Why Religion Succeeds where Humanism Fails

Why religions succeeds where humanism fails

By Umar Nasser

The original post can be read HERE. Photo credit: Joel Duggan. 

Attempting to critically assess Humanism’s moral teachings is a bit like studying subatomic particles in quantum physics: the closer you look, the less you seem to know. Out of the many moral philosophies on offer, which should we follow? Consequentialism or virtue ethics? Hume or Kant? Is utilitarianism good, bad, or somewhere in between? And who’s setting these rules anyway?

So much for scientific specificity. In the absence of any clear doctrines to critique, one can only go by generalities. Indeed, generalities are the only thing that Humanism can really offer – the more specific we get, the quicker we descend into dissent and disagreements amongst its own ranks. A top-level framework is what is needed, and Humanism’s is essentially to increase well-being and reduce suffering. It’s a position defended explicitly by popular atheist writer Sam Harris, and typifies the Humanist approach. And let’s be honest – it sounds pretty good. Surely every religious person would agree on increasing well-being, and reducing suffering? And if atheists and theists can agree on it, then where’s the need for religion? Can’t we just follow it anyway? Well, let’s find out.

The first and most obvious problem we come across with a principle like this is the issue of utilitarianism. If increasing well-being becomes a numbers game, then surely the heaviest set wins? As such, if I could torture one person and elicit information that could save a hundred, does that make torture OK? Apparently. Similarly, what of situations where an individual feels their well-being increase, without obvious harm being done? Does that make such an action moral? For instance, if someone was inclined towards a consensual incestual relationship, would that be OK? So we are told.

These are common examples, but one is spoiled for choice. Under Humanism’s vague directions, we are left precisely where we began – lost. Take an accountant of the Rothschild’s, the richest family on Earth. Imagine he is one day tempted to steal some money from his luxury-loving employers. Just £1000. He has the skills to easily get away with it. He will certainly benefit from the extra money, and he knows for sure that his billionaire employers will never miss it. He looks at religious morality that tells him such theft is unlawful, and that he will be held responsible. But our accountant is much too enlightened for this religion nonsense. To Humanism he goes! And what does he find? Maximise well-being, minimise suffering. Well he thinks, no-one will suffer, and his well-being will increase. And so it would seem that theft is not only not immoral, but positively a good thing!

Then let’s turn to a rather more sordid affair – literally. A married woman and her tempting lover. She finds herself in a dissatisfied marriage, but feels that it could all pick up if she lets herself indulge just once with her new-found friend. She waits until her husband is out of the country so he can’t find out, but then, her conscience prickles. This is adultery. That can’t be right, can it? As she pauses for thought, Humanism, wonderful Humanism, comes to her aid. She remembers that delightful Stephen Fry video which said we should do what makes us happy. Maximise well-being and reduce suffering…

Well, needless to say, she decides to go and maximise her well-being.

The examples are endless. Imagine the criminal, asked if he committed a crime for which there are no other suspects. Lie with no consequence, or tell the truth with punishment? Or the drug addict who’s considering another high, a unique sensory experience that you can’t get anywhere else. Which version of well-being should he follow, and what compelling reason does Humanism give him to follow one path over the other? The reality is that without a justified model of what well-being is, we’re shooting in the dark. We end up with 7 billion different versions of well-being, everyone’s conception clashing with the other’s, and none being any more right than the next one.

And what then of suffering? Is reducing suffering always good, and increasing suffering always bad? Well, what of the mother who deprives her child of his/her wish, out of knowledge of what is best for it? Is that an immoral act? Clearly not – the child may suffer, but the Mother has an endpoint in mind to which she wants to nurture it. So how could the Mother allow her child to go down a path that she knows is harmful with respect to its ultimate end? Thus suffering is sometimes beneficial.

Indeed, not only is sometimes suffering necessary to be saved from the bad, it can be a prerequisite of achieving the good. Can we develop steadfastness without trials? Can we nurture patience without pestilence? Can we summon courage without obstacles? Ask any toiling student, or sweating body-builder, or weary charity worker – suffering is not only something to be avoided, but often something to be sought after. As such, we do not always suffer when we are suffering.

It should be clear by now, that empty words of well-being and suffering are meaningless without defining a set goal towards which they are directed. Without this, we may well end up doing harm to someone whilst thinking that we are helping them, or imagine that we are saving them from harm when only holding back from them good. Without such a reference point, the villains of the world will seek to justify the suffering they inflict by the well-being they envisage, and Humanism is unable to coherently justify what makes such a vision wrong. Humanism, by failing to offer a set model of what we should be shooting for, allows our morality to become a slave to transient passions and social pressures. We lose sight of our target, before realising we never had one to begin with.

