Commentary: God is not a fundamentalist

OPINIONS are rarely without purpose. We don’t just happen to speak something; we are speaking because we want something: other people’s belief.

Believing is not a simple act. When you believe something, you let it have a very powerful influence over your life. It’s not possible to live our lives without any belief of any kind; we may not be able to function at all without them.

However, the importance of believing in something doesn’t preclude the importance of evaluation. The process of evaluation allows us to exercise our power to accept or reject opinions and claims. It’s through this process that we give our consent to a claim for it to have an influence over us.

Those who suggest that we believe and then evaluate later is like a salesman who wants us to pay him for a product that we have never seen. More importantly, without exercising this power, we give up one of the qualities that make us human: the faculty of reason.

Speakers of any kind shouldn’t demand that their listeners immediately believe what they have said. They should encourage listeners to challenge and weigh their opinions. Instead of demanding blind faith, they should urge their listeners to fully investigate their claims.

They should be humble enough to inform their listeners that they could be wrong. In the Buddhist tradition, the historical Buddha warned against people blindly believing in him, saying:

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances. Do not give up your authority and follow blindly the will of others. This way will lead to only delusion.”

Even the God in the Bible allows people to question him.

In Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists, moral philosopher Susan Neiman offers an elegant analysis of the implication of Abraham’s act of bargaining with God, who is hell bent on destroying Sodom and Gomorrah.

The story goes like this…

Upon learning that God would destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham bargained with God. He asked God whether He would still destroy the city even if there were X number of innocent people there. Abraham was able to convince God to forego His plan if there were at least 10 innocent people in the city.

In this bargaining, “Abraham dares to remind the King of Kings that He’s about to trespass on moral law.” Neiman further adds, “If [Abraham] can make God stop and think…none of us is ever exempt.” Arguing and reasoning with God is not something that God forbids.

In He Who Sits in Heaven Shall Laugh: Divine Humor in Talmudic Literature, Professor Hershey Friedman contends that “God is open to suggestions from mortals and is even willing to change His mind when proven ‘wrong’.”

This is far from the infallibility of the word of God that is being promoted by those who are taking any holy book as if it is the last word about anything under the sun.

When God is proven wrong, Friedman concludes, “[He] laughs when He realizes that mortals refuse to accept Him as the final authority on religious matters.” Friedman based his conclusion on this Jewish parable:

“Rabbi Nathan met Elijah the Prophet and asked him: What was God doing at that time [when His Heavenly voice was disregarded]? Elijah answered: He laughed and said: My children have triumphed over me. My children have triumphed over me.”

This a demonstration of the humility of God. Despite being perfect, God still considers his words not final and irrevocable. And despite His omniscience, Friedman says, “God but laughs when bested by His children.”

This characteristic of God is far from the arrogance of those who proclaim that they are simply reiterating what God allegedly said. He wanted His children to practice their faculty of reasoning. And yes, I dare add, that He, just like the historical Buddha, wouldn’t want His children to believe blindly what He says. Neither does he want His children to believe Him because others convinced them of His words.

God didn’t create His children to be an echo.

(Published in The Manila Times on 19 December 2017)

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