March 18, 2006

Are we flawed?

I came across this particular view on a board that I visit that had a really wrong resonance. This guy said that he was a man of faith (doesn’t matter which faith to the subject at hand :p) but that the believed that humanity was utterly and irredeemably flawed and that the only way they can find salvation is by appealing to God. Basically, he was saying that humanity finds salvation in spite of themselves through their faith in God, that God uplifts them. He went on to say that we as humans are incapable of any "good deeds" because all our deeds (even the good ones) are done out of selfish motivations and that a truly selfless act was impossible.

Now I believe in God and consider myself a man of faith. And don’t ask me "Which God?" since that’s going to lead to a whole different discussion :p My sister-in-law once asked me that and I said "There is only one God!". She looked at me for a moment, nodded and laughed. I don’t know if she got it in the same sense I meant it or if she thought that I meant it in the Islamic sense. Didn’t really matter actually since religion, as far as I’m concerned, is a personal thing. Each of us should be free to follow our beliefs and our path to God. We might take different paths but I believe that we all end up at the same destination.

But I digress. The opinion stated on the bulletin board certainly is not the view of God (or humanity) that I have. I believe that one of the greatest gifts (and curses) that God gave us is free will. We have a choice in our actions. We can decide to do something good for any reason, we can decide not to act or we can do something bad. As far as I am concerned, the motivation (whether it is selfish or not) does not detract from a good deed. I believe that God gave us the opportunity to save ourselves – or not. I have no illusions about the goodness of humanity generally but at the same time, I have great faith in the capacity in humanity for goodness (or even greatness) in specific cases. I know of many, many people who have gone out of their way to do something nice, friendly, helpful or kind in my own case. They had nothing to gain from that action and I certainly would not have called it selfish in their part.

On the other hand, I am not sure we understand selfless correctly. What exactly is selfless? Doesn’t it mean that there is an absence of self? So if you are to do something selflessly, are we saying that we did it without any selfish motivation or that there was nothing of our self involved in the action? If the former, I agree with the usage of "selfless", if the latter, then I am afraid no human is capable of a selfless act. Because if there was no self, then there is no "I".

In the final analysis, my personal belief is that we find our own salvation and our path to God. But then again, as I’ve said before, religion (and the path we take in life) are intensely personal choices. So YMMV 🙂

Tags: , , ,
Posted by Fahim at 7:21 am  |  4 Comments

February 19, 2006

The religious scams …

This one is going to be a bit of a circular reference :p Funky Dung posted an entry where he linked to a post made by me and in going back and reading his entry, I came across the Apostates of Islam.

When I first read the site, I was like, "OK, this seems to be by Muslims who’ve gotten tired of all the negativity attached to Islam at the moment". I didn’t agree with their viewpoint but everybody is free to make their own choices, right? 🙂 The reason I didn’t agree with their viewpoint was because if you give up your religion just because people have misconceptions about it and because there are people in your own religion who don’t understand what the religion is all about, then it just means that you didn’t have enough faith or didn’t truly understand your religion either. However, religion is all about faith and you should follow the path that you truly believe in.

But then, I saw the link that the Apostates of Islam posted for Muslims. When I went to this page and read what they had to say, my conception of this site changed rather dramatically – but probably not in the way the site owners intended it to :p This site is certainly not created by "former" Muslims. In fact, I don’t believe any Muslims had any hand in the site at all. If they did, then they are as equally ignorant of Islam as the terrorists whom they claim to abhor. The site is basically religious propaganda :p It starts with a twist on a Quranic verse which is supposed to cleverly reveal to Muslims how wrong Islam is. If the Muslim is uninformed, then perhaps it will have effect. The verse they quote is from Surah At Taubah – verse 5. This verse is supposed to indicate that Muslims are supposed to kill non-believers at every opportunity.