Religion on the other hand gives us a model of well-being, as articulated poignantly in the Qur’an:

Surely, I have not created men high and low, but that they may worship Me.” (Holy Qur’an, 51:57-8)

The Arabic word used here for ‘worship’ means far more than what we are accustomed to from the familiar school assemblies and occasional Church visit. It means to serve, to assimilate the qualities of a Master, to follow in a beloved’s footsteps. Thus, the meaning of this verse is as the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Communitywrote over 50 years ago:

“[One’s purpose] is to subject oneself to a rigorous spiritual discipline, working with all one’s inherent powers and capacities to their fullest scope, in perfect harmony with and in obedience to God’s design, so as to receive the Divine impress and thus be able to manifest in oneself God’s attributes. This is, as stated in the present verse, the great and noble aim and object of man’s creation and this is exactly what worship of God means. The external and internal endowments of human nature give us clearly to understand that of God-given faculties the highest is the one which awakens in man the urge to search after God and incites in him the noble desire to completely submit himself to His will.”

As is clear, the purpose for which we are created is to become Godly, and thus attain the love of our Creator. As imitation truly is the highest form of flattery, we then seek to become a benefit for others in society by mimicking in our own spheres divine beneficence. But that beneficence takes a form, a shape which is in line with the guidance from the Being Who created us. As He knows all our potentials and inner natures, His guidance is the only one qualified to truly tell us what well-being is and how to achieve it. Only He can tell us what suffering we should endure for a higher purpose, and what suffering must be avoided at all costs.

This is the key difference between religious and atheistic morality. Humanism has no basis for calling one thing right and another thing wrong – such concepts are mere illusions according to its prerequisite beliefs. Moreover, it is fundamentally incapable of furnishing us with any useful guidance on how we should live our lives as it has no purpose towards which it can aim. Each person is a law unto themselves, justified in working towards their own idea of well-being and disregarding anyone else’s, whatever the cost may be.

On the other hand, religion calls towards a Divine Creator who has created us with a set purpose in mind. Achieving that aim is what will give us true satisfaction, for we have been constituted as such. We are given models in the Prophets of how to emulate divine qualities and thus win divine love. This is the well-being that religion tells us we were born to seek. It reminds us that within us lurk souls which act as a barometer telling us how well or poorly we are doing this: an in-built navigation system whose call we all hear. The moral and social teachings of God in religious scripture are designed with all our capacities and temperaments in mind, and are thus effective in creating a society which gives everyone the best opportunity to realise their divine purpose – should they so please. Otherwise they are free to ignore their purpose and enjoy the provisions provided to the spiritual and the worldly alike, though by doing so they deprive themselves of the true inner satisfaction which we have all been created to enjoy.

Without such a destination and route laid out by a Creator, we’re completely rudderless, with no lighthouse on the horizon towards which we can sail. Thick waves roll over us, and we are left in darkness no matter the direction in which we turn.

Find out about some of the moral teachings of Islam as explained by the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam over at trueislam.com


 

Follow Umar Nasser on twitter @UmarN91

Advertisements

Atheism’s Moral Compass: Finding Magnetic North

Humanism 2.4

Photo credit: Calsidyrose
With the recent controversy over whether Humanism should be taught in UK RE classes, this belief system is getting more attention than it’s ever done. We thought we’d help out the British Humanist Association with their policy of promoting critical thought around Humanism by publishing a series of posts examining whether Humanism makes, well… any sense at all. Last time we had a look at how Humanism doesn’t give any basis for thinking life is sacred, and this time we examine what atheistic morality really looks like… 

 

By Umar Nasser (original post HERE)

We often hear from atheists and humanists that we don’t need moral guidance from on high because we all have an intrinsic sense of what’s right and wrong. Why complicate things with outdated texts that don’t keep up with modern life? What humanists are less forthcoming about however, is what right and wrong actually mean in an atheistic outlook.

So let’s think about it. What does it mean to say something is right or wrong? Well, the obvious question is: right and wrong in relation to what? These concepts don’t exist by themselves, rather they exist as two poles of the moral compass. But in what directions do these poles point? Where is magnetic north, the landmark to which our compass indicates, from which the south is repulsed? For an atheist, believing that there exists nothing greater than our accidental selves, we are lost on a barren moral landscape, one which stretches out endlessly in every direction, each coordinate equivalent to the last. If one lost traveller’s compass points him in one direction, then there he will go. But if another befuddled journeyer finds himself at criss-crosses with the first, which of them will be able to say that their north is the true north? After all, aren’t all compasses made equal?

Perhaps the first traveller bids goodbye to the other, and trudges on to find a conglomeration of navigators at one point. They tell him that many people’s compasses have found themselves here, so this must be magnetic north. A persuasive argument the traveller thinks, and finds a place of rest nearby. As he surveys the landscape however, he notices that a part of the collective, who were so sure but moments ago that they had found magnetic north, drift off into another direction, citing the authority of their compasses as they do so. Soon others begin to follow, and the crowd splits, conglomerating over time into vastly different areas, each insisting each time that their north is the true north.

A crinkle furrows the traveller’s brow. He flicks open his compass thoughtfully. If different people’s compasses are leading them in different directions then there are only two options: either, the compasses of some are broken, whilst those of others are not; or there is in reality no true magnetic north. It would be impossible for him to tell apart these two possibilities, for the results of both would look the same. His heart was telling him that North must exist, for why else would he find the urge to follow the bidding of his compass so irresistibly strong? The careless south-going travellers must simply have broken their compasses. But equally, if the latter proposition, that there never is nor ever was a real magnetic north was true, then perhaps the whole affair was an illusion from the very beginning. Perhaps the direction of the needle is unfixed, seamlessly shifting with the passage of time, hoodwinking every new generation of moral voyagers.

