Daddy made me helmet! Daddy made me helmet!” rejoices his son. Poor little kid, who could have lived on to become one of the greatest comedians the Earth has ever seen, wore the helmet, biking down the hill, enjoying the thrill, a little innocent kitten in the way… slammed the wrong brake… bike toppled… ice-diamond helmet shattered… and so did his skull… poor little thing, a victim of ice-diamonds.

You know what? Abdul’s responsible for his son’s death, and so is Lakshmi who ‘respected’ him. And so are you, my fellow ice-diamond nonbeliever. For ‘respecting’ Abdul’s theory. More importantly, letting the ice-diamond theory be taught in schools along with the scientifically proven, tried and tested diamond theory. Abdul might have had been a lost cause, but his son? His textbook could have saved him! His teachers could have saved him!

Yeah, yeah, ‘nuff with these ice-diamonds. Tell me my dear, isn’t it already happening in the world you and I live in? An increasing number of parents deciding to not vaccinate their children because ‘vaccination is like trying to be god’, a growing chunk of population turning to ‘alternate (read untested, unscientific, unproven) medicines’ and losing their loved ones in the process? A significant portion of humanity being shunned because their love isn’t natural, against god’s design?

I love you, and precisely for that reason, I don’t respect some of your beliefs. You are not your religion.

I am a scientist, and I’m not that douchebag professor in the video.
(Read like “My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist.” Yeah, agreed that explaining it makes it lame. Very lame. It’s okay.)

1 comment :

  1. Awesome post, machan! On fire... Loved the way you tore apart the video. Good analogies too :)

    Counter-point, though - I don't know if these arguments will hold any weight with religious believers.

    Set a kingdom on fire for queen, set aforementioned queen on fire for purity, shun women during periods and stuff - all of it is despicable when seen from *your* godless morals right now.

    All that will be perfectly logical and even laudable from a true believer's eyes.

    A world with God and a world without God are completely different, even if they look exactly the same. The rules for evaluating actions will be totally different. (Dharma, Karma, Paap, Punya, cycles of births, eternal soul, soul != body ... machan, you know they have very convincing answers for these questions)

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