The fact that most people ignore, either conveniently or out of ignorance, is that every Quranic verse was revealed for a specific event or under some context. This particular verse gives some of the context if you read from verse 1 – instead of just taking verse 5. It says that there was a peace treaty between the Muslims and the Mushriks (pagans) of Makkah. This treaty was violated by the Mushriks of Makkah. A period of four months was given to the Mushriks of Makkah to make amends. Then comes verse 5 about killing of disbelievers, which pertains to only a particular period when the disbelievers had rejected a treaty. To draw this particular event out and to say that you are supposed to kill all non-believers for all eternity is just plain ridiculous. But then again, as P. T. Barnum never said, "there is a sucker born every minute" and the Apostates of Islam, amongst others, seems to be simply trying to draw the newborns in :p

The problem is not with Islam, or with any other religion in the world. The problem is with humanity. We find it easier to wallow in ignorance, in prejudice, in hatred and in bigotry than to actual think for ourselves or to understand our fellow human beings. So if anybody ever wants to start an Apostates of Humanity site, then sign me right up … but then again, maybe not … I’d rather try to change humanity than to leave humanity behind :p


Tags: , , ,
Posted by Fahim at 7:44 am  |  No Comments

February 21, 2003

Of doves and hawks …

I first intended to make this entry a few days ago after having accidentally browsed over to the blog of somebody unknown to me. This person was so rabidly in favour of a war with Iraq and seemed to be going after anti-war protestors with such gusto, and the commentors on her site seemed to be of her own ilk and I just felt that I had to speak out about the phenomena. I mean about all these people sitting safely at home and throwing around labels like republican, democrat, liberal, right-wing, left-wing but in the end talking about killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people to justify their political leanings. OK, maybe I’m a bit harsh there but all this political haranguing is not going to help any of us if it comes to a war. But before I get into that, I would probably have linked to this person’s site originally if I’d written this entry when I intended to write it but since then I’ve been to her site again and she says that she’s tired of the hate mail and people linking to her without understanding what she’s about. Personally, I feel that if you write about what you care and you do so without malice, you shouldn’t worry about what other people think – it should be your opinion about yourself that matters to you first and foremost. Plus, she has such slogans as "First Iraq, Then France" on her site and so I don’t see how she can claim to be a non-biased objective person and that she needs to be understood before people vilify her :p Whatever the case maybe, I decided that if she didn’t like to be linked to, then it wasn’t right for me to link to her – whatever my objections to her comments (and even more than hers, those of her commenters …) may be. But I will comment on some of the comments on her site and please bear with me for saying something but not providing any links to verify that what I said is true …

There were several things which set me off at this blog that I’m talking about – the first and foremost was the above mentioned "First Iraq, then France" slogan. These people claim to be objective, open-minded individuals who don’t really want other people to die but see no other alternative except for war. If they were as open minded as they claim to be, I don’t think they’d want to grind anybody who opposes their point of view under their heels – which is what the comment about France amounts to … at least to me. Some might argue that it is funny and that might be why it was on this blog but I’d say that it is still insensitive and I don’t see much difference these people’s attitudes and that of the Nazis, for instance. I don’t hate people who have an opposed view – I just hope that I can show them my point of view and that maybe they will understand where I’m coming from. Whereas they (or at least according to the slogan) seem to think that anybody opposed to their point of view needs to be considered an enemy. Where does that come from? Can you really call yourself objective after such invective?

Then there were several people who commented on this blogger’s post vilifying anti-war protestors. One guy said that he doesn’t hate anybody – Muslims, Iraqis whatever – but that they (meaning the US) needed to bomb Iraq because all the Iraqis hated him and his little daughter and wanted to slit their throats! My friend Robin says that you should respond to such utterly insane comments by being even more over the top like saying "Yeah, and we will disembowel you and use your head as a football" or something like that … But I don’t know … I feel that on one hand you are stooping to their level and on another, you lose the chance to reach that person in case there is even a slim chance of still reaching them through all this misinformation/hatred they seem to have surrounded themselves with. I told this particular guy that most Iraqi’s probably couldn’t care less about him or his little daughter because they were just trying to get through their day to day lives, just like him or me or any of us. He says that he’s spoken to several Iraqi’s in person (or maybe online I forget which now …) but I don’t see how he could make a blanket statement like "they all want to kill my little daughter" if he really knew any Iraqi’s.

