By Inas Younis, New Age Islam
7 August 2013
Emboldened by the current clash between the Christian right and the Islamic world, modern day non-believers have declared an unholy war. The onslaught of denunciations against religion began with Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith, followed by the climactic best seller, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. And for the grand finale, we were treated to Christopher Hitchen's book God is NOT Great. So while science continues to make inroads in areas previously reserved for the men of religion, the only inroad science has made towards the matter of God, is that God does not matter. A conclusion that escaped even Descartes, who when coining the phrase, “I think therefore I am,” must have not been thinking very hard.
It was he, who in an attempt to reconcile science and religion, tried to prove that the soul exists independent of matter, by disengaging himself from physical reality. His logic was that if he were to separate himself from every physical sensation, right down to his very eyeballs, and refuse to acknowledge their existence, he would be able to isolate his consciousness, proving that the soul exists independent of matter. The church applauded what they perceived as a victory for religion. Which was now supposedly armed with “scientific proof” of the existence of an immaterial soul? And with this new revelation, religion was able to leave science alone long enough to usher us into the scientific revolution.
For that, we should not only be grateful to Descartes, but thankful that science was not far enough along to furnish him with sophisticated gadgets, like a SPECT scan. For if it did, he might have seen with his own non -existent eyes, that his very thoughts, are just as material as the rest of his body. That he thinks because he is thinking and not because he IS. If he had the benefit of such technology, Descartes, unlike his contemporary counterparts, would have been crucified.
So how, given all that we now know about how the mind works, defend our belief in a conscious supreme being? Is it as Dawkins suggests, a God delusion, or is it really just Dawkins delusion? Is it as Hitchens declares that God is NOT great, or is it as Muslims proclaim, that God is greater?
In an effort to explain why man would submit to obsolete religious rules and rituals which conflict with the spirit of a modern world, the soft and hard sciences are joining forces to conceive of new explanations for why God Won't go away. According to one group of scientists, who wrote a book with that exact title, God won’t go away because man has evolved a belief centre, a sort of “God box” in his neurological anatomy. To paraphrase their theory, faith in God perseveres due to the epileptic like religious experiences of those who believe, and those who believe in them.
In other words, if you do believe in God, it’s only because of a biological proclivity to experience a reality independent of the reality of others. A less politically correct way to put it would be to say- you are crazy.
Of course most believers are not crazy and actually reinforce Science’s clinical interpretation of existence in the way they govern their lives. Most believers live, not as if the universe is ruled by a supreme consciousness that transcends their own, but according to laws that operate without discrimination where cause and effect are predetermined, not according to the nature of a God, but according to the nature of nature. We no longer pray for cures, we seek them out. We do not find relief from our nagging conscience and inconvenient lusts from religious people but from psychiatrists. We believe in the power of Prozac over prayer.
The subconscious logic governing our secular attitudes, is the unprofessed belief that the laws that were crafted by the almighty to govern our physical reality, are the very same ones that must determine our belief system? For, unless we are prepared to trade in a merciful God, whose laws are consistent and just, for a sadistic one, we must ask ourselves this. How can a merciful God make exact predictable laws to regulate the physical realm, then make historically confined laws to regulate the parts of our life which really matter, like politics, sex and salvation. How can we then believe, that this same merciful God would fashion laws that were bound by scientific realities that allow us to build colossal bridges made of iron, then abandon us to rely on spiritual leaders to build the more important bridges between communities? Why is success and happiness in this life negotiated at the expense of an afterlife? Why are we asked to be logical when making decisions about our daily living and yet required to hold on to illogical beliefs about angels and virgin births? Is there such thing as being 50 percent logical and 50 percent mystical? Or is that just the myth of moderation?
A purely scientific point of view has resolved this dilemma by ensuring us that there is no duality in reality. There is no spirit vs. matter. Religion, they will argue, only caters to our infantile need to escape from a finite world. If we are to let go of all the hocus pocus of religion and God, and be exclusively logical, we will become empowered where it really counts, in the here and now.
