E O EkeThursday, October 24, 2013




Continued from Part 1

have often wondered what makes people accept a particular religious dogma as true and reject a similar one. I have also pondered what makes two people hold two different religious beliefs as true without seeing the obvious implication of their position, that both of them cannot be right and that either, both of them are wrong, or one of them is right. The total inability of the religious to consider these facts also baffles objective minds. My concern is what makes a Jew, a Muslim, a catholic, a Hindu, a Christian, and a Buddhist or unbelievers out of us all. Why are people born in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Afghanistan more likely to be Muslims, people born in India Hindu, people born in England Anglicans, and people born in Italy Roman Catholics? Why this obvious fact has not challenged people’s attitude to religion is a mystery. Nearer to Nigeria, someone born in south Nigeria is more likely to be a Christian and someone born in the north more likely to be a Muslim. It would seem that to many, their religion is determined before they are born.

Take Christianity and Islam for example. Both are convinced that they are right about God, heaven and hell, while other religions and science are wrong. However, the fact is that both Christianity and Islam are either wrong about God or one of them is nearer to the truth than the other. Unfortunately, you cannot get either of them to consider this fact. All these are what should make people circumspect about religious dogmas and positions in the affairs of men. Unfortunately this is not the case. Many believers simply focus on what they believe to be the truth and are prepared to die or kill others because of it. This is another facet of the irrationality of religion.

It would seem that this problem exists because religious belief is an area where people are prone to demonstrate disorder of thinking and judgement. This may be because the thinking necessary to accept religious beliefs is not related to intelligence. It occurs without any other evidence that the person is suffering from problem of the brain or in spite of demonstrating great intelligence and learning, in an area of human endeavour. This may also be because religious beliefs starts from the acceptance of an idea, as true and correct, without critical analysis of what one is presented. Once, one accepts these initial dogmas as truth, one then attempts to prove and validate the belief, irrespective of the evidence and conclude that in deed, what one accepts as truth is in fact the truth.

A believer accepts a set of dogmas as truth without subjecting them to critical analysis often at a time in life, when the believer lacks ability and knowledge of critical thinking. This is the first damage religion does to the believers’ psychic and it is called conversion. The individual is converted from reason to belief. A believer gives up his reason, and accepts a set of teaching as constituting the truth which he must believe without question. He simply compares his sets of beliefs with that of other groups and concludes that he or she is right, while the others are wrong. They usually do this by comparing their most rational beliefs with the most irrational beliefs of the other groups and conclude that they are right while others are wrong, unaware that they are applying a distorted way of looking at things called selective abstraction and arbitrary inference. This is a kind of thinking errors in which a person selects only the things he already accepts and makes up his or her mind based on them. How can this constitute a reasonable behaviour of a rational mind? Strangely, it is only in religious matters, that individuals being a journey into the unknown, by first calming that they know where what they do not know its location, is not. How can a rational human being confidently claim that he knows where what nobody knows where it is, is not, when it can be anywhere? How can one begin a journey into the unknown by first relinquishing reason?

Once one is locked into this pattern of thought, one accepts indoctrination and dogmas of the religion as truth and always endeavours to see the truth of what one accepts as true in all circumstance. For doing this, one is regarded as a faithful member of the religious group. Through indoctrination, he loses his objectivity and ability to come to conclusions by reviewing the evidence. In essence he becomes prejudiced by religious dogmas. It is like accepting that a road must be straight and setting out to ensure that all roads are straight no matter the value of what must be destroyed to make straight roads, even when such road can safely accommodates some bends to get to the same destination. Much like nailing one’s mast to a boat and doing all to keep the boat afloat, no matter the poor condition of the boat and, the fact that the boat was not sea worthy in the first instance.

It is a fact that our thoughts influence our behaviour. This has been known from antiquity and many psychological and psychiatric researches have confirmed it. However, it is not the only thing that can influence our behaviour. Unfortunately, religion presents thoughts as the only thing which influences behaviour and this may be why it seeks to control human thoughts and shape human thinking according to it dogmas. Today, we know that while our thoughts are very important in influencing our behaviour, the environment we are in, our emotion, social, economic and political circumstance, and our genetic compositions, all interact in a complex way to determine what we do, irrespective of what we know or believe. The influence of thoughts on behaviour is not absolute or automatic as religion teaches. What an individual finally does is a result of complex interaction of several variables some of them beyond the individual’s control. This explains why those who attend churches and mosques are still able to steal Nigeria dry and why more fasting and praying cannot be the solution to the Nigerian problem as some of them propose.