Such is the dilemma of an atheist. Without any divine character to whose nature our moral compasses point, one immediately stumbles into questions of what is right and what is wrong. Are moral values like fads in fashion, in one season and out the other? If so, then they contain no moral content of any worth. In the scathing words of Socrates: A system of morality that is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception that has nothing sound in it and nothing true.

But if humanist morality is not entirely relative, and there are some things that we can safely say are right, and others which are wrong, then we can simply ask on what basis are such moral pronouncements so surely made? Whose authority is considered the authority on these issues? A deafening silence is sure to follow.

Some humanists will tacitly accept that there is no such thing as true right and wrong, but will seek to convince us that different moral paths can be equally viable, as long as they are followed for reasons other than religious scripture. Like a good boutique, humanism offers a wide range of different ethical systems for the discerning atheist to choose from, but only if one chooses it and doesn’t follow it unthinkingly. In doing so, humanism confuses the journey for the destination, telling us that the plush interior of the humanist limousine more than makes up for its punctured wheels, fuel-less engine, and decapitated driver. It is embarrassingly obvious that if divergent moral paths are equally valid, then they are equally meaningless.

All this points to an even deeper, even more uncomfortable truth about atheistic morality. If right and wrong are unfixed, spinning like a top carelessly flicked by chance and circumstance, then it follows that the very concept of morality is an illusion. This makes sense, given the precepts of atheism. After all, in a godless, accidental world, our moral urges can only be ascribed to unconscious forces embedding advantageous social constructs in our neural circuitry, the tenets of which are persuasive but ultimately artificial. As such, there is no such thing as right and wrong, good and evil. There is no underlying order, purpose, or moral imperative. Things simply are the way they are, and to disobey your moral urges is cause only for social recrimination. A nauseating philosophy indeed, but it is the only one that atheism can truly support.

As such, the endeavour of humanism becomes plainly self-defeating. In promoting atheism it weakens its own basis for prescribing morality, and by prescribing morality it highlights atheism’s inability to explain the universal sense of conscience found in man.

And that is perhaps the most perplexing point. If atheism’s precepts are true, then why do we have such a strong voice screaming inside us that morality is not an illusion, that some things truly are virtuous, and others truly wicked? If our conscience is correct, then there must be something that certain acts are right and wrong in relation to. A committed atheist, however, finds themselves in the unenviable position of being unable to say that there is an ultimate morality to which our moral sensibilities are attuned, and unwilling to say that there isn’t.

A harder rock, and a rockier hard-place, can scarcely be imagined.


You can follow Umar Nasser on twitter here

Do humans have moral obligations? The contradictions of the atheist’s worldview

“Humans are nowhere near as special as we like to think”, writes Melissa Hogenboom on BBC Earth’s “The Big Questions”.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett tells us consciousness is an illusion.

And that’s not the only illusion, apparently. “Free will is an illusion, so what?” scoffs Raj Ragunathan Ph.D.

And why not, after all? Theoretical Physicist, Lawrence Krauss says “I like to say, the universe doesn’t care about our common sense.  We have to force our ideas to conform to the evidence of reality rather than the other way around.  And if reality seems strange, that’s okay.”

In a nutshell, we’re not special, we aren’t really deciding what we want to do, and whatever we do, the universe doesn’t care.

Most living creatures certainly don’t seem to care. So why, as human beings, should WE care?

Consider the following picture:

Tiger trapped

Had the caption shown a man in the clutches of the tiger, and had it read: “This magnificent poacher dies in agony, trapped without hope. A tiger becomes fatter eating body parts”, few would have condemned the tiger. So why do we condemn the poacher – if we aren’t any more special than a tiger and the universe doesn’t care what we do?

Now take a look at this:

Cecil the Lion.JPG

Cecil the Lion 2.JPG

The death of Cecil the Lion caused international outrage and drew widespread condemnation. Had Cecil eaten the hunter alive, not only would the lion not have been criticized, the hunter himself would have been blamed for putting himself in harm’s way.

So, if human beings aren’t as special as many of us think, why do we reserve special treatment for other humans and not for animals?

One more example:

Animals for target practice.JPG

As a cat lover myself, I find this particularly upsetting. But if the universe doesn’t care about our actions, why is using animals for target practice any more reprehensible than what mother cats do themselves: bringing home injured birds and rodents for their kittens to practise their killing skills on?

Why should atheists care about what humans do to these animals? According to their own logic, it shouldn’t matter.

Raj Ragunathan Ph.D. makes a feeble attempt to counter this with “whether or not you act of out of free will in denying yourself the unhealthy-but-tasty cake, you will still have to face the health consequences of eating unhealthy meals. Likewise, whether or not you acted out of free will in committing a crime, you will still have to face the consequences of your misdeeds. So, from a purely consequentialist perspective, it makes sense to sometimes curb your temptations.

But why is making oneself or other people ill, bad? Why is trying to be healthy good?

