By Helen Simmons, New Age Islam
17 Jan 2013
Some people are just too scared or lazy to think for themselves about fundamental questions of life that religions purport to deal with. It’s just too much of a bother, they feel. Who knows, so they think, if they explore things for themselves instead of relying on conventional religious authorities (who have history and vast numbers of devotees on their side), they might land up with the wrong answers and then have to suffer in hell for it! How much easier, it seems, to throw away your intelligence and blindly accept and believe what other people or the books tell you.
Typically, that’s what happens with most people who believe in one or the other religion: they uncritically accept and believe in, though not necessarily always follow, the diktats and dogmas of the religion they happen to have been born into.
But if you aren’t the sort who’s willing to sell your intelligence so cheaply and if you really want to discover reality for yourself, you simply cannot get yourself to follow the well-beaten path. Confronted with a deafening cacophony of voices—of adherents of, and propagandists for, various belief systems, religious as well as secular—you will inevitably find yourself utterly confused. Who among these is right, you will want to know. Surely, if there is anything like Absolute Truth, you might tell yourself, only one among these conflicting claimants embodies that truth and the rest are false. Or, otherwise, all of them are false, even though they all claim to be true—in which case, the Absolute Truth is either a myth or else is inaccessible to mere mortals.
If you decide to chart your life on your own, without the convenience of clinging onto someone else’s belief-system to spare you from exploring things for yourself, you will have to spend much of your life agonizing about the possibility or otherwise of elements of truth in the various, often conflicting, religious and secular ideological systems that you will be confronted with. Amidst the ideological cackle, it isn’t at all easy to decide things for yourself, especially with regard to beliefs about the ‘supernatural’ that cannot be empirically proved or disproved—that is, if you still think that such beliefs are necessary (which I don’t any longer).
So, what can, or should, you do in such a situation? Based on my own experience (I’m still learning, and that will never stop because I don’t think I am going to, or will ever want to, arrive at a final conclusion before I die), here is a convenient rule I would suggest for you to adopt. Your criterion to judge and accept a particular ideological system or a particular belief or practice linked to any such system should be whether or not it conduces to wholesomeness—by which I mean peace, joy, compassion, gentleness, lightness, laughter, celebration, non-acquisitiveness, contentment, love and self-effacement or the dissolution of the ego, both within you and in your relations with the entire cosmos (including all living and inanimate beings). Such wholesomeness is truth, and even, as far as I am concerned, Absolute Truth or God, or, if you want, one of God’s attributes.
If an ideological system, belief or practice definitely does promote such wholesomeness, you may regard it as true—not necessarily always true in terms of ‘hard facts’ as we conventionally understand them (such as the proven ‘facts’ of mathematics), but, rather, true in terms of the wholesome, and, therefore, truthful, consequences that it promotes. And hence, you might want to take it is an aspect or dimension or reflection of the Absolute Truth or God.
On the other hand, if a belief system obviously conduces to unwholesomeness—to agitation, anger, hatred, severity, delusion, jealously, pride, greed, violence, the inflation of the ego and so on—with regard to yourself and the cosmos, it is false, no matter how compelling it might otherwise seem to you. And it, therefore, is definitely not of the Absolute Truth or God, no matter what others, including venerated religious authorities and scriptures, may insist to the contrary.
Let me illustrate this point with the help of some examples. Ultra-nationalism or national chauvinism and religious supremacism or religious fundamentalism very obviously do not conduce to wholesomeness, as defined above. They are based on hatred, supremacism, violence and self-glorification. Hence, they are definitely not true and you can safely avoid them and know that they have nothing whatsoever to do with the Absolute Truth.
You could use the same sort of truth tests in evaluating particular beliefs and practices that are sanctioned in the various religions and other ideological systems that cannot be empirically substantiated. Suppose some folks believe that their religion insists that ‘infidels’ will suffer in hell for eternity and that they should be hated or even killed, or that ‘low’ castes should be slain if they dare to enter places of worship, or that God has made women to serve men, or that animals or even humans should be sacrificed as a divinely-ordained duty, or that people who don’t believe in a particular person, long since dead, are ‘enemies of God’.
There is, of course, no way you can empirically prove or disprove these beliefs, but yet you feel compelled to decide whether you should accept or reject them. The only way I can suggest for you to make up your mind is to employ the truth test as outlined above so that you can gauge whether such beliefs are wholesome or not. When you subject these beliefs to this test, you will realise that these beliefs are definitely not true because they don’t lead to wholesome consequences. Hence, they are not of the Absolute Truth or of God and you can safely reject them without battering an eyelid if others claim that these beliefs are sacrosanct. They may be sacrosanct for them but they are definitely false as far as you are concerned.
For years I tried to force myself to believe in all sorts of dogmas dished out by my church that, as I now realise, miserably failed to pass the test of truth that I now use for myself. These beliefs led me to make horrendous compromises with my values and my innate sense of justice. They certainly did not conduce to wholesome consequences. Rather, they led to a stifling supremacism and self-righteousness, because we had to believe that only those who followed our religion would be admitted to paradise and that the rest of humankind would perish in hell. That meant that our God definitely wasn’t wise, just and compassionate. Belief in such a character could hardly lead to wholesomeness, or truth, among his followers. Obviously, this character was false and so was belief in him.
Now that I have liberated myself from the fetters of a dogmatic belief system that I had clung on to for security and solace, I can evaluate various ideological systems, beliefs and practices on my own, picking and choosing from here and there as I please, without having to fear that I am betraying a system that I am bound to defend. It isn’t that every ideological system is either wholly bad or wholly good. Most such systems have a mix of both, and once you’ve freed yourself from your self-imposed need to rigidly follow just one you can revel in the joy of selecting bits and pieces of truth from various quarters—from different religions and secular ideologies; from people around you, both friends and foes; from novels, poems, scriptures and even the daily newspaper; from your personal observations, reflections and intuition; and, best of all, from Nature—and then go about constructing your own truth for yourself to see you through life.