So we are asked to leave the God of heaven out of our lives in deference to the God that delivers, the God of objectivity, the God of intellect, the God of operant conditioning, the God of matter- who is matter. As for the unitary sensations you might experience when overwhelmed by this splendid universe; they are just the withdrawal symptoms manufactured by your mother’s home cooking (which you can now purchase in the frozen food isle at your local grocery store). Once we fully embrace this view of existence, then Presto! Life becomes good, not because it feels good, but because it does not feel like anything anymore.
If we accept that the only reality worthy of consideration is the material one, then anything, which cannot be perceived objectively, does not exist. In other words, if a conscious God does not exist because he is objectively imperceptible, then according to this logic, neither does a conscious you. The only reason you and I exist, according to a materialists standards, is not because we have a consciousness which transcends time and space, but because we too, are a measurable conglomeration of electrical activity, which can be manipulated through circumstance, psychotropic drugs, and the 90-second advertisement.
Once we start believing that there is no conscious quality to life experience which transcends our sensorial perceptions, our standard of value becomes exclusively physical. And our craving for meaning will no longer force us into the hand of God but into more forceful sensory experiences designed to penetrate the physical barriers that now imprison us.
To be a believer means to believe in consciousness and to be a materialist means to believe in matter. And yet the universe is clearly made up of both matter and consciousness. The attempt to pit one over the other is the attempt to pit body against soul, until the fear of detonation forces us to abort both.
Science asserts the primacy of matter because matter can exist without consciousness; forgetting that there is a difference between existence and life. Existence is eternal and absolute, but it is not life. In order to have life, we must have choice. Free will is the prerequisite to life. Yes matter exists, but consciousness lives.
Religion asserts that God can intervene in nature through miracles; forgetting that prior to the introduction of science, miracles along with their corresponding myths were perceived and understood metaphorically. Forgetting that Religion’s obsession with literalism was a product of science’s introduction of the concept of facts. Forgetting, that only after science started to gain traction, did religion compete, by asserting that its myths are to be taken as facts too.
If you want to know why God won’t go away, it’s because consciousness will not go away. The “all-powerful” material world has no value except as it relates to a conscious being. Man did not establish the standards of value, because man is the standard of value. God unlike nature, does not judge mankind according to immutable laws, but according to intentions. To equate God with nature is to project intention on the conscious-less world of matter. God does not circumvent nature’s laws because if nature were permitted a single exception, man would forgo any quest to discover it and permanently succumb to incantations instead of innovations. God did not leave us at the mercy of nature; he left nature at the mercy of our mind.
Science’s pronouncement that religion is irrational should not be taken as an indictment. For if we are exclusively logical, we become extensions of natural law. We will become extensions of the material world, acting only according to the laws of identity and cause and effect. Acting exclusively on logic leads to an obsession with practical outcomes, a state without conscious. To be completely rational will produce a state of existence, not life.
Irrational acts of worship, like prayer and rituals are the path towards maintaining a consciousness, which is not subordinate to matter. A consciousness, which is not enslaved by predetermined forces like biology. For what cannot be destroyed by the contingencies of life, cannot be destroyed by the finality of death.
Religion is the understanding that what makes " god” God, is that he is inaccessible to those who are as inflexible as nature is uncompromising.
As for the man who refuses to indulge in what his intellect tells him is senseless behaviour; only the irrationality of blind faith can activate his neurological God box. Blind faith is not a prescription for those whose "God box" is activated with the mildest degree of emotional prodding. Blind faith is for the man, whose intellect is so pronounced, that he does not allow himself the indulgence of human emotion nor its corollary of human consciousness.
It’s not a coincidence that the world’s leading thinkers are also the world’s unbelievers. For the man of intellect, only blind faith expressed in an act of humility devoid of any practical reward can lead to his divine intervention. Only an act of will against the will, which is his intellectual programming, will prove to him- that God matters as a matter of fact.
Inas Younis is a freelance writer residing in Kansas. She has written for Muslim Girl Magazine and her work was featured in the anthology Living Islam Out Loud.