Likewise, why should punishing a criminal be good, and not doing so, bad?

In a universe where humans have no special moral obligations, if we have to face the consequences, so what? Why should life be any better than death? It shouldn’t matter either way.

Yet, it DOES matter. Whether we are believers or atheists, we prefer life over death, and well-being over suffering. Moreover, there is a universal sense of duty in humans towards other creatures on their planet. Clearly, in our sense of moral responsibility, we are not like animals or plants – and our condemnation of any human behaviour deviating from the norm shows we all know it.

Islam teaches that human beings do indeed have a moral duty towards other creatures, and that because we, unlike animals, have free will, we shall be answerable to God for causing undue suffering to His creatures.

…Eat and drink but exceed not the limits; surely, (God) does not love those who exceed the bounds.” (the Qur’an, 7:32)

The Prophet of Islam cursed those who used animals for target practice, and warned that humans should only kill what they need for food. He said a person who brought water up from a well for a dog dying of thirst had all their sins forgiven. He also said that a person who starved a caged cat to death was bound for hell. He forbade the killing of predators for their skins. He even forbade taking baby birds out of their nest, saying that it would cause distress to their mother. And he cautioned his followers against setting fire to termite mounds.

This teaching is in accordance with human nature, that nature which separates us from all other creatures; the same human nature that compels us to denounce the crimes of the tiger’s poacher, Cecil’s hunter, and those cruel people taking animals to the target range.

 

The “End of Atheism” team explain who they are!

EndofAtheism is a cerebral response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ bestseller ‘End of Faith.’

Are you a theist, and have you benefited from EndofAtheism’s videos and blog posts? Would you like to suggest topics for future ones?

Or are you an atheist or agnostic, and have comments and/or questions for the EndofAtheism team?

Contact www.endofatheism.com.

 

 

The Difference between a Divinely-Revealed Economic Programme and a Man-Made one: How Islamic Economic Theory Can Prevent the Looming Global Recession

If they switched to the economic programme revealed in the Qur’an, today’s super-rich in both the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds could still live very comfortable lives, and everyone could be a lot happier. But are they brave enough to want to free themselves from the powerful grip of materialism and greed?

by Syed Muhammad Saleh Nasser & Syed Muhammad Tahir Nasser

Economic inequality is bad news for both rich and poor, as economists are slowly realising. House of Debt, acclaimed by the Financial Times as the “most important economics book” of 2015, by Princeton’s Professors of Economics, Atif Mian and Amir Sufi, demonstrated this well. They showed that the main cause of the 2008 U.S-led global recession was that indebted households pulled back on spending more during an economic downturn than the less indebted, driving businesses big and small into the ground and putting the whole economy into recession. Given that as of December 2015 household debt in the UK stands at a staggering 135% of income, and that U.S household debt is the highest it has been since 2010, we have good reason to worry.

The root of this problem is debt and the consequent wealth-gap between creditors and debtors. Interestingly, Islamic economic theory addresses such inequality and provides real solutions. Did you even know that Islam teaches economics?

Islamic economic theory differs from our current model in two particular ways: firstly, capital taxation, known as zakat (meaning: “that which purifies”) is advocated over income taxation, and secondly, interest is prohibited. In truth, these two mechanisms go hand in hand. Here’s how.

There are two things in an economy: 1) money; 2) goods (like ice cream) and services (like launderettes). The value of money is only in its ability to obtain goods/services. Beyond this, it has no value in and of itself. This is the basic premise of money and the basic premise of Islamic finance. It is this principle that is violated by interest.  How so?

Let’s take a society comprised only of 100 bottles and £100. 1 bottle = 1 pound. If the number of bottles increases by 50 but the amount of money in society increases by £200, then we will have 150 bottles and £300. Now 1 bottle = £2. The value of each bottle has gone up but the value of £1 has gone down. Now £1 only gets you half a bottle, whereas before you could get a whole bottle. This is called Inflation and occurs when the amount of money in society rises quicker than the goods/services. This process results in 1) goods/services getting more expensive and 2) money becoming relatively devalued.

Interest is the key driver of inflation. This is because interest results in money multiplying itself without any increase in goods/services. An individual with £100,000 in the bank gets an increase on his savings of £2000-£3000/year at an interest rate of 2-3%. His money has grown without any commensurate increase in the goods/services of society at all. This is the key driver of inflation: as the money of the rich grows exponentially and since sale is always to the highest bidder, the price of goods/services increases exponentially too.

The key to understanding how inflation drives wealth inequality in society is to understand that the rich live on their assets (acquired goods/services) through the generation of money via interest and inflation, not on their income. On the other hand, the poor live on their income, as they don’t have assets to any great extent. As inflation pushes the value of assets up while devaluing cash, the rich who hold assets get richer, while the poor, who live on cash from their incomes, have rising interest-driven debts to pay with a currency that is increasingly devalued, while trying to buy assets that are continuously increasing in price. Is it any surprise then that the wealthiest sixty-two individuals in the world hold as much wealth as the poorer 50% of humanity?

