Friday, May 02, 2008

Faith and fundamentalism

by Petra Gimbad

I FELL in love with the concept of constitutional law a few years ago; the rights it enshrines are based on principles every man and woman must uphold in order to ensure human dignity, yet, in such a way that we are able to live together harmoniously.

It makes sense that if we wish others to respect our way of life, we must also be willing to do the same for others.

Therefore, it follows that if we expect others to uphold and fight for our right to live in the way we choose, we must also be willing to uphold these same rights for them.

My flatmates recently recommended that I read the book The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins. I plowed through it at a snail’s pace for the last few weeks, which is painful for someone who can breeze through 10 books in a day.

I just completed Chapter Three. Kiasuness decrees that I finish Chapter Four, even though I had a headache the last time I read the book. I cannot say for sure what it is about (I have not read even half of the book) although it is clear that the writer does not think much of religion.

My flatmate tells me that it is a convincing treatise on how the world will be a better place without religion. It was difficult to explain to him how my cultural upbringing as a Catholic woman has made me a more compassionate person. This does not mean that an atheist cannot be just as loving as a person who professes a faith. I just think that after a while, labels are useless in labelling a person as just or unjust.

The problem, as I see it, is this insistence we have on claiming an identity. How can an identity represent entirely who a person is? Therefore, how does being a Christian tell you who I am, or a Chinese for that matter? Or in the author’s case, an atheist British man?

Being Chinese does not make one filial, neither does being a Christian make one charitable. My atheist flatmate seems to love his parents and has worked in an area which was ranked one of the poorest places in Britain. Something which most of the people I used to attend church with would never contemplate doing, for all their posturing on how Jesus of the Bible transforms you.

Primarily, what disturbs about religion is not so much the concept of spirituality. My personal definition of spirituality is this: that there is a force out there called Love, which is the God I believe in. How we learn to embody this force is a personal journey. We experience Love along individual paths.

Instead, what disturbs is fundamentalism and the institutionalisation of religion.

Fundamentalism takes the view that "it is my way or the highway". It means imposing your perspective and will on others. Faith, to me, can only be carried by one who realises that he or she knows nothing. True humility decrees that what we know goes as far as our best knowledge, which can only be experienced.

Words fail to describe experience.

Words, anyway, are a mere invention to describe what we perceive. What we perceive is only one perspective that may be inaccurate. Language can further distort this perspective. More truthful is, therefore, the truth that is felt with the heart.

Institutionalisation of religion is another form of the "my way or the highway" approach. A friend once pointed out that only a secular country can truly enable a religion to flourish.

With a political system that institutionalises religion, there can be only one interpretation of the Quran, the Bible, the Buddhist scriptures or the Mahabharata and Ramayana.

History has shown, time and again, that this approach had led, for example, to the murder of children during the Christian Crusades and the mistreatment and violence that both men and women suffer on a large scale.

One fails to see the God in this.

One must therefore ask, will we ever learn? Do we have the courage to acknowledge these historical occurrences?

Theology has shown how, with time, interpretation changes with society. Our interpretations of whatever scripture we subscribe to therefore hold no guarantee of perfection.

To the best of our knowledge, even with the most loving intentions, there is never any guarantee that we know exactly what we are doing in the moment. The consequences of our actions carry across miles and through the cosmos, far beyond the boundaries of what we can foresee.

This is what I believe the Constitution protects: the freedom to pursue our paths of choice, but without impinging on the freedom of others or in a way that leads to the detriment of one’s neighbour. How well this freedom and system of mutual respect is protected is up to us.

Who we are as human beings must inevitably evolve. We are constantly moving towards increasing complexity. As opposed to a more complex bigoted and violent reality, hopefully, towards a direction of increasing compassion – for love, truth and peace.


Pet, I'd have to say, this overtakes the Merdeka post I so loved. Erm, but the reason I like this article is different to the reason I had for loving the Merdeka one. Aiya, in short, you're superb la.

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