There’s a raging debate on at the Huffington Post (also posted on the Intent blog). Deepak Chopra has been writing a few pieces there about consciousness and Intelligent Design. Should have been fascinating, but the thing has descended from being well thought out and well articulated points of view into a shrill cacophony of voices. I actually trawled through the comments and ended up quite dizzy.
The subject of God isn’t something that people can discuss with any degree of detachment, apparently. I’d always thought that religious zealots and evangelists tended to be vehement, but evidently they haven’t cornered that part of the market. Such intemperate language from the Skeptics/Athiests! Such... why yes, intolerance!
Why though? The concept of God is perhaps the most complex one we have (that is so simplistic it makes me smile, but I’m trying to put a few thoughts down as simply as possible, ok?) For instance, no one knows what that word means to another person. You could say, “I believe in God” but it doesn’t tell you exactly what that form that belief takes. There are as many gods as there are people.
Bandhe na honge jitne khuda hai khudai mein
Kis kis khuda ke samne sajda kare koi
We have gods for everything in India. Beginnings, wealth, learning, music, strength, revenge. Diseases are deified in this country, as is every element. Some people believe in entire pantheons, some literally believe their canons and mythologies. Some take those stories to be parables, enjoy them and construct more sophisticated notions of god for themselves. Some abandon the debate, believing it more important to be good. Others believe in a force, an entity. Some believe god exists in every single thing they see, touch, smell and feel as well as in everything they cannot see, touch, smell or feel. Some don’t believe at all, and will wait for proof. Empirical proof. Solid, verifiable fact.
Each person’s concept is the sum of many things – their upbringing, the god(s) they inherited, their intelligence, the books they read at sixteen, the voices that influenced them, their spiritual quotient and most important, what works for them. Each god (or non-god) then is a reflection of us – current version, up and running.
Very often, other peoples’ concept of God will seem ludicrous. It probably is. They could be very wrong. We could all be wrong. Heck, we could all be right! There are more things in heaven and earth… remember? We can’t know the truth, can we? Not from this vantage point, not with these faculties, trapped as we are in these islands of ‘negative entropy’. I came across this in a play* once in which Pandora, the myth, tells us she doesn’t know what story she sprung from: “I cannot know yet, or perhaps I knew once and have forgotten. Or Fate has written it across my soul in letters too large for me to read.” Like that.
Given this, why must we find other people’s opinions so worthy of contempt and ridicule? It may not be true, their belief system, but they have a workable model and might have need of it. Believe anything you like, but why must you insist others do too? Does being non-religious preclude you from the courtesies of religious tolerance?
* Daniel Currie Hall, 1996. Schrödinger and Pandora.