Islamic teachings address these issues very simply. Instead of taxing income, it advocates capital taxation of assets unused for one year (zakat). At the same time, it prohibits the system of interest, thus preventing inflation and preventing the devaluation of the income of the poor. Instead of providing loans with interest, Islam encourages banks to make investments, meaning that money would only be printed if a commensurate increase in goods/services were to occur. In cases where interest-free loans are made, it encourages debt-forgiveness as healthier than debt-enforcement – something that governments are today catching on to.

By taxing assets unused for one year instead of income, the poor, who live on their income, are freer to spend, thus driving the wheel of economic consumption, keeping businesses big and small, afloat. Capital taxation would also drive economic growth as it would be an incentive to invest into businesses. Furthermore, it would enrich the government, as demonstrated by Daniel Altman of the New York Times, who showed that a capital taxation rate of 1-2% on wealth over $500,000 would generate more tax for the U.S Treasury than their current income taxation rates. 0% taxation on assets up to $500,000 would also give ordinary individuals the freedom to build wealth. Additionally, by ridding us of interest, the indebted would be more able to move out of debt. Finally, given that the Qur’an commands that zakat money be used to aid social mobility, through distribution to the poor, needy, imprisoned, indebted etc., the gap between the rich and the poor would be further rapidly reduced.

So if a capital taxation, non-interest based system is so much better for 99.9% of people, why don’t we use it? Why have we got a system that works for only the 0.1%? Simple: the 0.1% have access via back-channels to the law-makers of our nations. If anything the Sanders-Clinton race has exposed, it is the degree to which financial manipulation of our representatives is occurring behind the scenes. If such an unjust system in which the poor continuously feed the rich continues, then the dissatisfaction of the masses, epitomized in the rise of such leaders like Corbyn in the U.K and Sanders in the U.S, will inevitably get worse.

So there you have it, the difference between an economic system revealed by God and a worldly economic system built on the backs of the poor, now on the brink of collapse. Given however, that “Muslim” countries don’t even practice these economic principles though, I wouldn’t hold out much hope that anyone else will either before the economic recession we are about to slide into, takes hold.

On that note, here’s a good website for calculating how much food to stock up on.

Reproduced from http://www.patheos.com/ where it appeared under the title of “Can Islamic Economic Theory Prevent the Looming Global Recession?” posted by Qasim Rashid. For the original article, click HERE.

 

Can You Be Good Without God?

Can You Be Good Without God-

Say, ‘O Allah! Originator of the heavens and the earth; Knower of the unseen and the seen; Thou alone wilt judge between Thy servants concerning that in which they differed.’ (Qur’an 39:47)

“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true” – Socrates

Why is hurting people termed “wrong”? Ask yourself this question and you will find that it is not easy to answer. The answers you may come up with may be along the lines of “you wouldn’t want to be hurt, so why do it to others?” or “doing good to others promotes social cohesion”. However, neither of these two statements answer the question. Why then should you not hurt others, just because you wouldn’t want to be hurt? Why is social cohesion desirable?

These may seem like absurd questions, and on some level, they are. The reason for this is because everyone, universally it seems, knows that hurting people is wrong. Even the hardened thief who has convinced himself that his thievery is justified, would feel aggrieved and wronged if someone stole from him – thus demonstrating that though he has made excuses for his own thievery, he still knows it to be wrong. Yet, if everyone knows that doing wrong is bad, and undesirable, then why do people do it at all? The answer is found in the above example – the thief who justifies his own actions to himself:

Can he, who was dead and We gave him life and made for him a light whereby he walks among men, be like him whose condition is that he is in utter darkness whence he cannot come forth? Thus have the doings of the disbelievers been made to seem fair to them. (Qur’an 6:123)

Thus, a system of morality such as Humanism, which tells people simply to “be good” and “promote the wellbeing of others” not to “hurt others” without defining what “good”, “hurt” and “wellbeing” mean, is a totally meaningless system of morality. The reason for this is that everyone who does wrong, does it, believing it to be good. What is needed in a system of morality is not the end goal, but actually clear directives on which actions are right and which are wrong, covering all conceivable contexts. This is what the Qur’an in particular, claims to achieve.

A Book, the verses of which have been expounded in detail — the Qur’an in clear, eloquent language — for a people who have knowledge… (Qur’an 41:4)

This is what Socrates is talking about when he refers to “relative morality” as an “illusion” and a “thoroughly vulgar conception”. Very strong words – but are they warranted? They are, because what Humanism achieves is that it makes the concept of “right” and “wrong” malleable; with each person free to define “good” and “evil” however they wish, thus giving license for every evil to be conducted under the guise of “goodness”. As pointed out above, this is precisely what happens when a person does evil or harms others; they justify it to themselves and call it “good”. Humanism is therefore no more than a formalised system of convincing yourself that what you are doing is for the betterment and wellbeing of others. People try to claim that it is religion which is utilised as a pious front for the doing of evil, and that more people do evil in the name of God than for any other reason. This may be the case but there is a difference here – people do evil in the name of God, in spite of the clear teachings of various religions on which actions are right and which are wrong. Humanism on the other hand has no teachings which could act as a buffer against the evil done in its name.

