By Asif Merchant, New Age Islam
23 May 2019
Is there a God, or is there no God?
It cannot be denied that wherever we look, it is always possible to find a pattern. The arrangement of leaves on a branch, the way fruits are designed, the human body, the other animals, in fact, whatever you want to study. In addition, we have the laws of Physics which always succeed in predicting various phenomena, and when they don’t, it is possible to find out why, or if necessary, work out where the law went wrong, and eventually correct the laws. How has all this come about? There appears to be a Grand Design for the entire Universe. How do we explain it?
One approach is to postulate a ‘Creative Entity’ which is responsible for all this. The next step would be to try and find out more about this ‘Creative Entity’. The most common approach is to call it ‘God’, or Allah, Bhagwan, Jehovah, or any other name. Even this would be okay, but now, in addition to the name, various properties are assumed as being essential to the Creative Entity. It is called ‘All-knowing’, ‘Good’, ‘Just’, capable of interfering in earthly matters in response to supplications from believers, rewarding or punishing humans after they die, etc.
None of these are essential to the original postulate, but still, these are deemed as most important. Religions are made, and people are willing to go to war to uphold their ideas about the Creative Entity. I don’t occur to most people that these ideas are limited to the Earth, which is negligible even in the solar system. Yet we expect the ‘Creator of the Universe’ to be concerned about them. Such ideas are based more on hope that this is what the Creative Entity is, rather than a rational approach. If you think about it, most of these ideas unconsciously assume a flat Earth as the centre of the Universe. People point upward and say ‘God’. They speak of ‘the Heaven above’. It is this flat Earth which is believed to be the centre of the Universe, with Heaven above and Hell below, though most would indignantly deny that they believe the Earth is flat.
To explain the Grand Design, one only needs the Creative Entity, which formulated the laws of Physics and instigated the Big Bang. Everything else, in the entire Universe, would evolve in time. I have deliberately spoken only of the laws of Physics, ignoring other branches of Science because when you come down to basics, everything depends on the laws of Physics.
If what I have just written is true, what happens to the teachings of the various Prophets? Was Jesus wrong? Was The Holy Prophet bluffing?
I don’t think so. They had a Message, and that should be seen as being more important than the ideas of sin, heaven, or hell which dominate religious thinking. I think they were attempting to present the idea of civilisation. This was necessary, as populations increased, and there was more interaction between different cultures. What is known as Globalisation now. As populations increased, social reforms became necessary to reduce exploitation of the deprived, and of the women. Maybe the prophets were influenced by their early upbringing into bringing the idea of God into what they were trying to achieve. Or maybe they were deliberately employing a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to make people obey. However, if you think about it, whatever they taught about how to live, does not need any God. The emphasis was always on living a just life, respecting different opinions, etc., all with the aim of achieving a way in which many people could live and work together in peace.
The Buddha was more direct about this. He said that there is no need to worry about the nature of the Creator. What is required is a life devoted to peace and justice.
The Holy Quran has over seven hundred references to the Universe, and believers are exhorted to study this. No answers are given, but the command is to go even to far off places in search of knowledge of the Universe. Ideas about heaven and hell are not written in the Holy Quran with so much emphasis. Nor is there so much about sin.
If you think about it, what we call sins are actions that only affect human life on the planet Earth. They do not affect the Universe in any way. Surely it needs a highly inflated opinion of ourselves and this Earth to believe that actions which are only related to human life can be of any importance to ‘The Creative Entity’. They have importance to us because they help us live together in large groups with minimum conflicts among ourselves. This is what we mean when we speak of civilized living.
The civilisational aspect of all religions should have been enough to eliminate religious disputes. When there is a willingness to agree to disagree where is the chance of religious conflicts? Unfortunately, this has not happened.
All religions have come to be dominated by professionals – the clerics. These people have managed to acquire a monopoly on the interpretation of the teachings of the prophets. To maintain this monopoly, they have invented various rituals that all believers have to follow in order to acquire merit which will ensure them a place in heaven. The Clerics have managed to convince their followers that the most important part of living is salvation and a place in heaven. They claim that only they know the secret of achieving this. The different rituals guarantee that religions will always succeed in dividing people.
An essential part of rituals is the Holy Language, which most clerics don’t understand, and very few believers understand, but which gives a feeling of holiness and mystery. Perhaps a nearness to whatever god they worship. Since the holy languages are all different, this works as one more device to keep people divided. The distortion of the noble aims with which the Prophets came before the people is complete.
Sabotage of a reformer’s ideas has always occurred. Also the deification of the reformer. The reformer’s civilisational ideas are replaces by miracles, and the sabotage is complete.
A rational approach to religion would concentrate on the civilisational ideas expressed in various religions. With so much literacy, we are exposed to ideas about living even from non-religious sources. All these are part of our heritage, and we should make full use of the ideas available to us. Our own minds can guide us along the right path. There is no need to subordinate our intelligence to any so-called religious authority. In fact, Muslims believe that the Prophetic line ends with the Holy Prophet. Maybe it is for the same reasons that I have suggested. When there is access to so much thinking by various intellectuals all over the world, there is no need for a human claiming to be Divinely Inspired. We should be guided by our own judgment about a just society is achieved.
Since we are gifted with consciousness, it should be natural for us to want to know more about this fascinating thing called life, and the wonderful Universe we find ourselves in. Instead of worrying about Heaven and Hell, we should try to discover more about ‘The Creative Entity’ and ‘The Grand Design’.