Therefore, when religion teaches, “By beholding we become change”, our thoughts influence our behaviour or that by believing we act to reflect our beliefs; it is speaking the truth: but not the whole truth. It is presenting a part of the truth as the whole truth and this can be misleading. It sales half-truth as the whole truth in good conscience. It is saying that, beliefs always ensures right doing and that when it doesn’t, something is fundamentally wrong with the individual. It sentences the people into always looking for the cause of the behaviour in themselves, even when the external variables which can explain the behaviour irrespective of beliefs are obvious to those who understand human behaviours. Human beings do not always behave in a way that reflects their thoughts and deeply held believes. This is a fact and also normal. Religious explanation of behaviour, does not factor in environmental influences, emotional states and genetic predispositions, which often interact with thoughts and beliefs to moderate behaviours which sometimes can fall short of religious and societal expectations. It is this theory that can explain Saint Peter’s denial of Jesus after he promised he would never do it. He found himself in an environment where he could not act out his prior convictions even though he would have loved to. This is an example of a case of environmental influence determining behaviour by overriding prior thoughts and beliefs.

However, it is possible that if one only knows about religious teachings that one may come to believe that belief alone influences human behaviour and task one’s self to always ensure that one’s behaviour mirrors existing beliefs. This is all religion can achieve. Even in such a state, such a person will develop other theories to explain the instances when he falls short of religious high ideals. This is why religion introduced the idea of temptation to explain the instance when the environment, genetic and emotional factors overrides beliefs and thoughts and produce in the believer behaviours that are not acceptable by religion.

Religiosity is often maintained with very high degree of cognitive dissonance when one falls short of its high standard and can result in serious consequences for the believer if he does not receive help. An example is the case of Judas is Cariot. We hear of sexual abuses by priests and other unacceptable behaviour by people who are known to be honestly religious. There is no need for these behaviours to baffle us anymore.

The question is how a person who holds a particular belief or thoughts, as the ultimate truth should respond to those who do not share his convictions? Is he more likely to feel threatened by those who do not share the same thoughts or beliefs? Would he be more likely to be hostile to them and if so, why? Would he trust them less? Does he see others as different by virtue of their prior beliefs about an unknown? Is he more likely to hold them in contempt for being who they are? What is the right way of holding religious convictions in a plural world where all may never come to the same conclusion after examining the same facts? Is there a better way of holding religious beliefs than the way it is currently held by believers; Christians and Muslims in some troubles countries of the world like Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Nigeria where religion has become a source or reason for great inhumanity, terrors suffering and evil?

The sad fact is the holding a religious belief makes the believer more likely to approve for those who do not share the same beliefs, treatment he would object to in his members. In a way, religion can make monsters out of us without our knowing. A good believer is mindful of this fact, which was why Gameliel opposed Paul, when the Sanhedrin voted to persecute Christians. Two people can share the same religion and have different attitude to others who do not belong to the same religion. People do not completely adopt the same attitude simply because they share the same beliefs. This is an important fact for those who see all Muslims as potential Boko Haram members, or stereotype people on the basis of their ethnicity to ponder.

The evidence from the activities of religious extremist and terrorist, would suggest that such people hold overvalued ideas about the importance of their beliefs and feel threatened by those who do not share them. This may be one of the reasons why they resort to violence. It is well alright to set one’s mind on things above as long as one is sure that he is standing on a solid ground and certain that, there are things above. This is even more important when religion claims the things above can only be seen by faith. Without the belief in the existence of the things above, can one hold honestly to the irrational dogmas of religion?

Do human beings necessarily need the promise of heaven and absurd dogmas to accept the morality of religion which can guarantee good life on earth? Without a clear understanding of the basic assumptions of religion, many believers would seem to have based their faith on a fiction. Many assumptions of religion have been proved false by science. For instance, the religious evil spirit theory of disease and flat earth theory has been proved wrong. Biological science has undermined the virgin birth and gravity is a big threat to the ascending into heaven without a propulsion force. Science is widening understanding of concepts which religion explains on the basis of God and devil and the believers should understand this as they continue to remain faithful to the faith of their father. This is because what they regard as faith of their fathers may be simply the ignorance of their fathers.

Yes, by believing we become changed. But who can say that our change is for the better. We change from respecting reason to venerating faith. We become soldiers of Christ or of Mohammed, ready to engage in crusades or jihads and kill others because of their beliefs. Our change becomes death to others and we think we are in the right. Somehow in our mind, we think that by killing people or discriminating against them because they do not share the same beliefs with us, we are doing what a loving God approves. What a delusion. What utter madness in the name of religion. Yes, if we become kind and loving and caring, then our change is for good. Otherwise, we become new creatures, monsters that are a danger to others.