It is also worth asking the question that “what makes a good, moral person?” Hitler is famously known to have been a vegetarian, because he believed that eating animals was cruel. Ridiculous as it may sound, it demonstrates that Hitler strived – in his own mind at least – to be, what he thought of, as a good person. We find it difficult to imagine that a person who has committed and authorised such atrocities as he did, loved animals, and, no doubt, loved people also – friends and family etc. Does this make him a good, moral person? Of course it doesn’t, and the reason is obvious: loving one’s friends and families, is a natural condition that is even found among animals. Among animals too, there are many example of creatures that have shown extraordinary love and sacrifice for other animals, both of their own species, and otherwise. A simple search on YouTube would show many filmed examples. This does not make animals moral. This is because a moral quality is defined when reason and reflection are brought into play, and a person acts after deliberated thought. A mother who jumps in front of a car to save her baby has not behaved morally – she has behaved instinctively, on the basis of a natural impulse. Thus, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad explains in the following excerpt:

When (natural qualities) are regulated and are used on their proper occasions, under the direction of reason, they acquire a moral character. Before they are controlled by reason and understanding they have not the character of moral qualities, but are natural impulses, however much they might resemble moral qualities. For instance, if a dog or lamb displays affection or docility towards its master it would not be described as moral or good-mannered. In the same way a wolf or a tiger would not be described as ill-mannered on account of its wildness. A moral state emerges after reflection and regard for time and occasion come into play.(1)

Humanism however, conflates natural impulses with moral actions. As Humanism gives no directives and no instruction on what action is right in which context and which action is wrong in which context, it totally falls short of defining morality. It therefore does not seek to give direction to our natural impulses, thereby converting them into moral qualities, but rather seeks to term our natural impulses of love for our friends and families, and the expression of that love, as moral actions. This is totally erroneous and betrays a fundamental misunderstanding on what morality is.

Thus, a basic moral system requires two things, to make it a valid system that both makes sense and also works effectively:

1) A perspective of absolute morality – a belief that “right” and “wrong” exist outside of our own minds. In religion, “right” and “wrong” are defined by God – and it is God’s perspective that is the only perspective that matters. His perspective can be accessed both through scripture, or on a more basic level, by looking into our own conscience, to the inbuilt signposts God has given us. Humanists can also look to the human conscience, but in doing so, they are admitting that morality is a universal and absolute concept.

2) Teachings that define which actions are right in which context, and which are wrong. This is important, because, giving the end goal of “to promote happiness” is a meaningless statement, without teaching people which actions will lead to that end goal. In this regard, many religions also fall short of this ideal. Christianity, for example, which has done away with the “law” of saying which actions are right in which context and which are wrong, by accepting St. Paul’s notion that all you need is “faith” to enter heaven, and actions are not necessary, has undermined this second principle which would uphold a system of morality.

Humanism falls short on both these two principles. Humanism does not advocate that the notion of “right” or “wrong” exist outside of our own minds, nor does it give any specific teachings on which actions are right and which are wrong. Ironically however, the very existence of Humanism is a wonderful proof of the existence of God. How so? Humanism is an example of a group of people (atheists) who believe that there is no God – and therefore no absolute concept of morality, and yet feel an urging within their own hearts to unite on some common values of what is right and what is wrong, and thereby create an artificial concept of absolute morality based on the consensus of a community. They demonstrate by their actions that morality must have some degree of absoluteness, and that relative morality is – as Socrates points out – no morality at all. Thus they prove the need for an absolute perspective on morality and thus prove the need for the existence of God, for a code of morality to exist. This is all the more so because, despite their attempt at creating an artificial basis for absolute morality through common consensus as a community, they know well that just because a community endorses a particular moral action or view, does not make it right or wrong. Many communities there have been in history who collectively, with consensus, perpetrated genocide on other peoples. Does their consensus as to the rightness of their actions, change the fact that their actions were evil?

In short, humanists hear the call of their hearts of what is right and what is wrong, yet, having renounced God, they do not understand where this call is coming from, despite being unable to resist its pull. Indeed, Man admits the existence of God – Who is the basis of morality – despite professing disbelief in Him.

So set thy face to the service of religion as one devoted to God. And follow the nature made by Allah — the nature in which He has created mankind. There is no altering the creation of Allah. That is the right religion. But most men know not. (Qur’an 30:31)

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com

 

Should Religious Parents Leave Their Kids Alone?

Image from the GlobalPartnership for Education: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gpforeducation/8370330617/in/photolist-dKE8F8-pbTac6-dKKAQb-61Ss8F-2Wvetu-61Sqb6-oiymuH-61WA4b-pxobgB-7ysSqb-aMqTii-b4Ac92-61WBKd-qKvnbN-61WB25-4Ep6TT-4cDJpU-4ZgTr1-5RFbWQ-5Rhp3D-61Sp76-61T9Mr-7FHDGn-4ZgTnL-83VeBN-61Sq4X-61Sr2M-61SqR6-61WCZN-61WBbh-61Spb4-61SqFM-61WBjd-61SppV-61Sqdx-61WBG5-61WCWb-61WAYS-61WCYN-61WDjA-61Ssj4-61WBqJ-61WBod-61Ssqp-61Sqn6-9stUdD-dScLFR-dKKAQS-dKKAxu-rWBLh2