Incidentally, this guy claimed to be a marine and said that what us "civilians" don’t understand about bombing is that the army does not go in and indiscriminately bomb everything – that it was all about precision work. I asked him whether this was the same precision work which resulted in "malfunctioning" missiles killing civilians in Afghanistan but of course, there was no answer to that. But one thing that seemed to come out of these comments was that a lot of people seemed to think that the anti-war protests are actually either anti-Bush, or anti-Semitic (this one really floors me … but more on this later) or anti-American. And a lot of these people seem to have the belief that anybody who is anti-war thinks that Saddam is an angelic choir-boy! What rubbish! Of course, we … OK, I can’t speak for everybody but at least I, know that Saddam is not free of blame but then again, who is? Can the US government claim to be free of guilt – of having bloody hands in having dabbled in the matters of so many other countries just because they wanted to control things? of having trained Osama Bin Laden and then had him turned against them? of having provided Saddam weapons when he was fighting against Iran? I don’t think so! But most of the above mentioned "hawks" seem to either dismiss all of this as "it’s America’s duty to make the world safe and spread democracy" (has anybody asked who asked America to do all of this except for the US government and it’s rhetoric?) or as blatant anti-American propaganda. What I oppose in this war (or in any war for that matter) is the unnecessary killing (mostly of civilians and bystanders – that often quoted "collateral damage") of people for political/economical/ideological reasons.

Then there was the whole anti-Semitic thing. I don’t even know where that came from … though I can guess. While it could be that some people again imagined things where nothing was (or thought that pro-Iraqi/Arab *has to* be anti-Semitic), it is also possible that some of the Muslim anti-ware demonstrators carried anti-Semitic messages and that started the whole Jewish community going. People, this is not about Islam or Judaism! If it comes to that, Christians, Muslims and Jews all believe in the same God – or at least should! Don’t believe me? Most people don’t, they even argue loudly about this and say that this can never be but think … Jews, Christians and Muslims all believe in Moses as a prophet and unless Moses was a polytheist (which would shake the foundations of all three religions), his God has to be God of all three religions – yes, the specifics might be different but the basics are the same. So why do Muslims, Christians and Jews fight each other in the name of their religion and God? Think people, think! I’ve been hearing this rubbish from Muslims for a long time about how the Qur’an says that Christians and Jews are our enemies (utter rubbish!) and now I hear that some Jews are saying that according to the Torah, all Arabs must be killed! I can only say, that if all these people followed the spirit of their religion instead of scrabbling through the words, they might find peace both within themselves and out in the world …

Tags: , , ,
Posted by Fahim at 6:21 am  |  1 Comment

January 15, 2003

Books and such …

I’m reading a collection of five short novels (they used to be called novella or novelettes depending on length those days but now there are only long novels and really long series :p) by Lester Del Rey and I keep on having this weird feeling that I have read them before 🙂 Be that as it may, I know that the latest story that I’m reading is going to end up making me think a lot. It’s called "For I am a Jealous People!" and starts off by introducing and earth which is being invaded by aliens and the main character is a preacher who is trying to hang on to his faith in God in these trying times. Earth seems to be at the losing end as the story starts and most of Earth’s setbacks in the war seem to be due to strange accidents such as a meteorite striking the stockpile of all of Earth’s missiles on the moon and burying it under a pile of debris, a tornado taking out the defence garrison in a city when the aliens land etc.