By beholding we learn more and by learning more we change, but not always in the way some may approve. We change because we learn more, develop more understanding and insight and improve on what we regarded as truth. If we behold a thing, and see in the thing, the things reason tells us we do not like, our beholding of it will not make us to become exactly like it. This again shows the limitation of the Christian understanding of beholding which is that it would make us become like what we are beholding. Yes, by beholding we become changed either for the better or worse. Yes we change but not always like what we behold.

Therefore the religious assumption that there is no other way of explaining what it has provided answers for is not correct. It has not provided evidence to justify this assumption. Take for instance, Christianity’s claim that man cannot rise higher than standard of goodness set in the holy book. Man can rise higher than his standard of goodness because men often do better. Men break the record they set. Men often make good better and better best. Our world has been a story of men rising higher than prior standard of perfection in justice, tolerance, love and equality. The Good Samaritan rose above the standard set by the Levites, and demonstrated that records are often broken in the most unlikely way by the most unlikely person. It depends on where one is looking. While the grace of God exalts a man, knowledge, understanding and insight given by God through study also elevates the thoughts of man. Indeed, God exalts in mysterious ways and no one person or religion can explain completely the goodness and mysterious ways of God

The question then is why do religious minds believe in the way they do? Why does a believer accept certain facts as true and rejects others as false? Why does a Muslim accept that only Muslims have the truth and all other people wrong and have to become Muslims to be right? Why do Christians hold exactly the same convictions that Christians are right and that Jesus is the way, and the truth and the light and no one comes to God except by him? Why can’t Christians accept that there can be many ways and routs to heaven? Who knows, maybe, some may walk to heaven and others may arrive by private jet? Who are we to speak in absolute terms the way to a city we have never visited? Why does religion leave people with deep convictions which they hold in absolute terms and not able to wonder how they can be right under the circumstance? The delusional intensity with which some religious beliefs are held is perhaps one of the problems with religion even though what is held may be morally acceptable. The idea that one can be completely certain that one is in the right in the absence of evidence is another false foundation on which believers base the faith of our fathers.

I suppose, believers should look at the nature of the beliefs, the evidence for the belief and the social, economic and political pressures for believing; to gain the insight they need to put beliefs in their right perspectives. It is lack of re-examination of beliefs that enable believers accept some ridiculous dogmas and false assumptions as truth of God which they then hold with delusional intensity to the chagrin of the rational mind. It is important to note that one can hold irrational and false religious beliefs, while remaining logical and using reasons in other areas of life in a way he fails to use in regard to his religious convictions and beliefs. This is another mystery of the religious mind. It is not uncommon to see Hindus, Christians, Muslims etc., who hold very irrational and absurd religious beliefs, functioning effectively as excellent doctors, scientists and engineers where they apply reason and standard of proof, which they fail to apply to their religious beliefs. For more instance, a Roman Catholic doctor who waxes lyrical about the Immaculate Conception, will truthfully tell you that it is impossible for a spirit to father a child with exactly the same genetic compositions you would only see in human and that pregnancy is scientifically impossible without fertilization. Yet, he believes in the virgin birth because he is a Catholic. What irrationality.

In order words, people often suspend reason when dealing with matters of religion and faith and this is sad. They may be unaware that believing does not demand the suspension of reason. They do not know that reason is the only safe guard against internalising false and irrational concepts and assumption about the unknown. Indeed, my people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Reason ensures that the starting point of belief is not based on falsity or irrationality as is often the case.

Another feature of religious beliefs and faith is that often, unrelated events are isolated and pulled together to support a concept that has very little to do with them. This is possible because believers often work out the explanation for events after they have happened to explain the mysterious ways God made the event to happen.

In conclusion, religious beliefs may be true, but to allow it to dominate conscious thoughts to unreasonable extent, makes them overvalued ideas which are dangerous to the mind. Such religious people appear irrational even when what they advocate may be reasonable. Religion needs reason. Faith without place for reason is ignorance.

E O Eke is qualified in medicine. At various times he has been a General medical practitioner, Medical missionary, Medical Director and senior medical officer of health in Nigeria. He specializes in child, Adolescent and adult psychiatry and lives in England with his family. His interest is in health, religion philosophy and politics. He cares for body and mind.