Religion is a hot topic these days, with Daesh prompting right-wing commentators and New Atheist activists to renew their criticism of religion in general, and Islam in particular. I spied last week a tweet (below) from one such critic Maryam Namazie, which mentioned religion being ‘imposed’ on children. It reminded me of New Atheism’s golden-boy turned embarrassing-uncle Richard Dawkins, who has repeatedly argued that it’s immoral to raise your children as religious and teach them your beliefs, saying earlier this year: “...there really is an important difference between including your children in harmless traditions, and forcing on them un-evidenced opinions about the nature of life or the cosmos.” The argument is that to raise a child as religious is indoctrination, which colours their future unfairly. Instead, we shouldn’t raise them in any religion, and let them wait until they reach intellectual maturity before they choose their own faith or non-faith worldview.

This is a common line amongst New Atheists, and one that to many seems reasonable at first glance. Its logic, however, is deeply flawed. Here are four reasons why religious people have absolutely every right to raise their children according to their own religious convictions:

1 . We all raise our children according to our beliefs- atheists included. When we examine Dawkins’ above statement, the hypocrisy of the stance is immediately apparent. It hinges on the idea that religious people hold“… un-evidenced opinions about the nature of life or the cosmos.” Hold on, that sounds rather like an opinion itself doesn’t it? I don’t think my beliefs are un-evidenced. After all, who does? We can’t all be right, but we all reserve the right to believe that we are! Who’s to say that I don’t deem atheism as an un-evidenced stance that is harmful to the moral and spiritual welfare of my children? If so, how could I, in right conscience, allow my children not to be given the opportunity to spiritually develop in their youth? What Dawkins’ argument boils down to is: your belief is different to mine, and I’m obviously right, so how dare you spread your ignorant beliefs to your children! The whole position flies in the face of the very freedom of conscience it purports to protect.

2. My religion teaches me not to force belief upon my children anyway: There is a huge difference between raising your children in a religion, and forcing that religion on them. The Qur’an (usually the prime target of these criticisms) teaches clearly that “there is no compulsion in religion,” (2:257) and, “whoever follows guidance, follows it for the benefit of his own soul; and whoever goes astray, goes astray only to its detriment. And you are not a guardian over them,” (39:42). In line with this, I plan to raise my children as Muslim, and to teach them why I believe my religious convictions are true. But if, as they reach intellectual maturity they’re not convinced, then so be it- I won’t force them to profess belief, not least because forced belief is hollow. I stand with people of all faiths and none in condemning those who seek to force their religion upon others. As Damir Rafi successfully argued in HuffPost last week, punishment for apostasy is un-Islamic concept, rife though it is in some parts of the Muslim world.

3. Being raised outside religion means you’re not given an informed choice: the premise upon which this idea is built is that it’s fairer for a child to be raised irreligiously, leaving the door open to them to choose a religion in adulthood if desired. This however means that people will end up atheists- and for all the wrong reasons. Religion may have a very rational basis, but many of its fruits are not purely intellectual- they are also experiential. If you grow up without having experienced spiritual satisfaction, answered prayers, and a relationship with God, then how can you possibly make an informed choice about religion’s truth? You can only make an informed choice about religion once you’ve lived in it. If then you decide its promised fruits were non-existent then you’re free to leave- but a rejection of religion without ever endeavouring to truly experience its benefits is meaningless.

4. If a religious upbringing meant permanent indoctrination, there would be no atheists: Perhaps the greatest proof that the whole idea is totally unnecessary is that most of the leading proponents of new atheism were born and raised in religious environments, before leaving religion behind. And we all know that religiosity is on the decline, and atheism on the rise. That simply wouldn’t be possible if raising a child as religious bore some kind of indelible religious streak in them. So what’s all the fuss about?

There you have it. Like so many of New Atheism’s demands, this one too produces more heat than light.

The present article has been reproduced from the End of Atheism website. End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here:  www.endofatheism.com

How Can I Be Happy? Humanism Refuted.

 

This video is a reply to the video entitled “How Can I Be Happy?”, narrated by Stephen Fry, produced by the British Humanist Association: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tvz0m….

What does it mean to be happy? How should we go about achieving happiness, both as individuals and as communities? Is humanism – an atheistic philosophy of morality – capable of leading individuals and societies to happiness, or is it a logical fallacy that has no applicability in the modern world? What do religions offer, and where does God fit into the picture of personal and societal happiness? With so much strife in the world of religion, can God really offer a solution to the problems confronting mankind?

End of Atheism is a direct response to the New Atheist movement that began with Sam Harris’ book ‘End of Faith.’ You can find more material here: www.endofatheism.com

Belief in all-knowing, punitive gods aided the growth of human societies, study says

by Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times (Click HERE for original article)

http://www.latimes.com

Worship in World Religions

Belief in moral-watching, all-knowing, punitive gods might have helped human societies grow far beyond small, close-knit groups, a new study shows. Researchers who ran an experiment with a total of 591 people in eight different small-scale societies around the world found that people who believed their deity of choice knew about their misdeeds and would punish them were more likely to play fairly in a game where money was on the line.