I have a strange feeling that the story is going to turn out to be about how God actually intends the aliens to take over the world (hence the "freak accidents" that help the aliens) but then again, maybe I *have* read the story before … I don’t know. I just know that it is going to bring up an interesting philosophical debate within myself as to whether we can ever really know God’s purpose and also as to whether we can understand what happens to us in the context of God’s great plan for all of us. Yes, I know that treads dangerously close to religious evangelism – and I don’t want to do that :p – I believe in God and there are certain things in life and in what I read which makes me think about it but that doesn’t mean that I should go around telling others to believe in God – to me religion is a personal thing between myself and God. But I do like to talk about the dilemmas and conundrums my faith brings up 🙂

I’d like to discuss how I see religion (not *my* religion or *your* religion but simply religion) and God one of these days but I just don’t feel like putting forth the effort just now. I’m still not feeling totally fit and this illness (if it runs true to course) will probably last for a week or two yet. The good thing is that this week is going to be full of holidays here in Sri Lanka. Today is a holiday because it is a Tamil festival and then Friday is going to be a holiday since it’s the full moon and we have every full moon off since it’s a Buddhist holy day. So I’ll have to work only one more day and that’s tomorrow and that’s fine by me 🙂

December 11, 2002

Of faith and hope …

I’ve been meaning to write this entry for several days now but never got around to it since I’ve been too busy (in fact, I seem to be sadly neglecting this journal altogether and that is bad – I will try to rectify the situation). I should start off by saying that I believe in "each to his own" and am not trying to refute anybody else (especially since this whole entry is based on something somebody said :p) but just trying to write about how *I* feel about certain things.

In response to my last entry, Mike remarked that he’d had a good life and that he’d never prayed in his life and that prayer simply made you feel good. To me, that sounds very similar to a man who has never been sick in his life saying that medicine is just coloured water 🙂 To me prayer is about faith – faith that God exists, that he’s listening to us and that even though we might be unworthy of his attention, that he is most gracious and all merciful and will grant us what we pray for – especially if we pray for others. Of course, I also believe that prayer alone will not suffice – that if we can do something to make our prayers come true, we should do it – that God helps those who help themselves.

To me faith and hope are twin sisters and mankind needs both to get through life. I often remember the story about Pandora’s box and how after she opened the box and let all the evil loose on the world, she closed the box quickly and heard a little voice saying "let me out, let me out". She asked "Who are you?" and the voice replied "I am hope. You’ve let sickness, aging, death, plague, poverty and so many other evils loose in the world and I am the only thing that can let mankind get through it all. So let me out!" Pandora opened the box once more and let hope go free and so there was hope in the world, even through the greatest suffering, we have hope. To have faith in the face of adversity – faith in God and know that things will be OK as long as you live a good life – and to have hope for a better day is probably the main reason that I get through life day to day. Faith and hope – hope and faith …
Just an addendum posted later :p I started out wanting to basically write about the fact that faith and hope are two things intrinsic to the human condition – whether it be faith in God or faith in yourself or faith in something and we *do* always hope, whether we acknowledge it or not. But I got sidetracked talking about how *I* look at things and so it became another one of my personal meanders. Sorry about that :p

Tags: , ,
Posted by Fahim at 5:02 am  |  1 Comment

November 7, 2002

Slowly fasting :p

The month of Ramadan started today and so I have started fasting. Some people are confused as to why Ramadan seems to come around at different times of the year each year and that’s because Muslims follow the lunar calendar instead of the Gregorian calendar which is based on the sun. So there is a difference in a certain number of days between the Muslim years and the Gregorian years :p A new month starts with the sighting of the new moon and the new moon was sighted in Sri Lanka yesterday and so the month of Ramadan began last night. We got up early in the morning today and ate since we are supposed to not eat after dawn till dusk. One of the main things I always note about the month of Ramadan is that I have plenty of free time since I get up early and then don’t have to worry about lunch and stuff. But of course, since a strict adherence to fasting means no entertainment, no luxuries – not just no food and water. But I find that I read a lot more even though even that might be frowned upon by the ultra-orthodox since it is not really contemplating God or anything worthwhile – especially considering the kind of stuff that I read … but that’s another post entirely :p

Tags: , ,
Posted by Fahim at 6:56 am  |  No Comments