Belief and Disbelief

Photo Credit: aphotoshooter via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: aphotoshooter via Compfight cc

Another reader who wishes to remain anonymous sent in an interesting reflection on belief and disbelief. I will, as usual, present the full text with only minor edits:

Is it “RIGHT” for a “Christian” to believe, and “WRONG” to disbelieve? Some people would consider even this question to be immoral, and so would any devout Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Buddhist. AND THEY CONSIDER THAT THEY ARE PERFECTLY RIGHT AND JUSTIFIED IN THEIR ASSERTION – in their estimation any non-believer, or anyone believing in a DIFFERENT religion, is inferior to them – almost  “not quite human”. Until quite recently I tended to agree with them – I was under such pressure to become a “Christian” that I felt that there was obviously something wrong with me which prevented me from seeing “THE TRUTH”.

But then I asked myself: “Am I really wrong?” I have lived for a very long time with a certain philosophy which has served me quite adequately; must I now accept that I was wrong just because numerous people have told me so during the last 20 years? Am I really inferior? Or, widening the net, is a devout Jew, or Muslim, or Buddhist, or Hindu really inferior to a Christian? Note that I have left out the adjective “devout” in referring to the Christian, because a great many people are convinced that ANY Christian, as long as he or she has been baptized, is (as a result of that baptism) superior. The difference between a “true”, as opposed to a “nominal” Christian is seldom emphasized, and this applies to ALL religions in which an infant is enrolled in a religion merely because of the religion of his or her parents.

So am I arguing that an agnostic, or an atheist, is necessarily a better person than one who is a sincere believer? By no means. But I believe that a sincere agnostic  (or even atheist) who has arrived at his/her conclusion as a result of logical reasoning is (if such an evaluation is ever justified) a “better person” than a “nominal believer” in any faith. After all, these “nominal believers” have reached that position in one of three ways:

1) Their parents were themselves “nominal believers”, or;

2) They were “persuaded” to adopt that religion through coercion (e.g. the conversion of the Philippine population to Catholicism by the Spanish friars) or bribery (e.g. the conversion of many Philippine Catholics to “modern” American Protestant churches) or;

3) Simple self-interest (e.g. the “conversion” of helpers to the religion of their employers).

And certainly the last two groups acted very sensibly; it is better to be a live Catholic than a dead lumad, it is better to accept a religion which will help you to pay your family’s hospital bills than to allow them to die, and your life as a helper will certainly be more pleasant if you share your employer’s faith.

So where does all this lead us? Firstly – that we should “evaluate” people on their ACTIONS rather than on their PROFESSED BELIEFS. Whilst we should – according to the Christian belief – LOVE ALL – we should be most considerate to those who show consideration towards others. This seems an OBVIOUS statement, but in fact most of us are most considerate towards those who can give us what we want – be it wealth, or power, or influence. Giving a contribution to a charity and thus having your name published may be VERY useful and might entice us to be very generous, but we are reluctant to give the begging child in the street more than a couple of pesos.

The second conclusion to be drawn is that we should RESPECT people of all beliefs as long as these beliefs do not lead to antisocial actions. This is sometimes a little problematical; we cannot be 100% certain that some money donated for the relief of poverty and hardship in Maguindanao will not end up in the wrong hands and be used to purchase guns and weapons to harm others. But on a personal level the decision is seldom so complex; if someone we know is in need, and we are able to help, we should extend this help irrespective of his/her religion. AND THIS DOES NOT MERELY REFER TO MATERIAL HELP, BUT ALSO TO PSYCHOLOGICAL HELP!

We should be prepared, if necessary, to act in accordance with the desires and will of others as long as these do not fundamentally clash with our own beliefs (especially if that “other” person is close and dear to us). Not being a Christian, I do not normally attend church, but for a baptism, a wedding or a burial. I would not hesitate to do so as a sign of friendship and concern for the people involved. And I would do so irrespective of the nature of the place of worship, – be it a church, a mosque, a synagogue or a temple – even if I knew that the “star” – the main “actor” – was not himself or herself a devout believer (as long as he/she was not a “bad person”). This is the price one pays for living in a certain society and is, I believe, a small price to pay.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

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