The findings, described in the journal Nature, hint at the integral role that certain religious beliefs may have played in the dramatic expansion of human societies.

Part of what has made humans as a species so successful is their ability to form social bonds beyond family ties, developing larger and increasingly complex social networks. Many researchers have tried to explore what traits seem to power humans’ ability to cooperate — sometimes to their individual disadvantage — for the benefit of the greater good.

This becomes an even more perplexing question as human societies extended beyond the communities where they might either know or be related to everyone they interact with on a daily basis. How do you treat strangers, if you don’t know whether they will abide by the same social rules that you do?

 

Scientists have increasingly found a connection between the type of religion these societies have and their ability to expand, Purzycki said. It’s part of a growing field of research called evolutionary research studies, which looks in part at the way human societies and human belief systems have co-evolved, and how religious beliefs can bring adaptive advantages.

“For quite a few decades, cultural anthropologists have repeatedly observed in a variety of ways that there’s this relationship between the kinds of deities or religious systems that cultures have, and their degree of social complexity,” he said.

Many studies have tried to probe this possible relationship but suffered from a variety of shortcomings, Dominic D.P. Johnson of the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the paper, wrote in a commentary.

“Empirical evidence that supernatural beliefs promote cooperation is mounting, but has tended to rely on qualitative, society-level or proxy measures of beliefs,” Johnson wrote. “Study participants have also typically been university students in developed nations, thus omitting the small-scale societies most relevant to the evolutionary problem at hand: how human groups achieved cooperation and made the transition from small to large societies in the first place.”

So, to get a better handle on this relationship, the international team of researchers visited eight different small-scale societies around the world to have a total of 519 people play a pair of experimental games. Some, like the Hindu community in the tiny island of Mauritius (east of Madagascar), had both farming and wage labor; others like the Christian community on Yasawa Island (in the Fijian archipelago) had fishing and farming; and still others, like the Hadza of Tanzania, whose gods include the sun and moon, were a hunter-gatherer society.

The researchers went to each community and had participants play a game. Players were given 30 coins, two cups and a six-sided die with three white sides and three painted another color with nail polish or marker. If they put the coin in one cup, it would go to a person of the same religion in a distant village who they’d be unlikely to ever meet. If they put the coin in the other cup, they could keep the money. The players were instructed to think about which cup they wanted to put the coin in. Then they threw the die: If it landed on a painted side, it would go in the cup of their choice; if it landed on a white side, it would go into the opposite cup.

Given that the die had an equal number of white and painted sides, the number of coins that went in the self-cup and the other-cup should, when averaged, fall down a 50-50 split (15 coins in one cup, 15 coins in the other). Here’s the kicker, though: No participants were being watched while they played this game. So — regardless of which way the die fell — they could still choose to put the coin in their own cup, without anyone seeing them do it.

The researchers then ran the game a second time, except this time with the cup choices being between a stranger (of the same religion) in a distant location or a local community member of the same religion. They also asked the participants how they felt about their god’s characteristics, including whether the deity was all-knowing, concerned with moral behavior and able to mete out punishment for those who broke the rules. (Later on, the researchers really did take the coins in the “stranger” cups and go to a distant village and hand out the money to surprised strangers — which was “actually quite a fun part of doing this,” Purzycki said.)

When they ran the numbers, the scientists found that those whose religion featured an omniscient, moral-judging and punitive main deity were more likely to put a coin in the stranger’s cup (14.53 coins in Game 1 and 14.58 in Game 2) than those whose gods would not hold them accountable (12.50 coins in Game 1 and 12.97 in Game 2). In short, their results were more likely to match the 50-50 split (15 coins in the stranger’s cup) than those whose gods were not the all-knowing, punishing type. Fear of supernatural reprisal, it seems, keeps people from cheating.

Why would having the fear of a god in you be a useful trait, as an individual? After all, in this case, it meant that these god-fearing participants gave strangers coins that they could have stowed away for themselves, while those without such punitive deities got more money in the end.

“Deterring oneself from the pursuit of self-interest because of the risk of punishment from a watchful supernatural eye would seem to reduce an individual’s evolutionary fitness, and should thus be eliminated by natural selection,” Johnson wrote. “However, even if such beliefs are false and costly, they may have generated net benefits: to individuals, by steering them away from selfish behavior that risked retaliation in increasingly transparent and gossiping human societies; and/or to groups, by increasing the performance of the group as a whole in competition with other groups.”

So having this kind of a deity and religious system could improve group cohesion, make you more likely to behave in less risky ways and allow one group to, say, conquer another one and take over their territory.

Therein, of course, lies the dark side of all these benefits, Johnson pointed out: Increased conflict between groups of people with different religions.

“Whenever the threat of exploitation or warfare is present, the best protection is larger and more-cohesive societies, which are better able to deter or defeat rivals,” Johnson wrote. “Religion’s positive role in reducing self-interest and promoting cooperation may therefore reflect the costs of competition as much as the benefits of generosity.”

Follow @aminawrite on Twitter for more science news and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.